In You Are Here (For Now), artist and author Adam J. Kurtz is vulnerable, wise and hilarious as he doles out advice and comfort to anyone who’s really going through it.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
Sometimes the worst advice comes from the people who love us the most. I won’t go into it (oops, bad start to an interview), but someone who loves me was enabling me when what I really needed was a full reset.
Advice is always going to be highly subjective, even when it comes from the most intuitive and special people in our lives. I make sure to be especially transparent about that when dispensing any myself, including within my books.
What motivates you to motivate others? Is motivation even the right word for it?
I don’t think it’s motivation so much as me continually searching for a way to be OK—yes, me, an infamously (to myself) not OK person—and then wanting to share it with as many people as possible. In the last few years, and particularly as I did more speaking, I realized that my weirdo-brain way of thinking through shit actually sounds a lot like other peoples’ inner monologues, and so I began to think that maybe there’s power in opening up the conversation to others.
Do you remember the first time you reached a “vibe equilibrium” (when good vibes and bad vibes can coexist)? How sustainable is such a state?
“GOOD VIBES ONLY” is tone-deaf at this point because we’re all in the jello now! It’s pandemic year two, and everybody is simultaneously struggling through very real hardships and loss while still experiencing moments of joy and celebrating milestones in spite of everything. That’s the vibe equilibrium I’m talking about. Turns out, it’s pretty sustainable. In fact, it’s the only thing that works, because pure ignorance is dangerous, but focusing solely on the news cycle makes it impossible to feel good at all.
When you sit down to write, who do you imagine you’re talking to? What role does the idea of an audience play in your process?
This is literally SO mentally-ill-gay-Jew of me, but at least half the time I’m just talking to myself. I mean, aren’t we all? Even our most objective advice and anecdotes are still rooted in our own lived experiences. I think about a younger version of myself, or a friend sitting across from me on the couch talking through their current mix of stress and insecurity.
I am totally a secret-keeper and confidant for people, and it’s an honor to be “that friend” for the people I love. I imagine my readers as friends who are going through it right now, and since it’s not always appropriate to instigate a heart-to-heart, I thought about this book as a way for readers to opt-in to talk about all the stuff we don’t usually talk about—like failure, shame, anxiety and death.
What is it about being glib that helps you cope? Is this a way to reach deeper levels of honesty?
I mean, yes, in the way that my favorite deadpan, self-deprecating humor is often incredibly honest. It’s also the kind of deep-level honesty that this poor barista did not ask for. So it’s about finding the funny silver lining for yourself, but also making sure that you have and respect boundaries.
Has the shift in how we talk about self-care changed our lived experience of it? If so, do you think this change is for the better?
Yes yes yes yes yes. I am so grateful for the way this conversation continues to change, and I try to be very intentional about my use of the phrases “self-care,” “mental health” and “mental illness.” It’s so necessary for us to allow ourselves and one another to acknowledge mental well-being in a mainstream, practical, actionable way.
Seeing Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, two incredible Black women at the top of their games, speak openly about mental health and even deprioritize their passion, pride and income to focus inward is so incredible. It means a lot to me to have a small part in this conversation that continues to unfold around all of us.
It often feels like it’s becoming increasingly hard to be a human being. Is there reprieve from this? If so, where do you find it in your own life?
I think we’re simply seeing more ways of being and are subsequently faced with far more comparisons and possibilities than before. It’s hard for me to realize I’m unhappy if I don’t know how happy I could theoretically be! But many of the same tools that hurt us (hi, social media) can also bring us comfort, inspiration and community. I always think of my art as a breadcrumb trail left out in the universe to attract my people. Sharing this process has brought incredible friendships, and my husband, into my life. Not to mention a book deal . . .
What music has helped you stay alive? What’s the soundtrack of your life right now?
Michelle Branch’s “The Spirit Room” meant absolutely everything to me as a teen. It came out around the same time that my family moved from Canada to the USA and I was coming to terms with my sexuality and how it conflicted with our Jewish religion. “Goodbye to you, goodbye to everything that I knew,” sung in such literal terms, meant the world to me as a 13-year-old. It’s that album’s 20-year anniversary this year, and she’s rerecorded it, so I’ve had that in rotation, a fresh take on the words and melodies that are hard-wired into my brain.
Alanis Morissette’s “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie” also must receive credit for being an incredible, dense, vulnerable look into a young, intelligent and complex mind. Sometimes I think that if Alanis Morissette could find joy and success in her art on a complicated path through teen fame and pain, I can do my thing and have that be enough.
Speaking of musicians, did you mean for the handwritten parts of the book to look like the cover of Drake’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”?
Oh my god, get away from me!!!!!!! I’d been doing this thing for many years, and when that album came out, so many people asked me if I worked on it. That type was actually created by the street artist JIMJOE, and when I first moved to New York, he had tagged the door downstairs “OK OK OK OK NO PROBLEMS.” I wish I had written THAT first, but I’ve saved the photo and still might get it tattooed some day.
Author photo © Michelle Mishina