Sunday, February 27, 2005

Haiku for today.

Too nice outside
To stay in and type words-
My skateboard needs a rider.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I can('t) write my way out of this.

I can write my way out of this.

There's this hole I've dug. You know the one: impossibly deep, so that the bottom is as dark as night and almost as cold and lonely. The sheer rock walls crumble just a bit when I call for help. No way out, and all I've got is this damn shovel. A pen and some paper.

I can write my way out of this.

All night I dreamt of writing. I should have been swimming through the air, practicing my flying. I should have been exploring those fragmenting cities of the future, or fighting off demonic robots. But I was writing instead - some endless essay, of which only the title remained in the morning: Staying Young: Retaining Relevance in an Irrelevant World. I worry. I worry too much about age. I worry too much about worry.

I can write my way out of this.

I repeatedly tell myself the same thing so that I might one day come to believe it: there is strength in single-mindedness. Though it’s more stubbornness than single-mindedness, more steadfastness than stubbornness, more dauntlessness than steadfastness - yes, I am undaunted. I lie to myself so that I might one day know the difference.

I can write my way out of this.

Time's a little faster down here. Condensed - sort of squished, I guess. Though there is less of it, I still find time to procrastinate. I think: there is truth in the faint, hurried lines of your sketches, but the smudge marks of your eraser are much more revealing. Just like the dirt removed from this hole, what is missing weighs so much more than what remains.

I can't write my way out of this.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

left feet

You don't believe me when I tell you that I have two left feet. The sign of a good friend, I suppose: always encouraging. You're teaching me how to dance. You have to put your hand lower, on the small of my back, and be firm, you instruct. But I'm not a firm man, and I'm not now, letting you, instead, get away from me as we trip around the dance floor. You tell me: You're the guy, so you're supposed to lead. We both giggle at this, knowing full well that I'm not a leader, and I'm not going to be one now. Instead we fumble around, bumping into other, much more serious, couples. There are rules, you say, that have to be followed while dancing. A smirk. Looking around, it's easy to believe that we're the only ones having fun.

Thursday, February 17, 2005



I didn't want to be there, anyway. Come to think of it, I didn't really want to be anywhere. Something is broken, all messed up - something inside me. I'm sitting in the doorway of an antique shop, warming my hands on a paper cup of coffee, reading Wilde's Prison Writings. I take breaks every now and then to watch the rain fall on the street outside. A winter rain. Sometimes listening isn't enough.


Tomorrow I'll call, and everything will be okay. If not tomorrow, then the next day, certainly. Fights from the past are never wholly remembered, and I've no reason to believe this one - already in the past - will be any different. Just words, right? Can our love grow so cold, so quickly as the coffee I hold in my hand? Rain soaks into my sneakers, through my socks. Chilled.


I'm trying to cram bitterness in between anguish and regret, but it just won't go - too many letters I guess. You move amongst love these days, all wrapped up in that tight little clique, comfortable, safe, and warm. Occasionally, you try to imagine what I'd be up to right now. My guess is that you have any number of ideas, all of which could not be further from the truth. The words I'm reading tell me that it's not your fault, that I must search within myself for answers - but authors aren't always right.


A new day, a new cup of coffee. The cute barrista smiles at me from behind the counter, and I think for a second that maybe she's my rebound. But it's too soon, and I retreat to the back of the café with a newspaper. I admonish myself in private: It's much too soon to screw up yet another relationship, another life.


If you come back, I'll be good.
Just like the old days,
We'll laugh and love.


A void


We are no more.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


I was lucky enough to meet F in Toronto during the winter of 2001 - six months before he died. After admiring him for years through the pages of his work, I was pleased to find him exactly as I expected: dishevelled older gentleman sipping a glass of Macallen Single Malt, a sparkle in his eye. I would have been disappointed if it were any other way.

"How can I continue writing when I feel like giving up each time you pen a new masterpiece? I read your work, and it only serves to remind me that I will never write as well."


"Please, if everyone did that, no-one would ever write anything. Every time R publishes a book I swear I'll never write again. I know that I'll never touch the skill that he so effortlessly and faultlessly demonstrates, but I write anyway, with the hope that I get better with each word."

