RP Mystic interviews Tyler Gaca aka @ghosthoney about the creation of Gentle Chaos: Poems, Tales, and Magic, a dreamy compendium of artworks written and visual that explore magic, queerness, Tyler’s unique story, and the enchantment and comfort to be found in the weird, the dark, and the different. Plus learn more about the companion Gentle Chaos Guided Journal and Gentle Chaos Pocket Oracle Deck.Read full article
By Tyler Gaca
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In this raw yet enchanting collection of poems, essays, photographs, and artworks, Tyler Gaca dreamily navigates themes of magic and queerness, offering readers an intimate look inside his mind and his worlds, real and imagined.
The writings in Gentle Chaos reflect on growing up queer and in love with magic, discovering yourself and your place in the world, and daring to seek out love and hope. The artworks are dedicated to salvaged antique photographs, haircuts, dead moths, the creatures we dream up, and much more. The result is a whimsical, vulnerable, and transporting journey into the gentle chaos within us all.
Greetings! Thank you so much for picking up this copy of Gentle Chaos. This little book is filled to the brim with the types of emotions and secrets that sometimes feel too big for our bodies to contain. It is full of quiet moments of reflection, of love, joy, and sorrow.
My hope is that with this book, you find a moment of respite from the world around you and you are able to discover a piece of yourself in one of these poems, tales, or slivers of magic. There is true beauty in vulnerability, and there is magic in pouring your heart out for both others and yourself. What a delicious treat it has been to take these fragments of my life that have shaped me so much and thread them together into a grandiose display for you all.
I am so happy you are here.
IN THE OKLAHOMA SUN
I remember running around a wooden playground in Norman, Oklahoma, stopping occasionally to watch my grandmother, who was sitting on a bench nearby, carefully removing the lace trim from the sleeves of my dance recital costume. I was maybe five or six years old and the only boy in my combination ballet, tap, and jazz class. We had a recital coming up, and for one of the routines, for whatever reason, the school ordered me the same outfit as the girls: a yellow polyester top with frilly lace trim around the shoulders, a blue sequined overall dress with matching sequined patches, a gingham neckerchief, a straw hat, and a corncob pipe.
I don’t remember being upset about matching with the girls, but I do remember listening as adults talked about the mix-up and suggested solutions to make the outfit a little more “masculine.” Looking back now, it’s comical to think removing the lace trim from the equation would make a blue sequined overall dress any less “feminine” or more acceptable for a boy to wear.
If anything, I was used to wearing dresses. Growing up with two older sisters, I always wanted to take part in whatever they were doing. My options were often to play dolls and dress-up or not play at all, and that was never an issue for me.
When the night of the show came, I stood in the doorway of the bathroom watching my mom apply blush and mascara on my older sister, who was also in the recital, and excitedly asked for the same treatment. My mom never tried to dissuade or argue with me, and I remember how happy I felt as she applied makeup to my cheeks, too. The excitement and nerves that came with performing were thrilling to me at that age. Sometimes the night before a performance I would dream I was on the stage basking in the hot lights, moving through my routine as butterflies danced in my stomach along with me. I was madly in love with performing, but dance was my first love, and I had three large ballet books I swooned over every day. They contained photos of dancers from Swan Lake and Coppelia, the illustrations for their costume designs, and descriptions of how the acts of each show broke down the story. I would marvel over every detail—and I wanted so badly to grow up to be one of those strong, elegant men in tights.
My personal favorite was The Nutcracker, a ballet that I loved so much I needed to have the real thing for myself. By seven years old, I already had quite the collection: I would get nutcrackers for every birthday and Christmas gift. When we got a new dog, Nutcracker was my name suggestion (luckily, they went with Switzer, after the Oklahoma Sooners football coach). My mom even allowed me to hang nutcracker wallpaper in my room. We owned countless VHS versions of the ballet, and watching the stage production live for the first time, the way the Christmas tree swells and grows on stage and you as an audience member seem to shrink alongside Clara was beyond enchanting for me. I was consumed with everything about that world: the magic, the stage production… even the Rat King, whom I feared, I also loved.
Yet I can pinpoint exactly when that love, born out of my passion for performing, turned into nerves and dread.
After I finished first grade, my family moved from Oklahoma to Virginia for my dad’s job. I remember my parents asking, “How would you feel about moving?” And I remember replying, “It’s fine with me!” I had no concept of the distance between Oklahoma and Virginia, or of the fact that moving means leaving your bedroom behind and saying goodbye to friends and family. I felt panicked the night before we left, sitting on the empty living room floor, eating a Subway ham-and-cheese sandwich because our kitchen was all packed up and crying to my mom because I finally understood that I wasn’t going to see my childhood friend who lived in the house behind ours anymore.
