Category: writing

Sometimes all you need is a haiku

There have been times in my life  — and I’m not proud of this — where I found haiku annoying. Other more poetic forms, too (I’m looking at you, Rondeau). Something about the restrictive nature just turned me off. I’m a free verse kind of girl. Substance first, style second. Which is, I know, narrow-minded and disrespectful of the vast and beautiful metrical and rhyming canon that marks our literary past.

I have loved reading Byron and Shelley and Donne, and even some Shakespeare (but not Spenser). I just never wanted to write like them.

I haven’t written creatively for a long time. Focus changes, lives change. Often the first thing that gets axed from our busy lives are the things that bring us the most joy. At the top of my list: poetry. Even though I still feel that blush of embarrassment when mentioning it, like I collect ceramic cats or something (although there’s nothing wrong with collecting ceramic cats), I write poetry. And I have done so for as long as I can remember. Even in public school I was shoving my prolific ditties under the eyeballs of anyone who would read them. As any writer knows, writing owns you. You just know that it’s what you’re supposed to do. So get on with it.

But getting on with it is hard [cue groan]. It’s hard mainly because we make it hard on ourselves: not allowing time for it, casting unreasonable demands on our creative supplies — write a book, now! go! — neglecting the muse when it comes sweetly calling (and playing Candy Crush instead).

There comes a point, though, when you realize that it’s time. No more bullshit excuses. Give yourself permission, if that’s what you need to do. But just do it.

I have been writing stories over on ozy.com for a few months now and love. every. minute. of. it. There’s something supersonically satisfying about writing something that you’re proud of — and for which you receive cash. But I’ve allowed poetry to go cold, shivering somewhere in a snowbank that just seems to just get bigger.

For me, it’s time to dig it out. Let that frozen muse come inside a while and have a thawing scotch by the fire. But just for a few minutes at a time, mind you. Just can’t rush things, even though I know she has so much to say. Perhaps that’s the most frightening thing of all.

For now, I’m starting off small. Even if that means haiku. Even if that means bad haiku. Because it’s something. And it’s a start.

But am I photographer, too?

facebook_promoToday is a very exciting day. One that has left me blinking in shock and wonder. Crackling.

Last night I hung my first photography show. I stood with the restaurant owner and hanger, directing them to place my photographs on the wall. My photographs. For people to see. Perchance to buy.

It was a thrilling moment, standing there in the quiet, moving my eyes along both walls. Seeing images that I captured. Remembering each of those moments — the light, the weather — and seeing them suspended. Framed and spread along the length of the brick walls, the narrative unfolding.

And in this weird, slow-motion moment I’m not quite sure who I am anymore. I’m a writer. I’m a creative person. I like spending time alone wandering alleys and streets thinking about what I see, turning these tableaus into stories. And until recently this has been only in words.

Photography: it’s both new and old to me. I’ve always enjoyed taking photos but never thought of them beyond holiday snaps. Last year, when I lost my job and suddenly had a lot more time on my hands, I started capturing everyday moments and focusing my now-no-longer-needed Photoshop skills on a different path. And didn’t notice the hours passing as I experimented with filters and post-processing. Tweaking and coaxing, and generally liking the end result.

In January, on a whim, I applied to a local restaurant to have a show. Quite unexpectedly, they accepted me.

And my life changed. This sounds cliché and dramatic. But it’s the truth.

I will write about the process, about the tremendous amount of work that ensued and the frenetic emotions that followed me around each day. Until this day: the moment where I looked up and saw my photographs on the wall.

Writing has been who I am for so long. I cannot remember not writing, not wanting to record or tell a story with words. Photography is new and curious. There is so much to learn. It has so much to give to me. It’s overwhelming.

Having this show doesn’t make me a photographer. And if I manage to sell one print — that doesn’t make me a photographer. But right now, in this moment, it doesn’t matter.

The sharpness that waits

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The interview is not going well. She is too
enthusiastic, too upbeat, and definitely too smiley.
All open lips and white teeth and brightness.

It’s all the polite interviewer can do
to staunch the flow of bright-red positivity
spewing from the wound of that mouth.
That great gush of giddiness.

Everything is amazing. Life is amazing.
And I will be amazing at this job.

She probably is the perfect candidate:
excited and determined (but thin-skinned),
unjaded and unaware of the hard, dark edges
that people carry under their coats. The sharpness
that waits. A different kind of bleed.

Getting the message

Sometimes a message reaches you right at the time you need it. Like there is some kind of human-connection force that listens, hears you, and puts the missive in motion.

It can take the form of an inbox note, an article posted to Twitter, an unexpected phone call, song lyrics that you never paid attention to before, a graffitied statement on a back alley wall, or even a misdirected text. There are infinite possibilities for these random (but somehow targeted) connections.

In my case it was a TED video shared by a friend on Facebook. In a 13-minute talk, singer and criticized crowdsource-funder Amanda Palmer posits letting people pay for music instead of making them pay. Based on her experiences as a street performer she learned that people with whom we make organic connections simply want to support us. In an organic kind of way. And after having made hundreds of meaningful interactions with strangers, in simple give-and-take situations, she broke free from her record company, asked for donations, and put her music out there for nothing (donations gratefully accepted).

And while this was the general gist of the talk, and gave me a “hell yeah” moment, it wasn’t my key takeaway. After all, disenchanted artists offering their music for free is not a new concept. No, there was one specific thing that Palmer touched upon which felt like a direct communication to me, one of those random-but-incredibly-direct messages: Accepting yourself as an artist is “about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.”

Basically, don’t be an artist for the celebrity (connection-less, adoration from afar), and don’t try to create art to please the naysayers, the people who scoff at your creative efforts or tell you to get a real job. Accept the love from everyday interactions with people who are moved by your work. Accept the support from people who draw something from what you create.

