Tag Archives: writing

Fiction: Delphine

12 Nov

TRIGGER WARNING FOR OF SEXUAL ASSAULT

Before she does anything else, Delphine takes a moment to sit down and roll a joint. She does it slowly, carefully, savouring the experience. Every precise movement of her hands, from spreading the paper on her desk and carefully arranging the line of weed down the middle, to flicking her thumbs in just the right way to wrap the whole thing into a neat cylinder, is a distinct pleasure. In some ways, rolling the joint is just as satisfying as smoking it. Part of this satisfaction, Delphine believes, is because you enjoy anything you’re good at.

That’s sort of her motto, actually.

She sits by the window as she smokes, watching the way the late afternoon sun filters through the leaves of the sycamore tree outside. One of her neighbours is playing a Lou Reed album, the familiar gruff, wheezy voice floating across the still air of the courtyard. Delphine holds her breath for a moment, imagining that she can feel the smoke curling and spreading deep inside her lungs, then exhales slowly, luxuriously.

Afterwards, as her body begins to enter the slow, dreamy state that really good pot always brings on, she begins to get dressed. She has a Session today, so it doesn’t much matter what she wears — she’ll just have to change into whatever the Company has picked out for her today as soon as she gets there. Still, she chooses her clothing carefully, taking the time to put together an outfit that pleases her.

It’s nice to look nice, after all.

She digs an off-white baby doll dress out of her closet and pulls it over her head, tying a wide pink ribbon around her waist as a belt. Her tights today are wine-coloured and her shoes are a pair of scuffed-up brown ballet flats – boring, but she knows from experience that she won’t be able to walk in heels by the time the night is over. Last comes the jewellery, layers and layers of necklaces and bracelets; the clinking and swaying as she walks make her feel gaudy and mysterious, like a Hollywood gypsy. She slides rings on her fingers, three on each hand, and puts on her lucky earrings, big, round gold studs.

There’s no point in putting on much makeup, because they’ll just make her wash it all off, so she settles for bright red lipstick and an oversized pair of sunglasses. The finishing touch is her fur coat, a slightly-ratty, knee-length leopard skin affair, one of those remarkable Value Village finds that happen once in a lifetime. Some days the coat makes her feel like a 60s movie star; other days, it makes her feel like Kurt Cobain. Both versions of herself make her happy.

She has some time before the Company’s car arrives to pick her up, so she sits down at her computer and logs onto the oracle message board. Delphine discovers that there’s a new post from the early hours of the morning, so she clicks to open it. She’s surprised to discover a note from Sibyl saying that she’s resigning, effective immediately – the last she’d heard, Sibyl was enjoying her work and was being booked frequently for various Sessions. Sybil doesn’t give any reason for her resignation, either; her post is little more than a brief paragraph saying that she’s enjoyed her time with the Company and wishes them all well.

Sibyl is the third oracle to resign this year. They lost another one, Pythia, just last month. The turnover rate for oracles is pretty high.

Most women leave of their own free will, of course. The Company has to let some of them go, of course, but those cases are few and far between. The vast majority quit because they want to get clean, although a few have quit because of sexual assault or, in one case, rape and battery. Not that they ever come right out and say these things on the message board, which is the only way they’re allowed to interact with each other. They have to use code words, and in this way somehow manage to tell each other quite a lot even while saying very little.

Sexual assault isn’t really uncommon in their line of work; considering what goes on during the Sessions, most of the oracles consider it to be pretty much par for the course. Delphine suspects that it’s happened to her a few times – not penetration, but probably at least groping, maybe even more. She’s woken up to suspicious bruises and unusual aches, and once there was even the angry red imprint of a hand on her breast. It used to upset her, but she’s since come to the conclusion that it’s something she’s willing to accept. Like most of the other oracles, it’s a price that she’s more than willing to pay for all the perks that come with their job. Because there really are so many perks. None of them can say that the Company doesn’t treat them well.

The Company pays for everything the oracles have. It pays their rent, pays all their bills, and pays for the sleek black cars that shuttle them everywhere. It provides excellent health benefits, with full coverage for dental and prescription drugs. Speaking of drugs, the Company pays for those, too, or rather, it supplies them. They’re the best Delphine has ever had, and you can get just about anything you ask for.

Delphine’s drug of choice is heroin, which she realizes is passé in terms of recreational drug use. She likes to think of it as retro-chic – hey, the 90s are back, right? – and has become an expert at finding out-of-the-way veins and contorting herself into strange shapes in order to shoot up. It goes without saying that she can’t have track marks on her arms; that would ruin the look.

Track marks are not a part of the Delphine that the Company is selling.

Delphine wasn’t always Delphine, of course. At some point, in the now-distant past, she was Veronica, a round-faced, well-scrubbed girl from a nice family. She lived in a small prairie town, did reasonably well in high school, and had a nice boyfriend. After graduation, Veronica and her nice boyfriend moved to Toronto, a two-and-a-half hour flight from home, and got a cute little apartment together. Things were great.

Except then the nice boyfriend turned out to be not-so-nice and it wasn’t long before Veronica had nowhere to live and no way of making money. Too proud to go crawling back to her parents and her armpit of a hometown, she was determined to make her way in the big city on her own.

Things were feeling dire for a while. She lived with a succession of terrible roommates in a succession of tiny, filthy apartments while working a slew of miserable, minimum wage jobs. She blew all her money on bad drugs, which were still better than no drugs, and started to feel like she was never going to get out of the trap she’d found herself in. Looking back, she has to admit that she wasn’t far from reaching the point where she would flee back to the prairies, tail between her legs, when one day she came across a cryptic Craigslist ad.

The rest is, well, history. The Company rechristened her Delphine and, at the age of 18, she began her career as an oracle.

Delphine’s phone buzzes, shaking her out of her reverie, and she picks it up, expecting to see a text from her driver. Instead, she sees that it’s Andrew calling her.

“Hello?”

“Uh, hi Delphine. I was just calling because I wanted to make sure that you got the thing I sent you. You know, last night.”

Delphine picks up the little velvet box on her bedside table and flips it open.

“Yeah, I did, Andrew. They’re nice earrings. Really nice. Thank you.”

“Well,” Delphine hears his usual hesitancy, his funny shyness. “They’re not really from me. They’re from the Company. I wish I could say they were from me.”

“But you’re not allowed to give me stuff.”

Delphine walks back over to the window and sits on the ledge. Lou Reed is gone, replaced by The Smiths. She mouthes the words of the song and happily leans her head against the glass, that funny feeling that pot always gives her of being perfectly at home in her own body blossoming somewhere deep in her lower belly and hips. She feels good.

“Yeah,” laughs Andrew, “Yeah, I know. The Company is pretty strict about that kind of stuff. But it makes sense. I can’t let anybody think I have a favourite, right?”

“What were they for, though? I mean, I’m not complaining or anything. Just curious.”

Delphine knows exactly why the Company has given her a pair of expensive earrings, but she wants to hear Andrew say it, wants to have her ego stroked just a little.

“Just for being you. You’re the best that we’ve got, you know. The clients love you – some of them even ask for you by name. And your predictions are so clear that I barely have to do any translating.”

All of this is true. Delphine is doing three, sometimes even four Sessions a week now, and she knows that the Company is able to charge clients several hundred, maybe even a thousand dollars for a Session with her. They recently moved her to a new, more spacious apartment and gave her a healthy bonus.

