July Westhale on Living in a Palace and Not Having a Boss
July Westhale is a Pushcart-nominated poet, activist, and journalist. She has been awarded residencies from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Tomales Bay, Napa Valley, Tin House and Bread Loaf. Her poetry has most recently been published inAdrienne, burntdistrict, Eleven Eleven, WordRiot,580 Split, Quarterly West, and PRISM International. Her poetry can also be found in Women Write Resistance, and Contemporary Queer Poetry. She was recently nominated as a Best New Poet for 2012 and 2013, an AWP Intro Award, and a Creative Writing Fulbright.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?
I tell them I work as a journalist & freelance writer, piecing together income.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
My biggest struggle is upholding my own boundaries — that manifests as the inability to say “no” to work that may or may not be serving my best interests, saying “no” to spending my time in ways that could possibly be harmful to me. But I’m working on it!
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Oh, a whole ton! I teach seminars on how to be a working writer! But the first thing I would tell them to do is to sit with themselves & make a list of their priorities, & then help them figure out how to center those in their life. For example, my priorities are: a daily poetry practice, the ability to work from home/the road, and not having a boss. Most everything else is negotiable.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Absolutely. I make a living doing work I love, I have a community I love, & I live in a palace. If I had a dog & a truck, life would be pretty much perfect.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
This cat video. My dad & I once spent two hours watching it over & over, & then an entire trip together imitating it:
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
I used to think Melissa Etheridge was the COOLEST. I had a dream of being a professional, world-renowned soccer player. I can’t believe it took me until I was 20 to come out of the closet.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
At the moment? $134.17
What is your fondest memory?
In 2006, I was living in South America, going to a Catholic University. It was part of my attempt to reclaim my past & my ancestry (my birth father was Chilean). I went on a summer trip with my friend Marie through Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. While in Ecuador we had met these three boys who were determined to travel through South America with very, very little money. With them, we hitchhiked everywhere, camped on farms, traded for food, & bargained our way through the country. One of my favorite days ever was this one day we decided to get on a bus & go wherever it would take us. We ended up in the Amazon Basin, in a butterfly sanctuary called Mindo. We swam near waterfalls, swung on tree vines, let butterflies land on us, & caught a fish dinner. It was also the first time I saw fireflies.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Too many to count. & I have an expressive face — people on buses & in cars, on Bart & in cafes can all tell I’ve fallen in love.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Two things: my nephew to grow up in the world as a mixed-race gentle, unharassed, happy boy and for David Bowie to tour the United States again.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished the first draft of my book! I’m leaving on Tuesday to workshop the entire thing during a fellowship at Sewanee — the book deals with the complications & ruptures of personal vs. national trauma, & revolves around Virginia Woolf.
I’ve just been named the Poetry Fellow for Tomales Bay this year, so I’m excited to jump right into a new project with Kwame Dawes this fall.
I’m also painting & cartooning a ton, & hoping to get a comic off the ground called Matters of Great Importance.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
What are some of your favorite smells?
Bergamot, roasting chestnuts, coffee, cardamom, slightly rotting peaches, & dairy farms. Really.