Paula Kolek is complex like the rest of us. This, of course, makes her interesting and fun to talk to. (Full disclosure: sometimes I doze off when she speaks just to make her mad. But, she doesn’t get mad. She is humane and full of patience and wisdom.) What you need to know about Paula Kolek is that she is a dedicated, hard-working adjunct professor at Miami Dade College and Barry University, a comic (I almost wrote communist) enthusiast, an excellent cook, a semi-expert hula hooper, a writer and a visual artist. She is also an astronaut who has traveled to Pluto and several unmanned moons orbiting the cosmos. I tied Paula up and interviewed her over chicken kabobs and (gross) plum wine at her lovely new home in Hollywood, FL, where I tried to steal two comfy patio chairs. We spoke about her latest art work, a humorous art book, which is on exhibit at Humatorium, an exhibition of humorous art curated by Lisa Rockford at the 1310 Gallery in Fort Lauderdale. FYI: there’s a nude pic of Paula in the book. I swear.Welcome to Paula Kolek. She’s way better than Paula Abdul.
Almost Dorothy: Hi Paula, I hear you’re an artist and a poet. Explain the difference?
Paula Kolek: Who told you that? No really. I want a name, number, address, social security #, pets’ names, favorite breakfast cereal…The Works!
I don’t accede to being either, but from what I’ve observed, artists generally run around wielding oils, chalks, charcoal, newsprint, Exacto knives, old photos, urinals, fake teeth, rubber chickens, and poop (I swear I’ve seen all of the above!). They generally make a mess of any space they occupy. Poets, on the other hand, kill trees.
AD: Murderers! So, tell the United States about your upcoming art exhibition or the one that just passed. It all depends on how fast we get this interview up.
PK: Well, the opening was last week, but the closing is October 15th. The title of the exhibit is Humatorium and it’s curated by Lisa Rockford who based the show on art for art’s sake, whimsy, silliness, and of course controversy! My piece is an artist’s book created for the show, booklets for the audience, and a chance to participate in an art installation. There’s also a giant, blue, well-hung blow-up horse at the gallery. Who doesn’t want to see that?!
PK: The closing is part of a larger art festival called Art Fallout where the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale and local galleries are open for free. That night there’s a shuttle bus so people can go from one gallery to another without worrying about parking or the price of gas! It should be pretty cool, so come out if you’re in the area.
AD: Are you a true artist? If yes, prove it. If not, prove that too.
PK: You prove it! What kind of interview is this anyway?
AD: It’s a potty mouth interview, so you should use potty mouth language when answering these questions, ok? How does your writing influence your art or vice versa or are the two mediums inseparable?
PK: What does inseparable mean? Indivisible, Indissoluble, Undividable. Nothing’s forever. Except Twinkies and cockroaches.
AD: In life, we have two choices, left and right. Which did you chose and why?
PK: It’s quite obvious that I chose South; this meant I had to use a precise number of lefts and rights in an exact order. Although I won’t cop to being an artist, I will state that I’m an excellent map reader. When the internet and all the satellites fail (and they will) I’ll be one of a handful of people left who can still read maps. And then I’ll be rich because people won’t know where they’re going and they’ll have to come to me for directions! My time is almost here.
AD: As a poet, you deconstruct memory and turn them into rememberings. Do you remember when and why you started to write this way? Or, am I totally wrong?
PK: Well, it’s your blog, so you’re never wrong.
I learned recently-ish that I don’t have to use personal experience or memories to create (of course you can argue that even our imagination must come from our experiences). Last week I listened to back to back NPR segments – don’t judge me, there were FIVE accidents within a one-mile stretch of 95 and I’d played Tool more times than I could handle. The first segment was an interview with John Lithgow who’s publishing a memoir. The following segment was a conversation about Twitter, Facebook, and blogs and how these mediums are making our world more and more autobiographical. Although I do participate in these mediums (not Twitter, though, I hate Twitter.) and admire writers and artists who put themselves out there, the push to “spill” can be incredibly overwhelming for me.
