Creative Writing, Teaching, Uncategorized

Speaking Through the Ages

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Creative Writing, Uncategorized

Sometimes I Just Have to Remind Myself

I write because writing is a tough, tough business. It’s a real grind, and certainly not for the faint of heart. In my mind, it ranks as on of the toughest jobs in the world right behind lobster fishing, coal mining and Sales Associate at The Brick. I don’t want to live easily.

I write because I like being alone;  I think people are overrated.

I write because it gives me a time, a space and an outlet for contemplation, to learn about myself, to help myself; nothing irks me more than people who want to help other people before they’ve even helped themselves.

I write because I love the aesthetics of writing. I love the way my pen skates, pirouettes, jumps, and dashes across the page. I like the sound of the keyboard, the turning of the page and the smell of ink. I like the rhythm of a well-crafted sentence. The fact that a single letter stands between  poetry and poverty fascinates me.

I write because I enjoy a challenge. When you read somebody like Cormac McCarthy you can’t help but stand in awe, or sit in defeat, at what this man can do with 26 letters (I swear, I understood all of six words in the first paragraph of Suttree).

I write because it t helps me see me as I really am;  I write because I don’t like looking in the mirror.

I write because of what writers like Algren, Borges, McCarthy, Bradbury, Marquez, Wright, Murakami, Davies, and Pamuck have done to me. They put landmines in front of me and IED’s behind me. I stepped on every single one and still have the scars to prove it.

I write because I don’t vote. Now, I know what you’re going to say: If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Bullshit. Does that mean if you don’t write you can’t complain about my writing? Go ahead, try me.

NOTE:  I’d love to vote but nobody has earned it yet. I won’t give away my vote cheaply.

I write because I don’t like some of the things I read. Why is Margaret Wente still given space in the Globe and Mail?

I write, not because I want to tell people what to think; I write because I want people to think.

I write because I work in  what can only be described as an ‘antiquated education system’, a system  fixated on numbers instead of minds, bodies and souls.

I write because I can’t stand when people say things like, ‘Well, it happened for a reason’. I want to know what the reason is.

I write because I envy my son, Milo. At four months old he is seeing the world for the first time. He is fascinated by cars, is hypnotized by shadows, and never tires of hearing the wind chimes on our deck. I want to look at things the way he does- I need it, and I think the world needs it too.

I didn’t always write for Milo- I do now.

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Uncategorized

Fade to Black

I’m certainly taking some risks with my new short story-novel, See Me After Class. There are eight stories constructed around the lives of very different, yet very similar, young adults in high school. Currently I’m working on the third story tentatively titled Fade to Black. It is the story of a young black man who can only be black.

Hercules Walker so desperately wants something different for his life, something different from the one that he is waking up to each and every day. The problem is that he doesn’t know how to get there. He’s got friends with wild imaginations, teachers who are seemingly out to get him, a mother too busy with work to pay attention, a brother in prison, a father-  somewhere. He’s beginning to feel more like a statistic than a man.

The problem that I’m having with this story is that I so desperately want to respect Hercules’ head space. I have no idea how a young black man lives. It is much easier for me to suppose how the white boy lives (Chapter One) and how the white girl lives (Chapter Two). I see their lives portrayed in many of the books that I’ve read, movies that I’ve watched, and lives that I’ve come across and lives that I’ve lived.

What have I learned about the young black man while watching episodes of the First 48, Cops, BET? What have I  learned from watching  movies like Menace to Society or Juice; or listening to the likes of DMX, 50-Cent, or Lil’ Wayne? These are the images and voices that are so readily available to me, to all of us, whether it be online or at the local Blockbuster. To the best of my knowledge I’ve never been pulled over for being white, I’ve never seen somebody cross the street because I was walking to close to them (these were anecdotes shared with me by some of my students).  I remember a teacher at OISE telling  us that if we weren’t black we could have no real  idea of just how hard it is mentally to be a black man in today’s society.

