Archive for May, 2010


On Writing, Redux


a person who pretends or claims to have more knowledge or skill than he or she possesses; quack.
impostor, mountebank, fraud, fake, phony.
If you haven’t visited the Young Centre for Performing Arts, you really should go.  It is a beautifully converted space, large enough to make you feel comfortable, but intimate enough to see the expressions on the faces of the actors.  The former home of Tank Houses 9 and 10 of the old Gooderham & Worts Distillery is now home to Mamet and Miller and – last night – Friel.
The three troubled characters who inhabit The Faith Healer tell their stories in long, uninterrupted monologues.  I use the plural form of the word quite deliberately – there is in fact only one story, but told from such different points of view that the audience is left wondering what really happened, and who – if anyone – is telling the truth.
Or maybe they are all telling the truth.
The background notes on the play state that Friel described the play as a “metaphor for the art, the craft of writing”.
“A writer sets out to create a fictional world – a lie – and to fill it with as much truth as she can find in herself and express.  Sometimes, magically, it coalesces and audiences are touched.”*
About a week ago, I explored the work of Spalding Gray, a man who freely admitted that although his stories were based on his own life experiences, these experiences were clearly viewed through his own particular lens, filtered by his own brain, and quite possibly altered over long periods of time. 
Have you ever found yourself wondering if an event really happened in the way that you remember? 
We can go through life feeling certain that we know the characters of other people, that we know ourselves, and find that others have a completely different perspective.  How is it possible to know every side and angle to another complex human being?  We see only what that person chooses to show us and we see only what we want to see.
Perception.  Filter.  Distortion.
Writers go one step further.  We have the audacity, the narcissistic tendency, the burning need…to write it all down.  We are not content with viewing and filing away, we instead choose, in our own charming form of madness, to tell the story.  We challenge the audience by laying ourselves bare and saying “Here is what happened, here is what I think, here is my voice.  Make of it what you will”.
Friel also said that “there is an element of the charlatan…in all creative work”.
Quacks.  Mountebanks.** A person who pretends or claims to have more knowledge or skill than he or she possesses.
Yes, that sounds about right.
As a side note, it’s getting a little depressing to continually see only older audiences at the theatre.  Most companies, like the amazing Soulpepper, offer heavily discounted tickets to younger patrons.  So, what are you waiting for?
* From the Playbill Background Notes, beautifully written by Soulpepper Associate Artist Paula Wing.
**  A word I am trying desperately to fit into everyday conversation.

Why don’t they just go back to bloodletting?

“He must be a nice man,” I tell myself.  “He plays soothing classical music in his office.”

Lots to look at in here.  Prescription pads.  Referral pads.  Requisitions. 

Boxes of Botox.


There is a certificate on the wall declaring this doctor to be a qualified injector of Botox.  I may be paraphrasing.  A picture of a smiling woman with a very smooth forehead beams down from her perch next to a blood pressure machine.

Suddenly, he arrives.

“Have you been here before?” he asks without introducing himself.

“Uhhh, yes, but I haven’t seen you.  I don’t really have a family doctor here anymore, I keep getting shuffled around…”

He ignores me and begins calling up information on the computer screen.   “You saw Dr. X in January.”


“And you saw Dr. Y last week.”

“Yes, and I…”

“So why are you seeing me?  What are you doing here?”

“Excuse me?”

“Why are you here?” [Why are you bothering me?]

“Well, I still have the same problem that I did last week, and I didn’t want to wait to follow up on it.” [I was scared enough by your colleague’s pre-diagnosis of  “gee, it might be nothing, or it could be cancer” to sit and wait an hour for a walk-in consultation, you pompous, motherf*cking as*hole.]

“Alright, here are the results, what do you want me to do about it?” [Just what I need, another hypochondriac walk-in patient.  Maybe I can talk her into getting some Botox.]

“Uhh, well, I was kind of hoping that we could solve my health issue.” [I just thought I’d hop on the streetcar for an hour, miss work, to hang out and see how you’re doing.  We could brush each other’s hair and giggle about boys. What the f*ck do you think I’m here for?!?]

“Very well,  let’s check this out, then.  Just lie down.” [I can’t believe I’ve gotten to the point where I’m sick of looking at half-naked women.]

“OK.” [I can’t believe I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t care that I’m half-naked.]

[There is no stool, so I awkwardly hop/roll like a seal onto the examining table.  I do not receive a tasty fish as a reward for my efforts.  He examines.]

“It is probably just X.  This is very common among young females.” [I blame women for their health issues.]

“I’ll take a sample, just to be sure.  Oh wait, do you want a woman to be present?” [All women are crazy.  You are a woman.  Therefore, you are crazy.]