When we got settled in the new place, my mom asked me if I wanted to keep dancing, and naturally I did. But when I walked into my new ballet class on the first day and looked around, I realized I didn’t know these kids or these teachers. My former dance teacher was a kind older woman who lined us up at the end of every class and gave us each one stale gummy bear that she handed out with tweezers from a metal tin box she kept in the classroom. In this new place, I sat on the floor with the other students as we did our stretches and was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization not only that I did not know these people at all but also that I was the only boy once again.
This had never bothered me before—I loved being the only boy in my other dance troupe. It meant that I was almost always guaranteed a solo of some sort, like the part of Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, or a position center stage for symmetry purposes. But as I sat on this new, unfamiliar floor doing a butterfly stretch, surrounded only by girls, I began to cry. Hyperaware of myself and my new surroundings. Hyperaware that I was different and new and standing out in a way I didn’t like. In that moment I could feel myself shrinking and retreating from the other kids around me. There was no exterior force telling me I was wrong and stood out. I am not sure if in that moment it was just the new location that brought on those realizations or something I had internalized from old conversations about my recital outfit. But I wanted nothing more than to hide, to become invisible. I never returned to that dance class.
I wish I could say that I was bold and brave and danced anyway. But for years, I was, like so many other kids, just so scared of standing out. I always wondered how different my life would have been if I had stayed in Oklahoma and stuck with dance. Would I still have pursued painting and drawing? Would I have eventually given up dance anyway, like I did piano lessons? Or karate? Or fencing? I always loved the spotlight, and that love never faded, but as I got older, I started to fear it just as much. When I look back at my life, I see so many moments when fear paralyzed me, even at a young age.
In sixth grade, I got a small solo in my choir class’s winter show. I practiced my line over and over. “Glories stream from heaven above. Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah.” This was middle school. The eighth graders seemed so much bigger and so much older than any kids I had known. The stakes felt so much higher. To stand out in this environment was even more of a detriment to your own safety and overall experience.
During the show, I delivered my lines and felt a rush of excitement and relief that my voice didn’t crack. That even though I was scared and shaking, I managed to remember the words. But when the next girl went up to sing her solo, the next line of “Silent Night,” she froze. Nothing came out. The rest of the choir came together in the moment and shakily sang the lines to fill in what must have been a chilling silence for her. In a way, it was sweet. But I remember standing next to her while we finished the last of our holiday songs as tears streamed down her face in my peripheral vision. We walked off stage, and when my parents found me in the hallway outside of the choir room, I burst into tears too. I’m not sure why. Maybe from a combination of nerves and empathy for that girl.
We performed the song once more, this time for the whole school during an assembly, and everything went well. Afterward, a girl passed me in the hall and said, “You were great! You didn’t even sound like a boy! You sounded like a girl!” and I thought, Great. I am never going to sing again. The comment wasn’t harsh and didn’t even come from a place of ill intent. But once again, in that moment, I felt that icy panic and need to retreat. I wanted nothing more than to shrink down inside myself and disappear. I didn’t want to stand out; I didn’t want to be different; I didn’t want to be seen at all anymore. I think I was so critically aware of my own internal differences that the safest idea at the time was to cast away any outward passion or interest that would set me apart. I was afraid that if I stood in the spotlight for too long, someone would be able to sniff out the secret feelings I was battling internally every day.
With dancing and singing now off the table, drawing and painting became the only constants in my life. Visual art was something I could do in isolation. And crucially, being good at art never made me feel shy or nervous. My passion for art had been there alongside every other fleeting fancy, and when my love for ballet and singing and piano fizzled out, the flame I held for art steadily grew alongside and within me.
At twenty-four, I decided to start posting comedic videos on the internet after fantasizing for years about the idea. Even though I was recording alone in my home, I found that I often felt like the seven-year-old version of myself in that new dance class for the first time, or the eleven-year-old version of myself singing in the middle school gym with my high-pitched voice. I would shake and have a hard time even talking into the camera. It took a few months for me to calm down and escape the residual fear of standing out, of being different, of being perceived at all.
It’s wild to think that only a few years later, although I’m not dancing, or singing, or on the stage, I am performing unapologetically again. One recent Christmas, my aunt asked me whether I remembered all the shows I used to perform for the family. How I would stand off stage, outside the living room, to gather myself, and then emerge from behind a sheet and force my family to watch a fully improvised show with multiple acts. It was one of those “a-ha” moments. I have no memories whatsoever of putting on those performances as a kid, but at twenty-seven years old I felt validated knowing that I was always who I am today.
