Essay in Humber Literary Review #6

I’m happy to say that the latest issue of Humber Literary Review (#6) is out, and I have an essay included. This is their first themed issue, and it’s about mental health. Because I’m a psychotherapist who is deeply reflective about the way in which we choose to see the world, I saw this as a golden opportunity to submit a pertinent perspective; my essay, On Madness Within Imagination, confronts a cultural blindspot – the depiction of madness in fiction.











It is available at the following Toronto bookstores:

Another Story (on Roncesvalles)
Book City on the Danforth
Book City on Queen
Book City on St Clair
Book City in the Village
Presse Internationale on Bloor
Presse Internationale in the Beaches
Type Books (on Queen)

It is available elsewhere, of course, but I have no clue where. You can also purchase a subscription from HLR.



Right now, it’s about keeping my energy and clarity in some sort of balance with the demands of reality, whose shifting path I have been navigating for the last while.

I am, by all rights, completing work on the last film I will ever work on. I say this with understandable trepidation since walking away from something you’ve done for 20 years, swinging to a new vine which depends solely on me and me alone: intimidating. Also experiencing the predictable though nevertheless white-knuckle bullshit of completing work on a film.

My psychotherapy practice is humming along nicely, which I am grateful for.

I am awaiting editorial notes on my novel, The Society of Experience, and hoping that they are neither too overwhelming nor the window I am given to do them within too short. Nobody wants to publish a bad book–that’s the good news and the bad news.

I am gratified by the progress I have made as a writer this year, not only in that I had a short story published, but that I feel I have turned a corner with respect to my writing process and the way I approach the development of stories.

I still have bad habits, but that’s what keeps life interesting.



So, Another Year (A Needle Pulling Thread)

2013 was good to me, which is not to say that it was without challenges. I suppose it was a cluttered year, and I will take that over barren, even if I’m feeling exhausted.

I had two articles published, on two topics that I took personal interest in: the shape of Kensington Market, and the 10th anniversary of SARS. They both involve Toronto, but aside from that they don’t hold much in common. I took great pride in writing them and each provided healthy challenges for me as a writer.

The biggest news, for me as a writer and an individual, was having my novel picked up by Hamilton publisher, Wolsak & Wynn. Of course, there is a lot of work to be done until its publication date in 2015, but it’s about the biggest milestone for me as a writer that I could have asked for (a big shout-out to my agent, Kelvin Kong, with The Rights Factory).

And yet it was also a year where my psychotherapy practice grew and broadened. This February will mark the completion of two years of private practice and I could not be happier with it, though like starting anything new and independent there are always going to be challenges. I began working with couples in the summer and found myself liking the dynamic very much, though working with the energy in the room can be taxing.

I’m not completely out of the woods with respect to the film industry. I started work on Bruce McDonald’s new feature, Hellions, as a post supervisor/consultant. It’s difficult juggling this type of work with therapy – two different parts of my brain which don’t always play well: the anticipatory, structure-based, logic-seeking left brain vs the open-ended, empathetic, creative right.

I would like to top 2013, but I don’t know if that will happen in 2014. I would certainly like to complete the first draft of my new novel. But it’s a tough nut to crack and doesn’t want to be rushed. My greatest challenge as a writer with respect to new work will be combining the worlds – and words – of therapy and writing: finding a project in which to write from the viewpoint of a therapist. I see this as an inevitability and I would prefer to jump in the pool rather than be pushed. I look forward to the days to come.


The Ides of March

Basement: mostly done.

We pushed ourselves hard to get everything (doors, baseboards, furniture) cut/fitted/assembled. The result is beautiful. The space is marvellous. I could not have asked for a more comfortable working environment.

Novel: revised, but sifting through new notes.

I spent two months grinding through a very large, complex recommendation on my novel – that it be written in 1st-person rather than 3rd-person. A tall order. And yet, I went through with it because it made perfect sense. The narrative style I was using was such an intimate sounding 3rd-person that switching to 1st-person felt more natural – the fact that I was using 1st-person for the follow-up novel I was already working on also helped.

