Ebook & Death

Hi all — the ebook of Radioland is out. Please don’t ask why it’s taken this long. It was actually out a while back but I’ve neglected this blog, something I’m thinking of changing as I grow tired of the social media (read Twitter) scene. It’s much better to share my thoughts here, especially book-related.

So, death…

There’s been a bit of that in my life recently. First was the passing of an influential instructor I had when I did a summer intensive with the Humber School for Writers, way back in 2005. DM Thomas was an author known mainly for his seminal work, The White HotelHe was the right person at the right time, and from that class I co-founded a writers’ group that lasted about nine years, all of which is to say I wouldn’t be sitting here — a published author, with two novels, several short stories and a couple of essays under my belt — had it not been for that experience with him. I have fond memories of DM, particularly one evening at the Duke of York, with my classmates, which featured a gaze of raccoon cubs climbing after their mother along a tree in the patio. DM had a formidable perspective as a prose writer and poet and was a gracious host with a long list of stories to tell. May he rest in peace.

When I worked in film & TV I worked alongside many coordinators at post production houses across the city, but none was more professional, reliable and affable than Gary Brown. I first worked with him at Magnetic North and then afterward at Deluxe. With Gary, what you saw was what you got; his smile was genuine, his explanations were clear and his assistance was crucial on more projects than I could begin to list off. I worked with him for over a decade in a two-decade career, and I never had a better experience. With someone like Gary you always knew you were in good hands. It helped also that he didn’t have any of the boy’s club bullshit (read: casual misogyny) that I encountered with unfortunate frequency. Gary passed about a month ago, at the tender age of 46, of cancer. He left a family behind, as well as the respect and admiration of everyone who was lucky enough to work alongside him. May he rest in peace.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who bugged the Toronto Public Library to stock my book. They do now, which is great. We can’t all afford new things, and libraries serve a crucial purpose for this reason. Much appreciated to all who helped out.

I mentioned that I was going to provide more content here, and I’ve got something coming up — an essay on Radioland and my choice to feature a racialized protagonist. I’ll be posting that soon. Thanks for stopping by.


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.

Writing Adv*ce: Constraints

Someone who is new-ish to writing is liable to want to have every option open to them when it comes to writing — this applies equally to fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. Get out of my way, this writer says to themselves as they roll up their sleeves, and just let me get to it. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with this ethos (most writing advice tbh is Janus-faced, in that the opposite could equally be true depending upon the context of the individual in question); writing can be (and often is) liberating.

But here’s the thing (because why else would I be writing this in my spare time if there wasn’t a point): sometimes having all the options open to you will have the opposite effect of liberty — it can incongruously create its own roadblock by virtue of being, well, too open-ended. If there are no boundaries it can often feel as if we are tasked with filling an abyss which might lead to a sense of paralysis. Do I write about this? Wait…what about that? The question of what you write about (or the angle you choose to write about it from) can be intimidating if there are no rules, no guardrails, no ceiling and no floor.

When I took part in a week-long writing intensive many years ago, which incorporated fiction and poetry writing, the end goal was for each of us to write a sestina. What’s that? It’s a form of poetry that carries with it very specific rules for how it is to be constructed and it is a massive. pain. in the. ass. Without exception, every person in my group — poet, non-poet, or (like me) something in-between — saw each day that approached the assignment deadline with a sense of dread. The sentiment could be summed as: this is bullshit. As in, this is bullshit, I should be free to write whatever and however I want. What is more freeing than Art, after all!? And yet, when I sat my ass down and began to work out how I would construct my sestina, which I admit was painful, I was also struck by how the constraint of the sestina form forced me to be very specific and focused on what it was that I was doing. Lo and behold, I ended up writing something I never thought I would’ve pulled off — and managed to impress the instructor in the process. It was an inspirational step forward to me, not just as an artist but as someone who reflects on the hows and whys of human behaviour.

A few weeks ago, a documentary was released on the band The Velvet Underground. Its director, Todd Haynes, an artist in his own right, set his own constraints on the project. Rather than having a bunch of present-day intellectuals and music nobility reflecting on the influence of the Velvets (ie how many music documentaries are constructed) he insisted on maintaining temporal and situational context in his choice of subject by only presenting people who were there at the time and place that the events unfold. For example, when the Velvets set out on an ill-fated tour of California he doesn’t interview anyone who was not part of that tour. No Warhol. No Jonathan Richman. Just whatever archival footage was available and/or surviving members of the band and entourage to speak to their experience. It makes for a fascinating and immediate way of telling the story without it being a nostalgic love-in or overly biased hagiography. You should see it.

What are other ways in which we might use constraints to help us focus? How about a police procedural with no police? A mystery told from the sole vantage point of a security camera? A poem expressing your current feelings but using excerpts/fragments from your teenage journals?

Constraints can guide and inform an artist’s work. Note I say can. Sometimes it’s good to go-for-broke and blow the doors off whatever it is you want to get off your chest without care for form. But whatever you do don’t forget that form itself can allow you, if counter-intuitively, to transcend your inner biases and intellectual confines.


A note from Richard Chartier

I’m a fan of experimental composer Richard Chartier, whose solo projects (particularly under his Pinkcourtesyphone imprint) and collaborations (like this quiet monster w/ France Jobin) have received regular rotation in my eardrums.

