In September I’ll be joining the MFA program at Guelph-Humber. MFA programs can be contentious and they’re certainly not for everyone, but for me, an MFA always meant time. Time to write, think about my writing practise, and get some teaching experience.
I’ve always balanced money-work with writing-work and for the past two years, money-work has taken up a lot of my energy. It feels like a gift to have the next two years dedicated to writing* and working through all the sticky, ugly, complicated stuff of life that I can’t stop thinking about, like plastic-permanence, sex, and inherited trauma.
I’ll be working on a novel and maybe even a small poetry collection too. I want to try something new with the novel form and step outside my comfort zone. In the past year I’ve started to feel the familiarity of the short story, which is a good and bad thing. Familiarity means I know how to write a short story (finally) but it also means it’s time to feel stupid again. The space of a novel is intimidating. I’ll be learning how to meander with purpose. In a short story, everything matters. In a novel, you get to take your time. A novel is more forgiving, but that’s not to say you can get lazy and superfluous. I’m learning to meander as I work through the first part of the new manuscript.
More change-not-change happened in my non-writing life, and Chris and I got married on August 18. We were skeptical about having a wedding, being the anxious over-thinkers we are, but did our best to throw caution to the wind and do something just for the fun of it. It was difficult for us but we survived and it was worth it. I’m so glad we did it. It was small, just 50 of our closest family and friends, with an immediate family only “signing of the documents.” I’ve never felt so loved.
This Friday, Chris and I are headed to New York for the museums and dive bars and to eat as much pizza as humanly possible. It’s time to take a time out from everything and reset for what’s ahead.
In other news, Cracker Jacks for Misfits will be launched at the Burdock Music Hall in Toronto on October 9. More details to follow.
* The world being what it is, I’ll still be money-working. If you have any copywriting or content needs, drop me a line and perhaps we can do something cool together.
“Run fast, stand still,” from Zen in the Art of Writing is some of my favourite writing advice ever. I’d be lying if I said I read the thing from cover to cover, but that chapter title stuck with me. In my own mind, I’ve distilled it down to something more like “Run fast and stop,” the whole idea being that writers must write like animals in the wild, sprinting like mad until they put their head up, look around, and see where they’ve gotten themselves. At least that’s how I digested it. Sorry if I missed the point, Ray.
I’ve been in running mode for a while now, not just in writing but in life. It’s nice to finally look up and see where I’ve gotten myself. I’ll be at a festival this fall (more news to follow) and I’ve booked a few other readings and appearances for October. I’ve had my head down, and when you haven’t stopped for a while, seeing the progress of the thing can feel abstract and impossible, but now, hard work is starting to pay off. The great mystery of promotion is starting to click. It feels good.
Learning to write has always been my first priority. I saw an old professor last week, and I told him, “you know, I think I finally know how to write a short story.” I started my pursuit of mastering the short story in his class when I was 21. It took me eight years, hundreds of drafts, and now I know I can do it.
I’ve always been organized. I’ve been told my first love is writing, but my second is order. I have to agree. When applying for grants, publications, and residencies, I’ve always had organization under control. I’ve always had my self-imposed deadlines, spreadsheets, and monthly goals scribbled on my whiteboard.
So, I can write. And I’m organized. Both of those feed into the publicity machine and certainly make drumming up appearances easier. At present, my publicity spreadsheet is in full swing. Every night I’m chipping away at the opportunities on my list, and reaching out to festivals and venues to see if they’re interested in my book. It’s a deeply human book, I think. It’s about lonely people and why they’re lonely. It’s about how much a mother and daughter can love each other and how much that love can hurt.
For me, the difficulty in publicity hasn’t been about finding the opportunities or setting the deadlines, It’s been in pitching my work. It’s been in assessing the value I’d bring as a speaker or reader at a particular event or venue, and presenting that value as advantageous to curators and program directors.
Publicity work is very different from where I’ve focused my career efforts so far. I learned how to write, how to submit my stories to magazines, and even how to query presses. But I haven’t booked an author tour. This is a first. I haven’t had to think of myself as Christine Ottoni, Author, and sell myself that way.
But it’s time I shifted into that Author mindset. I wrote a book, after all.