In my book for Humatorium, I drew from photographs I’d taken, drawings, scientific diagrams, children’s games, and online images (Here I have to thank Wikimedia Commons, a compilation of images given freely by contributors without copyright. This allowed me to use these images without feeling as though I’d “taken” from the work of others). I attempted to create the silliest, most disjunctive pairings possible. And I finished this piece without having to think about high school or grief or hospitals or family arguments!
AD: Which planet inspires you the most?
PK: Pluto! Just because he’s no longer a planet doesn’t mean he can’t inspire. And what about all the moons, planetary dust, supernovas, black holes, quasars, or Dr. Who telephone booths? This is a very narrow question. I object to the insinuation that I have to be inspired by big things.
AD: Have you ever run away?
PK: Yes, and despite rumors to the contrary, sometime running away IS the healthy choice. A dignified walk is better, but sometimes life doesn’t allow for that. In the event you want to run away, I’ve found it helpful to have a waterproof tent, flashlight, some MREs, and a stuffed bunny to take with you.
AD: Biggest accomplishment:
PK: In my artist’s book for the Humatorium exhibit, I have a nude (naked) bookmark of myself which appears opposite the first page of the Instructional. I noticed throughout the night that people (mostly old men) were stroking my bookmark chest.. When one of my friends did the same thing before jumping back and saying, “Ummm…I know you!” I realized the instructions on the opposite page began, “Put your hand to my chest and feel around for the furniture you left behind.” I hadn’t thought through this pairing when I created the book because the instructions largely can’t be followed and I didn’t expect viewers to try to complete them.
I tell students that once we put our work out into the world, it’s never really just ours anymore. It’s open to interpretation by readers and viewers. This, however, was the first time that has happened with my work, and It was super exciting.
Please don’t tell my parents about the naked bookmark; I plan on showing them the book without it.
AD: Mom! So, your biggest disappointment:
PK: Not getting an interview earlier with Almost Dorothy.
AD: Sorry. What would you like to be when you grow up?
PK: I would get paid to be a traveling map-maker (I think they call them cartographers). I’d be sent around the world to hike and kayak and bike new locations and then make maps for that handful of people and girl scouts who like that kind of thing. Sadly I’ve found that there isn’t much call for this.
AD: What will it cost?
PK: A million-billion.
AD: Explain love and/or its imposter and how is that thing communicated through your work?
PK: I think that love in all its incarnations (anger, grief, ecstasy…) has to be passionate, even if it’s a slow burning or difficult love. And since anyone who creates must be passionate (few writers/artists ever make enough money to make up for the long hours of hitting your head repeatedly against the wall of I’m not good enough and What’s the point), so love has to be a driving force.
However, love also has the potential to make us fearful of failing or hurting those we love. I have a poem published in Collective Brightness about my brother and I coming out to one another in the food court of a mall that contained the chapel I would take him to to fulfill the promise to my parents to bring him to Sunday mass when he stayed over with me. The poem is harshly blunt about my feelings towards religion and contains quotes from conversations with my parents where they talk about their opinions towards us queer folk. Although they’re often incredibly supportive of me (they’ve never asked how I intend to support myself by writing), some of their stances make me incredibly angry. I don’t think they, or anyone who knows them, will read this poem, and it isn’t damning of them, but it does have the potential to be hurtful. So I had to weigh how important this writing is to me. Every time I put writing or art into the world, I get nervous about what my family will think about it.
Plus, there’s that naked bookmark floating around!
Paula Kolek is a recent transplant from Boston and has already been stopped by the Coral Gables police three times: most notably for sitting on the curb and riding her bike at 2am in the morning. She graduated from Emmanuel College with a BFA in visual arts and from Umass Boston with an MA in literature, after which she taught undergraduate lit. and creative writing at Umass Boston and Framingham State and worked security – since adjunct teaching pays very few bills. Her poems have recently been published in Ditch, Otoliths, and RECONTRUCTION: Studies in Contemporary Culture and have been accepted by New Letters and EOAGH. Her monologue was presented in The Krane’s production of Monologues Lingus and her artwork accepted for publication in Fickle Muses. She thanks her fellow students and professors at Miami for allowing her the space and encouragement to experiment with the visual in conjunction with language.