A SAMPLE OF MARC’S WORK IS POSTED BELOW HIS INTERVIEW.
As promised, here is my first student Featured Guest, Marc Simon, who just finished high school and is making his plans for fall. You are going to be impressed by this young man. He says he’s going to be a writer. I believe him. Marc, the stage is all yours.
Marc, why do you think writing is such a force in your life? I’ve heard you speak so I know that you are passionate about your work. Did any one person or incident set you on the path to become a writer?
Near the latter end of my eighth grade year my sister committed suicide; after she died I spiraled. Depression seared in anhedonia at my core, which (i.e., the anhedonia) took its course with a torpor-ish inability to feel attached to or find pleasure in anything. I slept on the floor of my parents’ bedroom for over a year – hideous nights defined by insomnia, jitters, shivers, shivers induced by the cajone-tighteningly cold ground. I was tripping hard on, if you will, an anesthetic for the soul.
I scrounged for maladies. There were drugs and alcohol but my nervous system, wacky as it is, left me with their bad effects, unnerved, kind of like how a lactose intolerant endures the schmooze session with the john after a slice of greasy pizza (pizza that’s not really good for you on any level in the first place). Parties and socializing—those were anathema to me. I began to think hopping the hurtle was impossible; attempts thereof, futile; a guy trying to hum Debussy at a Black Sabbath concert, equally hopeless.
Then I started writing. At first it was a way to combat the insomnia: I’d do stream-of-consciousness type stuff and it would leave me mentally drained and ready to give in to sleep. I’d end up feeling really satisfied, too. This habit soon became an obsession, and ever since this occurred I’ve healed a lot. Writing became my love and my therapy and my drug and it taught me how to be conscious of myself and others.
Now: That’s what got me into writing. Has something else pushed me to pursue a career in writing? Reading David Foster Wallace. Sent me over the edge. Wallace showed me that what you write can potentially help/influence people at an intensely raw, visceral level. Not to mention, though, that his writing demonstrates a genius to which I can only begin to aspire.
If you look into the future of your dreams, what will you be writing five years from now? What do you want writing to take you eventually?
Here’s my literary bucket list: Syndicated humor column, trilogy of novels following a family through three generations, a short story collection, freelance investigative piece(s) for the New York Times, sports report(s) on Wimbledon for Tennis Magazine, collection of experiential essays from my adventures in at least three continents, book of super nerdy mad libs and a soul food cookbook.
In five years I hope I will have accomplished one item from the above list. I want writing to be a venue through which I can learn about, see/experience, as much as I possibly can in the world.
How do you approach writing now? You are a young man with many other activities and demands on your time. Yet you somehow find time to pursue your writing. How do you pull it off?
Writing’s my passion – the fluffy, hackneyed word that for me’s been so solid. My credo is find your passion, concentrate on it, nurture it, hone it and treat it like you’d treat a baby. One of my main beefs with American culture is that people generally shove their passions to the backburner to make room for something – a course of study, a career, et cetera – safe, something that doesn’t require you to centrifugally, tirelessly, play a game of keep-away with an axis of failure.
That’s it. There’s a pathological fear of failure out there. If you settle, push that passion to the backburner, become complacent with a life of ease, doubtless you can become successful and encounter good opportunities, but I think there’ll always be a guttural sense of unhappiness that will gnaw and gnaw at you until you’re sitting in a nursing home some day, drooling, too numb to feel much of anything.
Now, novelist is a fairly exotic career goal, even for one whose passion is writing. I’m not saying that one’s true passion can’t be teaching kindergarten, parenting, accounting, cars salesmanship or any other more “normal” paths for life. The key is the pinpointing and subsequential focus.
Needless to say, I make sure that writing gets as much of my time as it needs, my most engaged self and my most impeccable work ethic. If I have an itch to write something, you better believe that I’m not doing that piano practice for the looming competition or going to tennis warm-up for the upcoming state tournament or cramming for an I.B. test I have the next day – I’m going to write. And I’ll admit, I’ve screwed up, ticked off and flunked many important piano performances, coaches of mine and exams, respectively, as a result.
