Eric L. Wattree [wattree]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
Eric Wattree is a writer, poet, and musician, born in Los Angeles. He’s a columnist for The Los Angeles Sentinel, The Black Star News, The Atlanta Post, and staff writer for Veterans Today. He’s also the author of "A Message From the Hood," and a contributing writer to Your Black World, The Huffington Post, and ePluribus Media.
Some of the greatest minds I've ever known held court while sitting on empty milk crates in the parking lot of ghetto liquor stores. At their feet I embraced the love of knowledge, and through their tutelage defined self-worth in my own terms.
These are the “Eulipians”—writers, poets, musicians, painters, and uncommon drunks—those shade-tree philosophers who contemplate the fungus between the toes of society; Who dance with reckless abandon, unfettered by formal inhibition through the presumptuous speculation of the ages; Who live in county jails, cardboard boxes, alley ways, and luxury Apartments; whose very existence exposes the scam of Great Bruteland.
While these obscure intellectuals stand well outside the mainstream of academy, I’ve watched with astonished delight as they sang, scat and scribed their philosophy into the mainstream of human knowledge; as they rammed forth the proposition that knowledge is free, thus, will transcends all attempts to be contained through caste and privilege.
Malcolm, Bird, Langston Hughes, John Coltrane , and Gigglin’ Willie--They all sang but one song: Man’s innate thirst for knowledge will someday overwhelm his passionate lust for stupidity.
Eric L. Wattree
A Message From the Hood
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
I love all forms of writing, but I generally write nonfiction--or maybe I should say, nonfiction essays on the ultimate fiction--politics. I also like poetry. I generally turn to poetry when I feel the need to express emotion rather than adhering strictly to the facts, or when I have a gut feeling about a person or subject but don't have the facts to substantiate it:
Flight Suit George
The revisionists are out in force in an attempt to rewrite history regarding the rein of George W. Bush as president of the United States. But fortunately, the internet is brutally tenacious in recording how the vast majority of Americans really feel about this eminently corrupt and incompetent abomination of American governance. So let us set the record straight--not for vengeance, but for posterity:
Sweet patriot, square of jaw, and demeanor of great command, you fearlessly stand in defense of America, and the savior of all God’s chosen men. Anointed by God as his personal envoy to all men, corrupt and blind, and charged with the swift and brutal destruction of heathens of other kind.
You stand vigilant against all our enemies, both foreign and imagined within; you vigorously guard against all that is evil, and all that you see as sin. You define God’s needs and precious values, in the most unambiguous tones, and never once have you erred on behalf of truth, to reveal “God’s values” as indeed your own.
You lead our troops in fearless glory, challenging Death to “Bring it on!” Never thrusting your sword on the field of battle, fearlessly leading the charge by phone.
Sweet patriot, square of jaw, and demeanor of great command, how selfless your will to guard America . . .
While hating the pillars upon which it stands.
Eric L. Wattree
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
My creative process is very simple. I contemplate a subject, consider the points that I want to make regarding the subject, then write them down–not as an outline, but only as a memory tool. That generally provides the scope of the piece. Then I do the necessary research to substantiate my point of view. I then develop my lead which, if done properly, should provide a road map of how the piece should be developed.
I never adhere to a strict outline, however. While an outline seems to be the logical way to organize a piece, I’ve found that the rigidity of an outline tends to stifle creativity, since on more than one occasion, I’ve found that one of the secondary points should be elevated to the thesis statement in order to most effectively make my point.
Sometimes it’s more effective to approach a subject through the backdoor. That way, instead of giving the reader my point of view up front, and then go about proving my case, I use a sort of bait-and-switch approach. I begin to develop a secondary point, and then gradually move into my actual thesis. While that may seem deceptive, it’s really not. It’s simply a device that allows the reader to feel like you’ve come to a mutual conclusion together, as oppose to being subjected to the condescending approach of being “instructed.”
