Generation Poverty: an Interview with Fin Sorrel on Writing & Houselessness
Updated: Jan 21
Fin Sorrel is the author of Caramel Floods (2017), The Teacup of Infinity (2018) & the forthcoming Transversal. He runs Mannequin Haus: a small press of surrealism and the avant-garde literature.
How old are you?
When did you start your small press and magazine?
Who are some of your major influences writer and artist-wise?
Jeanette Winterson, Kōbō Abe, Comte de Lautréamont, Can Xue, Alejandro Jodorowsky
When did you start writing and why did you want to be a writer then? What were your ambitions in it when you first started, and how have they potentially changed since then?
I started writing in my school book after a neighbor (who cross dressed) showed me his story about an evil orb that devoured people. And I remember thinking wow this shit's awesome, why haven't I tried to make something like this? Then there was those Scholastic tours the library at my school used to throw, they showed us a book by a kid that was like three, it really pissed me off—I remember thinking how much I wanted to take my drawings and have my mom turn it into a book, but my mom didn't work at Scholastic like that kid's mom, and so because I was poor, I didn't get a book. I'm still poor, and I have two books out (twenty years later).
I just don't give a fuck anymore at the moment, I just want my kid to read my shit when he's older and enjoy it.
Tell us about your first experience with homelessness: where was it, what happened, why'd it happen?
Portland, Oregon: when that was a cool town. Before the yuppies invaded.
We drank wine out of giant jugs, we went to punk shows in basements, we did graffiti and hopped trains and hung out at Star E Rose.
Homelessness there was kind of a blur, a drunken haze of oblivion that has now lasted into my life current. It's my stupid coping mechanism now, to fuck all and go homeless, or whatever.
About how many times have you experienced homelessness?
Over a hundred times, I guess. I don't really consider it homeless, it's more like camping. I love camping. Being outside, there's such a fucked up stupid culture around the word homeless, I'm a recovering alcoholic and joined AA just recently, at least people will fucking listen to you there, and it's safe from judgement. Also there's free coffee.
Homelessness is a direct attack, its aim is a classic maneuver from the middle and upper class, it's basically a rat race, everyone will go through it if they're lucky.
Is there a sort of daily routine you make for yourself when homeless, or is it more spontaneous?
At first it's spontaneous, after a few days things begin to organize naturally, depending on how much you know about survival, and how much you are willing to rely on outreach programs.
When I was first homeless, I just wandered around eating mushrooms and sleeping in abandoned buildings. Now I actually utilize services, places that give out meals, it's also a way to make some great friends, if you like socializing.
Do you see squatting, living in cheap hotels, or crashing on couches as still living homeless? Or do you see it mostly as sleeping on the street?
I live in a squat. No running water or electric, but some years I've had electric and water, and a good group of folks around, who fed each other, shared, it was fucking awesome, I miss those people. Living on the damn streets is fucking rough, it's like living under houses, I've done that too, living under the beams of a house, living under bridges, some people do it for years. I just see America as a trap that one day leads people into homelessness or some form of low standard living that sucks. I see people who live in upscale housing whining about serious emotional or physical problems, everybody has problems.
Go outside more, find peace in disharmony, struggle, help others, be kind, give freely, share. These are the kinds of things life is all about. Homelessness can teach some pretty detailed lessons in life.
Do you think there can be such a thing as voluntary poverty? Or is it a romanticized bohemian myth?
Voluntary would be if someone voluntarily gave up their earnings from work, and lived in poverty, sounds like paying rent in the US of A. Rent is theft.
I'd describe a lot of your work as avant-garde or experimental, what do you think of those adjectives? Still relevant today in writing, or are there better words? Or perhaps the labels don't matter?
I don't know, the edges of my writing sort of creep in and out of my own reality, so I would say those are good labels, if any label would need to be given. I definitely subscribe to the label of avant-garde lately, I can't help it, I think it's part of my unpredictable nature as a person, but it's growing dull for me, this human need to label each other, I always wanted to re-purpose literature, and it's still exciting, more than reality [which is] dull, brutal, tedious. Even making love has become tedious for me now. I just want to always write. What a curse.
