Joe Galván, 1001 Interviews No. 18

JOE GALVÁN was born in 1984 and grew up in South Texas. He has been writing since he was a child. He graduated from Texas Tech University in 2006 and contemplated becoming a lawyer before settling on cultural anthropology, with forays into ethnomusicology and etiquette studies. He has been publishing zines for nearly 20 years. He just finished writing his second novella, In The Realm of the Desert Gods, which draws from the rich history and culture of the borderlands of South and West Texas. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 2012, where he began writing his perzine Galván in Portland, which explores not only his own personal history in and out of the city, but also Portland’s place in time and space. He began volunteering at the IPRC in late 2014. He has been writing a zine series on modern manners, Etiquette, since mid-2016.

If you’d like copies of his zines, or just want to say hi, you can email him at joe@daelis.com. You can also follow his Instagram account, @agrestic.

INTERVIEWER
What are you looking at?

 

GALVÁN
What am I looking at? — Easy answer, I am looking at a pretty piece of holographic paper hanging on my wall

INTERVIEWER
You still produce a lot of your own work even though you’re working full time.

How?

GALVÁN
You know, that is an unfortunate product of our time–late capitalism both demands us to work, and then punishes us for not working. As an artist, I feel like it’s a moral imperative to make art in spite of having ‘real work’. And not feeling sorry for it either, especially if that art contradicts expectations about me as a working person.
I literally run from my office to any venue–ANY which one–which provides an opportunity to be creative (singing at choir, running a popup restaurant, writing at the IPRC).

INTERVIEWER
Are there any windows on your floor?

GALVÁN
Tons. I work in a glass box that looks down on all of Portland. Pretty. But also pretty terrifying😞

INTERVIEWER
So actually Going somewhere, making an effort to get yourself into a creative space, is that key? How high up are you?

GALVÁN
There is no other option for me. I live with housemates so sometimes I need to be around *different* people, especially if those people are other creatives (like yourself).
I’m 12 floors up. We felt an earthquake here once and the windows rattled. That was wild.

INTERVIEWER
Do you ever feel powerful being so high up or mostly terrified?

GALVÁN
I don’t ever feel empowered by working here. Important, maybe. Responsible, absolutely. But never powerful.

INTERVIEWER
“Expectations as a working person.” How did you overcome feeling sorry for making art when you’re supposed to be making money?

GALVÁN
I learned long long ago, that your work, no matter what you do, is sanctifying. It is a gift from God (if you believe in God). Work, but especially creative work, liberates not only yourself but other people. And if you feel bad that you’re not making six figures as an artist/writer, then you need to re-evaluate why you’re an artist to begin with. Americans have this idea that work ought to enable you to buy more and in theory climb the social ladder, but the reality is that we’re all suffering under capitalism equally.

INTERVIEWER
What is Galvan in Portland?

GALVÁN
Oh my gosh! My zine. The zine that I started writing in 2012.

INTERVIEWER
What were you striving for in writing it?

GALVÁN
I first started writing it in October 2012. I wanted to unpack the fear, confusion and doubt that moving to Portland brought about–I had been in a relationship that failed spectacularly, I was houseless, I was struggling with mental illness and addiction, and writing that zine was a way to both really understand Portland, the people that come here looking for acceptance and love and understanding, and maybe documenting some of my own personal successes and failures that arose from that relationship.

INTERVIEWER
How did you use writing it as a way to understand Portland? What was it like starting a relationship with a new city and documenting it?

GALVÁN
It was very much an enjoyable experience getting to know Portland by writing about it. I’d plan out days where I’d walk through neighborhoods, and if I had any money (which I didn’t have for a long time), I’d try a food cart or a cup of coffee and write about what I saw. Portland has a mystique for each person that inhabits the city. For me, it was historical and social (like really learning how this city has been shaped and built up from the ground). The relationship was primarily related to me in terms of historic places, like settlement sites and houses, and sometimes events (like the hanging of Danford Balch at the end of SW Salmon St in 1845). And then I’d look at myself, and see how I, as a colonized person, as a fat person, as a queer person, as a person of color, was living out my own Portland settlement experience, and documenting the various ironies between my history and the history of the city overall.

INTERVIEWER
Is it disorienting walking those ironies?

GALVÁN
Oh absolutely. I think the first year I felt like this was such a nightmare place. It is in a lot of ways. People come and go so much here — a job doesn’t work out, or a relationship ends, and people you thought you’d know forever just leave. Then there’s having to fit in with people you’ve never had anything in common with. You feel like you don’t belong. But then everyone says you do. And then you make friends. And very soon, you find yourself somehow acquainted with this city and its geography, and that’s how you come to love Portland, in a weird and absolutely disorienting way.

