JM: Happy Valentine's Day, and thank you for asking me along. I'm thrilled to join you.
NG: My pleasure! Tell me, what would make this day special for you?
JM: A long back massage! I really don't differentiate between this day and any other when it comes to romance. Romance is ubiquitous in my life. Every day is a ripe day to profess and declare your love for your special someone. Every day must be a day for this. Not necessarily with flowers, or chocolate, or jewellery - but with intimacy, attention, and appreciation. As the great sufi poet Rumi says: there are a thousand ways of kneeling to kiss the earth. I say seize every opportunity to steal a kiss or make your beloved laugh or cause their heart to throb - serve them in as many ways and aspects that you can. Life is a composite of passions if you wish it to be.
NG: I think that's the most romantic thing I've ever heard, Jé. What’s your worst Valentine’s Day memory?
JM: A few from the awkward teenage years. Once, seeing a girl that I absolutely adored give a card to a guy that I wasn't too fond of. I'm glad those phases are far behind me. How easily shattered we are in the formative years...how urgently we love.
NG: So true. What’s your favorite kind of chocolate candy?
JM: Junior Mints. I love them, they're like little parcels of gratuituous delight. I became addicted to them on my one and only trip to the United States. I was staying in Windsor, California, where every Tuesday night in summer was movie night on the town green. This meant plenty of home made popcorn in greasy, brown paper bags, along with a trip to Powell's to grab a box or ten of Junior Mints. My mouth is watering just reminiscing about it.
NG: Junior Mints are delish! Do you have any last minute suggestion(s) for all those guys still scrambling to come up with something romantic for their sweethearts today?
JM: Write your girls a poem, lads. It doesn't have to be a sonnet or a staggering piece of craftsmanship. Put your feelings down on paper. If it's sincere, if it's heartfelt, you'll cause her to swoon like a schoolgirl. She'll fold up the paper that you've poured your heart onto and keep it forever. And if you're feeling extra courageous (and this is the cherry on top as far as this advice is concerned), get down on your knees and recite it to her. Home run, right there.
NG: He's right, fellas! We'd keep that note forever...and if you got down on your knees to recite? OMG!
Okay, let’s talk about your work. How long have you been writing?
JM: I was always making up stories as a young child. I lied notoriously in show-and-tell at school, telling stories about bears that I saw on the weekend, and cowboys and indians that were wrestling on the roof at home, and all manner of hijinks that just weren't true. I used to make little books at home and illustrate them myself, filling them with crazy monsters and strange artefacts and amazing adventures.
NG: When did you know writing was your gift?
JM: I was supported by my teachers in primary school. In the third grade I had two stories published in the local newspaper, under the title "Christmas For A Little Boy". One story about Santa, and one about the birth of Christ. The grownups seemed to love it, and they were quite pleased with me, and so I became quite pleased with myself. I imagine I was impossible for my siblings to live with for a while. I remember that, when asked, I never wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be an author. That was a clear distinction, even for an eight year old.
NG: Did someone help you realize your talent?
JM: I can remember various moments through my schooling years where my writing was praised. I ran into my 4th grade teacher a few years ago and he said that he still had some of my stories. Others praised my essays, and I even had one teacher submit one of my pieces to a Penguin anthology along with his own (mine was accepted, his wasn't!). No-one stands out, but I was fortunate enough to have many who believed in me.
NG: How long has it taken to build the following you have for your work?
JM: I must confess, I pay very little attention to my following these days. I don't toot my own horn too much at all, or actively pursue an audience for my work. I just throw it out there quite haphazardly. I'm relying on the belief that the work is all that matters - the quality of the work is what brings the readers, not the other way around. This is the age of Twitter and tags and status updates and book trailers and blog posts and the weaponisation and commodification of everything, even hobbies. I'm not in that race. I don't want to be. I am a writer. And though I'm not writing a lot right now, I'm thinking about it, about what that means. I don't think it has much to do with networking at all. It is only about the work. Don't let them fool you with tales that surround the alleged importance of branding and social proof. It's an illusion. Make your work as good as it can be.
NG: Brilliant advice! Describe your writing process.
JM: It really isn't that photogenic. Or inspiring to hear. It involves a lot of rubbing out and doodling, a lot of sighing and farting around, and generally looks like I'm wasting a whole lot of time. I'm a huge procrastinator. I'll start work five minutes before deadline. All of the bad disciplines are strings in my bow. Yet, every now and again I seem to produce a piece that works, that I'm reasonably happy with. I'm not very prolific at this point in my life, due to external pressures, but aside from all of that, I do have my own ideas on process.
It cannot be done without more heart than mind. Creative writing is a tool of empathy.
I think it's how we engage with it. How we enter into it. It's got nothing to do with how much you do it, or how much of a genius one is (forget what others think about you - that's the ego), but in how easily we connect with the creative flow. Flow is not work, as it is not about control. How can you control flow? You can't. What are the rules of art? There aren't any - make sure you're not sold any.
