Ivy Johnson on Inhabiting a State Outside Your Body
Ivy Johnson is a poet and performance artist in Oakland, CA. Her book, As They Fall, is a pack of 110 notecards for aelatoric ritual, and was published by Timeless, Infinite Light in 2013. She is co-founder of The Third Thing, a feminist performance poetics collaboration with Kate Robinson. They have work forthcoming from Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs summer 2016. You can find her work at: ivyjohnsonblog.wordpress.com.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
Sometimes I say that I’m an educator / poet. Other times I say I’m a waitress. Sometimes I explain to people that I’m getting a TESOL Certificate and my projected career goals, but I really hate the idea of having a career.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
The struggle of my life has been that most of the time I inhabit a state outside of my body. It can be really disorienting, but also I’ve been perpetually like this since childhood so in a way it’s kind of my normal. Most of the time I feel that I am lagging behind my body, but sometimes, on days when it’s worse, I’m attached to my body like a balloon tied to my wrist, observing myself from the breeze. The more distance the less functional I become.
I’ve found ways of dealing with this. Mainly, I’m a bit of a gym rat. I’m addicted to this class at the downtown YMCA called Body Blast, where I attempt to blast myself back into my body. It helps.
If someone said I want to do what do you do, what advice would you have for them?
I don’t really dig the advice giving / advice receiving thing. Really, don’t I know better than anyone what direction my life should take? What I want to spend my limited days on this earth actually doing? If you want to be a poet, do it, but know that it’s neither a career nor a hobby. It’s completely something else.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I feel like a success because I got out of my small, one-horse-town of Minot, ND and I never went back. I’m glad this is part of my history, though. I’ve visited of course, but I left pretty much the moment I graduated high school. Everyone said, “You’ll be back in 3 months.” It’s been 12 years. I feel successful because I don’t have kids, not because that’s objectively bad but because that’s not what I want at thirty. I feel successful because I am, to a certain extent, doing what I want, which is spending a small amount of time at a job and spending a large amount of time writing poetry, making performance art, and making merriment. I love my life.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
I can’t decide between these two:
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
My dad told me once that he had this aunt, Violet, and she was a knock out and a rebel. She had this wavy dark hair. I’ve never met her nor seen a picture of her. He told me about how she would hang her underthings out to dry and it would drive the village boys crazy. In the summer (this is before in-door plumbing) she would take outdoor baths at twilight where other people could see her. People lost their minds.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
When I was ten? I admired God. I was a very devout pentecostal and wrote love poems to Jesus Christ and God in my journal. I loved Him so much it made me cry. Seriously. I would write love poems to Him and cry on the dank, mauve carpet in my basement room next to the curio cabinet filled with porcelain dolls that I never touched. Then I would look up at the sunshine coming through the tiger lilies that were planted in that basement half-window and write about all the places I wanted to go and all the things I wanted to do, about my insane life-lust that I would try to channel into lust for the Holy Spirit, and the people I wanted to meet. I guess life-lust has also been a life long struggle. You know, sublimating that or just going wild.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
There is this hike in Point Reyes I have been doing somewhat consistently for the last five years that is about 12 miles round trip. The first couple hours are very uphill. When you get to the highest point, you see the distant ocean and walk in its direction. The ocean is actually a painting, or an image projected on a screen. You’ve seen this before, flipping through the channels, but this time it’s different. This walking towards the ocean takes hours. The ocean isn’t real, but you get closer and closer to its image the more you walk. Suddenly, you smell the salt water. The air is damp and the sweat dripping down your lower back and between your breasts now almost gives you a shiver. In fifteen minutes your feet will be on the sand and it will burn you. When you get to the beach you take off all of your clothes in a frenzy and hop in the cold water. There is some weird guy in the distance looking in your direction but you don’t care. You dry yourself out in the sun and have a feast. Probably you have also brought wine. You are alone now. The tide isn’t coming up for awhile so you will nap here.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
Have you ever read that Billy Collins poem where he basically makes Emily Dickinson perform a strip tease? I hate that poem, and this question reminds me of it.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
Not very much.
What’s wrong with society today?
Everything is commodified.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
Every day I take Claritin-D, Zatador (eye drops for allergies), zinc, d3, and boron. I drink wine year round, whiskey in general, and gin in the summer.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
I wish we could just go back to ritual where there is no distinction between the ritual act itself and the body who performs it.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
See next question.
What are you working on right now?
I have a few projects going right now.
I am a part of a feminist performance art duo with Kate Robinson called The Third Thing. We have a chapbook coming out with Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs this summer.
I’m also working on a book titled Born Again, part lyric poems, part narrative, that explores my pentecostal upbringing. A lot of the work in it traces my movement away from religion but continued connection to metaphysical experience through the body.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I admire risk-taking with high stakes.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
For the last three years I’ve lived at an artist warehouse space called Lobot, which has been around for around 13 years. We recently got pushed out by our landlord in order to probably build condos. I’m seeing all these unique DIY spaces disappear. It’s really heartbreaking.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Dinner before private room karaoke.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
I’m more of a feeler than a see-er. I recently had a sexual experience that was so intense that I was convinced that I had actually died. This didn’t set in until moments after the fucking. I laid on my back to gather myself, as one does after sex, but I couldn’t get gathered. I experienced intense tunnel vision but the tunnel was wide; really, it took up my entire loft. I had died inside this tunnel. My lover and I were dead and I was scared that we had let ourselves be taken completely by the fucking, had given ourselves too fully to it. The weird thing was that my subtle body was completely unified with my physical body. My mind kept repeating this line by Rilke: “for beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.” My lover needed to talk me back into the space by naming all the real objects in the room. “Do you see your plant hanging from the skylight?” for example. Eventually, we left my loft and went for a walk, then ate gluten free banana bread smothered in butter. The next day, on three hours of sleep, I went to teach high school kids about Somatic Poetics. I was worried that my body was oozing fluids in front of the kids but really I was leaking energy. I felt so close to Hannah Weiner. I write about this in (hopefully) more eloquent detail in Ecstatic Erotica, a short work which is currently unpublished. PM me if you want to read it.
What are some of your favorite smells?
I always say that my favorite thing about living in the Bay Area is the jasmine, while the thing I miss most about North Dakota is the spring lilacs. On that note, I deleted your question about one of my fondest memories, but speaking of lilacs, a few years ago my dad and I were driving from his home, just outside of Rushville, NE to Scottsbluff to catch my flight back to the Bay. We drove through this street lush with delicate lilac bushes. I wanted so badly to pull over the car and pick some. It had been years since I had buried my face in lilacs but I didn’t say anything. A few minutes after we had driven passed them my dad paused and said, “I really wish we would have pulled over and gotten some of those lilacs.” I flipped a U-turn and he jumped out of the car, gathered an armful, and we filled the car.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Can someone just pay me money to live so I can write poetry? Work is the biggest bummer in my life.