Ink and Skratches: an Interview with T. S. Ink

Sometimes there are things you read that tell a story. Then there are things, reflections upon life or life upon reflections, that seemingly turn characters and subjects into people; verbs and adjectives into movements and quirks: the whole shebang. No early exits. No half that’s or maybe tomorrow’s . What stands before you is the truth and nothing else.

That brilliance, in this case, is the essence of T. S. Ink’s work. Like myself, you may know her better as @inkskratches on Instagram. It was some time ago when I first came across my first poem from Ink. And like much of the work she still publishes, today, I can remember that first encounter having been jammed packed with vibrant imagery, familiar dialogue, and emotions that would sometimes question the greater being of oneself and their surroundings.

. . . But isn’t that what accompanies all great writing? Today I would like to say yes and no. Yes, because, in many ways this is true: that great writing will give you something to take home, a take out box, as I’d like to imagine, while good writing merely presents the menu. In Ink’s case, not only does she offer that same metaphor of a take out box, but she owns the entire cafe. Those who sit at the tables (me and you) are both the diners and audience members. Those who cook (write) the food (the writing) is Ink herself and only herself. Her hands are busy! The pans are popping with oil! The espresso machine is brewing up a storm!

Or maybe the story is as simple as the quote found in Ink’s profile:

”I write what I can, when I can. It’s how I look at the world.”

The Interview

Hughes: Tell us about yourself. Where are you based? What was your childhood like?

Ink: I am currently based in Bay Area, California. My childhood was an odd one. I was born in India. I moved to USA when I was nine. That transition was both difficult and defining. It remains the time of my most vivid memories of possibly my life thus far. So the first part of my childhood is rather typical: playing, having fun, lots of family time. The second half is feeling like all of that is ripped away and I’m in an entirely new place- away from my family, friends, and childhood games that I once knew. It took awhile to make new friends, find friends that feel like family, and learn new games. Very Wizard of Oz. Except Oz eventually became home.

Hughes: Describe your first memory of creating something that caught the attention of someone else. What was their reaction? Was this reaction expected?

Ink: I honestly don’t remember my first creation. I do remember my first failure though. I was nine, new to USA, and new to computers and typing. We had to type a one or one-and-a-half page story in third grade. Now, I was so slow that while the class moved on, I spent almost weeks extra typing away slowly in the back, one key at a time.

I remember my classmates laughing at my moronic speed. When the story was done, however, my teacher read it and was shocked herself and said it was very good (it was a spin on a fairytale). She laminated it and put it on a poster and it was presented to the principal and hung in the school hallways (or maybe classroom?). Point is, it was the first time I really remember feeling like I should never write anything ever again only to be very surprised by the result.

Hughes: Is anyone else in your family creative?

Ink: Everyone! I am perhaps the least talented. My mother, brother, and even grandfather are greatly gifted musically. All of them are classically trained and my brother plays several instruments. My grandfather on my father’s side was a poet. I have several cousins who also sing well or dance or write.

Creativity is greatly encouraged in the household, but very rarely as a career. It is only a hobby. I am the only one who pursued something in the languages or art (aside from my grandfather on my father’s side).

Hughes: Does the pen find you or do you find the pen? In other words, where does most of your creative drive come from?

Ink: I don’t know if anyone really finds the pen, do they? I think the pen finds me and I submit to it. I am sure many artists will agree that when creating something, you are both entirely and nothing like yourself. I feel in those moments as though I am truest to myself and as though I am a vessel submitting to something I don’t even know exists inside of me.

Yes, there are times I’ve chosen to journal or blog but when I write poetry, I really don’t know where it comes from. I set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and it just flows (luckily).

Hughes: One thing that always captivated me about your work is the amount of soul and self you pour into your writing. As a reader I can tell there’s a very attentive mind behind the poem—like you were at the right place at the right time and made sure to pay attention. Does this stand true? How you seemingly ‘’study’’ objects, people, and things around you?

Ink: First of all, thanks for reading my work so deeply and giving it insight and meaning probably more than I deserve. The truth is I often write in hindsight. I can often never write the immediate. I think I like to wait until I’m sure of what I want to say, not in terms of wordsmithing (not a word but I’ve been using it lately), but in terms of how I feel about something. In the moment I find myself so overwhelmed with feeling that I don’t find that feeling to be reliable until time has passed. Then, I reflect. The only time I don’t do this is when I’m writing my fictional narrative poetry pieces or on constant truths (for example life, death, god, or things I’ve contemplated for years). So I think it seems like I study things probably because I’ve thought about them for a really long time.

For me, a poem is a tattoo. It is permanent and etched and so I hope it says what I want and precisely what I want in that moment. I do study people often though. Human beings and their interactions fascinate me, but I have yet to formulate a theory on human behavior. Only that it is an endless resource for writing.

Hughes: Define the role of society to a poet.