You know, someone asked me about a restaurant I’d never been to — this had been a visitor to Portland from back east — and you know what I told them? The price location, and how much its awful brunch menu cost. Can you beat that?

INTERVIEWER
Do you miss Texas?

GALVÁN
I’m wearing Texas socks right now. I miss barbecues, the warmth of the sun, tank tops, bougainvillea, palm trees. Thunderstorms. Orange blossoms. Jacaranda. My mother. I miss hearing Tejano music with her. Hearing and seeing Spanish everywhere. I miss 5 o’ clock coffee with my relatives. I miss the solitude that only being on the border can bring. I miss Texas a lot.

INTERVIEWER
“If the act of love is in itself an act of forgiveness, then it would seem so very difficult to even love things to begin with, to motivate oneself to love again,” from Galvan in Portland VIII. Why is love in itself an act of forgiveness?

GALVÁN
Real love is selfless. You don’t ever really think about yourself when you *really* love someone. At least that’s the way I think. Love forgives because it has no choice.

INTERVIEWER
Why is self-care important?

GALVÁN
Self-care is survival. There is literally no other way to make it in this world if you cannot care for yourself. People need you to survive, in more ways than you care to know. We need people to survive, to continue to make art, so that we can have a better world to live in. Rupaul is absolutely right about learning to love oneself in order to love others. However I think a lot of people — primarily the young gay things these days — confuse self-care for narcissism. Self-care is selfless self-care. Be good to yourself, be kind to yourself, but be reasonable.

INTERVIEWER
Why start a series on etiquette?

GALVÁN
“Etiquette” started out of conversations about rude behavior in public I’d observed, such as manspreading. A girlfriend of mine asked why there wasn’t a new guide to etiquette, but without the needless information about receiving lines and which fork to use at dinner and which color combos work for husbands and wives. I wanted to make a zine on etiquette for people who believe that etiquette is a thing of the past. An etiquette book that is irrespective of questions of gender and sexuality, that isn’t heterocentric in any way. An etiquette book for the rest of us.

I’ve always been interested in etiquette as part of a person’s overall moral education–the things you should know to be essentially prepared for life. The best book I ever read on etiquette is a children’s book called Manners To Grow On by Tina Lee; it’s literally one of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject.

INTERVIEWER
From Part Two of Etiquette, “The Social Graces,” you say, “Whatever we want, we get; when we don’t get what we want, we complain; and as soon as we get whatever it is that we want we devour, and then ask for more.” What do you think this impulsiveness or desperate consumption does to relationships? To art? To self-care?

GALVÁN
It means we’re never satisfied with anything we have. We’re always looking for bigger and better. This lack of satisfaction with anything and everything has destroyed the world, our relationships, and even our bodies. My ex-boyfriend is a bodybuilder and he constantly strives to look and feel more perfect, even though he looks ripped to shit and is (for most white gay men) the pinnacle of masculine beauty. The bottom line is, you can’t be perfect. Relationships aren’t perfect, art isn’t perfect, certainly artists like you and me aren’t perfect. Stop striving for things you can’t have. You’re fine exactly where you are. Stop ruining the earth and each other to realize these fantasies that are based on what the Patriarchy wants. It’s literally killing us all.

INTERVIEWER
We need a less perfect art?

GALVÁN
I would like a kind of art that is more honest, more direct, more penetrating. In the 1970s in Italy they had a sort of experiment with this type of thinking, arte povera. Obviously, post-postmodern, obviously a postcolonial art. I’m not saying it can’t be aesthetically pleasing. Art should be beautiful and be challenging at the same time. The best artisans are the ones whose works are full of tiny flaws. If you don’t believe me, look at the Sistine Chapel. The entire fresco has cracks running all throughout it.

INTERVIEWER
What is a postcolonial art?

GALVÁN
Postcolonial art is art liberated from white Western cultural expectations. Art that values memory, time, liberation, a desire for unity and empowerment of oppressed peoples. Postcolonial art takes the cataclysm of slavery and genocide, and turns it into the most empowering thing the world has ever seen. A rich art full of ironies, color, narrative, longing, romance, and a very deep sense of sadness. A tropical sadness, like Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote about.

INTERVIEWER
What work would you consider postcolonial?

