Ollie’s story is definitely not the regular. Yet, in between every word shared by Ollie is a reflection of a kind heart seeking for a less chaotic world. What is life without Art? Without the courage to feel things so deeply in a world where many look but only a few see. It’s in this type of space that Ollie is committed to, by advocating for more and more platforms where people can feel heard, seen and loved in a rather cold big world.
Here’s our Exclusive Interview with Ollie sharing some truth on the journey as a Creative.
Enjoy and Stay Inspired:
What does Art mean to you?
Like many artists, I think art is everything. Virtually everything we interact with on a daily basis was designed by an artist at some point: your chairs, your cups, your towels– even your toilet was thoughtfully designed by someone making artistic choices. So, as cliché as it sounds, I genuinely do think art is life and that our world is so filled with art that you can’t separate them.
Can you remember the first poem you wrote and what inspired it?
Although I can’t remember exactly, my first poem was definitely horrible! When I was pretty young (maybe 9 or 10), I got obsessed with all of these philosophical questions, like “what’s the meaning of life?” and I would write tons of absolutely unreadable poems and short stories (which are quite funny in retrospect).
Have you ever held back your gifts at some point, perhaps through self doubt? Have you ever felt it ‘boxed’ by someone else or an experience? How did you manage times like this and how do you best face challenges?
All the time— I think there are tons and tons of factors. Of course sometimes I’ve struggled with not feeling “good enough”– although the cool thing about my experiences with slam poetry is that I was often on a team when I was performing at competitions, so I really did have a supportive network of people to let me know my worth (and just as helpfully, let me know when something I wrote totally sucked).
When I first started slam poetry in 2012, society really hadn’t come to terms with transgender people yet, or even queer people on a lot of levels (I mean, same sex marriage was still illegal in the U.S.). There was even less knowledge about non-binary trans people, so when I came out in 2013 and wanted to start writing poems about being non-binary, I had to include so much explanation, because my audiences just didn’t have a clue. It was really stifling and discouraging—to be navigating a world where nobody knew you existed or thought you were real.
Through all of the bad things that have ever happened in my life, I’ve been happiest and healthiest when I have a support network of people that I trust, who I feel like really see me—in some ways, I feel really lucky because LGBTQ acceptance has increased so much in my lifetime. But even if it hadn’t, I think that finding queer community (and going to therapy– I love therapy) really saved my life.
What’s the inspiration behind your book- ‘Dead Dad Jokes?’
Well, my dad died! But seriously, I wrote Dead Dad Jokes from a place of deep hurt and loneliness and grief. The way that our society talks (or rather, refuses to talk) about death in real terms left me totally unprepared for all of the things I would have to do to help my dad die. I was 24 when he died, and none of my friends had a fricken clue what I was going through—I wrote Dead Dad Jokes to be the book that I needed to read when I was going through it all, in the hopes that it would open up more honest conversations about death. Which means that the book doesn’t use any euphemisms to soften what happened—my dad didn’t “pass on,” he died, while I watched. I think if people continue to shy away from talking about the details of death (There’s a lot of pee! And a lot of puke! And a lot of poop!), we’re going to continue to make death harder than it has to be. And part of that honest conversation is acknowledging that death is often absurd, and sometimes funny things happen. I wrote this to be a book that tries to hold all of the experiences that came with my grief: including both deep sadness and humor.
How would you best describe your style of poetry?
Hmmmm… I guess I would describe my style of poetry as largely narrative (story-based) with metaphors that try to kick your teeth in. I think the point of poetry is to make the reader/listener feel something, so all of my work tries to do that.
How do you combine being a poet, a teaching artist and a ceramist?
With a constant eye on my calendar… There are always a lot of things in the mix for me, but I’m a very organized person, so that helps a lot. I do think that to be a professional artist of any kind, you have to be good at running a business, scheduling, communicating, etc.
