– America is a country where people come from different parts of the world who want to communicate at any cost. It is such a Tower of Babel a week later. Everyone tries to find a common language and discovers that even if they use completely different words, this language is stories,’ says writer Jakub Ćwiek, author of ‘Drobinki nieśmiertelności’.
Agnieszka Łopatowska, Interia: When do the particles of immortality appear in your bloodstream?
Jakub Ćwiek: – Most often in moments when things get very, very bad or very, very dangerous. There comes a crisis moment and I say to myself: “I have to cope, there has to be a way out”. Then suddenly I gain power and do something that seemed unattainable. And when I succeed, I feel incredible energy, which allows me to deal with everyday difficulties right away. I call it the principle of preserving awesomeness, but a speck of immortality sounds more poetic.
To what extent are immortality speckles related to testosterone?
– I don’t think they are. My impression is that they can work in either sex without the slightest problem. I think we all have immortality written into our genes. It’s tied to being a kid, because the kid inside us is able – maybe out of stupidity, maybe out of faith – to take on all sorts of tasks, even though some seem impossible.
“Tinkers of Immortality” is the title of the second book you wrote after returning from a trip across the United States in the footsteps of the most popular pop culture phenomena. Could you explain to those who haven’t read “Through States of POP Consciousness” where the idea for this trip came from?
– We came up with it with my friend Agata “kreska_” Krajewska. Our model was the band Foo Fighters, who created the album “SonicHighways” by visiting cities associated with the history of American music: Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Memphis and so on. Inspired by each of these cities, they composed one piece. This is how the exquisite album and series of the same title came to be. Captivated by both, I found that I wanted to do the equivalent of the action in book form. To create a collection of short stories showing America through my eyes, from a European point of view. And at the same time write what was in the series, which is to create a travel book with photos and with film extras. We started to think about who to choose for the crew to make the “making off” book as attractive as possible. We wanted it to present many different points of view, because it is widely known that I myself would talk everyone to death.
It’s not our victories that make us who we are, it’s our defeats and how we dealt with them.
But you’re not one to waste words, so I don’t see the problem.
– I’m like that squirrel in “Jumping the Fence” who got a drop of coffee. I talk too much, too fast and get terribly excited about everything, so it couldn’t have been just my point of view. We invited Radek Teklak, who has a more ironic, distanced approach to life and pop, to join us. We were still missing an expert journalist, so we took Bartek Czartoryski – I think there are few people in this country better than him when it comes to pop culture. A great director Patryk Jurek went with us. There was also my dad, with whom – although he doesn’t speak a word of English – wherever I am in the world, I feel the most secure, because he is able to get along with everyone. He was our driver, he helped us a lot.
– The target book, however, is Tinkers of Immortality, and I have not shared the work on it with anyone else.
Should these books be read together, or can they exist side by side?
– They can completely exist separately. “Tinkers of Immortality” is written as a collection of independent short stories. In fact, the only thing the reader should know is that these are American short stories – referring to different perspectives on the American mainstream. But even without that knowledge, they are simply stories about people talking to each other and scenes that may have their reminiscences in movies.
– If one reads “Tinkers of Immortality” first and then “Through States of POP Consciousness,” one will see a lot more of the impetus for this collection taking place in real life. Each story of “Tinkers. ” has two – three sentences about the inspiration at the end, but very briefly. “PSPOP,” on the other hand, is a bit of a crazy travel book. They’re related, they can complement each other, but it’s also not necessary to read both.
Did you come up with the idea to put inspirations under the stories right away, or did it come to you while you were writing the book?
– I knew a long time ago that if I ever published a collection of independent short stories, I would write in where they came from. This stems somewhat from laziness, because I don’t want to have to come up with an answer to the question, “Where do you get your ideas from?” every time. It’s impossible to answer it honestly and satisfactorily because the answer is, “From life.” But it is clear that the questioner would like to know some mechanism of how I got from point A to point B. When he or she gets a brief idea of what inspired me, he or she can try to recreate my train of thought and build his or her own idea about it.
Watch an excerpt from the interview in the video version:
In “Tinkers. ” you write that America is made up of details. Which ones come immediately to mind?
– First of all, America is a country where people come from all over the world who want to communicate at all costs. It’s kind of like the Tower of Babel a week later. Everyone tries to find a common language and discovers that even if they use completely different words, that language is stories. These details that make up America are fragments of different cultures that mesh together precisely with the help of the universality of stories.
“People are no longer real, (. ) so they don’t want real stories, real food. What matters is instant impressions, easy grub.” – This is a global statement, does it apply only to the States in your opinion?
