Connor Miller, 1001 Interviews No. 3

Connor Miller is a writer, rapper, and entertainer living in Portland, Oregon. He briefly attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York (studying Early Childhood Development) before leaving to soul-search on the West Coast.

Connor have published several works of fiction, memoir, and poetry, includingSerious (2015), Thomas(2014), and Pain Parade (2013).

You can find some of his personal essays and rap performances atconnorthemiller.com

“The Bucket” is a blog about books. If you are like Connor, you are a twenty-something who is trying to understand what it means to be an adult. He reads, reviews, and recommends the books that he think will help us figure this out.

You can see his tiny poems and bathroom selfies on his Instagram (connorthemiller).

INTERVIEWER

What did you eat for breakfast?

 

MILLER

Scrambled eggs with green onions and sriracha. Instant coffee (Nescafe).

INTERVIEWER

What are you working on this week? Any writing projects?

MILLER

This week I’m working on editing Serious (my memoir) and trying to write some of my novel as well. It’s slow going, though because of apartment hunting.

INTERVIEWER

A new novel?

MILLER

“Fuckboy.”

This thing is bleeding me out. I’ve been working on it for years now and I just want it finished.

INTERVIEWER

Did it start as poems?

MILLER

Yeah. It started when I saw a friend of mine use the word “fuckboy” in his twitter profile. I had a thousand thoughts at once and wrote a series of poems in a notebook, all quotes and poems about the word “fuckboy”.

INTERVIEWER

Now you’re turning what you’ve written into a novel?

Are you turning any characters from the poems into characters for the novel?

MILLER

Yes. There were three characters in the poems that turned into fully-fledged people. I have Spotify playlists where I keep songs that inspire the characters, something I saw that novelist Irvine Welsh does.

INTERVIEWER

You listen before or as you write?

MILLER

Before. I can’t listen to any music while I write. I try to listen to a lot of music to get in the mood while I’m walking to a cafe with my laptop.

INTERVIEWER

Do you take inspiration from people you hear at cafes?

MILLER

Not really. I wear headphones so no one bothers me but I’m never listening to anything. I’m really good at focusing on what’s in front of me, so I don’t really get distracted by people in the cafe. If anything, the setting of the book is probably influenced by things I see in cafes. One of my characters sits at cafe windows and drums his feet on the chair, and that’s what I’m doing most of the time.

So not really people in cafes but more the environment itself.

INTERVIEWER

Is some of what you write autobiographical?

MILLER

I believe that all good writing is in some way autobiographical. I find myself getting bored when I read something that doesn’t seem to be connected to the author’s heart. So even when I’m writing fiction, it is definitely autobiographical in a sense.

INTERVIEWER

Fuckboy is bleeding out of you. Do you mean the workflow? Or is there some pain in writing Fuckboy?

MILLER

There is some pain. Balancing life and art is difficult for me right now, because my process three years ago involved a lot of lonliness and anger. Now, in Portland, I have a lot of friends, a stable relationship, and a job. If I’m going to write, I have to change my process to fit in with all of these things that feed me. There is pain in changing, but I think it’s good pain. Growing pain.

INTERVIEWER

Some of writing energy or your content came from being lonely and angry?

MILLER

I think it was Karl Ove Knuasgaard who said that if you’re a writer, there is some sort of sadness in you that you are trying to work through. Susan Sontag remarked that she hardly ever writes when she’s happy. In her journals she worries that people would read them and just think she was super emotional all the time. I agree with both of them, I think we write because we are trying to work through something we don’t understand. Writing allows us to put our thoughts down in a way that can be observed. When we are happy, there is nothing to be troubled about. We are out “living”, whatever that means.

I like the idea of writing as therapy, I guess.

INTERVIEWER

What do you like about NanoWriMo?

MILLER

I like deadlines. I like the social pressure to finish novels. By having a serious deadline, you are more likely to finish something. It feels like running a marathon, there is a huge amount of pain and accomplishment involved. And by the end of the process, whether you like it or not, you have a manuscript.