Balancing work time and rest time is a struggle for many Creatives out there. Can you share few tips on how you try to balance work time, rest time and family time?
Absolutely! My biggest tip is that if you have to have a day job (which, let’s be real, most people do, including me), try to pick a job that supports your dreams rather than drains you. I spend about 15-20 hours a week on my day job, 5-10 hours a week on ceramics, and about 10 hours a week on poetry. Working all day at a 9-5 and then trying to squeeze in some creativity just isn’t going to cut it for most people. You need to actually schedule in time to be creative, and make some of that time real quality time where you are energized, rested, and excited–don’t just give your creativity the slush pile of time that’s left over. I also have a pretty firm boundary that I don’t work after 5 pm—unless there’s a show that needs to happen in the evening or on the weekends, I only work 9-5 Monday-Friday, including all of my creative work. You’ve got to protect your rest, or you’ll wake up one day and realized that you’ve scheduled it all up.
How was growing up like?
I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, which was great in some ways but tough in others. There wasn’t a huge tolerance for people who were different, but at the same time, I had access to a lot of opportunities. Even though I was a goth kid who wore makeup in huge swirls all over my face, I could also be in advanced classes and a starter on the basketball team and in band and choir and theatre. I could write a whole other book about growing up (who knows, maybe one day I will), but we’ll start with that.
What will you consider the most fulfilling highlights of your journey so far as a Creative?
So many! Every day I’m amazed that people send me messages and tell me that my work has impacted them, which is an amazing feeling. Once, I got to perform alongside Miss Major, who is a true icon in the fight for trans rights. I really love being able to travel and perform across the country, connecting with people through my work.
Do you feel Creatives in developed countries are at advantage than those in developing countries?
I’m not sure that I know enough about this to have a super educated/meaningful opinion on it—I do think that access to wealth and resources has always made it easier for people to spend time making art, and to be able to connect people to that art. I think there’s been a spotlight fueled by privilege/colonialism on arts from Europe and the U.S. for a long time; so in that way, I do think that it’s easier to gain international attention if you are from one of those countries. That being said, I think making good art and having access to life as a paid artist are two different things, and good art is undoubtedly being made every single place in the world.
Who are your ‘ICONS’ in the digital Art industry?
The people I respect most as artists (regardless of the type of art) are those doing a lot of community work and giving back to the communities that supported them. Especially in slam poetry, most spaces are run from volunteer labor of other poets who just want to share the love of the art form—and I think when you get something for free, you owe it to others to pass it along, and you need to give back to your community. So most of my ‘icons’ aren’t people you would necessarily see on the playbill, or who even have huge internet presences. They’re the local organizers who run spaces day in and day out for little or no pay, just so we can all keep building community and creating art.
What does success mean to you?
I think ‘success’ is a word that I actually am tending to shy away from the older that I get—I think I used to be really focused on being the traditional definition of ‘successful,’ having a lot of people see my work, etc. Now I feel most successful whenever I just get to connect with people, big or small. The point of poetry, for me, is to share our stories, and through sharing our stories, make the world a better place where people are more in tune with their emotions and each other. And that can happen in an audience of 5000 or 5 people—it can even happen when you’re alone, telling your own story to yourself and getting to know yourself better.
Let’s go a little poetic: If poetry is a rainbow and you have a choice of one color in that pallette, what would that be and why?
Not to get too poetic in this, but every color in a rainbow is overlapping and connecting with all of the other colors next to it, so to me, you can’t really pick one out. That being, said, purple!
If you could do a collab as a poet with any other artist, what Art would that be?
Hmmm, this is tough—honestly, I’m a little bit of a scrooge and tend to just enjoy poetry as poetry. I guess if I could pick another art form for a collaboration, I would pick animation—I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a little illustrated animation to go alongside one of my poems.
Please briefly tell us something we do not know about Ollie Schminkey.
I really like antique lamps! And I can’t whistle worth a darn.
Massive Love Ollie!
The ICONIC Team.