These days, I am still standing off stage in my own living room and gathering myself before I make a little joke, this time for the audience that lives inside my phone. How surreal to have come full circle—to realize the passions I had for the performing arts never really burned out or faded at all, just ebbed and flowed and evolved with the years. Maybe they never even really ebbed. Maybe it was just that my nerves and fears were for a long time louder than my desires. Sometimes they still are.
It is so important to nurture your younger self and the young people that you love. To put blush on your excited son before his first recital and to comfort him when he is too scared to dance or sing anymore. For a nervous child, merely speaking aloud what you want can be as paralyzing as the fear you think you’ll experience if all your dreams come true. We only have to listen and support and encourage. Dreams may shift and change over time—mine feel like they do every day—but it is never too late for dreams, old and new, to come true. I hope I don’t jinx myself by saying I truly feel like I’m only at the beginning of finding myself and my path as an artist. And it feels so good to have put my tap shoes back on, so to speak.
Whatever it is that fills you with equal parts awe and nerves, fear and excitement, I hope you stare it down and go after it. Just as importantly, I hope you encourage your loved ones to do the same. In times when you feel too scared to continue or move forward, know that even if you can’t feel it, there are people just off stage wishing the best for you.
THREE STATES, THREE HOMES, THIRD CHILD
It is so easy for me
to fall in love.
To find home
despite never knowing
where I am going.
you’re too hot.
One day I’ll find you again,
through the thunder
and the love
that feet stomping
through golden grass to 7-Eleven
could bring on summer nights.
the sprawling fig tree
in our backyard
was sometimes all I had.
Virginia, my great-grandmother,
just my sisters and I
and the ghost
Of my great-aunt Nellie
who watched me grow wild.
is one hazy spring day
There were deer that ate from my hands,
there were deer inked into my skin
and a velvet moon to sing me to sleep
through the guest bedroom window
when the attic that hid me
became too hot to handle.
I’m so wary
of the power of three.
My father, the sun, the sanctity
of my holy spirit.
I’m so wary
as the third child
born on the third of October
that began again
in three new homes.
Sometimes I don’t remember
much at all
except for what it means
to say goodbye
over and over
and over again.
At seven years old, at the beginning of the longest summer of my life, I saw the ocean for the first time. The memory plays back in my mind like this:
Fresh in town, fresh to the East Coast, from our move from Oklahoma. It is late at night. The sky is already black, but as a family we climb in the car and drive to the beach. My sisters and I, so excited to see the ocean. We walk past the warm lights of the restaurants, the bike lanes and streetlights, and I take off my shoes and run barefoot through the sand toward the water.
In the darkness I cannot see where she meets the sky or how far to each side of me she extends. It’s like running arms open toward a giant, slumbering just out of sight in the darkness. Cool salt spray rushes over my body, I can hear the waves crashing, and for all I know at seven years old, the ocean is also the sky. She is monumental and bigger than me, and it should almost be terrifying but it isn’t. There is only pure joy reflected off me onto the moon and in return onto the rippling ocean waters all around me.
When I was a child, I worshiped every afternoon after day care, a firm devotee, at the Temple of Shirley Temple. She was one of my first religious experiences. There used to be a restaurant in Oklahoma City called The Vista. It was located on the sixth floor of a building downtown that seemed to my youthful mind like the tallest thing in the world. Once you walked inside, you took an elevator ride to the top floor and entered the restaurant. I can still smell it more than twenty years later. Cigarette smoke, hot oil, and French fries. The inside is a little blurry in my memories, but I can manage to recall the long, sticky tables that seemed very high up for five-year-old me. My most vivid recollections are of the food I would eat there: chicken tenders, French fries, and a Shirley Temple. (I remember even more clearly eating the leftover French fries and chicken tenders cold and stiff out of a white Styrofoam to-go container the next afternoon.) They had a coloring page menu that never changed, and I would ask for it every time, color in every space, do all of the puzzles (which I had fully memorized), and insist on taking it home when I was finished.
There was a waitress there who always served us, and everyone would joke that she was my girlfriend, which made me feel shy and a little uncomfortable. Sometimes there was also a magician who would come around to the tables and do close-up magic. One of his tricks involved a doll-sized guillotine that one brave volunteer would put their finger through. The tiny blade would fall and then the magician would raise it back up, revealing that the volunteer’s finger was still fully intact. I remember crying hard during this trick. This wasn’t magic. This was madness! I closed my eyes and examined our family friend’s finger after the magician left. Did it hurt? Why would you let a man do that to your finger? Why do they even let that guy in here? He’s not a magician, he’s a butcher at best.
- On Sale
- Oct 3, 2023
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Running Press