Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Cassowary to the fact. Or is it Rhea?


Nihilism is in this year.

This is a time when every dog-f*cker, garbage picker and negativist writes a novel about being down--and-out, down so low that it seem like up to him, along with the late Richard Farina, and, lately with much-decorated and praised Cockroach novel.

Being a cockroach is the thing. You look in the mirror, admiring your mandibles and little claws. How cool to scuttle across the ceiling, all six feet of you, panicking the boarders.
Only your sister in there pitching in with her broom, leaving you alone in a corner of your room, careful not to sweep you away.

Every so often, with your stomach rumbling with bad pizza (or in Ontario, withe equally bad beer) you get into this nihilstic mood and write something. Kafka did and out of the crap came a kind of dark flower.

With me, these moods do not last so long, and if they persist, I write something a little Kafkaesque, though as my mood improves, there comes, at the end of the story, the oddest sense of catharsis, of being born again, for it is really morning now and the birds are beginning to twitter.

Just below is something I wrote for the Globe and Mail's FACTS & ARGUMENTS section, reserved, I suppose for literary writers.

In Canada, a best-selling novel sells about 10,000 copies; we have a small population.

But if your story hits the Globe, why, you hope the 90,000 people who buy the paper every day have a gander at your work of work even if it may depress some.

Down and out in Newmarket, Ontario.

Where the hell is Newmarket, and where the hell are you? In the dumpster, that's where. And 90,000 pepole are going to read about it.
And you can take that, you literary snots and hound-pounders so busy with your Kafka and Max Brod.
Maybe your own home thought from a Brod.

Well, one must be chary of an outburst like this.
The last time I stuck it out just long enough to win, there was no response at all.
I had reproduced some of my already published short stories, poems, essays.

I waited. That'll show 'em.
Those unpublished little poseurs and their worrying over plot and character. And you worrying you with their snarky remarks as you try to say something constructive about their writing. "This is my blog, Clod." "And don't come back."
Sheesh.
Touchy.


Holy cow. No response to my fussilade of reproduced, published work
Only here and there a snipe from some cipher in the publishing business who assures me I am a failure and he will blacklist me in the business if I go on in my smallminded way to attack really successful fellow-authors.

I don't make a practice of this.
But when someone takes a dark mood, makes a whole novel of it and tells you life is shit and will keep on being shit, well, I'm from the old school; I like to elevate, inspire. Dante's hell was only one night, and you can pretty well bet your inferno of stomach acids that you will be born again in the morning.
So, trained in the art of minimalist writing, I pare my words and go like this.

Ivan Prokopchuk
The Globe and MailFacts & ArgumentsNovember 16, 1999Artwork: Leon Zernitsky

It was fun being a yuppie till the job died.

After employment insurance and on the brink of welfare, I was forced to spend time with lower-level social workers who would say "between you and I" all the time, while polishing their community college diplomas.
"Whom are you?" asked one, showing she'd been to night class.
I guess she'd never met a drunk or a real Master of Fine Arts before, not necessarily in that order.

Suffice to say that I soon lost my second string job and then I lost the welfare too, thus becoming the world's last free enterpriser, out behind the Tim Horton's where the big dumpster and the garbage cans were. Some time later, I tried the IGA where my girlfriend has her own dumpster "business".

It wasn't bad.

I dove for food while Daisy-Mae dove for furniture. She had an apartment at least; I had moved out of my 1981 Dodge Omni "home" at the shopping plaza and I fancied myself as a star writer for Ladies' Home Companion.

We chose dumpster diving because the food bank was low again, and chips and diet cola just weren't going to do it for us. We left the food bank not bothering to pick up the instant-popcorn-making kit.

Still there was the stigma. I was old, poor and dreadfully out of shape. At 59, you're not as supple as you think you are. What a time to start a war!

Here is a typical day.

I'd made a scramble for the dumpster rim, but got hung up on top. Time for dumpster humour.

"You know you're white trash," I yelled to Daisy-Mae over at "the other shop," "when you skin your elbows going down into the dumpster."

"Never mind," I heard my girlfriend's hollow bleat from somewhere deep inside, "I think I've fallen all the way in."

How low the mighty have fallen.

My girlfriend used to be an heiress. I had been a writer and a municipal politician.
Hard to get that Trinity College stuff out of your head: "Take whatever you can get," said old Nick Machiavelli. "And when you lose an election, claim fraud."

On the way home (she still had a car), we passed a man who was trying to smoke whitefish in the trunk of his 1983 Datsun sedan.

"We got a long way down to go yet," I breezed while noticing that, in her tumble, she'd put her toes through the ankle part of her pantyhose. If she hadn't been barefoot before, she was now.

And then, that evening, she said she might be pregnant.

Who invented my life? Who invented her life?

We seemed suddenly very much like a dope ring of two and no one was doing any chemicals.

For this I worked so hard to get an MFA?

Come to think of it, master of what?

There is an upside, even though the girlfriend threw me out when she discovered she wasn't pregnant after all.

