March 2000
s m u g
field recordings
by Scout Finch


Okay. I didn't expect that. Um. Where were we? Monthly magazine for GAP. How long ago was this?

LC: That was in 1989. Actually it was probably in '90. I answered the ad and I wrote the monthly magazine for GAP for a couple of years.

What were you writing?

LC: It was interesting, actually. It was a little newslettery, you know--like who got the biggest sales of that quarter or that month, or whatever-- but actually a lot of writing that I did was travelogue stuff, and stories about fashion and pop-culture trends and certain elements of fashion, like blue jeans or the white T-shirt. We were doing a lot of histories of various items of clothing, as well as process stories about how GAP leather jackets were made, or hand-knit sweaters--are they really hand-knit? Of course you can't really tell the whole story behind that--- the little sweatshops south of Market...but it was interesting to kind of explain how the things were made. It was so that the sales associates could sell the stuff better. I also did stories that were like: three cities in Canada in five days - what to see and do, where to eat, where to was fun. We'd have a conference in Canada and the whole issue that month would be about all the great neighborhoods and where to go. I did a lot of travel writing and got to go a lot of places that I wouldn't have otherwise gone, like Cincinnati.

Don't be talking smack about Ohio. SMUG is beloved in Ohio.

LC: There was a place near Cincinnati--actually, it was in Kentucky, it was just over the river in Northern Kentucky--I can't think of the name of the little town-there was this tiny little greasy spoon diner that I was in one night and I thought, "This is just the coolest place I've ever been." I think it was called the Anchor Grill. And up in the corner of the room, in the background of this grill, there was this little stage, little proscenium with curtains. It was stuffed up in the corner. And there was this little jukebox and when the music began to play, the little curtains parted and there was a band in there.

Like a little miniature band?

LC: Miniature little band playing, but wherever the men were missing, they had replaced them with Barbie Dolls. It was the coolest thing - that was my favorite thing about Cincinnati.

I read something once about some restaurant, I don't know where I read it, maybe you'll know, but there was, in the women's restroom, a statue of David with a vinyl leaf hanging over his genitals. And if you peeked, a bell rang in the dining room. And lights flashed, and then you'd have to come back out and everyone in the place would know what you did.

LC: Now, did you know that the bell was going off, or not?

Not until you walked out the door, I think. I don't know if it rang in the bathroom too-

LC: Everyone's looking at you, pointing and laughing.

Yeah, can you imagine? It's a riot. But we digress. So, you're writing this internal newsletter for GAP, and then.?

LC: I got recruited by The Nature Company. They were looking for an in-house writer and they recruited me away from GAP. I was happy to leave GAP because I had this copy boss.I don't know if she reads SMUG; she might bring me up on charges. But, suffice it to say, "WACKO!" And they hadn't fired her despite the fact that three writers had gone screaming from the building inside of three months. I was the only one who stuck it out. So when Nature Company called, I said, "Oh yes. Yes yes." Went over there, and through them I was writing packaging, which I still do a lot of. I do a lot of the text that you see on the back of your coffee can or whatever. So I was writing that kind of thing for Nature Company. Brochures and newsletters and stuff like that. My portfolio broadened immensely in the three years that I was there.

What made you decide to go freelance?

LC: I got laid off. The entire marketing department did. [Management] came in and said, "it's 9 o'clock now, do you think you could have your desks cleared out by noon?" And we said, "Uh, okay." (laughing) The axe had been swinging and body parts had been flying for months and months over there. But we never thought they'd cut the marketing department, because all that work still needed to get done. Catalogs needed to be written. After they laid me off - because it wasn't a performance issue or anything - I got the contract to do all of that stuff as a freelancer. So they became my first freelance client.

Oh that's weird. So you got a windfall.

LC: Yeah. I wrote their 1996 Christmas catalogue, I think it was. I wrote it for them from scratch. It was 100 products and I did it in about a month and I made $16,000.

So you're doing the freelance, you get the contract for Nature Company and you make a big old butt-load of money. I guess that's a good impetus to continue in the field.

LC: Yeah. And I was able to work at home, in my pajamas all day. And make more money than I'd ever made working for anybody else before. The limit on what money I can make and what kind of workload I can have is all in my control.

You write catalogs. That means that there's a picture of a teacup and you write the little caption. I'm guessing that people make the Seinfeld connection and ask if you're like Elaine.

LC: Yeah. There was an episode where she was trying to write about some kind of hiking boots and she was holding up a boot and saying, "Speak to me!" and that is often what it's like. Because I'm given a product or I see a picture of a product - sometimes I don't even see that. They give me a sheet with information about the product. But ideally I get to see the product, touch it, hold it. I have to give it back; I don't get to bring it home. So if it is a teacup, they'll tell me if it's from China, if it's hand painted, how much tea it holds. Although I have to say, sometimes the buyers don't come through with the kind of information [you need]. I'll ask them, "How many cups does this teapot hold?" and they'll say it depends on how big your cup is. (laughs)

Really? No.

LC: Oh yeah, I've absolutely had that as a written answer. It's very philosophical, I have to admit, but not very helpful.

Do you have shortcuts for the difficult jobs? Are there cop-outs?

LC: Whenever you see, "We found this at a Paris flea market and had it reproduced just for you," the writer had no fucking idea what to say about that item. It's the old Paris flea market story. Everybody uses it and there are a lot of Paris flea markets and lots of the buyers really do go and comb the markets. They find things and bring them to places and have them made. [So] that's often just what you fall back on.