The Company is never stingy when it comes to showing appreciation for the oracles.

“You’re really fantastic, you know,” Andrew continues. “I think half of your clients are in love with you. I almost am myself.”

Delphine smiles, staring out at the leaves on the tree bobbing gently in the still air.

“Anyway, I just wanted to make sure that you know that the Company is really happy with your work. Things are going great – in fact, one of the higher ups recently told me that you’re at the peak of your career.”

The last words out of Andrew’s mouth make Delphine’s skin prickle, as if it’s suddenly begun shrinking, shrivelling, drying and tightening across her bones.

She stands up quickly and walks away from the window, her necklaces swaying and clinking with the sudden movement. Her heart beats too loudly, too quickly. She struggles to think of what to say without giving away how panicked his words have made her.

“What do you mean?” she asks finally. “What does that mean, I’m at the peak of my career?”

“It – it just means that you’re doing really well. You’re the best.”

“It means that it’s all downhill from here. That’s what it means. It means I’m the best I’ll ever be, I’ve reached the peak of the mountain, and soon I’ll be over the hill. Right?”

“No, Delphine, of course not, I didn’t –”

“Sybil left. Did you hear about that?”

“Yeah, but what does that –”

Delphine can hear him fiddling with something nervous, his tie maybe, or else the collar of his shirt.

“What’s going to happen to me, Andrew?”

There’s a long pause before he replies.

“Nothing,” he says guardedly. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, what’s going to happen when I stop being an oracle?”

“Listen, Delphine, I can’t really talk right now, I –”

“I get that you might be someplace where you can’t say certain things, but just give me yes or no answers, all right?”

“I — fine, sure.” His tone is resigned. “Ask away.”

“I’ve been doing this for eight years now. Has anyone ever been an oracle as long as I have?”

“No.”

“Have any of them even come close? Say, five or six years?”

“No.”

“What’s the longest anyone else has ever lasted?”

“That’s not a yes or no question.”

Delphine exhales sharply through her nose, trying to contain her irritation.

“Just say a >number, Andrew, no one will be suspicious.”

Andrew hesitates, then quietly says,

“Three.”

“Has anyone ever gone on to work for the Company in another way, maybe in a clerical job or whatever, after they’ve stopped being an oracle.”

“No.”

“Can I put this job on my resumé?”

Andrew’s voice is growing smaller, more unsure.

“No.”

“Will you give me a reference?”

“No, you know that it’s against -”

Delphine is pacing now, her muscles tensing with anxious energy. She wishes she had time to roll another joint.

“Can I get clean and still be an oracle?”

“No, of course not, Delphine, don’t be silly.”

“Do you honestly think that living this kind of life is sustainable? Do you think I’ll be an oracle til I’m 50? How about 40? Andrew, what the fuck is going to happen to me when I can’t do this anymore?”

Delphine stops suddenly and stands in the middle of her bedroom. She takes a deep breath, and finds that she’s struggling not to cry.

“Listen Delphine, I — we can talk about this later, all right? I have to go.”

Andrew’s voice is gentle but firm. She’s not going to get anything else out of him.

“It doesn’t matter, I’ve already heard everything I needed to.”

Delphine misses the days when you could slam down the phone whenever you hung up on someone. It was so satisfying. Pressing the little square image that appears at the bottom of her phone’s smooth glass screen whenever she wants to end a call just doesn’t feel the same.

Delphine sits on her floor and draws her knees into her chest. Her hands are shaking. She takes a few deep breaths, wishing that she could take a hit of something, anything before the driver arrives.

Most days, Delphine is able to push aside her worries about the future and convince herself that she’s not walking along the edge of a cliff, liable to slip and fall at any moment. When she’s high (which is, admittedly, most of the time), Delphine truly believes that everything will work out fine. She tells herself that she’s not going to be fired, and even if she is, she’ll be able to find something else, something better.

But on cold, grey mornings when she wakes up feeling distressingly sober, she finds that she can’t outrun her fear any longer.

On those mornings, Delphine is forced to look the truth right in its cold, beady eyes:

She will not be able to do this forever. Not even for much longer, probably.

Delphine is a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. She knows that this type of life isn’t sustainable. Sometimes she’s amazed that she’s been able to keep it up for this long. Sooner or later she’ll lose her youthful glow and the Company will decide that she’s too old, too used up to be an oracle. Or else the drugs, those wonderful drugs that allow her to float through her days, will finally take their toll and she’ll be forced to either get clean or die. And if she chooses to get clean, she’ll be out of a job, won’t she?

In the harsh light of those sober mornings, Delphine can see her future self clearly: an addict, homeless and out of a job, with absolutely no career prospects. No resumé, no references, no way to get free drugs.

The worst part is that there’s nothing she can do to change how this will play out. Sometimes it’s like she’s watching a slow, silent disaster, a train derailing and falling lightly, dreamily off a bridge and into the river below. And though to an onlooker it would seem like she has plenty of time to do something, anything to save the people onboard, the fact is that it’s impossible. The most she can do is try to forget about it for a little while.

Luckily, her lifestyle is very conducive to that.

Delphine soon hears her car pull up outside, sees her phone flash with a text from the driver, and, shutting her sleek silver laptop, walks down the stairs and out into the early autumn evening. It’s warm out, too warm for her coat, really, but Delphine doesn’t mind. The man holds the door open for her, and she slides into the car without saying a word. She forces herself to stop thinking about the future, and instead turns her thoughts to the upcoming Session.

Delphine settles back against the rich leather seats, straightening her skirt and pulling a pack of clove cigarettes out of her purse. The funny thing is that doesn’t even like tobacco, but she enjoys the act of smoking itself. She finds it soothing, calming. And the clove cigarettes are so pretty, with their thick gold paper and matte black filters. They smell good, too. Delphine lights one and takes a long drag, sucking the spicy-sweet smoke deep into her lungs, then exhales, admiring, as she does so, the bright red imprint her lips have left on the filter.

It’s not long before they arrive at the Royal York hotel, where the Company rents a suite of rooms. Delphine exits the car, coolly thanks her driver, and saunters nonchalantly into the lobby. None of the staff even bother to look twice at her. They all know her by now.

The suite has two large main rooms, one little side room and a bathroom. Delphine heads to what is commonly referred to as the Staging Area, the room where she will get ready for tonight’s Session. Kate, the makeup lady, and Sue, the woman who does her hair, have already arrived. Andrew isn’t there yet, but that’s fine – they won’t need him until later.

Tonight’s dress is a gauzy, white, semi-sheer affair, all plunging neckline and floating layers. Delphine strips naked and pulls the dress over her head; she’s not allowed to wear underclothes during a Session. Though the lights will be low enough that no one will be able to see through the dress, the Company wants her clients to be able to see the hint of a nipple, the vague shadow of what might be pubic hair. Suggestion is a big part of what they’re selling.

After getting dressed, Delphine settles into the chair by the mirror. Sue begins combing out her hair, making little tutting noises under her breath.

“What?” asks Delphine, already knowing what she’s going to say.

“You need to get your roots done. They’re showing, and it doesn’t look good.”

“But I like the way they look,” protests Delphine

“The Company won’t, though. And that’s what matters, isn’t it?”

