Meet the Author: Nick Jaina

by Intern on August 17, 2015

Nick JainaNick Jaina was born in Sacramento. He released his first book, Get It While You Can, a work of non-fiction, through Perfect Day Publishing in January 2015. The book doesn’t tell about all the great things that he has done; it shows vulnerability and struggle and how he got through that. “Because,” he says, “those are the things that have helped me the most.” He has released a handful of albums and written the music for several ballets, contemporary dance pieces, feature films, and plays. His writing has been featured in Atlantic Monthly and McSweeney’s Quarterly. You can find out more about Nick here.

The excerpts in our sixteenth issue from Nick’s book, Get it While you Can, are as poetic as they are unhinged. Nick’s piece is lyrical and poignant, with a pitch-perfect rhythm that seamlessly weaves meditations on existence and sanity with the fabric of a musician’s life.

“I’d feel embarrassed describing Nick Jaina as a genius outright, and I’m sure he’d hate that, too, but it’s so tempting—because he is so clearly the real deal.”
—Morgan Troper, Portland Mercury

Q. You mention that you looked up to Cobain because he was someone who knew what it meant to be sad. But, in retrospect you say: “Now I just think of him as someone who couldn’t stop falling down and hurting himself.” Why did your view of him change so dramatically? As a teenager, why did you think it was almost noble to know what sadness truly meant? Do you still believe that it’s noble? 
A. My view of Kurt Cobain changed when I got older and realized that he left behind a wife and a baby daughter. I stopped seeing his behavior as noble and started seeing it as selfish. He had been dwelling on sadness for years, even talking about suicide before he had a kid. To have a child and then exit their life in that way is just very selfish behavior, and it’s disappointing that people just lionize him instead of thinking of the consequences of that behavior. I have dealt with depression and I know that it is real and heavy and no joking matter, and I have many times considered suicide, but that doesn’t excuse you from the commitments you make as a husband and a father.

Q. Besides Nirvana and, more specifically, Kurt Cobain, who were your greatest musical influences?
A. Later in the book I talk about some of my influences, such as Paul Simon and Tom Waits. I’ve always been drawn to song craftsmen who were focused on the heart, about conveying emotion rather than cleverness.

Q. When you first learned guitar, what drew you specifically to the Nirvana song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? 
A. I was drawn to the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” because it was just so ass-kicking. I was not into hip music before, and would listen to cassette tapes of Elton John and Billy Joel. That song just kicked in the door and hit you in the face. The power of it is diminished by all the imitations that came after it, so it’s hard to experience what it felt like in the early nineties, when music had been either soft rock or stupid hair metal. But it was a life-saving song for people who wanted to feel.

Q. You mention feeling anxious every time you’re waiting for your guitar at baggage claim, then relieved when you see it intact, “like a little Calvin when he takes Hobbes out of the dryer.” How does your relationship to your guitar effect your music? Do you think it’s important to care for the instruments you play, to treat them more like people instead of things?
A. I think a guitar has a soul to it, and the shape and style of it leads your fingers to certain places and to write certain songs. It’s the same as the way you hang out with a friend and you think of ideas that neither of you would have come up with on your own. I’ve never been the type of composer that can just write music on a page. I need an instrument to guide me to the soul of a song.

Q. When you stain your guitar purple, you say, “everyone thought that this discoloration came from sweat or blood and that was fine too.” Why did this rough version of love for your guitar mean so much to you? Do you think it made your relationship more meaningful, like you’d shared some sort of common experience?
A. People are so afraid to personalize their world sometimes, and I just decided early on that I don’t want to live my life for the re-sale. That is to say, what’s the point of having something if you don’t use it all up? I’m not going to just keep the action figures in the original packaging because they’ll be worth more. These things were made to be used, they are crying out for the love of a rough life.

Q. What do you mean when you feel “chained” to the older music, the music you say you can’t let go of?
A. Songwriters have the strange burden of having to live with their old material all the time. Audiences understandably want to hear their favorite songs, not just the new stuff that the musician is excited about. This can be difficult sometimes for the songwriter who has moved on emotionally from a particular person or a time in their life, but that time is documented by a song that people love. You want to honor people’s connection to the song by playing it, but it can toss you back in past emotions that you had long since wanted to move on from.

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Meet the Author: Daisy Florin

by Intern on August 10, 2015

Daisy FlorinDaisy Alpert Florin grew up in New York City and attended Dartmouth College. Her essays have appeared in Brain, Child, Full Grown People, Minerva Rising and Mamalode. She lives with her husband and three children in Connecticut.

Daisy’s piece, “Crash,” is a reflection on change and the fleeting nature of life, as well as a meditation on the relationships that both bind and confound us. The story is filled with love and endearment, yet tinged with despair by the cancer that later took her mother’s life.

