Ron L Estrada
Author of “House, Undone” from ISSUE 02, and his thoughts on breath patterns in sentences, body-listening, and rejections as carpet crumbs.
What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?
A thousand things, it feels like. I like having books and magazines all over the house, like snacks, something satiable at reach no matter where I’m at. There’s one spot on the couch I love to be and there are usually four or five books spread over the arm rest and end table. Right now, in this place: The Selected Letters of John Cage (edited by Laura Kuhn), Gossamer Days: Spiders, Humans, and Their Threads (by Eleanor Morgan), The Art of Syntax (by Ellen Bryant Voight), A Handbook of Disappointed Fate (by Anne Boyer), and The Lyrics of Tom Waits (by, well, Tom Waits). I come into books being so desperate. I crave a cosmic WOW, word gifts, awe…and when something comes across dispassionate, whipped up, it can feel like cold wind, lonely. I guess I’ve always read multiple books at a time because, for one, it increases the odds. There’s a come-on radiance when you can find a line or paragraph or stanza and feel inspired and thankful and almost upset that you yourself didn’t write it. It’s widening. And fun. I love that part, the exchange, the communion. These five books come with gifts. I love them all for different reasons, how the words provide a different way of seeing, of delivering, and, subsequently, how they open up my own mysteries, give me tools for excavation. In that way, I feel like I’m always having a type of conversation with the work and, maybe?, the writer. With the larger mystic world, for sure.
Could you provide for us a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you?
A few, actually. I recently reread the opening to Toni Morrison’s Jazz and, good lord, here:
Sth, I know that woman. She used to live with a flock of birds on
Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too. He fell for an
eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves
that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling
going. When the woman, her name is Violet, went to the funeral to
see the girl and to cut her dead face they threw her to the floor
and out of the church. She ran, then, through all that snow, and when
she got back to her apartment she took the birds from their cages and
set them out the windows to freeze or fly, including the parrot that
said, “I love you.”
(Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York: Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1992, p. 1)
It’s so goddamn good and full and it feels distant in all the right ways—like it lives elsewhere, plump and complete with thick air. I’d be so afraid to start a book with this good of an opening. How the hell do you keep up the enchantment? Of course, though, she does.
Another, from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death:
For the self is a synthesis in which the finite is the limiting factor,
and the infinite the expanding factor.
(Kierkegaard. The Sickness Unto Death. 1849 /1980, p. 30)
I love to think about dualities and reconciliation. Recipes. This is a really groovy sentence to watch, too; it’s very graphic and bouncy and reflexive.
And this, from Hervé Guibert’s To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life:
This is what I told your little buddy: that nursing home of his, it shouldn’t
be a place where people go to die, but a place where they pretend to die.
Everything there should be luxurious, with fancy paintings and soothing
music, but it would all be camouflage for the real mystery, because there’d
be a little door hidden away in the corner of the clinic, perhaps behind one
of those dreamily exotic pictures, and to the torpid melody of hypodermic
nirvana, you’d secretly slip behind the painting, and presto, you’d vanish,
quite dead in the eyes of the world, since no one would see you reappear on
the other side of the wall, in the alley, with no baggage, no name, no nothing,
forced to invent a new identity for yourself.
(Guibert, Herve. To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. Semiotext(e)/Native Agents, 2020, p. 16)
This book is beautiful and sad; you know how it’s all going to end, despite hope, despite scratching at the hillside for traction, for hold. The book ends, the life ends. The passage above: “Muzil” has been presented with an idea from another character who wants to build a luxury death resort, opposite of the common, dingy old-age home. Muzil recounts the above to Guibert. (Muzil, in reality, is Michel Foucault, Guibert’s dear friend who, like Guibert, died from AIDS.) This little paragraph is particularly lovely and heartbreaking, considering a sneaky sidestepping of death, maybe; mystery next to mystery. I sometimes think that his thought is playful and pretty, perhaps. Ultimately, though, the sadness of it wins me over.
When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?
