josé vadi on Work That Challenges Expectations
josé vadi is an award-winning writer and film producer based in Oakland, California. A two-time national slam poetry champion and recipient of the Shenson Performing Arts Award, José was the inaugural director of the Off/Page Project, a collaboration between Youth Speaks and The Center for Investigative Reporting. He is the author of the chapbook Marrow (DisCantBeLife Press) and his work has most recently appeared in Catapult.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I say I write and that my nine-to-five involves helping people younger than me make art.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Managing my anxiety. It’s a daily battle. I was diagnosed around 2008 after I had my first anxiety attack, but it wasn’t until 2010/2011 that I started really analyzing the roots of it all through a really great counselor at Mills College, while getting my MFA. Identifying my triggers and how I react to them became a roadmap for my psychology since that experience. It’s comforting remembering that we’re all nuts.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
I would advise them to write early in the morning, memorize all Chappelle stand-up specials and to voluntarily place themselves in challenging professional / artistic scenarios.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I mean… I’m alive, somewhat healthy and can pay the rent doing something I don’t hate – that feels great.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
Recently I’ve been watching this bill t. jones video a lot, shout out to Lauren Whitehead for sending it to me:
And my perennial favorite: Kase 2’s profile from Style Wars – “super duty tough work!”
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
This would be 1994, so I admired Kurt Cobain, but I wanted to be Michael Jordan. Would’ve settled for Clyde Drexler too.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
What’s wrong with society today?
The belief in the ability to pull oneself up by the bootstraps.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
Jameson, my favorite pharmacy in SF is The Summer Place. Wuddup Suzy.
What is your fondest memory?
Watching Rogers and Hammerstein plays on VHS throughout childhood with my older sister, and my parents’ laughs.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Multiple times a day with the same person.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Art is an ongoing question that may or may not be necessary to answer. There are many things more important than art, like not being an asshole.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
I’m really into breathing.
What are you working on right now?
A poetry/fiction manuscript about the dystopia that currently exists in the Bay Area. It’s like poems in my voice coupled with fake press releases, imagined news reports, projected outcomes of current affairs, etc. It started with a poem I wrote called “The Nextdoor.com Post Already Written About Me, (a fellow resident of this neighborhood).” Very much inspired by Édouard Levé’s Newspaper. I also have some poems forthcoming in the Berkeley Poetry Review and Bodega Mag, and a podcast called Mapping Gone.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I’d really love to write some feature length screenplays. Writing and directing a film would be amazing and probably stressful as hell. I admire work that challenges expectations and is aware of its surroundings, specifically thinking about Percival Everett’s “Assumption” and César Aira’s work.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
I wish there were a button on the back of buses that, when pushed, screams “BACKDOOR!” through a speaker just above the driver’s head. That, and a second Transbay subway tunnel.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
By “the town” you must mean Oakland, so probably downtown at Radio with a belly full of Golden Lotus, listening to Pops spin DJ Quik records on a Thursday.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
Coca fields in South America and my reflection in the mirror ages 22-25.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
Win a rap battle and underwrite a rap battle.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Residual coffee, like the smell of the mug after you’re finished.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Courtside season tickets to all NBA teams’ games, for life.