Andrew Touhy on Settling in to Depth
Andrew Touhy is a founding member of the Flat Earth Writing Collective. He teaches creative writing at the Writing Salon and weighs his thoughts on the craft and art of short stories at The Urgent Voice.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them … ?
Long ago I would’ve answered dot-com whore. These days I try to teach, write, raise a child and generally treat myself to fits of benign selfishness, all without indulging in too much hope or despair. The “do” question is a pretty prescient one for me, though. Just yesterday (read as every day) I was worrying about the close relationship between identity and anxiety. We hold a lot of “positions” in our daily lives, and while it’s cool to be such dynamic or busy or driven or talented or exciting social people … the truth is I find it exhausting. The whole jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none thing can beat you down, leave you sliding over the surface of yourself and life. Whatever those are. I’m looking to settle in to depth whenever possible. I like Robert Walser’s line from Jakob von Guten: “A little, but thoroughly.” Or Faye Dunaway’s answer to the same question in the movie Barfly: “I drink.” Two little words said with conviction.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
I think the above about covers both. But I’d also say I struggle with permission. And accepting my limitations. Never producing enough, and it never being good enough, is a constant thorn in my side. Spellcheck wanted very badly for me to have typed persimmon. Which is infinitely better. I have terrible struggles with persimmon.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
You feel at home with cognitive dissonance? Deferred gratification? You enjoy the never-ending process of process? Are you prepared to steal reams of paper from your office job? For years? Care to confront the whole Existential crisis — repeatedly — in one vocational somersault? Let me show you around.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
Roger Touhy. He’s said to be the only man Al Capone feared. He wasn’t a gangster per se but a bootlegger. We are in no way related.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
Florescent lights flicker on. Musak pipes in from speakers hidden somewhere in the dilapidated theater. There would be The Truffle Shuffle. Then Blue Steel. And then The Swirl. After that my too-small hotel towel would drop (always drops) from my thickened, fatherly waist. Incidentally, I was once held captive in nothing but a Hyundai hatchback and shiny blue thong. The driver — snickering — crept her way up sunny A1A, trying to catch every light, while I screamed go, go, go! Long story. Tiny, tiny undies. The mood that day was: Never this low, or nude, again.
What’s wrong with society today?
Extreme mammonism. It’s actually lucrative to act horrible. Or be horrible. We need a big conch shell to sort some things out. Or a Shirley Jackson lottery. Or perhaps Kafka’s “apparatus.” What happened to the angels of our better natures? Empathy? Common decency? Or just common sense?
What is your fondest memory?
Every morning when my little son wakes and makes the sign for “more.” His eyes aren’t even open. He’s on his knees. What does he want more of? Everything!
How many times do you fall in love each day?
I’ve always been a climb in love sort of guy. A lot of scaffolding involved. Which takes more time and labor, as you know.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
The rise of creative readers. Campaign finance reform. The strengthening of everyone’s right to not be shot to death. Accountability.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
At last a question I can answer with utter confidence. Broadly speaking, art is civilization’s heart. Picasso said art is subtraction. Though I think he also said it was collage. There he was talking about the future of art, I think, with painting in mind of course. Wilde said all art is exaggeration. I think it’s division, though I can’t say why I say that. It is something I feel, though. However you do the math, all art takes a lot of architecture, even if it stays hidden. In the end, no matter the media, it “ought” to be something that gets inside us and melts the ice, inspires us to be increased in some way, to increase ourselves. To be hungry for that feeling — a kind of beauty — no matter its character (sadness, joy, shame, etc.).
As far as being necessary? I feel it’s necessary to me. Essential to what we might as well call my soul. But if we don’t feel or think or agree on that as a culture, and act accordingly, then no.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
I’m glad you asked “when” and not “if.”
What are you working on right now?
I only just finished a story about losing my wedding ring in the dog. He’s an 85-pound German Shepherd rescue, so the ring has its challenges. I’m working on other stories, more stories always. Mostly old drafts under revision, what with work and my daddy days schedule. I like to keep a rotation of longer and shorter pieces going. In general I work spherically; meaning, I get a lot of nothing done, but the chaos of so much unfinished business makes me feel quite productive. Someday my story manuscript “Brother from San Francisco” will be fit for proper rejection.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Last weekend my younger brother came to town from Taipei. He’s a seasoned traveler and knows how to make the most of business layovers. In general, he has a way — quite natural to him — of putting the carpe back in diem. While jet lag would have me pinned to the bed, he was up early and out exploring, discovering. And he found, somehow he found, unique stuff. For example, the model train shop in the basement of Berkeley Ace Hardware. He stumbled into a Cal track meet. By lunch he was in the city, crossing the park to Inner Richmond to play guitar and drink beer with our cousin. After dinner on Jack London, he coaxed us on to a few bars, and a few more bars — not for the drinks, mind you, but to extend the moment and cement the experience. The longer we stayed out, the more our garden-variety defenses — inevitable today, when families live so far apart — withered, then dissolved. By night’s end I just wanted him close, closer. To have him with me at all times. An important piece of me felt recovered. I felt recovered.
Every night out ought to be like that. Every morning up. Every afternoon during.