Originally, Cracker Jacks for Misfits was scheduled for release this May, but after conferring with my publisher, we’ve decided to release this fall instead. It was a tough decision but I feel good about it. Spring caught up with me well before I had made a satisfying dent in my publicity plans, and if there’s anything I’ve learned with this whole book promotion experience so far, it’s all about pounding the digital pavement, sending the emails, making the phone calls, and generally putting yourself in uncomfortable positions. And I’m getting better, with practise, at making those uncomfortable moves. Little by little, thinking of myself as the kind of person who could give a large reading and book enough appearances to constitute a tour, doesn’t feel so far off.
The sun is, rather reluctantly, starting to come out, and working on the couch at home until seven or eight at night no longer feels like an impossibility. Thanks for reading. More news is on the way and book trailer updates too.
Someone once told me that as a writer you have to be okay with being lonely. They said this as a kind of warning, like “You know you’re going to be lonely, right?”
I love to be alone. In fact, when Chris is away for work or on set a lot, he tends to return to a rather isolated and weird version of Christine. I get lost in routine, doing the same thing everyday, interacting humans only when necessary. When I’m on my own, I spend most evenings pacing the apartment, talking to June (who is a dog) about whatever problem I’m trying to solve in a story, while eating hummus on crackers and chickpeas out of the can. Heaven.
So yes, working and being alone suits me. I tend to think of loneliness as more of a baseline state of being, rather than a feeling to drown out with noise. Not being lonely is more like icing on the cake. Delicious but decorative.
I’m very much used to working alone. Yes, workshop has been crucial for my growth and I could never do the work of an editor (praise be the objective eye), but at the end of the day, when I get my notes and feedback in, I have to do the job of fixing a thing and making it work. I get to make the big decisions and the little ones too. And this is something a writer has to do on their own. No one can hold your hand and tell you you’re making the right call. You have to figure it out for yourself.
When I decided one aspect of the publicity I’d undertake for Cracker Jacks for Misfits would be a series of short book trailers, I knew I’d need to find someone to hold my hand through the process. I’m not a filmmaker, I don’t know the first thing about gear or organizing a shot list or and I’m not a visual storyteller. Lonely writer, remember? But I’m drawn to the small, isolated, and often overlooked interactions and moments in our lives, and I think the book dwells on the highly physical. A book trailer always felt like the right way to promote this particular collection of stories.
Chris is a filmmaker. We started meeting, formally meeting, back in November to hammer out a plan for a book trailer, which quickly became, under Chris’ vision, a series of four book trailers, each one focusing on one of the main characters and sections of the book. We pulled sections from the book for each character and Chris started building scripts around them.
For the first time, I had to trust someone else to tell the story of my characters. Chris is one of the few people who has read an early draft of the manuscript and has seen the evolution of the book, so it felt like a natural fit. He knows the people of CJ4M well because he knows me well and has watched me move through the experience of telling their stories.
I put the entire project in his hands. We continued to meet, while he developed a shooting schedule, secured gear (thank you Luke!), and scripted elements that connected with my words, with my intentions, fully.
We shot the majority of the trailers over one weekend. It was nonstop, grueling work, mostly for me, with my soft writer’s hands and 9pm bedtime. I should say, I made an exception and pushed bedtime to midnight for the sake of the project.
From watching the footage, Chris did some truly beautiful things under a serious time crunch and with a shoestring budget. And at the end of it all, when we were exhausted and all used up, the result, and talking about the result with Chris felt more substantial than decorative icing. I feel like we’re going to do some good storytelling together. It turns out, collaboration isn’t so bad after all.
We also shot an interview where I talk about CJ4M! This was all Chris’ idea, and he thought having me talk about the book on camera might help with promotion in general. It’s nice to be able to offer people a sample of you talking about a thing when you’re begging for airtime to, well, talk about that thing.
I owe extra thanks to our friends Luke, Aoife, and Ruby for their help.
More content to come. The next step for our video project is to work with my sister Amanada on creating some abstract piano texture for sound design. What else is Family Day weekend for?
Until next time.
I know I said I'd be posting about book publicity work next (and I will, stay tuned), but other happenings have derailed my sense of direction a bit.
Is it just me or was that one tough December? To those of you who survived relatively unscathed, well rested, and well fed, good on you. To those of us who came out the other end dragging unearthed childhood baggage and a two-week hangover, it's time to take care of ourselves.
I don't really deal in resolutions or self-improvement, but I do care about mental health. I'm trying to speak more openly about my continued work with depression. I find, more often than not, I end up sharing with people who have struggled too.
