All Romance Is Love But Not All Love Is Romance: An Interview with Shy Watson
I’m constantly getting to know myself. It’s constant because in each situation I’m adapting, becoming someone new. Cheap Yellow by Shy Watson is about this kind of growth. Poems in the debut book by the Brooklyn poet and artist explore a style of communication that we have with ourselves when we connect with other people. There are certain things we just know and then there are the things that other people bring out in us. For example I know my favorite color is yellow but there was a long time that I didn’t know who I am when I’m in love.
CATCH BUSINESS: What made you want to construct the book around the color yellow?
SHY WATSON: I was on sitting on the cat-hair-covered couch of my first New York apartment last September and I was very high, texting some dude I’d met on Tinder. I don’t know why it came to me then but it did. I think the title may have come first, not totally sure, but I just thot “YELLOWS!” & then I grabbed my laptop and googled “shades of yellow.” Unfortunately, the shades had esoteric names like “Flax Color Hex #EEDC82“ and I knew no one would be able to relate to this. Thus began my search for relatable yellows like “Miller High Life” and “Stars on a Wizard Hat” !
CB: What emotion does the color yellow evoke for you?
SW: Yellow is usually a sleepy color for me. My parents’ room was painted a pale yellow as well as the exterior of our house (with green shutters I shit you not because my stepdad liked John Deere). It reminds me of being home alone, bored in the summertime. Watching DirectTV and calling friends on the phone. It doesn’t really have a happy association for me as seems to be its reputation. I think yellow is a little boring. Like a small town.
CB: I can tell aesthetics influence your writing whether it’s curating personal aesthetic or interacting with others’ aesthetics. Some poems read as responses to another’s aesthetics and some poems seem to have more to do with aesthetics co-created with others. It makes me wonder if our personalities have aesthetics?
SW: Yes! I love it!!!
CB: Each relationship then has an aesthetic as well, which is so cute! Similar to responding to other aesthetics, Cheap Yellow seems to detail the energy you create with others. Not only interactions with others but also with each moment. The movement of your poetry reflects the action that’s taken in order to create a result. The action and result seem to collaborate with each other to create a kind of art, the art of living. Do our actions create art? What kind of art? Or are we the art and life creates us?
SW: Damn, Catch. My gut response is “Our actions create it!” but some people have a harder time acting, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s internal and sometimes the external shuts you down. I guess life is a bit like a theater that never ends. I mean, our actions affect people and so does art. Both can make people cry and feel inspired. Wow, how many surfaces our lives have, like painting on a fucking rhombicosidodecahedron. I think the art is mostly good, effectual, something. I think it’s best when it isn’t being thot about. Twenty-one year olds in Florida wearing FoxRacing tank tops, children making sandcastles at the beach, their sunblock not rubbed in. Sometimes self-aware “artists” are boring.
CB: The best art is totally the art that happens authentically. I think your poems seem to capture that beauty. Your writing does evoke a sense of self-awareness but in a way that accepts wherever you’re at – not in a way that uses the sense to force things. The poems in Cheap Yellow insist on a certain malleability, which becomes a form of entertainment. This style seems to be inspired by being conscious of the constant surprise that life is. The line “then watched myself/like a voyeur” from ’s/o to ja rule’ meant more to me than just the ability we have to do this with technology. Is every experience a chance to do this, to watch ourselves? Are you more interested in watching yourself or other people? Are you more interested in other people’s actions or your reaction?
SW: I surprise myself often, but I wouldn’t say that I am ever *floored* by my actions as I sometimes am with those of other people. I can’t imagine myself jumping out of my car after nearly being clipped and beating on my offender’s hood. Also can’t imagine yelling “I’M WALKIN’ HERE” in a serious manner. Or being on the subway, high on crack, drawing chaotic spirals into a tattered notebook. So I guess other people’s actions interest me more. All you have to do is go outside if you live in a city and it’s everywhere. I’m definitely a practitioner of platonic voyeurism. But I’m also an exhibitionist.
CB: I think you don’t even have to be in a city or ever go outside if you really didn’t want to because we have the ability to watch others and be aware of others watching us with social media. Social media is a tool for connection but also expression and entertainment are the basis of that connection. There’s maybe so much of that focus on the art that it takes away from allowing the artist to even connect with others, or possibly we become the entertainment ourselves. In the poem PARK SLOPE you write, ‘the joy of seclusion / outweighs the need / for understanding – moreover the illusion / as demonstrated by / the impossibility of genuine human / connection – / strangers knowing / me as well as / my best friend’. Can we express ourselves completely online? Is how we’re seen by others in real life any more authentic than online? What is authenticity to you?
