Five Questions for Timothy Braun
Name: Timothy Braun
Organization/Company: A handful of websites, theaters, papers, and universities.
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I was born and raised in Indiana, but I’ve lived for stints in all kinds of places for months at a time doing residencies and fellowships. These places include Illinois, Ireland, Long Island, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, upstate New York, and Wyoming. After having a mailing address in New York City for a decade (I went there for graduate school) I moved to Austin, Texas. I’m a professor of English and Cultural Studies at St. Edward’s University. I travel to San Antonio (an hours south) on Tuesdays and Thursdays to lecture at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
I will be contributing to culturebot.org primarily on the arts of Austin. We have a fantastic theater scene here which includes the Rude Mechanicals, Rubber Rep, the Fusebox Festival, and Loaded Gun Theory, to name a few. Austin is also a haven for musicians featuring SXSW and the ACL Fest. The writer scene is tops, and the visual artists scene is emerging with sculptor Michael Krumenacker recently relocating to Austin. I also plan to contribute essays and interviews with people from all over, which I think the readers of culturebot.org will find interesting, such as my recent posts with artist Kambui Olujimi and poet Patrick Rosal.
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
It starts and ends with Kurt Vonnegut. The first book I read was Welcome To The Monkey House.
Vonnegut was important to me as a fellow Hoosier, but his work made me aware of meta-fiction and a use of melancholy imagination, two key elements in my plays. In my early 20’s I became enamored with the plays of Sam Shepard. Until I read Shepard I though theater had “rules”, but his use of sex and violence and rock ‘n role was rebellious from the theater I had known to that point. In the past five years I’ve come to love the humor and surrealism of Haruki Murakami to the point of where I have named a reoccurring character in my plays and even my new novel after him.
Murakami naturally leads to music, and although I listen to almost nothing but rock ‘n roll now, the most influential recording for my writing must be Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus by Charles Mingus. This was the first CD I bought with my own money when I was fifteen. Mingus had a depth and structure to his songs like a Joseph Cornell box. Listening to Mingus was liking hearing a Cornell box. Now, more and more, visual arts spark my imagination. The photos of Jason Eskenazi and Josef Koudelka are self-contained stories. I love them. Adam Frelin is another artist I really like. I met Adam at the MacDowell Colony and he knocked me out with “White Line (Tokyo)”. His work is beautiful and uncompromising.
Wong Kar-Wai films have had a big impact on me. He makes the most haunting love stories. I constantly steal a scene from Fallen Angels in which a character fantasizes about her love to a Laurie Anderson song. I’m probably his only fan that likes 2046 more than In The Mood For Love. The story within a story of 2046, the story on the train, breaks my heart. Faye Wong is superb as the android in that story.
In theater Julien Mellan’s Mon Oeil at HERE Arts Center four years ago had an impact. Mellan crammed people into a small space, breaking fire code (I know because I was the fire marshal that night), and told an intimate story with nothing more than a sewing machine. David Herskovits did something called Tone Test a few years back at Lincoln Center that I can’t describe with words, but I can say it was brilliant. He used repetition as a form of structure. All Wear Bowlers was a big show for me. Geoff Sobelle and Trey Lyford (who was Adam Frelin’s roommate in graduate school) invaded the audience and made them part of the show, the way Vonnegut invades his readers and make them part of the story. I try that in my plays, and it is their fault.
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
I’m bald, gap-toothed, and a little pudgy. I’m a remarkably ugly man. I often tell my students I look like Winnie The Pooh with down syndrome. To make matters worse I had spinal surgery in 2002, which dropped me to under 6 feet tall. Thus, I’m now short as well. I wouldn’t mind being easier to look at.
I’m also a very bad musician. I tried to play the saxophone in high school, but was terrible. I’m trying to learn Prince songs on the banjo right now, but only my dog likes my playing, Probably because I feed him. He’s obligated to like my banjo playing.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
My day is extremely regimented. 4:30am I walk the dog. 5:00am is breakfast. 5:30am I respond to emails (I have 6 accounts now). Between 6:00am and noon it’s a combination of writing, teaching, grading, going over notes for lectures. Lunch is somewhere in this time. At noon I hit the dog run, or the lake, so Dusty (my dog) can go swimming. 1:00pm to 4:00pm it is back to the writing, teaching, grading, and going over notes for lectures. 4:00pm I go to the gym. I’m a little pudgy. I don’t want to be very pudgy. 5:00pm is dinner. 5:30pm is the after dinner dog walk. 6:00pm is when I start to cool down. I do some research in this time frame. 7:00pm is last night’s Jon Stewart. I’m usually in bed around 9:00pm. When I am at a residency I have a similar schedule, but without the dog.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
This question is subjective and I must answer “no”. I’ve worked at an ice cream store, tended bar, sold books, done a lot of things, but I’ve always viewed that jazz as research. All of those things have found a way into my writing. When I worked at HERE Arts Center, I viewed my position as a post-graduate fellowship, even though it was a straight-up job. A lot of newspapers will send me to do stories. I’ve learned to fly a plane, covered tattoo conventions, gun shows, alligator eating contests for papers and blogs. All of this is research.
Now I pay my rent by teaching, and much of my reading lists include A Brief History of Time, Fast Food Nation, and Guns, Germs and Steal. Since teaching these books the subject matters of physics, food, and migration have slipped into my plays and stories. Right now I’m reading Mirrors: The Story of Everything by Eduardo Galeano with the idea that I might add it as a textbook for one of my classes, but I can already see that this book is influencing my new play. For me, the difference between work and art is arbitrary.