GALVÁN
Jean Rhys’ great novel Wide Sargasso Sea, which takes inspiration from Jane Eyre. Also Roberto Bolaño. 2666, the great baroque book of our time. Carlos Saura’s films on tango, flamenco and fado music. Kehinde Wiley’s beautiful paintings. Sister Corita Kent. Umberto Eco, while being the great advancer of hermeneutics and critical theory, has some lovely thoughts on the postcolonial. A great American postcolonial novel: The Color Purple. Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa. About Gloria Anzaldúa, who grew up in Hargill, Texas, which is about an hour from where I grew up: she went to South Padre Island and she was washed out to sea by the tide, where she almost drowned, and she said she ‘died a little’. She bears this trauma as a Latina lesbian in ways that are marvellous and just absolutely heartbreaking. I like that her work recognizes the volatility and danger of the sea, which is a very real thing in South Texas.

Vertamae Grosvenor’s work on food, a sterling accompaniment to any anthropological study of food and colonial thinking. Of course, Toni Morrison.

I especially love Jorge Amado’s Gabriela, clove and cinnamon. It is a postcolonial critique of masculinity, capitalism, and colonial politics, masquerading as a romance novel about a Syrian-born Brazilian and the great love of his life, a mixed-race itinerant woman from the sertão (the outback of NE Brazil) who cooks for him. It was such a huge success in Brazil they made a telenovela out of it, which became a movie. Now this is considered one of the best books ever to come out of South America.

Postcolonialism is feminist. It affirms the worth and beauty, and the dignity, of women and their struggle against the colonial oppressor.

INTERVIEWER
What about in your own work?

GALVÁN
My own work is deeply postcolonial. Mine is linked to memory, to time. Especially saudade, the feeling of deep longing and nostalgia that is very strong in Portuguese-speaking culture. Not necessarily a sad thing, just a very deep longing. A lot of people mistake this longing for me being depressed or sad, when it’s part of who I am.

The great lesson that we can learn from postcolonial writers–that the ‘straight story’ that we learn from English (Anglo-American literature) writers is rarely straight, and is rarely a story.

I am living as an exile, more or less, in Oregon. I have never fit in with anything or anyone, and I don’t plan to any time soon. My family loves me very much but I can’t find or keep a job in deep South Texas. It’s possible to but you will be poor and in pain for much of your life. I grew up extremely poor.

Part of being postcolonial is recognizing the violence and anomie of poverty and saying ‘no’ to it. It’s recognizing that it’s part of an asymmetrical battle waged by racists against women and children, especially. We have to fight back. Why? To fight racism, to want something better for yourself, to care for yourself so that your culture and your people keep on going. Also, recognizing that you will always be different, welcome here but not there, always living as a shadow of what you are expected to conform to culturally.

INTERVIEWER
How do you fight violence and anomie with art? Doesn’t that get lonely? How do you keep yourself going?

GALVÁN
Any type of art — any kind, really — is confrontational. It challenges your assumptions about yourself and sometimes it defeats them entirely. To deal with the violence in our lives — and there is much — we must make art that disarms it and defeats it entirely, that completely washes over us and drowns our sadness and hatred and anger and our cynicism, but also our boredom and our loneliness. I can’t tell you how to make this kind of art. You just have to do it, and pray to God that you don’t end up killing yourself or other people in the process.

My life is extremely lonely. It is extremely depressing to live in my body, with my experiences, with all hell breaking loose around us.. It is tiresome to be surrounded by people who don’t understand you and maybe don’t want to. But you have to say to yourself, ‘I must go out and be the thing that I want to be in spite of what these people say, and make art that will challenge people’s assumptions on what they know about me. You have to love yourself, forgive your mistakes, and enjoy life while you have it.

Yes, my life is very lonely. I work out, I pray, I cry, I kiss beautiful men, I make art, I hang out with amazing friends, I write, I go to work, I sing in the shower. I don’t compromise with failure, darling. And neither should you!

INTERVIEWER
You spoke with many on etiquette as you wrote each volume, you even consulted the American Institute for Manners and Civility. What consistently are people looking for in etiquette? And what is new etiquette?

GALVÁN
I think people are looking for an easier way of ‘doing’ etiquette. I think a lot of people have this rather irrational sense of trepidation because they’re not doing etiquette right. There is a *right* way of doing etiquette in formal circles, but I’m not concerned with that. Etiquette is more than being just nice. It’s about really caring about yourself and other people. That’s what I think people get wrong about etiquette. These little acts (like writing a letter, &c) are acts of love. Taking the time to slow down and focus shows other people you care about them. I think people are intimidated with doilies and finger bowls and calling cards (I’m not). Most people really never have to really deal with them, thankfully, nowadays.

