Writing Hideout: Writing as a Mask

I hide in my writing. It is clear in my notes for The Young Chronicles series. I didn’t write about things that happened – seeing Beatlemania in Saskatoon, not even the guy who offered me a blow job – but instead about drivel that would embarrass an illiterate.

Reading through my notes from my Canadian Hitchhiking trip in 1983 is squirm-worthy.

Much of my writing is like that – everything from my bullshit poetry to my first attempt at prose – a lowlight reel proving I should have stopped long, long ago.

A thankfully brief extract from a story I wrote in 1984, Ulvand’s World. Even the titles…God.

I went on to write about prostitutes, 9/11 and outer space, everything but me.

Detail of a cover design from a story written in 1994

So why blog about it now, you ask? I’m getting to that. (I hope.)

Pretend I’m a Writer: Writing Process

Martin Scorsese’s Pretend It’s a City features Fran Lebowitz declaiming on her writerly life, stating that no writer enjoys writing. Which makes me think that I am no writer because I do, enjoy writing that is. And then there is Raymond Carver, who exposed the secrets of his life with honesty and makes me realize that I’ve never come close to that.

Title page for second part of The Buzz Trilogy

My modus operandi has been the sensational subjects – prostitutes, 9/11 and outer space – which I’ve consumed through the media. I feel unglued and half done. I want to think again and write something that people will read and think, “What a guy!” Yes, I need to get a grip

Young Chronicles XVIII: Saskatoon to Whitehorse, Yukon

July 20, 1983 Mileage 365 miles

The Young Chronicles details my 1983 hitchhiking trip across Canada. Having completed the journey east and much of the journey west, I head north to the Yukon.

Ride One: Saskatoon to North Battleford. Souped-up racing car. Native guy who used to be a drug dealer. Offered to put me up in North Battleford. “Fucking this and fucking that.”

Ride Two: North Battleford to Peynton. Camper. Older native guy with weathered skin. Lived on a reserve. Very friendly. Two boys work in hospital.

Open road of Saskatchewan to Alberta

Ride Three: Peynton to Lloydsminster, Alberta. Air-conditioned Oldsmobile. Stuck -up singer with goatee. Prejudiced against Native Americans. Said that they put holes in the side of their houses so that the horses and cows could drink from bathtub. Jerk.

Ride Four: Lloydsminster to Vermillion. Blue Phoenix. Mild-mannered older guy. Worked at Lakeland College, only provincial college in Canada.

Ride Five: Vermillion to Edmonton. AMC Meteor station wagon. Sausage buyer. Had a water tower for sale. Son has pessimistic dreams of being stuck working at McDonald’s.

Stayed with Lori McClennan, a crush from the year before. We went to the Edmonton Fort with her younger brother. Nothing else happened.

Looking north on the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton

July 19-20 Mileage 1237

Greyhound Bus: $99 one way. I was scared of the immense wilderness, especially being left on the side of the road for hours and getting mauled by a bear. Laziness had a lot to do with it as well. The rain clouds have given out, letting loose a mild lightning storm in Grand Prairie.

Time flies when you’re lost in a sleepy darkness, so I smoke my way to sleep.

July 20-23 Whitehorse, Yukon. Stayed in hostel. Amazed by the late evening light, past 11pm. Forgotten old woman sleeping at railway station.

Hiked up Gray Mountain, scared again of the bears. Graffiti at top of the mountain dates bake to 1957. Moth at peak – why?

2020: Always Remember The Bad

2020 was a distinctly bad year and is burned into my memory. It wasn’t just the pandemic, although that sure had a motherfucking big role. Not will I soon forget the dark days of New York’s Covid Spring, the eerie silence punctuated by the banging of pots and pans at dusk.

Soldiers returning to Javits Center transformed to a medical center for Covid patients.

2020 was a lot of other bad things too.

I was attacked on a Zoom call in front of the entire faculty by an angry woman who claimed that I discriminated against black students. It didn’t matter that none of it was true nor that she knew none of the students nor even that many, including my black colleagues, called immediately afterwards to express their outrage. It was ugly and awful, and I had just been laid off. I was never given the chance to respond nor ever received an apology.

I received a call from my mother’s caretaker with the news of my mother’s death. It wasn’t sudden – it was more of a relief – but the image of the fire escape stairs and the multitude of drinks along with repeated viewing of the climax of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (my mother’s favorite opera) are indelible memories. As was the Zoom funeral that followed.

Ragnar Kjartansson’s Bliss played the climax of La Nozze Di Figaro on a loop for 12 straight hours.

I had both of my knees replaced and was stuck in a hospital room with no air conditioning, the bedsheet sticking to my back. They didn’t do anything about it until a day later when they noticed that my temperature was high, and I explained the connection.

