Patrick Findler, 1001 Interviews No. 10

Patrick Findler is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. Patrick Findler is a recent graduate of the Independent Publishing Resource Center’s Certificate Program. His chapbook Resonance is out this summer.

Jessica Yen and Patrick Findler met at the Multnomah County Library and talked.

Jessica

Tell me a weather word in a foreign language.

Patrick

Pasmurno. Cloudy.

Jessica

Which language is that?

Patrick

Russian. Trying to think in Armenian what it was.

Because there was perpetual fog in Goris. Towards winter it would freeze on the roads, make a thin skim milk layer of ice on the road.

Jessica

So visual!

Patrick

And it would smell wet and sharp. Lovely fogs really.

Jessica

Is this one of the things you’re nostalgic for?

Patrick

A little.

I was thinking about nostalgia today. Went to get a sausage at the Polish sausage cart and the woman was wearing a perfume that was very popular on the busses in Moscow in 2001. And I bent my head in to get the full smell as far as I could, just hungry to go back. But then I thought would I really go back and live like that again?

No.

Jessica

Wow. Smells are always said to be transporting, but that, a level beyond. Transporting and insightful.

Patrick

I wish I could remember who wore it that I knew. I wish I could place details better but. But.

Jessica

Don’t we all!! So, as a reminder for myself and people who aren’t familiar with your work, what was the chronology of the different places you’ve lived outside the US?

Patrick

So yeah, I was working that out the other day. I think I now have spent more years after college in the US than out.

Two years total in Russia: 2001, 2002–2004

Then three years in Armenia: 2008–2011

And two in Mongolia: 2011–2013

Then home.

Jessica

Wow. That’s a lot of places. And you recently hit that milestone?

Patrick

16 years since college, so seven years abroad to nine in the US.

Jessica

Was that intentional to spend so many years abroad? Or did it just happen?

Patrick

I wonder about that. Everything as I did it seemed short-term like a good decision, but I used to hate travel with my family. Every time we went somewhere I would forget that we were going and then would be such a huge pain in the ass claiming that I hadn’t been told, I wasn’t ready, I couldn’t go. All through childhood I was like this.

Once on a trip to Italy I vanished out of a group and found my way back to the hotel where I tore every page out of a travel book belonging to my grandmother and tore each of them into squares made a stack of this demolished tour guide book, like a Fodor’s.

Jessica

So even back then you were interested in form and breaking the conventions of “literature?”

Patrick

Ha! Maybe.

Jessica

I read too much into that one? 😛

Patrick

The first thing I remember writing was the constitution of an imaginary island. It had two laws. The first one was everyone must love each other. I can’t remember the second. I was six, I think. 😜

Jessica

Wow, literary genius begins young! So you’ve always been interested in writing?

Patrick

Ever since I was in high school I have wanted to write and felt this particular kind of good only while in the middle of writing something I felt proud of. Or walking and thinking of it. It is a pleasure I just can’t get anywhere else.

Jessica

So you still feel this way about writing?

Patrick

Yes. When I have my head in something and it is wrapped around me, like it is my world and I see pieces of it everywhere I turn.

Jessica

Can you give me an example?

Patrick

Where a turn of phrase used by a stranger leaps into its place in what you are writing, just as you hear it, or the light in a room looks just like the light you were trying to describe and hadn’t been able because you couldn’t see it in your mind. That stage in composition, beyond the first idea but well before the final comma-counting, period-putting point. That is writing.

Jessica

I don’t think I’ve ever heard writing described in such an elegant way.

Patrick

Thanks!

Jessica

So it seems like writing could be a way that past and present, imagined and real merge together for you? Or is it rather that each enriches the other?

Patrick

I think they merge, as a person a dominant emotion for me is regret. I feel it regularly, not for any particular thing I have done or rather for each particular thing as it comes and goes, my fault or not. And what regret is, is wanting to restore the past. It’s this very Christian idea that there is a whole, an unbroken thing, that now is broken but can be restored and that seems to be something of what writing does for me or has recently been doing.

Jessica

Writing as restoration?

Patrick

Yes I think so. Restoring the past thing, using it to make something new (maybe like you make a quilt out of old fabrics). But also using what I have no control over (the words of strangers) and making them serve a purpose I do control.

Jessica

Most of your work that I’ve read has been nonfiction. Do you find you approach both fiction and nonfiction in this way?

Patrick

I haven’t written fiction in a long time. I think the linguistic element is the same, where the words come from. I don’t feel like I have a good grasp on how character is represented, on believability and the other aspects that fictional characters have that they need to have.

Jessica

What is it about nonfiction that draws you? Also, it seems that much of your nonfiction centers around your time outside the US, why do you think that is?

Patrick

There’s a part of me that was just much more open to experience while I was abroad. Time passed more slowly, I lived more on a day-to-day basis, so it seems like it makes up more of my memories, proportionally.

Jessica

That’s fascinating, because as I recall you kept no notebooks of the time, yet these years – 2001, 2002 – still occupy a good part of your memories?

