“I find no catharsis…This is not a psychological enterprise for me, it is a calling. And anyone who knows a calling, it is a terrible, terrible thing. Because it is something you did not choose…It’s not some vainglorious shit, it’s what it is. It’s pretty mundane, to have a calling. You gotta get up every day and fucking do bullshit. So whether it’s transcendent or it’s kind of this oh-woe-is-me crap, the end of it is it’s the daily grind. But certainly what I find is that I happen to be very good at something that I find incredibly difficult. And I think that there are plenty of artists out there, who are incredibly good at shit they find very difficult. And if you don’t have any compassion for yourself, because most of the artists that we have now are artists who are very good at something they find very easy. What we need are more of these artists who find what they do very difficult—because it’s the process of that compassion or forgiving yourself that is difficult that creates some of the most glorious art, you know? But you write very little. I’m super slow. So it’s more like the daily grind, and the constant reminder that it’s okay. I mean I wake up every day and it’s like it is okay, that at this thing which I am good at, I’m very terrible at. How do you deal with your fear, your blockages, the way you resist yourself, in the process of creating art, how do you deal with it?
I have one limited experience from one subjectivity, so I can not pretend that anything I say about this is in any way authoritative.You know when anyone talks about art, it’s simply a heuristic, something that you bounce off of and perhaps it can produce learning, perhaps it doesn’t. My sense of it has been from my own experience, again very very tiny, very particular. My sense of it has always been that what defines an artist’s success, is not their training and their persistence, both necessary.Training and persistence, both necessary. But what defines an artist’s success is usually their compassion. And compassion starts at home. Most of us hobble ourself in our art because we have such limited compassion and it’s no accident, we live in a society that teaches us no compassion. And so we have no compassion for ourselves. And therefore every time we try to do something, first we take a bat, smash ourselves in the face, and then say sing. Or write. Or dance. In fact, I always think, develop your compassion, and your art follows. And it’s a very difficult struggle. It’s a very difficult struggle; I think that a lot of the professionalization of arts wants to render this myth that training and persistence are enough but the truth of it is, a person who forgives themselves with no training, will outwrite the greatest writer on earth. To forgive yourself for your limitations, to forgive yourself for your fragility, to forgive yourself for your mistakes, I mean, we’re not taught that. I wasn’t taught that—I come from a military family. A military, Dominican, fucking family. My father was a full out, card-carrying member of the Trujilato. You know? No I’m like, to the left of super progressive, but my dad was a straight-up fascist. And that’s just the way it is, it happens. And there was no forgiveness in a military family, you know? For me, it’s the endless struggle, because it’s like alcoholism, you don’t suddenly become compassionate to yourself, you do it every day. There is no achieving it. There’s no achieving it, you just struggle every day. I still remember in my family, again, this was good for one day, and terrible for another way—in my family, we never had that American thing, you know that American thing where nobody’s to blame. You know, my students, I love my students to death, I really do, I love my students to death but I don’t speak the language of excuse. So I always have to sit there and be like, ‘Oh wait, they’re trying to tell me an excuse!’ Cause I don’t even know, I don’t even know what the fuck it is. I was like ‘Oh shit! This is an excuse, dude!’ ‘Cause in my family, there was none of that. If a bottle fell, the closest person next to it would be like ‘I did that, I am responsible for that.’ And that was it. Which is a fucking terrible way to grow up. Because sometimes shit happens and there’s nobody to blame. And sometimes, the first reaction shouldn’t be blame, it should be forgiveness. And I think whether you lived in a more explicit version of that Dominican culture like my father or a less explicit, most of us live in that regime, a regime of no-forgiveness.”