SW: You know, a lot of people who have met me IRL post internet-familiarization have told me that I am exactly the same IRL as I am online. That comforts me, and I believe it to be true. But I’ve also been told that I’m more serious IRL, more put-together. Not everyone is good at expressing themselves thru digital mediums. Some people I’ve met IRL and have been like, “But online you seem so wild!” or “But online you seem so anxious!” Perhaps these people are wild or anxious, depending on the situations. Maybe they’re anxious and good at not showing it! In that case, I would say that their authentic self is more better-expressed online. Sometimes we are good at hiding things IRL. Sometimes we exaggerate our traits online to build a kind of “brand.” I think it depends on the person and the part of them that they’re exposing or not exposing. Authenticity to me is just being genuine. Also not being withholding. I really think you gotta be honest with yourself to be authentic. Gotta get rid of any illusions, have some real tough love for yourself and for your friends. I mean, I call myself a scumbag all the time.
CB: That reminds me of the lines also from PARK SLOPE that read ‘i dont have a therapist / should i buy one / or should i buy / studio space / ill make a twitter poll / about it’. The internet gives us another space or opportunity to explore expressing ourselves and interacting. Does technology affect the way you interact with life? Does it affect the way you write/your art?
SW: Yes. To be honest, I don’t really remember existing without the influence of technology, let alone my creative process at such early years. But I do know that technology affects my life, a lot. I mean, I always have my headphones in. I’m always checking out my Discover Weekly playlist and downloading albums of the songs I like. I text probably, on average, 10 people per day. I can’t imagine 10 people would call me per day if I had a landline. I watch people’s instagram stories, get to exhibit my own life thru my own. I think the simplest way to put it is: there’s more input. There’s also more voyeurism and exhibitionism, of course, due to the available mediums. It’s great. Like the old adage goes, “More input, more output!” I don’t know. Seems good. I’m a fan.
On the literal level, it affects the way I write because I type most things into my laptop or into my notes app. Unlike with pen and paper, one can just keep changing line breaks, deleting and adding words, etc. I think it’s more convenient, and I think it makes it easier to play around with writing. I think technology creates more opportunity.
CB: Does writing allow us to change our experiences? For example, does writing a poem about feeling bad make you feel better?
SW: I think this is true insomuch as therapy makes one feel better. For me it’s just therapeutic to get experiences out of my mind and onto paper. Sometimes the shift of perspective “helps,” like reading the experience as an outsider, on the page instead of in my mind. In my mind everything is so circular, cyclical, but pushing through and writing out a narrative really forces linearity; it almost has to come to a conclusion that way.
CB: You went to two different schools for creative writing, right? Do you feel like working with a variety of instructors has influenced your writing style?
SW: I went to Drexel University for my first year of college, but there I was studying Product Design. I did take a couple of writing classes, tho. I had an instructor there, Genevieve, who made me read Virginia Woolf for my first time. She got us to read “The Mark on the Wall” and then we had to write our own stream-of-consciousness piece. I remember thinking that mine was really good! I was proud of it, and I think each time I’m reminded of how I can make myself proud with writing, I do it more. My high school creative writing teacher, Sarah Keeth, was also great and encouraging. But Naropa, where I transferred to my sophomore year, was different from anything else. There really is a variety of professors on faculty there. It was cool to take classes under the instruction of young, hip, alluring women like Sara Veglahn and Ella Longpre (who, by the way, is my pressmate!!!). They have such good taste in books and I think what one is reading or has read hugely influences his or her writing. And Bhanu Kapil! She had the weirdest approach to writing and everything she said in class felt like she was casting a spell. Junior Burke taught me to avoid and despise adverbs and to cut, cut, cut my writing down. I mean, yes. Working with a variety of instructors largely influenced my writing style. I could go on and on about each instructor and in what way, but I will spare you those details.
CB: The way you describe each instructor’s relationship to their craft makes me think about how we develop our individuality as artists. Do we become what we want to be thru self expression, or does expressing ourselves show us who we are?