The new etiquette is all about respecting people for who they are, and radically accepting them. That is all: radical acceptance and mindfulness.

INTERVIEWER
There is a tremendous love in your saints prints. What do you think about while you make them? Why are these people saints?

GALVÁN
I love the women in each of those prints in very different ways for very different reasons. I got the idea from talking with Katherine Spinella, when we were discussing poster ideas for the Women’s March last year. I kept on thinking of the story of Judith and Holofernes from the Apocrypha. The story is most likely a folk tale from post-Exilic Judaism, where a pious widow named Judith seduces her husband’s murderer, Holofernes, and beheads him.

The most famous treatment of her story is in a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi. Caravaggio also did a magnificent rendering of it, as well.

When I draw those prints, I am usually concerned with the specific details of their brilliance, and the beauty of the natural world. I often think of Baroque star maps, plants, flowers, Latin mottos, banners, angels’ wings, old engravings. I like to draw tiny details that pop out. Like squiggles, little blobs, spaghetti-like forms. I want these to be surreal and have a sort of elevated feel to them.

I like that particular people that we all know have saintly character to them. I like that Joan Didion has a saintlike quality, in that like most desert mothers, she is stoic and doesn’t say much, but she has immense depth and has suffered greatly. I identify with women who suffer through their art, like Amália Rodrigues did. She was a depressive, but she loved her music. Her sadness shows in her eyes a lot, especially. She suffered for her country and what it went through under the Salazar dictatorship.

Sister Corita suffered like a martyr but made beautiful art in the progress. She had to give up her vows because of a highly reactive Church relationship that objected to the feminist and socially conscious community she participated in. And Kim Kardashian, despite the media hype, has also had to suffer tremendously. Alot of artists love her because of the way she cries. I genuinely think she’s a sweet lady.

INTERVIEWER
What is Catholicism to you? How does it inform your writing, your everyday practice?

GALVÁN
My Catholicism is deep and traditional, but not politically conservative. Some people may find a lot of guilt in the work of Catholic writers (like Flannery O’Connor) where I find myself continuously fascinated by the continuous attempts of people, however comic or not, to achieve that which we call ‘redemption’–which may never come at all, I might add. Above all I am fascinated with the magic of Catholicism–that you can light a candle and say a prayer to a saint and poof!–maybe you might get that man you’ve been thinking about to say hello to you…

The best Baroque novels were Catholic in character: affirming the humanity and dignity of a human being who is full of frailties. Don Quijote, for example. Another beautiful novel from that time period is Alessandro Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, the quintessential Italian novel. The themes in them we consider pretty tame, but they were revolutionary for their time period. Here were people that readers could identify with–real people with very human flaws–instead of mythological or religious figures to idolize or emulate.

Other good Catholic writers–for one, Graham Greene. Another, Franz Werfel.

One of the greatest novels ever written is a Catholic novel: Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh.

I like that every day in the Church has a character to it, some special saint’s day or some other festivity to look forward to. Observing saints’ days adds color to the year and helps you look forward to the future. Plus it’s a great way to remember someone’s birthday.

INTERVIEWER
Why are saints important to you?

GALVÁN
The Saints are my friends–they’re your friends, too! Many of them were real people who had the same moral failings as we do. Many of them were wonderful human beings, real characters. You want to read something funny? Read the life of St Philip Neri, and you will learn how much of a practical joker he was (he once got into some minor trouble for pinning a foxtail on the back of an important Counter-Reformational cardinal). I find a lot of my strength in emulating their selflessness and compassion. We have to find our own saints, whether they be drag queens or artists, actors or social leaders–we have to find someone we can emulate and enshrine in our own lives. That means actually emulating them, rather than just posting their quotes on Facebook.

INTERVIEWER
You run a popup restaurant–what’s it all about? Are you doing anything with the popup before Lent?

GALVÁN
Me and my chef friend run a pop out of his house in Laurelhurst. It’s called The Rectory. We met through a mutual friend who had heard me talk about traditional Catholic feasts. So he said, ‘it’d be so nice to have a traditional dinner for St John the Baptist’s birthday (June 24)’–this holiday is traditionally a cheese holiday. So the next big Catholic feast day, for the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (August 15), me and my friend served a traditional Assumption Day dinner (in the French style, of course, since that holiday is very much celebrated in France).

