FIVE QUESTIONS FOR SANDER HICKS
January 4, 2011
by Mira Ptacin
Dissecting the Messiness
Author and Media Activist Sander Hicks on Truth-telling
1. What is your writing routine?
I have a lot going on in my life, usually have a number of projects in the air at once. Right now is no different. So, I schedule impossible deadlines that serve to terrify me into meeting them. So, recently in LA, I went there to write a screenplay, but also worked on some other new ventures. So with about a month left on the trip, I scheduled a public reading of the screenplay, although it wasn’t yet written. It worked out great, actually, the reading was a lot of fun. The audience gave us good feedback. But I was like “whew.”
In a similar way, I just sold a book, but I sold it based on a proposal, not a finished manuscript. The contract it turns out, gives me only two and a half months to write. Not a lot of time. But just enough. I plan on holing up in Montauk, and banging this out.
2. What is your definition of “truth” in terms of writing creative nonfiction?
The truth is what calls me to be a writer. The truth is the highest calling that we have. By ‘we’ I mean all of us. I’m not a post-modernist. I believe in the Absolute. In creative non-fiction, it’s up to the writer to be true to his experience, to go to the source, to have great sources, well cited, to have a gut instinct attraction to the true, and a cerebral process that dissects the messiness and chaos that covers the truth, and seeks to obscure it.
3. What is the biggest nemesis to your creative spirit?
I’ve mostly done shorter nonfiction in the past five years. I forgot the terror of long-form work. So in LA, I was like, “Oh, hello, Writer’s Block, it’s been a while.” I worked alone. I got lonely. Sometimes it didn’t flow. I procrastinated. I was tempted, to fuck off, get high and forget this as a work day. But I never did, somehow I got the screenplay done.
4. What do you hope people take away from your writing?
The thing I’m most after these days is expanded consciousness about political possibilities. It seems that contemporary media and current trends in American history are not to give us the full story. Which is a shame, because this limits our political imagination. I want to empower your imagination, I want to fire up your curiosity about the world. I want you to have a prophetic rage against the big lies, a rage that melts into a deeper compassion for the neglected people, and the neglected truths.
5. What writers have inspired you the most, and why?
I traveled to California and back with a portrait of Walt Whitman. He continues to be a big angel over me. He’s a big influence on me in so many ways, as a writer, as an American revolutionary, as a bisexual lover of all that is good in each of us, God I love him. In California, I had this insight into a way to kind of channel him into daily life. You see, I used to be a tour guide at his birthplace, I had some wild experiences with his ghost, once in the Walt Whitman mall.
Then there’s the fact that the Hicks family and the Whitman family have a little bit of history entertwined (radical preacher Elias Hicks was a public speaker young Whitman used to go see, like it was a hardcore show, with his dad, Walt Senior.) So, in California, I even had a spiritually gifted young woman tell me she felt, or saw something in me, that led her to believe I was Walt Whitman reincarnated. That’s clearly too special to claim as true; I never claimed that myself. But it felt good to try on, as a concept. I was turning on people to Whitman’s poetry left and right, and I felt like he was this big electrical switch I could just turn on inside me, to super-charge my soul. He continues to enliven my days.
If we are going to save America from this suicidal path it’s on, we have to reach back into our short history as a country, as a nation of seekers and writers. Whitman shows a path forward: democratic, respectful, careful, electrical, affectionate, a believer in people.