Andrew Byrds: Your writing is very spiritual, contemplative, and it seems each sentence you put down is like setting stones in a river path to find your way home. From other interviews I’ve noted your fascination with eastern religions, and even in GITTGC there are moments of religious intrigue/thought, particularly in a moment where a christian service is being held at night. Speaking as a character in GITTGC, you mention never having been religious. Speaking as a writer, you have a discipline and a desire to get your thoughts down. For some people, writing is meditation, for others it is trying to relive moments that are long gone. So as a two parter first question, why did you want to write GITTGC? And writing as an act of meditation vs incantation, is there one you find more appealing?
Noah Cicero: I would like to correct the idea that I am into “Buddhist Religion.” I have felt very little interest in what life is like for a Cradle-Buddhist. I have never put on Buddhist cloths, attended a temple regularly or anything like that. I merely purchased the books and read them like one would read Aristotle or Saint Augustine, with the belief that these books must contain things that are very powerful, because humans wouldn’t have made sure they were protected and maintained for one to two thousand years if there wasn’t something of vital importance inside them.
I wrote the book because I have been to many National Parks and usually there is a book shelf at the Visitor Centers and souvenir shops, but the books are all written by historians and National Park Rangers, there has never been a book by a person who works concessions, so I decided to make that book exist.
I feel very zen when I write, very one with what I’m doing, if that is what you are asking.
AB: I’m intrigued by the idea of routines and practices when it comes to writing because everyone seems to have their own approach. What was it like for GITTGC? Are you someone who adheres to a single approach to writing, or do you try out new things with each project?
NC: 2016/17 I wrote the book. I went to Chile in 2016, on the last day of being in the Arturo Merino Benitez Airport I wrote the chapters would be about in a little notebook. I commenced writing shortly after. I would go to Starbucks around 7pm several days a week, drink iced coffee, listen to Willie Nelson or some other sad song and write a few pages. I am not a professional type of writer, I can only write for two hours at a time before my mind gives out. Also, I have always written completely sober. I hardly ever try new things out, I wrote Bipolar Cowboy, Nature Documentary and GITTGC all in the same seat at the same Starbucks. Starbucks I go to has been remodeled and that seat is no longer there, I have yet to find a new seat.
AB: You’ve written short stories, and poems, and novels, and all of them come with different perspectives when it comes to being autobiographical, be it thematically or explicitly. Would you consider GITTGC to be fiction or memoir, or maybe a melding of both?
NC: I consider it fiction. If you sent an investigator out to find out if it was true or not, it would make me a liar. The scenes are possible, like nothing happened in the book that would be outside the realm of human behavior or interaction. The majority of the people who read the book won’t know me, so for them the whole book will be fiction. I don’t really think of the book being about my life, I tried to pick generalized scenes from my experiences that one might experience if they spent a summer at the Grand Canyon. If I was tasked with writing a memoir of my life, I think the Grand Canyon might be mentioned in one chapter, it definitely wouldn’t be “The memoir of my life.” For me, this was all about supplying The Grand Canyon Worker Experience to people who might be interested in that.
AB: Does that same philosophy apply to when you write poetry? Or is there a different approach you take with something that is more condensed, like vignettes of something that also seems plausible? I can’t seem to dig it up right now, but there’s this Faulkner quote about how he envies poets because they can say something more true and wounding than novelists can in a novel.
NC: When I write poetry I ask myself a question, like right now I just asked myself, “What is poetry?” My mind conjured this memory of when I was 10 walking through a field with my grandpa. We saw two birds attacking another bird, a pale blue sky as the backdrop. My grandpa and I watched this scene for several minutes until the birds disappeared. I don’t think I know much about literature to be honest, commenting on Faulkner, novelists and poets is beyond my expertise.