Why do you think writing is so important to you but not so important to many of your friends? What makes some students identify with writing while others do not?
Everyone needs, and most have, a way to creatively express themselves. Whether it be musical composition, sculpting, rapping, drawing or even humming, this type of expression is cathartic and profound and pretty darn quintessential with respect to the human condition. My proverbial ‘thing’ is writing. I think most people do more humming or intra-shower singing than writing because writing is (at least to me) really hard. It requires a lot of thought, a lot of time and a transcendence of the normal level of human self-consciousness.
Everybody can relate to language/words, for the most part, so crafting something through language makes you and what you’ve crafted incredibly susceptible to criticism – it’s much easier to rationalize what many people would see as bad painting, for example, than flat writing; simply take a walk through the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to see what I mean. What makes writing extra scary is that, as a communicatory device, the written word makes what you say more concrete, more official, more final, whereas language that’s spoken ultimately fizzles into silence, becomes more forgotten. Essentially the spoken word is more forgivable, unless, of course, it’s documented and written down. It takes courage to put pen to paper.
When it comes down to it, writing, like lots of other things, requires talent. I don’t mean to sound condescending but in my reading and editing experiences (especially as Editor-in-Chief of Central High School’s newsmagazine), I’ve gathered that many people have an unfortunate lack of talent in this area, and – this is the real catalyst of the issue – they’re very aware of it, thus discouraged from working hard to milk whatever bit of talent they have to even write privately/recreationally. But that’s reality: Any talent follows a normal-ish distribution curve. I feel as though I got kind of lucky with my ability. I want to use my ability to create literary works that can touch, entertain and inspire anyone.
What is your genre of choice? What do you think your choice is the best one for you at this stage in your career?
Tough, tough question. I’ll answer it a tad obliquely. First off, I’m primarily a prose writer. I do love to read poetry, but I feel as though prose conveys its messages more effectively than poetry does, and I also think that good prose should ideally possess the same aesthetic qualities that make poetry special.
I prefer longer forms of fiction to shorter forms because I tend to be long-winded in getting my point across, which is interesting, because in other aspects of my life I’m generally more geared toward the sprint than the long-haul; with writing, however, it seems to be the other way around.
Trite quality of which I’m not fond notwithstanding, a lot of my writing has a satirical voice. At this stage in my life, though, a stage in which I don’t have the ability to have a time slot each day set aside for writing (because of school, summer jobs, et cetera), I think short stories are my most pragmatic bet for efficient production. I have a few novels “in progress” (wink, wink) but I lack a disciplined writing schedule that, for me, would be critical for any of those novels to develop, materialize.
If you could give writing advice to others, what would it be?
The way I think about my writing, which, I think, keeps and will always keep the writing more refined and my humility intact, is that a writer doesn’t employ language; a writer is channel through which language is let loose. The literary critic Roland Barthes said it better than I could ever hope to: “To write is…to reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs,’ and not ‘me.’” I think that’s a healthy way to think if you’re writing artistically.
I’d also urge others to think before they start writing. In an everyday conversation, when people pause to think about what they’re going to say or how they are going to respond the silence usually makes the people involved feel icky or awkward – a lot of times, to break this silence, someone in the conversation forces a comment that’s inapplicable and/or contrived and/or ignorant and/or plain dumb. With writing, it’s easier to evade communicatory faux pas like the aforementioned, but that’s not to say many people don’t. No need to rush. Relax the hand and mind.
Oh yeah: I almost forgot. Avoid the word “moist” at all costs.
What, in general, gives you the most potent inspiration to write?
Cooking. I have a sizzling jones for cooking. Food makes me happy, and I enjoy the acute sensory engagement I experience while creating it.
Much of the inspiration I glean from cooking comes from the fact that cooking has taught me loads about writing, and my writing has taught me a ton about cooking. I’ve come to the point where many times I think of different words as different flavors and, likewise, various ingredients as various words. From there it’s all about the combinations and consequential synergy – synergy’s the main goal, anyway.