I came across a newer composition last year which is sublime, however, of all things, it’s his artist statement at the bottom which caught my attention. I’m pasting it in its entirety:

A note from Richard Chartier
I find myself at the collision of an inflection point and more over a reflection point. 50 years on this planet. I still find it difficult to write about my work. This is not because I cannot, but because I want the listener to approach my compositions of sound as such. Focus on the sensorial nature rather than an explicit narrative or reasoning.

I do not see my work as abstraction but rather purely abstract.

I chose sound as my medium after many years as a painter. I slowly came to conclusion that I no longer understood how to communicate sensation via a pigmented surface. The visual language I was using had become foreign to me.

Sound allowed me a language that was wordless, open, moving, shapeless yet full of forms, connections, and progressions. It raised questions though and these are still part of what I struggle with in the ways I chose to create and then speak of my work

why these sounds?
what is the attraction to these sounds?
how did I arrive at these compositions and their placements?

The pieces exist then as less of a statement, more of a question, but a question that will be different for each listener. For me, listening to them over and over, they will take another form as time passes. They evolve. For now though, they are in limbo on a piece of plastic or a series of lines of data

Often i am puzzled by how other artists create their work, how they come to decide arrangements, sequences of sounds or just the sounds themselves.

That is the magic of music.

The reason I find myself coming back to this is its vulnerability, something I’ve heard in his music but have not been exposed to in terms of how Chartier himself– or any artist of his ilk — has chosen to represent themselves textually. Most artist statements are, to be perfectly honest, easily ignorable; they boil down to: “Here. Signed, x”. And that’s ok. I would prefer this to a ham-fisted statement which did the music (or the listener’s expectations) no favours.

Instead Chartier makes himself prone and speaks to the to-be listener not as an underling but an equal. Turning 50 recently myself, I can’t help but wonder what was going on in his life, his head, when he wrote this. There’s little ego evident, no unnecessary flourish of cliché (“So, me and the boys recorded this in a shack outside Fayetteville…”). Instead he lays himself bare and presents himself plainly, and emphatically. He allows us into his philosophical process, his inspiration, and his limits. He dares to express a certain innocence. This is not the Wizard of Oz, attempting to razzle and dazzle (and intimidate). Instead, Chartier allows the to-be listener to engage with him, and I think this approach is magical.


Alberta Tour 2016

Here’s the short and sweet on my upcoming tour of Alberta:

The Society of Experience Matt Cahill Alberta Tour 2016

November 9 — University of Alberta, Augustana (Camrose) campus: reading from The Society of Experience at the bookstore @ 2pm. Books will be sold and signed. If you are in Marina Endicott‘s creative writing class, you will have the added bonus of having me hang over your shoulder and talk about writing and stuff on November 10th!

November 12 — Calgary, Literary House Concert, from 2pm to 5pm: the inaugural launch of a literary salon that is going to be awesome, but due to its intimate location will be RSVP only. Go here to find out more. I’m reading with Nikki Reimer & Shannon Maguire! Books will be sold and signed.

November 13 — Edmonton, at Audreys Books, reading from The Society of Experience. @ 3pm  I’ll be joined by writers Tim Bowling and Greg Bechtel! Books will be sold and signed. Facebook invite here!

Updates will be made as the week progresses. I hope to meet new friends and readers during this whirlwind-ish five days!




RIP Lou Reed

I don’t want to come across as melodramatic, but I’ve been preparing myself for the day that Lou Reed passed away. That day came today.

When I say “preparing myself”, I don’t mean with an end in mind. I suppose the point was being mindful that he wasn’t going to be around forever. No one is.

The photo to the left is the first album of his I bought (on cassette). It introduced me to both Lou and the Velvet Underground in equal measure, taking the listener to his Street Hassle release. His voice lingers in my head, his words undoubtedly. He was as much a writer as a musician. He created settings for his songs, surrounded with strange people. It was impossible to feel lonely with his voice in my ears.




On Self-Censorship As A Canadian Preoccupation

There are always going to be thin-skinned readers, but writers who self-censor for fear of offending said readers suck more. #canada

This was going to be a missive sent over Twitter. Then I thought, what if someone replies to me, calling me out? What if someone says:

@m_cahill Care to name names, or are you AFRAID OF OFFENDING SOMEONE? #jerk

Allow me to elaborate (and do it in an environment I can totally control without distorting my message due to a 140-character limit).

Two articles in the last week were sources of outrage among certain parts of the online world, particularly on Twitter, where it’s particularly easy to express outrage*. The first was Ian Brown’s essay on men gazing at women in the Globe & Mail. It elicited a lot of criticism, from feminists who were offended by the objectification of women to people who simply construed Brown’s perspective as creepy in a Lolita sorta way.

My partner and I began talking about some of the anger we saw in our respective Internet social circles. I felt a lot of it was overblown. Predictable, actually (sadly). And yet I agreed with Ingrid, who reminded me that there is something to be said about “the gaze” which women historically have been on the other end of. In other words, it was a complex issue. All said, something I found admirable in Brown’s piece (and his writing in general**) was his forthrightness. Unlike so many writers there was no effort made to allay the concerns of the entire reading public that he wasn’t trying to offend anyone.

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