Peter Thomas Bullen on a Massive Outbreak of Kindness and Common Decency
An interview with Peter Thomas Bullen, from The Write Stuff series:
Peter Thomas Bullen, a hairdresser and co-founder of Peter Thomas Hair in Berkeley began writing at the suggestion of his wife, Alison. After throwing himself blindly into the literary open-mic scene, he discovered that if you stand at the front of a room holding text and trembling, people will give you their attention. Sometimes they will even say kind things to you afterwards. This made him happy. Peter was a Quiet Lightning Neighborhood Hero in 2014. His writing has appeared in sparkle & blink, eleven eleven, The Oakland Review, Blotterature, Sweet Wolverine, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. A chapbook of his stories is due out from Nomadic Press in the fall.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
Well I report on my day job, which is as a hairdresser. It seems more honest than saying I’m a writer, although I’m that as well. I don’t think people you come across casually really want the ‘as well’ part of your answer. They may not even want the first part. Who knows what people want? Not even people know.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
In my writing life my biggest struggle is getting closer to the bone, being more truthful, un-hitching from my addiction to the sound of a listener, or a reader’s laughter. I love that sound, and maybe that holds me back.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
I’d be nervous when it came to giving advice, since I don’t really know what it is I do. But I guess I’d tell them that I believe that something knows, even if that ‘something’ isn’t me or them, and why not go ahead and trust that.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I had to look the word successful up in the dictionary before answering because just intuitively, to me anyway, the word implies some sort of arrival or victory. And then the question is: arrival where, victory over what? Which is a cool question, one that’s always coming up, and which also seems entirely unanswerable.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
Elvis Presley. It didn’t seem like any human destiny could top that, which sheds light on my ten-year-old perspective.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
It wouldn’t be ideal, trust me. But I am pro-wilderness. And I am in the wilderness.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
$1,400—but I’m due to pay some large bills any minute.
What’s wrong with society today?
Let’s just say ‘selflessness’ doesn’t seem to be its leading edge.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
The occasional sleeping pill.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
3.5 times a day exactly. I too am flummoxed by the consistency of that statistic.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
A massive outbreak of kindness and common decency.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
I’m guessing it’s a deeper look, a deeper feel. Which seems essential, because while we are in life, it seems like a good idea to feel into it as deeply as possible.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
Attempt to reach a better understanding of the formalist approach to poetry.
What are you working on right now?
This might be a bit of a cheater’s answer, but I recently completed putting together the manuscript for my chapbook Wallflower, due out from Nomadic Press in the fall. I have the crazy good fortune to have Isobel O’Hare as my copy editor and that part is still in process, so with your permission, I’ll put it in the ‘right now’ category. Plus this way I get to plug the book, which you probably didn’t notice.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
Writing that touches me, is not without humor, and that grants great swaths of permission, by which I mean I come away from reading it, with a door I never expected to even be in the apartment, opening for me as a writer. My gratitude is mixed up with my admiration.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
That unprecedented numbers of residential property owners underwent an attack of conscience and started renting apartments at rates people could afford.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
I’m forever in search of an answer to that question. Most of my writing deals with the angst from not yet having found out.
What are some of your favorite smells?
There was a French after-shave that made me unreasonably happy when I put it on. A fragrance I would never have thought to enjoy, a fragrance I have no idea how to title, from an after-shave that has disappeared from the market place. Perhaps this goes some of the way to explaining the challenges my leading males have in my fiction.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
That has the sound of a wonderful opportunity but just thinking about it unsettles me terribly. There is no way to have too much of a good thing without the good thing turning into something quite unlike a good thing. But if there is a patron out there waiting for my answer, I’ll take a couple of cabins by some water, the company of my wife and daughter, writing tools, a few marvelous books, friends close by (but not too close), a glass of wine, a soothing view.