Books have a lifespan, or they’re supposed to — a book that’s been out for eighteen months is pretty much done. Which is bonkers in some ways, because it’s not like books go bad, or have a true expiry date after which you consume them at your own risk. But in the fast-fast world of marketing, books do have a shelf-life, if you will.
So it is with total surprise that I’ve been fielding a number of requests for Fallsy Downsies’s time lately. Sarah Mian and I travelled to Moncton last month to read at the Attic Owl series, and we’ll hit the road again together to check out the brand new Lexicon Books in Lunenburg on Friday, June 5. I always love a chance to hear Sarah read from her excellent book, When The Saints, and I’m beyond delighted to have been asked to read from Fallsy Downsies that night too. Before that, I’ll head up to Sydney, Cape Breton on Sunday for an afternoon of readings and a panel discussion about becoming a writer. I’m thrilled to have been asked to do this event, which is put on by the very fine Cabot Trail Writers’ Festival and features a number of writers I’m keen to listen to, including Rebecca Silver Slayter and Lesley Crewe.
I’ve also fielded a couple requests lately from book clubs. Yesterday in fact, I travelled out to Enfield to meet with a book club who had just finished Fallsy Downsies. It was great to hang out with them for an afternoon, answering their questions about writing and chatting about the book. I’ll visit another book club in mid-June. and if your book club reads Fallsy Downsies — or Homing, for that matter — I’ll come visit you, too, if you want! Just drop me a line and we’ll see if we can make it work.
In a perfect world, I’d be writing every day and reading from my books every week. But this world I’m in? It’s pretty close to perfect.
May brings confusion and wonder, always. Tulips, forsythia, lilac profusion. Turn the furnace off, open the windows. Bundle in sweaters, wear socks to bed, shiver anyway. Days so beautiful they break your heart, days so awful they do the very same. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, death days. Terrible anniversaries you’d do better to forget, but somehow never can.
Fifteen years of this, and I’m an expert, or I think I am. I am arrogant in my grief. I got this, I think. I swagger through May while others stumble. I talk about it easily. Oh, there were four of us, I say, when someone asks how many siblings I have, but my brother died. Stomach cancer. Incredibly rare. It was awful. He had two young daughters, the eldest of whom was only two and a half. So blithe, so confident that I am on top of my grief, these years later.
Till this year. When it was on top of me.
Grief is a rogue wave. It’s a Loch Ness monster. An iceberg. A yawning sea of salty, salty tears. You’re in a rowboat, thinking it’s a sunny day.
When bad things happen, I want to process the shit out of them. I want to talk them out. Talk them to death, if you will. I want to put them in a container and tuck it away somewhere I can find it if I need it—and then I want to move forward. But that’s not how grief rolls.
Grief rolls over and on and on. it rolls where and when it wants to. It doesn’t care about you, even a little. And time means nothing. Time is a thief and it is also a gift. I am impatient with grief, I think, it’s been fifteen years. I should be better at this. And in the next moment, my god, it’s been fifteen years already. Some day it will be twenty. That takes my breath away entirely. Some day he will be more years dead than he was alive. I cannot fathom the depth of that canyon.
This year grief rolled over me, for all my experience, my arrogance, my impatience. Grief roared up and engulfed me. It plucked me from my rowboat and held my head under till I begged to be let up.
Night came, then day. I am on another shore now. Less sure-footed in my grief, but on more solid ground somehow.
Long time no type. What a terrible winter it was. The backyard is still full of snow, but the birds are singing and there are little green shoots in the front garden. Looks like we made it. There were times I thought we wouldn’t.
In celebration of spring and being able to get around without being buried under a wall of ice and snow, Sarah Mian and I are hitting the road on Thursday, bound for Moncton, New Brunswick. We’ve been invited to read at the Attic Owl series, and I couldn’t be more excited. First of all, Sarah’s debut novel, When the Saints, kicked my ass all over the place while I was reading it. It’s even better — funnier, truer, more intoxicating — than I had expected. And my expectations were high. So I’m keen to hear her read from it in front of a lucky, appreciative crowd. Second, Sarah is at least as awesome as her book is, so making the trek to Moncton with her will surely be a highlight of the season. The only thing that could possibly make it better…is if you show up to say hello. Say you will!
