Keep Moving / Being Wrong / Keep Moving

Sometimes I feel that I stand in-between too many things. Un-firm. Undecided. This is in part due to my fond appreciation for not only a lot of disparate topics but also disparate approaches. I believe in the vigour of an approach which involves good research. I also believe that we can lace “good research” with wishful thinking so that the evidence it produces is wishful thinking presented as fact. I believe that there are charlatans who willingly or naively provide a distraction that slows us down. I also believe that we dismiss many things as charlatanism not because they pose a danger but because they conflict with the politics of our personal or professional lives. I believe in intuition. I also believe intuition alone brings us too close to a raw reflexiveness which doesn’t serve long term needs.

So when someone asks me What do you think about x? I sometimes find myself considering a number of things and contexts to understand the question. The drawback is we’ve created a world where this sort of complexity is undesired. Certainly, in some industries and roles, complexity is unnecessary — a prime example would be assembly line work where the task is to simply crank out carbon copy iterations of something already conceived-of and revised to an acceptable standard. If you want to know what roles robots and AI are going to swallow up in the future, it’s those things. Complexity, on the other hand, keeps us guessing, reminds us that there are no set answers, or if there are they are kludges we developed until the next discovery forces us to revise our notions, our presumptions.

In an essay in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Ferris Jabr profiles someone turning to exotic flora in order to stave off our imminent depletion of effective antibiotics. The researcher in question turns to the lore of sometimes ancient civilizations, the extracts and tinctures from nature that one might rightly think come from fantasy, or from a presumably primitive culture. From some pharmaceutical industry perspectives, this is quackery. And yet, in one example, Continue reading

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January 11, 2016

I planned to get up at 6am and go for a run, despite the forecast noting a windchill of -16C. What happened is that, because I’d played my first indoor soccer match of the year the previous night (I headed-in the game equalizer) my better sense woke me up and I switched off the alarm on my smartphone at 4am to get some rest and heal my muscles.

Ingrid’s radio alarm went-off at 7:26am. It was the usual: CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning broadcast. But something seemed off. For one thing they were talking a lot about David Bowie. But, I thought, he just had an album out on Friday so it didn’t surprise me. And then it dawned on us that his name was being used in the past tense. I distinctly remember them playing Sound and Vision, a song I would never imagine Metro Morning otherwise playing.

I didn’t want a Canadian or journalistic perspective. I didn’t want to hear about how “strange” Bowie was. I didn’t want to hear the inevitable and inevitably earnest interview with astronaut Chris Hadfield. We spent the rest of the morning listening to BBC Radio Six which had put together a very thoughtful program, including reminiscences from musicians and Bowie collaborators. We went about our morning routine – namely, drinking coffee and reading the Globe and Mail – but it seemed like we weren’t paying attention to anything but the radio. I eschewed social media. I did not want other people’s words in my head, I didn’t want to find myself summarizing my feelings about Bowie’s passing in the sort of facile way that social media can render even the most heartfelt words. I didn’t even want to write that I was avoiding social media. I wanted none of it.

We had some breakfast and I finished some email correspondence for my practice. And then I went for a run. I needed to, even though this was probably the first time I’ve ever stepped out in plain daylight to do so (note: seeing your shadow is weird when you’re running). It was neither my fastest nor most laboured 10k. My head wasn’t really focused on anything, expect for maybe some of the songs BBC Six had been playing: songs plainly inspired by Bowie (Down Here by John Grant), songs which had plainly inspired Bowie (1-2-3 by Len Barry).

Lou Reed was the musician/performer who most likely kept me from killing myself when I was a teenager. His voice came through the speaker and consoled me in its plain cadence, and hinted to me of an alternative universe that I could only dream of seeing back then, living in the suburbs as I did; darker, sure, but more real. I don’t know if David Bowie saved my life but he made it infinitely more interesting and colourful, pulling influences out of his sleeve like a Harlequin-magician and transforming them into a succession of mesmerizing and artistically inspiring songs intended for a wide audience. He largely succeeded because he stayed ahead of trends. Both of them are gone, and while I may have felt more gutted about Reed’s passing, Bowie – whose songs, cool and fragile, rollicking and romantic, I sang to myself regularly – was another artist I had communion with, as do we all with those who deeply influence us when we feel alone.

