Eric Raymond on the Intersection of the Necessary and the Mystery
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
These days I tell people I’m a writer. From there we fall through the tree branches of the usual follow-up questions until the conversation is unconscious on the ground.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Maintaining faith that the sustained attention required for writing and reading has value within a society that consistently declares it does not. Sometimes I am afraid they are right.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
I would probably assure them they do not. But if they’re determined: Avoid debt at all costs. Keep your overhead low. Read widely and constantly. I did none of these things and it’s made everything harder.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Insofar that I am able to keep despair at bay and maintain faith, yes. Hard to know about the rest.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
Most recently, this Kilian Martin freestyle video in an abandoned water park:
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
My father’s father, Robert “Bob” Raymond has always interested me, because of his indelible marks on my father. My father’s attempts to write about him suggest he could be a real bastard, and yet I’m also named after him (my legal first name is Robert, though I go by Eric). He moved the family around a lot, and when my father was 16, his dad was killed by a train. The story goes that he pulled his car into a malfunctioning railway crossing, but there was always a suspicion that he may have committed suicide. I feel like a lot of Bob Raymond may be in me.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
I admired those kids who knew how to answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember lying every single time I was asked.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
It is 1 a.m., and we’re gorging ourselves in a fried chicken/donut joint somewhere beyond the reach of the health department. It is lit by fluorescent light. We are ruinously drunk; we have foregone napkins for sleeves. Do you honestly want me to take my clothes off?
How much money do you have in your checking account?
It doesn’t really matter how much is in there at any given time, because I owe 99 percent of it to someone else.
What’s wrong with society today?
Increasing income disparity within an economy which rewards people who create nothing.
What is your fondest memory?
One of them, anyway: I surprised my father on his birthday in 2005 by flying to Florida unannounced and dropping in on the regular Friday night poker game we used to play together before I moved to San Francisco.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
A cure for diabetes. The death of advertising. These may be related.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
I know it’s necessary, but I don’t know if I can define it. Maybe art is the intersection of the necessary and the mystery.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
What are you working on right now?
It’s NaNoWriMo right now, so I’m built for speed. I’m ripping off Michael Kimball‘s episodic style in his incredible novel Big Ray to write a vaguely futuristic Bay Area novel. I’m way behind, but I’ll rally.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or what kind of writing do you most admire?
Every time I write I’m in search of the work I would like to do. I have a hard time finding it. I admire unapologetic, voice-driven writing that doesn’t sound like it was written by a committee of “the vaguely dissatisfied in Connecticut.” (Snark courtesy of Dennis Lehane.)
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
I would like to see the Upper Haight evolve away from self-parody and nostalgic stoner theme park. If the Lower Haight can figure it out, surely west of Divisadero can.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
The first time I saw my dad’s casted legs after his amputations.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Orange blossoms through a car window. Night blooming jasmine anytime. Woodsmoke from a distance. Creosote in rail ties.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Probably a year completely unplugged. That’s really expensive now.