Oh, what a time it’s been! After this post and its attendant …virility? Is that the adjective for viral? Doubtful. Anyhow, after the post that seemingly went everywhere last fall, I kind of thought I might fly under the radar for a while, which is exactly where I prefer to fly, which is probably a strange thing for a person who hosts a radio program to prefer, but hey, I’m a conundrum wrapped in a riddle, dipped in milk chocolate, I guess. Anyhow anyhow, it was not to be, all because of stupid Blizzardageddon 2015 or whatever the hell we settled on as a name this time. A bit of snow, some high winds and #stormchips. Can’t a girl get a bag of ripple chips and a container of dip in peace anymore? Apparently not.
And if you’re in the Halifax or Dartmouth area, drop by Celtic Corner in Dartmouth tomorrow night and meet me in person! I will sign your bag of chips. And copies of Fallsy Downsies and Homing, if you’re at all interested in them.
I remain in awe of the strength of the survivors who shared their stories with me. Women and men both, with terrible tales of past abuse. We must find a way to do better.
It’s hard to feel safe, I am finding. It’s hard to feel truly looked after, truly cared for, despite my many advantages, my middle class privilege, my pales-in-comparison story, my large and loving family, my rock solid husband. And if I am finding it difficult, how much more difficult is it for those who must push forward while doing without.
We must find a way to do better by each other.
I believe in conversation, I believe in action. I believe in art, I believe in listening. I believe in the power of people, but I don’t know what it will take to get a majority rowing in the same good direction.
I used to have a thing about what I called cosmic hints. Things the universe seemed to be doing to get my attention. You know…hitting you over the head with what it wants you to notice. I don’t really go in for that kind of stuff these days.
This week a heavy, full, glass jar fell off a high shelf in the kitchen and landed on my head. I put my hand in my hair and staggered around the kitchen, shout-crying in outrage and pain. The blood on my fingers when I pulled my hand away frightened me. My husband came running, fresh from sleep, unsure whether I was furious or wounded or both.
I am fine and not fine. Like everyone else I know right now.
So what do we do now?
So, that was surprising. I don’t know what I expected when I pressed publish yesterday. But I couldn’t have predicted the wave of response — especially from those who shared in the comments and in emails to me their own stories of violence, of pushing for change, of wanting to do something, anything, about the way things are in our culture, in our society, right now. Thank you for those conversations. If you are awake and wanting to help, you have my heart.
Let me say here that if you don’t want to help, don’t. But don’t hinder, either. If you want to address violence against men, or how the family court system works, or issues related, you should definitely do that. No one is telling you that you must join this fight. But recognize that this is the fight in which I am engaged, this is the issue that is top of mind for me, and that’s what I’ll be talking about here.
I have heard from men who do want to help roll the boulder up the hill, but who are unsure what it is that is wanted or required of them in this struggle. If we are not looking to them to lead, what should their role be? That is a great question, and as luck would have it, I’ve been thinking a lot about that, too.
1. Amplify women’s voices: There are smart, thoughtful, experienced, amazing women already thinking and writing about these issues. They are all over the internet. They are not hard to find. Read them, learn from them and most importantly, amplify them. Talk about their work with your friends and colleagues. Tweet links to their articles, post them on Facebook. Normalize the issues these women bring to the fore as issues for everyone to consider. Take equality out of the “special interest” cubby and mainstream it, baby.
2. Recognize sexism and misogyny and call it out: It is everywhere. This could be a full-time job, and for some of us, it is. Keep marketers and the media accountable for the language they choose, the images they show, the messages they relate. See it, say it. Don’t leave it to women to be alone in pointing it out. When we do, we are often met with: Can’t you take a joke? Imagine how tiresome that gets. And I’ll say here that speaking of jokes, you should also call out sexist portrayals of men as buffoons who can’t do anything right. That’s not helping any of us either.