On that day you serve fish, chicken, and very early wine (usually Beaujolais Nouveau). So we’ve had about five dinners now, for anywhere between 5-10 people, nothing real big. But each holiday has its own menu, and I sometimes design the menus in watercolor and ink.

As far as Lent goes, we’ve got nothing planned — Carnival is already upon us, and there’s nothing really exciting about that except the opportunity to make pancakes and waffles (Catholic households were prohibited from eating butter, cheese or milk as much as possible during Lent in earlier times). I don’t care too much for fish. But we will have an Annunciation Day dinner on March 25–that will be a lamb course, I think. Or we may not have one at all. It really depends on how we feel.

INTERVIEWER
Who is Selena to you? How has she been misrepresented or misinterpreted in the past?

GALVÁN
Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was probably the most important person ever to have emerged from South Texas in the last forty years. She really was such a terribly fascinating and terribly tragic figure. I think many people just naturally assumed her to be a sultry and sexy woman when in reality she was a somewhat innocent and very naïve girl who trusted the logic of her culture and her fans too carefully. She was such a wonderful person, though. I remember seeing her, and I remember the day she died vividly. I think people still bear the emotional trauma of her loss in a very acute and real way, even now. I still remember her features to this day and I still remember watching her video for “La Carcacha” for the first time when I was 5 years old.

INTERVIEWER
What does Portland need in its writing community?

GALVÁN
I think Portland needs to tone down the white angst in a lot of prose and poetry circles. I think a lot of people want to either write absolutely terrible horrible poetry based around their sexual paraphilias or their cat or both. I think many readers are looking to publish adult fiction as YA. I think we need to reappraise why this city seems to attract such mediocre writers. Please straight white men: stop writing about your girlfriends! I don’t want to read about your trip to SF to buy weed, and your memories of putting your hand up a girl’s skirt without her consent. Or yet another book about hiking. Or doing drugs. Or discovering yourself in another country.

Please, we also need to stop telling people to write in the third person present tense–many stories use this voicing badly and it makes you sound like you’re just a drunken fool telling someone a story you heard from someone else. I don’t think we need anymore Hunter S. Thompsons or Cormac McCarthys. No more hyperboles and metaphors that evoke HP Lovecraft.

People also need to stop publishing, or contemplate publishing, works derived from their half-baked obsessions with a particular fandom. If Fifty Shades of Grey taught us anything it is that editors are not the high-minded individuals we suppose them to be, and writers do not necessarily have to be talented to be popular.

You should be reading Margaret Atwood, and not just The Handmaid’s Tale.

Maybe we also don’t need any Joan Didions, anymore either. Many young writers go through a Didion phase–I had mine. You know who I like? Roberto Bolaño, and António Lobo Antunes. José Saramago’s novels are good. Elena Poniatowska is Mexico’s answer to Joan Didion. Her The Night of Tlatelolco is considered the authoritative text on the 1968 massacre that took place there. Roberto Bolaño’s Amulet. Octavio Paz’s Sor Juana, or the Traps of Faith. Also, the best modern writer in Spanish, after Octavio Paz, is Fernando del Paso. Seriously, read News from the Empire: read it, and you will read a simultaneously tragic and hilarious account of the Second Mexican Intervention, an event that had dire consequences for all of the New World. Also an amazing postcolonial novel.

INTERVIEWER
If you could run a class or hold an event, what would it be?

GALVÁN
If I could run an event, I would love to start up a Proust reading circle at the IPRC. I would get a circle of big comfy chairs and we’d spend an evening reading Proust aloud, until we finished all seven novels that form his great masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time. We’d have madeleines and tea and talk. Some people have Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, but I have Proust, and his beautiful, tragic epic.

INTERVIEWER
Is there a line from any book that inspires you or that you particularly love?

GALVÁN
I love all that Marcel ever wrote about life and love and being, but one quote I can think of sums up how I feel at the present moment, from the seventh and final volume of In Search of Lost Time, Time Regained:

By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds are at our disposal, differing more widely from each other than those which roll round the infinite and which, whether their name be Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us their unique rays many centuries after the hearth from which they emanate is extinguished.

This labour of the artist to discover a means of apprehending beneath matter and experience, beneath words, something different from their appearance, is of an exactly contrary nature to the operation in which pride, passion, intelligence and habit are constantly engaged within us when we spend our lives without self-communion, accumulating as though to hide our true impressions, the terminology for practical ends which we falsely call life.

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