An Interview with Negative Capability’s Jøsh Saitz
by Jeffrey Yamaguchi
[This interview was conducted by Jeff right after I published NegCap #4. At the time, he was known for a zine called Working for the Man, which was one of the best anti-work things I'd seen since “The Abolition of Work” by Bob Black. Here he is at the second reading I ever did. I thought he was hilarious but he was not as impressed with himself. - Ed.]
I will always be an Anne Rice fan. I tore through Interview with the Vampire, and The Vampire Lestat is one of my favorite books ever. I could go right now and sit down and start reading that book and feel like I'm reading it for the first time - really feel that level of excitement. Wolfkiller... Needless to say, when I read about Anne Rice's recent comments on Amazon.com, in which she said she would not allow an editor to edit her work, I really couldn't understand. If I had her clout, I'd DEMAND the best damn editor be at my complete disposal for as long as it took to get my book as good as it could as it could be. I read The Mummy and thought it was a piece of shit. I'm not sure there was a writer, let alone an editor, guiding that book to publication. I couldn't even finish The Tale of the Body Thief, and I haven't followed anymore of the books in the Vampire Chronicles. Same thing happened with the Dune series. At some point, you just say, that one book rocked, but all this other stuff, even though I love the characters and I want to know more about them and read about more of their adventures, well, the writing just fucking sucks. So you stop. You step over the line, yes, you are a sucker for buying that one last book, but you quickly figure it out and move on to the next author. STILL. Anne Rice wrote a couple of great books. So I am and always will be an Anne Rice fan.
Anyway, I write this as I introduce the next interview with Josh Saitz, publisher of the zine Negative Capability. I've known his work for years, through the zine scene - he sent me his zine, and I (hopefully), sent him mine. I finally met him face to face at an Independent Media Conference at Yale University last year, where I gave the worst speech in my life and still have nightmares about it. Josh, on the other hand, gave a great speech. His wife got his on tape. Thankfully, there wasn't enough battery power on their camera to record mine. That was a gift. I used up some serious good luck on that one. Who knows what the trade off will be.
Indeed, this introduction, though not nearly long enough, is purposefully written - though certainly not doing it justice - in the style of Jøsh Saitz. I'd say it was Saitzian, but Christ, he's only on issue 4, and you don't get that kind of lingo associated with your name until you are on at least issue 25. He just might be an editor's worst nightmare, which was my point in rambling on about Anne Rice at the beginning of this introduction. A tangent not exactly connected to Josh Saitz, except in my mind. Let me put it this way: Saitz can go off in peculiar directions, and then go on and on. And on. And on and on. And just when you think you've figured out where he's going, he'll go on and on and on again. The magic of this is that it's a good thing. Thankfully, for us readers, Saitz has no editor, or rather, that he is his own editor. (Just like Anne Rice, but to better effect.) His writing is brutally honest, occasionally offensive, funny, and -- I almost feel like I need to apologize to the people he's written about here -- he does not hold anything back. He cuts the knife. He lets it all out, pulls back the layer under the layer, and maybe there are some restraining orders in his future - some he has to take out, and some taken out against him.
So, without further ado, here, finally, is the interview with Jøsh Saitz (edited for length, of course):
What the heck took you so long to get issue #4 of Negative Capability out?
All of my previous issues were written just after I got fired from a bad job, so I had six months to look for a new job and write, design and take pictures for a new issue. I published #3 in early 2000 after moving to San Francisco and being unemployed for 4 months. After I put it out, I spent a long time promoting it and by early 2001, I felt like I was due to take a break. A zine publisher that I used to be friends with told me that his girlfriend was very jealous of his zine and that whenever he was working on it, she would say she was a "zine widow" in the same way that wives of football fans are "football widows." I love my wife more than anything else and just saying it is not enough, I had to show her by putting her first. So 2001 was spent on my personal life, not on the zine. Then I moved back to NY right after 9/11 and I found a job almost immediately. I have had that job since then and it just takes up more and more of my time. When I was younger, it was easier to find the time to sit and write, but since I started going to the gym 5 days a week and working 9 to 6 every day, I have almost no free time. Every night from 2001-2004 I always had a choice: gym, rest, zine, wife or Grand Theft Auto. More often than not, I would choose gym or rest. When I chose the zine, I often felt guilty for neglecting my wife and then would spend many days in a row being incredibly kind to her. She always understood and she really does want me to do the zine for my own sense of fulfillment, but it's hard to be generous when the one person you want to be with would rather curse out strangers with his computer than be with you.
How do you describe this new issue? How is it different from the previous three issues?