So, here’s this: At some point, maybe, I don’t know, within the last ten years, I decided to take a story that I loved (a Carver story) and I set the book up on a little stand and started drumming away at the computer, typing that story out word-for-word. And I got through a couple of pages and realized how dull I felt, how there was such an absence of illumination. As much of an inspiration as other writers and pieces of work are, of course, I think for so long these inspirations were too close to my fingers and not close enough to whatever that great place of synthesis is between your heart and thoughts, and I realized the dance wasn’t my dance. It was like the difference between swimming and sinking yourself under water. This realization resized my world and allowed me to be my own reference point, allowed me to write and not my inspirations. Largely, what I noticed that wasn’t in my writing, in the actual process of writing, was the presence of music. And what I mean is that the type of texture that comes from music, the topography and rhythm—there was none of it. When I write now, there has to be a flow and movement, a sad sway and rollick. Something that comes from my body, a body existing in the world that is sponging up so much around it. How can there not be a stir when I’ve sucked up so many ghosts—moment ghosts, people ghosts, places ghosts? They all bounce around in me; my hands go and play music. It comes out in words.
So that type of music, a body-listening: it’s a grand inspiration.
What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?
I think I’m often aware of sentence length or line length because I’m interested in breath. And different parts of my stories or poems come with different breathing patterns. We breathe to live, and long, meditative breaths mix with staccato-anxious breaths and they may inhabit the same place, very soon, in time with each other. So the right breaths, the right line-forms are something I pine over, particularly in the revision process. Even though I trust the quick dictation of the breaths, in drafts, sometimes we need to slow the fuck down or add pep. I recognize this in my own narrative voice, my writer voice, and character voice. It’s enjoyable to revisit these in the revision process because it allows me to look back in time and study. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s funny. It’s all the time worth it.
What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?
When blocked, I don’t write. I pause. I figure my body or my subconscious is telling me something when it doesn’t feel pressed to write, which happens. When the impulse returns, I dive back in. And then I’m stirred, excited to do so. Having a schedule has never worked for me because I think artists are always responding to how the world feels and sometimes that feeling takes a bit to revolutionize into words. So allowing yourself pause, time to de-weed, that trust can maybe crack the hitch. I think not writing is part of the writing process.
How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?
God, I don’t even know. I have a novella manuscript that exists that’s drawn some interest and has made it down the line with a few publishers but I’m still waiting for the magic email. But I love what I do, so I’ll keep writing and reading and sending out and deal with whatever comes. Disappointments, sure, but this is all bigger than that. Personally, cosmically. I believe that. And while I hate getting the “no thanks” messages, it won’t bury me. Writing is a corner in one of my trinities. I can’t take one of those crooks away because things aren’t working out publicly. I just can’t. So the rejections will just have to live on around me like carpet crumbs; so be it.
Regarding your piece in Issue 02, what does it mean for/to you?
Much of my writing starts with an image, a view that comes from who knows where and expands into a world and I get to play with recipe of emotions and so forth. For this piece, there were two images that felt like they were part of the same story: a poppy keychain and a house, observed at a distance, that was quickly getting filled with people who were desperate to get in and be swallowed by it and whatever was happening within its walls. I felt that there would be a massive pacing change in this story, where things start to become untethered swiftly. It’s a story, to me, of breakdown and time, how we are all of a sudden seeing a foundering, are part of it, without realizing it’s been happening somewhere right in front of us for some time. When I finished the story, I wanted to know more. But it was done. As far as my involvement in it was, at least. That’s one of the exciting things about writing for me—I get to find out how much of the story I’m allowed and allowing. It might be a sort of divination. There’s an interesting cross of what I’m creating, imagining, and what feels already made up, what I’m seeing in this mythical, very real world. My wife told me that this story, "House, Undone," is my first horror story, which I hadn’t thought of. While writing it, it seemed to—the majority of it seemed to—live more in the imaginary realm. (Each piece of work exists with different balances.) But when she said that thing about the horror story, that weight shifted. It suddenly felt very much a more real realm. So going back into it, reading and editing it…I felt like I was delivering the news—reporting the story. I’m enjoying this ever-moving and ever-revealing process of what type of work the work is. How the (techni)color changes!
Ron L Estrada is from Chicago, living due west of the deep city. His work can be found in Tarpaulin Sky Magazine, The Pitkin Review, pulpmouth, and The Writer in the World. His manuscript, The Wind, Then Turn From It, was a semi-finalist for The Tarpaulin Sky 2020 Book Awards. He can be found at (@SaintGarlic) on Twitter and (@hoorayron) on Instagram.