Art + Love: Jennifer Patiño and Reuben Westmaas
On sharing space, inspiration in times of keyboard depression and how they make writing, love and a relationship work.
Jennifer Patiño is a poet, essayist, voice of reason, archivist in-the-making, and a longtime member of the Sixty Fam who has contributed to Gozamos and helped behind the scenes at the Lit + Luz Festival. Reuben Westmaas is a writer, whisky connoisseur, master debater, and one of the lead art editors behind Sixty. This is their story.
On where it all started:
Jennifer: We met through a writing group that a friend and I started after graduating college. We were trying to connect to other writers so that we wouldn’t fall out of the habit of writing. Most of the people in the group were people who had taken writing workshops together at Columbia College. My friend Nikki brought this tall guy she worked with and I was like, “Uhhh, okay. I guess he can join.”
Reuben: I was like, “I’m definitely going to sit next to her.”
Jennifer: He had muttonchops. The first thing he ever said to me was “I don’t normally look like this” while pointing at his beard.
Reuben: Sorry about that.
On one another’s process and practice:
Reuben: Jenny is always working, even when she’s not. You can tell because there are little notes all over the house. Her brain is always working on something and coming up with the exact thing she needs to say, in the exact right way. And then, after a couple of weeks of leaving little notes that say things like “taco murder” around, she’ll sit down and bang out something AMAZING in a couple of hours.
Jennifer: It’s really embarrassing when he reads my notes. Sometimes they don’t make sense to me at all after I’ve written them. [I’m] pretty sure it looks like he lives with a serial killer.
Reuben: But in a good way.
Jennifer: Reuben’s work can [take] time to germinate. He is a copywriter by day, so he can turn out great marketing copy so quickly. He is so versatile. And as an editor, he is able to zero in on what might be missing in a piece or what needs clarity. But being a writer by day, aside from helping him work on his craft, can also be really draining when it comes to other types of writing he wants to do. So he needs to do things to get him out of that zone, shake things up a bit to be able to get back into a creative mindset. Not sure if he realizes this, but I think his love of DND (Dungeons & Dragons) really influences his storytelling and world building in that sense. Having a day job as a writer gives him deadlines and I think that works well with his creative process, too–having somewhere to share his pieces, whether in a group or at an event, really brings out the best in him. So his pieces develop over time, with care, revision and sharing.
On sharing space:
Jennifer: We share an office together. It’s full of books and whisky. And there’s a punching bag. I find more and more that I need to be physically active to process [things]. Sometimes I’ll read while on the stationary bike. I’m probably [a] really annoying [person] to share a space with.
Reuben: She says that but she’s not at all. Actually, I like working with her on the bike behind me. It keeps me honest. Sometimes, if one of us has a project that really needs to get done in the next day or so, the other one will vacate the space and just take care of everything else that needs to be taken care of—food, laundry, whatever. But other times we both just get in the zone and let the house fall to pieces while we work.
Jennifer: And then we just go to a café because we’re too gross at home.
On collaborating with one another:
Jennifer: We collaborate on things for Sixty together. Reuben and Toby do most of the editing. I do some editing from time to time as well. We used to get in the biggest fights about commas when we tried to edit the same pieces together, though. Outside of Sixty, we haven’t really collaborated on things together. But we constantly ask each other for feedback on what we’re working on. Our marriage is like a mini writing group with sex and a tax break.
Reuben: Yeah, I think it is hard for writers especially to collaborate, per se. Sometimes I see a book with two authors and I really don’t understand it. But I think that we work together in the sense of inspiring each other to make the best work that we can, and also to remind each other that we’re both actually pretty good writers, even when keyboard depression sets in.
On how their process and practice has been influenced by one another:
Reuben: Honestly, she just gets me to work. Before, I’d always say I want to be a writer, but I’d so rarely actually write anything. She makes me feel like she wants to know what I have to put to page, and so I do it. Also, she gives me somebody to throw story ideas against and see how they react. Because she’ll also be completely honest if she doesn’t think something is working, and that is so much more helpful than somebody who always tells you “I like it!” and stops there.
Jennifer: I think my writing has more vulnerability since meeting him. I think Reuben helps me open up to explore things in my writing that are a bit scarier to talk about. I feel like I am able to be more authentic now. I know I have a tendency to want to stay hidden and to stay in the background. So my impulse when I’m writing is to think that nobody wants to read my thoughts. But I know that impulse is coming from fear, from feeling like I’m safer not putting myself out there. He is there to remind me that there are people who might feel better or learn something from what I’m writing and that makes it easier to take the risk. He makes me braver. I can see more of myself in my writing now.
This interview is part of a series. You can read more Art + Love interviews here.
Featured Image: Wedding day at Garfield Park Conservatory, June 2016. All photos courtesy of the couple.
Tempestt Hazel is a curator, writer, and founding editor of Sixty Inches From Center. Her writing has been published by Hyde Park Art Center and the Broad Museum (Lansing), in Support Networks: Chicago Social Practice History Series, Contact Sheet: Light Work Annual, Unfurling: Explorations In Art, Activism and Archiving, on Artslant, as well as various monographs of artists, including an upcoming book of work by Cecil McDonald, Jr. published by Candor Arts. For more, visit tempestthazel.com. (Photo by James T. Green.)