Delphine knows that she’s right. That doesn’t stop her from putting up a bit of a fight before agreeing to come see her Saturday morning for a touch-up. Bickering with Sue makes her feel better, more normal.

Sue curls her hair, then piles it in an elaborate, vaguely Grecian-style on top of her head. She secures the mass of ringlets with a fistful of bobby pins, then begins carefully pulling out seemingly random strands of hair to frame Delphine’s face. She sprays the entire thing with several coats of hairspray before she begins adding the flowers, little pink and yellow ones stuck artfully here and there. Finally, she adds a beaten gold crown in the shape of laurel leaves. Although Delphine’s hair and clothing vary greatly from one Session to another, she always wear the gold crown.

Once Sue is done, Kate comes over and gets to work, spreading creamy foundation across Delphine’s face. She dabs highlighter on her cheeks and on her temples, skilfully applies false eyelashes and uses a multitude of brushes on her eyes, lips and brow.

Once her face has been adequately made up, Delphine looks a full ten years younger. Her skin is smooth, dewy; her eyes are soft and bright. She looks innocent and naïve, which is exactly what the Company is going for.

At that moment, as Delphine is admiring herself in the mirror with a vain little smile on her face, Andrew walks in. He’s wearing a suit – no elaborate costume for him – and his hair is, as always, parted neatly on the left. In his hand is the small vial of of liquid that will complete her transformation.

“Who is it tonight?” she asks him, trying to gauge where they stand after what happened earlier.

“James Vipond. A hedge fund manager, very rich, very successful. Wants to know about stock options.”

“A subject I’m intimately familiar with, naturally. This should go well.”

“It always goes well,” insists Andrew, “I told you before on the phone, I don’t know how you do it, but you always come up with top-notch stuff. I barely even have to bullshit it into something the client will understand. You’re gifted or something.”

Delphine just shrugs and looks past him, at her reflection of the mirror. She doesn’t want to be reminded of what they talked about on the phone. Not right now, not right before a Session.

“Oh, and,” Andrew says, lowering his voice, “I just wanted to tell you that you don’t have to worry about what we talked about on the phone. We’ll figure something out. You’re the best we’ve got Delphine, honestly. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Delphine ignores him and drinks the liquid all in one gulp, gagging a little on the cloying sweetness. It’s the consistency of cough syrup, and just as vile.

She’s not sure what the liquid is, exactly. Ergot, maybe, processed and re-processed until all of the nasty side effects are gone. Or it maybe psylocybin mushrooms, their effects distilled and magnified a hundred times. It could even be some form of acid, too – the Company employs some of the country’s top chemists, and she wouldn’t put it past them to come up with a brilliant new type of LSD.

Whatever it is, it’s the best fucking high she’s ever had.

Whatever it is, it makes everything else worth it.

As Andrew leads her into the room they refer to as the Temple, Delphine can already feel the drug beginning to take effect. Nothing has ever felt as good as Andrew’s hand on her arm; the sensation makes her shiver with delight. She suddenly laughs out loud, for no reason other than that she feels so good. Delphine feels her body expand, warm and glowing, until it’s big enough to fill the room. She has never been so happy. She has never loved life so much.

The Temple is a large, dimly lit room, all candles and smoke and sheer, draped fabrics. There’s an enormous, opulent Persian rug on the floor, and huge, overstuffed cushions scattered here and there. Andrew leads Delphine over to her seat, a gilded three-legged stool set in front of a brazier. As she sits, he begins to light the richly-scented incense in the brazier, and Delphine, still maintaining a weak grip on reality, watches the smoke rise in front of her.

The clients are supposed to believe that it’s the smoke that gives her visions. That’s not true, of course, and anyone who really thought about it would be able to figure that out, but it’s what they want to think, which helps. They all want a little magic, a little mysticism. Delphine is convinced that, more than anything else, they come here for the show.

Andrew makes sure that she’s settled, then goes off to the little side room, from which he’ll watch the show through a two-way mirror. He’ll come out later, to interpret her ravings in a way that ensure that the client goes home happy. He’s the liaison between Delphine and her clients, the bridge between whatever world it is that she goes too and this gaudily-decorated hotel room in downtown Toronto. He’s there to monitor her and make sure that she does what she’s supposed to, but he’s also there to protect her. In theory.

Delphine leans back on her little seat and gives herself up to the drug. The high comes rushing over her, like a wave, and soon she’s lost in a world of fantastic visions. She feels herself floating up and up and up, feels her nerve-endings stretching outward, through her skin and into the world around her, hungry for pleasure. She feels every single one of her cells drinking up pure, distilled joy. She feels. She feels. She feels.

One minute she’s floating, suffused with joy, then the next she’s slammed back into her body, cold, trembling and breathing hard. There’s a moment of confusion – why isn’t she sprawled on the bed in the Staging Room? That’s where she’s always woken up before. Today, though, she’s lying in a crumpled heap on the floor of the Temple, her body aching and strange. The candles have been put out and the main lights turned on, turning the oracle’s exotic grotto into an expensive hotel room filled with tacky, pseudo-oriental decor.

Andrew is crouching by her side, his eyes wide, frightened.

“What happened?” asks Delphine, struggling to get up.

Because she knows that something must have happened.

As Andrew helps her to sit up, Delphine realizes that her dress has been torn down the front, exposing almost everything. Her arms, belly, and inner thighs are covered in red marks and bruises. Her left breast has a deep scratch on it. Her lips feel strange, and when she reaches a hand up to touch her mouth, she discovers that she’s bleeding. Something is wrong with her right eye; it won’t open all the way.

She makes a movement to cover herself up, then realizes that Andrew has already seen everything, has probably been sitting here staring at her body for hours. She folds her arms across her chest and looks at him, waiting for his answer.

“You … you said some things,” Andrew finally says, his voice shaking.

What do you mean, I said some things? I always say things. It’s my job to say things.”

“Different things. Frightening things.”

“What do you mean<!–?”

Andrew takes a deep breath.

“You were doing your usual thing, and everything was going fine, when all of the sudden the client reached over and grabbed you. He started kissing you, touching you. You — you didn’t really put up a fight at first, but he kept going. He tore your dress. I don’t even know why he did that, because he could have just pulled it off, but he took it in both hands and tore it all the way down the front. And then he undid his pants and -”

Andrew stops talking and just sits there, opening and closing his mouth as if he doesn’t know what to say.

“And where the fuck were you? You’re supposed to be watching me, you’re supposed to protect me.”

“I – I didn’t know,” Andrew’s voice is shaking, so he pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath. “I didn’t know that he was going to go so far. I thought he only wanted to cop a feel. That’s what most of them want.”

“And you let most of them do that? You just let them do that?”

“You know it’s not up to me, Delphine,” Andrew says feebly. “The Company -”

“Fuck you,” Delphine spits out. “Fuck you.”

Andrew just sits there, looking down at his hands, until finally Delphine says,

“Tell me the rest of the story.”

“He pushed you onto the floor and started to, um … you know.”

“Say it.”

“I –”

Say it.”

“He started to – to assault you,” says Andrew, struggling to pick out least damning term. “That’s when you started to fight back. As soon as I realized what was happening, I swear I came as fast as I could. I – I … ”

“And then what happened?” Delphine’s voice is cold, emotionless.

