NOAH CICERO: I finished your book and loved it.
Thanks for giving me a copy, I’m going to read Ben’s now.
I’m lying on a couch being really lazy, writing this. I feel so lazy lately, I think it’s because I’m going off my medication, Seroquel XR, it basically causes me to sleep 10 hours a night, so I can’t even work a 40-hour week. I factually don’t have enough energy to do it. I can’t wake up before 8 a.m., and I can’t work the late shift without worrying about the stupid pill. All because I got really into Buddhism and meditate now and feel happy and okay with everything, so maybe I rewired myself and can go on.
Here are some questions:
I wrote seven questions lol
1. When did you conceive of Today I am a Book? Were you washing dishes or at work or strolling along the Santa Monica Pier?
xTx: I was at a dead-end, Groundhog’s Day job that was the same thing day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day and I was going insane. It had just been New Year’s Eve, and the new year stretched out in front of my like an abyss. It was black and sucking. I just couldn’t do another year “like this” and I decided that, on my blog, I would become a new thing EVERY DAY because I needed to escape from my life at that point. I started writing about becoming new things. I did it for a while. Then I met Michael Seidlinger at AWP and he told me how much he was enjoying them and would I want to write a bunch more and make them into a book and I said “Okay.”
NC: In “Today I am a Wife,” you wrote, “I thought, Good thing I didn’t tell him I was going to make pancakes because now there’s one less thing he can be disappointed in me for.” Is this all life is? Trying not to disappoint the ones we love? But doing it anyway?
xTx: I hope that’s not all life is.
No. That’s not all life is.
NC: The poem in “Today I am a Black and Gray Tattoo of a Skull” on page 12 is kind of terrifying, it makes me feel awkward. Where did you get that poem? How did you find it, I don’t know, spiritually?
xTx: I feel like that piece is a hiding place a lot of us have and this one erupted as a black and gray tattoo of a skull with snakes coming out of its mouth on the skin of a boy who bloomed inside a nightmare. I maybe found it for him and for anyone else who hides similar things underneath their skin.
NC: In “Today I am a Mess” the character cries into a sleeping person’s neck? Is that normal? I remember holding women at night, they were sleeping, and I held them and held them, like I just wanted the moment to stop, and for the universe to just let time stop, and let me hold this person forever? Has that happened to you?
xTx: This has happened to me. It’s a gift, right?
NC: In “Today I am a Lion,” why did you choose lions and not tigers? Are you a Leo? Personally I prefer tigers. What if you found a copy of Today I am a Book in a used bookstore in 2047, you are old and haven’t written in years, your life is almost over, and you find your book, all moldy, with coffee stains, on a shelf, in a used book store, the kind with cats and weird owners, and the word “lion” is marked out and somebody wrote “tigers”—how would you feel?
xTx: I am a Cancer, not a Leo, but crabs wouldn’t work well in this story…or would they? Hmmm…
I am not opposed to tigers, and I wouldn’t get mad if my future self found a hand-edited version of this story in my old, used, stained book. I would be prompted to find that person. I’d probably think of this conversation and I’d think of you, Noah, and wonder what you were doing now and maybe try “Universe Fusion Scan” to find you and you’d be so old and I would be so old and we would reminisce about the ‘old days’ of Alt Lit and writing and books made of paper.
NC: You wrote “Today I am a Writer.” I never feel like a writer. I read on the internet that JK Rowling’s net worth is $1 billion USD. JK Rowling is a writer, she can go on television and people will say, “She is a writer, she writes books.” Norman Mailer was a writer, his first book got famous and he had the money to sit and type out book after book, but barely anyone reads him anymore and no one cites him as an influence. I’ve read lots of his books, but I wouldn’t cite him as an influence. Jean Rhys wrote the best books, books that change lives and inspire and create writers and even philosophers, but she was never famous, she never made enough money off of writing to be standing with people she just met, and everyone is like, “What do you do?” She could never respond, “I am a writer.” How do you feel about that? Are we writers? Are we people? Should we jump off a bridge?
xTx: Again, this book was an attempt to become something new every day. This means that “being a writer” is something I felt I wasn’t already.
