The work of Alejandra Reuhel has been a huge inspiration since my teens. Speaking of which she has recently published Where Everything Lost is Found a book that features sketches and words from her own unravelling mind during her teenage days during the 90s and early 2000s. Get to know her!
Describe what you do in one word.
What inspires you?
Creative exchanges… like the images and ideas triggered by music. The music I like often inspires me to write.
Reading, too, though reading works differently. I assume authors make a conscious effort not to imitate (unless blatantly imitating) others, dead or alive, but reading is also an exchange, a kind of conversation, and responses come out sooner or later, whether we want it or not… as well as “influences” we try to resist (or not).
Also conversations with creative people… whether about what they do, what they love, or their opinions. In the sense that, besides these conversations often being an intellectual exchange (then again – or not – sometimes it’s just giggles), it’s a support and motivation network, a kind of validation. You appreciate their work, and you theirs, and sometimes, in our darkest hours, this really matters.
Other than that, natural beauty… open spaces, like beaches, night skies, or quiet, hilly landscapes always give me peace. Hugging animals, hugging trees.
Back when you started your journals, did it ever occur to you that you would end up sharing them with the world?
In a way, when I started publishing material from my notebooks and paper journals, I was aware that I was sharing something that had, until then, been almost secret. This was before blogs were popular, when people made websites in the late 90s… I had put up some rants and rambles, and had gotten responses and made friends (back when strangers emailed each other, and we didn’t even know what the other looked like!). Maybe we all had more time on our hands once upon a time… when we were teens on dialup without as many distractions.
A few years later came the livejournal/deadjournal days. I was aware that I was sharing then, too. I like to think some of my most solid friendships come from sharing so much unfiltered, real life material… however, I never thought any of it would be published on paper, as a book (many of the dream sequences in Stars Like Fish were originally published on livejounal). That I never did foresee, nor did I plan it…
Tell us a little about the process you went through to compile and launch Where Everything Lost is Found.
When I was younger (before the internet became my best friend, before I started my core courses as an undergrad), I used to write lots and lots of poetry. Also when I was younger, I wanted to publish these poems… I’m not sure why anymore, maybe for the wrong reasons. Perhaps I wanted to be a legitimate poet, and I don’t even think of myself as a poet anymore… WELIF (my pet name for it, that title is too long) was a “you know what little me, let’s publish those poems” type of thing; perhaps a little bit of wanting it to exist. I have lots of poems and short stories lying around that might come out on paper at some point, but I needed to get WELIF out of the way.
As for the actual process, I dug up old journals, FLOPPY DISKS (I had to copy .txt files from some old computers at work) and printed poems from more than a decade ago. I copied and merged them into one huge manuscript, from which more than half was eliminated. In order to eliminate and choose, I had to re-read all of these poems I wrote when I was the loneliest and saddest I have ever been… it was quite tortuous. One, some of the poems were pretty bad… and two, in order to improve them (though I admit, “improvement” was minimal), I found myself falling into that same emotional and mental state… and it was very unpleasant. Because working on it got me into a gloomy mood, I may have taken longer than I should have to put it together (it really is a short book!).
At the same time, I think it’s an easy read that many people who have ever felt sad and lonely can relate to. I wanted to dedicate the book to teenage girls, but I refrained.
What’s the appeal of a ball point pen drawing? Tell us about the level of intimacy that comes from not being able to erase?
As you know, I’m self-conscious about my “art.” I imagine landscapes, faces and forms that I think I succeed at transmitting in words… I’ve been writing since I learned to… the mechanics of it. And I’ve been drawing since even before I could write… but I don’t think I’ve ever really been good at it, maybe because I lack the discipline.
I discovered ballpoint drawing later in life… I think my first ever ballpoint drawing was a self-portrait in a notebook I was studying from during one of my first years of college. There was a mirror across me, and I was procrastinating, of course. I drew my reflection between reading and writing, and I thought “hey, this isn’t THAT bad…”
I decided I’d try drawing in pen from then on (and I don’t think I’ve drawn anything in pencil since!)
I used to draw in pencil, but always erased. Something was always off, whether a line, a nose, a hand… I found that having to make the best of these “mistakes” perfectly matched my attitude towards my sketches (and maybe even towards life). “This is the best you can do. Deal with it.” And it’s fast. It allows me to move on… in a way, drawing in pen is somewhat like speech. You cannot un-say what is said, only re-word it, explain it, take it back… a pen drawing can be covered up by new lines, drawn over, but you can still see through it. I’m not sure if this is a proper analogy, but I’m feeling it.
Tells us about the creative process behind Stars Like Fish.
SLF was an experiment… In order to put the book together I had to forget all about what potential readers would think, because it had to categorize. There are story fragments, poetic prose (the dreams), one poem, and even some diary entries. So it’s a very intimate self-portrait.
The first chapter contains some pieces I intended to use in a novel I started when I was 15, which later, instead of carrying on with the project, I realized it became a place I went to when I needed answers and to find myself… selfish, I know. If I remember correctly, the only story that doesn’t belong to that universe, that is self-contained, is Post Human. I decided to abandon the project (where the girls in The Girls belong) and just keep using it as therapy and a safe place to go. Which is why they come up again in the last chapter (as a journal entry). Surprisingly, a number of people want to know more about these girls. They’re alive and well, so they might make an appearance in a story where something actually HAPPENS in the future.
I gave a conference on the process of writing about dreams at the UPR-H, which you can check out at my book blog, http://books.ame-electrique.org. This is what the second chapter consists of, dreams only. So I’ll just omit that process.
The third chapter are journal entries, so there wasn’t much of a process behind that… other than pouring it out.
However, putting the book together was, as it was with WELIF, a regression and a tedious process of elimination. And an editing process that seemed to only complicate things (you do know there are typos in the book…). “DIY or die.”
You work with a combination of painterly words, photography and illustration. What’s your perception of the term visual art? What can you foresee in future creative generations?
Maybe my “painterly words” are my frustration… I know my writing is very visual. When I discovered photo editing, I got the same satisfaction as I did describing scenes. Illustration, you flatter me so, but yes, I like to doodle.
My perception of visual art is something arcane and academic that I am only vaguely familiar with and learn about through people like you and observing what they do… perhaps it shouldn’t be, but having spent so many years in academia can make you a little insecure before talking about something without a theoretical background. However, and this is a total contradiction, visual art is, at the same time, something so accessible to absolutely anyone with properly functioning eyes… we can interpret images as signs, in a manner that they should say something, or ask us something, but then again, we can also just enjoy something beautiful or ugly for what it is. So I guess I shift from one starting point to the other, depending on what’s comfortable at the moment. You can either have a long conversation about a piece of art, or write a long paper about it, or just like it. And I guess the same goes for the creation of visual art… you might transmit, transgress, transcend, or just make something.
I’m afraid. I don’t know if I’ll go back to these thoughts later and take any of it back. But, like ballpoint drawings, I can’t un-say it after you post it. Anyway, this topic is probably too dense or too open, maybe we should have had a sit-down with some coffee about this instead. [I’d love to!]
About future creative generations, I foresee (and I’m touching my third eye with my eyes closed) that they’ll be fine. I don’t think they will struggle any less than current and past generations have and do, but then again, no one is an artist with expectations of being comfortable. And I mean economically, socially, mentally or emotionally.
What are you plotting for your own near future? (Any projects and plans you’d like to share with us.)
I am up to my nose in work… but I do hope that my next book involves short stories. I didn’t think I’d ever want to be a crowd pleaser, but the feedback for SLF has been so unexpectedly positive, that I want to.
I also have some magic and mystery brewing, but it’s still in the black bag of secrets.