I'd also call a lot of your work fitting under the umbrella of Surrealism. Is there a certain surreal experience to be had when you've been a homeless writer? A certain type of perspective you get from it?
No, everything is pretty clearly set up in society, I'm bored being homeless. I use my writing to escape the mundane nature of American life. I've had jobs, went to college, nothing changed, I was still a homeless bum in my own mind. I almost assume I am homeless even when I'm sipping martinis at the Beau Rivage casino, or in a Buddhist temple in Arabia. None of which have happened. Someone always bursts through the soft milky bubble and asks, Oh are you homeless.
It never fails.
I'm fucking cursed!
What's one of the roughest things you've seen or experienced when homeless?
Getting murdered, I don't want to talk about it. But the SFSF jumped me and I flat lined twice in the hospital..
I was never the same after.
You ever read Cannery Row by Steinbeck? That has the sort of idealized homeless/hobo character of Mack and his boys. Who seem to get by just fine even though they don't take common work, and they've got no problem in swindling, stealing, etc. to get by. This sort of idealized version of homelessness in 1940s California, how do you think it's changed from then to now? (Not to say that Steinbeck even necessarily captured something that was true.) Are there homeless people out there who take a sort of vow of voluntary poverty and have easy enough lives? Or is there just too much drugs, insanity, and violence in today's homeless culture?
I don't know, it depends on where you are, the East Coast where I'm at now, twenty years ago used to be a nightmare, it's still rough, but yeah not as bad, California was shit to me, Oregon was easy going, Washington was amazing, I don't know, most places now have a stigma against anything close to what I do. I'm glad. I don't want to be popular with these assholes anyway.
What do you think of Christopher McCandleless from Into the Wild, the guy who was looking to drop out of society, but ended up dying in Alaska? Hero? Fool? Rich boy? A little of all three?
Never read it.
You mentioned that in an upcoming novel your hotel scenes were inspired by Lautréamont that you wrote mostly on the streets of NYC. Not a lot is known about the life of Lautréamont, and seemingly he died in Paris during the Prussian war in 1870. How'd you first learn about him? Do you think he experienced homelessness himself? Any theories on how he died?
He probably ate his own intestines or got syphilis, dude was mad.
Are you a fan of or knowledgeable of Arthur Rimbaud? If so, what do you think of his adventures in homeless wandering with Verlaine, and then later his idea to strike it rich in colonial Africa—was he more of a sell-out than fans want to admit? Or did he stay true to his ideals? Or perhaps he didn't have ideals to begin with?
Man, I didn't really enjoy Rimbaud, but I said I did. I think he sold out. And I hate that he went to Africa.
Also if you're a fan or knowledgable of Jean Genet, what do you think of his seeing beauty and transcendence in the most squalid parts of existence, always rooting for the underdog and seeming never to support anyone with any established power?
Not sure of him.
I take it you're aware of William S. Burroughs work, if so, what lessons and/or influence have you gleaned from him, if any?
Dreams, his talks and writings all signature dreams. He did it way before I did, but we are similar in making chapters from our dreams.
Do you feel like being homeless makes one more likely to want to drink and do drugs to deal with the experience? Or perhaps to self-medicate to help with getting to sleep in noisy or too brightly lit locations?
Well, I like to squat, but I just drank and did drugs to trip balls or .. well I don't even know why I started drinking alcohol, I'm in recovery, it's a fucking monster. It's killed many of my friends.
Do you feel judged more by strangers when you are homeless? Or do you find a way to hide that from them? Have you been vocally judged by said strangers?
I've been judged yes, judgement or help someone, pick one or walk away.
Do you prefer the change from 'homeless' to 'houseless'? Is there more dignity or clarity in the change? Or is it just another euphemism?
Houseless is cool. These days in some sections of town if you call someone homeless it's like calling someone a faggot or the n****r in the twenties.
Do you ascribe much meaning to the idea of a 'home' in its metaphorical sense?
Home is where the heart is.
Home is where love is.