All of your questions are mine. Are we writers? Am I a writer? I think you can write every day and not publish a single thing and you are still a writer. I think this means that I am a writer. It’s a passion and I pursue it, little to no money, but lots of emotional reward. But it’s entwined with my soul and I couldn’t live a satisfying life without doing it, so, yes, I am a writer and you are, too.
NC: Because of being a writer, I end up being around a lot of people in their early 20s. If I was a normal person, I would have gone to college and become a high school history teacher and coached the high school team, married a local woman, had kids and bought a house within 50 miles of where my parents live. I would have ended up barely speaking to people in their early 20s, or past the age of 30, I think. But because I write I end up speaking with people of all ages/races from around the world. I notice they are convinced that if they don’t do a set amount of things by the time they are 30, they think it won’t happen. But now that I’m 34, it seems like I get older no matter what, if I have the worst or best job, $5000 or $40 in the bank, I just keep existing/aging. There also seems to be no separation between aging and existing and time, they are one and the same thing for everything—rocks, trees, plants, animals, and people, all in the same boat. Will I become 40 one day? Do I have to do anything to become 40? Did you have to do anything to become 30? If we got into a time machine and went back to 21-year-old xTx and showed you a picture of your life now, what would you say? Did you expect this? Were you driven to become this version of yourself?
xTx: If the 21-year-old xTx saw a photo of my/our life now, she would be like, “That shit’s cray!” She wouldn’t believe it. But she would have to because I would be there telling her it’s the truth. But maybe then she would do shit differently, having had future me tell her what all went down. Maybe she’d change the path I’d already walked and fuck it all up. Fuck up the path that led to becoming future me. Maybe I’d better avoid time machines because I think, despite the things that I chose that became unhappiness, I like most things about my life. I think I was driven to become this version of myself. All other versions I imagine—fancier, richer, thinner, prettier, younger, smarter versions—don’t seem like me. I think I feel like the version of me that I am. Good or bad, this is it.
The older I get the more I feel like all time exists at the same time, and we are just perceiving this specific moment in time. I sometimes feel like I am all ages at once, leaning in through the window of the age I am right now.
Don’t have age-specific goals. Just have goals.
* * *
xTx: I read your book the day after we did the reading together. You seemed like a gentle-heart. The book had so many parts where I felt your gentle heart. Here are some questions and statements for you about your book that you can answer or not answer or make statements of your own.
NOTE 1: “Do not try to look for life answers in this book of love poems”
Why not? Where should we look?
NC: When I was in Portland in the winter of 2014, I was sitting in a coffee shop, and I was reading Dogen’s Genjo Koan, and it said, “A fish swims in the ocean, no matter how far it swims, there is no end to the water.” I had a nervous breakdown a week later. Then I read in a Pema Chodron book, “There is no resolution.” Stevie Nicks said, “Your life holds no answer.”
I wanted answers so badly—on why the relationship ended, on why she stopped loving me. My mind would scream it at times: Why did she stop loving me? And one day she gave really good answers, the most acceptable and perfect answers, and it did nothing. Things only started to get better, started “looking up” as they say, when I told myself, “How could an answer do anything? I still have to wake up, take showers, go to work, cook and eat food, I have to live all these moments feeling like myself and none of it requires answers.”
xTx: NOTE 2: “By the time this book comes out, the Noah Cicero who wrote this book, won’t exist. Noah Cicero hopes this book will change him.”
Is this correct? Does the book-writing Noah Cicero not exist anymore? Did this book change him? If so, for the better or worse?