INTERVIEWER

Your book, Serious, you wrote for NanoWrimo, is that right?

MILLER

Yes I did.

INTERVIEWER

And Thomas?

MILLER

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

What is Thomas?

MILLER

I wrote Thomas in 2014. It’s a story about two brothers living in the rural midwest. Themes include suicide, ghosts, monotony.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel, in writing, that you are communicating a cause?

MILLER

Yes. On a very basic level, I think everyone should write. I hope that by producing and sharing work, people will write their own stories or keep a journal. I find that a lot of my spiritual and intellectual growth has come from putting stuff down on a page.

INTERVIEWER

Why do you write only the concrete? Are you still writing only the concrete?

MILLER

I’m experimenting right now. I wrote the concrete because for a long time I thought that my thoughts and judgments were silly. I used to think all that mattered were ACTIONS, because they are “real”. This is changing and I’m not sure where I stand now. I like reading journals and journals are all about people wrestling with their emotions (at least the ones I read).

INTERVIEWER

You’ve kept a journal for how long?

MILLER

I’ve been seriously journaling since middle school. There is a photo somewhere on facebook of all the journals I’ve kept. There is a big tub at home of composition notebooks full of my journals spanning over pretty much a decade now.

INTERVIEWER

Derrick Brown, Susan Sontag, Woody Allen, William Burroughs, Henry Miller, Anais Nin. You like them. Mick Jenkins, Mac Miller, Asher Roth. Who inspires your style? Who have you learned from most?

MILLER

I think Derrick Brown has taught me the most. He balances accessibility and poetry really well. I like him because his poems are stuff that you can read in a bar, or to pregame a night of partying. The last thing I ever want is to write poetry that no one can connect with. When I write, I often try to write stuff that doesn’t feel “intellectual” or “astute”. I want it to sound like I’m being level and honest, because these are the hardest and most thrilling things to read in my opinion. I like Susan Sontag’s style in her journals, because she splices her life and her studies together in a way that one influences the other constantly. This is the only way to write/learn I think, is to make your academic life and your real life the same damn thing.

INTERVIEWER

You have done rap music, is that right?

MILLER

Lol yes. This is true.

INTERVIEWER

And you give your readings a lot of pepper.

MILLER

Pepper?

INTERVIEWER

Spunk.

Your readings are engaging.

MILLER

Thank you.

INTERVIEWER

You want people to not have to over focus to access the content?

MILLER

I want it to be easy. Saul Williams said that in hip hop, the “nodding” to the beat is important. It’s an immediate “yes” to whatever you’re listening to. When you listen to good rap music, you immediately nod and make a face because you are connecting with the beat. With poetry and readings, it’s the same thing. You need to get people to nod. I don’t think you should have to strain your eyes to watch a reading. I believe you should be bobbing your head. I’m getting to a point where I don’t care if people use their phones at a reading. If you are good enough, engaging enough, people aren’t going to be looking at their phones. Poetry shouldn’t be a lecture, it should be a rap-show.

INTERVIEWER

Do you still go to church? What do you get out of it?

MILLER

As I have mentioned earlier, I’m in a phase of my life where I’m trying to find balance. I go to church when it works out for me, though I’d like to go more often. I have very complex feelings about faith that I don’t really know how to articulate. I just know that going to church and believing in God has been ultimately /good/. I read some Tolstoy recently and he wrote how he needed to “abandon reason” for a moment to accept faith, which is what I feel like I am doing right now in my relationship with God.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve been getting serious in your own life. What is the anxiety?

MILLER

My life feels full of purpose and it always had felt this way. I feel like I am on a mission to accomplish something great and I don’t even know what it is. I think my anxiety stems from the idea that I feel like I don’t have a lot of time on planet Earth to accomplish whatever this goal is. Like NaNoWriMo, I have a deadline, and so I try to make sure that everything I do is productive. I get anxious when I feel like I am wasting time, which is something that I’m working on. Relaxing is something I actually have to make an effort to do.

