Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Nick Comilla

Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Nick Comilla

In her book ‘The Queer Art of Failure’ Judith Halberstam offers alternative ways of knowing and becoming. Instead of valuing the conventional paths of belonging, achievement and completion, she thinks about and champions the ways of “failure”: losing your way, giving in, being excluded, forgetting, awkwardness, coming apart. Not just rejecting the “normal,” Halberstam shows alternatives to success as paths that have always been there, moving away from mastery and coherence. In this series of Q&A’s with contributors to our upcoming Queer issue, we play with these ideas. When we aren’t trying to finish first (or finish anything) where do we end up?

Think back to when you started writing. What’s an earlier influence you outgrew, abandoned, or turned against?

I was very influenced by the Romantics, and the Beat Generation interpretation of a modern yet Romantic view of life. This led me, at first, to write a lot about idealist, lofty subjects, a veneration of corporeal beauty, a concentration on the alignment between aesthetics off the page turning up on the page. I wouldn’t say I’ve abandoned this tradition, but at the suggestion of two profoundly influential undergraduate mentors, I’ve ‘turned against’ it in the sense that I try to flip the subject on its head. I’m more interested in unraveling those issues, complicating them, rather than merely celebrating them.

When a piece of writing doesn’t work out, what do you do with it? Discard? Fold it into another project? Salvage parts?

I bury it, let the idea and subject matter fade for a while and move on to something else. Then, when some time has passed, I take a look at it again and try to think about what I was doing – not necessarily what was wrote, but what was trying to be written. Then I take the ideas and work them into whatever they might have evolved into, or I try to re-enter the poem, which is difficult. If I really like a line, I’ll splinter it into new work.

What do you do with your rejection letters?

I read them over a few times, look for details… then I consider how my work doesn’t fit that publication, or that that publication doesn’t fit my work. I then consider how much of a circle jerk it all can be and move on.

Do you plan out the piece beforehand or find your way as you go along? A combination of both?

Sometimes I’ll think of the title first, but usually, a feeling will hit me, or a moment, an overwhelming combination of senses, memories and impressions. Then I feel like I need to write it all down right away or I’ll forget it and the inspiration will be lost, or I at least need to write down the main idea of the work to try and remember later on. But like I mentioned earlier, I find reentering a poem difficult. Inspiration is fleeting. Once I get the first draft down, though, editing can lead in different directions.

When a project is finished, how do you start the next one? Or do your projects overlap?

They tend to overlap thematically, but I can get an intuitive sense of when it is time to move in a new direction.

Have you ever not sent a piece of writing somewhere because it seemed “too gay/queer” for that publication?

I’ve considered it – I’ve definitely sent things out knowing full well that the work is too gay/queer/sexual to be accepted, but I’d send it out anyways.

What do you do to procrastinate?

Smoke cigarettes, think, listen to music, look up poems that I’m trying to springboard off of.

Has anyone ever said something completely discouraging to you as an artist? Did it take the wind out of your sails or did it drive you forward? Or both?

Totally, all the time, especially during my undergraduate studies. I was actually rejected from my undergraduate program at first, which drove me to reapply a year later with a stronger portfolio. Then there is the entire social aspect of being in a creative writing program for four years and meeting people all the time who say “good luck finding a job after you graduate”, which is a fear tactic and nothing more. It was very frustrating and there is a lot of self-questioning that goes on, which has subsided a bit with some success. But every time someone said something discouraging to me – especially non-artists – I just kept in mind that I’m doing something I love, and with the right dynamism there are a lot of opportunities. The saddest exchange I ever had regarding that was a conversation with some guy in a stairwell of a nightclub. He gave me that attitude, about being a writer, and told me he was in business or finance. But then we had this very intimate moment as he confessed to me that he always wanted to go into theatre, but his father wouldn’t let him and now it was too late to turn back. It was sad and awkward to have a stranger admit to me that he’d forfeited his passion for the job market. After he told me that, though, I realized that his earlier attitude – to belittle someone for being in the arts – had more to do with his own hangups than anything else.

Can a piece of writing fail, or is that a bullshit notion?

Of course it can fail. Or, if you like, it can succeed at failure, and then maybe reinvent itself somewhere later along the line.