NC: Dogen said in the Genjo Koan, “Firewood becomes ash, and it does not become firewood again.” I am changed, tofu is beans, but beans are not tofu. I am a new person now, I was so angry in my 20s, I would always throw fits, when things got slightly disrupted I threw a fit, always with the anxiety, always with the anger. It would not end. I couldn’t take it anymore, I couldn’t stand the idea of living the rest of my life in a state of anxiety. I was seriously going to kill myself, because what would it be worth, waiting for the next panic attack, waiting for more anxiety, having anxiety, anxiety, anger and panic. It had to stop. I was like this ends now, but I said “this ends now” with a fist pound and still anger. I had to accept, as Alan Watts says, that “this is it.” I had to let go of planning, that life makes any sense, that my life will turn out like normal people’s lives, that I will get a career, find a person that loves me, get married, and not be scared of things like having credit cards or working the same job for 20 years. I had to let myself stop demanding that situations go the way I want, it isn’t that they do or do not go the way I want, they just go and I have to go with them. Currently I mostly go with things, when something bad happens I buy donuts and eat them and put the sadness in the donuts. I also exercise now, hike a lot, smoke about two cigarettes a day, and instead of having a panic attack I just shrug.
xTx: EATING ALONE
The last stanza reads, “Now he makes two scrambled eggs instead of four. Now he doesn’t order pizza.” When I read this I felt a feeling similar to when an elevator drops suddenly, like its brakes went out and you’re going to plummet to your death but then it catches and you feel “sweet relief,” like part of you actually thought for a minute it was the end of things. Is that what this poem was supposed to do?
NC: I don’t know, let me think, what are poems supposed to do? Like the virtue of poems? I think lyrical things are supposed to do two things: 1. Make you want to fuck really hard and all night, like that night when you meet somebody new and fuck and laugh till the sun comes up. That kind of fucking. And: 2. Make you realize that this is it, this is life, this is the pain and glory of the situation, and you are going to die one day, and this is how you spent your life. For Langston Hughes, it is black people spending their lives under oppression, for Ginsberg it is people spending their lives spiritually searching for meaning via any means necessary. For me, it is some guy waking up, making two eggs, throwing bagged cheese on them, putting tomatillo on them, rolling them up in a tortilla shell, and eating them alone, morning after morning, for years straight.
I just have to say, “Best Teriyaki” and how amazed and thankful they should be to be included in this fantastic book of poetry.
xTx: A WAY SOMEHOW
Hey. Noah. Now this is a motherfucking poem. Pee to the OH to the E-M. I started “blocking out quotes” so I could ask you/write stuff about them, but I was blocking out everything so I stopped.
I read this book linearly and when/while I was reading this poem I was like, “Fuck Yes!” and I flashed back to the reading we just did and how I wished I could go back and hug you.
Other than just saying, “This poem rules” I guess I want to ask you—now that you’ve had time—in regard to the antelope, what would you like to be most?
NC: The feeling of the wind hitting the antelope’s fur.
That last part…about the couple at the Rhyolite ghost town…how they were from your hometown. Coyote and his tricks. Have you had him play any more on you since then?
NC: I went back to Ohio for a wedding. I had no intention of going back to Ohio, but my friend said she would pay for the plane ticket and tux, so I went. I didn’t go see or even contact The Woman, but I did drive to Cleveland and left a letter on her porch with beer while she was at work saying, “I’m sorry about the texts.” Then I went to Lake Erie and looked at it, such a grey day. I didn’t try to talk to her. The next day we were all going home, there were five of us, and we were ten minutes late for the luggage to get put on the plane. They said we as humans could get on the plane but the luggage couldn’t come. I was standing there and realized Jordan Castro lived down the street from the airport, so I said, “Okay, I’ll call Jordan and he’ll pick me up.” Everyone left me in Ohio. I call Jordan and he picks me up, then we go back to his house and hang out and talk, but then he has to leave for three hours. I’m there alone, I try to go to sleep but the dog won’t stop sitting on my face, I want to go to World of Beer (a place with like 500 different beers), but Jordan is clean, so I know I can’t do that. I walk outside and don’t know what’s happening, I GPS where The Woman lives in relation to where Jordan lives, it says a 10-minute bus ride. I get on a bus and ride down, I have to face this fear, I have to stand before what I fear and let my panic rise, then let it fall. Because that is how you beat a fear, you have to face it—you beat it by not trying to beat it, which means standing before it, you don’t run, you don’t attack, you let the panic rise and rise, and if you can hold out, the panic will subside and then you can smile at it, and let the wind hit you, you can just stand and be okay.
