My family had many Christmas traditions. Presents were not put under the tree until Christmas Eve. The living room door was kept closed until after we had a proper breakfast. Christmas cards were used as decorations around the house. And after receiving our gifts, we had to write thank-you notes to everyone. It was an onerous, yet vital task.
Thank-you notes are a thing of the past; now children just call aunts and grandparents, or worse, send texts and posts. A quick word with an emoji or two, and they can go back to their games and chats. The same goes for notes and letters. Indeed when was the last time you received a postcard?
It’s not as if I’m pining for the days of writing thank-you notes but that, as these artifacts go, so do our memories. The Young Chronicles series detailing my 1983 Cross-Canada hitchhiking trip would not exist if not for my hand-written notes.
While these sophomoric scribblings are not vital to living my life, they are key to reminding me of where I’ve been.
I wrote a piece twenty years ago on the poor state of sports journalism. I interviewed many sports people including Allen Iverson, Mark Messier, Cito Gaston and the sports editor for The New York Times. It was a solid bit of writing which The Globe and Mail considered publishing but ultimately rejected as being too controversial because I named names – including Stephen Brunt and Gary Mason, godawful writers still working today. The story is gone, lost because it and all of the notes were on a floppy disk that vanished in the years of transition. And so I only have this picture from Gary’s Instagram.
I rarely write on paper anymore. I text myself my notes. I do this so much that my Gmail account has flagged me (the same Gmail account) as junk, junk unto itself. Yes, even my computer is sending the message for me to get back to paper, maybe even print out these posts so that I can reflect and share on whatever platform is to come.
Writing is a misery because the magic can be there, perfect and exact, and then it’s gone. One moment every word is right there, waiting to be transcribed, every detail noted, every moment caught, all right there. And then it’s all gone. To have it and then not have it, back and forth, in and out, like a lunatic in the asylum. And worse than that, much worse, to find that the very next day, all the writing that seemed so perfect and exact is in fact inept crap.
Maybe not inept crap as much as undeveloped sophomoric shit. Or is that just the same thing? Perhaps it’s not a misery as much as a mental disease, that of schizophrenia. And it isn’t just the mirror-world thinking, never knowing when it’s the backwards world or not. The wonder of writing is getting into that world, living there, and hence not being here. It makes simple conversation next to impossible. I mean, you aren’t even you. You’re worse than a gutted actor. You’re a nothing, a driveling idiot.
You’re left outside, staring at things, not even looking at them. And then, in time, there’s something to notice, to wonder what it might mean and how it could be used, how it might mean something in a story. It begins again, when the idea of writing the thing goes around and around and gets louder and then quieter and louder again, and the words are unintelligible and wild, pure and magical like that.
Those words of not knowing anything and will never understand, even it could be sorted, actually with the sorting making it worse, farther from the goal, because even with the sense of knowing, it’s nothing more than liking booze and sex, realizing there is nothing smarter than that. Yeah, that’s the book I’m thinking about now. A big seller that.
While Trump’s statement that New York is a ghost town is a gross understatement, there are quite a few businesses that have kept their doors closed for the time being.
Along with the surprising closing of a Starbucks, many independent businesses have shut down, including a number of bars and restaurants, the iconic Century 21 store and Amish Market on Park Row.
But let’s be clear, Chicken Little, New York City isn’t close to being dead. As good as that might be for clickbait, it’s bilge water, as my father used to say. Just try to remember that a pandemic is a pandemic, which means that we have to respect the medical authorities, and that there is always something else coming around the corner.
In the meantime, it’s time to treasure that Escape from New York feeling. No doubt we will be sentimental about it in the years to come.
Young Chronicles is my record of a 1983 Cross-Canada hitchhiking trip. This section details my first few days in Newfoundland.
June 11-13, 1983 St. John’s
Stayed at Will and Helen’s house. (Will was my ride into St. John’s.) They insisted that I sleep in their son’s room who moved into the living room. Sat in the kitchen as Helen rolled cigarettes with a small machine and Will did the crossword. Incredibly friendly people who left me on my own during the day and had dinner with me every night. Treated me to fish and chips on my final night.
Went to Signal Hill where I photographed an iceberg and mused: The massive shiny white behemoth silently watches the land as its turquoise blood seeps ever so slowly into the sea. It knows its time is limited yet continues its silent vigil with its very own evaporation. Its powers is incredible, its size immense, yet it is unable to combat the pleasant rays of the sun. The beast sinks to its mother. A gull glides past and defecates upon its melting brow. The mortal evaporative wisdom of an iceberg, never understood, yet always cursed. The giant melts, and I do not. Does the shining beast acknowledge my presence? I say nay. (Yes, indeed, I really did write all of that.)
