FEELS, SOUNDS

My Mother Was a Karen

Years ago, I once saw a loudmouthed nonagenarian on a streetcar in Toronto who shamelessly (and very audibly) insulted every new female passenger under the age of 45 by calling her a “whore” (for no reason at all), and similarly greeted all the non-Caucasian commuters she saw with the N-word. I saw more than a few cranks and oddballs on Toronto Transit Commission vehicles during the number of years I lived in Hogtown (aspiring hip-hop artists are a dime a dozen on the subway), but that woman in particular sticks out in my memory more than most. Her overall appearance and demeanor were very reminiscent of the titular character from filmdom’s forgotten classic Throw Momma from the Train. Nobody threw her from the streetcar, though. Not even the driver, despite being well within his authority to eject her from the vehicle. In fact, most people just wrote her off as a loony old crone and ignored her. Canada is chill like that.

But I remember the way my heart sank that day, with the realization that a certain someone I knew would eventually turn into that loony old crone. My mother lived her life according to opinions (which she always had and always expressed) about how things should be, as opposed to what is. As if Nature was somehow obliged to give a damn about her opinions. There was only one right way to do things (her way, of course) and a countless number of other ways, all of which were wrong. Hence she was seldom happy and lived her life in a near-constant state of resentful disappointment.

Among her favourite things to whinge about was the manner in which contemporary Canada has deviated from the Canada of her youth. She once complained bitterly in a public place (within plain earshot of at least a few people) that there weren’t enough white faces on TV anymore. One of the most embarrassing moments of my life, bar none. But not at all the most shocking. She said shit like that in private all the time. That’s actually how she thought. Novel things unfamiliar to her fourteen-year-old self (such as an evening newscast featuring an ethnically diverse and gender-balanced team of anchors and correspondents) tended to greatly upset her.


The very essence of Karenhood is the inability to grasp this teaching.

Nonetheless, we can learn as much from the fools as we can from the sages, and my mother was a shining example of what not to do. Pretty much every waking nanosecond of her mortal existence was wasted either worrying about the future or pining for some la-la land of the past. She was never in the present. Ever. The whole concept of BE HERE NOW was completely alien to her, and it showed. She went to her (early) grave a frazzled wreck.

Not sure if that’s a bad thing or a not-as-bad-as-you-think-it-is thing, if I’m being honest. Given the timing of my mother’s passing, I can easily see how things could’ve been much worse. I just can’t picture her outlook becoming rosier at the onset of senile dementia. If anything, she’d become the extreme opposite of rosy. Am I supposed to feel bad about missing out on all that? And forgive me if this sounds crass, but I’m really struggling to find something to complain about this shiny new guilt-free and judgement-free life I’m living these days. It would be great if I could have a war-and-pestilence-free life to boot, but you can’t win ’em all.


FEELS

A Pagan Ritual Your Grandma Would Like

That macabre time of year is upon us — the time when I take that pile of unwearable old clothes that’s been accumulating for the past year deep into the eerie haunted wood, where I incorporate them in a scarecrow-esque effigy for immediate sacrifice to the dying sun. Stuffed with generous handfuls of that ubiquitous dry foliage that all species deciduous have been shedding like tears…

This year’s wicker man, in the headless early stages of construction.

Part of the autumnal wicker man tradition is to attach a handwritten list somewhere on the effigy, detailing all the things one would like to lose in the coming year. Like a letter to Antisanta. For this ritual is not about gaining things one presently does not have, but about letting go of things one no longer needs. As the forest itself does in fall.  

Upon attaching the aforementioned list, it’s time to get the party started and douse the whole thing in booze. This year’s choice of rocket fuel was inspired by a certain man who currently reigns supreme as the most moronic politician in all of Canada…

The cowboy hat prevents his microscopic brain from blowing away in the chinook.

Speaking of politicians and their moronicity, we had a (highly underwhelming) federal election last month. I brought along a campaign letter I received during said election, which I never bothered to open. Mostly because I didn’t like the sanctimonious tone of the first two letters they sent me. I sensed I’d be none the wiser had I opened the third letter. But I found plenty good use for it in this haunted wood.