“No, I’m fine.  Go ahead.” [Gird your loins, girl.]


[We are sitting at his desk.  He is writing illegibly.]

“Maybe you want to go see Dr. Z.  She specializes in ‘women’s health’.” [I just want to inject Botox into women.]

“Thanks, maybe I will.” [Yeah, f*ck you too, buddy.]

If you don't know what this is, I'm not explaining it to you.


Dear Shoebox

Dear Shoebox,

I’m sorry that I left without leaving so much as a note.  I acknowledge that it was insensitive for me to to run off, leaving the IKEA furniture that I shed so many tears* to obtain bolted to the wall.  Yet it seems symbolic that the two pieces I left behind are called “EXPEDIT” and “HOPEN”.

When I met you, I was running away, hoping beyond all hope that I wasn’t making the biggest mistake of my life.  I didn’t tell you this, but I always viewed you as a stopping ground, a safe harbour.  Never as a permanent home. 

Let’s face it, a woman needs a little space to call her own.

And a bedroom door.

And a mortgage.

I won’t miss your inpenetrable lighting fixtures.  Changing a lightbulb shouldn’t require a toolkit and an engineering degree.

I won’t miss my nominee for Toronto’s worst neighbour, MuchMusic.  How often does Justin Bieber visit, anyway?

I will miss watching the always entertaining late night discussions outside my window between the 905 Clubsters and Parking Enforcement.

(OK, so that video didn’t feature any Parking Enforcement, but you get the idea.  Very Jersey Shore, no?  With snow.  Also, it’s not College, it’s Queen Street).

If it makes you feel any better, when I told a friend that the movers were laughing at how little actually had to be moved, he said:

They only see the physical, not the emotional baggage.

I hope you don’t mind, I left a lot of the emotional baggage behind.  Along with the EXPEDIT and the HOPEN.

All the best with the new guy.



Farewell, Shoebox.


* In front of some young blonde delivery clerk at IKEA.  I cried so hard, I left snot stains on the delivery forms.  But that’s a memory I’m trying to repress.


And Everything is Going Fine

It occurred to me as I was viewing “And Everything is Going Fine” – a documentary by Steven Soderbergh about his friend Spalding Gray – that Gray may have in fact been the very first blogger.*

The late (great?) Spalding Gray

This is probably not an original thought.  But it was the first time it had occurred to me.

I was not a huge Gray fan, as most of his famous monologues had been delivered while I was still a child.   But in 2004, when he was declared missing and presumed dead, I was intrigued.  Soderbergh thankfully did not venture into this dark territory, although it was hinted at throughout the film. 

Hindsight is always 20/20, but the moments of thoughtful sadness, the shy vulnerability, and the raw fear of slipping into the same suicidal tendencies of his mother were plainly evident behind the witty veil of neurotic humour.

At one point, as Gray described his art as a kind of “reliving” of his life experiences, I found myself almost yelling at the screen.  “That’s not good for you, Spud!  No one should dwell so long on his or her own life.”

“I guess you’re right, it’s good to let things go,” my companion responded when I made this exclamation outside the Bloor Cinema after the film.

But it’s not just about letting things go.  That answer is too simple.

Writing can be cathartic.  It can be a kind of release, a way of spilling forth words and ideas and feelings that cannot stay contained.

As I’ve said in the past, it can also feel as though one is bleeding onto the page.  There is a fine line between the healthy release and the flow of words that once started, cannot be stopped, cannot be staunched, leaving the writer feeling shaky and weak. 

For years, Gray bled his life onto the stage for the audiences.   He was the story, and the story was him.  His life was his source of inspiration, in a blurring of life and art that is likely very familiar to many bloggers (or at least the good ones – you know who you are).   The writer gives a piece of himself to the reader, cuts himself in the process of sharing an intimate, sometimes terrible life experience.  “Look at me,” the writer says.  “I am bleeding.” 

“I have also had that experience,” the reader says.  “I am bleeding, too.  We share these wounds.  We bleed together.”

The moment of connection between writer and the audience is powerful, humbling, sometimes healing, but it takes the toll on the writer who uses himself as a source of material.  In my opinion, it cannot be sustained for any length of time without causing serious damage to the writer.

After Gray’s accident in 2001 left him with terrible neurological trauma, he was unable to tell the story.

“If you knew that you would only degenerate and would never again be able to pursue your life’s passion, would you end it?” I asked my companion. 

That is a question that can’t be answered in the hypothetical.  The answer will only come in the moment of clarity.


It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.

Marcel Proust

* There is still time to attend a documentary at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto – running until May 9th.