An interview with José Luis Gutierrez from The Write Stuff series:
José Luis Gutierrez was born in Miami in 1975, and grew up in Panama. He lives in the Bay Area where he works as an interpreter in the medical and legal sectors. He’s also a screenwriter and filmmaker. When he isn’t working he can be found playing guitar, swimming, hiking, writing poems or enjoying a good cigar. His two books of poems are A World Less Away, published in 2016, and The Motel Entropy & Other Sorrows, published in 2019. Both of them can be purchased at Lulu.com.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I’m a pirate sailing the seas of cheese.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Staying out of my own way.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
It’s impossible for anyone to do what you do. Everyone has their own path and way of getting there.
What’s been most important to your writing: education, or the real world? Why?
Curiosity and imagination.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
Pick up the guitar. It’s really not that hard.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I think success is a state of mind. Peace of mind and spirit is the only success I care about.
Why do you get up every morning?
Each day we’re given is a gift. When I wake up I always take a moment to give thanks for another day in the universe.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her/their story?
My great-grandmother Josephina Etienne. Originally from Alsace, she was a comrade in the Nicaraguan Liberal army. Once when her husband was in jail she hid away all the guns during a raid. She also fed all her jailed comrades. She was also a poet and ran a business of stagecoaches.
What’s wrong with society today?
Immediate gratification. Too much screen time.
Where do you go to find sanctuary?
What is your fondest memory?
Writing my first story in fourth grade and having a friend dig it.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
The end of lobbyists in Washington.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Art is the act of lending your complete attention to something, be it music, shoemaking, writing, beekeeping. It’s as important as breathing. It’s the one unifying activity in your life that gives everything else meaning.
What is the relationship between your identity and your desires? Perhaps related, perhaps not: why is sex (un)important to you?
Identity and desires are illusions of the ego. It’s important to know they’re not who we are. Sex is the stripping away of identity and desire with those we’re most intimate with. It’s sharing the gift of presence with another human. That being said, a dirty mind is an invaluable commodity.
What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.
T-shirt, jeans, sneakers.
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
I’m working on music right now. I’ve got a band and we’re building up our repertoire.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
Less tech, more art, please.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Live music. Food. Trouble.
Have you ever seen a ghost? Or: what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
I think ghosts are projections of the psyche of things we haven’t come to terms with. In that sense, I think we’ve all been acquainted with our share of ghosts. Then there are poltergeists which, like UFO’s, science will one day be able to interpret in more precise terms.
What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned? Or: what was your last moment of awe?
It’s important to keep in mind we’re not separate from the universe. This is one of the things taught by meditation. To see ourselves thinking without reacting to those thoughts because they’re not who we are but energy fields of our attention. This is the beginning of freedom. Last time I felt awe was improvising to a backing track this morning. Did I just play that?!
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
That’s a haircut and a poem right there.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Night-blooming jasmine, oranges, fresh cut cigars.
What are you unable to live without?
Books and music.
If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Flying a plane.
If you could live in your ideal society, what would your average day be like?
My ideal society would value creativity over dollars. Everybody would get paid to play and create.