Winter is hard but this one started out harder. What set me off this year was an unplanned night of socializing at the start of the month, followed by a week-long bought of the flu. And then I took two weeks off from work. I was so much looking forward to my time off, but I (like many writers, I think) work best in a routine. I don't handle unplanned, unstructured days very well. Illness, phone calls, long afternoons spent chatting aimlessly on couches with family, this is where I struggle. How do people manage it? I'm not really sure. I'll take any advice you've got.
It was a holiday of strange thoughts and laboured eye contact. I have all the tools at my disposal to not be depressed. A loving family, a supportive partner, medication, routine, and exercise. I have apps and notebooks and therapists and people to check in with. Still, I found myself dragged down this past month.
So here's what I'm working on to help myself get up and out of bed in the dark months of winter as a sensitive writer type of person, who falls rather short of perfect (and is trying to be okay with that):
1. No drinks, no smokes. Live clear minded for a while.
2. See your friends and family. The depressive likes to hide to mitigate exposure. The world is risky, debilitating to the depressive. I will say: choose your associations wisely when you are fragile. Cultivate a reasonable sense of order. For instance, I prefer to have people over to my apartment when I'm not feeling well, rather than meet out in the world.
3. Insecurity is kind of forever. You'll always feel like an idiot when you are paid a compliment. Any kind of perceived win will never be enough. You'll always have to live with this.
4. Be around the dog(s). They are the only thing that makes sense sometimes. That's just fine.
5. Read, if you can. Read Women Talking and French Exit. These will remind you of what kind of a writer you want to be. This will make you hopeful. Hope is good. It’s the opposite of depression.
I'm excited to announce my debut collection of short stories will be coming out in May 2019 with Exile Editions. Thanks to my pal Adam Winnik for the announcement art and cover teasers. As far as working with your friends go, this one was a no brainer. And an absolute pleasure from start to finish.
It's been a long road to get here. I wrote the first stories for Cracker Jacks for Misfits in 2013 and workshopped them at the Humber School for Writers Fall Workshop at the IFOA in 2014. By the end of the week (and after a pep talk from my workshop leader) I was like, Okay, I have a book here. Now, how to find it?
There's no way I could sum up the journey of writing a book. Certainly not a book with a fragmented narrative, made up of interconnected shorts. I may have bit off a lot for this whole first book thing, but at least I can say I did it. And it took me a long time. It took guts and fear-facing and confronting self-doubts with teeth out. I still have that self-doubt. Though, as YA novelist Teresa Toten recently told me, "You're always going to be insecure. Now, get to work."
Hard work is something I've always known it would take to be a writer. As far as takeaways go, I can say this: there's no way to know how to write a book. You figure it out as you go.
I brought the book and my characters, Naomi, Joanne, Marce, and Jake, with me everywhere, through the apartments of my twenties. They lived with me at College and Ossington, in the Annex, in Little Italy, and finally, with me, Chris and June in High Park.
They've been with me every day. I collected them in notebooks, on cue cards, scrawled their words on the whiteboard in my bedroom. Now it's time to let these most persistent ghosts free. Or at the very least, blast the announcement of their existence all over social media (I joke but please, follow me on Twitter).
So, what can you expect between now and May? Some more cool content in the works. I happen to daylight in the world of Content (yup, capital C and all) and I’m cooking up some ways to introduce the book and the characters in it to the world.
I hope, that in getting to know the world of CJ4M, you’ll want to read it in the spring, and you’ll see a bit of yourself in it. I think fiction works when it talks about the big, ugly truth of being human. Even better if it captures the “stuff of life” in small moments. In Cracker Jacks for Misfits, you’ll meet an a boy who lives in a room underground, an artist who believes she’s growing wings, grown up kids addicted to their phones, a dad who means his very best, and a love story that feels like a bullet in your neck.
That’s it for now, but check back soon for more. I’ll be blogging about the publicity process for a first-time author. I have some experience in marketing, but truthfully, in the book promotion world, I’m as green as it gets.
Until next time.
I've been traveling a lot this year when I should be writing. There, I said it. It's hard not to feel guilty.
It started in Banff in February, then Charlottesville for work in April. In May, Chris and I were in Victoria for his sister's wedding and in July I went to Barbados to visit with old friends from high school. Last weekend I was in Prince Edward County and in a few weeks I'm headed to Montreal for a wedding. Luckily, after that, there's nothing else in the calendar.
