Daphne Gottlieb on Aiming Higher and Showing You the Blade of a Rib

Daphne Gottlieb on Aiming Higher and Showing You the Blade of a Rib

An interview with Daphne Gottlieb, for The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Daphne Gottlieb stitches together the ivory tower and the gutter just by using her tongue. She is the award-winning author of ten books including the new collection of short stories, Pretty Much Dead. Previous works include Dear Dawn: Aileen Wuornos in Her Own Words, a collection of death row letters sent from the “first female serial killer” to her childhood best friend. Gottlieb is also the author of five books of poetry, the editor of two anthologies, and, with artist Diane DiMassa, the co-creator of the graphic novelJokes and the Unconscious. She has relentlessly toured from coast to coast. The winner of the Acker Award for Excellence in the Avant-Garde, the Audre Lorde Award for Poetry, the Firecracker Alternative Book Award, and a five-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, she lives in San Francisco.

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

“What do I do for what?”

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

Trying to keep my seething rage at gentrification down to a dull roar. Trying not to let my rage make me become a terrible person. I might be becoming a terrible person. Twice in the past week, a Muni bus has passed me by because it couldn’t see me behind the Google bus. The next morning, I couldn’t help singing the “Fuck You” song when I walked by an endless row of techies waiting for their shuttle. (That was the Cee-Lo song. Next time it might be Lily Allen.) But the point is, who wants to live with that level of rage? Who wants to spend their days worried that they will come home to an eviction notice? Who wants their city to give them the kind of misery usually reserved for a significant other? But who wants to admit defeat? Who wants to give up? Not me.

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

Aim higher.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

As a writer? I think I am at my most successful when I am in my head, at my desk, building something and something clicks, something has gone right and my whole body sings and it’s the key to the universe. The rest is probably just ego and the desire to be loved. And maybe a little bit of the desire to change the world. Maybe more than a little.

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

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

Hey, if I’m gonna take a week off work to go to the wilderness, it had better be ideal! Treehouse. Hammock. Body of water. Sunshine. Fire pit. Hot springs. Snorkeling. Gourmet Chef. Cabana boy. French maid.

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

I don’t know about the striptease thing. Under the right circumstances, I guess. It’s time to talk about middle age (good God), women’s bodies, and desire in a real way. I just don’t think the conversation needs my body in particular. But I digress. There was a period of time in my life when I had a shaved head and all these photographers kept wanting to strip me naked, paint me white, and do some screaming white-lady butoh photos. That era passed, but was replaced with my performance art era. I swore I would never perform naked. But a very convincing director had opinions. I can’t remember if body paint was involved or not. I think I was right the first time: no naked art.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

Not enough.

What’s wrong with society today?

The gap between the rich and destitute is ripping deeper and wider daily. Being the “wrong” race and/or class are criminal offenses. Corporations control communities — entire cities — tens of thousands of jobs were created by tech, who brought in workers, who displaced longtime residents and quadrupled price tags on every everything. The average salary in tech is six digits. But 23 percent of San Francisco is below the poverty line. Two buses passed me by this week because of tech buses. Please don’t ask me how to fix this. I’m an X-ray tech, not a surgeon. I can show you the shadows and glow and the dark edges. I can show you the blade of a rib. But I can’t put it all back together again.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Counting would make it less beautiful. But trust me, I fall in love over and over every day. It’s how I survive. On days when everything gets too much, I try and remember just to love harder.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

My student loans paid off. There being enough for everyone. Genuine interest and pleasure in each other. And the ability to make my dog live forever.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art fits in the places between letters and words and hides there until someone reveals it, using words or images or motion. It is the crackerjack box prize of language and thought. It is necessary because without the spaces between words, we wouldn’t be able to see the words. Words can’t do everything. Let me put it another way: Language is a net. Art is what slips through.

What are you working on right now?

Launching my 10th book this July. That’s harder than writing it.

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

The kind that makes levitation happen. The kind that catches everything that slips through the spaces in letters and words and catches it in your heart.

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

Bye bye, techies.

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

What is this “night on the town” you speak of? Can I do it from home?

What are some of your favorite smells?

Frankincense and amber, mixed. My dog’s disgusting breath. The back of the neck of a few people who I could pick out in the dark, without touching.

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


Here to read all The Write Stuff profiles; here to watch all the videos.