Sunday, 12 October 2014

LIT FIEND INTERVIEW [#2]


This month's interview comes from across the pond. I recently shot a few questions over to New Jersey based lit fiend, Paper and Ink Literary Zine contributor, and the driving force behind the artists and writers collective Twenty-Four Hours. He is the one, the only, the original 'Professor Zinester'...

First things first... What's your name, where do you come from and what do you do?
My name is Josh Medsker. I come from the farthest reaches of North America… from the outpost of civilization called Anchorage, Alaska.
I got the fuck outta there in 1998, traveled around the Lower 48 (the contiguous United States to non-Alaskans) for 6 months on the Greyhound bus. Slept in youth hostels in New Orleans and had my tarot read… played pool with homeless junkie teens and drank beers down at the Mississippi river…, slept in laundromats in Georgia and met some new friends who took me around to see where R.E.M. made their name… went to Graceland and Sun Studios in Memphis to see the birthplace of rock and roll... when I was done doing the Kerouac thing, I moved to California and took a newspaper internship in San Francisco.
Eventually I moved back to Anchorage and lived in my friend Eric’s giant walk-in closet (!) while working at our alternative news-weekly, made another mega-trip across the U.S. and also into Canada (now with Eric!)… busked in New Orleans with some kids with bottle caps tied to their shoes… moved to Japan with Eric to teach English for a year and a half, moved to Austin, Texas to go to graduate school for creative writing… didn’t get in… met my wife… moved to Brooklyn… Been lots of places.
Now I live in New Jersey, just outside of NYC, on the outskirts, in a little town called Bayonne. You know the author George R.R. Martin, who wrote the Game of Thrones books? He’s from Bayonne. Also, most of Blondie. I am very proud to say that.

As far as what I do… I am an English professor and a middle school teacher. That’s what makes me money. I also write, and that sometimes makes me money. I also cook, hike, dick around with computer programming… I blog…
Have your travels been a big influence on your writing? 

Travel has been extremely influential. I had wanted to see the rest of the country since I was a kid. I had been to the Southwest, to Texas, when I was 7, to visit my grandpa… but I don’t really remember it, except for stories that my parents tell me. And we went on another family vacation to Hawaii when my sister and I were 14. But Hawaii is in the same boat as Alaska, really. It’s not exactly part of the United States. Aside from those two excursions, I had never seen any part of the country, ever. Except on television. I spent a summer, in 1996, in Portland, Oregon with my best friend at the time, Chris… who was on an exchange with the archaeology program with his college and Portland State, and I was his roommate… and that was the first time I had been to the Lower 48. It was a big deal for me. I finally moved down to The States for good (not really. Ha!) in 1999 when I was 26, when moved to California. What a total trip that was.
So yeah, travel is a huge part of my life. Everyone who is born and raised in Alaska will tell you a similar story. It’s in my DNA, I think. But I will say this. I think I’m paraphrasing a better writer, but I will say it anyway. A good writer can make a paragraph about staring at the wall the most exciting thing you’ve ever read in your life—and a terrible writer can make a trip to Tokyo the most mundane thing ever. You know? I think I made that mistake early on in my writing, and in my life. But I suppose that’s a common rookie mistake.
Tell me a little about Twenty-Four Hours and how it came about.
Twenty-Four Hours was a thing that I started in 1998, kinda sorta, after my first zine Noise Noise Noise died. NNN was a punk zine I did for a few years (Dec 94 to Oct 96) in Anchorage, with a bunch of friends. We mostly focused on local music, and when our scene just died, you know, beyond repair, so did the zine… We could have kept it going, I guess, but I was so burned out. I was flunking out of college, and I was mentally in a rough place. I just said fuck it, and walked away. But you know how zines go… within a week or two, I came crawling back! I had an idea to do a rockabilly and literary / art zine. I toyed around with doing a horror theme or a campy Cramps-type theme, but that didn’t last long. I named it Sinister Urge at first, then Gorehound… but those never got past the cover stage. Then it was Pink Elephants and Crawfish Houses… that was the literary one. I had a play by a friend in there… and a play I wrote. It almost got off the ground, but then I took that trip I told you about, on the bus. So TFH languished on my hard drive for another year and a half—until finally in December 2000, when I arrived in Japan. I was bored and hadn’t started working yet… and I wanted to write something… so I started writing a little memoir-type thing about the gross smells coming from the room next to me, and how weird I felt being one of 5 foreign people I knew (so far). I had been there a week.
And that became the opening essay for TFH #1. Pretty neat. We put out the first issue late in the spring of 2001. Unreal that it’s still going in 2014. Unbelievable. 
Why do you think zines are important?
Oh, dude. They are crucial. Zines helped me find my confidence. I can’t even begin to tell you how important they were to me. Growing up in Alaska… seeing these photocopied little magazines? Incredible. I saw poems and stories in zines like Whatever Works (an all-time favorite by Susan Boren who now does Clip Tart in Austin) and I would treasure it for weeks, months! So great. Or when a new issue of AK Verve came out… exposing me to, I don’t know, legalization of marijuana? So vital. Especially back then, in the early 90s. They were a life-line. Alaska was much more conservative then, and there was no internet… you have to have input to be able to form ideas different from the mainstream… You cannot take anything for granted. This material is put together by flesh and blood humans. They get tired, and they get frustrated, and at some point they will quit, and this material will vanish. I think people who read this stuff forget that absolutely no one is getting paid.
I think zines are very important. And I’ll extend this statement to blogs and independent websites as well. It’s all part of the same independent publishing hive.
What has been your proudest moment as a writer? 
Hmm, that’s tough… I have like…little proud moments, like when I work out a great line or word… So here’s “most satisfied”:
I would say the most satisfied I’ve been was when I realized that the writing itself is always going to be enough, rather than writing just to get published.
The other thing that made me happy was the realization that writing didn’t have to be a substitute for living. It took a lot of weight off my shoulders. It made it a lot more fun, and paradoxically, I got a lot better.
What was the first book to ever blow your mind?
Oh wow… The first book that blew my mind was probably Shakespeare. In high school. We did As You Like It one year for the school play. I helped out with the play, and I had a tiny speaking role. I was terrible, but I was so happy to be- included. My friend Chris (and future singer in our shitty little punk rock band!) he was The Fool… naturally… and he stole the show as always… and even though the language was verbose and dense, I kept plugging away at it. I read Hamlet on my own, and on to Macbeth, and so on… I loved it. I was angry with myself that I didn’t understand all of it, but I tried my best.
What was the last book to blow your mind?
I just read Crime and Punishment. My wife made fun of me because I have a habit of picking books up and putting them down for a long time. Which I did, sad to say. Not because I didn’t like it. I thought it was great, obviously. No, I just get distracted easily… I’m the kind of guy who reads, you know, 4 books at once. Bad habit… Ugh. But she’s right. I did Dostoyevsky a little piecemeal, so I’m going to go back while it’s still fresh and read it again. But it was great. His breakdown was intense. I also really liked Hunger by Knut Hamsun, for the same reason.



