It took someone on social media posting a reminder of an upcoming deadline for me to realize that I haven’t applied for a writer’s grant in the better part of three years. For anyone outside of publishing reading this, while there’s no obligation to do this (unless of course you’re depending upon writing for a living, in which case it pretty much would be an obligation), it can make life a lot less burdensome for those who want to be able to take time off work so that we might devote ourselves more thoroughly to our writing projects. Most of us secretly bend time and space to be able to spend a few hours here and there each week.

This strikes me whenever I’m researching residencies for writers. A lot of the ones I’ve been interested in have a time stipulation of something grand, like “at least three weeks”, and that’s a deal-breaker for me. I pay for residencies out of my own pocket, and typically 5-7 days is the max I can allot. This is where grants come in. The big ones, from the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Arts Council, have the capacity to provide wide financial support (in other words, scalable to the needs of the applicant, depending upon their professional and personal circumstances). The catch is that you have to go through the application process, which necessitates answering a lot of very detailed questions, not only about your project but about things like your budget (which in itself requires a breakdown of living expenses, etc). You have to essentially provide a compelling argument for the arts council awarding your project, as well as providing a reasonably accurate idea that you (the artist) understand what it is that you’re talking about from a financial perspective.

One of the reasons I’m writing this post is that I think it might be easy for outsiders to think that Arts Council grants are easily awarded, as if it were a question of simply hacking an algorithm. Let me assure you: they are not. If such were the case, there wouldn’t be professional grant writers marketing themselves (and paying their bills assumedly with something other than magic beans). Most artists might be able to summarize their projected finances, or describe their motivation for being an artist, or provide a captivating enticement for their current work-in-progress. Not many can do all three. And, just to add a dose of reality, even if you manage to ace all three, you’re still at the mercy of whomever is reading your application and whatever inevitable cognitive biases and preferences they have.

I’ve never received a big grant, though I’ve certainly applied. I supposed I stopped applying for the same reason I begin walking when I realize the streetcar isn’t coming any time soon; I’d rather try to achieve something on my own than be let down by something out of my control. That said, I run a small business. If I take time off, I don’t have any income. So yes, when I see a TWO MONTH MINIMUM on a writer’s retreat, I can get punchy. Truth is, there’s something strangely out-of-date about a framework whose parameters so clearly prohibit those who don’t have careers which allow such long absences.

The grant I mentioned at the beginning of this post is the Recommender Grants for Writers (via the Ontario Arts Council). It’s not nearly as big (or as arduous to complete) as others. I was lucky enough to have been awarded once before, which helped me book a flight out west to the Banff Centre for the Arts for a self-directed residency, so I pushed myself to submit a sample of Book Three to one of the indie publishers who are participating in the program this year, hopefully before their internal deadline (with this grant in particular, which runs from September to January, the deadline for submissions is set internally by the publishers).

One of the benefits of grant writing, and a reason for my writing this post, is that it can motivate (aka force) you to polish/revise/clarify your work for an actual (aka real) audience, even if you never see them or know exactly what they liked or didn’t. It can be a good prod to work on your bio (which a lot of writers freak out about), or the synopsis of your piece. I’d like to think there’s no downside, other than going through a bit of stress.


Blue by Sweeping Promises

Just happened upon this band, and pretty much everything they’re doing (and have done) is damn good.


The Things I’ve Seen

alley view, south of Queen West

There’s a lot going on in the world, which accumulatively makes it difficult to address in a way that doesn’t sound glib or vague, so I’m going to keep this about the things I’ve been watching on streaming services lately.

The Pigeon Tunnel

Errol Morris (Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) directs a documentary about author John le Carré? What’s not to like? Well, as someone who is an unabashed fan of both, I found the result to be perplexingly unsatisfying. It’s a near continuous interview with Le Carré (whose real name is David Cornwell), interspersed with research clippings, biographical re-enactments, and clips from (mostly BBC) adaptations of Le Carré’s work over the past 50+ years. Unlike their individual works, it simply never rises above what is a rather pedestrian affair. Plodding, lifeless, and visually uninteresting. It felt as if Morris went into this under the impression that, like Robert McNamara in The Fog of War, he would be able to peel away Le Carré’s defences and force him to confront the betrayals and complicities of a former low-level spy whose father was a serial con-man. It doesn’t happen, and it’s somewhat telegraphed right at the beginning when Le Carré addresses the art of interrogation. Morris, it seems, is simply unable to extract anything amounting to a confession or unguarded moment — I had to ask myself whether he’s ever interviewed an Englishman before. It’s also not lost on me that, given the author’s sons and estate weigh heavily in the production credits, there might have been some political interference also. Strictly for fans only.