June 14 St. John’s to Marystown
Ride One: To Trans Canada Highway. Mother and young girl
Ride Two: To Kelce Goose Turnoff. Brown Rabbit. Old guy. Hair all over back seat.
Ride Three: To Argentia Turnoff. Military man from Maine. No talk by his request.
Ride Four: To Marystown Turnoff. Red LTD. Cool Scottish guy with wife and kid. “Watch yourself down there. It’s backwood-sy.”
Ride Five: To Swift Current. Three guys. Quiet times.
Ride Six: To Marystown. Avis Rental. Money-minded Oil jerk.
Ride Seven: 45 Kilometers short of Fortune. Silver car. “If you don’t get a ride, drop out.”
Ride Eight: 30 kilometers short of Fortune. Chrome pickup. Local who loved Red Rider.
Ride Nine: 10 kilometers short of Fortune. Red car. Man named Schneider; hates Toronto.
Ride Ten: Fortune. Young couple from Toronto.
Stayed in Seaview Lounge and Motel. A dump. Cheap curtains, chipped walls, ugly lamps, semi-intact luggage rack and rude inhospitable staff. Went to see the capelin run where many were out with buckets to catch them on the beach. “Hey, kids, out of the water. Let ’em come in!” A number of teenaged boys approached me. One thought I was an undercover cop. He was a bootlegger who dealt acid. Another boy, Corry, was formal. “When you address him, do it politely.”
The ferry to St. Pierre/Miquelon, France was cancelled. I tried to get a ride with a fishing boat but they left without me. Cold and foggy. I went to camp in the bog the second night but was too cold and freaked out by all the bog noises. Went back to Seaview Lounge and Motel and watched Butterflies are Free with Goldie Hawn.
It’s eight months since this pandemic got going, and it looks like another few months (eight?) to go? Yikes! Anyway, I am still accomplishing things, still doing the rehab, getting safely out, breathing and still blogging.
I have applied for a few jobs and, although I did not get the job at The Julliard, I had a solid interview for a job in Paris. No final decisions on that, but I did go to the airport to renew my Global On-Line card.
I’ve made significant progress on my latest edit of the first part of Anori: “A lot to take in? Huh.” She sipped the drink. “First of all, I’m supposed to believe that you’re an interstellar pilot? Is that it? I’m having imaginary drinks in a galactic orb with an interstellar pilot? Is that it?” It’s a mentally taxing affair, but it should be complete in a month when I can take it to another editor and get slaughtered again.
I finished Brian Greene’s exhaustive opus Until the End of Time: Survival rests upon amassing information that accurately describes the world. And progress, in the conventional sense of increased control over our surroundings, requires a clear grasp of how these facts integrate into nature’s workings. Such are the raw materials for fashioning practical ends. They are the basis for what we label objective truth and often associate with scientific understanding. I understood about a third of the book, which is good for me.
I just attended Kate Hudson’s interview of Matthew McConaughey which failed to meet my exceedingly low expectations until Ms. Hudson started to get into her wine.
Mr. McConaughey was under the false pretense that I had tuned in to hear him wax philosophical when all I wanted was ribald tales and a modern-day rendering of his definitive “All right, all right, all right!” from Dazed and Confused. (Truth to be told, the best part of the interview was interpreter, Joe Lucas, just hanging in there.)
I continue to slog through Fishdom, having made it to Level 1821 and avoiding my first purchase (of $4.99), even though the ghost squid and bonus lives were incredibly tempting. I will maintain the purist route, diligently feeding my fish and cleaning my aquariums.
Apparently there is nothing harder to write than a sex scene. (Wink, wink.) It’s either Henry Miller’s sweat (“she commenced rubbing her pussy affectionately”) or Pablo Neruda’s honey (“I want to eat you like skin like a whole almond”). Nothing in between. And that’s where I aim to come in. (Say no more.)
Dee Sinclair is not just a sex worker; she is a performer. She is featured in my last four books – My Bad Side, Anori, Aqaara and Mina – and embodies what sex in literature should be. In the words of Nancy Qualls-Corbett, she is “the bringer of sexual joy and the vessel by which the raw animal instincts are transformed…and made sacred.” (The Scared Prostitute, Nancy Qualls-Corbett.)
As Dee puts it: You know what I’m good at? I’m very good at balancing at the tip, my orgasm looming, you know, on those tender little nerve endings. And just when I might slide off sideways, before I reach that moment, letting that go and pushing harder, I stop, all taut and stupid, clinging to this moment like it might go on forever and keep it like that, everything at the tip, holding my hips high.
