Tupelo Hassman on Art as Parole

Tupelo Hassman on Art as Parole

An interview with Tupelo Hassman, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Tupelo Hassman is the author of Girlchild and the first American ever to win London’s Literary Death Match. She lives in San Francisco’s East Bay where she can be found, most days, having a root beer on tap at The Hog’s Apothecary or attupelohassman.com.

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

I’m a writer and a professor. This sounds like some mega high-falutin’ bullshit to the lucky few who still associate any glamour with the ivory or ink towers but there it is. I don’t like to waste time when I meet people. I like to get right to the meaningful questions, like, “Would you ever perform a striptease?”

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

Time. Finding time. Making time. Creating time. Whatever verb one can do to time, I’m down for it, aside from “kill” or “waste.” I can’t believe people have so much time they can kill or waste it. That’s the height of the first world right there. Like people using macaroni and beans to craft a picture of a Thanksgiving turkey while other people starve. I’m living in the third-world country of time.

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

Does anyone ever answer this with a, “I tell them to shuddup?” Of course, I tell them to get on and get to doing it. I believe in them.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

Artists are considered successful even when they have day jobs and when they must have them in order to survive. By that definition, I’m successful. Having two jobs isn’t usually part of a high-water mark. This is a rad double-standard of our culture wherein “rad” means “fucked-up.” This is not to say that I don’t love teaching. It’s only to say that defining success in a stilted system is tricky. And that I get tired of feeling schizophrenic.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

I don’t use the internet as a mood-altering substance, really, even though I do like pictures of cats. The only game I play on the internet is Facebook. Once I win Facebook I’ll learn to play Angry Pigs and YouTube.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

Jim Henderson, a poet. Jim married a dear friend of mine on his deathbed (that’s literal, he was in hospice, she got into the bed with him during the ceremony). He gave me so much of that precious, intimate time before his death, it was a life-changing experience to share those days with him. He’s my adopted ancestor. I do leave food out for him sometimes, and Kubrick biographies.

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

I had a great teacher at this age. Mr. Parry let me do puppet shows during class time and taught me to play “House of the Rising Sun” on the guitar for my mom’s birthday. I admire him now, I don’t know if I was smart enough to admire him then. Yay, teachers.

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

You know that scene in Dickey’s DELIVERANCE where the guys come in off the river and are gang-raped by that other group of guys? I’d love to spend a week being that river.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

Sure I would. My moves would be incredibly private in a mood set to similar private conditions. Wait… is writing particularly not a striptease? It has to be. Else, why are we all so uncomfortable? And why am I wearing pasties?

What’s wrong with society today?

That “today” implies nostalgia. Like Janis Joplin says at the start of that one song, “It’s all the same fucking day, man.”

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

Nah. But for three years, I’ve been going to acupuncture once a week at Berkeley Acupuncture Project. And I just had a baby. I’m pretty high on baby hormones and the accompanying ego death of parenthood right now.

What is your fondest memory?

This question is an unfair one to ask a new parent. My fondest memory is right now. Oh wait, now. Wait… okay, now. Hold on…

How many times do you fall in love each day?

I fall in love on the daily with my husband or one of the cats that live here, I catch them performing these tiny and heroic household acts of kindness or genius or murder, and they take my breath away. And now, every second, I fall in love with this baby that just moved in and, as I understand it, plans on staying for a few decades but didn’t even bring enough clothes for the week.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

In my lifetime, artists are treated like NBA stars except without having to go to North Korea. Also, and mainly, an end to the prison industrial complex.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Connection, right? Which is vital. Babies die without touch. We punish people by disconnecting them. We punish ourselves if we think we’re the weirdo or the sick bastard. But maybe we find some art that helps us see that we’re not alone in any of our shames and, wham, parole.

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

Let’s all agree to do the work we’d like to do. Imagine if everyone you met was already doing the work they’d like to do, maybe with a day job, maybe not, maybe for only ten minutes a day, but still.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

More Oakland! And I’d have BART grow up and be, you know, democratic, as in, one price per ride from anywhere, a reasonable price to get to the airports, polka music piped in.

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

The first time I saw a Jerusalem cricket I about lost my mind. This would be a great place to include a truly terrifying picture of a Jerusalem cricket.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Man sweat. Dog feet. Hot fur. Melty asphalt. Summer rain. Winter coming. Lately, baby hair. Baby breath. Baby hands. Baby anything. Did I mention the hormones?

If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

Is it too late to say “college and grad school”? I want to ride a yak over the Himalayas. The scenario involves the yak and me becoming great and forever friends regardless of the yak’s big snotty face and our likely language barriers.


Here to read all The Write Stuff profiles; here to watch all the videos.