“As soon as I got in the room, you sat up, and pushed him off you. I mean, you pushed him so hard that he – he kind of went flying and hit the wall. There was no way you should’ve been able to do that. No way you could be strong enough to do that. But you did. And then – and then your eyes sort of rolled back into your head, like you were passing out or something, but you were still sitting up. And — and this strange voice came out of you, really deep, harsh. Not your voice at all. It was like you were possessed.”

What did I say?”

“You said that there were planes coming, planes that were going to bomb this city out of existence. You said we were all doomed, every single one of us in this room. Then you laughed. You laughed like it was the funnest thing ever. After that you sort of jerked and twitched a few times, like you were having a seizure or something, and then you fell back on the floor.”

Delphine and Andrew look at each other for a long time, neither of them saying anything. Both are trying to digest what’s just happened. Both are reassessing the other person and their relationship to them. Neither knows what to do now.

Delphine is the one who finally breaks the silence.

“So what happened to the client?”

“The client left after that. He was pretty freaked out. I’ll have to file a report.”

“No,” Delphine cries, scrambling over to him, her arms and legs tangling in the remains of her dress.

She places a hand on his arm and looks at him pathetically, appealingly. She tries to keep a grip on her panic, tries to tell herself that she’s not in danger of losing everything.

“Please don’t file a report. The Company doesn’t have to know. Please.”

“I have to. You know that. And anyway, what if the client files a report? It’s better to get our version in first, before he can put his own spin on what happened.”

“Why would the client file anything? What’s he going to say? That he raped me?”

“No,” Andrew says quietly. “He’ll say that you attacked him. Maybe tried to rob him. It’ll be his word against yours, and I already know whose will win. You know it, too.”

Yes. She does.

Delphine changes back into her own clothes, and then Andrew takes her home. They barely speak. When Delphine’s about to get out of the car, Andrew leans over and kisses her, hard. He’s shaking, and it takes her a moment to realize that he’s crying. As if he was the one who was attacked. As if he was the one in danger of losing everything he owned.

Delphine stumbles up her stairs, half-falling and catching herself on the railing several times. Her head is spinning, a side-effect of the drug that sometimes lasts several hours, and she’s more tired than she’d realized. Fortunately, she only lives on the fourth floor, so she’s soon safely locked inside her apartment. She looks in the mirror and determines that she’s going to have a nasty black eye. She touches herself between the legs, wondering if the client had time to come, if she needs the morning after pill, or an AIDS test. She washes the blood off her face, smokes half a joint, then burrows into her bed.

She sleeps deeply, without dreaming, until morning.

When Delphine gets up and turns on her computer, the first thing she sees is an email from the Company. She’s suspended, it says, until further notice. There will be a hearing, and at that time her case will be evaluated. Until then, she’s not to leave the apartment.

There’s a second email, from Andrew, saying that the client had contacted the Company as soon as he got home and lodged a formal complaint against her.

Delphine tries to log onto the oracle message board, but she’s locked out. This doesn’t surprise her.

She starts rummaging through drawer on her bedside table, pulling out vials and needles and packets of powder. How much will she need to take in order to make sure that she’s past all resuscitation efforts by the time someone finds her? What combination will grant her the fastest, most painless death?

She opens her computer, types the names of the various drugs that she has on hand into a search engine. She hesitates for a moment, wondering if she’s being too rash, then adds the words “suicide options” and hits enter. She has to be quick about this. Surely the Company is already increasing their surveillance of her; no doubt they saw what she’d typed the moment it went through. Maybe even before.

How long does she have before they cut off her internet, send someone over to take her to the nearest mental hospital? Or maybe they actually want her to die – maybe this all part of their plan.

Delphine’s hands are shaking; she feels panicked, paranoid. Her breath is coming fast and hard. She’s worried that she might faint. She scrolls through the search results, but nothing she’s reading seems to make sense. She understands the words well enough, but when she tries to put them together they start to lose all meaning.

Fuck it, she thinks to herself.

Delphine starts digging through her kitchen drawers, eventually pulling out an enormous, heavy silver soup spoon. She wipes it down with rubbing alcohol, then carefully takes a new syringe out of the plastic and paper packaging. She fills the syringe with water and squirts it out into the spoon. Then she adds the drug, five times as much as she would normally take. She strikes a match, breathes in the birthday cake smell of sulphur and smoke, then the thick, yellow beeswax candle she keeps on a kitchen shelf. She holds the spoon over the sputtering flame, and watches the fire lick and darken the metal. She takes the plunger out of the syringe and uses that to stir the mixture. Once all the heroin has dissolved, she slides the plunger back into the syringe and, placing the needle in the spoon, slowly draws mixture into it.

Now that she’s doing something familiar, Delphine’s hands are steady, sure. Her breathing returns to normal; her mind narrows, focusses.

Deciding to kill herself was the hard part. Actually doing it is, it turns out, quite easy.

Delphine finds a rubber medical tourniquet and, as she wraps it around and around her left arm, silently thanks the Company for taking the time to consider all of her drug-using needs. She expertly tucks the end of the tourniquet under itself, tugging at it to make sure that it’s not going to come loose. Then she turns her attention to her forearm, slapping it until the veins of her inner elbow start to bulge.

There’s a knock at the door.

Delphine jumps, accidentally knocking the syringe off the counter; it falls to the floor and rolls under the refrigerator. Her panic returns. It’s the Company, coming to stop her, or else coming to make sure that she finishes the job. Of course they’d want to be here while she offed herself; they need to somehow dispose of the body and get rid of the evidence, don’t they? She’d been so stupid to think that she could beat them at their own game.

“Fuck off!” she yells, hoping to buy herself some time. “I’m busy!”

She hears a key in the lock. She gets down on her hands and knees, peering under the fridge, looking for her lost syringe. She hears someone come into the room behind her, feels hands on her shoulders pulling her away from the fridge. She sits back, hard, against her kitchen cupboards, looks down at her hands and starts to cry. The Company has her now. Or rather, they’ve had her all along. She never had a chance. There’s no way out.

“Delphine,” the voice is familiar, though the tone isn’t.

Andrew’s usually hesitant, deferential demeanour has been replaced by a firmness that she’s never heard before.

He kneels next to her, takes her arm in his hands and begins to unwind the tourniquet.

“What are you doing?” he asks, almost sharply. “You don’t have time to get high. We need to figure out a plan.”

Delphine just shakes her head. She’s crying too hard to talk.

He helps her to her feet and leads her to the bedroom. He glances at her open computer and pauses, taking a moment to see what’s on the screen.

“Fucking stupid,” he grunts, slamming the computer closed. “Do you think that’s going to solve anything? I told you, we need to come up with a plan.”

Delphine stares at him, slowly realizing that he’s not here on official Company business.

“What happened?” she asks. “Why are you here?”

“I’ve been suspended too,” he says, starting to pace around the room. “It happened right after I sent you that email. They’re unhappy about the Session last night, but it’s more than that. They’re worried that I’m too close to you, too involved. They don’t think I’ve been able to maintain a professional distance.”

“So?”

“So we’re both going down. We need to help each other if we’re going to make it through this.”

Delphine snorts.

“Right. Like you helped me last night.”

Andrew stops short and, for a second, looks ashamed. Then his face hardens again, and he says,

“I told you that I tried to help you. It happened too fast for me to do anything, and anyway, you seemed to be able to take care of yourself.”

