New York

May 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

In act four of The Tempestuous, Gretel slaps the male protagonist for his advances and darts through a series of passages, ultimately finding herself cornered as the impassioned Slate approaches, his cheek still red from the sting.

I chase her into the bedroom and pull her onto the bed. She’s underneath me. Finally, she submits.

The curtain drops.

***

My wife slowly sinks and rises like the ebb and flow of the tide. I suddenly realize she is New York, cool and panting in the night breeze.

***

My shoes click on the pavement and I step around my fellow pedestrians as neatly as a motorbike slides in-and-out through traffic.

In front of me a warning light flashes red on the crossing indicator. I am reminded of a pivotal scene in The Consumptive–the hero is forced to dodge through car traffic in order to escape his enemies pursuing him through the crowd.

I pause a few moments. The hand ceases flashing. It’s a solid red. My enemies are almost upon me. They’re smiling. One of them has a pistol pointing out of his left jacket pocket, another a knife edged with an exotic poison.

The cars have just begun to move across the intersection when I plunge my self through it, putting my hand out to slow vehicles and slipping through, half-tumbling through gaps and waving my briefcase wildly, like a baton.

***

I have never been to New York, but I see it sometimes out of the corner of my eye. It flashes like a heat mirage. Through repetition its images have been ingrained in my psyche, for me and for millions of others. For me Toronto becomes New York, Egypt, Paris; as do all cities, persons, and things.

***

On my way home I come to the edge of the bay. The lake is grey and desolate. My briefcase is heavy and my legs tired. I undo my tie knot and watch as the sun’s red light drops towards and then beneath the horizon. Out of the red of the sunset I expect to see raven-black helicopters bristling with weapons. The soldiers we know dropping to their knees–in surrender–at the end of the war movie Squad. I sit down near my briefcase and cry, my feet hanging over the dock.

I hear the rough growl of an old, struggling engine. Behind me a cube van rolls to a stop. A white, pockmarked door slides open. Men in ski masks and dark, heavy coats stream out, rushing to the end of the dock. Before I can react a man picks up my briefcase and two others grab me by either arm. I am pulled into the van and gagged, my arms and legs held flat to the ground. My pockets are searched and one of the men pulls out a long knife.

I slip their gag and spit into the faces of my captors, as the martyr Kirke does in Red City when he’s captured by the pinstriped Moors.

bloog bleeg blegh

May 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

I can’t say “No” to myself. That’s a big mistake in writing. Not in rewriting, but that is something else.

I’m being strict and strained. I am exhausted and I don’t think it’s just the heat. Yesterday in the grocery store my voice took on a far-away quality that it had two years ago when there was too much to think about. A cracking shouting from across the field.

The things I am writing now–the things I have been writing–have to be “good”. That is what I tell myself. They have to lead to some “cohesive whole”. Well, writing doesn’t always have to be like that. Tone is the most important thing. If you find it, you keep striking until you’re done. If you haven’t found it, you try and establish it. If you can’t do that, maybe what you’re working on will never work. That’s fine. There are plenty of other things to write about.

***

When I write, I’m meditating. It’s the only form of meditation I know. If some idea catches me and takes hold, that’s fine. It will happen. But until then I am practising meditation, practising breathing, negotiating my existence with the raucous chorus that’s life. The chorus that I’ve always witnessed from the shores of my little island, watching it wink in the sun through my periscope.

Writing is an action as much as it is an activity. An act of assertion. An act of impression–impressing myself onto myself.

Nice

May 19, 2010 § 3 Comments

Celebrations here at the paorta-kremvax conglomerate warehouse. The most I can say I’ve been paid for a short story (currently the only amount I’ve ever been paid for a short story–I guess I’m not counting zines) is now $1000. Sweet. Thanks, University College and the Norma Epstein Award for Creative Writing.

It’s Not Inconvenient

May 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

I don’t know why I’m alive, whether I’m a genetic freak or a miracle kept to watch over this vast asteroid graveyard. If I’m supposed to tend to this field, or say prayers over it, I don’t do it. If I had visitors I wouldn’t know what to tell them.

Should a catalogue of my life include everything I once had, but lost? I hope not. It’s much better to do away with everything that’s gone, and to pretend that it never existed.

My life, as it is now:

-The three walls of my simple house
-A partial roof
-An electric kettle missing a base
-An iron
-One rubber-banded pile of mail
-Two delicate ivory shoe horns
-A torn jacket
-Three items of underclothing
-Pants, size 32.

The mail is for Florence and Maurice. I’m collecting it for them while they are away on their trip overseas. Of course they will never return, but it doesn’t hurt to have a project, and I can think of worse things than scooping out letters from the near piles of gently kissing wreckage.

I think I am the only one left, though it’s true there could be others hiding out amidst the rubble.

Besides the mail, I have one other hobby. Operating under the theory that my seed, or at least some percentage of it, may be as resilient as I am, I direct it towards the planets, or to clusters of stars that seem especially fertile. It moves with surprising speed in this frictionless vacuum. Perhaps, without knowing it, I may impregnate something.