I don't mean to sound ungrateful for all the time spent with family and friends away from home. I've written before about how tough I find travel. Being on the go and away from my routine is difficult. The last few months have forced me to be more protective of writing time than ever. They've also forced me to be more forgiving of myself. Any other type A writers out there struggling with perfectionism? I'm a zealot for routine, often in ways that make me hard on myself. Swinging in and out of structure is difficult to say the least.
If I'm honest with myself, between work, rewrites and new material, 2018 is probably my highest word count year ever. And I've gained other things from all those trips. When you take time off, you sacrifice quiet, introspective time for a bit of adventure. For nature and hikes and seeing things you hadn't before. For conversation and working on your intense fear of flights. On the plus side, I'm finally starting to get over that fear of flying (falling) and airports (crowds).
In whatever spare time I can find, I'm trying to focus on old work, new work and refining career type things. Sorry to be so abstract, there will be news coming soon.
I'm just finishing a 10 day residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. To say this place makes working easy would be a vast understatement. I've made leaps, connections and choices creatively that I don't think I would have come to, or had the guts to come to, working at home.
Over the past year, for any number of reasons, I've had a hard time finding dedicated time, space and solitude to write. I'm grateful to the Literary Arts program for taking me in here in the Rockies. The Centre has provided me with a quiet place, supportive facilities and, above all else, time. Time to move at my own pace, to structure my day however I see fit. Time to mull it all over and eventually make tough decisions in the service of my project.
Leaving here will be bittersweet. I accomplished what I set out for myself when I left Toronto but I'll so miss this kind of writing freedom. Not to mention the long winter hikes, the mountains, the air, the snow and the wildlife.
I won't talk about what I've been working on (just yet), so in the mean time, enjoy some photos of my adventure, shot on iPhone 8 and the Fujifilm X100. I'm not the best photographer, but with scenery like this, its not hard to take a good photo.
Fall flew by this year and was filled with busy days at home and at work. Home is where I'm writing these days, and I've been keeping up the schedule I envisioned when I started working full time last April with relative success. Even just an hour a day after work makes all the difference. Small sprints during the week so by the time Saturday and Sunday roll around, I'm primed and ready to jump into more intensive, thoughtful hours. I think it's about keeping the work at the top of mind and not letting things get pushed to the background. The stuff of life, those real world aches and pains, traffic on the way home, a burnt out light bulb, an empty printer cartridge, it all seems to be working against you sometimes, getting in the way of what you really want to be doing.
But I survived and have a better sense of how much time and space I need to write. That's why I applied to the Banff Centre this fall, and I'm excited to report I'll be attending for a 10 day residency in February. Most of all, I'm looking forward to the time. What will I be working on? You'll have to wait and see.
I'm currently reading The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neil, a book I picked up this summer at the Eden Mills Writer's Festival where I got to read in the emerging writers' set, the Fringe. It's taken me a while to get to because I got caught up in some true crime (my absolute favourite of the genres) as well as a large book gifted to me my Chris' dad, An Affair of Honor by Richard Marius, an epic about a double murder in a small southern town.
On another note, June is sweeter than ever this time of year, and is especially affectionate when it gets cold out. We're staying cozied up inside. Stay warm.
Just in time for #BookLoversDay, here's what I've been reading this summer. I started off with some tried and true Murakami. A coworker recommended Patrick deWitt and I loved his work so much I think I'll pick up Ablutions as well. These days I'm getting into true crime and making use of my local public library.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Fun House by Alison Bechdel
Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Undermajordomominor by Patrick deWitt
Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Who Killed These Girls by Beverly Lowry
Angry White Men by Michael Kimmel
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
I’m the kind of person who loves being at home. I revel in solitary hours spent baking and listening to podcasts. I’ll make a brief appearance at a party and cut out early to relax in bed with a book. My apartment is my sanctuary, notebooks my closest confidants. I’m a loner and proud.
When I was twenty-four I decided to take myself on a trip across Europe for six weeks. I wanted to see Europe: the medieval towers, the cobblestone streets, the Parisian windows with delicate lace curtains billowing in the wind. I wanted to experience the history, the Globe Theatre and the Anne Frank House, the birthplace of all the stories that had touched me over the years.
But most of all I wanted to do it on my own, in total solitude. A tour de discovery. A wild embrace of my true self: the loner, the introvert, the bookworm and the wallflower. I quit my job, packed a copy of War and Peace I’d been putting off for ages, said goodbye to my close friends and family and flew from Toronto to London.