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Most of my reading is political in nature, because I make every effort to keep my thinking original. While I understand the value of the past, I go to great lengths to ensure that my thinking is not tainted by dead poets, ancient pundits, and philosophers.
While I do admire such people, I only refer back to them from time to time to compare the accuracy of their views with the revelations of modern knowledge–and only then, in an effort to study and attempt to avoid their erroneous leaps of logic.
Thus, unless we’re talking about specialized fields of knowledge like physics, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, etc, I don’t give anyone’s ability to think priority over my own. As far as I’m concerned, the only difference between Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and any truly thinking person, is that the former are dead, and no longer able to correct their erroneous beliefs.
I see it as an absolute must that we rely on, develop, and have confidence in our own intellectual capabilities. Socrates was a great man, but his genius was not attributable to his capacity to think beyond the capabilities of other men, but rather, to his awareness of the importance of objective and independent thought. Thus, his greatness is attributable to one simple fact--he recognized that God made birds to fly, fish to swim, and man to think.
Therefore, ironic as it may seem, the very first thing that my favorite writer taught me was to pay no attention to his words and to seek counsel through human observation and my own intellectual insight. In his essay,"Self-Reliance," he said the following:
"I READ THE OTHER DAY SOME VERSES written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. Always the soul hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for always the inmost becomes the outmost — and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgement. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I'm going to combine this question with the one above, "Who is my favorite writer?," because in my case, the two questions are very closely related:
Again, I must refer to Ralph Waldo Emerson as my favorite writer. He’s responsible for much of the philosophy reflected above. I stumbled upon him when I was about 13 years old. I read a passage by him that immediately appealed to my youthful yearning for independence, and since that yearning has remained a guiding force in my life, his words do as well. In his essay, “Self-Reliance” he said the following:
“It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
I can’t read those words without feeling a damp-eyed connection with this man, who died over a century before I was born. That’s what made me want to become a writer–the dream of someday possibly making a connection across time. I knew the odds against me were astronomical, because I clearly recognized that in order for my dream to come to past, I’d have to develop the skill of expression to stand head-and-shoulders above other writers of my time.
But now, due to the election of Barack Obama, I suddenly find myself poised at a seminal moment in human history. Future historians will be literally crawling over every syllable being uttered during this period, and thanks to the flawless memory of the internet, we are all now capable of leaving behind graffiti on the annals of time.
So I’m taking this opportunity quite seriously. I see it as an opportunity for my children, grandchildren, and their grandchildren not to have to ask who was “Poppi”, and what was he like. I now have the opportunity to speak to them directly. I can now afford them the opportunity to see my time, through my eyes.
Therefore, for some time now, every time I pickup my pen, I seek to speak to an audience that is yet unborn. As a direct result, I now shun the need to appeal to contemporary audiences. I am now determined that the record that I leave behind be clear and untainted by the tendency to bend, modify, and distort my views into a shape conducive to contemporary popular appeal.
I think I owe that concession to my readers, who at this point, cannot speak for themselves.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
My Therapy–Writing and Music
There are two things in this world that allow me to remain sane–writing and music. I’d be in absolute agony if I had to choose one over the other, because they are one–one is an extension of the other. Each in its own way allows me to express a part of my being. There are some concepts that I can only express in words, in which case, I sit down and begin to write; but there are other things that spring from a place so deep within my soul--the pain of loss, deception, or of being disappointed by a friend or loved one, for example--that it can only be expressed through raw emotion, which means my horn--it's cathartic. So I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t mention such an important part of my life in the context of this interview.
The saxophone keeps me connected to my roots, and who I am fundamentally, so it also contributes to my writing in that way as well. Sometimes when I get on my high horse and begin to speak the superficial language of the Washington pundits or the mainstream media, I simply have to glance at my horn to remember why I started writing in the first place–to present the views of those who are too often overlooked. In fact, it reminds me that I’m more of a translator than I am a writer–I seek to translate the emotional truths that Bird, Miles,Trane, and others set forth in their harmonic and melodic constructions, into readable prose. As I mentioned above, that’s not always possible, but my horn keeps me in touch with my mission, and reminds me to remain focused on doing the best I can in that respect.
