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Small Press Conversation: Chelsea Martin and Brandon Scott Gorrell

Kevin Sampsell notes: Brandon Scott Gorrell is a poet who lives in Seattle, Washington. His book During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present was just published by MuuMuu House. It's full of dryly humorous observations and what you might call postmodern confessional poems. Brandon recently emailed me and asked if I'd submit his interview with Chelsea Martin to our blog. Chelsea is the newest author on my press, Future Tense Books. Her book is called Everything Was Fine Until Whatever. It's a hodgepodge of weird stories, funny lists, confessional bits that make you feel like a voyeur, and some really cool drawings. Chelsea and Brandon are friends and have done readings together. They have one in New York on July 3 at the PPOW Gallery. This is their email exchange.

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Brandon Scott Gorrell: I think that your drawing and writing are equally good, but that your drawings are more accessible to the "general population." Sometimes, I think you should just focus on drawing because, to me, they show a more "immediate talent" (when looked at from my perspective of the general population's perspective), and if your goal is to be an artist, then the more efficient way to achieve that would be to focus on drawing.

Do you ever think "Should I, generally, be an artist or a writer?" and if you do, what is the answer and why?

Chelsea Martin: I learn a lot about myself and about life and about writing by writing.I learn a lot about myself and about life and about writing by writing. Language is inherently funny because people use it all the time that have no concept of literature. And even people who do still have to use language to do something like ask an employee at Long's Drugs where the denture adhesive is kept. And they have to ignore language when it's trying to sell them a miniature cheese grater. But I think that that is one of the things that make writing so interesting. If you write the right thing in the right order with the right words, you can manipulate anyone who is paying attention. Or you can make someone feel amused and sad and irritated at the same time.

But I like drawing. I really like drawing. It's very engaging and you don't have to think very hard about what you're doing while it's happening. You have an idea and you start and you do it and you're done and it's exciting. There are very few complications, at least in my style and process. But it feels so insignificant. To me, drawing feels like cooking. Like, it's fun to cook something and spend time cooking, and it's exciting to enjoy food. But you're not really achieving anything except some very basic human need. And the enjoyment of it doesn't last very long anyway.

I think what you mean by "more immediate talent" and "accessibility" is that the general population responds more quickly to visual work, because it's easier to take in and has no real time requirement. But I went to art school and no one there thought my drawings were special. Not that that means anything to me. I just mean to say that maybe my drawings seem special to you because they are being displayed in a literary venue.

So, to answer your question, I think I'll keep writing and I think I'll keep drawing.

BONUS REPLY: A COUPLE DAYS LATER: Today I've been thinking that I want to stop writing for a while and just make drawings. I know I said something before that was like the opposite of what I just said. It's easier to feel productive doing drawings. I can lay them all out in front of me and if they look colorful or if they take up a lot of space, it makes me feel good. Writing is sort of never like that. If I open a lot of Word files, it just makes me want to change words or move a sentence from one paragraph to a different one, or to a part of a different story or something. Or I'll look at them and feel disappointed, like I've changed and can't appreciate what I've written anymore. I get discouraged with writing sometimes because I put so much value in it, and am so disturbed by writing that is bad. But since I don't feel passionate about drawings, they seem easier to appreciate, because they're not failing at trying to do something meaningful. They're just a drawing of someone on the couch or whatever.

Gorrell: When I think of you sometimes, I start to feel like I want to be "obviously talented" at two things that require "talent," like you are. Do you want to impress people? Do your talents make you feel more valuable? Or do you think that you aren't "obviously talented"?

Martin: Sometimes I feel jealous of my drawings. I know that sounds stupid. I feel so serious about writing and feel that my drawings are so easy and mindless. And when people like them and respond to them, it sort of makes me feel like they're looking at my boobs.And when people like them and respond to them, it sort of makes me feel like they're looking at my boobs. Like, "Hey, I'm up here. Don't you want to see what I've written?"

I don't think about my own talent very often. As in "talent" talent? I definitely spend a lot of time trying to make my writing clear, so that people will understand it, which makes it easier to like something. I want people to like my work. I want people to look for more of my work after liking something I've written. I guess that means something about self-worth.