The new issue is different from the other ones in a few ways. For one, it's massive, both physically and in terms of content. My last issue as 48 pages with a bunch of ads, a little filler and a lot of reviews. For the new one I decided that I wanted no ads, no reviews and no models but once I cut those things out, I had to fill 48 pages with original content. The last 2 issues averaged about 75,000 words each and the new one is near 100,000 words across 68 pages with no filler at all. Previous issues were all grayscale interior with color covers because that's all I could afford. The push-pull of my zine is that I have time when I have no money and in the past few years I've had money but no time. For this issue, I decided that I wanted to do certain pages in full-color, not only because they would look better but because I could afford to. I also said to myself, "If it takes me four years to do another one, and I have to look at #4 for four years, I want it to be so good that it will hold up to repeated readings and serious scrutiny."
I realize that I haven't really answered your question and in a way, that's really what the new issue is, me, just writing in a completely natural way without editing out the mental shifts and digressions that make me who I am. The new issue is really about me telling interesting stories, like meeting and befriending pornographer Al Goldstein, or detailing my hellish life at work in "Karoshi." There are also a number of short pieces that I would call humorous essays, like, “Blatant Stupidity for Dummies,” and fiction, like my story based on a night playing Grand Theft Auto. My favorite comedian, Bill Hicks, once said that he was so backed up with semen that when he finally came again, a wax dart would shoot out of his dick. This new issue is my wax dart.
What is your writing process? Your stories, and this is a compliment, seem to start off in left field and go on and on and on, not arriving at what the title has indicated the story would be about until very far along in the word count. There are also many wide-ranging digressions throughout the stories. It's as if you really feel the need - as a storyteller -- to get ALL the background in.
My writing process is basically at the whim of my brain. I've always felt like my brain was an incredibly powerful processor that I have very little control over. I submit queries and sometimes the answer has nothing to do with the question, but instead takes me in a different direction. As for the actual mechanism, I write when an idea strikes me. Most often I just get a title and an ending, or the idea festers in my head until I have both a title and an ending. For example, with the Al Goldstein piece, I start out talking about how I don't believe in God or ghosts or the spirit world. Then I admit that I find mediums like James Van Praagh very compelling and that I can't explain how they do what they do. I could very easily have started with the Learning Annex seminar with Al because logically, that's where the story starts, but very often when I am writing, I write and write trying to get myself to my first mile marker, in this case, meeting Al. Most people would then go back and cut out all the extra stuff and jump right to the story, but because I do a zine and I don't have to cut anything, I leave it in because I think my storytelling process is as interesting as the story itself. Also, my zine is my way of thumbing my nose at every editor that has cut the guts out of my work. I know my work could very well use a good editor to make it tighter and more focused, but that's not how I write and when I call the shots, I do it my way.
I definitely don't feel a need to get in every single detail, but for me, it's more of an exercise to see how much detail I can remember. To me, the biggest compliment I get as a writer is when someone who was there with me says, "Man, I wasn't even paying attention at the time, but you remember EVERYTHING! How do you do it?" And the truth is, I wish I could forget, I really do, but my brain is very sticky, once something gets in there, I can't get it out.
Your writing is also brutally honest. Most writers who put their stuff out there never get close to the level of openness you get to -- and they certainly change names, which I don't think you do. There's a fearless quality to it. How do you see it?
I don't change any names except in the new issue I used my nickname for one particular asshole but then had a sidebar with his real name. Honestly, when I am writing, I am usually really pissed off or smoking weed, so I am fearless. I mean, if I was regularly running into the people that I bash, I might be a little gentler, but since the truth is what I am always after, I have to be as honest as possible. I am taking your comment as a compliment because as I see it, everyone should be telling as much truth as they can. If you want to do a half-assed weenie thing where you don't want to offend anyone, you'll offend me. I feel tht my responsibility is to alienate everyone so that it doesn't seem like I am picking on anyone in particular. I have the balls to make fun of everyone, including myself. In the new issue, no one gets it harder than me and I deserve it.
Josh, how did you convince your wife to let you print her rants? When you went to reach for a pen and paper, did that lead to a rant in and of itself?
I ask permission after giving her an orgasm and at that point, she's willing to buy me a house and give me a kidney. I am just kidding. Normally when my wife starts ranting, I just listen and agree with her because if I do anything else, she will get pissed at me and think I'm ignoring her. After she's done, I go get pen and paper. Sometimes she screams, "YOU CAN'T USE THAT!" and then I stop writing and forget it. I have had three years to get rants out of her and this issue only had the funniest ones.
You've got a voice made for the web. Where is the Josh Saitz weblog?
I have very little free time and I am terrible at writing on a chosen topic or writing every day. I know a lot of people find it helps keep the creative pipes clean, but for me, I need a real reason to write. My friend John Sellers does a blog called Angry John Sellers that starts out with, "Why I'm Angry Today..." and some days it's just "bellybutton lint." Now I really like John, but does anyone really care that he's angry about bellybutton lint? My zine is insanely dense and multi-layered. It holds up to repeated readings and different interpretations. Blogs are exactly what they seem to be: unedited, unstructured diary entries and random observations. That's just not my thing.