You commented on the fact, before we started the interview, that you were frustrated because you're not doing any writing of your own

LC: That's really the main downside to doing what I do. It's sort of a busman's holiday - when you try to sit down and write for yourself afterwards - because I've spent all day manipulating words. And I've pulled out of my head every word that I can think of to use, and then I've applied it to something like Egyptian cotton sheets, so by the end of the day...all the words that I could use in my own writing are somehow cheapened, because they've been used to describe all kinds of things that you will buy from the Pottery Barn. So it's hard to view words the same way, and that's part of the problem. Another part of the problem is that I'm just exhausted. Creatively exhausted. My mind is going all day long. They say a good writer writes every day. Well, I'm here to tell you that's bullshit, because I write every day and my creative writing suffers for it. I think you have to moderate a little bit.

You could argue that the catalog writing is fantastic and top-rate.

LC: Ah, it could be. It certainly pays the mortgage and it's nice to be able to make my living doing something I enjoy, but in some ways I also think you shouldn't [be] what you wanted to be when you grow up, not for a living. That should stay the thing you do for fun. I have not written a poem worth a damn in years, probably five years.

Do you foresee a time when you'll give this up so that you can focus on poetry?

LC: Absolutely.

Quit writing so that you can concentrate on writing?

LC: Exactly. See how that works? It's nice and neat. [I'd like to do] something that didn't have a deadline and something [that] didn't sort of suck the life out of me so much. Because between today and two days from now, I'm going to write a hundred copy blocks. So poetry just isn't happening after that. I sit down in front of the TV and I drool. Who wants to be a millionaire? I do! I do, Regis! Poor me! Poor me! I'm making a buttload of money, poor me! If [only] I had a labor job [like] I did in high school-I wrote more poetry and was more creative after 8-10 hours in the swamp, cutting down trees, than I am after 8-10 hours of catalog writing.

Cutting trees in the swamp.

LC: Cutting trees in the swamp.

Where the hell did you go to high school?

LC: In Jersey. I was in the Youth Conservation Core. Youth Conservation Core on the East Coast is not like the Youth Conservation Core on the West Coast. I realized this [when] I moved out here and told a few people I was IN the Youth Conservation Core, and had them look at me with sheer horror. Apparently, out here it's for youth at risk - you either go to jail or you go to the Youth Conservation Core.

I think you go up in the mountains and fight fires or something.

LC: But that's not what it is back East at all. It's a thing that you volunteer for. Kids who are really into ecology and nature volunteer for this thing. I applied for it, and I actually got accepted. And this was a big shock to me. I realized that I was going to have to start lifting weights, because I weighed 98 lbs. That whole summer in the swamp was amazing. We built bridges and cut down trees and built sheds. Stood up to our waist in the swamp and cleared it of snags for the canoes. Canoes for kids in the summer camps. We would stand in the swamp and pull the big branches out. And then at lunchtime we'd go and strip out of our wet jeans and pull all the leeches off of ourselves and throw them away.


LC: The first day on the job I got 16 ticks. You get used to it. I would be out there all day just doing that manual labor. Just by myself. It was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to any kid. It really made me aware that I was strong. By the end of that summer, man, I could drive a nail; I could down a tree. I felt incredibly strong and accomplished and self-sufficient. I was building really rough-hewn outdoor kind of structures, and it made me want to do something a little bit finer. The metalworking that I do definitely touches on that.

I thought I was interviewing a writer. But instead I'm talking with the queen of arts and crafts. Metalworking?

LC: I do metalworking.

Are we talking about going out to the garage for a little spot-welding?

LC: No, I would love to do that. No, I'm a silversmith.

Meaning...? Talk to me. Talk to me about silversmithing.

LC: Silversmithing entails both fabrication and casting, which means I'm sawing and filing and soldering pieces of metal together. Bracelets and so forth; other times I'm carving them out of wax and casting them into metal. I do etching and riveting and that sort of thing.

When the hell do you find time for this?

LC: I do it every Saturday morning from 10 to 1. I've done it for about seven years now.

And what do you have to show for it?

LC: Tons of jewelry. Myself and many of my friends have tons o' jewelry.

More to the point, what do *I* have to show for it?

LC: You have nothing to show.

Well, I am waiting for my silver present.

LC: Alrighty.

You're primarily a poet, and the pieces I've seen tend toward being fairly dark. Do you ever write any fiction?

LC: No. I would love to. I'd love to write short stories. But I get about halfway through and I stall. I just don't know where to go with them. I don't really have that kind of stamina. Even my poetry is not epic. It's like 12 to 25 lines, usually. It's not epic tales of love and loss, and it's not usually character-based. It's mainly imagistic. I don't know how else to describe it. I like dark writers. I guess I could be traced back to people like Dylan Thomas, because [I'm writing] more about an image and a moment. But to say that I can be traced back to Dylan Thomas sounds really egotistical.

You could go the T.S. Eliot route, create some dark and foreboding prose. Although Eliot was definitely more character-oriented. He wasn't always strictly an imagistic kind of guy. But he has moments, turns of phrase that are brilliant.

LC: Oh, they are brilliant. His characters, and the way that his characters express themselves, are just phenomenal. I would love to try to write from a character perspective. I actually wrote one prose poem-if that's not too frightening a phrase-a prose poem from the perspective of dogs.

Always a good topic in poetry, dogs.

LC: The dark side of dogs.

in the junk drawer:

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