I try to make it a long leisurely thing, really thinking like that, and then slide into my mania again, and all I can see is the sex, just the flesh, naked and depraved, everything like I’m a kid again, and I’m holding it, holding it, staring ahead, lost, my hands digging in, snapping ahead, missing the steps as I come out of a dream and finally give in.
I had come in through a cellar door. She came in like she always had; she wasn’t there and then she was. It was a long, empty space, windows on two walls, a bureau in the corner. The light was even and dim. She lay in bed and we talked like we had never been apart. Many things had happened – kids and other traumas – but now we were back to how we had always been. We were content, nervous too.
We wanted nothing more than to be here. She said that. I did too. And it wasn’t guilt. We knew that there was nothing like this. It was pure, almost like that, something to believe in. We had been here and lost it. We were back again. There was no other place to be. Until we drifted apart again.
It was here and would be gone. I knew that. We were making promises we would never meet. Lives had been lived. If it were any other way, this place would not be here. She said that. She said she was as I wanted her, as I pretended to remember, because that was the thing made it so whole, that we would never be there.
Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime, is thoughtful and entertaining. More than anything he paints a vivid picture of his relationship with his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. She is a fascinating character who defies societal expectations such as her willingness to tell stories of her life with her son: My mother would give me little bursts of her life, random details, stories of having to keep her wits about her to avoid getting raped by strange men in the village. She’d tell me these things, and I’d be like, Lady, clearly you do not know what kind of stories to be telling a ten-year-old. (64)
The Cx Trilogy
Neither does Dee Sinclair, the main character in my book, The Cx Trilogy, meet the norm when it comes to telling stories to her children: “The Obgum captured Space Enchantress Cx and took her to a metallic city above the jungle where she was stripped naked and put on display.” Dee sat on the floor between her daughters’ beds. “The Obgum grabbed her, touching all over her body, as they grunted horribly.”
“Why does every story have to have so much sex?” Calli, the eldest, protested. “You’re always talking about her breasts being fondled and getting penetrated, mother. We’re kids. You can’t say stuff like that to us.”
“Sex isn’t a bad thing, Calli.”
“It shouldn’t be in stories for me and Ashe. Ashe is eight years old. You’re not supposed to be talking about sex like it’s a super power.”
“Why not?” Ashe curled up into a ball and was almost standing on her head. “I think it’s fun.”
“Sex is procreation, Ashe.” Calli insisted. “It’s what adults do, not kids. Not kids.”
“Kids aren’t having sex in my stories,” Dee replied.
Brothers Grimm “The Goose Girl”
The Brothers Grimm produced a collection of folklore from the Germanic culture, featuring frequent violence, such as in the end of The Goose Girl: She deserves no better fate than to be stripped entirely naked, and put in a barrel which is studded inside with pointed nails, and two white horses should be harnessed to it, which will drag her along through one street after another, till she is dead.
Children’s stories have only recently been made sweet and clean, a by-product of American Puritanism, much of that led by Disney. Ironically enough, this is the same culture that has developed a morbid fascination with violence and sex. Repression is the darnedest thing.
Profound understanding is the goal in my writing. To share that with the reader. More simply stated, this might be called empathy. More thoughtfully stated, Saul Bellow put it like this: Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect in all sides – the seeming realities of the world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we cannot receive.
It’s not about thinking a thought, but feeling a thought. These are the moments that all of us have which transcend description, indelible moments that mark our existence. I was nine years old the first time I saw the palm trees of Florida out of my plane window. It wasn’t just being in the plane for the first time or seeing the lush green after leaving icy Canada; it was something more. It was magic. It was being transported to a place of dreams.
Years later, after an arduous camping trip on Brooks Peninsula, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, we were ferried back in a small boat through heavy wind and weather. The young man piloting the boat had lost sight of an important landmark, a massive rock which lurked beneath the surface. Just as he stood and wondered aloud, “Where is it?”, we rode slid into a trough and the massive boulder appeared, menacing, dripping thick algae, just behind the boat. The young man was speechless. A moment earlier and we would have capsized and drowned.
I vividly recall the death of my cat, Popo as well as seeing Aguirre Wrath of God the first time on a tiny black and white television. I don’t just remember these things. It is well beyond that. And more profoundly, because it is all in my head, I remember standing alone in a dark Paris apartment the moment I realized that a character I planned to kill off, Chantal Deschampes, decided that she would not leave the book.
She not only survived to the very end of The Sacred Whore, she even made a more recent appearance in Aqaara, Part Two of The Cx Trilogy. I realized that she was not a fictional character but a spirit that had something to say. That was when I knew I wrote.