What is the status of zines these days? Factsheet 5 has yet to be revived. And of course, many traditional zine publishers have photocopied their last pages and have instead turned to the ease and instantaneous nature of the blog?
I am not an expert on zines by any stretch of the imagination. Most people in zines hate my guts because I rag on them and spend lots of time goofing on how bad they are. Just like you can say that the majority of the earth is covered with water, the majority of zines are about punks and punk music. There are plenty of great little personal zines out there, like Fish with Legs and Hitch, but zines have been dwindling in recent years. The reasons are various: many distros have gone under and took the zines with them, many zine publishers have gotten older and decided to pursue legitimate careers, many keep on hammering away at the same tired ideas and others do what you suggest, migrate their content to the web. To me, there's no substitute for a paper zine because you can read it in the bathroom, on a plane, on the bus or at the gym. Blogs seem like wisps of cotton candy, they may taste sweet, but there's no substance behind it. Besides which, very few people like any blog enough to print it out and save the writing. A lot of people who read zines keep them, collect them and savor them because they hold more meaning than a blog ever could.
Full color, glossy paper. All the writing, editing, photoshopping the stuffing of envelopes. It's a huge investment, both creatively and financially, not to mention all the time you put into it. What drives you to publish?
That's the $64,000 question, isn't it? I can only speak for me. I love to write. When I was in college I had to do a major project, which was to write a book. The writing was easy, but making a book seemed like it was beyond my reach. Every time I've asked someone else to help with a project, I end up losing the friend and not finishing the project, so rather than get help, I got smart. I learned how to use Pagemaker from my friend Al, I learned how to make books from a friend in the print shop, I read a book about binding, gluing and page imposition and I made 4 copies of my book. It was called Path o(f) Logic and I kept 2, turned in one and gave one copy to my best friend. Once I had that book in my hand, the results of months of work, I felt like I could do anything that I wanted, that I had finally reached the point where I didn't have to rely on anyone else to get things done. That's what I love about the zine
I used to be really afraid of dying and not having any writing to show for it. I have always considered myself a writer first and I learned graphic design, photography, editing and the rest, all so I could get my writing out there. When I am close to finishing an issue, I get little panic attacks that I will die and it will come out unfinished, or worse, not come out at all. That fear motivates me to do a better job and make a new issue. Then I wait weeks and weeks for anyone to say anything to me about it. I feel like the zine is a transcript of all the conversations that I have with myself in my head and when I let it loose, I feel like it's my way of bringing up those topics. When someone says, "Man, your old boss was a dick!" or "How the hell did you meet Ron Jeremy?" I say, let me tell you a little story.
What zine/book/writer/publisher has most influenced your own writing/publishing efforts?
Each issue is influenced by something new. My first was influenced mostly by XYY (a long-defunct zine by John Kelly), Answer Me! and the writing of Bob Black. My second was influenced by Will Self, Neil Gaiman, Bill Hicks (a comedian) and a lot of musicians. My third issue was influenced by Bill Hicks again, as well as a lot of music I was listening to at the time. The new issue is influenced by Eminem and New York City, my home, as well as everything I've read and seen in the last few years. I read a lot and enjoy a lot but I am really my own influence. I am evolving as a writer and part of that evolution means adopting other methods and approaches to make something new every time.
Web Bonus Info:This piece was originally published on www.bookmouth.com, Jeffrey Yamaguchi’s web site about all kinds of interesting intellectual things, but it seems to be out of business. Good thing I saved it! I would highly recommend you NOT go to that site, Jeffrey let the domain lapse and now it's infested with internet cancer.
Jeffrey and I both debuted our spoken word skills at an event the year before organized by my friend Michelle Chen at Yale’s Alternative Media Center. We really hit it off so when my friend Ned Vizzini invited me to read at his series at a bar called Barbes in Brooklyn, I agreed and said I would love it if my friend Jeffrey could also read. I was nervous that I was going to go too long, or, knowing myself, read too fast to get through all the words, so I took a hatchet to my work to make it as lean and tight as possible. I ended up reading excerpts from three different pieces and I got a lot of laughs. I brought my oldest son even though he wasn't even a year old yet. As I was leaving the stage, a friend in the audience said, “That was so funny! Let me get a picture!” I smiled and here's the picture of me, beaming after my second successful reading. You can see my best friend Peter right behind me and there was no sweeter sound than his authentic laughter. I have done a lot of readings since then but if I want to do a reading again, I feel like I need to write someone new that's worth reading out loud.