Steve Orth: on What Happens to the Soul When the Body Dies

Steve Orth: on What Happens to the Soul When the Body Dies

An interview with Steve Orth, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Steve Orth lives in Oakland, CA. His most recent work is Cyborg Legs, out now from OMG! Press.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I don’t really remember the last time someone asked me this…I remember the other day I was at work, at the supermarket that I work at, and I happen to be talking to some asshole, and me and this asshole we’re just chatting, you know, just general small talk (that day’s weather, the evening’s weather, the forecast for the next day). Anyway, I don’t know how it came up, but I ended saying that I only worked at the supermarket part time. And then this asshole was all like, “Oh, what’s your second job?”

I guess the point of your question was really if I tell people I’m a writer. Well, I don’t really, cause I very rarely want to talk about it. I live sort of a double life. And I prefer that. Because the honest truth is that I really didn’t decide to become a writer so that I can talk about how I’m a writer. When I have told people that I’m a writer and they ask me what I write about, then I get really flustered, I start stuttering and talking nonsense, like, “I don’t know…I write poem…stuff…about grocery store….and I write prose-y stuff about writing poetry..and then I also write other things about….everything that could happen to…guy me?”

I decided to become a writer for three reasons. 1. Because I LOVE IT. 2. Because I have a talent for it and 3. Because I prefer to be left alone. And if you like being alone then be a writer!

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

Sometimes I wake up and I’m covered in hives.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

This is a two part-er. The first part is that you should write your stories or your poems, whatever art it is that you want to do. Get good at it. Work hard on it. Have fun with it. Enjoy it, love it, struggle with it. Work on your relationship with it. But work on it with hard work. Being an artist is lots and lots of hard work. And you fail a bunch. You sometimes have an idea and the idea turns out to be terribly stupid. A real dum-dum. It’s a failure. But failure is fun. Failure makes you learn. Failure helps you find your voice. You need to at least have a small chuckle for every failure. But you go at it again the next day. Work, work, work. That’s it. Sometimes you are totally full of shit and then your art is full of shit. That’s ok, though. Work on not being full of shit. Or work on being the greatest full of shit artist that there’s ever been.

Part 2 is the social aspect. Meet people. Meet artist. Meet them poetry readings. Art shows. Be nice to them. Be honest with them. They’re not all going to be your friend, but have good graces. Don’t talk too much. Talk some. Smile at people. Remember their names. Shake their hands. Eye contact is nice. Don’t drink too much wine, unless everyone else is going to drink too much wine. And then other people will want to show you their art. Let them. Look at it. Comment on it. Be thoughtful. Put out a magazine featuring their art. Champion the artists you love. Help them with their art and they will hopefully help you with yours. But don’t get too upset if they don’t think about your art all the time. They’re all, like you, insanely narcissistic.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I’m guilty of being a little shy with showing my writing. I do have a core group of very gracious friends that will read and comment and champion my work, which makes me feel blessed and helps get my work out there. And then when it’s out there, people I don’t know will read it. That’s amazing to me.

If I work on my art and am not lazy, then that’s a successful day. Even if whatever I spent all day working on is total garbage. Somedays are just Trash Days. But that’s fine. I’ll take that! Why not?! What else should I do with my time? Stick fried eggs under my armpits? I could do that, I guess. But I’m not going to.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

When I was 10 years old, I was obsessed with wrestling. WWF. My favorites were Macho Man Randy Savage & Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. It ran my life for a while. I spent every weekend watching wrestling. It was my everything, my fucking Beatrice, dude. I would watch what was on TV and then my parents would drive me to the video store and rent me a tape. And on the car ride to the video store, I would read a magazine about WWF. Summer Slam, Survivor Series, Wrestlemania, all the hot shit! I would prefer to watch this alone, as I found no peer with the same amount of nuanced knowledge about wrestling. “They would be like “YEAH! Give him a body slam!” and I would be thinking to myself, “this would be a terrible point in the match for Junkyard Dog to body slam Hillbilly Jim. What he needs to do is work the body, put him in some choke holds.”

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

Evan, I once wrote a poem called NATURE! and I would like to share it with you as answer to this question:

smoking bowels with deer
wishing the woods had mirrors
to see myself in this pelt

more worse bleeding
all over the eucalyptus
and Godard’s King Lear

no where to rent videos
in the forest. animals
reenact The Lion King

my burning desire to rate
My Side Of The Mountain
three stars on

How much money do you have in your checking account?