INTERVIEWER

From Serious: “Sometimes writing feels like holding up a mirror to your face and screaming into it.” Can you elaborate?

MILLER

I burden myself with being “great”. I realize there is something unhealthy and dangerous in this line of thinking, but I believe that you need to light a fire under your ass if you are going to make good work (writing, etc). When I self-assess (look in a mirror) I sometimes feel like I am yelling at myself, out of frustration, out of anger. I’m looking at all the stuff I’m making and telling myself “YOU AREN’T ENOUGH”. Humans are very good at doing incredible things when they are pushed to their limits, so I try to push myself to the limits by reflecting and identifying all of my problem areas. I look in the mirror sometimes and ask myself why I did certain things, etc. I think that taking a long, hard look at yourself will often end in screaming.

INTERVIEWER

What do you think of Haruki Murakami’s work ethic?

MILLER

I am unfamiliar with his work ethic.

INTERVIEWER

Write five hours a day every morning. Run a long run, go home, get ready for bed, for another day of writing and running.

MILLER

That’s nice if you are getting paid a lot of money to write. What about love? What about drinking coffee with friends? What about getting drunk and reading poems in the street? What about learning how to cook? What about crying over the phone? What about small talk at your jobs? As much as I love how simple his schedule is, my life at the moment is full of this adolescent desire to experience everything, to make a mess, then to make a better mess.

I’m quoting someone in that last bit but I can’t remember who.

INTERVIEWER

You seem to have money struggles.

MILLER

haha I do.

INTERVIEWER

What is it like to go over something you’ve written for the first time?

MILLER

I cut relentlessly. I think going over something I’ve written is like cutting away at a block of wood.

It’s calming.

INTERVIEWER

From Serious: “There is a moment when you are trying to find a way to neatly tie together all the frayed loose ends. There is so much hope. The story isn’t done. You cannot cut and trim, because your life is like an open box of live wires. You cannot snip any of them or else you would lose something.”

INTERVIEWER

Does it ever make you anxious to cut or to edit?

MILLER

I think this quote is more about life than writing. I feel like my life is a box of live wires. When writing, if you want to reach an audience, you have to simplify. I realize more and more that writing has its limits. Cutting or editing in a first draft makes me anxious. I can’t edit as I go. coming back to a draft and editing is better than worrying whether or not it’s perfect as you’re writing it.

INTERVIEWER

What does it mean for a story to be alive?

MILLER

A story that is alive is a story that you are living. A dead story, to me, is like a chess game. You are whittling together characters and positioning them on a field to make them do things. A living story, to me, is something that breathes with your pulse. A living story had little to no distance between the author and the work.

INTERVIEWER

Did you read as a child?

MILLER

I did. Harry Potter in elementary school, a lot of self-help books in middle school. I was hooked on Scott Westerfeld in early high school and after that I read all the David Sedaris I could get my hands on.

INTERVIEWER

You moved to Austin? What was that experience like?

MILLER

I moved to Austin with $300 and no interview clothes. I slept under someone’s bed at the University of Texas at Austin and tried to get a job and failed miserably. Once I ran out of money, I put up a plea online that said “I’m gonna write a book about this, can you please buy the book now so I can get a bus ticket home.” I made $300 for a book I didn’t write and managed to get back to the Bay Area after living on Chex Mix for two days. I probably ate other stuff but all I remember is the Chex Mix. I wrote the book and sent it out to everyone, it was a short memoir called The Back Up Plan. It wasn’t my best work.

INTERVIEWER

What is Serious?

MILLER

I am in a cafe right now and someone asked me the same thing and I wasn’t sure what to tell him. Serious is a novel I wrote in November, based on my life but fictionalized. I think the best way to describe Serious is a howl to the moon. It’s a long rant. It’s the stuff I like to read. It’s a series of fragmented paragraphs about love and life and pain. It’s one of the pieces I am most proud of. I poured a lot of blood into that work and so I always get embarrassed talking about it.

INTERVIEWER

Do you want a writing education like an MFA?