Q. You mention that your mother always appeared to belong, to fit in with any crowd. Do you think this quality was an original part of your mother’s character, or do you see it as something of a façade? Do you notice this trait because you wish you had that same capability?
A. I do think that my mother’s ability to “go with the flow” and blend in with many different crowds spoke to a discomfort with herself. Remember, she was an immigrant who had left her home and family behind and completely reinvented herself on foreign land. That takes a certain personality. So that part of her always fascinated me and, to be honest, sometimes made me feel a little less than. But thinking about it now, it seems to me that it would be exhausting to always move from one crowd to the next, to not have a strong and grounded sense of self. I struggle with that sometimes myself.

Q. When your mother said “how quickly everything changes,” did you feel that she wasn’t taking the accident seriously? Like she was almost okay that it happened, so that she could have another miraculous experience? Or was this comment a genuine reflection on life?
A. The accident, although it rattled me, wasn’t in fact very serious and my mother could see it as such. She was an incredibly strong person who cut through life like a knife; she didn’t let that much get to her. But I think she approached her illness in the same way and because of that, it completely blindsided her–and everyone around her. I think that she died still fighting for her life and didn’t have a chance to reconcile anything before the end. I think that’s why her death didn’t seem peaceful to me, just violent and uprooting.

Q. Was mentioning the fact that your mother might not be able to wear the skirt the first time either of you had acknowledged the illness’s gravity? Do you think this changed your relationship with your mother in any way?
A. Yes, this was the first time any of us–me, my mother, my father, brother, other family–acknowledged that her illness was quite grave. I’m not sure I captured in words how powerful that quick glance she gave me was. I could tell then that underneath her facade, she was afraid, and that my question about the skirt parted the curtain on that fear, at least for a moment.

Q. How did your relationship with your mother change after the accident, and after she was diagnosed with cancer?
A. When my mother first told me she had cancer, over the phone, I burst into tears. That seems like an obvious reaction, I suppose, but we were not that kind of family. As I helped my mother during her illness, I realized for the first time in my life that I was an adult, that I was THE adult, in fact. She had never shown any vulnerability at all, so that was a tremendous change.

Q. Was the crash a precursor to your mother’s death, a way of seeing her as a real person with weaknesses, with fears, instead of such a whimsical and mysterious person? A person without flaws altogether?
A. It was only after she died, less than a year after the accident, that I saw any connection between the two events. I had a family friend once ask me if I thought the accident caused the cancer, that the jolt unleashed something inside her. I’m not sure I believe that but I suppose it’s possible. I never saw my mother as a person without flaws, but I was only 27 when she died, not quite mature enough to see her as an adult who had made compromises and mistakes just like anyone else.

Q. Did your mother encourage you to adventure, to experience, to lead a magical life? If so, is that why you felt as if she’d left you, stuck in the same place after her death?
A. My mother was certainly a more adventurous person than I was. She brought things to my life that no one was ever able to replace. When she died, there was so much she took with her. I felt abandoned by her for a long time.

Q. Do you feel that writing this story helped you gain a sense of closure and reconciliation with your mother’s death? Or did it dredge up the emotions you’d left untouched and unfelt for so long?
A. I read a version of this story at my mother’s memorial service fifteen years ago. Her death felt like a kind of accident and so I couldn’t help but connect the two. I have been trying to tell this story ever since and it has had many iterations since then. Time has reconciled me to my mother’s death and my life has, in many ways, grown around her absence, like a knot in a tree. I write about her often as I move further into adulthood and start to see her with adult eyes. I try to understand the kind of woman she was, how I am like her, how I am different. She gave me so many gifts, ones I use every day. I would be nothing without her. Nor would I be the same person if she were still here.

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Meet the Author: Alaina Symanovich

August 3, 2015

Alaina Symanovich recently graduated from Penn State University with her master’s in English/Creative Writing. She has committed to the MFA program at Florida State University, where she will concentrate in creative nonfiction. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Fourth River, The Offbeat, Word Riot, as well as other journals. She has a book of poetry […]

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Meet the Author: Tasha Cotter

July 28, 2015

Tasha Cotter’s first full-length collection of poetry, Some Churches, was released in 2013 with Gold Wake Press. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, her work has appeared in journals such as Contrary Magazine, NANO fiction, and Booth. A graduate of the University of Kentucky and the Bluegrass Writers Studio, she lives in Lexington, Kentucky where she works in higher education. You can find her online here. […]

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Under the Gum Tree Live

July 8, 2015

So, you missed our most recent Under the Gum Tree Live reading which featured four contributors from our sixteenth issue. Well don’t worry, reader! You can still watch every minute of it here. We had fun, as did our readers, and you can too: just click play or follow this link to see the video on YouTube. […]

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