“Well, why don’t you leave me to take care of myself again? I was doing fine before you came. Leave me alone.”

“Look, Delphine.”

Andrew comes over and sits beside her, taking her hand and softening his tone.

“You don’t know what we’re up against. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen. The Company – well, the Company could and would do both of us a lot of harm. And you know as well as I do that the inquiry isn’t going to go in our favour.”

“And you think there’s something we can do about that?”

“Let’s make a run for it. They haven’t frozen my bank account yet, and I’ve got plenty of savings. We could go somewhere else, somewhere they won’t find us. We could do the same oracle schtick, with me as your manager. We could make it work. I promise I would take care of you.”

Delphine’s chest starts to tighten again. She feels hemmed in, as if she’s running out of choices; either she leaves the country with Andrew, who proved last night just how trustworthy he is, or else she relies on the mercy of the Company.

Of course, she does have a third option.

She takes a deep breath, tries to shake off her panic, and says,

“All right, let’s sit down and talk about this. I’ll make us some coffee.”

If all else fails, the syringe is always there as a last resort.

She goes into the kitchen and grinds the beans, the light from the window gleaming off her sleek, vintage espresso machine. As she waits for the milk to steam, she looks around the room. This is her life. Her apartment. Her kitchen. Her espresso machine. Is she really ready to give all of this up and go live in some little backwater somewhere on the other side of the world?

Of course, the truth is that none of this is hers. Delphine doesn’t even belong to herself; she belongs to the Company, and if she agrees to go with Andrew, she’ll belong to him.

By the time Andrew comes into the kitchen to find her, she’s got the tourniquet wrapped around her arm again and she’s back on the floor, digging under the fridge. He grabs her, but it’s too late, she already has the syringe in her hand.

They fight over the syringe in a way that Delphine hasn’t fought since grade school, kicking, punching and screaming at each other. Andrew is red in the face, and Delphine’s cheeks are slick with sweat. Delphine grunts and spits at Andrew, trying to free herself from him. She feels as if she’s just about to get the upper hand and wrench herself out of his hands, when, suddenly, he throws himself on her, using his weight to pin her against to the ground.

A grin of exhausted triumph is plastered across his face as he tightens his grip on her wrist, finally forcing herself to drop the syringe.

The grin disappears a moment later. The loud drone of airplanes, many airplanes, distracts both of them from what’s just happened. In silence, Andrew helps Delphine to her feet and leads her over to the window. They stand there, watching aircraft in their tight military formation filling and darkening the Toronto sky. They hold hands.

The first bombs to fall are distant, down near the lakeshore. They float like snowflakes, and when they hit the ground they make a sound like fireworks. Delphine’s apartment shakes, and one of her pictures falls and smashes its glass on the floor, but otherwise they’re unharmed. For now. Both of them know that it won’t be long.

Andrew turns and looks at her, his face full of awe.

“You saw this,” he whispers. “You predicted this.”

Delphine smiles, squeezes his hand.

“I guess I’m a real oracle after all.”

They watch the destruction of their city in silence. Both of them know that there’s nothing that they can do, nowhere to run.

Somehow, there’s enough time between the moment when they hear bomber’s drone directly overhead and the instant of the brilliant, annihilating flash, for Delphine to have one, final thought.

It’s better this way.

The ending comes in a moment of pure, bright, unadulterated pleasure, a brilliant flash, a rush of warmth, and then nothing. It’s the best last moment that anyone could ever ask for.

Boeing B-17G

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Sometimes It Hurts When I Breathe

23 Oct

I’ve realized that I live in this cycle of frantic activity followed by total emotional and/or physical collapse. This has been happening a couple of times a year since my late teens, and you would think that by now I would be able to recognize the signs enough to stave off the impending crisis, but no. Apparently not.

My head’s been strangely fuzzy for a few weeks now, and my body’s been aching with the weight of something – my bag on my shoulder, my kid on my hip, all of my stupid anxieties. I kept feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, and then one morning I woke up and I literally had a hard time breathing. So I called in sick to work, stayed in bed for the morning, and then ran some errands in the afternoon. By the next day I was fine, just tired.

I’ve been so goddamn tired these past few weeks, you guys.

I kept meaning to rest, but it always seemed like I had something pressing that needed to be done. A class to teach. Work email. Regular email. A workshop that I signed up for 6 months ago. Studio paperwork to take care of. Invoices. More invoices.  A band that I’ve been wanting to see live for ages and ages. A blog post that I’ve been putting off writing. Guest lecturing a high school English class. A friend having a crisis. Another friend having another crisis. A friend not having a crisis but that I haven’t seen for months. Matt. My sisters. My mothers. My grandmother in Spain. Housework. More housework.

And then there’s Theo. Because even once I’d checked everything else off my list, there was always Theo. How could I ever justify taking a break when I had Theo who needed my time and attention? Theo, who uncomplainingly let Matt pick him up from daycare and feed him dinner and bathe him nearly every night of the week because I had to work the evening shift at the studio or teach a class or do whatever it is that I do that seems to take up all of my goddamn time. Theo, who makes me feel pangs of guilt just by smiling at me. Theo.

So there was never a question of taking a break, because there was never a way of getting to the end of the list. And even though I will happily berate other people for not practicing proper self-care, I am terrible at it myself. Doing things for the express purpose of feeling good always seems like a terrible self-indulgence. Like, how can I justify spending an hour napping or reading on the patio or going out by myself for a coffee when it meant that all the other things weren’t getting done? How can I especially justify doing any nice stuff for myself when it means taking time away from my kid? My kid who I barely get to see these days anyway?

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m a horrible hypocrite.

I’ve spent the past two and a half weeks pushing myself through this deepening haze, shuttling from one end of town to the other, from Toronto to Kingston for Thanksgiving and then back again, from writing to teaching to mothering to hand-holding to coughing until I couldn’t catch my breath, until I was bent double and thought I might throw up in the gutter and oh god how embarrassing.

I forgot to mention that along with the exhaustion, there was a cough.

Finally, at the end of last week, I had this conversation with Nathan:

Nathan: When are you going to see a doctor?

Me: I’m fine, it’s just a cough.

Nathan: You’ve had this cough for what, two weeks now?

Me: Sometimes these things linger on. You know how it is. I’m fine.

Nathan: You are not fine! You might have pneumonia!

Me: I don’t have pneumonia. If I had pneumonia, I’d have a fever.

Nathan: You do have a fever.

Me: I would have a higher fever. I would be, like, bedridden.

Nathan: Maybe you have walking pneumonia.

Me: NO I DON’T.

Nathan: You know what? If it was me who was coughing like this, you would have forced me to go to the doctor ages ago. You would have even come with me, just to make sure that I went.

Me: Uh, yeah. That’s true. I guess.

Nathan: And you know what the worst part of it is? Your cough is so bad that I can’t even make fun of it anymore. You’ve taken away one of my few joys in life.

So I went to the walk-in clinic yesterday and the doctor sort of nodded his head and jotted down a few notes and said that it sounded like I probably had bronchitis. Then he moved his stethoscope around my back for a while and asked me to breathe deeply a couple of times. He kept bringing his stethoscope back to the same spot and pausing there.

“I think I hear some crackles in your upper left lobe,” he said. “I want you to go for a chest x-ray – you might have walking pneumonia.”