I always walk away from this experience feeling like my inner manitou just shed an exoskeleton. I don’t know if it’s the sacred smoke, or the way the pieces of burnt fabric flutter about like faceless dark angels in the wind high above. Or maybe it’s the spectres that always manifest themselves in the flames. Like this one, which immediately struck me as bearing an uncanny resemblance to a young Bernadette Peters…


Or this one. A phoenix rising, which for some reason looked like either a rubber chicken or one of those Instant Martians from the old Looney Tunes shorts that grew to full size when you added water.


Last but not least, there’s this image. You have to use your imagination a bit to see him, but you can vaguely make out the Cat in the Hat.


The Journey of SILVER BROWN

The Death of SILVER BROWN?

I initially started SILVER BROWN as an art therapy project. The main reason I put it online was to fully test its potential to be anything beyond that. It was a worthwhile exercise as an art therapy project. As was putting it online. I drank a rich soup of vibes from the droppings of the Great Bird (i.e. Twitter) and professional input from a gaggle of fellow scribes, which provided me with vital nutrients to open my third eye and see that SILVER BROWN cannot continue in its present form as I originally planned. This story needs just a pinch of reconstructive surgery.

Before I expand on that further, let me drop a parable about burritos. This is one of a handful of things I know how to cook well. Learned entirely by observation, at a burrito joint I visited almost every business day at noon back when I had a supposedly glamourous job. Said joint famously lacked a barrier obstructing the patrons’ view of the kitchen, allowing for the visual spectacle of burrito wizards working their magic behind the scenes. Who taught me (almost) everything I know. About burritos, at least.


An original creation. Made with walleye caught from one of Ontario’s many lakes, which I breaded myself. Sweet Mary mother of Jabberwocky Jesus, that’s some damn good eats!

Part of the high art of making burritos is knowing how much filling one tortilla can handle. If you try to stuff too much in a single burrito, the whole thing is bound to split at the sides and fall apart sometime during the cooking process. A fictional world vastly different from the familiar is a lot like that burrito. There’s only so much you can put on a tortilla of a hundred thousand words. I initially set out to make SILVER BROWN less grandiose than any of my previous attempts to write a novel, but still found myself trying to stuff a trilogy’s worth of filling in that tortilla. More pre-planning was required for the project, methinks. Next time I mustn’t allow myself to become so distracted with the world in which the story is set that I forget to actually tell the story.



There are also questions swirling in my mind about whether there is still a public appetite for dystopian fiction, now that the present state of human society has taken on a dystopian air. The world humanity lived in when I first started working on SILVER BROWN has since molted. Its new instar bears a closer resemblance to the Environment of my story, in that it’s a world where technology and mass-ignorance has run amok. Hence I must ask myself: would people actually pay money to read this yarn I’m working on? Part of the reason why people read novels is for the escapism. They might be reluctant to read something that hits painfully too close to home. I could be dead wrong; the jury’s still out on that one. Black Mirror has temporarily ceased production because the producers thought it would be too depressing for people to watch in light of that microscopic Cthulhu coming along and ruining everything. Yet according to hard statistics, people are watching movies like Outbreak while they’re in quarantine.

Uncertainties about a potential audience don’t justify a literary facelift as much as the story’s heroine, however. Florys MacNab was subconsciously conceived as a satirical caricature of the vapidly callous materialism exhibited by more than a few people I met back in the day when I worked in one of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. There’s certainly a place for a character of this ilk in fiction, but in retrospect it was a mistake to make her the protagonist. I’m finding it next to impossible to root for somebody who values things over people, whose entire modus operandi revolves around acquiring and flaunting status symbols and making other people jealous. If I can’t root for that somebody, it’s unlikely my audience will be able to either.

This fictional world I’ve created demands a main character who is at least somewhat flexible and adaptable, who approaches novel phenomena with a certain level of curiosity. That’s not Florys. Florys is way too narrow-minded and hardheaded to be the main character. She would work better as a secondary character. One who repeatedly complicates things for the hero, and (probably) dies in the story’s third act for dramatic effect.



I guess I shouldn’t feel bad about things not working out this time around. As a certain wise man once said…

…but at least I’ve spent enough time wallowing in that shit that new vegetation can start growing on me. I was thinking about going with the same basic plot device, but with a completely different perspective, major characters reworked and fine-tuned (except Sherman, he’s perfect the way he is). Before I start germinating anything new on my ass however, I shall disperse the last of the current yield in the summer. The final chapters are the strangest in the whole book, so of course I’m going to tweet that shit.