I went to her house, knowing she would never open the door, but I had to stand there, I had to do it. I got off the bus and stood there, I knocked on the window and her friend motioned for me to leave. I walked away, my panic was so high, I sat cross-legged on the grass and the panic went away. It was over. It sounds creepy, but mammals are pretty creepy. I got up from the grass and walked back to the bus stop, I smiled and knew it was okay. I got up early the next day and got on the plane and felt funny on the plane, I kept shrugging and laughing to myself. I didn’t think she cared, but it was okay, but when I sat down in Denver for the layover (alone, always alone), I turned the airplane mode off and there was a polite text from The Woman. And it was like Coyote played a piano flourish and the sound echoed off the walls of the Denver airport. It felt like the ash was in my hand, I was just holding ashes, and I opened my hand and the wind blew it everywhere and it became little butterflies and I waved goodbye to all them as they flew away.
xTx: THAT MAZZY STAR SONG
I’m very sorry about your brother. Which one of his cd’s is your favorite?
NC: Fleetwood Mac of course, I never go a day without listening to Stevie.
xTx: THE SCIENCE WAY
Noah believed everyone was like a song. Everyone is playing a song all the time, and when we find someone who plays a song like our song, then we become friends, and if the song is close enough, then we become lovers, even if it is only for a night.
Noah believed it was like music, because there is no getting to the bottom of a song, millions of people can create opinions on a single song for a million years, but the beauty of a song can’t ever be reached, it always remains different for everyone—
People are like that, songs.
NC: When I was young, in my first books, I look like some Bukowski/Kerouac/Sartre caricature, I thought I would become like them, but instead I became myself, just as they became themselves. I am alone in this Starbucks in Las Vegas, a nice clean well-lit space, I am not on drugs, I do not drink excessively, I hike and eat healthy. I’m listening to an Argentine band called Perota Chingo on my headphones and I’m settling down in this desert. Do you ever feel like that, have those moments, “Oh wow, I became myself, when did this happen? It seems so perfect, it almost seems planned, but I don’t remember ever planning it?”
xTx: I think I am having more of these moments now that I am older. I keep attributing it to that ‘I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks of me’ attitude that one gets as they age. It feels empowering. However, I don’t think I will 100% be myself in life until I merge xTx with the person I walk around as on a daily basis. I think I will be most myself when that happens.
If it ever happens.
xTx: MISSING POEM
Where did it go? What is it doing right now?
NC: I write a new missing poem everyday, I still write this book all the time. Bipolar Cowboy isn’t over for me. I write the missing poem in my head while I’m driving, while I’m walking around at work, while I’m tanning by the pool. But I don’t type them out, I just think them, they exist in my head, and they stay there.
xTx: CALLING MY PARENTS
I’m 33 now, I am a little old.
I don’t think I can catch up,
And become a normal person.
I’m not sure if I even want to live
anymore. But I will keep living,
one suicide is enough
for a family.
I thought of your parents while reading this one. How they must hold on to you. How you cannot kill yourself because you are an important son. Sun. Too much nice inside of you that needs to get out and be shared. Please do not kill yourself. I guess this is not a question. More of a plea.
NC: My parents don’t really hold on to me, but other people do. I didn’t write “want” because I don’t think anyone “wants” to kill themselves, but they are overwhelmed and their brains won’t let them feel peaceful any longer. I think if you feel this horrible, that living one more day is impossible, then you should go up to the people who love you (we know who these people are) and say, “Do you want me to kill myself?” and they will probably say, “No, that sounds really devastating.” Then you have to say, “May I lie down for a year? May I regroup? May I have permission to change?” (Because oftentimes, the people we love won’t give us permission to change.) And most likely those who love you will say yes, we will do what it takes.
To me, death is either a dreamless sleep (most likely) or something weird happens like we pop into a different dimension. Either way, the trifles of life don’t matter, no one in heaven is going to reward you for putting so much fucking pressure on yourself, the dreamless sleep awards all the same, with a dreamless sleep. Might as well watch a movie and enjoy your friends, because you are going to die anyway.
xTx: EBT DREAMS
How did it feel to be on welfare? How long were you on welfare? What did you learn while on welfare?