Ink: Society is so open to interpretation to the poet. What will a poet in 16th century Baghdad write? What will a poet in 2011 New York write? I think society is varying and it is a poet’s job to both capture and create society. We capture society in the way we write. How we write. The topics. The language used. The style. The way we create society is through our own relationship with society. If I write a poem of my heartbreak, the society involved in that heartbreak (the man, the supportive friends, the reactions of family, the moving on) all become a society as I have viewed and interpreted it.

Hughes: Define the role of a poet to society.

Ink: It is the duty of the poet to observe and describe the society he/she knows as honestly as possible. Whenever we read, we walk a mile in our own experience and reflections through a mirror someone else has crafted. That’s the miracle of reading: to read someone else’s work (a complete stranger) and find yourself reflected in it. No matter if a poet writes as personally as possible, he or she is still writing their thoughts and reflections and those have external influences. It is so important to be honest about those influences because 1) it is a time capsule that concretely defines the external, or society, and 2) someone else will relate to it.

A poet’s job is to be honest and sincere in their craft. Without that, I don’t feel anything is truly gained.

Hughes: Define the role of a poet to oneself.

Ink: This is a repeat from my above answer. A poet has to be honest with him/herself. That is the main key. When I write, I know I am a vessel. There is a poet-me and then there is the rest of me. They are two different people. The poet-me is the one who makes sense of the rest of me: my experiences, emotions, interactions, my microuniverse essentially. If I do not write myself or my world honestly, then what is the point? No one else can do it for me. That is why writing, although influenced in styles and word choices, ultimately should be one’s own voice. The rest is the greatest disservice you can do to yourself, to either plagiarize or use others’ experiences to further yourself (cultural appropriation, for example).

Stick to who you are, hone in your craft, don’t do it for others, and the muse will come.

Hughes: The following is a quote by America poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright E. E. Cummings: ‘’I would rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach 10,00 stars how not to dance.’’ What is your interpretation of this quote? Does this hold true in your life?

Ink: You know, as a teacher, I guess this does hold true. For me, this quote has always held such impact. It is not the quantity but the quality of our efforts that matters, and also that the means are more important than the ends. There is so much in this quote I could analyze. What is one bird to 10,000 stars? What is one song in a world no longer happy? And what is humility in a world of power? Perhaps the latter is my biggest takeaway from this: to learn something simple and beautiful than to dominate and make the world a little less beautiful than it was before I exerted myself.

This is a battle I face daily. As a teacher in the classroom, the word “No” escapes my mouth often and usually for good reason, but there are so many times when I’ve taken a step back and let my children teach me rather than trying to teach them. If I always go in front of children assuming I know the most, neither they nor I will develop. I am so often wrong and it is often on those days that we learn the most from each other. This isn’t unique for me; it’s true of all teachers. Learning when and how to be the one who needs to learn is perhaps one of the best lessons of adulthood.

Hughes: The following is a quote from a poem of yours that has yet to leave my mind:

‘’I am a paper doll in a three dimensional world. I fold. I crumble. I whirl and I have been etched by hands I have never seen.’’

Can you explain the backstory behind this poem? The bigger picture of the paper doll?

Ink: I wrote about the paper doll because I often feel as if I’m carried by things or events that I cannot control. Then, I have to find a way to control myself or reactions or make sense of whatever is happening. I could not find a better image than this paper doll with her stick figure arms and wide-eyed expressions just trying to get her bearings in a world that moves too fast and out of her control, but in which she is alive and ever-present. I think that’s where those lines came from!

Hughes: If you were one of the four seasons, which would you be? Why?

Ink: I would be summer. I was born in summer and so that is one easy reason. But also because I think I am sometimes a bit hot tempered but mostly fun and warm and easy. I have a dash of romance in me as well, but not enough gentleness or grace to consider myself the bloom of spring. I have zero coldness and the fall is much too somber for my personality. And so, childish summer I am.

Hughes: I’ve noticed you don’t focus too much on current political issues—at least in comparison to your observations of people, scenes, and moments. Why is this?

Ink: I have written some. But truthfully I think that it is because it is not what I consume. When I read my favorite poets (Frost, Keats, Angelou, Dickinson) they write in a way that’s observations and in their incredibly personal observations, society is captured. It’s not that I don’t want to write on current political issues. I do. It is more so that I don’t want to write them as though they are external because they are not. They are internal. I also don’t want to write on anything I’ve never experienced because all my regret and anger and frustration will just pour like the words of “prayers and sympathies” of a Facebook status.

For example, something that truly bothers me is how children don’t have clean water or access to good education in the world (I’m not even going to get started on female education), but I can’t write poetry on that. I can do prose. I can do a research paper. I can do a persuasive essay. But poetry? No. I can write poetry only on how privileged I feel to see water cleanly running from a tap, and when I do that, suddenly I’m internalizing it. It’s not really on society or politics anymore. I’m not sure it says anything or adds any meaning except that I’m luckier than I deserve.