3. Rock the vote: Politicians do, eventually, what they think we want them to do. Would they pay attention to a sudden and sustained increase in correspondence from men about violence against women and sexual violence? Would they heed calls for the need for more restorative justice approaches, and support for survivors? Would they make room in an election campaign for a conversation about these issues? There’s only one way to find out.
4. Put your money where your mouth is: There are amazing organizations working for equality, caring for survivors of sexual violence, providing educational services around consent, abuse and more. They are chronically underfunded, and often on the brink of extinction. You could make a donation of money, or time, or both.
5. Keep listening: Have conversations about all this, but make sure you’re listening at least as much as you’re talking. If there are questions you want to ask, like: Why wouldn’t you report a sexual assault to the police, you should maybe google that first. You will find hundreds (thousands?) of essays explaining some of the reasons. Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall with questions you could find the answers to yourself. Come to the hill ready to roll the boulder with us, and we will be glad to see you.
I have had a lot of thoughts as I’ve watched this most recent, more personal-feeling bad news. I thought of the women involved, the roads each has travelled to the point where each was able to tell her story to someone. I thought of the importance of critical thinking and media literacy. It seems the more we stew in information and opinion, the less adept we are at sorting through what we receive in a meaningful way. I thought of the culture of silence and shame in which violence and sexual violence are perpetuated. I thought of the good work of many fine people over decades trying to make change.
I have watched in awe as people change their perspective in real time. As they hear the voices of women saying This happened to me, this is how it felt, this is why I never spoke up. I have watched people develop understanding and empathy for those who have been subject to sexual violence. It has been confusing, actually, to see that happen. We have become so polarized, so dedicated to our own opinions, and our own opinions only. So it is refreshing to see people admitting in the public sphere that they’ve changed their thinking.
But there is a long way to go. And holy god I am tired.
I am so tired. I have known since I was a tiny child that I needed to be concerned about my personal safety because I was a girl. It was clear to me in dozens of ways. I remember the names and faces of little girls who disappeared, Christine Jessop. Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan. Allison Perrott. And of course Kristen French and Lesley Mahaffy.
I remember grappling with why I felt angry, when I was a teenager, to hear politicians dismiss calls for equality as the work of “special interest groups.” Women’s equality. Fifty one percent of the population. Special interests.
The Montreal Massacre happened when I was nineteen years old. I tried to understand why people in my classes at Ryerson and in the media were saying it wasn’t misogyny. Hadn’t Marc Lepine separated out the women so he could shoot them? Hadn’t he railed against feminists? You didn’t have to read between the lines there. He laid it out for you, didn’t he? Why weren’t we all agreed that misogyny was at play there? Because he also shot some men?
And there are more examples to lay here, but as I say, I am so fucking tired. And here’s what wearies me the most.
I am so fucking tired of educated, privileged men (yes, of course, god help me #notallmen) trying to shoulder women out of the way, even in this discussion. When Rehtaeh Parsons killed herself — after she was “disappointed to death” by a legal system that offered her no justice — I saw men who really ought to know better, because they have had every opportunity to pay attention, I saw them express their outrage online and on the radio and in the newspaper. Why isn’t the government doing more to help victims of sexual assault? Why aren’t the police helping? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this? This is AN OUTRAGE. AREN’T YOU OUTRAGED.
And I thought, yeah, buddy, of course I’m fucking outraged. I have been since 1976. You’re a little late to the party. Why isn’t the government doing more? When did you tell the government this was a priority for you? Just this morning? That’s why. As far as the government knows, your main priority has been paying lower taxes. Support for victims of sexual violence, an actual JUSTICE system, these are not things you have asked for with your vote and with your voice. Get out in the streets if you want change. How else will they know it’s a priority?