And I'm not sure that three lines will ever hold the same weight as these.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

No longer discarded

Where do all the ideas go? It used to be - back in the early days - I would complete an entire story, save it to disk, then go back and edit, removing or adding paragraphs and entire passages, then save it to disk again. Then I’d do it again and again until I had said everything in such a way that I wanted it said. Then I’d go back and finesse, cleaning up the syntax, grammar, and punctuation until the story was as perfect as I could get it, at the time, and within my skills. But the last version was always a wholly different story than the first. More than once, I was able to write entire stories inspired by those deleted paragraphs and passages. More than once, I’ve read through an early version of a story and smiled at my own awkwardness and naïvety, emblazoned forever on those pages.

But those days are gone. I tend to edit on the fly now, deleting entire paragraphs and passages as I go. I still end up with numerous drafts of the same piece, but they’re more or less the same. Exercises in comma placement. Choices between the upstanding semicolon and the more risqué dash. Ellipse or no ellipsis. The differences are important, yes, but technical and certainly not inspiring. At times, I try to think back to a deleted paragraph, but can only paraphrase, at best, its idea watered down by time. I try to recall a passage, and find that it, too, is gone, the words now jumbled and confusing in my mind - impossible to use for anything other than fuel for aggravation.

So, where do all the ideas go? I’ve vowed to – from this point forward – commit all ideas, all deleted paragraphs and passages, to a separate file. No longer discarded, I’ll keep them in a safe place for easy reference. But what of the ones lost – no, abandoned – over the years? They’re gone forever, but I’ll never make the same mistake again. Or so I say. The Delete key looms, always within easy striking distance of my little finger. It calls to me, beckoning: Just hit me, you know you want to. It’s so easy. Don’t fuss with cutting and pasting. Come on, what are you, chicken? And I am. I’m scared of losing an idea - they’re such precious commodities these days.

Monday, February 14, 2005


I've lain awake in beds in hotel rooms all across Canada, staring up at the same ceiling, counting tiles, unable to sleep. My pint glass has left the same wet ring on a thousand different bars, in a thousand different pubs, and I've seen that same waitress smile in two official languages - neither of which I understood. I've watched Bladerunner at least a half-dozen times, in a half-dozen cities, and found that it always ends the same way. I've asked the same questions of strangers in every province, and watched the same sun disappear behind the same nondescript towers of concrete and glass. I've read Baudrillard on the grass beneath the familiarity of a tree, while pondering the same existence, asking myself the same questions, and receiving the same answers each and every time. How did I get here from there? How will I get there from here? The more one travels, the more one finds that this city merges into the next, sharing characteristics, sharing differences, until all cities become all cities. And one find it easier to settle down then.

So I wrote you a postcard from there, then another from the next place, and another from the next. I didn't send them, of course, opting instead to give them to you next time I saw you. How was I supposed to know that would be never? I look at them now, years later - some with pictures of mountains, others with lakes or oceans - and they're of places I've never been: a sandy beach, impossibly soft, a jagged mountain, inconceivably beautiful - the ocean. Images I didn't notice or ignored. Things I threw away, as casually as I did, you.

I could have been watching a sunset
Instead of the ceiling.
Swimming in the ocean
Instead of misery.
Writing a song
Instead of postcards to myself.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ad infinitum

To each question, a question as an answer: How much of ourselves do we inject into our writing? How much can we, without undermining the illusion of our fiction? Are our character's thoughts our own? Do we even have our own thoughts? How honest should we be? How honest can we afford to be with ourselves? Recently, a correspondent posed this question to me via email:
I have run into a bit of trouble with one of my characters in [title withheld], in that he is becoming too familiar, too much like myself. The more I write, the more I try to get away from this, the more I find in common with him. I feel like I'm caught in a trap, and every move I make only serves to ensnare me further.

Encountering this problem on my own, my first instinct is to abandon the character and start over. But then, I always do things the hard way. So what, then? What is to be done when you discover yourself wandering amidst your own work?

I confront this problem with uncomfortable regularity in regards to this weblog. When asked if I write from experience, I reflexively say no. And I mean it. But to be honest with you, I have no idea how much of myself actually goes into my writing - this or otherwise. I tell myself that it is all a work of fiction, but do I really have any way of knowing that for certain? In his autobiography, Italo Calvino wrote:
Biographical data, even those recorded in the public registers, are the most private things one has, and to declare them openly is rather like facing a psychoanalyst.

