We had the good fortune of connecting with Ryan Matera and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ryan, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I’m not sure I ever did, or at least I can’t remember the moment when it became inevitable. But it surely has, and the thought of a traditional career seems as implausible to me as putting on a moon suit and sipping tea with Jackie Kennedy. It’s just not gonna happen, for so many reasons. A lot of people “pursue” artistic careers, and those people are getting very successful all around me, and I think they could have applied their talents to a wide range of fields and done equally as well. My life has resembled more of a mindless stumble, where in every moment I’ve been intensely focused on details and experiences, and only occasionally do I look up and wonder where I am. There’s a cliché with a bit of truth that goes, “the way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” Personally, the way I do everything is the way I’m doing this one thing. That is, I can’t help but romanticize and analyze every moment of my life in a way that makes me entirely unfit for a life of data-plugging or product-selling. I don’t have a conversation or a car ride or a grocery store trip that I don’t turn into an experience. I refuse to go gentle into mediocrity and I’m too stubborn to like or do anything that’s been liked or done before. The way I connect with people is through stories, and I believe wholeheartedly that deep within me there is a wildly acute observer and teacher and every second of my life is incidentally devoted to accessing it. I’m a fraction of a fraction from getting there, and absolutely thrilled by every failure on the journey. In short, I chose an artistic life because I had no other choice, and if I had a time machine I’d go back to my sixteen-year-old self and swap out my copy of On The Road with a practice LSAT.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
It took me a while to find the niche I’m so grateful for. I started with the dream of doing stand-up comedy, moved to New York, and failed miserably. I went to school and realized what I really wanted to do was make movies and write stories. I did that, moved to LA to do it right, failed miserably. There’s a theme in my life of putting all my eggs in one basket, and I stand by this. Bet it all on one number and love the failures and hopefully the successes will be real and deep and enriching. Now I know what I want is to write, namely, short stories, novels, and essays. Every idea that comes to me know is in this format, and every thing I read and learn is to more deeply inform these pursuits. The so-called “death of the novel” is the best thing that could’ve happened for me. I can now safely explore without anyone paying attention. I subscribe to Kierkegaard’s theory of “Crop Rotation,” working on multiple projects at once, constantly tending to each based on creative whims. I’ve never really surfed, but I imagine it’s very similar. Don’t hold out for the big wave, take the one you get. I am addicted to my struggles, and every low moment of stifled creativity is just the process of storing up potential for my next outburst. My current attention is on two main projects: a collection of four short stories/novellas and a book of essays/stories dedicated to the idea of moving from an urban to a rural environment.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m not an LA pro, and am usually the one being shown places here. I live in Echo Park and have some great curated neighborhood walks that could make for a great Monday or Friday night. If a friend visits, I’m bound to shoot up into the mountains, out to Vegas, or up the coast to Big Sur. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many, and I believe I am as much the sum of my influences as I am an individual. Early on there was one or two teachers who probably don’t know I exist who opened my eyes to literature. Matt Sather and Ms. Michols taught me what a metaphor is and I’ll never stop being grateful. Jay Mis and Jack Kerouac taught me to be a holy goof. My parents, absolutely confused by my sensibilities, are kind enough to trust me to figure out something worthy of my high standard for life. My cousin and best friend Andy is my partner in crime. My best friends to this day keep me wild. JD Salinger taught me the value of giving people something to believe. Isak Dinesen taught me how subtly a message can be delivered. Kurt Vonnegut taught me to be silly and serious at the same time. Paul Thomas Anderson was the first person to tell me to dream big and take chances. And of course all the people along the way, some of whom are still around and some strangers, who gave me the experiences and stories which have informed my views on the world.