Thursday, November 8, 2018

Justin Evans : My writing day

            I’ve worked hard to give myself time to write and improve while my life has frequently evolved and occasionally upended. I typically work in construction and facilities maintenance, often electrical, which has given me the opportunity to write the way I think will be most valuable but has usually split my life into compartments. Lately, thanks to friends and supportive organizations, I’ve been able to work a contracted position that gives me flexible hours while I pursue an MFA and occasionally find independent electrical projects. I’ve also been given a two month residency at Goodyear Arts, a program dedicated to giving local artists time and space in a supportive environment.
            I’m coming to the end of my first month here, where I spend almost all of my free time sitting at a table made of a sheet of 1” plywood on sawhorses. I’m surrounded by reused drywall covered in leftover paint from previous artists, which the residency has allowed me to write on as I work. All around me are lists, free writing exercises, outlines, and selections of what I’ve been reading scribbled in sharpie. My goal is to cover the walls but I won’t succeed. For now it’s just to show what I’ve done so far and make sure any discarded ideas are still available to be stumbled on while I pace around the room.
            I brought a few old rugs that weren’t being used and laid them over the concrete floor in one corner, and piled up books from home that I thought would be useful for the long poem I’ve had in mind: most importantly a complete copy of Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno, but also pickings of Samuel Beckett, James Dickey, Douglas Kearney, Kenneth Patchen, and Peter Cole. There’s also a compact edition of the NRSV Bible, some field guides I’ve borrowed from the library, and Joseph Campbell’s Historical Atlas of World Mythology. At the far end of my table is an electric kettle, a variety of old tea, and a bota box of wine. And hanging above me are the eyes of an angel my girlfriend, Kristy, painted for me, watching out for me but always pretending to look the other way.
            On the days I have to focus on writing, I get woken up by Kristy on her way to work, then fall back asleep for a half hour or so. I try to give myself a warm breakfast. Since the dog ate the butter last night I put some chutney on a piece of toast and have a few cups of coffee before I’m out the door. I get to Goodyear Arts around 9:30, driving through an ivy drowned gate and through the century old manufacturing facility that is Camp North End. I usually have the first couple hours to myself. These first hours are always sporadic, as I grasp around looking for the next step of a process I’m learning as I go.
            For this residency I’ve decided to focus on a long poem to be read by a group using antiphonal structures and overlapping voices. So far I have about 40 minutes worth of poetry which I’d like to double and then cut by the end of the residency, arranged into 8 sections which will be performed in 3 “Acts” throughout the evening of a gallery opening scheduled to present my work and that of my two neighbors. Most of it is textural writing and absurd rewritings of other texts. First, I’ll usually find something to listen to on my earbuds (Kamasi Washington’s new album has been helpful), and read through what’s on the walls, adding lines and edits to the sections I haven’t yet put into a word document.
            I’ll then either sit down with the printed drafts I’ve left on my table or flip through some of what I have lying around, to hopefully foster new ideas where my wheels may be spinning. Or I’ll flip through language I’d like to replicate or comment on. With the news as it’s been, I’ve been making passes at both the Declaration of Independence and Pope Urban II’s speech at the Council of Clermont. As I read I’ll try to find points of entry for free writing, phrases that can sprout like seeds into something else with beauty and clarity.
            At lunch time I’ll usually just heat something up in the microwave on site, or occasionally I’ll treat myself to some soul food down the road. Afterwards I like to go for a walk around the site. Goodyear Arts is housed on a former industrial site that made everything from Model T’s to missile casings. I’m constantly reminded of The Zone, from Stalker, where everything is concrete imbued with flora. Behind Goodyear is a giant parking lot with an excellent view of the sky and the Charlotte skyline. I find that usually on these walks I can find enough inspiration to write a short poem, pretty as it all is, just for fun and practice.
            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a believer in waiting for inspiration. But I believe in the term as something which can be achieved with exercise and patience and occasion. The more I force myself to write (as obvious as it sounds) the more often I feel compelled to. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I find it really helpful to post short poems on social media. Linking poetry with images (often edited into abstraction) and receiving just a little positive feedback can be encouraging when I’m spending a lot of time working alone.
            Once I sit back down I try to reorient myself with the full project. I have a short list of techniques I feel capable of experimenting with and a list of the sections I’ve almost completed and plan to start. And now that I’ve started rehearsals with a group of performers I can sit down to listen to my recordings to hear what was working and what we had problems with. I’ll try to spend a good deal of time on reviewing these and making focused edits on at least one section.
            For the rest of the afternoon I’ll trade between free-writing potential pieces, extending what’s been written, and making edits to what’s been done. Now my rehearsals with my performers will usually involve exploring new techniques, so I’m wanting to bring new or reworked material each time. By the end of the day I’ve almost always become so unfocused that I’m not sure if I’ve gotten anything done. So around 6:00 I’ll try to give at least an hour to reading for school before I head home.
            So far it all seems to be working, never as efficiently as I mean.

Justin Evans is a poet and playwright from Charlotte, NC. He is former co-editor of Vanilla Sex Magazine. Past playwriting credits include A Tonguey Kiss for Samuel Davidson (Anam Cara Theatre Co.), Satan v. Laundry (ACTC), I Wont Hurt You (XOXO Theatre Collective), and The 30th Annual Bernstein Family Christmas Spectacular (The Magnetic Theatre). His poetry has been published by Five2One, Metabolism (as Valentina Tereskova), Ursus Americanus Press, and The Peal. He frequently performs with Asheville's Poetry Cabaret and is the creator and editor of the sound collage podcast Mystery Meat. He organizes and hosts the America's Pastime reading series, a bi-monthly reading of un-original poetry and fiction.


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