Brooklyn Hospital Center halls

I lost ten pounds in eight days. Hospital food always lives down to its name. That would have been a good thing to remember except that I gained it all back and then some.

Writing Process: Not Knowing Myself

This blog has been effective at turning over the rocks from my childhood, dreams and half-realized works. The Young Chronicles in particular has been telling as it reveals my lack of identity; I distinctly remember having clarity when I was eight years old and then none on my hitchhiking trip eleven years later.

Pretending to be confident and cool somewhere in Saskatchewan

I was always on edge, unsure of where I was, scared to camp alone, scared on the side of the road, scared of riding in stranger’s cars. I wanted to be somewhere else and, when I got there, somewhere else again.

I found vague clarity a few years later in between tree-planting seasons, camping with my cat Popo in the Gulf Islands, reading dawn to dusk, but still scared of sounds in the night and the dark waters, of being alone, but nevertheless running away from others.

My little log cabin on Ahmic Lake. Scared even there.

That’s as close to a sense of self as I have ever come.

Writing Process: Moment of Clarity

I have an affinity toward Ilulissat, Greenland where I am left alone in the light with iceberg cubes in my drink.

It can feel like there is no time, no morning, no afternoon, no night, just light and more of it.

I was out on my little terrace at 3 am as a continent of ice floated down from the glacier and into Disko Bay.

It felt oddly like the end of the world, and not only because of the scotch. It was that right.

Young Chronicles XVII: Winnipeg, to Saskatoon

The Young Chronicles details my 1983 hitchhiking trip across Canada. Having completed the Toronto-Newfoundland leg, I continue west from Manitoba to Saskatchewan.

July 8-10, 1983 Stayed at hostel and attended Winnipeg Folk Festival. Queen Ida and her Zydeco Band was the highlight of the event.

July 11, 1983 Mileage 356 miles

Ride One: Downtown Winnipeg to outskirts of Winnipeg. Old blue Volvo. Guy who had been to St. John’s. Had a hard time of it and has vowed to help others.

Ride Two: Highway 16 to Brandon, Manitoba. Red pickup truck. Group of Native Americans going to The Gathering. Woman gave me six cookies.

Ride Three: Brandon to Regina, Saskatchewan. Chevette with Illinois plates. Jeff Gibbs headed to Alaska. Had been stationed in Germany as a computer programmer on Pershing missiles. Went to jail for drunk driving with 1.5% blood alcohol.

Jeff Gibbs shows his Reaper drawing in Saskatchewan

July 13 Middle-aged couple. Woman said that I reminded her of the dawn. She had just won the lottery and was frying a salmon in the park. I was invited to join. Man became abusive when he was drunk and accused me of sponging. Returned to hostel, locked out.

July 15, 1983 Mileage 164 miles

Ride One: Regina to Wattrous, Saskatchewan. Old pickup truck. Wild looking man in a dirty green shirt. “No matter what you have, it always has value somewhere.”

Ride Two: Wattrous to outskirts of Saskatoon. Blue station wagon. Middle-aged woman with two kids. Drive past me but her kids insisted that she go back. “You’ve been nice company.”

Farm equipment outside Wattrous, Saskatchewan

Ride Three: Outskirts to Saskatoon hostel. Early ’70s car. Long-haired smoker. “You do your thing, and I’ll do mine.”

Writing Process: Knowing Thyself

I don’t know who I am. I pretend to have it crystal clear at times. I even proclaim that I know things and might even really think that I do. But it is fleeting.

I haven’t confined myself to a career. While I might have taught for many years, I don’t identify as a teacher. I snuck into the profession and messed around. And that is all.

The United Nations International School, a place where I used to work.

I have also had no success as a writer, and so neither am I constrained by the limits of thinking that. Nobody reads what I write, and so I don’t really do that. It isn’t real.

I know people and talk to them, but I don’t actually know anyone. I don’t live in the country of my birth and hide out in a city of faux intellectuals. Drunks, I mean.

33rd Station on New Year’s Day

I am on a great clipper ship with nothing but clouds all around. And I think that I am clever and creative because I am writing that. But I don’t know who I am and never will.

Arguing The Arc: Writing Process

While there are many aspects of the story arc that make sense in terms of pacing and development – like good old hamartia – the arc is a dated idea, limiting our understanding of who are to exacting plot points that only satisfy writing coaches and network executives.

Stream of consciousness is not the answer nor is it supposed to be all higgledy piggledy, but a style that reflects a understanding for ourselves. Reality television is the bald ugly version of this or the latest insanity of Trump’s dying days.

Tierra’s Eyebrow might be reality television’s greatest work

An amalgamation is needed of the two, an arc that that follow a path and yet simmers and U-turns with significance. That is my aim in The Cx Trilogy, to guide readers into a world and leave them there to look around.