Afterwards, when I texted Nathan with the news, I received this delighted reply:

“Wait, wait, wait … walking pneumonia came up?

If you weren’t sick I would revel in my rightness, but you are, so I won’t.

I could be the first person to receive a doctorate just by watching medical dramas. 7 seasons of House, 8 ER, 3 Chicago Hope …”

I went for the chest x-ray today. Afterwards, I asked the tech when my doctor would have the results, and he told me they would be sent out in three to five business days.

“I just want to know for work,” I said. “Pneumonia just sounds so much more impressive than bronchitis.”

“Where do you work?”

“I manage a yoga studio and I teach yoga classes.”

“Let’s just say,” he said, glancing at the image on the screen, “that you might want to take it easy for a while.”

So I’m trying to take it easy. I’m trying not to think of all the messages in my inbox. I’m trying not to feel guilty about popping a kid-friendly DVD in the machine as soon as Matt and Theo got home. I’m trying to rest, and most of all I’m trying not to feel guilty for resting.

Because most of my to-do list can wait.

Because the best way to be a better mother is to get well.

Because it’s fine – good, even – to take a break sometimes.

I’m not good at this stuff. Not just because I kind of sort of maybe enjoy having a hectic life, and not just because doing stuff for myself makes me feel pangs of guilt, but also because I’m not great at being taken care of. I’m hardwired to make sure that everyone around me feels safe and happy and healthy, and I will gladly scold friends and family for not going to the doctor as soon as I think they should, or not taking enough time off work, but when it comes to myself it’s a completely different story. I hate having other people care for me; it makes me feel deeply, skin-crawlingly uncomfortable in the way that few things do. In fact, just thinking about it right now makes me want to barf, although that might also be from the super-strong antibiotics that I’m on.

But I’m going to try to be good and lie still and let other people bring me things, because right now, I kind of have to. More than that, I’m going to try, really try, to break out of this cycle that I’ve been in for the past decade. Because this shit’s getting old, this pattern is not sustainable, and I can and will change.

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Gilmour Girls: A Reading List for David Gilmour

7 Oct

This list is not as diverse as I wish it could be. It’s still very white, and there isn’t a super great representation of queer and trans* folk. It sort of ended up being both a reading list for David Gilmour and a list of my favourite books by women. Writing this has been a great exercise for me, and has illustrated pretty clearly that I need to expand my own reading repertoire – I do love women writers, but I still tend to favour white, cis-gender women. Helloooooo to my own cultural bias.

I didn’t include any Alice Munro or Virginia Woolf because Gilmour says that he likes both of those authors, and I don’t have multiple books by the same author. Those were some rules that I arbitrarily made up for myself.

Please feel free to add to this list or to fangirl with me over how much you love some of these books. Fangirling is the best!

1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ohhhh, books about Ordinary People set against the backdrop of Serious Historical Events, you get me EVERY. DAMN. TIME.

2. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

The best book that I’ve ever read about the nearly-invisible cruelties that little girls practice on each other, and the lifelong fallout of that sneaky, subtle bullying.

3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

One of the best depictions of depression and suicidal ideation in classical literature.

4. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

My friend Jesse said it best: Alison Bechdel’s memoirs are like magic. You read them, and they’re technically about her, but somehow you end up learning about yourself?

5. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Shut up, I don’t even care, I fucking love this book. DO NOT LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT. 

FEMINIST KING ARTHUR, Y’ALL

6. Villette by Charlotte Brontë

I don’t care if Jane Eyre is your favourite book of all time, I swear to you that this book is better.

7. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

I have four words for you: Lesbian. Coming. Of. Age.

In the south.

With cheerleaders.

And bourbon.

8. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Oh good lord I am such a sucker for dystopian fiction it is not even funny.

9. My Ántonia by Willa Cather

Sort of like Little House On The Prairie for grownups. Except for the fact that Little House On The Prairie is totally for grownups too.

10. Chéri by Colette

In which a young, beautiful man (who loves silk robes and pearls) is kept and petted and spoiled by a woman twice his age, and then has to deal with her departure when he gets engaged to a much younger woman. Maybe one of the best role reversals in literature? Anyway I love Colette so much.

11. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Like Jane Eyre except better, spookier and more accurate in terms of how creepy and skin-crawly the Mister Rochester character is. You guys, MISTER ROCHESTER IS AWFUL. 

12. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Probably the weirdest book I’ve ever read and that’s saying something.

13. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

I think this is my favourite novel about transgender experience?

14. The Butterfly Ward by Margaret Gibson

This weird little book of short stories found its way into my hands on my birthday about ten years ago. I’ve never read anything else by this author – never even seen anything else by her – but some of the stories in this book haunt me still.

15. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

I don’t even care if you liked the movie. Suck it up and read the book.

16. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The book that made me realize that I needed to cultivate better, stronger friendships with women. Friendships where I felt empowered instead of competitive.

17. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs Of A Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

I don’t even know how you could see this book’s title and not immediately need to read it

18. The Namesake by Jumpha Lahiri

If you read this book while you are pregnant you will suddenly begin obsessively stock-piling baby names as if there might be some kind of baby name shortage.

19. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I read this as a very impressionable teenager and was hooked.

20. Small Island by Andrea Levy

Race and class in post-war London how does that sentence fragment not make you tingle with excitement even a little?

21. Fall On Your Knees by Ann Marie MacDonald

I have read this book so many times and it is so painfully near to my heart that I don’t even know what to say about it. Frances Piper is one of my favourite fictional characters of all time ever.

22. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Thomas. Cromwell. THOMAS CROMWELL. MARRY ME THOMAS CROMWELL.

As a post-script, I think that, as David Foster Wallace would say, this was Hilary Mantel’s way of imposing her phallus on the consciousness of the world seriously thought what does that even mean.

23. The Group by Mary McCarthy

A lovely, weirdly prescient little midcentury gem about a group of friends and how their lives diverge after college. A lot of discussion about how fucking hard it is for women to have it “all” – if that’s even possible.

24. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

If this book doesn’t give you Feelings I am pretty sure that means that you don’t have a soul.

25. The Street by Ann Petry

A single mother living on her own 1940s Harlem. Do I have your attention yet?

26. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

As if this was not going to be on this list. Have you even met my blog.

27. Clay Walls by Kim Ronyoung

Faye, a second generation Korean-American, says at one point that reading is, “just a way for me to see how other people live. I haven’t found a book yet written about the people I know.” And then Kim Ronyoung wrote that book.

28. The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This one took me two reads to love, but love it I do.

29. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Speculative fiction gives me a total boner.

30. Push by Sapphire

Ohhh this book made me break out into a sick sweat. Maybe one of the best reminders of my privilege that I’ve ever had?

31. Memoirs Of An Ex-Prom Queen by Alix Kates Schulman

Another one that took me a while to love – I felt like the main character was so privileged and whiny. And then I realized that that was kind of the point, and also that those things didn’t take away from her experiences.

32. Caucasia by Danzy Senna

Probably the first book to really make me think about race – definitely the first time I ever questioned the idea of being colour-blind, and my first encounter with the idea of passing privilege.

33. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

The most painfully accurate description of what it’s like to be a white, lower-middle-class girl.

34. A Tree Grow in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I don’t even care if this is a YA book, it’s balls to the wall one of my favourite books. BALLS TO THE WALL.

35. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

One of those epic books that spans several generations and several families, except this one explores race and class in 1980s England. And it’s so unbelievably good.

36. Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

I don’t even care that this book is super dated, it is the book that made me fall in love with historical fiction and also bromance.

37. Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that Elizabeth Taylor)

Probably the most selfishly awful, incredibly unlikeable protagonist I’ve ever encountered (and that’s including Holden Caulfield), but. 

38. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Heartbreaking and darkly funny and also Miriam Toews is one of the best human beings on this planet maybe.

39. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t so innocent. Also you will want to punch Newland Archer a bunch. But it’s good, I promise.

40. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Scary Evangelical Christian Lesbian Coming Of Age. No but seriously.

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An Open Letter to David Gilmour

25 Sep

Dear David Gilmour,

As a woman writer I’d like to say thank you.

No, honestly, thank you.

Thank you for being privileged enough, culturally tone-deaf enough, and even just plain stupid enough to say that you don’t love women writers enough to teach their works in your class. Thank you for saying what so many other male professors think but are afraid to admit. Thank you for opening up this huge fucking can of worms that most people are happy enough to pretend doesn’t even exist.

Seriously, thank you for reminding me that, as a writer who happens to be female, I will always be a woman first and a writer second.

Oh and thank you especially for throwing in that little racial comment about how you also don’t love Chinese writers, because you might as well shit all the beds while you’re at it, right?

But thank you. Thank you for proving how very unequal the world is when it comes to female writers and queer writers and trans writers and any writer whose skin isn’t lily-fucking-white. Thank you for pulling back the curtain and showing the dark, misogynist, racist underbelly of academia. Because when people like you pull shit like this, everyone is finally forced to pull their collective heads out of the sand and accept how very biased the academic world is.

Look, I’m not here to tell you what literature you should love or not love. None of us can help which writers resonate with us while others, though we can admit that they are technically proficient, brilliant with language, and certainly not without talent, fail to move us. We like who we like. I get that.

What I don’t get is how very little self-reflection there seems to be in your discussion of which writers you love and why. Have you ever wondered why you might possess such a bias against female writers, Canadian writers, and (apparently) Chinese writers? Have you considered what influence your own professors and their prejudices have had on you and how they have warped your perspective and taste? Have you thought about the fact that your own relative privilege means that without serious thought and introspection it’s going to be a real fucking challenge for you to understand the context and nuance of writers who don’t fit the mold of cis-gender white male?

And maybe what I really want to know is if you were ever up for that particular challenge, and if the answer to that question is yes, then I need to know when the fuck you got so literarily lazy that you could no longer stretch yourself enough to inhabit a skin that didn’t resemble your own. Because that’s what the best literature does, right? It takes us completely outside of ourselves and forces us to view the world from a completely different perspective. If done well enough, that experience changes us. Hopefully it makes us better people. I don’t understand how you could ever become a better person if you only ever read books with protagonists whose take on the world is, ultimately, not so very unlike your own.

I also want to tell you that as a professor, your first responsibility is to your students, not yourself. Like a good book, a good professor should change a student. The best teachers that I’ve had in my life have been the ones who’ve taken me out of myself and made me see the world in an entirely different way. Passion for what you teach is, of course, incredibly important and can’t be discounted, but so, too, is the ability to extend yourself beyond your own petty likes and dislikes in order to give your students a well-rounded view of literature. How can you possibly be doing that when every year you devote all of your time to re-hashing all of your favourite books? How can you open someone else’s eyes when you refuse to do anything but perpetuate your own biases? And honestly, if you can’t challenge yourself when it comes to how and what you read, how can you ever challenge anyone else?

Finally, I want to ask you how, as someone who is a writer who also happens to be female, I am supposed to process this. When you say that you “teach only the best,” what should I take away from that? Am I supposed to just sadly shake my head and assume that my vagina* prevents me from ever writing anything interesting or good? Am I supposed to laugh in a world-weary way and say, “well, that’s just one man’s opinion,” as if your opinion isn’t symptomatic of a much larger problem within academia? Or am I supposed to think that you are somehow trying to throw down the gauntlet, as if you could maybe bully women into writing something that you love?

Because the thing is, I’ve got my own fucking gauntlet to throw down.

I’ve got a dare for you, David Gilmour. I dare you – I fucking dare you – to spend six months reading nothing but writers who aren’t white cis males. Read female writers. Read Chinese writers. Read queer and trans and disabled writers. Read something that’s difficult for you to love, then take a deep breath and try harder to love it. Immerse yourself in worlds and thoughts and perspectives that are incredibly different from your own. Find a book that can change you and then let yourself be changed.

I’ll even put together a top-notch reading list, if you like.

In return, I will let you teach me to love one of the books on your curriculum. I live in Toronto; I can easily audit one of your classes. Prove to me that you’re a decent professor, and that the books that you teach will, in fact, change me the way that the best literature can and should.

I’m totally up for this if you are.

Sincerely,

Anne Thériault

Photo on 2013-09-25 at 4.18 PM

*Not all female writers have vaginas, and not all people with vaginas are female. However, since in my case my sex aligns with my societally-expected gender, and because I love the word vagina, I’m gonna run with this.

Tips For Writers

14 Sep

Write because you have something to say.

Write because you’ve always wanted to.

Write because you only just realized that you might die next week, or tomorrow, or five minutes from now, and you want to leave something behind for posterity.

Write because you have a secret fire burning inside of you and the only way that you can fan the flames is by sharing your thoughts with someone else.

Write because you’re bored and don’t have anything better to do.

Write for yourself.

Write for other someone else, or maybe everyone else.

Write because you love seeing your stats counter surge every time you post something. Write because nothing satisfies you quite so much as seeing others share what you’ve written. Write because you like the attention; there’s nothing wrong with liking the attention.

Write because it fills the emptiness in your heart or your soul or your pancreas or wherever your particular emptiness happens to be.

Write because nothing will ever fill that emptiness, and you want to find a way to connect with someone, anyone who might understand.

Write because your tenth grade English teacher told you that you had potential.

Write because your ex told you that your characters were dull and your dialogue stilted, as it’s a well-known fact that there’s nothing better in life than proving someone else wrong.

Write because you have a calling for it, you were born for it, because it’s the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do for your entire life.

Write because you only just decided yesterday that it might be neat to try to stringing a few pretty words together.

Write because even though your imagery might be clichéd and your metaphors weak and your reasoning best described as childish and unsound, you still have a noted talent fur cussing and it’s a scientifically-proven fact that a well-placed f bomb can make or break a paragraph.

Write a thousand words every day.

Write ten words every day, even if those words are nothing more than, “I hope you have a good at school, honey.”

Write one word every day. Today’s word is perigee; tomorrow’s will be sesquipedalian.

Write a book so strange and obscure that no major publisher will ever touch it.

Write something because you know that it will be commercially-viable.

Write serious fiction.

Write romance novels.

Write an epic fantasy series that’s actually a thinly-disguised takedown of your toxic workplace, starring your awful cubicle mate as vile R’hakhnae, the Insect Queen.

Write a review of the movie you saw last night.

Write a grocery list.