My father put that horn in my hands when I was a kid. While he had many flaws (one of my first memories in life was of the police coming to my house in the middle of the night, shooting my dog, and dragging him off to the penitentiary), at his core, he was a good man, a loving father, and a jazz fanatic–for him, the Sun only rose in the morning so it could shine on Charlie Parker. So he wasn’t able to give me much, but what he did give me turned out to be one of the most potent, and enduring forces in my life.
I’ll never forget the day he gave that horn. It was on a Sunday morning. He opened the case, and there it was, smiling at me for the very first time–with its pearly-white keypads, and glistening gold body, gleaming in the sunlight against the deep blue felt lining of its case. Even now, I can remember my excitement as the newness of it’s smell filled my young nostrils.
To my surprise, he also brought Jimmy home with him--for what, I didn’t know. Jimmy was the neighborhood’s quintessential dope fiend and general substance abuser. So to my even greater surprise, it turned out that he had brought Jimmy home to teach me to play the saxophone. I was very doubtful that Jimmy could teach anyone to do anything but shoot dope and nod, but I wasn’t worried about that at the time–I just couldn’t wait for him to put that horn together. It seemed like it took him forever to extract the pad-saver and adjust the reed on the mouthpiece. Then they finally put the strap around my neck, Jimmy showed me where to place my fingers, then I blew, and got one of the most horrifically agonizing sounds out of it that ANYONE has ever heard. It made my mother jump up out of bed and run in the livingroom yelling, “What is going on in here!”
I became immediately frustrated, because I just couldn’t figure out how something that was so beautiful could produce such a horrible sound. Then my father said, “Wait a minute, son. Jimmy, show him how this thing is supposed to sound.”
Jimmy, as I mentioned before, was not only a dope fiend, but over the years he had degenerated into an extremely unkempt drunk as well. He had become the kind of person who was completely dismissed by even the most down-on-their-luck adults, and the kids used to like to play practical jokes on him when they found him nodded out somewhere in the neighborhood. But when he put that horn in his mouth and began to play “Round Midnight,” he became a different person. Now he was in his element–he was in command. Even as a kid I could see the confidence, the focus, and knowledge reflected in his eyes. And to this day, I have never heard ANYBODY play “Round Midnight” with such passion and ease of facility. I never looked at Jimmy the same way again. From that day on, he became a man to be respected, and to be taken very seriously–at least, in my eyes.
When Jimmy was done, my father told me, in his typically graphic and offhand way, “Now, I want you to hang on to this horn like it’s your momma’s tiddy, and you’ll never be broke or alone.” Then he looked over at Jimmy and added, “unless you start shootin’ that shit.” I followed my father’s advice, and his words have turned out to be prophetic. But actually, after watching the transformation in Jimmy when he picked up that horn, my father didn’t have to say another word.
So even as I respond to this interview, and speak of my love for the written word, a lifelong friend sits in its stand across the room, with that same beautiful smile that first greeted me as a child. The beauty of its song is a constant reminder that the written word is only one part of my life. Unlike a corporeal being, its only reason for existence is to carry out the blessing of a long departed father upon his son. But much like a sensuously flawless and indulgent woman, it waits patiently, still gleaming in the sunlight with its glistening keys and curvaceous body, as though longing for my loving and passionate embrace:
When Jackie McLean first appeared on the scene
he swung it like nobody else;
He stood all alone, with that bittersweet tone,
owing nobody, only himself.
With his furious attack he could take you back
to the beauty of Yardbird’s song,
but that solemn moan made it all his own,
as burning passion flowed Lush from his horn.
Hearing “Love and Hate” made Jazz my fate,
joyous anguish dripped blue from his song.
