Evan Karp: on Writing, Life, and More Bike Lanes
When people ask what do you do, you tell them … ?
It’s funny, I haven’t figured out a good way to do this. One of my problems is I want to be humble, because I’m proud of what I do and I do a lot of things, and though most of them are very naturally related it takes a solid minute or two to explain them and I’m always afraid it will be overwhelming or uninteresting and I’ll come off as an egotist (I’m really more of a solipsist). I suppose it depends who asks; if I want something, I say I write for The Chronicle. But I’m more proud of Quiet Lightning and Litseen than I am of my Chronicle column, and when people fail to understand why (they’re usually older types) I say I moved to California, stopped cutting my hair, and started a nonprofit; that I’m not very interesting, a regular stereotype.
But — see — what if you actually, sincerely wanted to know what I do? Perhaps a good answer would be: Why do you ask? Or: What will you pay me to do? But my ideal answer is: As much as I can, all at once, until everything is terrible and I want to cry. Then, I go for a long walk and sing aloud to the buildings and the parking lot and the people I pretend are pretending to listen to music through their earbuds, and when my voice doesn’t thrill me anymore (I’m often absolutely silent for hours at a time and you know how it is), I find a clean enough place to do some pushups, do about 30 of them, and then sit down and write two or more pages in my notebook. I write a lot.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
I think my biggest struggle is working too much. For a long time I’ve held this very deep-rooted idea that since we cannot ever grasp the world in any kind of non-finite way, the best we can do is the least we can do; for this reason, I am never doing enough unless I am doing more than I think I can possibly do. I have to prove to myself I am doing what I can; that, it seems to me, is my civic duty. But it goes beyond civic, really; it’s more of a universal duty. Ethics, I guess you might call this. Since I don’t have anywhere I need to return to every day (i.e. an office), I struggle with not leaving the house enough. It’s easy for me to get very comfortable in my surroundings, and though I love a good adventure as much as the next person does I tend to feel I don’t need it (this is false, of course, unless I am still recovering from one). I guess you could call that inertia. I’m also not brave as much as I’d like to be. This manifests in little moments, like leaving the house without eating. Strong, you could call it. Dependent. I like to eat, pretty much as much as I can, but I hate spending the little money that I have (see “checking account” question below).
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Yes and no. Professionally, I think I’m close. My definition of success: Your project(s) will live on without you without being compromised. Quiet Lightning is the closest I’ve come to that. But, as a person I think I’m successful. As a human being making his way in the world I often look back at the many times I stared maniacally into the future: through my friends, through my teachers, through even my parents and my brother, and certainly through my “daily grind” and “responsibilities” and the imagined thoughts of the mysterious ‘other people’ who might mock what I value to my face, and when I see those eyes now my heart does not flinch.
I have not made many compromises; there are not many clouds in my skies. I have lived poorly on purpose and done so (most always) with dignity. I respect the people around me and, for the most part, they respect me. I once slept on the floor for almost four years so I wouldn’t get comfortable — not in the moment, but in the future. A friend asked me last night if there was much distance between who I am and who I want to be, and though I’ll talk Nietzsche with you all night any night of my life I had to say: No, there is no distance. I have gotten over my getting over myself, for the most part, and even my (less frequently) sloppy attempts to express myself are exhilarating because the parts of me, not the me I want to be, are still a part of the human me, and that’s just a part of me I will always be. Obtuse. That other part, that is like a flower: I water myself every day. Watch myself grow, too. A bloom of invisible bloomings just look: just looking for a canvas.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
Friedrich Nietzsche crawled into the very marrow of existence and documented his travels. Thus Spoke Zarathustra is his journey and my favorite text.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
Less than $100.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
When I was 10 years old I most admired my Uncle Joelie. Joel is the black sheep of my mother’s side of the family. He works bars and restaurants and was always coming home late at night. He lived with my grandparents, and when we visited them in Florida my brother and I would wait up for Uncle Joooooooeelie to come home and then pounce on him. We would watch The Three Stooges into the morning, Joel cackling like one of us: “That’s rich,” he’d say to us warmly after a hearty laugh. “I try to think but nothing happens! Nyuk nyuk nyuk.” Joel was the 51st international president of the fraternal order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph, a position that allowed him to postpone college and meet President Ford. He had been places and seen things and played by his own rules, and at night, when it was just the two of us, he’d lower his voice and tell me, with big serious eyes, about the importance of character and making your mark on the world. “It’s all about other people,” he told me. “Don’t forget what I’m telling you, son.”
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
No, but that’s what I have to call marijuana in order to smoke it outside. So yes.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a long block of words called “Other People,” most of which has no punctuation. The text, which is often propelled and even generated by rhythm, sometimes breaks into columns so the urgent, domineering voice becomes a collection of such voices that amplify and sometimes cancel one another (I considered the title “echosystem,” which seems appropriate but maybe too cute). I address specific people in my past without using their names, so that the “you” approaches a universal while retaining the emotional core of our relationships. More than a log of my personal experiences, it’s a sort of chronicle of my attempt to live a creative life through the context of what that has done to the people around me — and, no less, what it is to live a creative life and what it has done to me.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
Bike lanes between San Francisco and Oakland.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I hope to write prose that overwhelms you, that makes you slam the book shut without putting it down, gets stuck in your head because it contains fundamental ontological questions so lucidly worded you feel, after reading them, that if you only remember them precisely … if you only say my name you will carry a password to the secrets to the something you’re naturally seeking. I want you, when people ask who are you, to think of my name; to speak with my tongue; to think with my syntax. I want you to think of my writing as your favorite shirt: trusty, a source of power with the perfect fit, on its brilliant way to threadbare and a new way of being.