And in this latest bout of terrible, terrible news, I am seeing so many men blaming women for not coming forward earlier, for not putting their names to allegations, for not making formal complaints to the police. Blaming women who have warned each other away from predators for not coming forward, for not DOING SOMETHING to stop this. Just because you haven’t noticed us trying to change it doesn’t mean we haven’t been doing it. Stop and think about that for a minute. Think about what you have had the good goddamn fortune to have been blissfully unaware of. Stop. Think. Are you sure you want to go on castigating women for not stopping the evil that (some) men do?
And here’s something else: I am seeing men complain that they’re not being allowed to speak! That women are shutting them down! It’s such an injustice! I have a right to talk about this! I have opinions to offer! You’re not giving me any space to do that! That’s reverse sexism!
To you, I say a hearty fuck you. Honestly. My better nature tells me to explain to you why your complaints are unfair, but my better nature is so goddamn tired, see above. I’ll add this: Now you know, a little, what it’s like to be a woman in the public sphere. Consider that.
Much as I’ve been heartened by the ability of people to change their point of view through discussion and careful consideration, I have been disheartened by the number of times this week I have been lectured to, by men who ought to know better, who’ve had every opportunity to educate themselves and think critically. I’ve been lectured on equality, and the need for it. I’ve been lectured on the suffocating culture of silence around sexual violence. I’ve been lectured on the necessity of letting the courts do their work. I’ve been lectured six ways from Sunday on issues I’ve been breathing like air and drinking like water since I was six fucking years old.
Men: it is time for you to shut up if you can’t be helpful. It is time for you to stop assuming you know more about this than we do. Just stop it. Listen to us. Don’t jump in to give us solutions as if we haven’t thought of them, tried them, watched them fail, started again just in case we hadn’t tried hard enough the first time. If the pace of social change on the issue of women’s equality is too slow for you, well, we have that in common. Why don’t you ask yourself why that pace is so slow, instead of blaming women for not getting it done faster?
We have been rolling this boulder up the hill for decades. It is time for you to help.
And if you can’t do that, then get out of the goddamn way. Sit down and shut up. The women are talking.
EDITED TO ADD: HOW TO HELP ROLL THE BOULDER
My goodness, what a wild and exciting Giller list. And amazing news about the doubling of the purse. It’s a great day for Canadian writers, listed or not.
My own fall, those less wild and exciting, is nonetheless beginning to take shape. First up is a retreat, to the beach house in Tatamagouche this month with the Common. It has been a long time since we’ve all been together, and that house was a very good writing spot for me last time. It has a woodstove that I intend to tend all weekend long, and a big verandah on which I’ll sit to drink coffee and an expansive view over water. It’s just the place to really dive in to the new project.
A task which will be made easier by the cortisone shot I had a few weeks ago, which has completely relieved my tendonitis. Relieved being the operative word. That’s gonna make writing a novel go a little more smoothly.
I’m excited to have been invited to Fog Lit this year in Saint John. I’m doing a Saturday night event called Authors, Ale, and Acoustics, which feels exactly right for Fallsy Downsies.
And November is shaping up to be busy indeed. I am again teaching at Tatamagouche, teaming up with my friend Steve Law to offer a weekend workshop to writers who need a kick in the pants. Are you such a writer? Come, let me kick you, gently but firmly, in the pants.
Later that month I have two readings scheduled, in parts of the province I’ve not yet read in. I’m looking forward to travelling to Sydney to read at Governor’s Pub on Tuesday, November 18, and then heading to Wolfville to read at Box of Delights on Wednesday the 19th.
I’ll come to your town, too, if you invite me! And if your book club is reading my book, I’ll drop in via Skype or Face Time…just ask!
Alright, that’s enough shameless self-promotion for one night. An artless update, but an update nonetheless.
Sorry it’s been so quiet around here. I have chronic tendonitis in my left wrist and typing is painful for more than a few minutes at a time. Which sucks when you know you should be writing. Or doing dishes, hanging out laundry, cleaning the fridge, or doing a proper yoga flow.