When you’re young and broke and traveling abroad, cultivating a quiet home base is nearly impossible. Youth hostels are not set up for being alone. In fact, they seem to be facilitators of the exact opposite (who knew). But I was looking for quiet. And it couldn’t be found in the hostel pub, on the red velvet seats of a pint-glass covered booth. The roommates I exchanged niceties with were exceedingly cordial, just looking for a good time, but boundaries had to be set. I put myself out of action’s way and went to bed early. I was up every morning and out the door, into the world, entirely out of my element with a backpack full of provisions and a map in hand.
Outside the hostel, tentatively stepping onto British streets, I discovered the day-to-day of London was not so unlike Toronto. Aloof commuters on the train, heads buried in the paper. Blending in was easy. Any metropolis will leave you to your own devices if you want it to. And I found Paris treated me with the same distant resolve. Enjoy the city, but you’re on your own. My alone places became corner cafes and espresso counters, peaceful hours on park benches and in the backs of pubs. In London and Paris I learned how to be alone on the move, to carve out little sanctuaries of comfort and then say goodbye.
The homebody has to adapt on the road. The introvert has to learn to be impulsive with their space. Like I said, my comfort zone features sweat pants, my couch, a good movie and a glass of red wine. But when I was on the move, I had to give my natural inclination to huddle up indoors in order to better preserve my solitude. I discovered new quiet comforts. Belgian fries served with a tiny plastic fork. A crisp pilsner in a busy Czech square. Standing in front of Manet’s Olympia at the Musée d'Orsay. Eating falafel in Brussels’ Grand-Place. Catching sight of a medieval-looking castle from the train on my way to Bruges. Walking along sunny canals in Amsterdam. Eating a late night burger under the train tracks in Berlin.
I spent a lot of time out in the world, more than I ever would in my own city, and much more than the extroverts hanging out back at the hostel. This is the travelling introvert’s paradox, I think. That the best way to be alone while traveling is to get out in the world and do it.
Every introvert should travel alone at some point in their life. It’s formative. It’s one of those unfortunate, cheesy truths. The personal victories, speaking restaurant-passable French and German, navigating nine different transit systems, walking nearly ten kilometers a day and hitting every museum on my bucket list, were made that much sweeter because I did it on my own. And I did it on my own terms, catching trains all by my lonesome, eating in restaurants with my book, tucking myself in at a reasonable hour and waking up every day, knowing that I could be alone on the move. I conquered travel. And all I needed to bring the comfort of my apartment with me, was me.
I was a nervous eighteen year old. A particular blend of jock and dork, I spent the summers with my soccer team, winters playing basketball, and the rest of the school year with my head in a book. I was a girls’ girl, a ringleader and a goof in my comfortable circles. I lined up for the midnight release of Harry Potter books; I was obsessed with getting to Expert on Guitar Hero. But outside my safe little world, I was shy. Painfully so. University was a terrifying concept to me, being the new kid in a sea of new kids.
I arrived at the University of Toronto on the first day of frosh week 2008. Let’s set the scene: Lady Gaga had just dropped The Fame, “hipster” was a brand new term for cool kids, and Don Draper was living in his prime on AMC. Beyond the university walls the financial crisis was in full swing and the job market was crumbling. But inside, the party raged on. Kegs were tapped, Daft Punk was cranked, and I learned, quickly, to play my insecurity off as an untouchable aloofness.
I didn’t attend every frosh event, that would have come off too eager, too dorky and keen. And too close to who I really was. But there was a mini bus tour scheduled mid-week to show frosh around to the major buildings. The campus was large, impossibly dense and right downtown, and the map I received in my orientation package was intimidating, fraught with mysterious, labyrinthine buildings. So I decided to go along. When we cruised past the library, a massive structure, unforgiving and cold, I swallowed the lump rising in my throat. I wanted to go home.
The specifics of this next bit are murky, muddled by time, but what I do know is that the girl on the seat in front of me struck up a conversation. She turned around and introduced herself. Her name was Emma. She was eager for connection, for conversation and she told me she wanted to major in English Lit. I did too, I admitted, my guard still up.
Emma was from a sheltered, rather uncool girls school in Vancouver. She was an electric chatterbox and we got onto the topic of books we’d read over the summer. Natasha and Oryx and Crake. A mournful re-reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Did you read, she whispered, leaning forward, Twilight?