The Fall of the House of Usher

I like what Mike Flanagan has done with mainstream TV horror. Starting with The Haunting of Hill House, he’s been able to assemble a troupe of performers in order to tell, in ways both chilling and accessible, stories that rise above their reference material (Shirley Jackson, Henry James and in the current case, Edgar Allan Poe) in order to address human connection, family bonds, and spiritual faith. Even efforts that are so-so (The Haunting of Bly Manor) have their moments of sharp observation, and his cast is typically strong. The Fall of the House of Usher follows suit and is undeniably stronger than Bly and more relevant (via its unmistakable reference to the fentanyl crisis sparked by the Sackler family and Purdue Pharmaceuticals) and engaging than Hill House. I still think the vampire drama Midnight Mass is his best work, but Usher has a lot going for it (for one, it doesn’t have MM‘s monologues). There’s an unfortunate tendency throughout the series which seems to correlate sexuality with corruption of character, but at the same time — unlike Hill House‘s very American family-first romanticism — it takes no prisoners. Nice to see Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood as the patriarch of a fate-ridden family.

Infinity Pool

I finally got around to seeing this (note: this is the director’s cut) and I was blown away by it. It’s my first time watching the work of Brandon Cronenberg, and while it’s hard not to remark on the body horror that it shares in common with his father’s oeuvre, it very much stands on its own. Its story about an aimless author riding the coattails of his wealthy wife, who falls into increasingly bizarre and existentially terrifying events involving a group of mysterious tourists he meets at an exclusive resort is as hypnotic as it is nightmarish. There is some excellent world-building here (the resort is in a fictional country with its own customs and language, which adds to the tension), and Alexander Skarsgård is solid as the self-involved protagonist who catches on too late to what is happening as he’s enmeshed in a series of violent incidents that are punctuated by hallucinogenic orgies. The standout here, however, is Mia Goth, who plays one of the fellow tourists who draws Skarsgård into a web of deception. She is at turns alluring and terrifying. Not everything makes sense here, but it stops (thankfully) at being too clever for its own good. Note: the director’s cut is much more explicit, fyi.


Too Much Freedom, pt II

So, let me try to summarize the previous entry (this a just a running thought, folks, and if it seems to be directionless I’ll pull the plug): I’m attempting to invert the notion of “too much freedom,” which is typically aimed towards people seeking acknowledgement of social justice issues, seeing as in reality if there’s going to be an argument for “too much freedom” it’s in the much more serious and widely documented actions by right-wing extremism.

Part of what I’m musing on are questions of how we got here. How, for example, we have so many people who are poorly informed.

There’s an interesting piece in the Globe & Mail, by columnist David Parkinson, pointing out the chasm that can exist between what a populace thinks they know, and what the more complicated truth may be. In this case, some myths that Canadians seem to have come to believe about our economy. We think our interest rates are the highest compared to other countries, but the opposite is true; we think the carbon tax is hurting our wallets but its overall effect is practically negligible on the average person. An easy takeaway from this is the need for better public education about how the parts of the economy work. But even the best education can’t save us from our own psychology.

We’re easily influenced by phenomena which can seem to draw its own conclusions. The sight of a street person sitting on the sidewalk, drinking from a bottle a sherry distracts from the many possible reasons, likely spanning many years, how that sight came to be. If we were able in that moment to step back, we’d begin to see how factors such as socio-economic status, childhood instability, and mental health issues probably contributed to this outcome. Were we magically to have access to this information, it’s likely we would conclude the street person we see on the sidewalk probably didn’t choose to be where they are, which is where our minds might go if we don’t know any better, or don’t wish to know any better.

A very interesting piece of data is the prevalence of brain injury in homeless populations. We know through research data that street people suffer from a host of unfortunate situations. While data may not tell the full (read: nuanced) story, more and more it provides a scaffolding to better understanding, potentially leading to better social outcomes. The problem is that, to the average person a) data is invisible, and b) because most of us just want our individual lives to go well, and don’t have the time or capacity to understand everything else, we rely on a combination of news, friends, social media, suspicion, projection, transference, you name it. So, even before treading into the topic of intentional disinformation, there are many ways in which we can unintentionally lull our way into thinking we know more about things than we do.

All of this said, a defining issue, which I touched on previously is one of severity. There’s a significant degree of difference between someone who mistakenly believes the federal government is responsible for the Bank of Canada’s decisions to hike interest rates, and someone who is spreading hatred against LGBTQ+ individuals on public channels. The consequences to the former are few and isolated. To the latter other people’s lives may be at stake.

And this is where disinformation makes everything worse. It’s the difference between someone having strong feelings against a politician or member of society, and that same someone wanting to storm the Capital building or intimidate drag storytime at the local library.

And I should take a break and come back to this…to be continued.


Too Much Freedom

I’ve been piecing together something recently, or rather I’ve been doing it very passively for the last few years.