What is your favourite genre of music?
Depends on the day, really. These days I’m back into 70s and 80s punk rock. Sex Pistols, Ramones, Damned, Clash, Buzzcocks, and the American stuff like Social Distortion, The Germs, Rancid, Bad Religion… That’s my musical home. That and old blues and folk. Muddy Waters, Lonnie Johnson, RL Burnside, Skip James, Lightening Hopkins. I love it. Can’t get enough. I also have a big soft spot for heavy metal. The good stuff. You know, Motorhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica… New Wave of British Heavy Metal stuff. I also really like country and western from the 30s up until now. I love it all. Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Hank Jr, Hank Williams the 3rd, Billy Joe Shaver. There’s all sorts of stuff… I love hip-hop, old and new… I’m getting into Jay Z a lot. I dismissed him for a while, but he’s fucking great, man. Really good. Q Tip, Talib Kweli… All the late 80s early 90s stuff, obviously… Biz, Beasties, Nas
Basically I love music that moves me emotionally. Music that you know was created by real people, for the purpose of communicating a message about something—not just to sell you an image or a product. I have to feel a connection there.
That is quite an eclectic list! If you had to distil in even further and listen to only three albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Damn. 1) Rocket to Russia- by The Ramones 2) The White Album- by The Beatles 3) At San Quentin- by Johnny Cash
What is your drink of choice?
coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee!!!
Which three famous people, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with?
Johnny Cash, Joey Ramone, and Joe Strummer… and we would all write a song together afterwards and record it. Hell yes.
What is your favourite movie?

The Empire Strikes Back. Darkest kids movie ever.

If you could eradicate one thing from "modern life" what would it be?
Selfies.
I was hoping you'd say Kindles, but I'll accept selfies. Haha. What do you think the future holds for the printed word?
The word is going wherever it wants to. Haha! It may not be printed in ink, but the word is a surprisingly malleable thing. In 1995, when I was taking HTML classes in my University of Alaska college journalism program… we were debating what would happen to newspapers and magazines… the general consensus (in our classes anyway) was that there would be a hybrid environment of part e-media and part print media… and that’s what has happened. Sort of. I guess print media has become more “boutiquey”.
I think the most successful writers and publishers are going to be the ones that can harness THE WORD and find the best uses for it in both formats (and in hybrid ways!)
And finally, what does the future hold for Joshua Medsker?
  
I have a bunch of neat projects going on! More Anonymous Chapbooks coming out with the Twenty-Four Hours press… Still working on the At Home found materials art book with my poet friend Eryk Wenziak from Connecticut… I just need to find time to breathe! Ha! This new teaching job, teaching the 6th and 7th graders is running me ragged… Eek. Lotsa stuff going on, man! Check out the TFH website for updates! And you can read my Facebook page for updates on new work for me!
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Josh, much appreciated!  

Josh's memoir, 'Kuma', appears in PAPER AND INK Issue #3 which is available here and here

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