I see the weblog, as a near perfect medium in that it is, in a way, authorless, working best when the reader does not know me, has no reference point by which to set his or her compass, and has no way of attaching the author to authored. I can say what I like and you can either read it or not, enjoy it or not, but you can, in no way, attach any sentimentalities to the words. But I can, and those who are familiar with me can.

Perhaps, all writing is a mirror held up to the author, and to deny this might be irresponsible. Do we use characters as a firewall of sorts, something to hide behind, allowing us to test the waters of a sea otherwise off limits to ourselves? To be certain, I do not have the answers to any of the ten questions put forward in this piece. The closest I can come is to answer each with yet another question. And that question with another. Ad infinitum.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Interviewer and interviewee

Interviewer and interviewee: opponents, competitors, adversaries. The interview: a childhood game of tug-of-war, played out not by physical strength, but by mental. That's how I see it anyway - something to win, or to at least not lose. One step misplaced, and I could end up face-down in the pit of mud. And nobody wants to see that. Or everybody does. Whichever.

There is a certain weighty finality felt during the interviewing process. The interviewer sits across from me in my own living room; he's on the couch, I'm on the armchair. He commends me on my taste in furniture - I immediately wonder if these words are on the record. They are. Each of our words from this point forward are dripping into the digital recorder which teeters on the edge of my coffee table. I can't take my eyes off of it. Maybe I'm trying to move it with my mind, make it fall onto the floor. Maybe I'm waiting for our words to weigh it down so completely that it falls off the edge on its own accord. At any rate, I completely miss the next question, but answer anyway - just some nonsense about the latest book I'm reading. It appeases him.

When all is said and done, I can't remember a thing. Not a single question. Not a single answer. I think about all of my words trapped forever on that recorder, fighting with his for eternity, trying desperately to escape. I'm temporarily blinded by the flash of his camera. My image, stolen from me. Then he's shaking my hand, and I'm walking him to the door.

The next day, I buy the newspaper, not out of vanity but a genuine concern that my thoughts were represented accurately. A cursory run-through reveals that, for the most part, they were. That is, until I take a step backwards, and put myself in the shoes of another who might not know me as intimately as I do. How do the words read then? I marvel at how ambiguously I word everything. My words could be pulled apart by whoever reads them, interpreted any which way, spun into something completely different. I toss the paper in the nearest trashcan, and smile as I walk back to my flat. Ambiguity: my safety net. Why say something, when you can say nothing at all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

City Notes for the Would-be Traveller

1. To walk through the ruined, fragmented cities of the dreamscape, is to bear witness to the very rebirth of the New City - an era of anonymity, sameness, and repetition. Here we will live our lives in the safety of the boring, the unremarkable, the monotonous. Sadness.

2. We have dreamt of every city that ever existed, and every city that ever will exist, and dreamt, too, of the magnificence of being a city, for cities have all the desirable strong characteristics - stoicism, indifference, austerity, rigidity - while we're left to merely simulate these same characteristics in our relatively short lives, for we are not rock and metal, plastic and glass.

3. Myths build up around cities, and we convince ourselves to believe them. We tell ourselves that each city is the symbol of some great idea, we attribute to each city a sex, and we try desperately to believe that one city is better than the next. We are wrong; all cities are all cities. From Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities: "...each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents." We find comfort in our beliefs that one city is different from the next, we take trips to find ourselves, and we move away to start anew. But how can we start anew when we come full circle, arriving right back where we began, as though we had never left? In Cool Memories, Jean Baudrillard writes: "The cities of the world are concentric, isomorphic, synchronic. Only one exists and you are always in the same one. It's the effect of their permanent revolution, their intense circulation, their instantaneous magnetism."

4. Who hasn't walked down a block in a new city, and been consumed by familiarity, led astray by presumption? It's the curse of a traveller to be forever disoriented by the diversity of his or her adventures. You have seen to much? No, you have seen too much of the same. In the weary traveller, knowledgeableness breeds bewilderment.

