I offer a warning to anyone expecting to conduct an interview with Michael Xavier. He avoids them like the plague. He guards his privacy resolutely, and has no problem turning the tables on a hopeful interviewer and putting them in the hot seat in his place. Don’t waste your time coming armed with the idea that there’s nothing wrong with asking a few simple questions. A conversation with him is a learning experience of what will, and will not, be tolerated during the time he decides to offer. Any more than two questions will place you in a mine field you do not want to walk through.
The author of last year’s HEART LIKE A HAMMER, and the recently released book, THE LAST CIGARETTE OF THE NIGHT, is at the same time engaging, and a master of deflection. He’s both forthcoming and evasive, depending on your area of inquiry. After multiple attempts to question him about his writing and his life, he stops deflecting and begins to question me.
It’s not a pleasant experience being on the other side of the equation.
I admit freely that it’s an eye-opening experience for me. He calmly asks me similar questions about my life that have me feeling uncomfortable, defensive and a little ashamed of my unintended disrespect. It’s disconcerting to learn that the way we hold conversation in the midwest is actually quite intrusive and rude to say the least. I spend most of the evening after the first phone call analyzing what the hell happened, and what truth did I find? What lesson did I learn?
In the phone calls that follow this awkward experience, I learn very quickly that if I want to know anything about him at all, I need to listen. I learn that the less I ask, the more he offers. My respect for him grows with each phone call that follows, even when I hang up gritting my teeth and mentally calling him a jerk. Our talks range from a wonderful experience to a conversational train wreck that passers-by can’t look away from. He can go from easy-going entertainer in the blink of an eye, to a verbal surgeon, ready to eviscerate me for my latest careless infraction.
He’s a walking, talking lesson on what it means to be honest, generous and unashamedly human. He offers no excuses for his flaws, and accepts none from those he chooses to allow into his life. A conversation with him is often painful and exhilarating at the same time. When he says to me, “Bless your heart”, it’s a strong indicator that my latest comment was either naive, foolish, or both. He’s admitted that he has to hide his phone from himself to keep from saying anything harsh when I aggravate him. I find myself laughing, and at the same time, grateful for his temporary restraint.
If you ever talk to him yourself, I’m sure you’ll understand.
Those who follow his fan page learn very quickly to think before they comment. He has little patience with those who offer uninformed opinions, negative comments, or try to answer rhetorical questions. One of my favorite responses of his is, “Just because you can comment, doesn’t mean that you should”. He’s irritated with those who vomit their opinion onto his page three or four seconds after reading something it took him hours, or even days, to bleed onto paper.
It bothers him when he posts a picture of himself with a piece he’s written, and more comments are directed at his looks than his work. To him, the first is genetic, and none of his doing, and the latter is his heart offered up to the world. Put like that, it’s easy to see where the exasperation comes from. If you’re on his page, he invites you to enjoy the writing, instead of spouting nonsense that should be reserved for your own page.
His sharp, analytical mind struggles to tolerate my rainbows and butterflies mentality. He studies everything, tears them apart and then puts them back together again. When I carelessly wonder aloud about something, he starts spouting facts and telling the supporting story behind them in a matter of fact way that leaves me amazed and speechless. Somehow, for the duration, we were able to communicate successfully, largely due to my ability to be open-minded and his willingness to overlook…well…all the the things he had to overlook to remain in conversation.
His childhood is something he doesn’t often talk about. After learning even part of his history, I understand why. There is the mother he never knew. The childhood he wasn’t allowed to have. The defender he had to become for his own well-being. He is that defiant soul, that rebel heart, that molar-gritting determination to beat the bastards that think to keep him contained within their sanctimonious parameters.
I begin to see the boy, chin out, tiny shoulders squared, hands fisted in preparation for a fight, refusing to drink or read or bend to the will of those whose hearts were so atrophied as to be non-existent.
His view of love and relationships is illuminating. He thinks it’s bullshit that people talk of giving and needing nothing in return. He believes that love given is meant to be returned by thought, word and deed. He believes that sex should be raw, raunchy and real to keep the fire going in a relationship. He doesn’t roll with the 50/50 way of thinking. He gives 100 percent and expects the same in return. He’s a relentless defender of those weaker than most of us, and he will tell you that loyalty means more to him that the “love” word we toss around so cavalierly.
His work makes us feel hope, anger, envy, sorrow and love. His stories are raw and real, changing our perception of the world and those who walk in it with us.
With his latest book, I begin to see that there’s a part of him in each character. The unloved child, the good boy, the irreverent jokester and the everyday hero. He writes of his struggles and his salvations, and he is the main character in both. He is the both the man with the past that no one would want to endure, and the maker of a life that anyone would be proud to claim. The more I learn of what lead him to the present moment, the more I respect him for making himself into a good man from a life that would have taken most of us to our knees.