Anyhow, a quick note about an event happening this week about which I am very excited. The Halifax Public Library is about to open a wonderful new Central Branch in downtown Halifax. The building is amazing, daring, bold, and yet welcoming. I cannot wait to go there, read there, hang out on the rooftop patio there. But first, the Spring Garden Road Memorial Branch must be put to bed. As I contemplate its closure I think about the way it welcomed me to Halifax in 1996, the respite it provided me from the confusion of my life back then, the steady workspace, the comforting smell of the old books and the old men I wrote amongst. When I began to write Homing, it offered itself as an obvious setting, so much a symbol of Halifax is it to me. So I am very sorry to see it go…and beyond proud to have been invited to help say goodbye.
On Thursday at noon, I’ll read from Homing on the library lawn (kind of a dream come true, to be honest) and then answer any questions you might have. I’ll sign books afterward…and there’s a guest book of sorts there for people to leave their memories of the building in, too. It’s a free event, and I hope you’ll come down and say hello, and goodbye.
Sarah Mian, who dolls out tough love to me every time we’re together, and then smothers me in love after, just the way I like it, invited me to be a stop on a writing blog tour. You can see Sarah’s typically ballsy, take-no-prisoners, yet somehow sweet answers here, then come back for mine!
What am I working on?
I am very carefully, and very slowly, working on a new project. Okay, fine, it’s a novel. Are you happy now? It’s a novel. It’s shaping up to be about faith, religion, sex, the body, feminism and death. So, in short, fun times! It seems crazy to even say that much about it at this very early in the game point. To be honest, I am still recovering from having written Fallsy Downsies in such a rush last spring. Or maybe that’s an excuse I’ve been using for not being further along in the new project-novel-thing.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I am strongly motivated to write in a way that reflects where I live, right now. When I was growing up, devouring stories, I never ever read or saw one that was set in my own place, in my own time. I literally thought stories only happened in New York City, English country gardens, or on the Great Plains. I’m not saying the wilds of Mississauga, Ontario were ripe for storytelling, but I do know how electrifying it was when I heard this song, by The Lowest of the Low. The shock of recognition, of street names and bars I knew, swung open a door for me and helped me see that I could talk about my city the same way Laura Ingalls Wilder talked about her little house on the prairie. And when I moved to Halifax, it became even more vital to me to write about my city, because most of the Atlantic Canadian books I found were set in rural places, in the past. I was starving for an urban novel set right this minute. So I wrote a couple myself.
Why do I write what I do?
I get obsessed with an idea, or a character, or a gesture, or a question, and then I chase it down, sentence by sentence. Mostly it’s characters I’m interested in. I write in order to spend time with them. With Fallsy Downsies I felt fortunate to have such an outsized protagonist as Lansing Meadows, and so it was very character driven for me, but I also had notions I wanted to explore, about fame and art and getting old, and his particular set of circumstances let me explore those ideas while spending time in his crusty company. Best of all possible worlds.
How does my writing process work?
Mostly I procrastinate until I have frittered away so much time that I risk some kind of public humiliation, as with Homing, which I wrote during NaNoWriMo and reported about it on national radio for DNTO, or face potentially having to give back an advance to my publisher as with Fallsy Downsies (it never came close to that, of course, but I imagine if I’d continued to procrastinate and broke my contract, it could have). And then I get down to business and stunt write my way through thousands of words a day in a fever frenzy. It’s not pretty. I wrote Fallsy Downsies entirely by hand—eighty seven thousand words, entirely by hand. And then typed it up so that I wouldn’t be able to squirm out of writing a complete second draft. I learned a lot. I look forward to whatever ridiculous gimmick I’ll need to use to trick myself into writing my third book.
Andrew Kaufman once described himself as my Fifth Business, and it’s hard to argue with that. Andrew was the first writer I met in my adult writing life. He was the only other cool person at the Humber School for Writers the summer I was there, though he was unnaturally obsessed with Molly Ringwald. But the bar for coolness was low, so I befriended him. He’s a fan of vinyl records, oversized frogs with human characteristics, and the absurd. He’s also the author of a bunch of awesome books, including All My Friends Are Superheroes and Born Weird.