Jim Trainer

HOW TO LIVE, A Lecture

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2020 at 10:30 am

The following lecture was given at the Cheatham Street Wareouse last night in San Marcos TX, put on by the Cheatham Street Music Foundation and hosted by the Good Reverend Jason S. Woolery.  Also on the panel was local fiction author Jennifer Kabay, and longtime publisher of poetry and journalism, Denise Bartlett.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a copy of One From None by Henry Rollins.  I was sitting on my buddy J’s stoop in Upper Darby PA–transfixed on the black cover with a black and white photo of the man performing.  There, on the cover, it said “ONE FROM NONE Rollins”, and, when you turned it over it said “2.13.61”, his book company.  That’s when I knew I’d be published. Not only that but in one fell swoop Uncle Hank gave me self-publishing, journaling and poetry–and through these he showed me how to live.


In the mid 80s Henry’s band broke up and he knew he’d have to parlay his notoriety and infamy in the underground or he’d be right back in the minimum wage world he was up to his neck in when he joined the mighty Black Flag.  So he started his own book company.  This was in L.A., in the early 80s.  Besides being part of what was the most important socio-political movement of our time, Uncle Hank was neighbors with people like Charles Bukowski and Hubert Selby Jr.  His friends included people like Lydia Lunch, Jello Biafra and Don Bajema. The country was enjoying a thriving middle class we would never enjoy again.

His first books were no frills, black and white affairs on plain construction paper without image.  Big blocky letters that portended of an austere aesthetic that wasn’t just by design.  D.I.Y. but, as is the case with great art, the medium was the message.

Love me hate me, it’s all the same
I am weak
Looking to get stronger
When I open my eyes all the way
It’s all there is for me
Kindness is strength
It’s easier to close a door, than to keep it open
Hatred is easy
Frustration is life on pause
These are truths that are hard for me to deal with
I learned a lot this year
I think I am stronger than last year
Self-creation is painful
Trying to take my parent’s blood out of mine
Trying to stand on my own two feet
Without leaning on someone else
Looking to myself for total strength
To be

Not only did I know I’d be published when I saw that copy of One From None, I was introduced to poetry at the street level.  Poetry that I could write. I’d always been a fan of poetry.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge (thanks to Iron Maiden) and Shel Silverstein.  I loved poetry but this was different.  I wrote as a kid–fake school newspapers and short fantasy stories, but this was different.  Uncle Hank introduced me to journaling.  That is, journaling in earnest. The way he journaled. It was uneventful, maybe, nothing worth writing about, maybe, but the chronicling of the event was the event.  He was making an event out of his life and these mundane and a lot of times anxiety-filled moments.  He was trying to get his arms around things.  He was trying to compartmentalize. By putting himself in the center of the action he was creating his mythology.  It was like a spell. He was telling a story by documenting reality and placing himself in the center of the world he observed.  Observing and writing it down makes a story, but, at it’s most basic Henry showed me that all a story needs is a beginning and an end.  The medium was the message, punk rock had razed the 4th wall.  The performer and the audience were one.  Hank gave the reader access and took that ideal to the page.

Journaling was some kind of beautification magic.  Life became an event of endurance for him and by writing it down and placing himself in the middle of the action he was cast as protagonist. Journaling was a chronicling of his endurance, which cast him as the hero or, at the very least, the person to which things occurred to and/or around.  Rollins wrote about his own blues and he made a world.  He put things into terms he could relate to. I was first visited by depression at age 15.  Uncle Hank showed me how to deal with it and I was on my way.  

I write to get a grip on things and “frame the agony” as Bukowski put it.  Get my arms around things, hold on to something because everything is just passing through and into you.  Like I told my Jenny at the 2031 book release in December, often all that stands between me and a roaring chaos is a column of words.  If you’re a writer and an artist you should have no boundaries.  Great artists should have no boundaries.  The same is true for horrible people. Writing is your scepter, your talisman, your cypher.  

