About Ptolemy Tompkins
Q. What is your birthdate?
Q. Previous occupations
A. Waiter, ESL teacher, cook.
Q. Favorite job
Q. High school and/or college
A. The Maret School in DC for high school, Vassar and Sarah Lawrence for college.
Q. Name of your favorite composer or music artist?
A. U2. That's OLD U2, by the way.
Q. Favorite movie
A. Night of the Living Dead. (The original)
Q. Favorite television show
A. The Wire
Q. How would you describe your life in only 8 words?
A. Get back to where you once belonged. Again.
Q. What is your motto or maxim?
A. I'll have to to go with Heraclitus' line: "Character is fate." Which doesn't mean that I think I have a particularly good character. I just think it's true.
Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?
A. I think it was Proust who said that we never know when we're happy, only when we were happy. I don't know about perfect happiness, but I know I'd enjoy being able to inhabit certain moments of the past again, only as the person that I am now. To climb back into my past self kind of like a space suit and do it all over again, the same only... different. Actually, I think a lot of writers have this dream, and that that's one reason why at least some people become writers to begin with.
Q. What’s your greatest fear?
A. The psychologist Carl Jung said somewhere that at bottom, everyone's greatest fear is hell. Not the Christian hell, necessarily, but a place of ultimate darkness and negativity. A place that's DOWN, not UP. I think he was right. Well, he was right about me at least.
Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A. Out of it, but in it. (See question 4 above)
Q. With whom in history do you most identify?
A. Georg Trakl (eccentric early 20th century Austrian poet). Talk about someone who wanted to be in the world but out of it.
Q. Which living person do you most admire?
A. Robert Bly
Q. What are your most overused words or phrases?
A. Changes by the book, though there are always a lot. In The Modern Book of the Dead, "utterly" was a problem.
Q. What do you regret most?
A. Same as (pretty much) everyone's: Not living my life differently.
Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A. Complete, serene disregard for the consequences of any of my actions. Or singing.
Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. Writing my first book. Because I really, really didn't know what I was talking about, but had to pretend I did, and doing that every day for a year and a half gets tiring.
Q. What’s your greatest flaw?
A. Weak character in spots. (See question 1)
Q. What’s your best quality?
A. I'm not completely unconscious of my flaws.
Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A. A benign poltergeist would be pretty fun, at least for a while. Maybe in the future.
Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A. Danny in The Shining.
Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A. Jack, in same.
Q. If you could meet any historical character, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A. I wouldn't mind being able to ask the Buddha if he really didn't believe in the existence of the self.
Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
A. Rude people, smoking. (Just kidding about the smoking)
Q. What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
Q. What’s your fantasy profession?
A. Marine biologist
Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A. I'm a fan of all the usual ones.
Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A. Spaghetti or opium.
Q. What are your 5 favorite songs?
A. Really? Okay, let's see. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" -- Joy Division. "Pride (In the Name of Love)" -- U2. "Dreaming" -- Blondie. "Moonlight Mile" -- The Rolling Stones. "I Am the Resurrection" -- The Stone Roses
On Books and Writing
Q. Who are your favorite authors?
A. J. M. Coetzee, Nicholas Berdyaev, Robert Bly, Paul Bowles, and Henry Miller.
Q. What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A. Meditations on the Tarot by Valentin Tomberg, The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo, Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Far Tortuga by Peter Matthiessen, and Unancestral Voice by Owen Barfield.
Q. Is there a book you love to reread?
A. Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Q. Do you have one sentence of advice for new writers?
A. If the part that isn't any fun wasn't there, there would be even MORE books in the world.
Q. What comment do you hear most often from your readers?
A. "Your childhood sounds like it was so... interesting."