I met Caits Meissner when we went to Ghana for the first year of the Pan African Literary Forum in 2008. Caits won a scholarship to attend for her phenomenal poetry and I was hankering to go to Africa and use up some bonus money. We were both there for the ambiance and the guidance of a great roster of instructors and authors, and we enjoyed our time immensely.
I have kept in touch with a handful of people from PALF and am certainly glad that Caits is one of them. She's a teacher, artist (in various genres), and gentile soul who's work will simultaneously inspire and astound you. I've heard her live and heard her audio and seen her graphic work and am consistently blown away. (Definitely check out her website(s) and follow her for upcoming gigs.) I was glad she offered to do an interview for her friends with blogs and she has inspired me to do a rotation of interviews with friends who are artists in their own right and want to spread the word about themselves.
JBH: As an artist, how do you deal with the constant changes in media and social networking? Do you feel face-to-face is dead or as a spoken word poet do you feel you get to engage in meeting people more through performances than perhaps fiction writers and non-fiction writers and so on and so forth?
Caits: What a relevant question! My students, sometimes, when you ask them what their interests are say, "the internet," or "facebook." This fact frightens me, but I am not immune to it. I find myself "plugged in" too often and it accounts for a lot of disconnection in my own heart, despite the facade of intimacy. Its also a great way to be heard, so, like all things in this great life, its a balance. Unfortunately, I have never been much good at balance. I have a plugged in community, so I keep fairly up-to-date with the latest tech invention but its overwhelming. And exhausting. And I find myself less able to focus and lose myself in my art the way I was able to as a kid, with parent-limited 'net access, and a slower than syrup dial up connection. These days, I write a little, check my phone, write a little, check a blog, constantly checking in. Who wants to troll the internet for accolades and mentions constantly? Who wants to pump themselves to their friends and supporters over and over? The trick is detachment from an already detached networking system, and its a sincere practice in this day and age.
The good thing is, as a performer, I do feel connected to the larger world in a very tangible way, being on a stage. There is a direct contact: a handshake, a wink, a hug. But there is something very special, I still think, about being behind a pen and paper. You maintain a certain old-world mystery. I say embrace that. I waffle between wanting two very sharp distinctive worlds: being known and celebrated, and hiding, running away.
Caits: I struggle with this question, deeply. There are moments in the past when I would have loved to answer this question, ranting and raving and grinning. It defined me. These days, I am more acutely aware of what hard work being in front of a classroom is. How much energy you must give to the young faces in front of you. How unkind they can be and you take home the day like an old coat and dust it off, patch up the holes, put it back on and walk back into the wind. I shared this sentiment with a close friend, also a teaching artist, who said, "the amazing thing is, even when you aren't trying, young people are the center of your world when you teach, even if you teach part time, and there is a beauty in that." I agree.
Teaching becomes the center of my life, whether or not I wish my focus was more on myself, my love, my art. Teenagers demand a certain level of patience and attention and it becomes a very real meditation. Sometimes you wait weeks for a breakthrough, but when it happens, nothing is sweeter. The students I teach, for the most part, are not artists by their own definition. They find it difficult to be free in their expression and are afraid to create "wrong." Teaching reminds me there is no wrong. What a victory it can be to pull the creativity out.
Caits: I love this question! I am pretty good at sharing how much I love someone's art with them and I am blessed to have crossed paths with many of my old and new favorites. Of course, there are some that I just haven't... met, or written to, or expressed to. My friend Dionne Lee (look up her photos! Wowee.) has been writing to her favorite artists and getting amazing responses! She has been urging us to write to our influences and give them our love. I'm going to choose two women I'd love to gush to. Let me get to tell them now:
Dear Ani Difranco,
You saved me at thirteen. Seriously. In every way. Let me open for you.
Dear Miranda July,
You remind me I can make all the art I wanna, in all kinds of ways. Thank you for expanding the boundaries of what my heart believed was possible for an artist. Thanks for destroying the box.
Caits: Of course! I have a big, baaaaddd website at http://www.caitsmeissner.com and I keep a daily blog at http://caitsmeissner.tumblr.com I tweet sometimes, too: http://www.twitter.com/caitsmeissner
Thanks, Caits for tackling these questions and for sharing your work, your kindness, and influences!