Many years ago, I was keen to pursue creative writing at the graduate level. I had been out of college for a few years and just completed the first draft of a novel, The Sacred Whore. The genesis of the book had come to me in a flash – a gang of prostitutes kidnap a basketball team so that they can air their views on the declining morality of America – and one of the characters, Chantal, had fought against being removed from the narrative after I had done exactly that. I went back and realized the story was all about her; she was an epiphany. Flawed as it was, the book did have moments – to say nothing of Chantal – and I was enthusiastic at the prospect of work-shopping my prose.
And then I met Ben, a friend of a friend, who was registered in such a program. Ben waxed not-so-eloquently about his attempt to re-invent the novel and went on and on about that. I couldn’t get away from him fast and far enough and promised myself I would never be stuck in such conversations again.
And so instead of pursuing my work in school, I planted trees in northern British Columbia, bicycled across France and Spain, edited closed captions for sitcoms and soft-core porn, did the biking again, coached pee-wee hockey, taught high school English, started a film festival and wrote copy about toilets, all of that to buy time to write. And write I did – in Paris, Dublin, Toronto, Vancouver and New York, in apartments and houses, notes in the post office, on menus and tickets, in transit, in journals, on computer after computer, saving copies, emailing myself additions to text – putting everything together, always in isolation. I have a clear sense of who I am as I write. It’s just me and the words coming out of my head, a long wavering stream that I sometimes catch and can feel crystalline within, almost exactly like that. My writing grants me understanding, gives moments where life isn’t just chaos and missteps. It allows me to consider and process, search through thoughts and events, my reactions and those of others, their expressions, and find the words that make some sense. The book is my focal point – the concept, the research, the going back and starting again, a character suddenly there, the honing and culling, the letting go and bringing to an end.