Editing is where most of the craft takes place, but the writing itself, well, that's not so pure. I think the two get confused to no end and because they are two different parts of the same process, they call for different states of mind and presence. Writing is more childlike - especially regarding fiction. If you don't explore and play around, you lose. It cannot be done without more heart than mind. It is a tool of empathy before anything else.
Editing is where the administrator comes out and starts correction and cutting. It is where the mind and theory of story are engaged with sculpting something like Michelango's David out of a mud pie. It is a strange symbiosis, but one that articulates my experience more vivdly than simply work.
In a state of flow, writing becomes the closest thing I know to spiritual practice. It's a form of meditation. It's a path to enlightenment. Which is far less serious than all that work business.
NG: You've rendered me momentarily speechless. There are so many nuggets of wisdom in what you just said. I agree that 'creative writing is a tool of empathy.' Do you ever suffer from self-doubt once you’ve finished a piece. If so, how do you deal with it?
JM: There is always some doubt. The good thing about that is that it can be directed to the next piece, towards trying to make that better. There are many chances for the writer to get it right. It's a process, a practice. We are graced with many do-overs.
NG: What inspires you to write?
JM: There are many things that can cause a piece of writing to come into being, but I'm moved by what it is I anticipate a poem or piece of writing can do for others. There are many myths built up around poetry and its ability to change the world. I don't really want to change the world. I want to change the way that people feel about themselves and each other - to offer hope, compassion, love, and empathy. If I can live out my live in the service of that aim, then I'm going to feel as though I have lived a life of extraordinary purpose and privilege.
NG: What poets do you enjoy reading?
JM: First and foremost, there is the great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. No-one comes close to him for sheer energy and palpable romance. I am breathtaken by the works of Galway Kinnell and Eamon Grennan. I couldn't leave Mary Oliver out. Her poetry has a mystic quality. And, speaking of mysticism, the poetry of the sufi poets Rumi and Hafiz never fail to reveal some hidden aspect of ecstasy. And Rilke...he was a master of ecstatic verse...there's not enough time in the day to list them all.
NG: What advice would you share with aspiring poets?
JM: Go out into the world and experience as much as you can, and do this while attempting to cultivate an attitude of profound curiosity. Have adventures, in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms. Enjoy life. Get disappointed by it. Laugh. Sing. Love passionately. Drink some. Dress sharp. Walk tall. Fight hard. Learn about what it is to fully inhabit your humanity. Break bread and hold communion with your life.
Also, you don't have to write every day. You need to live every day. Cultivating good writing habits is essential, but live first. If you are called to write, you will. And what that means is that it is a calling of the spirit. It will present itself to you as an unshakeable and genuine need, not as a job opportunity or a random desire.
NG: Out of all the poems that you’ve written, which one is your favorite and why?
JM: Well, You Who Turn From Love is probably my favorite, because it calls to us to partcipate in the world, to love despite the threat of vulnerability or the raw memory of previous disappointment. There are many in the world today who are numb to love, or who have resigned from love, and every single one of those individuals is, in a profound way, lost to the rest of us. It's a true tragedy. One cannot realise their own humanity without love. The poem is my humble attempt to say, look, please don't turn your back. The value lies in loving, in being a part of this world. If you must turn away, turn gently. Turn kindly. Turn slowly. We need you to return someday.
You Who Turn From Love
You who turn from love in pain,
turn gently: heed the softer counsels of the world.
As a slender branch whips back
from the weight of so many ravens;
as the tulip wilts for moisture in the heat
to stand once more within the glistening dew,
as subtle as the snowflakes meagre shadow.
You who turn from love in pain,
turn kindly: seek the tender cycles of the world.
The winter greets with joy flung arms
the first fog's slow return, and so the moon
shall know its lover's face, the sun sinks
without quarrel. Spring dances without clothes
as Autumn looks on, waiting, and neither
will depart the grand design.
You who turn from love in pain,
turn slowly: nothing exists but purpose,
and the born to love must love
although the season's on the wane,
just as the quiet swan floats upon the lake
and the heron wades the shallows,
though the fickle water's edge subsides, and rises
NG: That was beautiful, Jé! Thank you for sharing it! Do you do commissioned poetry?
JM: Only for young, good-looking, extraordinarily wealthy widows. If you know of any, please send them my way.
NG: LOL...Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
JM: I have a website: http://www.jemaverick.com/ I welcome everybody to come along and visit. Everything about my work that you need to know is there.
NG: Jé, I'm so glad I snagged you for an interview! I look forward to reading more of your work!
JM: It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, Nichelle.
NG: Jé, the pleasure was all mine. Thanks for the inspiring, wise words and heartfelt poetry. You have a beautiful soul that shines through in everything you say. It truly was a gift to me as a writer and romantic at heart!
~~HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!!~~