I myself crushed the trilogy in a matter of days. And with her I felt safe owning up to it. On we launched into a mutual defense of Twilight, of pop-culture-crap as revelatory of contemporary society. For instance, how the work normalized abuse. How vacuous Bella was how Edward preyed on her. He was the prototypical abuser, Emma said. Exactly, I said. Team Jacob, Emma said seriously. I nodded, Team Jacob.
After that we were inseparable. We went to parties together and met up in the quad before lunch. Confidence bloomed and classes began. We watched Buffy on the floor of Emma’s room with sushi spread out before us. With her by my side, meeting people was easier. She was the social butterfly, I her reserved sidekick. My world expanded and filled with new friends.
Alone I was still nervous. My insecurity morphed into something darker, something more like self-loathing. But Emma saw me through all of it, knocking on my door to check up on me when I didn’t come down for dinner. Suggesting we visit the park or the quad, or go window-shopping up on Bloor Street.
I hid from everyone but her. She was the first adult outside of my family to love me unconditionally. I didn’t understand it on my best of days. I was a loser, unlovable and doomed. But then she would call my res room phone and suggest something like an all night Sex and the City marathon and I would get a little boost. Feel a little better about myself.
Over the years, ours became a relationship of reciprocity, of give and take. But I can say with sincerity that in school I needed her more than she needed me. Emma propped me up and kept me going. She was my cheerleader, my biggest fan, my best listener and kindest critic.
When we graduated and faced the adult world it was with absolute uncertainty. What did we want to be? How were we supposed to get there? We both struggled in this phase, two capable young women seeking out their place out in a suddenly enormous post-grad world. But Emma took the lumps of it harder, and suddenly I was the one knocking on her apartment door, checking up with late night texts, suggesting fun, cheap activities to keep our heads above water while we struggled through internships, first jobs and breakups that seemed colossal, like we’d never love again.
On a difficult night when we were twenty-two, Emma was being hard on herself for a job that didn’t work out. We were sitting on my couch, curled up with copies of InStyle and Elle and I couldn’t believe she wasn’t being kinder to herself. She was Emma! She was spectacular in my eyes, capable and smart. And then something dawned on me.
What would you tell me if I was in your position? I said.
That you’re doing great, she said with a sniffle and then a weak smile.
We went back to our magazines, but it was the first of many personal breakthroughs. I’d never turned that logic on myself before but it after that night, it was inescapable. Being a best friend taught me how to be a partner, a trusted adviser and confidant, and most of all it taught me to treat myself with the same kindness I afford my closest friends. In the land of women, compassion rules supreme.
Emma and I have been friends for almost ten years now. I think we’ll treat ourselves to a nice dinner to celebrate. And we’ll be celebrating each other but also ourselves, how we’ve grown up, and learned to go easier on ourselves. To love ourselves like a best friend, like the girl hit if off with on the bus all those years ago.
It took me about three hundred pages, but I finally broke through the difficult, semantically mind-bending, tough-prose style that DFW is so famous for. I almost gave up, I almost quit, but I stuck it out because this book was supposed to be Important. It was supposed to be Impressive, a Show of Genius.
I usually roll my eyes at this sort of thing. Reading, I think, should be for pleasure. It should teach you something, but not without captivating you. And let me tell you, two hundred pages into Infinite Jest, I was not captivated. I was bored, tired, not sure where Wallace was taking me. And then something clicked. As if all the cards fell into place, the river revealed and I, a mere novice at most every game, had a winning poker hand.
Wallace never overplays his hand. He’s deliberate, sure, but there’s always something just off screen, just waiting to be studied from another angle. Maybe he won me over when I finally got a proper look at Mario Incandenza, or when Don Gately said he couldn’t connect with a higher power. Maybe it was the Crocodiles at a Boston AA Meeting or when the red beret came out in Eschaton.
I wish, in retrospect, that I had approached Infinite Jest as if it was science fiction. I didn’t know much about the book, other than its Very Important status. But I had read Wallace before; a pocket-sized hardcover of This Is Water sits in my nightstand. It was a gift from a fellow wanderer in a Portland hostel. We ended up, as you often do in hostels, perched on the corner of a bed in a smoky room full of young, sweaty people, drinking warm PBR and talking about books.