NC: This is funny to me, I’ve been living in poverty since I graduated high school basically 14 years ago. I’ve never made more than $11,000 in one year since high school, I’ve never been paid more than $9 an hour except for my one year of ESL teaching in Korea. I’ve been on food stamps three times, I didn’t have health insurance for ten years until Obamacare. I know what HCAPP is and what it’s like to go to those cheap government dentists. I know what it’s like to get cut and instead of going to the hospital, I’ve glued myself back together. My refrigerator has never been full in my adult years.
It wasn’t always like this for me: My parents made a normal amount of money, I think with inflation it added up to $80,000 in the 90s. We always had a fridge full of food, my dad always made giant elaborate meals, we never worried about money at all. But my adulthood has been different. I have only slept on a futon during my adulthood, I’ve never owned a car less than 12-years-old, I have mostly depended upon other people for my survival and I still do. I don’t know what is wrong with me, but managers don’t like me. I have a bachelor’s degree, made the Dean’s List, overseas experience in Korea, I have books published in four countries, and I’m a bag boy at a health food store. The woman who hired me at the health food desperately needed a bag boy and just called the first name that came up and hired me, she didn’t even read my application, which probably saved me. I think there is something about me, about my mannerisms and how I talk that just unsettles people. Mostly everyone I know found a place in the world, like they stumbled into a situation and they found their place. But I never have.
What does 14 years of poverty feel like? I have nothing to worry about, nothing to protect, nothing to do. Food stamps are awesome, you can buy food for free, I love it. Going to the welfare office is okay, it takes about two hours to get seen by a social worker, so I bring a book and read it.
xTx: EIGHT HORRIBLE TEXT MESSAGES
I have only read 1Q84, and I forget how it ends. What is a Murakami ending? What were the eight horrible text messages? If you can’t remember, can you make them up?
NC: Murakami always writes a beautiful ending, the people after many years finally meet up in a strange location and love each other. Murakami is pretty sentimental, but it’s cute.
The 8 horrible text messages were the same for everyone—you know, a list of convictions and their sentences, i.e. “You have been convicted of homicide with a sentence of sixty years.” It’s always the same. I don’t know why I did it though, I hadn’t even spoke to her in months, she was probably living peacefully in her house, eating donuts and then boom, a crazy person texts her. Looking back on it, she was really trying to be friendly, she was really making an effort to calm me, I think she actually didn’t want me to feel such pain. She is actually a great person and has always believed in me, there was absolutely no factual reason to freak out on her that much.
xTx: MARCH 22ND, 2014
I loved this piece. I love the idea of Hulk Hogan saving you from suicide because he needs your six-year old Hulkamaniac energy in order to be able to bodyslam his enemies. When I was a kid, I was a Hulkamaniac. My brothers and I saw him wrestle at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. He made his way to the ring down the aisle where I was seated and when he passed by, I reached over and slid my hand across his left pectoral muscle. When I pulled my hand away it was covered with what I henceforth referred to as “Hulk Slime.” I felt connected to Hulk in that moment. Maybe that’s why I liked this piece so much. Have you seen Hulk Hogan wrestle before? If not, who would you want to see him wrestle?
NC: I’ve never seen Hulk Hogan wrestle, but I’ve seen Ultimate Warrior. When I was 10 I think my dad brought me to see a WWF event, I was so excited to see the Ultimate Warrior, he was everything I ever wanted to be: huge and full of super amounts of violence and energy. I loved it, how he would run around screaming and making animal noises, it was so vicious but at the same time friendly to children, which is odd, wrestlers act like they are maniacs, vicious killing machines, but for some reason it ends at children, because they love children. The child mind loves it. When the Ultimate Warrior ran out I went to the bar thing around the ring and touched his pectoral muscle too, it didn’t feel slimy, it felt like a stone, like he gave me a very violent high five with his pectoral muscle.