Q & A with TJ McGowan (The Everyday Bite), writer, poet, and spoken-word artist
The Everyday Bite (T.J. McGowan) is a Bronx based writer, poet, and spoken word artist who has performed all over NYC and had his written work published in Flash Fiction Mag, Collective Unrest, 35MM, Mojave Heart, Vamp Cat, United: Red, BX Writers, and Wide Eyes Publishing to name a few. He has one full-length poetry collection, We Are Not One Thing, currently available for purchase. When not slinging poetry he spends his days as an Associate Producer for a Film & TV company based in NYC, contributing to script and creative copy on most of the productions that pass through the doors. He is also way more interesting than this bio, so come out to one of his shows and chop it up with him. Contrary to the stage name, he does not bite.
GB: TJ, big thanks for taking time to chat. Can you share a bit about yourself? Anything info that’s NOT in the bio?
TJ: Born and raised in Mt. Vernon, NY and then bounced around the state from Westchester County to Putnam County and now am settled in the Bronx. Studied film and directing in college between here and Chicago, until finally graduating School of Visual Arts in 2010. Big time movie nerd and I typically attend some kind of concert or live music show a few times a month. Huge football fan. Go Giants(they suck)! Those are the broad strokes.
GB: Your spoken word is easily one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. If you could use one word or phrase to describe your message, what would it be and why?
TJ: First, thank you. I am learning how to accept compliments and one like that just fills my heart. As far as one word goes, I’m going to be super unoriginal and say: authentic. I feel whether it’s something I am performing or just something written for the purposes of being read by someone else, I am always aiming to make sure the work is adhered to an organic moment or feeling. I try not to force anything and the more I allow myself to have the patience to wait, I find when the words do come they are more me and spoken word helps me evolve toward the most authentic version of myself which I’ve kept buried for a long time.
GB: Do you have a preference between the spoken word or the written word? Why?
TJ: I find purpose in both. I’m still figuring out what it is that makes me decide something is meant for the stage and something is meant for the page, but haven’t quite put my finger on how I come to those conclusions. With spoken word there’s just this added level of freedom that I don’t always find on the page. I am constantly overcoming my fears up there. I feel as alive as I ever have before in my life. My adrenaline is firing on all cylinders and I’m usually harnessing my aggressions towards the world and releasing them. It’s healthy and internally boundary pushing for me. However, the written word allows me to be something else, especially when exploring fiction and creative writing. I enjoy crafting stories that are not mine. And as far as written poetry goes, to me, it’s a great way to explore feeling in more abstract terms and attempt to define the things we will never have enough words to define, which can be more powerful if left up to a reader to interpret than to give them a performance controlled by my emotions. Some stuff needs to remain untainted by performance.
GB: What’s your creative process like? Do you have any strategies readers might be able to utilize?
TJ: I need to be alone and I need the right music for how I am feeling. I won’t write a single word if I’ve not found the correct soundtrack to how I am feeling or to what I am musing or observing. That goes for all of my writing, regardless if it is meant to be performed or not. I think cinematically even when it comes to poetry and that comes from my love of film and screenwriting. So, all the elements of a great film scene need to be with me from a visualization in my mind to the proper sounds filling the room. Even when I practice performance pieces I will have music blasting and usually on a loop. I will focus in on a song or album or collection of songs and repeat them over and over until the writing is done. I believe in mental rest as well. It’s an important part of the creative process. A tired brain will do nothing for you. I am a believer that writing should not become an overly frustrating task. Feeling and analyzing feeling can be frustrating, but the writing part should be somewhat enjoyable and often times I find myself most frustrated when I’ve ignored giving my brain cells a rest. The not writing part of the writing process is crucial, just as is sleep before a day of work, or muscles getting to relax between sessions at the gym.
GB: When and how did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
TJ: I always kept a journal as a kid to help me process feelings, but never thought of myself as a writer or desired writing until I saw Goodfellas for the first time as a teen. It was the film that made me want to make films, which then lead to me wanting to understand every aspect of film, and everything I researched could be tied back to a great script. I was always obsessed with storytelling and would act out imaginary stories alone when I was real young. I’d portray all the characters and create these worlds for myself, but then when I discovered screenwriting, I realized I was doing that in my mind and needed to do it on paper. As for poetry, around the age of fifteen a friend read some of my journal entries and suggested I was writing poetry but didn’t know it.
GB: Which authors/artists have had the most influence on your work?
TJ: Jimi Hendrix both as a musical artist and poet. Jim Morrison as well. I had his poetry books when I was younger and loved how he didn’t follow any academic rules of poetry. I’m a big Chuck Palahniuk fan. I love his ability to make beautiful stories from ugly people. Other than that, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Martin Scorsese, Lucille Ball, Abbott & Costello, J.G. Ballard, Biggie, Angus & Julia Stone, E.E. Cummings, to randomly name a few. For me, whether someone is an author, actor, musician, or comedian, they’re creativity is typically anchored by some sort of writing process so I try to pull from everywhere for inspiration and influence.
GB: Who and what is on your MUST-READ list?
TJ: Pretty much anything by Palahniuk. He has a way to make awful characters engaging and beautifully flawed. He can also adapt from novel to novel when it comes to choosing a style that best suits the overall nature of the book. Some others would be Wilderness by Jim Morrison, Night by Elie Wiesel, Crash by Ballard, and I really dig some of Hemingway’s short stories. He’s one of my favorite really boring, dead writers. It’s nice to go back to those who just understood the use of words whether what they were writing is thrilling or not. All the Hemingway die-hards are probably going to come for my head for those remarks, but fuck ‘em.
GB: What does “success” mean to you?
TJ: When I was younger I thought it meant winning an Oscar, but then I grew up and realized the Oscars are kinda bullshit, along with most other award shows. Right now, success means getting through a day, finding ways to smile more, keeping the courage to perform my darker parts on stage, recognizing I’ve broken a personal boundary that lead to freedom instead of emotional oppression within myself. Success comes in the little steps forward I’ve been taking over the last year or so. Success should always be changing or we get stuck. Success was stepping on stage the first time and shaking behind my papers. Then, success became memorizing a poem. Then, it became memorizing a longer one. Then, it became landing a featured set. Success was sending out to literary magazines more consistently. Then, it became having one finally publish a poem of mine. But, success is also not letting what I can’t control take a toll on me anymore when things don’t go my way, I get work rejected, or forget a line on stage. Success is being happy with each step forward while not letting the ones backwards ruin me like they once did.
GB: What’s next for TJ McGowan? Any forthcoming projects we can look for?
TJ: I’m always working on something. Most, like my screenplays, novel & novella manuscripts, as well as the two chapbooks I’m sitting on, collect dust. So, not sure if/when any of that stuff will see the light of day, but the one cool thing I am working on that I am pumped about is a forthcoming spoken word album. Working with some awesome people on that behind the scenes, including an awesome producer by the name of GMNI. Only tidbit I’m willing to give away right now is the project is currently entitled, I Wear Another Man’s Name.
Interview originally published in January 2020 at ONLY HUMAN. If you enjoyed this conversation, please recommend, comment, 👏👏👏 and share. Sign up for the Bing Bang Co. newsletter to see more!