Wallace connects the weirdos. His world is unmistakably human, his characters, soft and vulnerable. But something about the fullness of it needs to be approached with a blank mind; with a curiosity reserved for the absolute bizarre and unknown. Just because it’s human doesn’t mean it’s easy. And it is human. But it’s a mechanical, hyper mathematical process that takes you to the humanity. Eschaton, the nearly unintelligible geo-political game the Enfield Tennis Academy students play, is probably an honest instance of this journey. The kids assemble the game with such precision and focus, only to have the tidy nature of it turn on them, and dissolve into chaos, a chaos that feels like almost Peter Pannish in its fervent, half-manic disregard for order.
I’ve got a long way to go until I can say I’ve conquered Infinite Jest. I must admit, it’s taking forever. But so far, I feel like it’s a journey worth wandering, exploring a mind, admittedly, so unlike my own.
Hats off to genius.
Hey everyone, thought I'd share what I've been reading this summer. Lots of inspiration in the likes of Mary Karr and Heather O'Neil. Really glad I stumbled across Mary Karr especially. She was featured on an episode of Dear Sugar Radio and I thought she was whip smart and a compelling voice. The kind of person you want to sit down with and talk to about writing.
The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
Lit by Mary Karr
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neil
Birdie by Tracey Lindberg
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Just cracking East of Eden at my partner's insistence. I watched Matilda a couple weeks ago. It's funny how formative those library and books scenes were for me as a kid. Like when she's pulling that wagon full of books home. I remember that being important to me.
I'm looking forward to autumn and everything it brings. Sweaters, books and cozy cups of coffee.
About to celebrate our one year anniversary of picking June up from the Caledon Animal Shelter. Also, got a new camera for more work with YP.ca. Canon Rebel, great for a beginner like me. Look at this potato.
It's been almost a year now of being cooped with with rewrites. Nothing but The Book. And I have to say my checklists have gotten me through this more than anything. I'm a meticulous planner. I schedule my days to the point of compulsion. A bit from today's list: walk June, Naomi + Marce goodbye, 2 job apps, update website, blog post, YP fam friendly dining, walk June, walk June.
I've always been a schedule kid. I still get upset, to this day, if my routine is disturbed (a response I'm trying to mediate with equal parts "spontaneous fun" and "chill the fuck out"). I feel comfortable when I know what is coming up and how I'll spend my time. And I find, most of all, that it can be soothing to look back at the end of a week and know that I'm one step closer to being a better writer.
A couple years ago, I was wracked with anxiety about wasting my time, worried that I would never improve on my craft. I was tortured by every hour I spent without my notebook or computer. I was seeing a psychologist, a really thoughtful young woman, who noted that I appeared to be "spinning my wheels." She suggested it might do me some good to track what I actually did in a day. At the time I was working a corporate gig three days a week and nannying two days a week, constantly scrambling for spare hours to fix a story or rearrange a poem. To scribble out lists of nouns and verbs. I was using my planner, to fill out appointments and log work hours, but not really to track my writing. So, at my psychologists gentle suggestion, I started filling out detailed time sheets of what I did in a day. And every week we would review these lists. I was surprised to see how many actual hours I'd dedicated to writing. They were substantial blocks.
Today, I can worry about The Book, about time, the process, whatever, but I can always look back to last week and see that I've taken a tiny step forward. Sometimes I stay still for days or weeks. Sometimes I get stuck on the same 1,000 words, reworking them over and over. Sometimes I feel helpless. But eventually, I move forward. Today I'm grateful for agendas, for scheduling and compulsion. For seclusion and quiet and moving just as slow as I need to.
I'm in the home stretch of my funding period. Last week I printed off a full copy of the manuscript and sat down to read it. Now I'm in the midst of a re-write. I used to be so afraid of starting over, of pulling everything apart and excavating my work. But while I was reading through the book, I felt hopeful. I could see what needed to be fixed and how. It didn't seem so impossible, so bleak or ill defined. I have an idea of how to finish this project. And even if it ends up in a drawer, or filed away on my hard drive, I think I'll have learned something. And for now that's enough.
I'm also gearing up for a winter full of writing for the Yellow Pages. I'll be sure to share the interesting bits a long the way. For now here's a shot of my desk in the afternoon. I try to get out of the house to work in the mornings. Mostly for a change of scenery. To sit down with a coffee and get the brain moving. But in the afternoons I'm back at my desk. Here it is.
I'm hiding out in our apartment this week. I received some funding from the Toronto Arts Council to finish my book, so I've taken some time off regular life to focus on my ending. I've spent the better part of the last two years writing about the same people and places, but I feel our time together is running out. We're close now.
Here are some more pictures I took this summer. Two hideouts and an ending, I think.