Cailin (for BPL): What is your favorite type of tree?
Dan Mahoney: Jacaranda. Not too many of these trees in Maine but I see them when I’m back in Los Angeles or in Mexico. Love that damn tree. There’s a street near where I used to live in LA that is nothing but jacaranda trees on both sides. When they are in bloom the whole street is covered in a purple haze. It’s pretty majestic.
BPL: Who is your hero?
D: shut up
BPL: Why do you write?
D: The honest answer is that I pretty much suck at everything else. I can teach too. I can write and I can teach. I can also do minor home repairs and fix small electrical devices. I can make some damn fine roasted tomatillo salsa too. But that is all I can do. With all the other stuff I can see a tangible result: the salsa is made, the student taught, we go buy another blender, but with writing the result is usually I’m a complete basket case. I love it when it is going well but I’m super neurotic obsessive about it and it consumes my life. Writing is like being possessed and good writers learn how to get out of their own way. I love this possession and how it sweeps me away and yet brings me closer to who I am. I’ve stopped all drugs and alcohol so writing is the last thing an old addict like me uses to get high. ((don’t tell my kids this, they’ll make me stop))
BPL: Should we keep birds as pets? Explain.
D: My brother had a cockatiel for a number of years. He never clipped its wings or anything like that so it could still fly. He’d leave it in his room with the cage door open all the time. It used to sleep with him and shit on his head. He’d wake up in the morning all crazyheaded with this crusted shit in his hair. It was troubling. Later he traded that bird for a quarter ounce of weed which I thought was a pretty good deal at the time. That bird got us sky high and we never said thank you. I’m not sure this answers your question.
BPL: What are you working on now?
D: I’m working on how to be an editor of a literary magazine / small press (Bateau) AND be a dedicated writer at the same time. As writers we get pulled so many different directions during the course of a day/week/month that if we don’t keep the work front and center it’s easy to shove it to the “things to do” pile. This used to make me nervous. I would have thoughts like: what if it’s over, what if I never write again… But I know that I will be able to make the time and that it’s not over and I have plenty more to say. I’m in it for the long haul, both as an editor and a writer.
BPL: If you had any advice for your twelve year old self what would it be?
D: In about 10 years you will meet a woman at a party Brooks Hayward is throwing. You will be a bit disgusting in your winery clothes but that doesn’t matter. You will talk to her most of the night until her brother tells her he needs to leave. Listen closely: OFFER HER A RIDE HOME.
BPL: When and where can you be found writing most?
D: During the course of a day I wear many hats: father, teacher, spouse, editor, cook, writer, and man about town. Most of these are day jobs that bleed into night. When night arrives, after the kids have gone to sleep, my wife and I are a wreck. I used to be a night writer, a stiff drink setting me off into the early a.m. But I cannot sustain that sort of thing anymore. I discovered my sweet spot at 4 a.m. No one is awake. The house is quiet, the small office attached to my bedroom is warm, and my head is clear. 4 a.m. is where it’s at!
BPL: In your chapbook I enjoyed how you described different spaces, both temporal and physical, and how interactions with these spaces change from childhood to adulthood and how the size of the world seems different. Do you think of this as evidence of an ever expanding personal universe?
D: Wow. This is a good question. I’m not sure about the “ever expanding personal universe.” I’d like to believe as we grow older we get more expansive in our thinking and don’t sweat the small stuff so much, but what if the small stuff is your universe? There’s that great scene in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy where a huge battle fleet is coming to destroy earth. They travel vast distances all full of rage and just when they are about to unleash their attack a small dog swallows the entire fleet… Writing Quantum Entanglement was an act of memory and an act of demolition. Was that Bobby Cox who got hit by a car or was it some other kid? What exactly did that stoner girl say to us as we sat on the curb? If my personal universe is ever expanding why do I keep asking these questions of the past? And why am I constantly drawn back to the field? In physics a field is a physical quantity that has a value at each point in space, says my physicist friend. Fields used to be thought of as necessary only to measure other things but now scientists realize that empty fields have momentum and energy on their own. So the universe is expanding, my own personal universe might be expanding, but what I’m interested in is the momentum and energy of the empty field. How does an empty field become the stuff of poetry? I’ll keep banging my head against that question for the rest of my life.