There’s something I took from a controversy from years ago. It was during the conversation that was happening about the voice of Apu (first started through the documentaryThe Problem With Apu, then followed by a rather wilting Simpsons episode in response). I don’t want this particular controversy to necessarily be a centrepiece of what I’m trying to get out, and yet it might be so that’s why I don’t want to jettison it entirely.

The thing I took was from a response by Matt Groening to the suggestion that Apu’s depiction was outdated and/or even racist. “[…] I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.” (link to larger USA Today interview).

I’m not sure what Matt Groening’s technical role description is today, but in the beginning he was counter-culture. All you need to do is look at some of his Life In Hell strips to get that picture. He knew how to tweak the nose of authority with a deeply humanistic empathy for the severe consequences that come with authoritarianism and fascism. The Simpsons gave him a larger canvas, first as an experiment/time-filler on The Tracey Ullman Show, then when it had its own TV slot, which it proceeded to…well, it’s such a ubiquitous cultural product that any summary seems trite, doesn’t it?

I was deeply disappointed by Groening’s dismissal at the time, and something about it has been eating at me. It was a mark (if not a casual philosophy) of a type of individual who was speaking from a place of disproportionate comfort: money, power, influence, achievement, cultural impact. And what he was suggesting was that we were the ones with too much: accommodation, choices, ideas. And that by virtue of this we were the thin-skinned ones. He might as well have said — and I swear that Groening did say this, but I must’ve inserted it into my memory because it’s not part of any response of his at the time — that this was a case of “too much freedom”.

There’s a great irony to this dismissive sentiment, and it’s something I largely see perniciously emulated in right-of-centre cultural criticism: these people [children, racialized individuals, the systemically disadvantaged, etc] have it easy, and maybe if they worked harder they would shut up and enjoy their life. And I guess this is where I’m doing some mental wrestling because I actually feel there is too much freedom, but, rather instead of it manifesting in some nightmare of political correctness (waiting for that any day now btw), I’m seeing it in the form of the anti-vax movement, the so-called “freedom convoy” movement, the indisputable rise of far-right militarism under our noses, denial of climate catastrophe and people who demonstratively don’t understand what 5G is.

I’m tempted to ask: are these just two sides of the same “too much freedom” coin? If so, what’s on the other side, because it feels like a bullshit piece of bothside-ism to frame it as such. Is the answer truly you can’t have any progress towards a more just society without a carte blanche allowance for the worst of humanity also?

Separately — just sayin’ — supposing we could, how would we go about lessening “freedom”…without that being a flaming giant untenable nightmare-in-the-making [insert ghost of Stalin]?

I’m tempted to ask: are these just two sides of the same “too much freedom” coin? If so, what’s on the other side, because it feels like a bullshit piece of bothside-ism to frame it as such. Is the answer truly you can’t have any progress towards a more just society without a carte blanche allowance for the worst of humanity also?

I’d be happy to live in a society where my neighbour is a conspiracy freak. To each their own. But when the conspiracy freak starts vandalizing public infrastructure and sowing wider social chaos for beliefs that — political ideology aside — are unfounded or delusional, then part of me sometimes wonders whether there is too much freedom. I’m not talking about being inconvenienced by traffic due to a protest. I’m talking about something like Jan 6th. I’m talking about not just freedom to be stupid, but an enabling of stupid, a metastasizing of stupid as freedom gives it more license. I can’t help but want to tie this into what I think a big part of the problem is: where we get our information, and who/where we get it from. The thought being not that there’s a central source of misinformation/distortion that needs to be regulated (or vanquished), but rather — yes, you saw this coming — social media.

Anyways, I need to leave and come back to this … I’ll either tack onto the end or start something later…

[quick insert] But here’s the thing: social media is just a messaging service; McLuhanism aside, within the context of what I’m talking about, the social medium isn’t the message(s). I also want to avoid a reductionist approach that is hyper-focused on seeking a singular villain, and leave room for complexity and randomness, the stuff that keeps us from convincing ourselves that patterns, just because we notice them, have to be something (causal, intentional) outside of themselves.

(to be continued)


Author Discussion

I’m not going to claim authorship (*ping*) for the idea — I was inspired by both the original intention of Wolsak & Wynn‘s fall launch, which was an author Q&A, as well as seeing how smaller publishers could combine their authors into a shared launch — but seeing an opportunity, last month I proposed the following idea to my publisher: what if we (myself and A.G. Pasquella, author of Welcome to the Weird America) were to have an author event that wasn’t about readings but rather a conversation with other authors; this allowed me to invite Freehand Books author Emily Saso (her latest book Nine Dash Line is wonderful — I know because I blurbed it) and for A.G. to invite ECW author Terri Favro (whose latest book is The Sisters Sputnik). The idea was for there to be a more relaxed discussion that could be interesting for both readers and writers.

