The Conditions We Live by E.A. Johnson is a debut poetry collection that unveils life as it really is (not how many portray it to be) -- messy, beautiful, painstakingly cruel -- and explores a rainbow of emotions.
The Conditions We Live follows a loose narrative of growing up in modern society where we are constantly torn between our better and baser natures, how to live in an increasingly fractured world, and how to find solace in the moments. When the big picture looks bleak, the moment holds a transcendent beauty nonetheless.
Johnson sat down with the Unsolicited Press team to answer a few personal questions...the ones all readers want to know about their favorite writers. Here is what he had to say.
If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
He died recently, but I would have loved to have dinner with Kurt Vonnegut. His rejected masters thesis on story design is brilliant and the stories he created were truly inspired. As far as what I’d serve, I’d probably make pulled pork sandwiches. Two reasons. First off, I make a mean pulled pork, but more importantly, there’s something equalizing about talking to someone with the drippings from pulled pork sliding down their arms.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
I can’t really say much scares me about the writing process. To me, writing is one of those things that I just need to do, like breathing and holding my kids. I love putting words on the page, getting what is in my head out into the world. If there is something that scares me about the writing process, it would probably be editing. I understand the importance of editing in the writing process, and I know why people don’t really like to do it because it’s work. Really hard work, like digging a ditch. When editing, I make sure that I make myself small goals and reward myself a little each time I reach one. Maybe I’ll make myself a coffee, or I’ll play a game on my phone for a minute, then I get back in working toward my next small goal.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
I’m not sure if I’d say I have a literary crush, so to speak, but the closest I can think of would have to be Antigone, from Sophocles’ play. She is unapologetically herself in a world that does not accept it. Despite her father’s tragic story, she is still there for him at the end. Despite her brother’s disputes, she still insists on honoring his body. Despite the societal conventions, she sticks to her convictions and loves and lives (and dies) for the life that she knows she deserves. I like women who know they deserve to rival any man’s place in the world. Strong, confident, sure, loving, nurturing. These are valuable traits in a person, and of the characters I can think of at the moment, Antigone embodies these.
What books are on your nightstand?
I have a whole library. I read mostly on my Kindle, particularly at night. But I’ve been churning through contemporary dystopian novels lately. I just finished reading Scythe by Neal Shusterman based on a recommendation from a student, and it was great. Now I’m working on What Survives Us by Kathy Miner. Interspersed with that I’m going back into the classics as I do every year. Teaching keeps me grounded in classic literature, and reading contemporary authors keeps me sane.
Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
The short answer: Life. I take my inspiration for my poetry from everyday life, the foibles and follies most often, but success too. I have always had an active imagination, so projecting simple situations out to a possible solution, often one that doesn’t necessarily come around, has always been fun to me. I did this in poems like “Tetrominoes” and “This is Us Tomorrow” to name a couple. Often time in life, though, that sort of projecting isn’t needed and I simply write what happens, for instance “Tasting Iron” narrates my thoughts and the events as they happened during the death of my Nana, and “Scarecrows” was literally the scene when my wife and I came home after our first miscarriage.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
My wife thinks I’m a total geek for having such a ready answer for this question, but she just doesn’t understand. It used to be the ellipsis, because it presented the unfinished thought, trailing off into the unformed. A few years ago it switched to the comma. Taking a breath, a moment to think. That worked for me because things were going too fast in life, and I found myself looking for a moment to breath. Now though, I’m all about the em dash. It seems these days that I can’t always get through thinks in one sitting like I used to– too many interruptions. The em dash represents the interrupted thought or moment. It has the same potential as the ellipsis, but instead of intentionally leaving things unsaid, there just wasn’t enough time to say them.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
Almost all of them, but don’t tell my teachers. I was not what you would call a motivated student. I would listen in class as the teacher talked about the book, then I’d just sort of muddle my way through the discussion. I feel kinda bad because now that I’m an English teacher, I see every kid who does that as karma coming back to laugh at me. I’d probably say the one that I was assigned and didn’t read– but really should have– would have been The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Holden’s struggles and introspection would have resonated with me back when it was assigned, and might have sparked my love of reading earlier, which couldn’t possibly be a bad thing.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
There are so many I can think of, but seeing as I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee, as I so often am when writing, I guess I should go with that. I work full time as an English teacher, so early mornings are a necessity, but I am definitely not a morning person. I bring a thermos with half a pot’s worth of coffee to work daily. During the summer, my two year old makes sure that I keep getting up early, so coffee is kinda a mainstay in my life. Lately I’ve been putting honey and cinnamon in it instead of my typical black coffee. There something comforting about a cup of warm coffee on a New England morning.
Why do you write? The first 5 words that come to mind. Go.
Create, Explore, Discover, Share, and Learn
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
Write because you love it, write because it is part of who you are, because you can’t not write.