Andrew Otis Haschemeyer was a Stegner Fellow in Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program and currently teaches for Stanford’s 'Online Writer’s Studio.' His dad had received a gift, a wooden carved Ganesha from a friend. After his father’s death, Otis now has this Ganesha in his office.
Otis's father worked at Cornel Medical School in New York and his best friend was an Indian - Dr. Saresh, who lived several stories above him. Otis says this is how he "had some familiarity with India from a young age growing up in New York." He says he has always loved Indian food, and there were several places on 6th Street in the East Village he would go to eat.
Later, working at Stanford Continuing Studies he says he was lucky to teach a student who then went on to found Indic Academy and invited him to teach some workshops. "I know I’ve learned more in those workshops than anyone learned from me," Otis says about the Indic Academy writing workshops.
In this interview Otis shares his thoughts on Indic writing and his own journey with it.
You mention a connection between Yoga, writing and music. That is a beautiful connection. In all three there are points of tension and release. Can we say that yoga offers an understanding of life itself?
Yes, I think so. The thing I notice with yoga—maybe too much so—is just how physical it is. This is probably the base I feel with all these practices, yoga, writing, music, and so much more. It’s grounded in the physical. And the physical is grounded in oppositions. On the one had we could see that as “oppositional” but it is in the oppositional that we also find movement and ideally flow. We find that in the music, even in sound itself— as sound wave. We find that in writing, with the protagonist and the antagonist forces. And we find it—of course—in yoga, when, for example, I try to sustain a pose. I might appear still, but I’m engaged in dynamic opposition, which we might call life itself.
In your conversations you talk about Indian Hindu stories and non-Hindu stories. Is it only the characters and the context that defines this or is the structure also often distinct?
There are things that are universal in stories in all cultures. All stories sequence listening or reading events and create ways of understanding the world. The ancient stories both captured cultural history and conveyed knowledge and the ways of doing things, creating tradition. I notice and am struck in Hindu stories by the prevalence and centrality of the narrator, as a sort of originator of the story. I like that. And I love the story of Ganesh who writes, but demands that the story never stop. His pen failing, he breaks off his tusk to continue. That sounds like me. The writer doesn’t really invent—all we do is write it down. That’s what it is to be a writer.
You say you like the world these stories operate in? What is it that appeals to you _ Indian philosophy or the other cultural differences?
Coming from a tradition of monotheism, I really like this polytheistic world. I love the Gods and their personalities and the ways they can seem and feel to be part of everyday life. I like that more expansive collection of deities. It’s refreshing and entertaining and feels real and relevant. I also really admire the long history of India, going back so many centuries and the traditions in education and philosophy. It’s a profound context and one that can feel a little richer than the one I know of in the west. It’s also wonderfully new to me—I do like new.
Discipline is a word that is a recurring theme in writing and yoga. Is it a mental discipline or a physical discipline that is more difficult for you.
Ah, great question. I think the difficulty for me is in how I think of discipline. I can think of it as something negative—something that I have to do. But I think the real joy that can come from both writing and yoga comes from realizing that discipline does not describe something you have to do, but instead describes simply a discipline of showing up and not doing anything, just being there for life to happen.
A difficulty that lndians face is translating or representing words that have no equivalents in English. What do you think is the best way to navigate this?
My advice about everything is to be honest. So, write the word and then try to describe it. Try to translate it—maybe not with a single word but with many. Words are just symbols of things that exist. If you have words and there is not one in English—that doesn’t mean the “thing” does not exist, it means we don’t have a word for it, and in a way we know it but are not conscious of it. What a great thing to bring to your English only speaking readers—an expanded consciousness of the known world.
What are the themes that you would like to read by Indian authors?
Wow, another great question. I read to go into another world (and escape my own!). Just let that happen. Invite the reader into your world and let them be there, completely—and by the world, I also mean the character, because the character is the sensory conduit for the world. I think the best stories capture both the uniquely particular and the universal struggle of human beings. I never tire of those stories. Stories like that help us carry on.
(Andrew Otis Haschemeyer was a Stegner Fellow in Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program and currently teaches for Stanford’s “Online Writer’s Studio.” He is the recipient of an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship. He has won a Margolis Foundation Prize in non-fiction and the Jeffery E. Smith Editor’s Prize for fiction. His work has appeared in Best New American Voices 2003 & 2009, The Sun, The Alaska Quarterly Review, Iodine Poetry Journal, Barrow Street, Politically Inspired, and other journals and anthologies. His reviews appear in Broken Bridge Review and The American Alpine Journal. Cover pic is of Otis with his family: writer/activist Zondie Zinke, daughters Ozy and Zo and, as he says, lucky him).