With food, you have the tried-and-true classics: Macaroni and Cheese, Spaghetti Bolognese, Shrimp and Grits, Steak au Poivre, and so on ad-near infinitum; with fiction writing you have the classic archetypes of characters and structures of storytelling. But innovation spurs learning and advancement and energy. Call me a geek, but the time I paired tapioca, ginger beer, duck and soy caramel in a dish (God-honestly phenomenal, by the way) I got an adrenaline rush and felt like I was partaking in a real, good Dionysian revel; the same thing happened when I experimented with black humor and a fractured narrative; I felt enlightened and animated.
Here’s the most vital way that cooking’s inspired my writing: It’s shown me that, whether you stick with the classics or get jiggy with unusual flavor meldings or do something between the two extremes, the product’s ultimately got to be delectable.
I asked Marc for permission to post a sample of his work. This is taken from one of his short stories. Thanks, Marc!
Lillian was taken by the arm by a man and directed to a cramped office. The man, and his office too, smelled like Slim Jim and onion rings. A flimsy placard atop the man’s desk read Girls Basketball: Head Coach.
“There’s something I need to talk to you and your parents about. Here, why don’t you write down your name and a home phone number.”
Some sort of spicy Slim Jim rendition, Lillian thought. A bit befuddled, Lillian wrote down the requested information on a sticky note, gave the man a prolonged stare, half-smiled and left the office.
Later that night Lillian’s parents treated her to a real special dinner, baroque with white table clothes and ethereally whipped butter and French accents both linguistically and gastronomically speaking. Her parents – well, mainly her dad – explained to her that they’d gotten a phone call from a certain giddy basketball coach who claimed with a zesty certainty that with a little time commitment she, Lillian, could become the best high school girls basketball player N.Y.C’s ever seen.
“He says you’ve got a gift, honey.”
“…a superb talent, I believe were his words.”
“You know, honey, how you always talk about how self-conscious you are about being big-bone—”
“Honey. Every time I see your friends talking about going shopping your face turns the color of ketchup. But ’member how gramma always said things are a certain way for a reason?”
“Lil’, this could be your reason, your redemption.”
“Isn’t this a little premature? I mean, I’ve never touched a basketball in my life let alone played a sport competitively.”
“A reconciliation, Lil’. You never know, maybe this is, deep down, who you are, anything else is suppression. Maybe you are a basketball player, just haven’t realized it ye—”
“I think there’s a real happiness potential here, hon’.”
“Say I do it. Say I hate it. You both know I hate to sweat…heck, I hate being touched. And you know how bad with doing homework I am as—”
“Coach Luttrell said he’d talk to your teachers, get things figured out, honey.”
“How bad can giving it a try be?”
“No, Lindsay, I get it. I get the fear perfectly well, Lillian. It’s natural to fear change, to be uneasy about adapting. When I received my medical school admission I knew I was going to work with kids, and there was no way on God’s green earth that that was changing. But look how things changed, Lil’: After 10 years of working with kids I now spend every last minute of my workday around old people. I had to adapt.”
“I had to adapt because I had a family to support. I had to sacrifice.”
Lillian held what she was going to say. She didn’t know how an expensive Cuban cigar habit and an imported sports car among other things factored into these ideas of ‘support’ and ‘sacrifice,’ nor was she understanding what greater good she’d be meaningfully benefitting at the expense of her own free time and happiness, by playing basketball.
“Lil’. You know our family’s a big deal in New York, and it has been for generations. But this family’s never produced a star athlete…”
Lillian was starting to get it.
“It’s your decision hon’, but what do you say we call back the coach when we get back home?”
“…nothing near a star.”
“What do you say?”
“This could be big.”
“I can see the headlines…”
“You’d be so happy.”
“I think you’re making the right decision, honey.”
“Coach said preseason’s already started, but you can show up tomorrow after school. The new gymnasium, he said, although I have no idea where that is, but I’m sure you d—”
“Ma’am, ma’am. Could we get the check please?”
Marc Elliot Simon