AB: So you usually write at a Starbucks, I work at a Starbucks in downtown Portland. And yesterday this old woman came in and asked for a tea, I give her this tea, and she starts telling me about how she is a psychic. And one time she was part of a research group that was seemingly about mental illness, and they tried all these different drugs on her to see what would happen. Nothing worked. Her arm spasmed a lot and the muscles hurt her. One day she meets this other woman, who claims she is also a psychic, and the idea of mental struggles and depression is a myth. All that makes you feel bad and angry, it’s this enigmatic sludge that manifests within this space “just beneath where your nametag is” in the chest. And this woman she met, she could see this sludge. She grabbed this old woman near this spot and told her she could tear the sludge out, and she did. After that, this old woman told me, she sees it in everyone and wants to tear away that darkness but no one believes she can. Then she walked away and left.
Anyway it got me thinking, in writing and any artistic endeavor, is each project an attempt to void or dwell in any of those “energies”?
NC: I like that you work at Starbucks, if it wasn’t for Starbucks in the morning I wouldn’t talk to anyone some days.
I don’t even think there is such a thing as sludge, sludge to me is a person wanting things they do not have, it is a rejection of amor fati, God and the Dharma. My favorite books, movies and TV shows are about accepting that there are things you cannot remove or delete or troubleshoot your way out of, and even though this thing causes you to feel immense pain, you endeavor to persevere. Billy Cox accepts his fate in the book, he doesn’t stalk her or fly back to Ohio or kill himself. He continues to exist trusting that God will lead him to a new adventure.
AB: Going off that idea of amor fati, I’ve learned throughout my short, albeit eventful, life is to let go of the idea of absolute control and dive into the fear of uncertainty and learn from whatever comes my way. It has also led to staunch belief that one needs to create meaning instead of finding it in their lives. Of course it took awhile before I recognized any of that, it took writing over the years to see a change in that philosophy. From where you are now, and looking back on the you in the past, how has your perspective on ego/living life changed?
NC: Recently, I had a huge battle in my ego, I had an unmanageable attachment that needed to be killed. I turned 38-years-old, and I was still single, no kids and I did not have my own home. I had not become a Person. Also, I’ve never been anyone’s Number 1 in their heart, I think for maybe a couple of years of my life, but that’s it. My parents did not love me, or at least, I was definitely not their Number 1. Society does not prepare you to live a life alone, where no one considers you their Number 1. I began to suspect this part of myself was causing me harm and harm to other people. It is not easy to accept that you will never be a Person, that you will never have a beautiful Christmas morning. Imagine waking up Christmas after Christmas, alone, you walk out to the living room and no one is there. Every Christmas I sit by myself on the couch watching Cooper’s Camera, a weird Christmas movie. In the afternoon I go and eat dinner with friends, but the mornings are alone. I wanted to enjoy things though, I wanted to enjoy Christmas, I wanted to look at a couple holding hands and spontaneously think, “How beautiful is that!” I wanted to look at people’s family FB photos and spontaneously think, “How beautiful is that!” So I devised a plan, I took that part of myself fishing on a big lake. As we were floating in the middle of the lake, when that part of my self wasn’t paying attention, I knocked him off the boat. I looked down at him struggling in the deep water trying to get back on board, I knew what he wanted, he wanted to fuck me up and keep me fucked up until I died. I put my hands on the top of his head and pushed his face under the water. His arms slapping at me, desperately trying to surface. Eventually, the arms relaxed, and I watched him float to the bottom of the lake. To my surprise, a new part of myself was born in its place, and I like that new part very much.
NOAH CICERO is 38 years old and grew up in a small town near Youngstown, Ohio. He has lived in Eugene, Oregon, the Grand Canyon, Arizona, and Seoul, South Korea and currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has a movie made of his first book called The Human War, which won the 2014 Beloit Film Festival award for Best Screenplay. He has books translated into Turkish, Kurdish and Spanish. His first book of poetry Bipolar Cowboy was voted one of the best books on Goodreads in 2015. He has many short stories, articles and poems published at such places as Thought Catalog, 3AM Magazine, Wales Reviewand Amphibi.us. neutralspaces.co/noahcicero