Gorrell: Your writing is intimate and uninhibited, in the sense that you say a lot of things that, statistically, people wouldn't often "admit" to themselves or tell someone else. For example, most people wouldn't tell someone that they once shit on someone, and might avoid thinking about it or "admitting" it to themselves later. Or, when their eyes one day randomly got watery, that they lied to their mom and said it was because they missed their dad.

This kind of writing makes me feel like your personality, in real life, would be kind of outgoing and "exploratory," or something. But you're not. You are quiet. Do you ever think about your "writing persona" and your "real life persona"? What kinds of things do you think about when that happens? Do you think your writing persona should reflect your real life persona?

Martin: I often feel disappointed with my real life persona, like I make people feel weird or can't express myself as much as I want. It's something I'm working on. I want to be able to say things in an uninhibited way. I spend a lot of time thinking of the right way to say something or whether or not it would make someone feel weird. I end up taking so long thinking things that I don't say anything. For example, today a customer came into the café I work at with this huge pile of math books, and I wanted to say, like, "Oh, you're reading Euclidean Number Fields? I just read that. It's really good," but I couldn't decide which book from the pile would be funniest for me to comment on, and some of them that would be funny seemed hard to pronounce, so I just stood there thinking it through and I lost the opportunity. Yeah, it's disappointing. I feel disappointed in myself just reading your question. Or, I don't know, I am okay with being awkward and difficult and quiet in real life. It gives me more things to be honest about in my writing. I feel really good when I think of something very uncomfortable to say but then go write it down instead. Sometimes, if I feel in a really good mood and am comfortable with who I'm with, I act like my internet persona, but people don't understand. Accidentally shitting on a person isn't the kind of thing that comes up naturally in conversation. No one ever knows if I'm being serious or not. One time my grandma was asking me about someone I was dating and I said, "He's black." It just came to me. It seemed like something funny to say to my grandma. I thought she'd like it. But she flipped out. I had no idea she was racist. It was really embarrassing. She told my grandpa and he told me it was okay as long as I didn't create offspring. The whole situation was really uncomfortable. I sort of wanted to tell them that I wasn't dating a black guy, that it was a joke. Because he wasn't really black. But I felt bad that I made that joke. Stuff like this makes me feel inhibited about acting like my internet persona. It's hard to figure out how funny something is if I'm thinking of it for the first time.It's hard to figure out how funny something is if I'm thinking of it for the first time.

Gorrell: I could be wrong, but it seems like no one knew about you in the "internet literary scene" until you emailed me that one day and I later started talking about you on my blog. Over a year has passed since then, and now "everyone on the internet" knows who you are: you write for HTMLGiant, and a lot of "random-ass bros" comment on your posts; you were one of three writers in a chapbook put out by Happy Cobra Books; you have a book out on Future Tense and one forthcoming from Sunnyoutside; you've met "internet writers"; you're going to New York in July to read with me, etc. Yet, I know that you had a website before all this occurred. Were you in some kind of other "scene" before "joining" the internet literary scene? What are some of the things you find interesting about the internet literary scene? Are you interested in maintaining your presence in the internet literary scene? Do you care how many comments you get on an HTMLGiant post?

Martin: The timeline is like this: I went to Portland in July '07 and went to Powell's and found all these Future Tense chapbooks. I emailed Kevin Sampsell about his press, said something like I wanted to show him work, and a few emails later he asked if I wanted to do a book in the next year or something. I started texting Mike Topp because I liked his Future Tense books so much and had his cell phone number somehow. Then I started looking at online journals a lot and found this interview between Blake Butler and Elizabeth Ellen on Hobart, I think. Elizabeth Ellen said something about Tao Lin in it. I didn't know who Tao Lin was, so I went to his blog. It happened to be around the time that you and Tao were writing blogs about how you two met each other. I read his blog about meeting you, and there was a link to your blog, and I read it. And I read some other things that you had written, and so I emailed you. Emailing writers seemed like a fun thing to start doing. It seemed like I related to your writing more than any writer I knew personally. I wanted to talk to you about your writing and about mine, although you didn't seem to really want to do that in the way I wanted. I showed you the texts I had sent to Mike Topp, and you told me to send it to Blake for Lamination Colony, and I did that. I wasn't thinking very much about the scene at that time. I wasn't trying to gain success or anything. Just having fun on the internet. I wasn't in any other scene. I forget what happened after all that stuff. I make blogs at HTMLGiant now, yeah. I don't really care about the comments. I like it when people comment, but I tend to make blogs that aren't really good for starting conversations.I like it when people comment, but I tend to make blogs that aren't really good for starting conversations. They're not controversial or anything. I just like to post stuff I think is cool. This is my inspiration blog. I almost never understand what they're writing about because it's written in a language I don't understand. So it just seems like they're posting cool shit and not saying anything about it. Which is what I try to do at HTMLGiant.