5. What you have to do while arriving in the falsehood of a new city is to arrive in the city as a falsehood. Envelope yourself in the myth of the storyline, become steeped in the lie of the culture, wrap yourself in the fictional history - it's the only way to retain your sanity. It's the only way to convince yourself that you are somewhere new, doing something you haven't done already, and living a life that you couldn't live anywhere else on Earth.

Sunday, February 6, 2005

the whole affair

One could sum the whole affair up with the mundane temporal characteristics of one year, two months, two weeks, five days, et al, but this would be robbery. One could also throw around a few banal locational aspects - aspects such as Canada, Québec, Montréal. You want a season in which it ended? How about winter. Hell, I'll even give you early winter. But leaving it like this would only serve to rob you of precious details - details much more important than the who and the what, the where, when, and why. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's all about the how. Someday I'll find a simpler way of saying things - and then I'll stop writing.

The relationship consisted of forty-three hand-written letters - no more, no less. Twenty-four were written by him, mostly in blue ink on plain white paper, folded twice, and placed into ordinary security envelopes before being dropped into the mailbox by the Chinese restaurant. He would try to imagine where she'd be while she opened the envelopes and read the letters - and he was right more than once.

Nineteen were written by her, all in red ink on scented pink paper (cinnamon), folded twice, and placed into matching pink envelopes (sometimes sealed with a heart sticker, sometimes not) before being dropped into the mailbox by the laundromat. She would try to imagine where he'd be while he opened the envelopes and read the letters - and she was right more than once. Though they lived in the same town, they wrote letters to one another to feel closer.

It's like this, then, that I describe to you the relationship. Two paragraphs of one hundred forty-eight words - no more, no less. No description of the participants, but for the mention of he and she (though any combination of gender identifiers would do just as well), no mention of a time frame or a location, and no mention of a beginning or end. Those things do not matter. Given a simple description of one facet of a relationship, your imagination can fill in the rest. And you'd be right more than once.

Thursday, February 3, 2005


You went through his old journals this week. A series of nine leather-bound books, each approximately an inch thick, their covers tattered and creased, kept closed against time by elastic bands. Nearly every day he wrote, in that mysterious purple ink you knew so well from his correspondence. Well before weblogs, he kept written journals of his research, works in progress, current thoughts, and daily events. He did so in a style of writing few could hope to achieve - and a choice of words like none other.

When he knew he was leaving, he packaged up those books in brown paper and had them sent to you. Attached was a postcard which said, simply: All the places I've been. It took you awhile to open the package - nearly a year - and even when you did, you couldn't bring yourself to open the books. Until now.

So, you went through his old journals this week - all except the last one. Is it filled, front to back, with his familiar purple script like the other eight? Or are half the pages a ghostly white? You're not sure you care to know. Or maybe you feel that if you don't read that last one things will end differently - or not end at all. And in a way they won't.

Words from long ago
Reach out from the past.
He lives between those covers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005


The day begins, as usual, with a goal: to write something that no-one could plagiarise. Something unique, something that rings of his voice, something unexampled, non-transferable, non-negotiable. He thinks, then: "To do this I must know there is a difference between that and writing something that no-one would want to plagiarise." He shrugs off creeping self-deprecative thoughts and begins work.

Trapped by a studiously developed style, writing progresses slower these days. At one time, words travelled across the page fluidly, effortlessly, steadily, but the result was choked, hard to read, confusing. Now words crawl across the page on their knees in a constant state of fear, knowing they could vanish in a instant, never to be seen again. They're being exchanged, sometimes on a two- or even three-to-one deal. They're traded in for slicker, roomier models, and the result is a work in which the central thought shines through, rather than being lost in a torrent of words.

But what thoughts? And whose? To himself he asks: "How can I trade those in for slicker, roomier models? I'm even willing to do a three-to-one trade-in on those. Those thoughts of death, thoughts of idleness, thoughts of uncertainty - I'll give them all to you for one good idea." But even he knows that he's never had an idea, and never will. He leaves those to geniuses.

Leonardo da Vinci could write with one hand while drawing with the other. He could do those things simultaneously, while most people have trouble doing even one. He had ideas. Genius - our subject can add this to his ever-growing list of things to be fascinated by, things just beyond his realm of understanding: the ocean, time, the universe - genius.

The day begins, as usual, with a goal: to write something. Anything at all.