The event went very well — I wish it had actually gone longer to include audience Q&A, but it was getting late, and I should always remind myself that the folks behind the scenes putting this together are working outside of their normal hours and aren’t getting paid for any of this. I think it was a successful experiment and I hope to see more of it in the future.

Please enjoy:


The Big December Update

It’s been a year…however, I’m going to save the reflection for when I have the time to do so (!).

I’m so happy that RADIOLAND was recently chosen as a top music pick from CBC Books, especially to see myself listed with my friend (and well-respected music journalist) Michael Barclay and his thorough history of Canadian music from 2000-2005, HEARTS ON FIRE. Talk about good company.

I should also let you know that my publisher is celebrating their 40th anniversary and is offering a 40% discount on their complete catalogue until the end of December. Yes, that includes RADIOLAND and my debut novel THE SOCIETY OF EXPERIENCE — however, I’d like to also add that it also includes works from friends/authors Andrew Wilmot, A.G. Pasquella, Dani Couture, Daniel Scott Tyson, Sofi Papamarko, James Lindsay and D.D. Miller. Seeing as this is holiday-adjacent, this 40% discount is well-timed.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s been a year. I want to thank everyone who has supported my writing. Your support has been felt.


Radioland Book Launch!

Also coming up in November, if you’re going to be in Toronto on November 2nd, I’m inviting you to the book launch for Radioland. It’s happening at Burdock Brewery, 1184 Bloor St. W (a few steps away from Dufferin subway) and I’ll be joined by fellow authors A.G. Pasquella (launching his novella collection, Welcome to the Weird America) and Amber McMillan (launching her poetry collection This is a Stickup).

The three books that are being launched are showcased.


With the news of Charlie Watts’ passing there have been some reflections by fellow drummers, which makes me wonder whether any non-drummers (ie readers) reading these articles are able to make any sense of them; that is, what it is that these drummers are even talking about? Drumming’s a weird line of work, and drummers are an idiosyncratic breed. I should know because I was one, on and off, for several years (to riff on the Steven Wright joke, “not in a row”).

A good drummer, like any other good musician, is a good listener foremost. Don’t forget that. A part of me wishes I could forget my tainted impressions of virtuosi like guitarist Steve Vai and drummer Neil Peart. Don’t get me wrong, those individuals are super talented, super dedicated, respected by their peers and great examples of their respective craft. And yet both, I would argue, because of their intense discipline and skill almost became exaggerations of their trade, not by intent but by association. For Vai, by his association with the height of inflated 80s hair rock (hello, person who became David Lee Roth’s solo wingman); because I grew up with this it distracted me from his more substantial recognition, that Vai was known more obscurely as a musician’s musician, noted for his collaborations with such diverse artists as Frank Zappa and PiL previously. For Peart, somewhat more ironically, by association with his very skill. There is no doubt that there wasn’t a Chinese crash cymbal or glockenspiel in his kit that didn’t get a workout, but I would argue that his penchant for literally surrounding himself with every type of percussive instrument imaginable visually detracted from what makes a good drummer — see the first sentence of this paragraph. I worry that there are a lot of drummers with way (way) too much gear because they’re Neil Peart fans. Drummers like Charlie Watts, it should be known, kept it simple by comparison, rarely straying from a 4 or 5-piece drum kit. Neither Vai nor Peart did anything wrong, but I think they are examples of how the wrong idea about what being a good musician (or artist) is can get across despite the most honest of intentions.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received as a drummer was a bandmate nicknaming me “Mattronome.” At least I took it as a compliment.

Drummers are eccentric, which isn’t entirely surprising for a breed of people who deal not with melody and harmony but rhythm, which itself can be difficult to communicate to a wide audience (think shape vs colour). Reading Stuart Copeland and Max Weinberg’s reflections on Watts, I was struck by how unrhythmical their technical descriptions were of what made Watts stand out. It reminds me of the famous Martin Mull quote: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” We’re an odd bunch, with inter-dimensionally oblong interests, but, I insist, ultimately we are eminently loveable creatures.

How to take care of drummers:

  • Never mind the fact that we are nearly always tapping our fingers/feet to some piece of music that’s playing in the background, if only in our head. We aren’t being rude, just dutiful to our nature.
  • Never mind the fact that we tend to be either shut off from the outside world, or, paradoxically, so attuned to some microtonal aspect that regular humans can’t sense that we haven’t had a chance to listen to the very important thing you’ve been trying to explain to us for the past twenty minutes (this also applies to writers).
  • If you want to impress a drummer, mention how much skill it must take to play tambourine, and how people commonly underestimate this.
  • Empathize with how, unlike lead singers and guitarists, drummers can’t exactly roam around the stage when playing live.