Tiffany Vakilian: How did you find yourself as a budding artist writing stories, poems, etc. (what are your artistic outlets)?
Kristy Webster: I was a very quiet, withdrawn and lonesome child. The only thing I ever found myself getting in trouble for at school or home was daydreaming. Everything starts out as a reflection of an image, a sound, a scent and once it goes through the process of thought, it becomes a wanting to create or express. I remember writing my first “book” at the age of seven. I even wrote an “about the author” where I wrote that I wanted to be an artist and a writer and own a farm. Throughout my adolescence I wrote mostly poetry and did lots of drawing. In the seventh grade I wrote a little novella in a clothbound journal that circulated throughout the school. I was painfully shy and didn’t have many friends. Writing and drawing were a safe way for me to express myself and creating something out of the void created by loneliness felt cathartic. In my early twenties after having my second child I found myself wanting to return to those outlets in a very feverish way. It wasn’t until I was twenty-five, divorced with a two year old and a five year old that I finally started college and became an avid reader.
TV: Where is your ultimate artistic passion at this point?
KW: I find myself writing lots of short non-fiction pieces and poetry as of late. But that’s really beside the point. I guess I would say that my passion at the moment is owning my shame, my regrets and vulnerability. I have found that when you write about and expose some of your deepest regrets and moments of shame, the very personal becomes ultimately quite universal. For so long I skimmed the surface or used abstractions. But I just turned forty and something clicked. We spend so much time and effort hiding the parts of us that seem unlovable, unattractive, or even unnatural. Yet, when we offer up these bits and pieces to the world it is amazing how many other human beings see themselves in those flawed moments, in those embarrassing and regrettable stories. So that is my passion at this point. It is revealing the painfully personal in a way that it will hopefully feel deeply universal and relatable.
TV: Balancing such a taxing income stream must affect your ability to produce art with regularity and authenticity – How do you (or how did you) come to the decision to make art as a living?
KW: Well, I don’t make a living from art-making at this point and I’m not sure how much of a choice it is to pursue art making as it is an irrepressible urge. I was born to a very destitute family and have lived in poverty most of my life. I am a divorced, single parent trying to support myself and my two sons. Poverty and a lack of resources has actually informed if not inspired a great deal of my work. I also find myself drawn to literature about disenfranchised and impoverished people because I can relate to it. I can’t imagine living through some of the difficult times in my life without art, and without creative outlets. I really believe that art saves lives. We don’t have to experience commercial success for our art making to lift us up. What is transformative is the act of creating and the moment something shifts from a thought or idea to something tangible you can share with the rest of the world. As far as making time, I had to get over the idea of dedicating several hours at a time to writing and I had to start taking advantage of minutes here and minutes there, throughout my day. I write every single day, even if it just a paragraph or a sentence, or an email to a friend. I have learned to lower my standards when I sit down to write, and rid myself of the critical voices that can hinder my efforts. I don’t strive for perfection in the moment, I just start writing, following a string of images and sensations. Maybe it will become something worth sharing and maybe it won’t. The point is that I’m exercising that creative muscle and keeping with the habit.
TV: Do you manage to have free time? What do you do when you find you have time available?
KW: I am very lucky to work full-time as a bookseller and instructor at a very special bookstore in Port Townsend that is also a writer’s workshop. I’m fortunate to work among books and writers. So even though I don’t have much free time, the type of environment where I work is constantly informing me and educating me. I’m surrounded by teachers: my customers who are voracious readers, local writers, and the owners of the store who are both writers and instructors, provide a steady stream of literary inspiration. I’m very much an introvert, and luckily, so are my two sons. Both my boys are also writers so we have lots in common. Whenever I have a day off, I try to balance it between reading and writing and spending quality time with my sons. I don’t have much time for socializing beyond that these days, but when I can, I love hanging out with friends who make me laugh and who I can be silly and crazy with. I have a really goofy side that isn’t usually present in my writing. I need to address that at some point.
TV: How did you start your artistic journey? Were you born to this or did it occur later? When did you know you wanted to become an artist/cantadora?