MILLER

Not really. If it was paid for, sure. I like taking classes but I’d rather have street-cred than academic-cred. It depends on where my writing takes me.

INTERVIEWER

How do you want to make money?

MILLER

I’d love to get paid to be a librarian or an archivist. Maybe more of an archivist. I like handling old things, records, people’s diaries. I used to do this in college. They didn’t have any jobs at campus archives so I just volunteered. It was my favorite thing to do. If I got paid to hang out in an air-conditioned basement full of people’s stuff, I would be content.

INTERVIEWER

So, the building a house in the wrong neighborhood idea bothers me all the time. How do I? …How do you know if you’re in the right neighborhood?

MILLER

I think it has to do a lot with the people you’re surrounded with. It’s a hard question. I think listening to your heart (as cliche as it sounds) will tell you more about whether or not you are in the right neighborhood. My heart knew that college wasn’t right for me, and it knew that Pinole wasn’t right for me.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me, if it’s not inappropriate to ask, what is the 4am club?

MILLER

Lol, the 4am club is a select few group of people that I text when I am awake at 4am. It’s people that I’d like to hang out with if I find myself awake at that hour.

INTERVIEWER

What did you get out of creative writing courses in college?

MILLER

I think I got a book list to last a lifetime. And I learned how to trim out a lot of bullshit from my writing. The biggest thing that I think about daily is how writing is a version of play, that if you’re not having some kind of fun on the page, it’s not worth it. A lot of people disagree with me on this one, but even when I’m writing about sad stuff I’m still having fun. Bad writing happens when you’re trying too hard to be something you’re not.

INTERVIEWER

You said writing is therapy. Do you feel you write more from the standpoint that something or someone doesn’t understand you, or that you’re writing because you don’t understand something or someone else?

MILLER

Both, really. I write to learn and to be learned. It’s like hugging or fucking, it goes both ways when it’s done right.

INTERVIEWER

Why Detroit?

MILLER

I listen to my heart and my heart tells me Detroit. My heart has told me “Portland” and it has told me “Austin”, and heck it even told me “Sarah Lawrence College”. I’ve developed this relationship with my heart where I listen and don’t ask too many questions. My heart wants to move to Detroit so badly, and right now I have I calm it down sometimes and tell it to be patient (it doesn’t like that at all). I like the idea of working on a frontier, on a place that’s growing and developing (Ferlinghetti said that young writers should work on a frontier). I also want to be somewhere with more rap music and rap culture than Portland.

INTERVIEWER

In Serious, you write, “You like writing. People believe that you are a good writer. Writing is such a difficult endeavor, there is no money in it. But you do it because you love it. You want to dig deep and tell people some fundamental life truth, how on earth can you convince people that their lives mean something when you struggle with this every day too?” Are you writing principally to uncover these fundamental truths?

MILLER

I’m writing because we’re all in the same boat. No one has it figured out, and so by writing my truth, maybe it can help someone else more clearly articulate theirs. Henry Miller writes “to sing, you must first open your mouth” and so writing is the act of opening your mouth. It’s all about starting and getting the courage to say something because I believe that the people who are fearful to speak have the most to say.

INTERVIEWER

You also write, “Books sustain. Books are magical objects, and you are told that no one reads anymore. But you go to cafes and see people reading all the time. You walk through bookstores and see people light up when they find something interesting. A book is one of many answers. The question is constant and always. Even when books die you will love them as much as you love people.” Talk about books. Why do you want to be around books and readers? Why do you want to write books for readers?

MILLER

Writing is an intimate medium. In the internet-age, our attentions go from one thing to another. Ads, posts, everything competes for our attention. Books allow us to settle into one mind. I want to be around books for the same reason I want to be around people. I want to know people intimately. I want one. I want to know your doubts, your beliefs, I want to know you as fully as possible, and books facilitate this process. People often are so afraid to share what they write because they think their words aren’t worth anything. Everyone is wrong. And I want to hear them anyway.

Interviewed by Robert Eversmann

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