Sean H. Doyle pulls no punches. Equal parts beautiful and painful, kinetic and heart wrenching, This Must Be The Place starts with a childhood car wreck and ends with our protagonist fully grown and homeless, weeping as a friend berates him about the choices he made.
A quick and humble confession: when I first started this book I had no idea it was a memoir and I can’t seem to shake the feeling that that is one of the best compliments I can give This Must Be The Place and Sean H. Doyle. As a new writer traversing the well-worn memoir territory of a troubling past and addiction, the collection could have easily succumbed to the many pitfalls lay out before it. We’re all familiar, it’s a road riddled with endless clichés that ends with the surging redemption that makes us all feel good about the protagonist and most importantly ourselves in the end. But none of that comes. The reader waits for it after a barrage of tragedy but Doyle refuses to cop out. For a man so fascinated with big questions, we (thankfully) never get any big answers, just the scorched earth breadcrumb trail from a punk who reminds us that we all, no matter what our lot, are simply trying to push our rock up the hill as gracefully as we can.
Sean and I communicated over email because the summer can be brutal.
N: One of my favorite things about this book was the wonderful juxtapositions created by the way you arranged the text. Could you talk about the sequencing of the chapters/vignettes? Did you ever arrange them chronologically? Did you just sequence them as they came to you organically?
S: Structure and timing and juxtaposition and tension are things that come to me from a place that isn’t easy for me to translate into words, it’s just something I know in my gut and heart.
N: Could you talk about music’s influence on the book? Specifically, I read that you said you felt the pacing of the book was musical (or maybe I made that up?). Regardless, music seems integral, even though there are few specific references to it in the text itself. I mean, you made an album of original music to go along with the book and have created a (stellar) playlist (yeah, Swans!) to go with it so clearly, it’s important. When did music become integral to your life? How did it shape the writing of the book and the experiences within?
S: Everything I do is musical. Everything that happens around us is musical, right down to a dial tone being a perfect F#. I would have made more references to music in the text if I had chosen a longer form to share the work/stories, but because of the way I constructed each happening, it was important for me to make sure the happenings were written in a musical manner as opposed to making a running commentary about the music that was blaring at all times. Without a doubt, music has saved my life many times over. All of my experiences as a living being have music playing in one way or another, even the quiet as a church mouse moments. I’ve lost somewhere along the lines of 70% of my hearing in my right ear, so music is becoming even more important to me as I age out of being a young punk with headphones jacked to 13.
N: So you are a musician and you used to play in various bands and do the whole touring thing. I know you still make music but I don’t believe you are in any bands or actively touring anymore, is that accurate? I guess I’m curious when did you stop wanting to “get in the van”? And also, what kind of music do you make now?
S: I do play in a band with a couple of friends, but for now it will remain nameless and unspoken until we have something we can loose upon the world. As far as no longer touring and doing all of that stuff, that’s a younger person’s game. I can get in the van and do a weekend here and a weekend there, but longer stretches of time on the road aren’t good for me, my mental health, or a band full of people my age. Sometimes it’s important to know when the ROCK ACTION should be contained like a little suitcase nuke. That’s where I am at now, controlled chaos. I make all kinds of music. The band is definitely a “rock” band, and I make lots of different kinds of music at home by myself in my little studio.
N: Is it fair to say this book was written in hindsight? Were you ever a journal keeper? Did you do any piecing together of old journals or scribblings from the time periods covered in the book?
S: Everything is hindsight after it happens, right? I used to keep journals but I would always lose them or misplace them. I had a leather-bound notebook thing I used to write in during the period of time when I was homeless and someone stole it off of a table I had been loitering at for a few hours. Sure hope they enjoyed my angry poetry and scribbles about longing for a home and human touch and my stoned fortune cookie speak and paranoid ramblings about a moustache cop who was always trying to arrest me for vagrancy.
N: How important was getting these memories “right”? How would you even define “getting it right”? Is that even important?
S: For me, it was very important to make sure I wasn’t pulling that shit that too many people pull when investigating their life and then sharing it, where they inevitably make themselves out to be some kind of heroic figure or someone who didn’t have shit on the bottom of their shoes or someone who was a victim of their choices or a casualty of their life’s happenings. I don’t know if that is about “getting it right” as much as it is about me being someone who knows that my darkness is a part of my light and one would never be able to be seen without the other. I made some late night phone calls and asked people what they remembered and we compared and spoke about the things that happened. That was totally helpful and enlightening. I don’t know if we get anything “right.” Each human being has their own singular experience when something happens–you can grow up in the same house with the same parents and the same income and the same opportunities and come out of it with totally different childhoods and totally different memories–and this book was about my happenings and my learnings and my choices. I cannot speak for anyone else and I wouldn’t ever want to.
N: I’m curious to ask you about your choice to publish this as a memoir. I read Sarah Gerard’s Binary Star not long after I finished your book and thought a lot about your book and her book together and how similar they are in a lot of ways. Her book clearly draws on a lot of real life source material, but she chose to change some details and published it as fiction. Did you ever have the pull to change a few names around and call it fiction? Or was there something more important or cathartic about putting it out there as a memoir?
S: Labels bug me out, man. Labels are what have wrecked everyone, everyone choosing a camp to claim and a badge to wear, tossing 140 character bombs at one another on social media about “genre” and all that. Who fucking cares? A goddamn good book is a goddamn good book. Sarah is fucking brilliant and one of my favorite writers/people/minds and her choices are her choices and I would spill my blood for her or anyone else so that they can make choices that are important to them. Me? I don’t know how to write fiction or even approach the idea. I’m just reporting on the world that I live in and the things that have happened to me and the things I have witnessed. If whatever label is attached to it causes someone to look at the work differently or read it differently or think of me differently? Not my problem. I don’t write for catharsis, I can get that through loud guitars or hitting a heavy bag or running until I puke. I write because I have always written and it is something I feel compelled to do, even if I suck at it 98% of the time.
N: I’d really like to hear your thoughts on Edgar Cayce. I had no idea who he was and it was only recently, after I finished your book that I went back and researched who he was. I’m very curious to hear what you think of him and why you chose to start out your book with a quote from this famous American mystic(?)/ clairvoyant(?)/ crackpot(?)/ psychic(?)
S: Obviously, after reading the book it’s easy to piece together that I am the kind of person always up for some spiritual journey, someone willing to go to a place that a lot of folks would shy away from, or at least be cautious about. Not me. I found Cayce a little before the “cult” from the book found me. I read everything I could get my hands on and found it to be very important to me at the time, and so much of it has stayed with me. Do I think he was a crackpot? Everyone is a crackpot, that’s how we survive knowing one day we’ll be dead and we never asked to be here to begin with. The quote opens everything up so the ride isn’t so goddamn bumpy.
SEAN H. DOYLE lives in Brooklyn, New York. He works hard every day to be a better person, and is learning how to love himself more. THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, his first book, was published by Civil Coping Mechanisms in 2015. His writing has appeared in places like The Rumpus, The Atlas Review, No Tokens, and Volume 1 Brooklyn. seanhdoyle.com