It’s enough.

In the past few months I’ve been engaging in a new creative venture, uncertain and unsure. And I’ve been going through a somewhat crippling crisis of confidence, worrying about what other people think. Did I imagine that eyebrow raising? Do those dissers in the online artistic communities have a point? Always half-expecting the “who do you think you are?” reaction. This has been unsettling and challenging.

Palmer’s message somehow found me. Today, in this moment. It discovered a way through the cacophony of so many people’s words and reached me. Just at the right time.

Being an artist is difficult. It’s about putting yourself out there and being vulnerable. Ugh. But shutting out the noise of the naysayers and letting the yessers yell louder is what will help us get there.

The dark unsaid

Recently I tweeted about a short story that really shook me: the achingly slow unravelled suspense of it, the seductive and beautiful movement toward a horrific end. But an exquisite end: one that the reader knows is coming, knows what’s happening, and yet, it is never mentioned. The event is never spelled out but we all know what’s going on. And we feel complicit in it. There is a guiltiness to it. Because we enjoyed getting there.

When the author replied I told him that what I love most about his writing is the “dark unsaid.” Writing is at its most glorious when it tells a story with implication, when it alludes to events — or the potential of events — without ever naming them. Acts of violence hinted at. The possibility of evil teased. Unexpected deaths detailed without words. The gradually developing picture of something that has gone terribly wrong.

The dark unsaid. Provocative. Damaging.

Great writing leaves a mark — but not a visible one.

Hot coffee and cold lavs

The bathrooms here are always freezing. But you forget.

At the back of the room, or down the creaking stairs and labyrinth of hallways, the doorway seems acceptable. There is usually a piece of art or an ornate mirror outside, advertising a destination similar to the warm, wood-floored, gently-lit cocoon of hot beverage drinkers you just left.

And then you enter, warmed to brimming with coffee or tea, skin flushed with the cosy expanse of heat. Unknowingly vulnerable. Because then it hits: the sadistic slap of cold. The freezing back-hander of the Toronto coffee shop bog. Smacks the happily caffeinated grin right off your face. And then blinking and gasping in the damp aftermath, the chill spreads over your skin. Cold and creeping, and you can barely think anything other than Get me out of here. And those few minutes freezes into forever. It makes your eyes water. Finally you leave, hands still numb from the gush of glacial tap water. Arctic cold and miserable.

This is their plan, you see: chilly customers need more hot coffee.

10 minutes with the yellowed man

I didn’t catch his name. He was a yellowed man: sepia skin and rust-coloured teeth in fractured stages of decay. Stained fingers curling like an old photograph. He spoke with a weathered tongue, consonants leathery and tough. Words left out in the sun too long.

But his face could still crack a smile.

He was on an adventure, out on a two-hour leave from the Addiction Centre. On this bus, then onto the subway to another bus to Scarborough to his old house: the house he’s pretty sure he’ll lose someday. There’s nothing in my fridge, he laughed. His son had taken out all the food. And his daughter had been trying to get his status upgraded to a Form 3. Not sure what that was, but it sounded bad.

Then fragments of stories about being locked up, surgeries, broken things: twenty years in a few minutes, aged and ugly and pockmarked.

He stopped and looked at the cardboard cup in my hands, asked about my coffee, how it tasted. It was actually weak and watery, and I had spent the five-minute wait for the bus inwardly whinging about its deficiencies. But I said it was good. And he grinned with a wide stretch of brown teeth.

He said the coffee inside there was terrible. De-caf served all the time: a grey-brown swill with no spark. Awful stuff. And just six cigarettes a day. But, before going in it was two packs per day. So there’s progress. A jubilant ochre finger upwards.

We reached the subway station a few minutes later. He left with my cup and a rusty smile. I left with something else.

Uninvited

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Never welcomed here:
Once a prison, once an asylum,
once both: no clear distinction
between violence and lunacy.

And then the closing. Windows blinded
and doors shut, sealed off from the
outside world. Sealed in from us.

We are uninvited,
not permitted to peer inside
the chilled and shadowed rooms,
not allowed a whiff of damp
or madness.

We remain unincluded
alone and isolated on the periphery
with our own dark thoughts, wondering.

Down the stairs

You’d like to think that you’re not scared of what’s down there. You’d like to think that it’s just another set of steps creaking down to just another basement. A bit of damp and dark.

You’d like to think that you’d be just fine starting the descent: foot on each groaning stair: one after another, one creak after another announcing your arrival, despite your soft-shoed efforts, your snapped-shut teeth, and your ever-clenched breath.

You’d like to think that there’s nothing waiting at the bottom. Just beyond the dim glow of the bulb, within the ring that dissolves into dusty darkness.

You’d like to think that you didn’t hear that noise just now. That subtle scratch, that muffled thud.

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Lakeless

There is no lake by Lakeview Avenue. No lake, no watery landmark in sight.

This street, with its stretch of Victorian houses in various states of disrepair. Red brick, yellow brick. Some with paint peeled back, splaying an onion skin of colours. Turquoise, aquamarine, and royal: the blues on this street do not belong to water.

The lake is ten or fifteen blocks away from this pot-holed street and boulevard of tattered grass. The only water collects in a few scattered brown puddles, into wet cracks where the pavement breaks. And then its blocks and blocks of similar streets, houses with suspicious or smug expressions. Some with shifted smiles or drooping eyelids; melancholic, remembering happier times.

Like when there was a lake closer by. Or at least it felt closer: a mad, furious bike ride away, houses blurring into the periphery; a soft, summer evening walk lit beneath pale streetlights.

When the city was quieter. When puddles were bigger and laughs were louder.

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