– I think it is global, but it is the US that showed us that it is possible. That you can shorten a story, take out the simplest emotions from it and put it in a blockbuster. That you can serve food that is seasoned in such a way that it gives immediate satisfaction. America is a “fast” country because no one there wants to wait for anything, no one wants to allow themselves to gradually enjoy something. What matters is what is in this moment. What is now. And you don’t have to worry about the consequences.
And are we chasing such an America?
– We are chasing. The fact that today two words with a photo win on Facebook, that we are ruled by a Twitter post, that Instagram is growing so fast shows that we need messages that are assimilated immediately and virtually without any effort.
“Today the world no longer has men to offer, (. ) , who know what stories people want to listen to, and sometimes find them worth telling”. – This is also the thesis in your book. Are there many of you?
– To be honest, I try to be like that. However, while writing this text I wasn’t thinking about people like me, but rather people like Monk – an 87-year-old retired soldier I met in the States. This is a guy who could amaze John Wayne himself. Or people like my grandfather, who at the age of 8 survived a long time alone, without his parents, in occupied Warsaw. These were people tempered by reality. They believed, first of all, that the impossible does not exist and, secondly, that if you are good at something you should not rest on your laurels and show it off. They believed that there are rules that you should always stick to, tasks that you should always do and words that you should always keep.
“Remember, you don’t decide when the last gong rings out, but whether you will be on your feet at that time” – Such advice is given to the protagonist of the story “The Saint”. Is this also your motto?
– I don’t know how much of it is mine, because I thoughtfully share it, and how much is implanted in my head, like Catholic principles that grow into you before you are even aware of anything and determine you for life. This is a paraphrase of words from the movie “Rocky” that has become firmly embedded in my consciousness. I try to live by that phrase because it illustrates the principle: it’s not our victories that make us who we are, it’s our failures and how we dealt with them.
Fans of your fantasy works worry that your books are already closer to realism. Have you abandoned fantasy?
– I wrote fantasy primarily because I came from a fantasy background and the stories I had in me at the time were exclusively fantasy. If you rotate in the right circles of people and spend all your time with them, your mindset is rearranged to keep you in that environment. The more you expand your circles, the proportions of the story change.
– For a number of authors, fantasy is a form of protection against lack of workshopping. You can use fantasy gadgets to hide the fact that you can’t write certain things yet. It was like that for me. Being very familiar with fantasy tools, I was able to mask the lack of professional skills. Then I reached the point when I decided that I don’t need fantasy to protect myself anymore.
The next book will be “Zawisza Czarny” – an adventure, superhero action overloaded with very current social satire.
Did you feel confident?
– I felt I could write what I wanted. And now I write what I want. Not always fantasy, although when I start writing it now, and I still do it with the greatest pleasure, I know that it is a conscious choice, not a necessity. Because there’s a third stage where authors mature to the point where they can write whatever they want and get more environments. But to tell all the stories they want, they usually have to use fantasy elements. This is already the highest of the highest levels that Cormac McCarthy, for example, achieved with his best book, The Road. He had to use fantasy to tell a story about where we are going, to answer one of the most important questions in literature, and it was amazing.
– I feel like I’m fully at that second stage now, and that’s something to be proud of. But I’m not abandoning anything, I still have a lot of fantasy stories I want to tell. I also don’t want to constantly go into nostalgic-reflective tones, because I want to laugh while writing. That is why the next book will be “Zawisza Czarny” – an adventure, superhero action overloaded with very current social satire. I need something like that for a change.
You are a man of many talents. Not many people know that you are the author of the play “Shining in the Dark”.
– As much as it pleases me to hear that I am a man of many talents, it’s not entirely true for me. Most of what I do has to do with writing. Sometimes of a slightly different nature, but it’s still writing. The fact that “Shining in the Dark” became a very cool play is more due to Michał Pałubski, who directed it. The text is the text, but it needed to be brought to life and I was not the one to do it. I did not translate it into reality.
– But I dream of being a storyteller. For example, some time ago I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to divide my idols into real and unreal ones. And I think that regardless of whether he existed or not, such an idol for me is Jesus. He would come to specific people, look at them and say: “I have something to tell you.This is an important thing, but in order to convey it to you, I must tell it in your language, using metaphors appropriate to you. This is my story, but I am telling it to you, so you must hear it in such a way that you will understand it.” Master storyteller!
Teams are there to do something that surpasses each of us individually.
– Adapting each story to the medium appropriate at the time is something every author should learn. It’s a very important part of author humility. That is: do everything to the best of my ability, but if I come to the end of my competence, turn it over to people who know better. To accept that something will be changed, that we no longer play first fiddle. That this is no longer my story, but our story.
