FROM THE FOLIO: AN INTERVIEW WITH GLASS HOUSE SHELTER PROJECT FOLIO CONTRIBUTOR WILLIAM KELLER
William Keller’s creative nonfiction/prose poetry appears in Drunken Boat 23’s Glass House Shelter Project folio. Features Editor Peter Mishler spoke with William about his writing career and the therapeutic value of writing.
Peter Mishler: What prompted you to write the prose poetry/creative nonfiction that Drunken Boat published in the Glass House Shelter Project portolio? And what effect did making this piece have on you?
William Keller: i was traveling abroad when i saw the call for submissions via twitter. in a way i felt compelled; and soon thereafter, with a sense of self-imposed obligation — i felt there was something to be expressed with regard to my own then-recent experiences — and to make a contribution to the conversation at hand; i felt that had i not, my perspective would be lost…but i was uncertain as to what that something might be — or for that matter, how such sentiment may be expressed.
it was imperative for me to address, if i could… the lack of understanding and acceptance there is for those of us who live our lives differently, whether that difference be by choice or contingency. at the time i was not so far removed from the aforementioned period of associated instability, as portrayed in “at times.” i was in zurich, i believe– or on a train from salzburg to munich when i first attempted to put pen to paper…but without the necessary time and space to process the period with which i was currently coping– the thought of writing the piece became somewhat of a burden and as with the grey winter sun– it hung low in sky overhead.
i returned to providence on the evening my return flight made landing in new york; a snowstorm had been in the forecasts — but i did not want to linger on any longer to wait out the storm — to stay at my mother’s in the bedroom of my youth… and talk about all that had just happened during my travels in europe. i was not in the mindset to answer questions– i needed to keep moving. by nightfall, i would be sleeping fully clothed beneath a high pile of hand-knit woolen blankets — with my legs tucked beneath the rear bench seat in the back of the van, as if i had never left — as if the past two months hadn’t happened. more than anything, i wanted for the period of prolonged instability to come to an end. ,all along the deadline approached– but it was not until late in the evening of the day submissions were due — about four days following my return, that i decided to give things another try; to detach myself from the process of self-disparagement and lean in. beside the large plate-glass windows, in the bar beneath the dean hotel, i sat alone and i wrote; i wrote continuously until i began to sense relief. more than anything else i was glad– for i knew that i had done all i could– that although the piece i had written and submitted may not have been the piece i had initially intended to write– the piece would be finished regardless, and from that point on– i could move forward…and so i hoped; all of this in retrospect is still so complicated to me.
PM: Where in your writing career does this piece sit? Is it the culmination of work you’d already done, or a beginning? Somewhere in the middle? How does it in some way represent one part of your artistic development?
WK: i try not to think of things in terms of where or when — to me all periods bleed into one another as with one movement in ways which we may never understand. though, undoubtedly — if my breaths were to fade, and if my heart beats were to cease tomorrow — it would certainly be the end of things; but what if i were to live until i were 75 years old– would that then be indication that all of my life to date–everything i have ever experienced is just the beginning? i would like to continuewriting and expressing myself in this way for as long as it is exciting to me — but one may never be certain if this is, or has all just been another phase which may only serve as placeholder, to carry me on toward something else altogether.
this piece was a step outside of my comfort zone — typically i do not write prose –typically i hide unconsciously behind fragmented forms and abstractions — or obscured personal truths. but i wanted to be clear and relatable; i wanted to be understood, if at all possible not to be misinterpreted — as i feel there are many misconceptions about homelessness in our society, and specifically with regard to living in a van — which is often glorified and romanticized, being referred to as vanlife. not everyone who is homeless is a drunk or a heroin addict — not everyoneliving in their vans are pedophiles, surfers, hippies, or rock climbers. but we allhave our own paths forward determined by our own set of circumstances. we all have our own ways of living — and in writing this piece i hope to have conveyed the importance and potential of unbridled self-expression, individuality and equality.
PM: When you look back at this piece, what do you see?
WK: in retrospect, when i read “at times” — i am reminded of how it felt to truly live my life presently — and to live from day to day in terms of meeting my own needs;
furthermore i see the sad little boy within me — swallowing his tears in anunfocused glare — hoping just to be heard and to feel as if he is not alone — i see myself in an attempt to make light of my pain and discomfort; i am reminded of my tendencies to run– i am reminded of my patterns, as well as the cyclical nature of the depression and anxiety that has so-long been a part of me; how the days and nights of last winter just seemed to me, to be so perpetual. i am reminded of how i
so miss addison, my german shepherd who is still living with my mom — and how symbolic she has come to be for me in recent years. looking back, i feel a cold and penetrating wintry wind, blowing through me as i recollect my time in europe; feeling so alone and dissociated… every few days, a different city — all too often, i could not recall which country i was currently in, nor to which countries i had been the previous days or weeks; the instability — the uncertainty, the endless existentialistic searching for an unknown something more, was wearing me down completely — and from the moment the plane landed in oslo, to the moment i peed my pants in paris on a pedestrian crowded street — i was just there… and hopingthat just maybe — maybe my life would transform fortuitously — for once, as if i werethe protagonist of some well-received independent film from the early 2000’s. but i’m living in a house again — things seem to be falling into place — but still i am in awe of how in such a brief period our realities, our surroundings are ever evolving for better or for worse — but i would do it all again if i felt the need, if for reasons i may never understand. sometimes, we must just let go and hang on…and sometimes clichés are okay too.
PM: The GHSProject is meant to be therapeutic. Can you speak to your writing as a means of therapy or healing? Another way to put this: in what ways (if at all) do you see your writing as therapeutic or healing?
WK: throughout the process of writing, i am within a state of retrospection — in recollection, reliving my experiences, in hopes of reconstruction and clarity — in hopes that my work may provide relief. i hope the experiences i may share through my writing may offer to those who feel alone a sense of “we’re all in this together; i’m not alone — it’s okay to have feelings, maybe it’s okay.”