Things begin to take a poetic shape when you start noticing and writing it down.  Eventually you have to write it down and you’re hooked.  Mostly what I’m speaking to is having to write. I have to write, however I’m not a fan of the oft-repeated I’m an artist because I have to be.  Even if I am an artist because I have to be, I’m not a fan this maxim because I don’t want to exclude anyone.  I don’t want to exclude anybody who wants to be a writer, anyone who wants to write, but doesn’t. It seems like there are people who want to write and they do and people who want to write but they don’t.  I want to reach them. If you don’t want to write my best advice to you, until I can find a way to reach you, is–don’t write. The End. Because if you don’t derive pleasure from it, first of all why would you do it but, ultimately, it’s going to be almost impossible to maintain.

I love to write but before I broke through it was pure pain. Breaking through was the result of the conflation of new media such as the internet and blogging and new forms of journalism and literature such as Creative Nonfiction.  The result of breaking through is that I will never have writer’s block again.  Though it still is painful a lot of times. The very act of sitting down is in itself hard for me. I just lucked out that pain and discomfort are my main motivation as a writer.  Angst is my source material and my angst is endless. Dis-ease, maladjustment, anxiety, anger.  Smoking/not smoking.  Some people call it passion. I’m reaching out to folks who want to write and do and I’m reaching out to folks who want to write but don’t, and from both these groups I’d like to reach the folks who want to self-publish but aren’t. If you want to self-publish and you are, well–have at it, there is no greater feeling.  Be sure to invite me to your binding circle and we’ll do work.  

4 2016-12-04 12.24.00

The importance of self-publishing is many-headed, not the least of which is that it is extremely political.  The creation of Art is a political act.  Most importantly self-publishing is the final act of letting go of your work.  To evaluate your work you must let it go. At every step of the process you are letting go but you really need to let go, Jim Trainer.  Someone else has to read it to complete it.  To paraphrase Guy Clark, a song isn’t done until it’s heard.  Even if you don’t want someone else to read it and you want to self-publish, I don’t’ see why you can’t derive some of the same thrills I get holding a collection of my own work in my hand.  No one has to read it but you’re still letting it go.  Your making an ephemeral world of idea into a physical thing.  You’re giving it voice and you’re birthing a physical thing that exists outside of you.  

5 Letterpress

Every step of my process is a succession of successes.  Like Uncle Hank, I write my way through.  There’s this interview with Richard Hell where he says that being a writer is the best job, the only job, because no matter what happens, no matter where you are or why–being a writer gives you reason to be there.  You have a reason to go through any boon or bane and that’s to write it down.  Writing is a reason to be which speaks back to what I was saying about Rollins showing me how to live.  If I make it through the moment, the oft-barbed and rife moment–success.  If I write about it–success. If I write a couple poems–success. If I lay them out, collect them.  Print them out, have a cover designed by Snakes Will Eat You and bind them–success. When you buy a book from me (you should buy a book from me), it’s like you’re saying Congratulations.  You’re shaking my hand in congratulations and saying Congratulations, you are a writer. Being a writer is all I ever wanted to be–success.  Because a writer writes books and I have a book and you are buying it from me, I am a writer–success.   Uncle Hank and Richard Hell showed me that being a writer is the only thing to be anyway and that writing is the counselor, the friend, the talisman, the reason for being here and going through anything and the only real magic.  It can be the power of self-realization. And manifestation. Manifestation is why we self-publish.

Ultimately self-publishing is the final act of letting go of your work. You must let go of your work for it to grow. I’m not talking about the specific collection that you’ve bound and released into the world.  I’m talking about the Work ongoing, the act of creating.  Writing is putting words to paper and writing is letting it go.  

6 All in the wind copy

I think that confidence and doubt go a long way in creating art.  Being an artist takes some real stones, especially in this country.  The arbiters of confidence, i.e. publishers though, they base their tastes on marketing.  They are certainly skewed toward intellectual writers which, let’s face it–college is just more marketing. It’s about money.  I think doubt can keep you striving, keep you hungry, keep you lean.  But some writers and would-be writers are only paralyzed by doubt.  They don’t write! If you write you are a writer.  If you want to be a writer, I have a lecture on How To Be A Writer and the 3 things that everyone has you need to be a writer.  You’re not going to believe you’re a writer though, until you hold a collection of your own work in your hands.  Which I think is what’s so implicit in what I’ll call the publishing game.  You’ve made it, they say, You’re one of us and worst of all, You’re welcome.  Then you’re supposed to go out and sell three thousand of them on your own dime.  Quit your job and fly around the country.  This is what I think people, I certainly did, mistake publishing for–distribution.  