 

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Limits

I don’t typically work from home when I’m writing fiction. Too many distractions which are almost purely mental (as opposed to audible or visual). Reminders of things that need cleaning, fixing, adjustment. Things I’ve put off seemingly forever.

I typically write in coffee shops, sometimes the odd bar. So yes, I am typically more comfortable in a strange place, surrounded by strangers (though to be honest I tend not to seek out locations that are packed), with music that is not my own playing overhead. This may sound odd. After all, what could possibly provide more distraction than that?

I find the hardest variable is music. The last thing I want is to write while music I know is playing. Why? Because if I like a song, then I’ll be focused on it rather than the brittle little fictional world I’m constructing. My foot will inevitably start beating on the floor to the drums. I will anticipate the dynamics, the chorus. Pretty soon lyrics will be passing through my eyes like ticker-tape instead of my characters’ dialogue.

So, though it might seem paradoxical, I prefer the random jukebox that is the playlist of whomever is working at an establishment I’m located in. And you know what? I discovered many years ago that I can write through pretty much any type of music. And the stranger or furthest away from my taste the music is, the easier it is to tune it out. When I’m in a place that isn’t home, with people I don’t know, with music playing that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to listen to, I can more easily fall into that glorious black hole which allows me to sync with the fictional universe on the other side of my consciousness. Continue reading…

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Author Author

I am represented by a literary agency now and, without going into great detail, my novel has undergone some major changes. Mainly structural. The story hasn’t changed, most of the plotting is still intact, no new characters. But some major changes were made and these changes happened very quickly, and as a result I don’t think what I surrendered (because no experienced author would willingly call any work “done”) was the best effort I could have made. And so, when I realized the extent to which the book needed first-aid, I told my agent to hit the brakes – stop distributing the book and ask those publishers who have not yet read it to not, please and thank you.

I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who has just finished, if finished may be used about any art form, a necessary revision. I am relatively new to this – not writing, but revising. There is an art to revision which is as unique as the art of writing itself. This may sound alien to many, but to fellow writers – novelists especially because of the weight of material we are burdened with – this is a necessary conversion: the realization that you cannot know everything, do everything in your first, second, or even seventh revision. And that potentially great ideas not only require blending with the rest of the work, but the time and space to be seen again with fresh eyes and, if need be, changed once again.

When you don’t respect the process – of writing, of revision (because the two are intertwined like the snakes on a caduceus) – you risk damaging your gains. I ended up not happy with what went out under my name and I am not the first nor will I be the last reluctant person to go through this sometimes necessary experience. I have spent the past four months rejigging, reconsidering, reaching deeper, and sometimes just removing clutter. I worked on my laptop, and after that I had the manuscript printed so that I could look at it like a real book, so that I could see what you can’t easily see on a computer screen. I’ve switched and changed, shortened and lengthened, pared-down and elaborated for clarity.

I think it’s ready now. If not “done” then “done enough”. Or, at the very least, I’m done. And, corny and cliché though it may sound, lessons have been learned.

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TIFF a-hoy!

Looks like the film I worked on earlier this year, Keyhole, will have its world premiere in Toronto this September @ TIFF. Some press here.

For those new to this site, I have had a parallel journal chronicling the film, called Guy Maddin’s Keyhole: A Post Production Diary, which I wrote in tandem with my work on the project.

Needless to say that I’m very happy to have another film premiering at TIFF, and I hope that it is well-received. Keyhole is a challenging film, even for fans of Guy Maddin’s work, yet I think it’s perhaps his most personal and – in that regard – bravest work to date.

 

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Another One Bites The Dust

ARG! One of my favourite literary blogs is ending its run! I encourage you all to visit Ward Six. I really appreciated their approach: to book reviews, to the art of writing. To art itself.

The reasons they give are sensible, yet I will be selfish and whinge that I am now left with oh so very few relevant, intelligent, knowledgeable literary blogs to follow.

Nonetheless, I wish John and Rhian all the best.

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