Tony Acarasiddhi Press on Working Without the Fever

An interview with Tony Acarasiddhi Press, from The Write Stuff series:

Tony Acarasiddhi Press tries to pay attention and sometimes he does. His short story collection, Crossing the Lines, was published in January, 2016 by Big Table Publishing. About 100 of his stories and poems can be found in many fine journals. He lives near San Francisco but has no website.

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

My answer, always, is “As little as possible.”

I walk, I do a little teaching, I write stories, I try to pay attention. More, I want to be helpful, useful, and happy.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

Regarding writing, it’s remembering – and believing — that I don’t need to wait for the blissful, blinding and irresistible inspiration, that it’s okay to work without the fever. Wise, even. But I do love when it strikes.

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

I can do worse than going back to old, or even recent, Van Morrison songs & sets. There’s an astonishing BBC-Four concert from 2008 that’s 59 minutes of heaven. It makes me feel better even when I’m feeling great.

The opening lyrics from the first song of the concert:

Precious time is slipping away
But you’re only king for a day
It doesn’t matter to which God you pray
Precious time is slipping away

This song, among other things, reminds me to embrace and enjoy each day. Try to, anyway. Truth: whenever I/we move into a new place – which has happened often over the decades – the first music played is an important rite. It has almost always been Van Morrison.

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

My paternal grandfather died just a bit before I was born. As the Panama Canal was being built, he went down to lend his skills. So, he was a piano player in an, an, “intriguing” house of hospitality there. I’d like to have asked him about that.

For reincarnation fans, Babe Ruth died exactly two years before my birth. Just in case.

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

I was (and remain) a baseball fan and back then, not only was Orlando Cepeda my favorite player – but my family actually knew him. Even then, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the Majors, so I started thinking about being a baseball broadcaster. In college, I did spend more time being a “progressive rock” DJ on the campus station than I did on my studies. “Press Express! Cooking from Nine to Midnight!”

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

Okay, we’re here. Yes, it’s beautiful, it really is. Can we go home now? We’ve already been here, what, four nights? Only two? Really? Yes, I know I said I loved camping when I was a kid, and that was true. I even said I liked it when we first met, and that was still pretty-true — but mostly ‘cuz I wanted to be away from everything and everyone EXCEPT you — and I will never forget that night in Oak Creek Canyon. But now, please, all I want is to wake with you beside me … in our bed. In any bed, but a bed. With you.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

I am fortunate to be able to say that it seems to be enough. It hasn’t always been this way and there may be a time when it again won’t be, but right now it is okay.

What’s wrong with society today?

That’s one heck of a question. I’ve been (allegedly) practicing Buddhism for about 25 years, so I guess I’d point to our constant craving & undying focus on what we see as “unsatisfactory” in our lives. I’m fine with capitalism but if I were king I’d ban advertising – all of it. People making money by selling medical insurance would need to find new careers. Oh, and the car alarm industry. Vote me for King.

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

On a less-than-regular basis, I do a Mindfulness of Breathing meditation, and also a Cultivation of Loving-Kindness meditation. There are a few others, too.

Oh. Well, as I think about it, I’ll stand/sit by this response.

What is your fondest memory?

I may try to tell this story via fiction one day, so I won’t give you too much, but my greatest job ever was working 24/7, for 31 days, for the federal government. It involved smoking something that just might be legal soon here in California.

Childbirth (not mine) – that was pretty cool, too.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

In my head I often hear the old lyric “I fall in love too easily” and it does apply. I’m a sucker for little dogs and big dogs and little and big people, too, and I run into, or at least see, many of each as I’m out walking. I was going to be a math major (I thought) until I crashed and burned in Algebra 2 in 11thgrade – let’s just say it happens many times a day. And when I’m reading wonderful fiction or poetry – oh, my.

What are you working on right now?

I have great admiration for my friends (and strangers) who dare to write novels. The audacity! The vision! I’m slowly, extremely slowly, trying to stitch together a novella, or something that might legitimately claim to be something like that. But it’s going slowly. Did I mention that?

I need to find the core of a few characters. Once I do that, I think I might have something worth writing, and reading.

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

I’ve been really lucky in the “world of work” — generally doing exactly what I want, then shifting to a new field when necessary. After the usual range of busboy gigs, I became a pre-school teacher, then a lawyer (legal aid, then criminal defense), then high school teacher, then writer (& walker).

I cry sometimes when fiction reaches in and grabs my freaking heart. Alice Mattison’s collection In Case We’re Separated; Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto; Richard Russo; Marilynne Robinson; Kent Haruf; and so many more. Just thinking about the last page of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. As the farmer said to the pig: “That’ll do.”

I want to write stories that might touch people in ways they need to be touched. I claim I write fiction when I have questions, and poems when I think I have answers – therefore, I write far more fiction that poetry. I do know I’ve learned a great deal about myself from my own writing.

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

In my story “Going to Jail Free” (it’s in the book), a character relates seeing a giraffe on the back of a flatbed truck, on a highway in Texas. Truth.

I also waited an hour outside a Catholic priest’s office in Oaxaca, Mexico, waiting to introduce myself to him – he was the uncle of a dear friend back in California. Others were ahead of me. It was finally my turn, and when I walked in I realized he was all set to hear my confession!

And I’ll never forget the total eclipse of the sun, seen from southern Spain, in October of 2005.

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