KW: Like I mentioned earlier, I felt the urge and the longing to create from a very young age. What started out as daydreaming and imagining turned into me wanting to create as a way to process my thoughts and my emotions. When I finally started college at the age of twenty-five, I was lucky to have a professor who encouraged me to pursue writing. His advice was that I needed to read voraciously and have humility. This has always stuck with me. But initially I started out more interested in visual art than written work. I think it’s because as a child I struggled with reading and writing in English since I learned to read in Spanish first. But as I continued to draw, I found more and more that I was using images to tell a story, I found a narrative thread running through my images and that made me pursue writing.
TV: How did Clarissa Pinkola Estes influence your work?
KW: It’s been many years since I read Women Who Run With Wolves. But I remember how I kept seeing the book on the bookshelves of women I admire, love and respect. Here’s a quote from her book I should paint on my wall: “I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”
TV: Transformative Language Arts is defined as using spoken, written, sung, embodied, or visualized word art to facilitate social change – have you even considered this as a way of using your art?
KW: Oh yes, definitely. I find I’m a little more successful when I use poetry or fiction to address a social matter rather than tackling it head on with non-fiction or journalistic writing. Several of my short stories, even if they are told as magical realism, highlight various social/personal/women’s issues including: domestic disenchantment, reproductive choices, as well as the backlash within women’s expected, traditional roles—marriage and motherhood and mother as artist. I have also written about same sex attraction and gender fluidity, about poverty, and the impoverished.
TV: Who were/are you writing to, for?
KW: It changes depending on what I am working on. I strive to be unfiltered and authentic and hope that by being genuine what I write will resonate with a reader or two. I often do think of my dear friend, a very talented poet named Eleanor Steinhagen. She’s one of those writers whose grocery list will read like a sonnet. Everything she touches becomes art. Absolutely everything about her; how she speaks, how she loves, how she interacts with the world is an act of art-making and breathing poetry. She’s my favorite person to send work in progress to because I know she will not only be honest, but she will put her entire hearty and soul into her feedback and commentary. She’s incapable of being superficial. She really cares and she’s a very careful reader and responder. I love that. I think I also write for readers who like to be surprised with some element of darkness or taboo that is relatable rather than alienating or too heavy handed.
TV: Which poem/story/piece was your first to create?
KW: I wrote my first stories when I was only seven, but I’m guessing you’re asking about that first “breakthrough” experience. I was in my early twenties, married with two beautiful boys. I took a creative writing class, my first one, and for the first several classes I wrote stories for children. I wrote a piece based on a story my father told me from his childhood, a heartbreaking story about him spending all day building a coop for a little chick, Lone Chick, he called him, just to have the little chick die by the time he was finished. I think that was an important storytelling moment for me, even though it wasn’t well received by the instructor. A few weeks later I brought a darker, and much more personal piece in to be workshopped that was about my then marriage and my unhappiness with my role as a wife, how deeply it contrasted with my unbelievable joy at being a mother. I think that was a jumping off point for me, learning how to go from the merely confessional to the revelatory. I’ve been trying to improve and hone in on the target of each piece I write more efficiently ever since.
TV: Where’s Waldo?
KW: Hiding in Mona Lisa’s smile, I imagine.
TV: In some of your poetry, you convey the worthof the lover and the feminine. Where does that come from?
KW: The first thing that came to my mind when I read this was Marge Piercy’s collection of poetry, The Moon is Always Female. Being a woman, being a daughter, becoming a mother, having been a wife, all these roles have informed my writing, just as a constant loneliness has. The way my mother, a Colombian immigrant, spoke of and honored her culture has been a huge influence in my life. My mother’s stories seemed to always have one foot in the real world and another in the ethereal. I supposed because I was far closer to my mother than my father, the Feminine reigns in my creative life. It’s not so much intentional as it is just integral to how and why I became a writer.
TV: Where does your inspiration come from?
KW: Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.” This statement resonates deeply with me. I don’t walk around in a constant state of inspiration and I don’t write only when I’m inspired. I sit down and do the work, the messy and maddening work. I’m not a perfectionist when I’m in that state. I am a very messy writer when I’m in the thick of it. Hopefully, as I do the work, the ongoing revising, revising, and revising, something good will come. Eventually. Hopefully, I will discover something I didn’t know before. And if I do, I can feel at least a little successful. I’m inspired by loneliness and the desire to be understood and make sense of, or at least make art from preoccupations that confuse and mystify me.