Well, I don’t know if I want to answer this question. Like if I say that I have $5,000, all my friends are going to think that I’m like a rich asshole. And they’d be right! But then if I say that I have $32 they’ll be like, “oh, poor Steve Orth, the starving artist”. Which is awesome. There you go, you’ve already created sympathy. That’s winning at friendship. But then if you like show up to the dinner party wearing brand new Jordan’s, they’re like “what the fuck, Orth?”

What’s wrong with society today?

It’s those old rich hippies. They own everything. What a bunch of creeps, right?

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

Well, it’s all about coffee isn’t it? Black coffee. Cream. Sugar. It doesn’t matter to me. I love all of it. I drink all of it. Blue Bottle, Folgers. I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck. Iced? Yeah let’s do ice. Let’s do hot. Let’s make it really HOT! Too hot, burn my tongue? Ouch! But hey, that’s the price. That’s the sacrifice. It’s a battle scar, not a big deal. Don’t over think it, just drink it. You got a bunch of stuff to do? Drink some, get it done. I don’t care. Just as long as it’s coffee. Make it with a French Press. Or have some some espresso at a fancy ass coffee shop, where the baristas listen to ENO, wear hip baseball caps. Buy it from a donut shop. 20 ounces for $1.85? Yes, Please! I want that! I want to drink it all and I want to drink it all day long.

What is your fondest memory?

There was this one time… I hadn’t slept in a couple of days and I was all strung out. It was like 3am and I was driving and I started to feel really weird. I took a left turn on 123rd Street (this was in a town called Lathrop, Missouri) so anyway I took a turn and there in the middle of the road was like this humongous black labrador. It was like 2 stories high. I started to scream. I swerved to miss it and nearly crashed my car into a tree. Obviously, I was hallucinating from a lack of sleep and there was no gigantic dog. But, oh my god, if that’s not my fondest memory.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

The better question is how many times do I cry in the bathroom at work a day!

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

Just once, I’d like to see a horse wear a dress and bonnet. You know what I mean?

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

What is art…?….I think I can speak to this….So art is…..So…..I think art….is….like a painting……like a really big painting. That’s like all big and shit. And it’s…’s a really good painting. It looks like real life stuff. ….And it’s important because the people…can come to the museum… that they can see the painting……And then the museum….makes… Is that right?


cover by Matthew Arnone

What are you working on right now?

I just wrote this story where a man goes on a strange car ride with his dentist. It’s fucking terrible though. This guy is stuck in this town and he can’t get out. I don’t know why…his car broke down? He lost his money, whatever. Plot points, who cares! Anyway, this guy who’s stuck in this town, he meets this dentist in the parking lot of an outlet mall. And the dentist agrees to give him a ride. But before he’ll give hime a ride, the dentist needs to go furniture shopping. They go fucking furniture shopping! Ugh, furniture shopping, that’s the fucking worst. Did you ever go furniture shopping with your parents, Evan? It’s the boring-est thing ever. Remember those cardboard computers? Furniture shopping is hell on earth. And it takes forever. Then later the dentist hits the guy in the mouth with a tire iron and that’s the end of that terrible story that I’ll never show anyone.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

My dream job is to host my own talk show. I got it all worked out. So it would be one of those very serious talk shows with serious questions, serious guests. Kind of Charlie Rose-ish. But the whole time that we’re having our serious discussions, we’re also eating ribs. Big fat covered in BBQ sauce RIBS. The name of the show: Ribs With Steve.

I was actually really close to making this happen. This was years ago. I was going to have the painter Conrad Ruiz be the first guest. It didn’t work out though. I couldn’t get it together. I was too into partying too much to make it happen. So it didn’t happen. But there were some fantastic parties.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

I get overwhelmed easily and can’t have alcohol, so I keep it real simple. I really like going to the movies. I would very much like to see a double feature of Saturday Night Fever & The Battle Of Algiers at the Castro Theatre. That would be great. Both films have very strong leads doing some very questionable actions. And both films have excellent soundtracks. I also like being in a river with my core of gracious friends and we would all have inflatable dolphins. We would laugh and splash water on each other. We’d eat smoked salmon and other meats and talk about who we would or wouldn’t fuck and what happens to the soul when the body dies. Wait…..that wouldn’t happen in a town. Or would it?

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

I saw a UFO once when I was a small child. One night, I was asleep, all like peaceful and shit, dreaming and then I woke up. I looked out the window and saw a silver pyramid floating in the sky. I still think about it everyday. I expect to see it again right before I die.

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