Nick Krieger on Being Plagued by Our Own Myopia

An interview with Nick Krieger, from The Write Stuff series:

A native of New York, Nick Krieger realized at the age of twenty-one that he’d been born on the wrong coast, a malady he corrected by transitioning to San Francisco. He is the author of the memoir, Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender (Beacon Press, 2011), winner of a Stonewall Honor Book Award and an Independent Literary Award. Since the release of his book, he’s spoken about trans issues and experiences at colleges and conferences across the country. He’s received residencies at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I ask whether they mean, “What do I do with my time?” or “What do I do to earn money?”

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

Getting that first draft on paper, and figuring out what I think I want to write. Once I have some words and at least an idea of where I want to go, that’s when the real fun starts.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

It’s great to have a starting point, an idea of what you want; now see where it takes you. What’s working for you and what isn’t? Get to know yourself, your writing process, the ways you are in relationship to people and your environment. What do you value most? When are you most alive? How are your answers shifting over time? Ask yourself questions, especially the hard ones, and adjust your path accordingly.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I’m not sure I use “successful” as a metric for my life or work. It seems to be a relative term. Am I doing better than others? Am I doing better than I had imagined or envisioned for myself? I’m not sure I trust, or find comfort or motivation in any answers to questions of success.

I prefer to ask, “Am I trying to make a positive difference in the world?” Am I attempting to live consciously? Does how I spend my time feel aligned with the issues and people I care about the most? Am I developing into a more accepting, loving, compassionate person? To all of those, I say “yes,” or at least, “moving in the right direction.”

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

Ricky Henderson, Patrick Ewing, and other professional athletes for New York sports teams. I wanted to be a women’s college basketball coach.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

A better question would be why do I have so many different checking accounts.

What’s wrong with society today?

Fear. Our inability to experience and empathize with our own fears, and a resulting lack of understanding for how this disconnection impacts our relationships to others and the world.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

I keep melatonin and ashwanga by my bed. This is my “natural” approach to sleeplessness. I also keep NyQuil, Valium, and Xanax in the medicine cabinet for emergencies.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

A significant decrease in the gap between rich and poor; a decrease in incarceration rates, especially of black men; a greater attempt of white liberals (like myself) to take an active anti-racist stance in daily life; a decline in the suicide rates of queers, especially trans folks; a woman president; women ruling the world. I’m just getting started…

But right now, my greatest desire is to see us heal and recover from the Trump presidency. As unimaginable as it seems now, I believe, or maybe just hope, that there is something crucial we can take from this terrible situation that will serve us in the future. I need to see the other side of this thing.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is an opportunity to look at something from a new and different angle. I think that we, as humans, are plagued by our own myopia, focused only on the problems and solutions that are right in front of our eyes. Art is an invitation to shift or open up our perspective, and the mediums like photography or poetry are a trick to our systems of defense. Art comes in through the side door of our being, impacting us in ways that linear, direct approaches sometimes cannot.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Please see page 109 of my book. And also page 134. Although I admit that’s a little outdated.

What are you working on right now?

For the first time in my writing life, I’m feeling blocked, unmotivated, unable to invest in a project or idea. I’m taking suggestions…

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

Narrative nonfiction (or long-form journalism) just blows me away. I deeply admire the investment of time and energy in subject matter, the difficulties of good reportage, the integrity to fact that is then shaped into story, the recreation of historical or current events. Katherine Boo, Daniel James Brown, Michael Lewis, Erik Larson are some names popping to mind.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

Tech start-ups and exorbitant housing costs. I know there’s an “and” in my answer, but I still think they’re one thing. (Full disclosure: I work for a tech start-up.)

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

I think of “Dinner and…” as a night on the town. Dinner and a movie, a play, or a concert. Unfortunately, I think evenings start at 5pm and end at 9:30pm, so movies tend to be the only thing available during this window.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

About ten years ago, I showed up at a coastal Oregon campground on a long-distance bicycle trip and found an abandoned tent. There was an open suitcase with a strap-on dildo resting on a framed picture of the “Footprints” poem. That image has stayed with me.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

Waste them quickly.

What are some of your favorite smells?

The air after a rain. Dirt. Coffee houses. Mushrooms and onions sautéing. Pizza places.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

Living in a van, boat, or other tiny housing structure with mobile capabilities.

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