He both smiled and cried
and dug deep-down inside,
until the innocence of my childhood was gone.
He took me to a place that had no face,
I was so young when I heard his sweet call,
but he parted the fog and in no time at all,
a child of bebop sprung fully enthralled.
As I heard this new sound, and embraced the profound,
childish eyes now saw as a man;
I stood totally perplexed, but I couldn’t step back,
from the hunger of my mind to expand.
I saw Charlie and Lester, and a smiling young Dexter,
as I peered into Jackie’s sweet horn;
It was a place that I knew, though I’d never been to,
but a place that I now call my home.
Rest well, Jackie.
Eric L. Wattree, Sr.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I don't think a literary voice is something that you should go about searching for--it'll only make your writing sound contrived. Your literary voice is something that evolves as you develop. The very same thing is true of music. As a Sax player, I've always loved Dexter Gordon. But as hard as I tried, I couldn't become Dexter Gordon, but the effort led to my becoming a very good Eric Wattree--a guy I've come to appreciate immensely.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
My problem does not involve having the discipline to find time to write, but rather, finding the discipline to do anything other than write. My cure for illness is to write. My cure for depression is to write, and my remedy for being too fixated on writing is to write about it. So without any attempt to sound pompous or make the claim that I'm some sort of great artist - which I've long since recognized that I'm not - I've resolved to accept the fact that writing is simply what I do. I'm much like an avid sports fan. I may never play in the NBA, but I like to pickup my pen and shoot a few hoops neverthelsss.
My favorite time to write is between midnight and 6 a.m. During those hours I feel like I have the world all to myself - okay, so maybe I have to share it with the guy at seven-Eleven - but even so, I find a lot of piece and solitude during those hours. But I often find myself writing right through the day, then taking a nap between 7 p.m. and midnight. Then I start all over again.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I write from the computer. The computer is my very best friend. I find it to be the perfect instrument for writing, thinking, research, and editing. I couldn't imagine writing in any other way. It's both my window, and megaphone, to the world.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I enjoy sharing my writings with Talking points Meno, Daily Kos, ePluribus Media, the Thom Hartmann site, and Poetic works.com. All of these sites will give you an unabridged and unfettered critique of nonfiction writing. It may not always be what you want to hear, but it will always be an honest assessment what you have to say.
The one exception may be in Poetic Works.com. They're more into nurturing creativity. Poetic Works.com is the creative inspiration of a young lady by the name Michele Paul. She’s a single mother, a Staff Sgt. in the United states Marine Corps (and a veteran of the war in Iraq) who has still found the time to create one of the most positive and inspirational sites on the internet, and the people on her site reflect her personality. So while the members on that site are not prone to tell you that what you’ve written is worthless bile (as is definitely the case in many of the sites listed above), they are extremely supportive of material that they feel has creative merit.
What I also like about Poetic Works is that it caters to young people, and endeavors to steer the hip hop genre into a more positive mode of expression. I see it as a place where hip hop meets the classical traditions of poetry--and it could be even more so with our support.
Eric L. Wattree
What are you working on now?
I'm currently working on my second book. I'm chronicling the ascendence of Barack Obama:
"Barack: Through the Eyes of a Raving Moderate"
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
There’s a subconscious reason why you don’t want to show the material to anyone. The human mind is an amazing device–it sees what you refuse to accept. I’d say that it probably has to with editing. As writers we often have a problem with becoming so wedded to a part of a piece that we don’t want to give it up, although subconsciously we know that the piece would clearly have much more continuity without it. I have a problem with such editing issues all the time.
So I suggest that you pull the material out of hiding and go about the task of doing what you know you have to do. Now that some time has past, you’ll undoubtedly be able to read and edit the material with much more objectively. So now, armed with a more objective eye, you can edit it down (or in many cases, up) to where you’ll have material that you’ll be anxious to show anyone who’ll agree read it.
Eric L. Wattree
Covina, Ca., USA