Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Proust Questionnaire: James Stelzer

James Stelzer is a writer and a vocalist who hails from a suburban British town that isn’t quite London. Outsider art fills him with hope (and some other emotions that are weird and deeply confusing). He has recent and upcoming work appearing in Expat Press, Soft Cartel, Misery Tourism, and loads of other cool places. He is also a Prose Reader for Random Sample Review. You should follow him on Twitter at @ABadIdeaMachine

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A life filled with peace, safety, and love (human and animal), punctuated by the regular of artistic creation.

2. What is your greatest fear?

Sudden, intense, inescapable physical pain.

Broken bones, eye-gouging, heart attacks.

That, and dying mediocre.

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I hold very, very deep grudges.

If I feel slighted, no matter how justly, I’ll often try to take it to the grave.

It’s not an attractive feature, and it has brought much sorrow to my life.

I used to be an unrepentant contrarian too, but then I grew up.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

The human instinct to form mobs against the ‘other’ of the day.

I hate that shit, and I hate that I’ve allowed myself to be drawn into them a handful of times.

5. Which living person do you most admire?

Patrick Kindlon (Self Defense Family / Drug Church / comics / podcasts / fucking everything)

He is the strangest, most prolifically fun motherfucker around.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?

I will celebrate my birthday for like a full month if given the chance.

7. What is your current state of mind?

Feeling good about how I’ve spent the first few months of 2020. I started a well-paid new job that I was totally unqualified for in January, which seems to be going pretty well. I’ve been reading more than ever, tearing through video games as if my thumbs are soon to fall off forever, and I’m finally getting into a good swing with my writing – after thinking about (but not really doing) it for almost two years. Hopefully the Rona won’t fuck it all up now.

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

I can’t hear the phrase ‘speak truth to power’ without retching because it can be spun by almost anyone to mean almost anything. People whose whole personality revolves around ‘speaking truth to power’ tend to just be wildly unlikable.

9. On what occasion do you lie?

Sometimes when I’m out for dinner I’ll spend a little extra time when I’m done in the bathroom scrolling to take a break from all the social interaction – does that count?

10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

My bottom teeth are absolutely fucked. I got braces when I was like 13 and for some reason I didn’t wear the retainers and now I have fucked teeth forever. That stereotype about British people having bad teeth? Absolutely spot on. I’d probably rather just dentures at this point to be honest.

11. Which living person do you most despise?

For the last 18 months or so I’ve been very keen to leave the majority of my beef in the past. I have a host of bitter enemies, and clinging on to the dull hatred I had for them didn’t make me happier or more productive, so why bother? If you’re reading this and I despise you, fuck it – consider this an olive branch. I’m sorry.

12. What is the quality you most like in a man?

Men with a proclivity for pushing aside their primitive compulsion for aggression and conflict usually win me over. If we’re at a gathering and I see you making snide remarks or looking at me funny the whole time, we’re not going to get along; if you come over with a spare beer and a smile, we’ll probably be friends for life.

13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

In my experience, women tend to be more loyal to themselves and the people they love - even when things are tough - than men are. That’s pretty dope.

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?


15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My girlfriend, Maisie, is fucking great. We’ve been together for almost a year and a half and our lives together just keep getting easier. Having a companion really is lovely. Also, art. I started trying to make music about eight years ago and I’m finally getting pretty good at it. Same with writing – I was in a long period of stasis until around six months ago, where I just couldn’t bring myself to fucking finish anything. I feel like I’ve broken past that now.

16. When and where were you happiest?

I’m always happiest in the sun. I absolutely despise winter, it destroys me physically and mentally. So between April and September I feel like a completely different person. Letting my girlfriend put weird little tattoos in my skin is fun too. So is trying new versions of vegan junk food. Oh, also the dopamine hit I get when an art project I’m working on is going well is dope too.