The new notes only regard the first part of the book – not a huge deal, and yet I will admit that I’m tired of going back to this beast. I tell myself: if it makes it better, if it improves my understanding of storytelling, if it’s still my book in the end – then it is worth it.

Film job: crazy.

Dealing with battlefields in Los Angeles, Toronto, and Seoul, it’s not hard to imagine that I’m getting emails 24-hours a day. Most of the people I’m working with are professionals who are dedicated to making this project a success. Some of the people are, for various reasons, driving me crazy. That’s pretty much par for the course.

Psychotherapy practice: saw first client.

Therapist-client confidentiality notwithstanding, I am happy to finally be getting my practice off the ground. It is a new beginning and it feels great in all the right places.



Brief Reviews: The Perfect Host

When I saw that David Hyde Pierce was going to be in a movie where he got to play a villainous dinner host, I thought it had everything going for it. When, later, I saw the trailer for the film, I found myself very much interested in seeing it.

And then nothing happened. I never saw it released in theatres. It didn’t even make the local rounds as a limited or art house theatrical release.

Then, one day, I’m walking through Queen Video and I see it on the shelf. Hot damn, thinks I. I take the tag to the counter and the cool video girl says I really want to see this. I then comment on the fact that I never saw it released in theatres, that this is typically – certainly not in this movie’s case – the mark of Cain. I think we both looked at each other for a moment, then I settled up and took the DVD home.

The Perfect Host has a great premise: a bank robber (Clayne Crawford, eerily reminiscent of Ray Liotta), fleeing capture, takes shelter under false pretenses as a guest of Warwick Wilson (Pierce), a rather elegant, if odd-mannered home owner who is about to throw a party for friends. However, the thief discovers that his host is more than he seems – that he is in fact a sadistic bully who wants to have fun with his prey.

The problem, and this becomes apparent quite soon, is that Warwick’s impending dinner party is all in his head. His guests are imaginary. That’s right: HE’S INSANE. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the trailer didn’t really make this apparent, and suddenly what promises to be a suspenseful nail-biter (a thief hiding in a crowd of strangers sizzles on the page, after all) turns into a ho-hum, sometimes awkward two-hander. While David Hyde Pierce (who many will know as Niles Crane, from TV’s Frasier) is certainly up to the job in the role of Wilson, the script hits an early dead-end after the initial setup, leaving him and Crawford to play in a lame version of Sleuth as directed by Quentin Tarantino.

What’s worse is that, despite the low-budget compromises and lack of other real characters to impact upon the action (after all, who gives a shit about what imaginary house guests think), The Perfect Host shows promises of becoming a better film via flashbacks of the thief’s backstory, but by the last act (and certainly the ending) the logic is stretched beyond respect for the intelligence of the viewer, with far too many plot holes. Considering the talent wasted, this is sort of tragic.


The Dread of Zombies

Everyone is waiting for the zombie genre (in books, television, and particularly film) to whither away like a desiccated corpse. I argue that it’s here to stay – that, in fact, it has stronger legs (ugh) than most other genres of the macabre.

The dread of zombies imagined – the tiredness some of us feel with each iteration (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Walking Dead, Zombieland) – is understandable. Less understandable than with vampires, but understandable still. There are too many zombie and zombie-like (for the record, 28 Weeks Later is not, strictly-speaking, a zombie film, yet it more or less qualifies itself by virtue of many shared) themes in books, shows, and movies these days. But I would argue that it’s because – due to our increased connectedness to each other via the Internet and social media – we are exposed to real life zombies. Thematic zombies. Metaphorical zombies. And the exposure stands to increase.

A shitload of people voted for a complete ass to be the mayor of Toronto. A shit. Load. Mind you, not many who lived downtown did. Still, it was a rout. People like me – people who prize intelligent discourse over pot shots, people who would prefer to be ruled by someone with an informed conscience rather than a bullet-list of to-dos – were incredulous. It didn’t even matter what quadrant of the political spectrum Rob Ford occupied: he was the last person any reasonably well-informed person would have wanted. And yet he won in spades.

