Leah Schnelbach: When you write, do you begin with an image, a word, or a scent? Has your starting point changed over time?
Sam Pink: Usually just a bunch of notes and a general idea of scene/tone. I knew when I started writing notes for White Ibis that it was going to be different, and I’m not sure why (could be the environment, my age, etc.) but tone is really important to me. Just realizing it now, actually. When I wrote ‘person’ the idea in my head was ‘your life is a cartoon.’ I’m 35 now, and I started writing when I was 23 or so. Part of the tone shift is just maturity. I look back on old books and think ‘Wow, that’s where I was at.’ Not in a negative way, I still love all that old stuff and think it was necessary to me, and overall, I’m glad I documented something. But with age, I think, I’ve moved away from scrutinizing myself/being obsessed with the ‘I’ character, and feel interested in other people.
LS: Do you have any writing rituals you maintain, or fail to maintain?
LP: Not really. I like the idea of not relying on that, because then it becomes neurotic. And soon enough you need to fly to a different country and climb a mountain to use your friends cabin to write. It’s fun to switch environments and put different pressures on yourself. When you work with rituals, you have an end in mind, and it’s usually value based: I can only produce (masterpiece) in (certain conditions). When I started thinking about writing/art as ‘attempts,’ it became much more fun and I didn’t have to worry about anything other than just doing the thing in front of me.
LS: I used to work at a deli that had an outdoor walk-in freezer which had no interior door handle – I was warned on the first day that if the door closed behind me I was essentially fucked. (And as someone who grew up on “locked in the freezer” sitcom episodes it was basically my worst nightmare come true.) Obviously I survived. Thinking about this made me wonder: What was your worst-ever job experience?
SP: I’m trying to imagine how I would break it to someone that they might freeze to death. Also seems like there’d be an easy mechanical fix there. I remember having a breakthrough moment one day where I was just sitting around miserable and thought ‘why would any job be worse than this?’ and since then have realized I like to stay occupied and jobs are probably the best way to learn about human behavior/the world. I’ve learned more about humans/interactions/feelings from work place interactions than all the think pieces and tweets combined. I have had a couple of jobs where people died though. I was painting the outsides of houses one summer and a kid was walking with a ladder and it touched a powerline. At another job, in a Florida factory, a giant spool of metal fell on a guy and crushed him.
LS: I was fortunate that as uncomfortable as some of my jobs were, no one actually died on shift. Did you continue working those jobs?
SP: Honestly, I felt safer doing those jobs because I told myself to be careful and the consequences of not being careful were very apparent. If you can get crushed by a giant spool of metal, your mind is always on the lookout for that. I would also like to say, that if I die that way/in a similar way in the future, I advise anyone who might be upset about it, to find the humor in it. It’s thrilling that there’s a chance that your ‘I wish I was dead’ feeling at work, could, at any moment, be satisfied.
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