I also don’t know how to write on some topics because they mean too much. I work as a teacher and gun control I feel so strongly about, but I just can’t bring myself to write a poem on it and post it on Insta. I don’t know why. Maybe it would benefit readers. But I think for me I am writing what I most deeply feel and have lived or seen and probably less from a place of intellect or rationality or discourse.

As for writing on political issues related to being a woman, while I do write on them, I think I want my message to be clear: I am a writer who happens to be a woman. There is more to me than my sex and than the stereotypes forced upon my sex. I am want to write poems on being a woman but that includes being a daughter, a granddaughter, a poet, a thinker, a lover, a student, a teacher, etc.

To me, the more three-dimensional I am, the less I am ONLY woman if that makes sense. I want the world to see me as a person and as a person, I have a lot to say on many things and topics (I hope).

You’ve made me think about it this though. Maybe I’ll change it up.

Hughes: Some artists say that inspiration comes to them as opposed to them seeking inspiration. Does this stand true for you?

Ink: I think that’s true until I started an instagram account and now I write so often that I have to seek inspiration. I don’t know how inspiration comes to people daily. I am so envious of these people; however, I always have to look to things for inspiration. Usually my inspiration is reading others, whether on Instagram or my favorite poets as mentioned above.

Hughes: Most vulnerable poem you’ve written thus far?

Ink: I do not know. I think there are some I cannot post because they mean a lot to me and I’m worried about their perception, and worried if I share them then I’ve shared the best or deepest part of me and nothing will even come close to those. What if I can never write anything ever again as good as those pieces? Perhaps those are my most vulnerable.

For my most vulnerable on Instagram, it has to be the pieces I’ve written on the uncertainty of love because it stems from personal life. I think I’m confident in being a female and in being a liberal, and so it is the areas in which I am afraid to fail (love life, never being married or having kids, etc) that are the most vulnerable.

Hughes: What makes you content?

Great conversation with good people. Nothing makes me feel happier than when I can truly talk to someone about life, philosophy, society, art, experiences, etc. And I love it when we are from different backgrounds and sharing and listening. I think it’s really how I connect to people. When that fails, a good Netflix show never hurts.

Ink: What makes you crestfallen?

Lack of respect. I don’t bounce back from it easily. I am sensitive and people often think sensitivity means you are more prone to being hurt. That’s not true. It just means that you are more prone to using your words with care. And I’m often saddened when others don’t do the same. Lack of respect has made me quit jobs, end relationships, and stop idolizing some people that I used to. Everyone makes mistakes but not everyone genuinely tries to respect others and I hate that more than anything else.

Hughes: Describe your overall relationship to poetry. For example, if poetry were a human being, what would you say to them?

Ink: I’d probably ask them to please not tell my (fictional) husband that we are sleeping together. Poetry is my mistress and my muse. I cannot cheat on her (him? I feel like poetry would be a girl for me though) and yet I could never have a clean relationship with poetry. I cannot live with it always, but I certainly cannot live without it. And sometimes I do need distance from it or else we take each other for granted and then there is “writer’s block” or “terribly shitty poems.” I don’t think any other form of relationship exists for me and poetry. Certainly not parent-child, friend, or worshipper-god. Maybe if I wrote for money I could say man-business but since I write entirely for writing, adulteress it is.

Hughes: The following is a quote by African-American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde: ‘’If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.’’ What it your interpretation of this—the idea of being crunched down into something your not? Does this hold any relevancy to your life?

Ink: It does and it doesn’t. I think if I dwell on the quote, of course it’s true because we all need to know who we are outside of other people’s perceptions. Sometimes, even those closest to us, parents or significant others, are utterly wrong about us. However, for me the part I cannot relate to is the word “fantasy.” I think I am often afraid that what others criticize in me is true and that I will always fail others in some way due to the attributes they have chosen to criticize in me. I have had to look past those criticisms time and again to find confidence in myself. So if I was to reinterpret that word as criticism then yes, I relate.

Hughes: Instead of asking the common Where do you see yourself in five years I’d like to ask where does five years see yourself. For example, do you believe it holds promises? Or do you mold your own path?

Ink: Oh the future questions are always hardest! I am so not a planner and I too often live in the past. I definitely feel the years ahead hold promise. I do not know if I will be molding a path. To be honest, I’d like to be very boring in the years to come. Have things settled down and have them repeat. I’ve reinvented myself so many times that I want the next few years to be a quiet contentment if possible. Wishful thinking but here’s hoping for a nice, settled life until mid-life crisis kicks in.

Hughes: Now for a fun one! Extraterrestrials have invaded Earth. The leader approaches and demands you to recommend the one person who can give them one reason to abort their mission of destroying mankind. Who would this individual be? Why?

Ink: Ooooooo the one person I’d recommend is Nelson Mandela. I think he faced such adversity and never lost spirit or hope. What better person to envision a hope for humanity?

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