Thinking about Suicide in the Breakroom
"Conversations I have with baggers at grocery stores seem to be affecting me the most."
The first time I met Sam Pink he looked straight up like Travis Bickle out of Taxi Driver. We drank a bunch of beers in a hotel sports pub, while standing around laughing about feeling weird about being in a hotel sports pub, surrounded by writers at a writing conference at which Pink pretty much only appeared because it was in his backyard. Pink is a constantly refreshing presence in a field of pursuit where often the idea of being a writer and writing books is so over-romanticized and uptight. His blog is called Crown Yourself Then Kill Yourself. In the last few years alone he’s published something like six books, each with cover art he made himself, the most recent of which is the hilarious and black-as-fuck No One Can Do Anything Worse To You Than You Can, which contains lines like “It’s a bigger opportunity to fall into a hole than it is to be asked to make one,” and “Real bosses shrink worlds by burning them.”
No matter what he’s writing, Pink’s eye for describing the bizarre daily parade of being a person surrounded by other people and with a brain that won’t turn off is by turns hilarious, self-destructive, surreal, precise, and moving without trying to be moving. He gets at what it’s like to work stocking the candy aisle at a Target in the ghetto and you almost wish you’d been there, but not really.
VICE: What made you start writing?
Sam Pink: I think what made me start writing was not having anyone to talk to. I have people I can talk to, and there are people who want to be my friends or whatever, but they don't seem to understand when I talk to them about the things I end up writing about in books. Lately, I’ll be out eating somewhere by myself or whatever, and I have this recurring thing where I imagine myself suddenly saying, "Just wish I had someone to talk to!" (yelling the words "talk to" and slamming my fist down on the table at the same time).
When I read your books I always get simultaneous vibes of extreme anger and extreme humanity. Like, constantly shit seems messed up or hard, or often the monologues want violence and terror, and at the same time there is some serious grace and often humor in how those feelings actually come out. The central figure in The No Hellos Diet deals with shit and laughs about it and gets on, even as the voice questions: Why do anything? Do you feel like that about your writing, or even writing in general? That it's both fucked and somehow necessary?
Yes, I do feel that. For the "laughs about it and gets on even as the voice questions why do anything" part, I think that's maybe an important idea in The No Hellos Diet. It's like, everyone I talk to about that book, or every review I read, mentions how shitty the job is and something about the "existence of the service class" or whatever. But the main character in that book sees past it. It's like, the job isn't that shitty when you are surrounded by interesting people. And what else is there anyway? A better job? More money? You're still just a miserable piece of shit in the end.
And I think that gets to the other parts of your question. My immediate mood most of the time is just anger and violence, but then I think past it, maybe. I like to think through an immediate mood, like violence or humanity, and then get to the opposite and show how they both seem valid. I’m bi-polar so that might have something to do with it. But mostly, I think it's just a way to attack myself. When I read something I’ve written that is really emo/mad/happy/whatever, I immediately attack that and try to get to the opposite. Plus it's about dimension. I mean, if I was really just mad all the time, or sad all the time, that seems really pathetic and almost hilarious. You can't get really mad unless you’ve been happy, and you can't get happy unless you get out from a sad feeling. So yeah, in terms of writing in general, I guess that's what I like, multiple sides. It's funny to be thinking about suicide and then hear someone yell at the TV in the breakroom and realize you don't even know what you think.
You've put out a lot of books in a short period of time, most recently No One Can Do Anything Worse To You Than You Can, which is listed as poetry and consists of monologue-like bursts. The No Hellos Diet, which is a novel, came out alongside Hurt Others, which is stories, not to mention the many other books over the past few years, including plays, poetry, and little text things I don't know what to call. Do you think in terms of form when you are deciding what to write next, or does it just come out and you figure it out?
I think the writing just comes out and then I put it into a form that seems good. Like, the plays, originally, were one long novel. Then I hated it and chopped it up. Usually the form comes from me hating what I’ve done. I start to write down things that seem, for whatever reason, to be good. Then I get real serious about it and then eventually I discover that I hate what I’ve done and I try to fix it somehow. Every time I’ve thought in terms of form beforehand, it comes out real real shitty.
Noah Cicero said something about how driving down the streets in Chicago and seeing all the random weird people that exist on any street seemed like a Sam Pink story. Do you see all of the things you write feeding together? And how much do you take from your everyday life and natural thoughts?
Almost all of the things I’ve written come from experience, if not entirely, then at least partially. I’m just not that creative. I see things that seem important, write them down, then put in my own thoughts. I slowly began to discover that my thoughts were unusual, and so they were entertaining to other people. Chicago has some of the strangest/most violent neighborhoods in America. I think I wanted to write about them because I hadn't read anyone write about them before. I live in uptown, which has some of the weirdest motherfuckers ever. There was just a hostage situation on the red line not too long ago, like a block from where I work. And it doesn’t bother anyone. Every time there's a shooting here, it's like, "Hey did you here about the shooting?" Then someone else is like, testing on their phone or putting on lipstick and they're like, "Which one, the one at the Dunkin Donuts?" "No, the one across the street." It's just a weird place and all the people are awesome. So (for The No Hellos Diet) I wanted to write solely about that. But every book has Chicago in it.
It's cool that your content is so driven by where you live, but it also doesn't seem harbored there. I don't think I would think of you as a Chicago writer; you strip the descriptions of things that force it to be too centralized. I like that your influences seem off the table somewhat.
I agree about it not seeming harbored anywhere. I think that's something I do on purpose. One example is trying not to use product names/brand names or whatever. Not because it dates things, but because I think it's funny and absurd to explain something through a description of what it is, rather than its name. I also think that allows people to enjoy the references more. So I think it's the same thing in reference to Chicago. I feel like, simply by describing everything as it is, you reproduce Chicago, but also any other relatable thing. I do think Chicago has a certain tone, but it can be explained just like anything else.
Do you feel affected by anything you read now?
I don't feel influenced by writing as much as other things, like how I feel with certain kinds of weather, watching other people, jobs, things like that. Things that modify your character. Conversations I have with baggers at grocery stores seem to be affecting me the most. Like, the other day, this guy was bagging some groceries for me, and he yelled “You can call me Siguri,” and he showed me his nametag and “Siguri” was his name. Then we talked about Street Fighter. And he started following me out the store still talking about it before his boss yelled at him. Seems like I felt more from that than most books. I think I’m becoming more and more sensitive. Or less and less.