8 Get Lit 4:2:17

What I discovered about having a book published is that all that the publisher does is manufacture the book.  My publisher didn’t have enough of my books and never had enough of them–from their release in Philadelphia well into their final run.  I figured if all they were doing was manufacturing my book (and doing a lousy job), I could do that. I wouldn’t have the accolade, I wouldn’t be able to pride myself on being a published author or–or, I could simply rely on the fact that I was published by them and I am a published author.  If having a book published is only it’s manufacture, and being published by someone else is what it means to be published, then I can publish your collection and you can publish mine and–congratulations we are published.  The people who say self-publishing isn’t really publishing and use terms like “vanity press” have a vested interest in saying that.  They’re the same people who say the internet isn’t published and they are wrong.  The internet is published.  If you don’t believe the internet is published I’ve 2 words for you–Arab Spring.

I don’t find fault in this reasoning, it’s real.  I still feel real.  I feel like a writer because I write.   It’s a trick of the mind and it works well for me.  I’m a published writer when someone else publishes my work and I’m a published writer when I publish my work.  That’s what this discussion is about. It harkens back to seeing Uncle Hank’s One From None for the first time.  On my buddy’s stoop in the middle of winter in 1992. I was 17 and I was drinking beer and smoking Marlboro Reds!  Not just knowing I could do it. Knowing I would. 

Also, I love the way text looks on paper.  I love ink and columns of words. I’ve been publishing at Going For The Throat, 600 words every Thursday for the last 10 years, and it all started because I loved the way my black words looked on this white page.  It’s their WaPo theme you’re looking at right now and it looks real and I love it.  It looks like a newspaper.  It’s another trick of the mind.  Holding a collection of your own work in your hands, self-publishing, posting to a site that looks like a newspaper makes me feel like I am writing for a newspaper, which is something I’ve pretended to do since the age of 10.  It’s this elemental, mind-trick magic. Is a blog published? Is it a newspaper?   Let’s just say it looked like one and that was enough for me to keep coming back to the well and posting here for 10 years.  I’m a writer because I write and I’ve been writing here for a decade–success.


A byproduct of putting out a collection of poetry every year is I get to see, to physically see, how much I am in fact writing every year.  The diabolical and necessary contradiction of confidence and doubt I mentioned, a contradiction that Bruce Springsteen urged us to keep alive, inside our minds, at all times–if it doesn’t drive you crazy it will make you strong.  I never think I write enough.   This drives me, it’s another trick of the mind, though not a kind one–the fear of not being a writer is what drives me, puts me in a chair, forces me to write.  It puts me on deadline which is one of the 3 things I mentioned that all of us have in order to be a writer–a deadline.  A deadline is accountability, you need a deadline to be a writer. You need to be accountable and I don’t know about you but I am horrible at being accountable to myself.  I need to be accountable to another.  So I announce it on social media, I’m publishing a collection of poetry every year for 10 years and you bet I’ll do it.  I’ve projected my fear of failure and with yet another trick of the mind I use “your” disappointment as my inspiration.
The thing that makes me a writer is, first of all that I write, and I write because I am terrified that I won’t be a writer!   I could go into all the reasons why–I never wanted to be like my Father, a closet poet and a company man.  I never wanted to be anything like him and these are the things that drive me.  Can you find some some weird dark combination of motivation and worthlessness and guilt in your brain?  If you can then you’re golden pony boy.  I never feel like I write enough.  But thanks to this crazy fucking deadline I’ve imposed on myself, I make sure I do!  

10 2019-10-31 at 12.18.27 PM

When I turned 40 I decided to put out a collection of poetry every year for 10 years.  When I turn 50 I don’t know what the fuck I’ll do, but thanks to this deadline I know I’m a writer.  I publish 100 books and I sell 100 books–success.  Last year I published another poet, in addition to myself, and at his urging we did editions of 225 and I’m gonna sell every single one of them because my self worth depends on it.

11 Yellow Lark






2031 thumbnail


  1. […]  We fight on social media.  We grandstand.  We do all the great things you can do when you’re published and you have a voice.  But I don’t think we’ve changed a damn thing and we’re […]

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