This is an issue that has been with me for some time. One of my most vivid memories from when I was a child was seeing images of a young black man being hung from a tree after having been lynched. His crime? He whistled at a white girl. The image of that young man hanging like a piece of strange fruit (Billy Holiday’s appropriate metaphor. She needed it to be a metaphor or the single would have never been released. See video below) was something that scarred my psyche. Adding to my horror was the group of people, young, old, fathers, sons, daughters, all white, surrounding the body and pointing, some with smiles on their faces while posing for the camera, while others are seen cutting off pieces of clothing from the dead man’s body to keep as a souvenir. It was my first introduction to the potential of human cruelty, of human suffering, of the differences between whites and blacks, my first lessons in hate.

I teach many young men like Hercules. I see what happens to certain groups in my school. It isn’t a stretch to say that many of our young black men are falling behind- the statistics are there to support this. I believe that every child wants to learn, so if children (and that’s what they are) are falling behind in school, losing interest in school, is it the child’s fault or is it the education system’s inability to reach out to a group that is increasingly marginalized and falling behind?

I’m hoping to address these issues in Chapter Three. I think I have a solution, one that will let me tell Hercules’ story and at the same time respect his individuality and his person-hood. I’m going to do it by not pretending to know, by not pretending to have all the answers. If I had the answers I’d already be working on Chapter Four.

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Uncategorized

To Read, or Not to Read

I love reading, sometimes a little too much. Reading always makes me feel like I’m doing something, like I’m not wasting my time. When I’m stuck in traffic I feel like I’m wasting my time. When I’m attending another redundant Professional Development session for teachers, I feel like I’m wasting my time. When I talk to my dad about the immediate benefits of rest and a healthy diet, I feel like I’m wasting my time. When I’m watching the new season of 24, I feel like I’m wasting my time.

I’m never wasting my time while I’m reading.

However, I have noticed a change come over me recently. I find myself getting a little antsy when I read. Instead of drowning in the words of Pessoa, Borges, or Pamuk,  I find myself trying to swim back to shore for the safety of the shoreline. There is something that is beckoning me  to put down the book, to get up and do something. There is a voice calling from somewhere, a voice that whispers to me, “You should be writing.” Over the past year I’ve read 54 books. I’m not sure I’ve written 54 pages. I probably have, but the fact that I am not certain, or that I even have a vague idea of how much i have written, is a problem. I’ve come to the realization that I spend far too much time consuming other people’s ideas, visions, voices, and art. I tell my students to unplug their headphones, turn of the teli, get off Facebook, to stop texting, and listen to themselves, listen to all the things that you as a person have to say. I encourage them to develop their own voice, to stop listening to others, and yet  there I am, on the couch, with book in hand doing the same.

Reading puts me in a good, safe place. I’m not only being entertained, I’m also learning. I pay attention to style, voice, rhythm and how it all comes together as a whole. Yet my own manuscript sits a paw’s distance away from my cat that spends more time at my desk than I do. Don’t get me wrong, I am writing. But i’m beginning to feel like I’m not writing enough. Perhaps it is time for me to put down what I’m reading (currently, Stud Terkel’s Division Street: America) and pick up See Me After Class. I’ve read too many books, listened to too many voices, studied too many styles, spent too much money. Perhaps it is time I listen to the most important voice of all- my own. I never thought reading could ever be considered a bad thing. It can be, when you have your own things to write.

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Uncategorized

Writer’s (Con)ference

I attended another one of those writer conferences in Toronto today and spent the majority of the time wondering why I was attending another writing conference in Toronto today. We spent some time juggling, talking about Facebook, Twitter, and how difficult it is for a writer to get published. The coffee was warm, the average age of attendees was old, and the man beside me today spent the time grunting and cursing under his breath. NOTE- I managed to peek at his business card and Googled him when I got home- He was one of Cuba’s most celebrated mystery writers! I left at the break.

My advice to aspiring writers is to avoid these conferences.Stay at home and write. Spend the money on a good cup of coffee, a brownie, a new pen and a new CD. Most of what you learn at these conferences can be learned from the comfort of your own home- online. The networking opportunities are good, yes- if you’re interested in meeting people who are just starting out in their writing life. Those who have written a little are the ones sitting in the back, grunting under their breath and wishing they were back in Cuba condemning Castro.

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