While reading THE GOOD BOY, I felt the desperation in his need to escape, the power of dancing around the fire in the moonlight, and the awe in watching a man of character minimize a man of weakness with integrity alone. There are parts of myself I am forced to face when reading BLAND FATHOMLESS CONTEMPT, or EATING BUKOWSKI, and in MOLLYWOOD, my heart broke for both of them.
The need for love and a sense of belonging is what motivates each of us at the core, no matter our position or lot in life.
The crown jewel is LULLABY, the first five chapters of a serialized novel. I fell in love with all of the characters in some way as I read myself through their loneliness, fear, courage, and exuberance.It’s been a very long time since I’ve found myself so wrapped up in the story unfolding in my hands. I know I can’t wait to read the next chapters of their lives as they’re offered. My only hope is that it will be soon.
I learn to harvest the truth mixed with the bits of fiction in the stories he offers. Underneath every word of every story is a furiously burning love, hope and determination. He thrusts himself into life, chest first, heart hammering, eyes wide with fear which is “just excitement with no place to dance”. He has lifted himself above neglect, bigotry and abuse. He has overcome heart-staggering loss, and addiction.
His passion for his craft isn’t limited to his writing. It bleeds over into everything he does. I’m fascinated to learn that he makes Messages in a Bottle, and jewelry as well. The bottles are works of art in themselves, holding various pieces of his writing inside, crowned with hand-carved corks with silver toppers, and sealed with wax. The first one I ordered arrived on a Saturday when a friend was with me. When I unwrapped the carefully packaged bottle, and read the poem inside, we both had tears in our eyes. That is power. Those are words that make worlds. The more he makes, the more elaborate and intricate they become.
The jewelry pieces are novels without words. I order a charm bracelet, and what I receive is a story about me, in solid silver. Each charm represents something he’s learned about me, and I’m not ashamed to say I was at a loss for words when I held it in my hands. Everything he offers holds some of the heart and love he has for those he calls “his people”. He puts so much thought into every piece, searching for the right charms to suit each person, so that when they open their package and hold it in their hands, they know immediately that this piece is only for them, no one else could own it and feel the impact. If you don’t have one of his pieces, you have my sympathy, and I suggest you rectify that oversight.
As I said, this is not an interview. If you follow him, you know he grew up in northern Idaho, his IQ is in the upper two percent of the general population, his childhood was unacceptable by any humane standards, he won his first major writing award at age twenty-one, and that he writes as a conduit of something much greater than all of us. You may know he’s a Sagittarius, that he drinks whiskey when he drinks at all, smokes Pall Mall Blues, and permits only limited printing of his work. If you pay very close attention, you’ll learn that his greatest fear is to leave this life before all the words that need to be written are finally put on paper by his hand. These things are not what it’s my intention to share with you.
He gives of himself to such an extent that he is constantly disappointed in the apathy of those around him. He has no desire for anyone to put him on a pedestal, the same one that all of his literary heroes have fallen off of soon after he met them.
He knows that life is fleeting, and can’t bear the thought of not speaking the truth, not loving with all he has or not “eating the cookies”.
He is part badass, part bleeding heart; the logical mind of Spock warring with an endlessly giving heart. He will give you the shirt off his back, and then bite your head off for mentioning it later. He is irritating and amusing, offering his advice when asked, and letting you fall on your face when you don’t listen. His example of tell it like it is, has obviously rubbed off on me.
I recently purchase two signed copies of The Last Cigarette of the Night. His generosity inspires in me a desire to give the second one away to someone who can’t afford to buy a copy, so I ask him how to decide who to send it to. With his permission I post a contest asking for an essay on the feelings inspired by his writing.
The responses I receive are strong and varied. The emotions expressed range from soft and sweet to hell-fire and brimstone. They come from as far as Africa, all carrying the same message of love and gratitude. The chronically ill, the broken-hearted, the lost and the angry at life respond with fervor.
I’m stunned by the outpouring of emotion inspired by one man and his words.
My original thought was to give a book away as an act of kindness. What I ended up with was an example of what it means to make a difference in the lives of people you may never meet. I find myself struggling with the desire to buy all the copies and give them to every single contributor. It’s a very hard decision.
This is what I know for sure. This is the truth I can offer the reader. Michael Xavier is flawed and indomitable, generous and reserved, blunt to the point of offensiveness and loyal to those who remain at his side, no matter the circumstances. He can be both sharp-tongued and soft-hearted. He is quick to anger and forgive. He’s sweet and snarly, funny and sometimes rude. He’s a gifted writer, a superior craftsman and a good man.
Getting to know him is not easy, or painless.
But it is worth it.