SW: Both! If what you want to become is an artist, you’re gonna have to do some self-expressing. And once you do that, you see yourself in a new light. I have a compulsion to externalize my thoughts, to write out and record my experiences. It’s like I can remember so clearly the things that have happened to me, but when I write them down I can look at what I’ve written and be like “Oh, I guess these are the details that are most important to me.” Just yesterday I wrote a journal entry about my experience at a fishnet party and the details I recorded were a bit of a surprise to myself. “Taking sips of Pierre’s vodka redbull, the man in the latex suit who kept meowing at me and making me feel his biceps, dancing with a girl who looked virginal.” I don’t know if my self-expression shows me who I am, but it definitely shows me what I am interested in.
CB: What do you want your art to expose?
SW: Honestly? Myself.
CB: In poems like PARK SLOPE you seem to dissolve the idea you have to be a certain way to be accepted or successful. The lines ‘cant tell where my / clout lies / probably dont have any / it isnt a matter of time / but a matter of memory’ read as a reminder that how you are remembered is how other people will see you, but it also reminds me that is how you will see yourself. I think if you’re enjoying yourself then you can’t help but create an enjoyable experience for others too. This seems like it would be a positive quality in nyc. What was your experience moving to Brooklyn like?
SW: I’ve felt like I am drunk, speeding in a car with flame stickers on the side down a highway ever since I’ve moved here. It’s fast, and there’s so much happening. Seems like the only place I won’t ever get bored.
CB: It seems like a place people can have so many new experiences. I think your writing captures the unique tone of each of those opportunities. With use of emotional, metaphorical and physical detail as well as varying forms and styles you cleverly reconstruct the contrasting intricacies between relationships, whether it’s with other people or your environment. The way your art spreads out like this, as tho embracing everything, inspires the acceptance of whatever comes your way even if it’s a kind of disappointment. In PARK SLOPE you write, ‘eventually you know people / too well to feel / that you’re in love / like milk i sour / dont get it back again / saying i love you / but not meaning / what it could’. Is there a difference between friendship and love? Can you feel intimate with someone you don’t like or love?
SW: I don’t think friendship and love are mutually exclusive. I love a lot of my friends. But I know what you mean. I would say that, with friends, it’s more of a general tenderness. My closest friend is also my roommate, Alex. I love him, but I’m not *in love with him* (tho I thot I was for a while!). I steal his candy and smoke his weed and crawl into bed with him when I feel lonely. I always feel soft toward him, though I’ve been miffed by his actions in the past of course, as he has been with mine.
I haven’t been *in love* since 2015. I’ve dated a lot of people who I didn’t like as much as I wanted to. Like, people who I found to be kind of boring or uninspired. I think the biggest love-blocker for me is when someone doesn’t make me laugh. My best relationships were spent always laughing. But I’ve gotten intimate with the unfunny people, maybe because they liked me so much or found me funny enough to make me feel good, even if I wasn’t laughing at the things they did or said. I don’t know, I’ve gotten to a place of comfort with people who I wasn’t actually crazy about. Maybe if I kid myself until I get to that comfort level, I can quit kidding myself and still enjoy the intimacy that we have worked up to. It’s like building a bland condo instead of moving into a beautiful, old Victorian; it takes a lot of effort but once you’re moved in, you can still sleep in it. Even if the dreams are boring and sterile, you can still sleep.
CB: Are all relationships, even ‘healthy’ ones, dramatic?
SW: Not to get too dark, but I sometimes feel as though I’ve never had a “healthy” relationship. I mean, I’ve had healthy bits, usually the first 6 months or so, but then the little issues start to add up and build this little toxic sludge ball. I would say that the healthy parts of past relationships have been very fun-oriented for me, lots of laughing, lots of sex, etc., but that once one person falls out a bit, the other becomes more attached, and an imbalance occurs. I think that once the scale tilts, it’s kind of all downhill from there unless it reaches equilibrium again. I don’t know that drama even has to occur for that to happen; small things turn people off to one another, but I do think that the result, the imbalance, leads to insecurities, fights, etc., which ultimately add more to the shifting of the scales, the toxic sludge ball. My favorite past relationship was shared with this boy Jon when I was 18-19, and when I texted him years later about how wonderful and pure it was he was like, “Um yeah it was great but you cheated on me with your high school ex.” I didn’t even remember doing that. I think that nostalgia certainly clouds memory and it’s hard to even evaluate something as “healthy” or “unhealthy” after it’s occurred and often while it is occurring too, due to denial.
CB: The poem ‘phelps grove’ reminds me of this way which we influence another’s feelings with our own and vice versa, the way love or romance create a cyclical pattern. But I know I prefer to cycle of love. What do you think is the difference between love and romance?
SW: All romance is love but not all love is romance.