Gorrell: Can you tell me what your ratio of depression to happiness is? How do you generally feel? Are you generally depressed or generally happy, or generally [some other state of being]? What type of thing causes you to feel happy, and what type of thing causes you to feel depressed? Do you feel, ever, that happiness or depression just "come out of nowhere"?

Martin: You sent me this question last night while I was feeling really bad, and I felt like I wanted to say things about how I was feeling bad all the time, and how it feels like I remember times of feeling bad less often. But now I feel happier because it's a different day, and I feel confused about the notes I made yesterday about those thoughts, and can't answer this question like I planned.

I live with a lot of people. I share a bedroom with another girl, and she is much more social than I am. All my roommates are pretty social. We usually have someone sleeping on our couch or we are having a party or someone is listening to music really loud or stealing my avocados or laughing or talking on the phone or enjoying themselves. And any of these things can be happening in my room, because it is only half mine, or in the living room, where my desk/studio is, which is also annoying. Also, I work at a café, and have to be talking to customers a lot in a way that won't make them talk bad about me on Yelp.Also, I work at a café, and have to be talking to customers a lot in a way that won't make them talk bad about me on Yelp. I have very little control over what happens around me, and it is making me increasingly antisocial, depressed, and unpleasant to be around. I have a fixation on things being quiet and nobody being around, and am in a constant state of trying to get away from everyone or make everyone be quiet, which, since it's mostly impossible, causes me to feel perpetually irritated. Also, even when I am alone, I usually only use that time to entertain irrational thoughts or dwell on my living situation. It's some kind of downward spiral.

I go to Ian's house a lot, even though I think we spend too much time together, because it makes me feel more in control of my surroundings. Sometimes I think I'm ruining my relationship with him because of being unhappy for no reason and going to his house to be away from my own. Sometimes I'm happy. A lot of times I feel somewhere between happy and unhappy. And other times I am very stressed about my living situation and about money and about my downward spiral that I mentioned in the other paragraph.

I feel embarrassed about feeling unhappy so frequently. It's embarrassing. I would rather be happy. I like myself better when I feel okay. But I also think I nurture depression. When I start to feel bad I let a lot of little things let me feel worse. I let myself become overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. But then again, it seems really optimistic to think I have any influence over my mood fluctuations, even a passive one. Often I think that my mood just happens to be what it is.

Gorrell: I watched Synecdoche, New York two nights ago. I enjoyed it. You were the one who recommended this movie to me. Did you like this movie? Why? And why did you recommend this movie to me?

Martin: I'm not sure.

I feel weird about this interview.I feel weird about this interview. I just reread all the questions and answers, and it all seems a little disturbing to me. I have the same feeling that I had this one time when I was at the creative reuse store and I found all these photos of people's feet. Like, what exactly is being conveyed with this? I think, at best, people will come away from this interview with the sense that they have just met someone they wanted to meet but the person was drunk and being introspective and vague during the whole conversation, and sometimes did a thing with their face that they knew made them look cute. But what "people" am I talking about, exactly? Where am I, even? What is this? Why am I assuming there are people? I feel the need to lie down and chill out for a while, but I'm already lying down, and I never use the term "chill out." Anyway, this interview has been intense. Thank you, Brandon. I like you. You are cool.

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Brandon Scott Gorrell (b. 1984) has been 'widely published' on the internet. His blog is called My Hair Will Defeat You.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Everything Was Fine Until Whatever
    Used Trade Paper $7.50

Brandon Scott Gorrell is the author of The Date of Chaucer's Troilus and Other Chaucer Matters (1909)

2 Responses to "Small Press Conversation: Chelsea Martin and Brandon Scott Gorrell"

    Jonny Ross July 9th, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Good interview. I feel like I've "gained insight" into the "creative process" as well as the individual "personalities" involved.

    GeoMan September 23rd, 2009 at 2:18 pm


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