I was never a father, but I had a friend who was a father and a poet. “Both lines may end at any time,” he said. “That’s the terror of having created.” His final piercing terror, I assume, was a short lived one. After that comes–what? Inevitability. The same for anyone.

Davis Fired

May 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

The first order of business: fuck yourself, Davis.

You think I don’t mean it? I saw the way you looked at her. Get out of here. It’s over between you two. You’re fired. No, not you. Just him. I didn’t say a word against you. Why would I?

You’re fired, Davis—I don’t know why you’re still here. This isn’t a spectacle. This is an internal meeting. This isn’t something outsiders can watch. Get out of here. No—you stay, he goes. Don’t you get it? We have business to conduct.

What? Yes, of course I love her.

No, I don’t think this the appropriate time.

Then we’re in agreement.

I don’t know why head office would be interested in this meeting. It’s purely administrative.

I fired Davis. He was sexually abusing Martina. That’s business. I don’t understand why what you have to say is relevant.

Can we move along? I think we’ve wasted enough time.

No, the problem has been dealt with, Spinoza. Keep your mouth shut.

I can talk to you however I want.

There’s been a 3/4 reduction in the amount of completed budget stat sheets—does anyone know why this is?

I’d ask him if he still worked here. He doesn’t. Anyone else have an idea?

Okay. Spinoza, I don’t want to hear it.

Lucy, can you head down to Davis’s office and make sure that he isn’t doing anything stupid, like gutting his filing cabinets or trashing his hard-drive? I assume because I haven’t heard the alarm that he hasn’t set anything on fire. Don’t get involved. Just call security. Actually, I’ll just call them right now. But see if you can prevent him from leaving.

Of course, he’s perfectly capable.

Wouldn’t you be angry?

The Goshawk

May 16, 2010 § 9 Comments

As the mundane chores of our daily life have been reduced to infinitesimal fractions of the time they once required, there is a growing sense that we have lost something significant in our mad rush to outsource the experiences of common life. This is by no means a new thought. After all, it was Alexander Selkirk (the real-life inspiration for Robinson Crusoe), who once famously said, after being rescued from his island, “I am now worth 800 Pounds, but shall never be so happy, as when I was not worth a Farthing.”

T.H. White was himself once a kind of Crusoe, though he was never abandoned on a deserted island. Finding himself a success at the beginning of his third decade, he took the money given him by the American Book of the Month Club for a collection of essays and used it to buy a Jaguar and outfit an old gamekeeper’s cottage in Northampton, England. He also sent away for a hawk.

The isolated cottage was half a mile from the nearest road, and seven miles from the nearest town, which suited White, who seemed not to have much affection for his fellow humans. With only £100 left to his name, White dedicated himself to training the hawk he had received, thinking that he might be able to eventually write a book about the experience. But White’s methods were hopelessly out of date, as he supposed falconry to be a dead science–his principal instructional text was written in the early part of the seventeenth century, and falconry had become less gruelling in the centuries since. But White’s inexperience makes the better book.

The kind of falconry that White employed was incredibly demanding, and like Crusoe’s industry, it was something of an improvisation. Gos, his raving test-subject, his Tarquin and Comedian, his short-winged, intemperate, puffed-up, proud prince, tethered to his jesses (leather thongs attached, via leash, to White’s arm) and carried for twelve or sixteen hours at a time, proved as unpredictable and as moody as a first love. He bated–throwing himself off of his perch on White’s left forearm, where he would hang in a temper until White pulled him up again–incessantly, and without warning, until White–meant to always keep a calm face, and make reassuring sounds, because hawks don’t react well to aggression–would reveal his own bad temper and refuse to let him up again.

The tenderness and frustration White revealed in his inexperienced dealings with the bird proved White to be a man who perhaps had more in common with Gos than he did with his own species. There are few other characters in the book, except for animals, and the humans he encounters are often treated tangentially, if at all. For example, White mentions the postman only to point out that in his impatience to leave him, he found himself mewling to the man–as he’d do to calm down the hawk–in order to quiet him. But Gos is a character as well-developed as any other in literature. Their bond is evident in the rich brushstrokes White paints him with.

Sometimes White would come into the barn where Gos was housed and find that all of his previous training was undone. He was overfeeding him, but, not knowing this, he treated Gos like he were his stubborn child: “He bated when I arrived and while he was being picked up: he bated all the way back to the mews: he bated in the mews, till I popped a bloody kidney into his mouth as he opened it to curse.” Then, reaching over to clean Gos’s beak off, as was their custom, Gos bated again, and again, until, after five minutes of struggling, and Gos in “such a temper that his eyes were staring out of his head”, he had finally done it. He reached between Gos’s legs and began stroking the hawk’s breast, congratulating the bird when I’m sure what he really wanted to do was strangle him. But the move paid off, and we get a sense of the burgeoning falconer’s triumph: “[Gos] cocked an eye as if none of this had ever happened, and finished the rest of that day in a blaze of vernal confidence.”