Thematic zombies. Metaphorical zombies. The dread of zombies.

Who voted for him? Who can say that they “understand” him? Are they too not also zombies by virtue of his succession to the throne of city council? Faceless, nameless, godless, conscience-less hordes hefted Mr. Ford to office, and we stand here still – a year later – asking ourselves just what the hell happened, watching the circus of political buffoonery before our eyes.

Lest this become a solely personal treatise, isn’t this the same for everyone? Aren’t we witnessing “zombie activity” in other guises: large groups of seemingly nameless, faceless, godless, conscience-less hordes blindly enabling things we fundamentally disagree with but are powerless to dispell? For me it’s the rise of Rob Ford, for others it could be the Occupy movement. For others still, it could be the revolution in Tahrir Square. The massive, faceless but powerful other. The faceless, godless, conscience-less hordes…with agency.

Thematic zombies. Metaphorical zombies. The dread of zombies.

No, it is not going away. Make popcorn.


Brief Reviews: Incendies

For someone like myself, who makes his living working in film, it would seem perilous to declare a “favourite” Canadian filmmaker. However, it’s a no-brainer that one of them is Denis Villeneuve. Ever since I saw his Genie award-winning Maelstrom, I knew I was watching someone who was not burdened by the shackles of mediocrity so commonly on display in the end-product of so many emerging or established Canadian filmmakers.

Incendies, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards, is devastatingly good. It tells the story of fraternal twins who, while coping with the death of their mother, are handed two envelopes by the estate lawyer. One is to give to their father, whom they presume is either dead or estranged. The other is to give to their brother, whom they’ve never known existed. Neither know what any of this means and what follows is a side-winding story that is equal parts tragic and breath-taking.

Based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad, the film spends most of its time in a Middle Eastern country that is never identified for the audience. It’s a curious technique which may frustrate some, and yet it was refreshing for a film to sidestep our cultural preconceptions or prejudicial baggage by focusing strictly on the unfolding of its complex tale and its toll on the characters, past and present. At the core of Incendies is the devastating journey of the twins’ mother, played by Lubna Azabal, told in flashbacks.

There are moments of heightened violence in this film. Moments where you say to yourself: no, no, no – please don’t show us what I think you are about to show us. And yet, to Villeneuve’s credit – something I noticed in Maelstrom – he is one of a short list of directors capable of portraying material which may be extremely unsettling in ways which are neither insensitive to the audience nor disrespectful to the spirit of the story. Yet, the weight of what is ultimately revealed in the circuitous route of the twins will certainly haunt the audience long after the film is done.


Brief Reviews: Certified Copy

Certified Copy is certainly in the running for one of the best films I have seen in 2011. You would not guess this by looking at the poster or the anonymity of its title. Two things do stand out to me immediately: actor Juliette Binoche and director Abbas Kiarostami. Binoche is one of the greatest of her generation, able to transform herself at will. Kiarostami is not a household name but is nonetheless a master of intimate cinematic storytelling (A Taste of Cherry). Certified Copy is about an English writer (William Shimell) and a French art dealer (Binoche) who spend the day in Tuscany together. He is there on a book tour, and she is there ostensibly as his handler.

What transpires requires some delicacy in explaining. While having coffee in a small village, a presumption is made about them by a local: that they are a married couple. The presumption and all that follows lies at the heart of what is a masterful piece of work by Kiarostami. Cutting is kept to a minimum, but that’s fine because often the actors are staring right at us (rather than each other), and what actors: Binoche displays such a range of emotion and depth of feeling in her role as the conflicted half of the presumed couple, and Shimell – an opera singer in real life (believe it or not, this is his first film) – is hypnotic as the edgily self-consumed, emotionally opaque other half.

I am tempted to compare this film in some respects, stylistically at least, to Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Caché), with whom Binoche has collaborated many times. And yet, Certified Copy lacks the brutality, the near-misanthropy of Haneke. Which is not to say that you won’t be kept on the edge of your seat wondering just what is going on between the two leads, and within them. A must-see for anyone looking for depth in their drama.