Write anything and everything, if writing is what you want to do. Don’t listen to people who want to peddle some kind of elite ideal of what it means to write; don’t buy into the idea that you can only refer to yourself as a writer if you’ve been published in the New Yorker or you have a stack of rejection letters a foot deep or you frequently stay up all night weeping softly into a glass of scotch because you can’t arrange exactly the right words in exactly the right order to say exactly whatever it is you want to stay. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re only a writer if you’ve spent a decade or more suffering for your art, starving in a garret in London or maybe Paris. Try to steer clear of the folks who will want to tell you that only one particular genre or style is real writing.

Write.

Just write.

In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say please write, because I promise you that there’s someone out there who’s dying to hear what you have to say, someone whose life might be changed by whatever sentiment you’re about to commit to paper or screen or cardboard-back-of-the-cereal-box. Write because you are the only person who has lived your particular life, and this has shaped your thoughts in such a way that you are the only one on this planet capable of expressing a thought in your own particular way.

Write because no other person who came before you or who will come after to you will ever, ever be able to do it in quite the same way that you can.

Write  because if you don’t tell that story, the one that’s been slowly burning inside of you for the past year, the one that sits like a lump in your throat that never goes away or plays incessantly in the back of your head like a bad song with a good hook, will never be told if you don’t tell it.

Write because you’re the only one who can do this and we’re all counting on you.

Write because.

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Intersectionality and Art

10 Sep

My friend Audra asked the following question on her Facebook a little over a week ago:

“Which do you think is worse: intentionally only ever buying art* made by women, or accidentally only ever buying art made by men?”

Now, just to clarify, I don’t think that either is worse, because I don’t think that either of those things are bad or wrong, necessarily. But I do think that it’s super important to look at how and why we consume media. I also think it’s necessary every once in a while to take a long hard look at the media choices we’re making, and ask ourselves whether or not we are making conscious decisions about the type of artists that we are supporting and promoting.

This point was driven home today as I took a short break from the enormous tome that is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (because what better time to tackle this beast than on a 60-hour train trip across Canada?) to read Dave Egger’s introduction to the book. In this brief five-page preface, Eggers manages to name-check the fourteen following artists:

Thomas Pynchon

Elmore Leonard

Jonathan Franzen

William Gaddis

Saul Bellow

William S. Burroughs

Fred Exley

Marcel Proust

Stephin Merritt

Howard Finster

Sufjan Stevens

Jack Kerouac

William T. Vollmann

Michael Apted

You’ll note two uniting features about everyone mentioned this list – they are all white, and they are all men.

Now, I don’t think that Dave Eggers only reads books by white dudes. In fact, I happen to know that Eggers both reads and promotes books by all kinds of non-white-dude writers. But I can’t help noticing that when he’s talking about the crème de la crème, when he’s mentioning the artists to whom he’s comparing a book that he claims will, ultimately, leave you a better person, they are all. white. men. Every single last one of them.

And I don’t think that the exclusivity of this list is intentional; I don’t think that Eggers really thinks that men are better writers than women, or that white folks are better writers than people of colour. But what I do think is that it’s really, really easy to fall into the trap of only consuming art made by white men. I mean, it’s the status quo, right? You go into a bookstore and almost all the featured books are by men (although, being in Canada, I have to admit that they pretty much always include at least one Atwood because it’s the law or whatever). Only four women have ever been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director; only one has ever won. If you’ve ever been in a comic book store, you know how hard you often have to dig to find something by a woman, let alone a woman of colour.

And it’s like, sometimes I just feel invisible, you know? I mean, I’m really just starting out and I haven’t even published my first book and in spite of that I have a fairly decent online following and I am super grateful for that and I’m luckier than a whole lot of people, but. BUT. I feel like I’m always going to be excluded when it comes to these types of lists. I’m never going to be allowed into the Old Boys’ Club (because then it wouldn’t be a boys’ club, duh), or if I am permitted to join in every once in a blue moon, I’ll be treated as a pet, a sweet little thing, a curiosity, and never, ever as a serious writer. And this exclusion won’t be malicious, and it won’t be intentional; it’ll just be because my name (or any other woman’s name) will never be the first (or even fourteenth) to spring to mind when a man is coming up with a list of his all-time favourite, greatest, most influential writers.

And that sucks.

So let’s take a moment to share our favourite not-white-dude artists, and maybe (hopefully) we’ll all come away with some new and exciting books, movies, paintings, sculptures, songs, television shows, etc, to check out.

Here’s my list:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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Haim:

Margaux Williamson, Teenager Hamlet

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The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham

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Ginger & Rosa, written and directed by Sally Potter

* Any form of art or media, be it literature, visual art, film, music, television, etc.

You Are Worth It

4 Sep

I sometimes feel as if you’ve spent most of your life surrounded by people who told you over and over that you weren’t good enough, or smart enough, or trying hard enough. These people seem to flock to you, maybe because they know that, head bowed and ashamed, you’ll listen to what they say. Some of them might be kind-hearted, trying to push you or fix you with tough love, while others just want someone to hurt and humiliate. Whatever their motivation, I wish I’d been there when they said these things, so that I could have raised a ruckus, shouted them down, told them how very wrong they were.

The real kicker is that you blame yourself for listening to these people; you honestly believe that you should have known better, should have held your own. Having grown up in a world that loves to quote Eleanor Roosevelt on how no one can make anyone feel inferior without their consent, you think that it’s your fault that these spiteful words and ideas crawled under your skin and wove themselves into the fabric of your being. It’s not, though. It’s not your fault. No one could ever endure that much raw malice without starting to doubt their own self worth.

You tell yourself that you’re nothing but wasted potential, when in fact the exact opposite is true. All of your potential is still intact; you still have every possibility of achieving the things that you want to achieve. That’s not to say that it will be easy, or that it will happen right away – I’m not discounting your struggles, both past and present. But still. A sixty-four-year-old woman just swam from Cuba to Florida after trying to do so for thirty five years. There is no statute of limitation on dreams.

You think that no one notices when you get up to leave the room or slip away early from the party, but we do. We all do. We miss you when you’re gone; we miss your laughter, your warmth, your kindness. We miss your bad jokes. Most of all, though, we miss your steadiness, your solid, comforting presence. We miss you.

You want so badly to keep everyone else safe. You’re the quiet fixer, the person in the background making sure the show runs smoothly, but you’re also the first person to stand up and say something when others are threatened or in danger. You think nothing of disregarding your own safety or well-being if someone else needs your help. You are always there to help.

You are astonishingly loving and protective of so many people, without ever feeling as though you deserve any love or protection for yourself. You put yourself in the line of fire over and over again, though you would never let anyone else return the favour. You act as though you have a debt to pay to the universe, although you’re not quite sure why or how. You act as though the only way that you can justify taking up real estate on this planet is by living only for other people. But you don’t have any debt to pay, and you are just as worthy of our love as we are of yours.

You deserve everything good in this life, starting with a person-shaped space that you can occupy without feeling guilty or inadequate. You have so much worth, not just because of the wonderful things that you do, but because of who you are and the particular talents and skills that you possess. You are worthy because you are you – a person who always thinks of others first, who keeps their head down and uncomplainingly does their work, who delights in bringing a smile to someone else’s face. In room full of people, children and animals are drawn to you first because they know that they can trust you. We all trust you.

When we run into you on the street, or catch sight of you across a crowded bar, or watch you quietly, hesitantly slip in through the door, we are always so happy to see you. We are always so happy that you are here.

You deserve this, all of this.

You deserve our delight in you.

You are worth it.

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