For reasons that I won’t go into, White put aside The Goshawk before it was finished, and published it only by accident, roughly fifteen years after its principal events. A friend of his, while visiting his house, found the manuscript underneath the couch cushions, read it in bed while he was staying with him and, at the end of his visit, begged White to let him publish it. White was reluctant. Aside from revealing his early inexperience–his “adolescent” fumbling with falconry–the book also revealed much about his own nature that he may have not wanted to share. As a friend, the novelist and critic David Garnett, put it in a note to the publisher:

…Tim is not a lover of humanity or human beings and when he writes he usually writes partially for them, and the wish to please is a pretence. Here he… is writing privately. He is therefore more exact, more honest, more interesting. The battle between Tim and Gos is a masterpiece.

Having not read any of White’s Arthurian novels (The Sword in the Stone and The Once and Future King), or anything else he’s written, I can’t speak for them. But the private battle, love affair, and obsession he catalogues in The Goshawk is really a masterpiece, and a testament to the kind of rich life one can lead shunning all conveniences, putting oneself wholly into a thing, and living, as White put it, “laborious days for their delights.”

I did this review as part of The Spotlight Series: Small Press Tour. There should be more reviews of nyrb books at that link.

Back to Collecting Again

May 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

FIVE MINUTES IN MARC-ANDRE FLEURY’S THOUGHT PROCESS

Oh you fucker, you thought that was going to go in? Fuck you for thinking that. There is no way that bullshit shot was going to get past me from the blue line, you asshole. Were you trying to grow a little momentum for your team? Well, that backfired. Instead I’m riled up and even if I started shaky–no, that’s not true–“shaky”, I can never think that–my anger will sustain me, grow me–not you, you dickhead–not your team–me, grown–into an impenetrable wall that you can’t pierce because I will fill the net like tightly knit ivy. Try to cut through that, you can’t. I’m as solid as wood, as rock. Raise your stick up and bring it down as hard as you can on that little piece of rubber there. Let’s see what you have left. Let’s see what that failed shot has left you. Whatever it is, it isn’t enough. I see you coming. I see you and I’m ready for you. I have come out of my net a bit. You have less room to move. Just try and get past my stick pushing in front of me like radar. You cannot break this line. Here I am standing proudly on my skates, stiff and set as firm as concrete. You cannot penetrate me. The net is behind me. You cannot penetrate the net. You skaters are all the same. Your desires are moronic, blind. It’s like you don’t see me standing there. You can’t get by, do you understand? Nothing is allowed between the posts, except for my squirming body, on the ice, catching the puck in my glove, under my thigh, making sure that it doesn’t go through me, that your sticks can’t reach it and pull it out, flip it over my head, and shoot it into the back of the net. Now I’m angry because you shot it at me from the blue line through no traffic and I have sealed up and will never let you score again.

COLE

It looks like Montreal is going to have a 2-on-1. Leopold just made a great move to break up the 2-on-1.

THERE IS NO RIVALRY

There is no rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. I have never seen it. The two teams live eight hours away from each other. They have never played each other in the playoffs as long as I’ve been alive. In Montreal they had the Russian Alexei Kovalev (that entriguing superstar/project) and the Finnish Saku Koivu who came back from cancer and played well and was their captain. Because of the great Patrick Roy, Montreal is always hot about their goalies no matter who they are. When Cristobal Huet (of Switzerland) was their goalie I loved him. I had him in my hockey pool and he had six shut-outs in thirty games and made me feel like a genius. I liked examining the Habs’s box scores the next morning as I clicked through pictures of Canadiens celebrating in their sharp red uniforms. After that I liked any goalie I saw wearing that uniform.

The Leafs are the team I cheered for but in many ways they bored me. I knew them too well, thanks to the radio, thanks to newspapers, websites, television. They changed too slowly, and when their young players showed small signs of progress I fell in love with them too quickly, the whole city did, and they disappointed us. My heart beat quicker whenever Kyle Wellwood’s name was mentioned during a radio broadcast and in NHL 2006 or 7 I traded Mats Sundin away first (even though I loved him) and let the young players grow into the superstars they’d never become in reality. Kyle Wellwood almost read himself out of the NHL, and now he’s playing for a cursed team that will never win, and he is part of the curse.

I AM NOT JUST WRITING THIS BECAUSE THE MONTREAL CANADIENS BEAT THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS IN SEVEN GAMES

I’m not. I will continue to love them. There is something I like about supporting a red team (Montreal) and a blue team (Toronto). I am that way about baseball. The Phillies (red) have always been my favourite team other than the Blue Jays (blue, of course) and I think that’s because when I was young they were Toronto’s rivals and so I focussed extra on them to learn their weaknesses, their basic facts. Now I’ve forgotten about the rivalries (Montreal-Toronto, Philadelphia-Toronto), or the rivalries have disintegrated, and instead I love those teams like siblings. They’ve done me no wrong. And even if they have I understand why they did it. I know their histories. It’s a relief to check up on them every once in a while because I don’t know how their minds work, but they are familiar. We are brothers and sisters.

I AM NOT JUST WRITING THIS BECAUSE THE MONTREAL CANADIANS ARE GOING TO THE CONFERENCE FINALS AND MAY, EVENTUALLY, WIN THE STANLEY CUP

I’m not.

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