Write Club Co-Founder Casey Childers on Digressions and Ironic Detachment
Casey A. Childers came to S.F. by way of Atlanta, but considers himself a native, having been born in these parts. He’s currently peddling his novel, Bear Season, and a collection of fragments called “Pictures of the floating world,” she said, and I pretended to understand. He co-founded the Bay’s premiere philanthropic competitive-reading series, Write Club San Francisco, and co-hosts the semi-weekly podcast of the same name. His work can be found at The Booksmith, on Amazon.com, and live on the stage of The Make-Out Room on the third Tuesday of every month.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Deflection’s a big one. Even now I want to swing into a parenthetical and evade this question, maybe talk about my hands for a while. In writing I like to approach things from cover, talk around the heart of the matter. It’s a hallmark of mine, I think, the oblique angles, but it’s an anchor and obstruction at times, and the struggle lies in letting the work stand on its own, tell some kind of truth.
If someone said, “I want to do what you do,” what advice would you have for them?
The best advice I’ve ever come across for being a writer is to write. It seems obvious, but I guess it’s not so much. There’s this idea of a bar for entry and this whole “I’ve always wanted to … ” thing that people say, but the verb “to write” is pretty self-contained. I doubt there are many people who without doing yoga just decide they want to be a yogi. I imagine they start by doing some yoga, embracing their strengths, acknowledging their weaknesses, and building a practice. It’s the same for most things, but in writing and most of the arts there’s this limiting obsession over a lack of mastery. It’s okay to approach writing as a novice. Doing it is the whole trick.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
Without question, Stan Bush’s “The Touch.” The whole Stan Bush rabbit hole is worth following, but this video, untouched by time, is perhaps the best way I’ve found to shine a flashlight into my soul and take inventory of how jaded I am at any given moment.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
I pretend I’m related to Robert Erskine Childers. I’m sure I am in some way or another, but in my head it’s a direct connection. They say he invented the spy novel and was a gentleman to the firing squad that killed him — I defy Ancestry.com to come up with something better than that.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
My mom had this friend named Sammy. He was foul-mouthed and earnest — an Australian rock guitarist and an opthamologist, and I thought he was the coolest person on earth. I didn’t want to be him or even be like him, but I wanted to be to be cool in his book. I wanted to be a bio-genetic engineer, and he thought that was pretty cool.
What’s wrong with society today?
I have to go with ironic detachment on this one, maybe cleverness as a whole. We’ve gone all third-person and third-person twice removed. We make jokes about ourselves while we’re sitting in the same room, and we call bullshit on the hint of earnestness. Our filters have gotten so muddy that we mistake the clogged filters for accurate representations of the world just past them. Just saying, is all.
What is your fondest memory?
The earliest memory I can set to an age is my fourth birthday. I couldn’t tell you what I got as far as gifts go, and I couldn’t even guarantee that it’s my fondest, but to this day I remember balacing on a parking lot wheel stop (they’ve recently started calling them turtarriers, it seems) and telling myself I was four years old. There was this excited optimism about the whole thing that still makes me smile when it comes to mind. That said, I thought the new president was Ronald McDonald, so my memory can’t really be trusted back that far.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
I do this sappy thing with my kids where I’m all caught up in myself all day and they do something kind of great or sweet or simple or I realize I’m just now noticing them, and I hug them like we’re at an airport and they’ve been in Europe with their friends for the last four months. I do this daily, and it’s like any epiphany in that it fades. The beauty is that it happens again and again, and it’s so disarming that it always feels like the first time. It’s the kind of love that reminds me of who I want to be — puts all of the petty striving I tend to worry over into a hole where it belongs.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Rational dialogue between people who disagree. I’m told it used to exist, but I think that’s just nostalgia for nonexistent times. Give me a society of rational humans negotiating uncomfortable compromises and I’ll give you a guy who’s seen it all by the time he hits his deathbed.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Okay. How about this: Art is the perceptible agent of thought. Whether or not it’s necessary, it’s all we’ve got. It’s the means by which we communicate, whether it’s pictures or words or motions or 40-foot-tall sculptures in the desert. It’s what takes raw perception and information and passes it significantly or otherwise from one observer to another. If there’s any mistake to be made, it’s failing to see that all of this “human” stuff we do on the planet, in some way or another, is our art.
What are you working on right now?
My piece for the next Write Club San Francisco. I got “Don’t” as a subject, and I made the mistake of starting it sooner than the night before the show; so it’s pretty much all I’ve got on my mind at the moment. There’s a follow-up to my book Bear Season in the hopper, as well, but it’s been all kinds of trouble since I set to work on it.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or, what kind of writing do you most admire?
I want to say as much as can possibly be said in as few words as possible, but I’m talkative and verbose in life and in writing. I digress and digress from digression, and I tend to say too little with too many words. My valley of giants is lined with terse and charming assholes who make what they do look easy. I doubt I’ll ever join them, but as craft goes I aim to get as close as possible.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
It’s selfish, but I’d like my favorite people from Atlanta to be here. The Bay is tops across the board, but if you knew those people you’d be signing petitions to get them on the next flight out of Hartsfield-Jackson. It’s the biggest problem with choosing a new city as an adult — you’ll always measure it against the city and the people you’ve left behind. There’s no “new life,” just this life and that one and the meditations between.
What are some of your favorite smells?
I’m into the usual smells: dryers running in the wintertime, Arizona rain, fresh baked bread, and sometimes books, but only sometimes.
If you got an allexpenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Look. I want my moon base. I want to go to the moon and talk on a videophone with people on earth. I want to eat dinner at the nicest Denny’s on the moon. I want to Facebook check-in on the moon. The fact that I have to submit this as a fantasy in 2013 frustrates me. We should all be on the moon, writing, being interviewed, and reading our work in bars. People who are new to the moon should be pointing up at tall buildings on the moon and snapping pictures while people less new to the moon eyeball their feet and fidget with their phones. It’s just the moon. It’s close. Make it happen already.