It takes a lot of humility, but also trust.
– Yes. To get that humility, close your eyes, count to three, look at it again and say, “Yes, this is a better version.” That’s what I did with the comic strip “Liar. Viva l’arte”, which I did with David Pochopien. I saw him work on my story, which was supposed to be quite funny, and then jump into a very serious one. With him, the emotions evened out. I didn’t like it at first, and then I saw how elegantly the story came together with his drawings.
– As much as I still can’t do teamwork, when I finally yell at myself, argue with someone, and finally step down because I should, I admit that the effect is better.
The newest band you are a part of is a stand-up group called Brothells, with Michał Pałubski and Maciej Linke. How do you feel about it?
– What I just said about bickering is our new experience. I’ve worked in three bands in my life that had real strong effects. I can tell you about two. In one of them I was working with a dash_ in advertising and we were getting campaign assignments that were supposed to shock the client. We were doing well precisely because we were arguing almost constantly, so much so that people were afraid to enter the room, and most were convinced that we were about to kill each other. But we were just fighting a bloody battle to get the best idea possible. And when we finally wrote it down, we agreed that this was it. And it actually worked! The second group was the Brothells. Here, too, when working with them, I often get flustered because I know that most of my ideas are good.
– Yes. Objectively good for me. (laughs) On the other hand, I know that I am not the peak of possibility of anything, and certainly not of our team. If the effect is to be greater than I am, then you have to go beyond a certain framework, let the idea modify and adapt to others. I’m not putting up the world’s most beautiful cathedral, I’m just adding one of the bricks that make up the greater whole. If Michael throws something of mine out of a monologue, I will fight for it until the last moment, I will get offended and pissed at him.
What does that last moment look like?
– I can’t tell you, but it really is the last moment. (Laughs) I get really pissed off at that point, and worse, I’m not always sure, even already going on stage, that it was a good change. But what stays is fine, and it gives me the confidence that when Michael says something was good, it was good. And that certainty is often more valuable than defending a risky joke. Teams are there to do something that is beyond each of us individually.
“Isn’t that what stand-up is all about? To be born out of digested anger and frustration?” – that’s also a quote from Tinkers of Immortality.
– A common problem is that stand-up tries to be a one-man cabaret, and it shouldn’t be. Stand-up is the bitterness of a story that should be lightly sweetened to make it digestible for the audience. The best stand-ups I’ve heard in my life are terribly bitter. We just swallow that bitterness like a pill that has a sweet coating, but then it gets to us anyway. Richard Pryor talks about how black people are treated, we listen to Louis CK when he talks about how much we don’t appreciate our lives and how we could live, or George Carlin who was the conscience of America – these are all stories filled with sadness, only spiced with humor. I think stand-up should always be born out of wk*rw.
The three of you are also working on a completely different project – a film. Can you tell a little bit about it?
– That’s one! But let me tell you a little about the first one. It’s going to be a short film, a little bit of Christmas parable, a little bit of gangster-cop cinema. I was inspired to write the script by the movie “Blind Fury” with Rutger Hauer and a great re-run of action movies from the eighties. I love that cinema, its honesty and uncompromising nature combined with naivety and faith in the simplicity of the world. I must admit that meeting such wonderful people as Maciek, Michał, Jacek Rozenek and Grzesiek Daukszewicz was of great importance to me. It was them, and then the ever-expanding team of professional friends that made me write this story with the intention of bringing it to the screen. The film will be called “Naughty” and is supposed to be our practice before the web series “Guardians”. All I’ll say about it is that it’s a production set in the world of my “Liar” and is a mix between “Heaven Over Berlin”, “Dogma” and “Lethal Weapon”.
On another note: I heard that you supposedly messed up a bank robbery recently.
– We were playing GTA online (a Grand Theft Auto game – ed.). I didn’t want to start because a long time ago I got screwed into being a World of Warcraft tester and had half a year cut out of my life because of it. I swore I wouldn’t play any more online games. But Maciek decided to trick me into playing GTA so we could rob banks. It’s something I would never want to do in real life, but I like to see it in movies and read about it in books, so I decided to get carried away in the game.
– I’m not some outstanding console gamer though. I like adventure games, interesting indie games, and from action games I prefer shooters. I’m terrible at anything where you have to drive a car or any other kind of vehicle. This brings us back to talking about teams – it’s the leader who decides who is who, who knows what the team members’ strengths and weaknesses are. So if Maciek decides that I am the shooter who sits in the back and shoots everything around then we have great results because I am one of the best shooters. But if Maciek decides to put me behind the wheel, it is more than certain that the mission will not work out.