Patrick

Yes, I was thinking just recently about a conversation in a shop in Moscow in 2001. The difficulty I had in purchasing a one-kilo bag of rice. It’s odd with memory, you know, because you don’t really store them, as far as I know, you make them up each time you recall them, which is how distortions creep in.

But yes, I can vividly remember the man who smoked a pipe who went with me and a group of friends on a trip to St. Petersburg, his slightly nervous smug expression, the curve of his black pipe, his aviator shades.

Jessica

Much of your writing from Siberia and Mongolia is very vivid and filled with this incredible imagery. Do you have any sense of why certain memories stay with you? Or what it is about certain images that sticks with you?

Patrick

That’s why we write! To know why they stay with me. Or is it more like this: that they are in your mind like some kind of leftover possessions after a wreck, no good for anything in themselves and you are looking around for materials to create something with and you have them. The answer is I don’t know.

Jessica

Let’s say, hypothetically speaking because this would be the hugest crime, I’m sure, that you’re talking to somebody who has never read any of the Russian classics. Where would you have them start?

Patrick

Do you like long books or short ones?

Really, for me, the beginning and end is Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. They both are such perfect works of art and so different, Tolstoy so full of life from the smallest minutiae, how smoke comes out of the barrel of a gun or how grass is cut with a long-handled scythe, up to high society and balls and the elaborate deceptions and self-deceptions of adultery. Dostoevsky with his characters the way people are, flowing rivers never the same twice. I could read just those two and be happy.

Jessica

Our instructor in the IPRC Certificate Program commented that your writing has a certain Russian flair to it. Do you find echoes of those two writers in your own writing?

Patrick

It’s hard not to be influenced by what you love. I don’t necessarily see it, but reading Dostoevsky in high school (I had to wait to understand Tolstoy), I felt like someone had taken off the top of my head and showed me what my mind was like.

Jessica

If you’re in the depths of despair, do you write to get out? Or do you wait out your panic, survive and write a while after?

Patrick

Wait. If I can, I write. But it has its own moods different from mine. I can’t predict it. A lot of people say to write every day. That makes me miserable, it doesn’t suit me. I write when I am writing, and I don’t when I don’t.

Jessica

So did you write today?

Patrick

I did yes, this morning. I am working on something I have been trying to understand, about something I did in the past I am not proud of.

Jessica

So the current project has a sense of emotional urgency?

Patrick

I am uncertain what I will find. So I feel tentative rather than urgent. What I find I might not like. I am putting my hands in a dark box, and I don’t know what I will feel there.

Jessica

You said memories are “like some kind of leftover possessions after a wreck.” Most of your memories involve wrecks?

Patrick

No. This is just what I have, I look around and wonder how it got here, and combine that with my feeling of loss and regret which I have for no clear reason and that is the image that occurs to me. I do like the high-drama memories.

Jessica

So do many of your pieces begin with a question that you have unresolved? Or what is the nugget/inspiration for you?

Patrick

Interesting thought. I think that might be right, there is something I need to understand that i can’t and i try to write my way into understanding it.

Jessica

So then, as a memoirist, are there certain topics you would never interrogate or is everything on the table?

Patrick

I have a problem right now with how far I am willing to use things that happened not only to me that I am trying to weigh  to what extent I can use my memories about things where others are in pain or might feel pain about it. It’s one thing to write about people continents away with whom I speak once every three years, who will never read what I write, or hear of it. It’s another thing when it’s someone I talk to daily. I don’t know how to resolve it.

Jessica

That definitely seems like a tricky line for any writer to tread!

Patrick

Yes, it does. Isn’t the typical advice to write anyway? Worry about later, later. That is what I have tried.

Jessica

OK. Let’s say you’re talking to 15-year-old Writer Patrick. What would you tell him?

Patrick

Publish. Write, publish.

Jessica

Excellent advice! What about 7-year-old Patrick?

Patrick

Read.

Jessica

He’s crying. He’s killed a small animal.

Patrick

I think both Patricks really just need someone in authority to tell them they are doing well in what they love to do. I did kill a squirrel once with a baseball bat. Brains came out its eye.

Jessica

What did you do after that?

Patrick

I felt terrible. Didn’t tell anyone. I was also secretly proud, in a tiny way.

Jessica

Because you dominated it?

Patrick

No because I threw a baseball bat twenty yards and hit its head.

Jessica

That’s just impressive then. Did you think about it a lot after?

Patrick

I think about it now with a sick feeling about the pride and the killing. A black squirrel, it was running across the lawn. I was suddenly angry about something and hurled this bat that was lying there, end over end over end. A small crack, that was the sound, and it spasmed all along its body as it died.

Jessica

Did you go over immediately and look at it?

Patrick

Yes.

Jessica

Pride and then sickness?

Patrick

At the same time. Horrified and in a small way proud. And sickened now. Oh yes.

Jessica

You haven’t gotten over it?

Patrick

Telling my now former friends that I am an animal abuser.

Jessica

You haven’t forgiven yourself then.

Patrick

Can’t see my way to that.

Jessica

It wasn’t abuse but lashing out. Have you written about the squirrel?

Patrick

No. I think about that squirrel probably once a month.

Interviewed by Jessica Yen.

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