17. Which talent would you most like to have?

I wish I could play guitar. I’ve tried to pick it up so many times, but I need structure, routine, and a good teacher to learn stuff like that. It’s never too late though. Hopefully when I have some savings I’ll buy another one and commit to some lessons (because every time I try to teach myself I give up after two weeks)

18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I was a very late bloomer. I’m nearly twenty-six and I’ve only just found myself on the right path. I wasted a lot of time getting here that I wish I could get back. I wasted a lot of time on being vaguely angry at everyone I met. I hope I don’t die young.

19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My old screamo band played at Miss the Stars Fest in Berlin in 2016, and then played a week-long European tour that summer. A few of those shows were absolutely rammed, a few of the shows were empty, but I booked the whole thing myself, and the pride it generated in me will never leave me. Also, finishing University.

20. If you were to die and come back as a person 
or a thing, what would it be?

I would come back at the child of somebody very rich. I would be reborn again in 1994 (my actual birth year) so that I could re-experience / make the most of the rise of the internet while still missing out on the most catastrophic effects of climate change that future generations are doomed to experience.

21. Where would you most like to live?

A cheap, vibrant Eastern European city. My girlfriend and I went to Krakow and Budapest last year and both were stunning. I went to Linz in 2016 and that was also lovely. So somewhere like that. I like Berlin too, but really it’s probably too expensive at this stage of my life.

22. What is your most treasured possession?

My degree. An unbearably painful family event brought my latent mental illness to the forefront of my life, I had to retake a year, I worked nights at a cinema while I was studying to pay my way, and my Mum got and beat cancer. I spent at least 80% that time period wishing that I could just drop dead. That shit took so much time, money, and mental strain that I still can’t believe I finished it. The process helped me mine out the diamond in me. I am dying to go back for a Master’s when I can.

23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

I’ve been there multiple times and I’m not going back. I’m leaving that shit in my early twenties. The depth of misery is buried in the earth of the past.

24. What is your favorite occupation?

Recording music with my friends, hanging out with my girlfriend, playing cute little Metroidvanias on my Switch, writing stories and poems that remind me of Futurama.

25. What is your most marked characteristic?

I am both lanky and clumsy – a deadly combination.

26. What do you most value in your friends?

The ability to cut through all of life’s bullshit and just enjoy yourself. Some of my favorite friends are the ones I have next to nothing in common with because we don’t get stuck on any of the petty shit life throws at us – we just have a laugh.

27. Who are your favorite writers?

Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut - duh! Douglas Coupland too.

In terms of indie literature, I’m still very new to this world. However, I’ve been really enjoying pretty much all the work posted on Misery Tourism since I discovered the site in December. William (the editor) has a great eye for dark shit, and for me the site is thematically perfect – right down to the MS Paint art accompanying every piece. Will wrote a stupid listicle for the site called ‘5 Places I See Every Day (Where I Would Love To Hang Myself)’ with photos and everything, and reading that sold me instantly on the site.

Also, I’ve been really enjoying the work put out by Expat Press recently, and have particularly enjoyed the Plague Readings that they’ve been hosting during the Corona panic. That whole set up is really nice, and everyone who’s participated in them is an excellent writer and an excellent person.

28. Who is your hero of fiction?

I tried to answer this but I can’t. Most of the characters I resonate with aren’t really heroes at all. That’s not a great sign, is it?

29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?


30. Who are your heroes in real life?

My grandad. Sadly, he died when I was thirteen, just when I was on the cusp of being able to know him in any real, adult sense of the world. He grew up in Nazi Germany, and was captured as a prisoner of war by the Americans when he was like, 17, before being shipped to England. I have so many questions that he’ll never be able to answer. He was always so good to me though. I love and miss him dearly.

31. What are your favorite names?

Kurt. Amelia. RoboCop.

32. What is it that you most dislike?

Hysteria and purposeful cruelty.

33. What is your greatest regret?

Allowing my hatred of the world to rule my late teens and early twenties. I wish I’d known better. I also wish I’d known to avoid many of the people that my gut told me to be wary of, who later came back to haunt me because I ignored the red flags.

34. How would you like to die?

Peacefully, in my sleep, unbeknownst to me.

35. What is your motto?

Do For Self.

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