Charles Kruger: on Invisibility and Doing What He Damn Well Pleases
Charles Kruger decided to revive his artistic life in 2010 by Storming Bohemia. Since then he’s been a crucial force on Quiet Lightning’s board of directors and has become the preeminent critic of small theaters in the Bay Area. Check out an extended profile and interview here.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?
I always get a bit tongue-tied when faced with this question. For years, I was a schoolteacher and then it was easy to answer. People respected me, sort of. I mean they’d look kind of sympathetic and treat me as if I were somehow noble. They’d say things like, “Good for you!” And, “How wonderful.” And then they’d usually change the subject. Or, if not, they’d give me an earful on what is wrong with the teaching profession. Either way, they classified me and I felt seen, somehow, if not necessarily well or accurately.
But now I’ve been unemployed for a couple of years, and it isn’t so easy. Sometimes I say, “I’m an arts journalist. I review plays.” “Oh,” they ask, “for who?” “Well, I founded a blog … ” Immediately, the eyes glaze over. Oh, a blog. Other times, I say I’m an artist and a writer and that I’m involved with the Bay Area literary scene. Then they ask what I’ve written and if they might have read it, or where my art has been shown. It’s like a job interview. Usually, I don’t have the right answers and I can see the dismissal in their eyes. Artists in our society are really invisible. To be an artist or a writer, in the eyes of most people, is to do nothing. It’s certainly not “work.” Always there is the unspoken question, “But do you have a real job?” I keep working on polishing my answers to this question. Sometimes I say, “I storm Bohemia.” Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Whatever I damn please, don’t you?”
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Expressing myself. When I was younger, I drank to excess and always let everything hang out. But I’ve been sober now for a couple of decades and it’s a struggle to hang loose. I’m a gay man too, and have been out since I was a teenager. But now, in my mid-50s, I keep discovering ways I am still in the closet. Little choices I make about how to dress, or use my voice, or make gestures, are still, after all these years, restricted by fear of exposure and judgment. Every poem, every painting, is a struggle to just let it out without restriction. I want to be messy not prissy, but prissy is hard to bury.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Yes. I have made a commitment to live my life as a creative artist, claim that as an identity, and hold my head high. Everything else is secondary.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
There’s a YouTube video that could make me feel better? It would never occur to me to look for that. When I’m sad/grumpy/pissed off I don’t think about feeling better. I just try to get through it. In fact, I’m often amazed when I see people who have the skill of managing their emotions or compartmentalizing. When I’m feeling hurt or pissed off, I wear it on my sleeve, become incredibly self-centered. I’m not proud of it, but it seems to be my nature. I’m told this is very typical of alcoholics. Lately, I’ve been trying to get better about this, but YouTube videos have not been a tactic I’ve explored. I have been learning to sail. It’s a mighty wet business, but feels pretty good.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
So many. I love to tell stories about my Grandpa Sam who was a gangster and a gambler running a numbers racket, a college professor, a law student, a painter, a filmmaker, a restaurant owner, a cornet player, and a Vaudeville hoofer. He took a cruise around the world (twice) and died poor. He wasn’t a very nice man, to tell the truth, but he sure knew how to live life with gusto. If he wanted to charm you, you were charmed.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
At 10 years old, I was fascinated, obsessed even, with the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. I wanted to be blind. I don’t really have an explanation for this.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I imagine myself in contact with nature spirits, talking animals, ghosts — all that Shamanic stuff. I want to encounter gnomes and faeries, sylphs and salamanders. I’d be looking for them. More likely though, I’d get very cold and very scared and very bruised up. I’m not a very competent person when it comes to taking care of myself. A week in the wilderness would probably be a bad idea.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
What is your fondest memory?
This is impossible to answer, I think, but there is one memory that always comes to mind when I’m asked a question like this. When I was 15, I was a teenage runaway, hitchhiking up and down the East Coast. Once, I was stranded for an entire day in rural North Carolina. I must have stood by the road for 10 hours. Nobody stopped. Night was falling. I was scared for a while, and then I just stopped. I shut down. Gave up. I sat down on the ground and just looked at the hills and the sky. It was so fucking beautiful, I thought, nothing mattered. I could die happy. I could sit here forever and never be picked up. It’d be okay. I’ve never forgotten that.
What are you working on right now?
I’m always working on just one thing: keeping it real. That’s a serious answer. I can’t think of a better one.
What can you do with 50 words? $50?
With 50 words, I could change the world. $50? I don’t know: Send me a check and I’ll get back to you.