SB Stokes on Re-Testing Desire Through the Work You Produce

An interview with SB Stokes, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

SB Stokes’ first book of poetry, A History of Broken Love Things, is out now from Punk Hostage Press. He has produced the blog MASS COMMUNICATIONS since 2004 and also can be found on YouTube and Tumblr. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and is a founder, event producer and art director for Oakland’s free, annual literary event, Beast Crawl, which happens Saturday, July 12 this year.

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

“I’m a bouncer” is my first answer normally, but it depends on the environment and who is asking. If they care about literature or poetry, I’ll tell them I write poems and tell them about my book, ask them if they’ve heard of Beast Crawl. If they’re looking for design help, I’ll tell them about my editing and designing and art directing skills. Sometimes I’ll offer to read them a poem or two, but it really depends on who’s asking and where we are at that time.

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

My biggest struggle lately is just making enough money to survive. This Bay Area has gotten so expensive and out of control. I’m born and raised here, but it is getting scary how much money you have to make just to live a somewhat normal life.

I struggle trying to avoid having a day job (until I can be teaching poetry/creative writing somewhere interesting), but that’s really part of a bigger struggle that I think many of us creative types wrestle with: How does one have a satisfying work life AND a satisfying writing life AND a satisfying personal life on top of that? Right now, I work primarily at night, doing door or bouncing at nightclubs, DJ parties, or bars. That takes care of two of the three.

(Oh, and I’m struggling to not sound like some poncey asshole answering these questions.)

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

First I’d have to ask, “You sure about that?”, but then I’d wonder what exactly they were talking about, I think. In regards to being someone who has been pursuing writing poetry for quite a number of years now, I’d say, “Constantly re-test your desire to live this life through the work that you produce.”

Also, share your writing with other writers you trust. Do this as often as you can. Community is crucial.

Read out as much as you can, it will only make you better at it, and give you the illusion of being calm when you do it.

Send your work out to be published frequently. It too is a crucial part of your career as a writer.

Right now, undeniably approaching middle age, I feel that I’m still growing and changing, both as a writer and as a person, and, ultimately, that is primarily “what I do”, so I guess I’d encourage them to do the same.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I am not a conventional success, no. But, since finishing grad school last year, I’ve managed to spend my days writing and creating — editing, working on my book with my publishers Punk Hostage Press, doing design work, taking photos, making drawings and paintings, writing lots of new poems — while most people are busy doing a day job. I’ve also managed to read my poems in and around San Francisco and the East Bay with a fair amount of regularity. That feels pretty good.

There’s definitely been some struggling to make ends meet since going back to school to finish an undergrad degree six or seven years ago — and I don’t know how much longer I can keep this crazy lifestyle up — but it has been an amazingly productive time for me as a writer and artist/designer and that, ultimately, makes me feel like I’ve been hugely successful.

Starting Beast Crawl in Oakland with my friends in 2012, getting my MFA from SF State in 2013, having my first book of poems out now, in 2014 (A History of Broken Love Things, Punk Hostage Press), all successes. I’m broke as hell, but I’m on a roll and I’m very happy about that!

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

There are several, but this one is an all-time fave (and it makes me dance):

Also, that really old one with Will Ferrell where he’s being yelled at by his 1-year-old landlady. I laugh every single time.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

Both of my Mom’s parents, Fernando and Juanita Trevino, Fred and Nita. They taught me how to live simply, honorably, and credibly.

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

Ten-years-old was a long time ago, but I remember being really into drawing and painting, and dinosaur bones, and dinosaurs in general. I wanted to study paleontology or anthropology, in addition to being a professional artist like Picasso or Matisse. Oh, and a pro basketball player.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

I’d love to travel through time and stay in one of those mountain top fire lookout stations that Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Jack Kerouac used to stay in.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

I’m the artist, not the art.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

All depends which hour of the day you choose to look. Usually somewhere between $1.91 and -$100.

What’s wrong with society today?

Adults aren’t allowed to be playful. It’s a huge problem. Also, generally, not enough exposure to good contemporary poetry. Now that I think about it, not enough exposure to good quality education in general.

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

“I love to smoke marijuana. It gives me a deep meditation.” -Linval Thompson

What is your fondest memory?

No doubt, filling out this questionnaire. Give it time.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Approximately 3,491,233,421 times a day, but often way more than that.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

I would love to see all Americans allowed to get quality education for free. And minimum wage actually being a living wage. I don’t have much hope for either in my lifetime, sadly.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

I can only speak for myself, but art is a form of sustenance. I need exposure to it, I need to be able to make it, I need it around me, I need to be able to talk about it and think about it; it is a necessary fuel for my most crucial fires. And I need other creatives to bounce off of too!

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

Wouldn’t you like to know!

What are you working on right now?

Staying alive, trying to do more readings, trying to attend more readings, trying to pry myself out of my room and get more sunlight, and to exercise occasionally. Designing more book covers for Punk Hostage Press. Working on Beast Crawl 2014. Living, working, loving, and, of course, writing, writing, writing…

What kind of writing do you most admire?

I admire writing that supersedes itself, overrides the necessarily abstracted barrier of the words themselves, and touches you deeply, emotionally, repeatedly. It is rare, but that’s what I like most. That’s what I’m trying to create with my own writing, not that I succeed very often.

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

The obvious: make it more affordable and give greater access to resources for the poor and underemployed. Improve public transportation and add greater unification to the various systems of travel around the Bay. Also, free wi-fi for the whole damned Bay. Cummon now, isn’t Silicon Valley right here??

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

It means working the door.

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

Two clowns passing one of those red balloon animal balloons, tied in a big loop, back and forth through their nostrils. Years ago, when Burning Man was still dangerous…

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

With 50 bucks, I could change your afternoon. With 50 words I could change your life.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Bacon, duh. Good Cali herb. Raw patchouli, believe it or not. It smells more like eucalyptus blended with mint, than like that dirty hippie smell most people hate. Many citrus smells, they just smell clean to me. Leather. Eucalyptus. My Gramma’s Machaca. Coffee, although I don’t drink it.

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

Travel around the whole world for a few years, preferably with a partner or close friend, writing, taking pictures, painting, eating, dancing, drinking, singing, recording, playing my trumpet, fucking… Try to get to the thousand and one places I would still like to visit. Basically, doing what I do every day, but all over the damned place!

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