I retreated back to my Dodge and to show all the world that I was a damn fool. I tried being a busy fool by hauling furniture for refinishers just down the road. But that collapsed when I blew up the transmission on the owner's truck.

Maybe now, in a low-rent-humour way, I could get a real job. Just think of the headline: "Local driver blows gearbox in plaza."

I needed a miracle and one was soon forthcoming.

People with whom I chummed at a restaurant would come to me with trays of food. About half a dozen women from the area would bring me gas money and food on the cold nights. Someone from the Good Shepherd brought a quilt and a pillow. The manager of the Swiss Chalet would be there some nights with takeout chicken.

At Christmas, three generations of women - grandma, daughter and little granddaughter - came with turkey and Christmas cake. It was their second try that Christmas Eve, since the other time I wasn't "home".

And my girlfriend finally offered me a place on her Goodwill couch, "since you don't seem much good for anything else."

Hey, best country in the world, eh?


.......

Well, it ain't Harper-Collins.

I did not make an entire novel of this down period; maybe I should have.

In my paranoia, I swear people are aping me with their novels of hopelessness and despair, and no way out.

There is a way out. There is always a way out.

It's a quantum leap from dark to light.

And I am seventy.

##

17 comments:

the walking man said...

Ivan I became a fan of yours because of this piece on dumpster diving. Read it in '01. I've lived off the produce of Canadian dumpsters as I thumbed my way across the continent and to be honest the pickings weren't half bad. Made a fine soup out in the bush.

It is easy to do the Kafka thing and call the world a perpetual place of dark and frustration but then what the fuck good is it to be able to do that and nothing else? How does it offer hope? Are we all who pick up pen to be Franz or Plath? Both are fine enough writers but both, like so many have no variety beyond their basic ideation of a story to tell.

A cockroach can only be a cockroach and nothing more, it will always stay to the dark and steal the scraps from a poorly kept home.

No I have never published a novel...won't even submit them anymore but I have seven complete ones in the can and except for the first and fourth which are a companion pair none of them follow the same theme or formula. The only character type that appears in three of them is strong female characters. One was looked at and I was asked if I could serialize it...nope, don't like pigeon holes and the house was unwilling to look at a second novel because it didn't follow the formula of the first.

I loved performing poetry but the last car wreck has left me shy of doing to much more damage in traffic to myself. My neck just can't take another hit like the last two so I put it all down on the blog now and give it freely away, someone wants to take the words I write, put their name on 'em and call them their own...that's fine by me because it is the idea, I want communicated. Once plagiarized is enough, someone else can get the credit & the cash but no one can write the words I write, in the way I write them.

You are as fine a writer as any of the the 20th century and better than quite a few who have a house in the Hamptons. For you it is not enough to have a blog recognize your effort. And well, it should not be enough.

I thought I would make a way as a writer but then life got in the way of that thought so I became an auto mechanic instead. I at least got to charge by the hour for giving people pleasure...so even if you don't get paid by me for your labor know this...I am a fan and look for new work from you every day. Thank You, you MFA you.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Jeez, Mark, thanks!

I am equally impressed by your acumen and almost superhuman courage under the circumstances.
As for the new novel, I guess it's about time. Even my enemies are telling me this.
But it's a bit like old radio Bob and Ray about the champion oyster eater.
"How many oysters can you eat?" asks the announcer.
"Three."
"Three? Only three oysters?!"

"Well, easy for you to say. They're slippery little devils."

Same with the novel. As you know, they are damned hard things to write.
Somebody has to really piss on me or in some way urge me into action.
Maybe our publisher anonymous who in the blog just before this one can get me going by having called me a failure.

Failure? I take off my shirt. There is a foxhumt in full progress running down my back, hounds, riders and everybody caked in mud from the puddles.

The fox is panicked and very fast.
There is now only his bushy tail sticking out my poor major aperture.
The hounds persist along my back, with the riders in hot pursuit.
I turn, and on my chest is a humonus maple leaf.
Captain Canada, I say.
...I don't know how to decline what I have to say next to my critics, but fourez vous.
Ha.

the walking man said...

Yes old man they are slippery devils but if you piss on your hands the outlines don't get away as easily.

"And I am seventy."

That leaves you at this moment 35 years younger than my granny was. I think you have enough time to kick out another one or ten.

benjibopper said...

my wife's boss, who has been very successful in his way, recently said 'hope sells' and I think he's right. people are tired of sceptics trying to convince them the world is hopeless. it is shit at times, but it's far from hopeless. and it's also hilarious. anyone claiming that life is shit without a smile on his face has serious troubles and should not be considered an opinion leader. in my not so humble opinion. also, a homeless dude came by my place today collecting bottles and offered to re-do my floors. i said 'sorry but they aren't actually my floors, i just rent 'em'. he said i should call the landlord about them. the floors are actually fine, but i admired his salesmanship and entrepreneurial spirit. dude may have been homeless but he wasn't hopeless and he seemed to be having a hell of a time. so for a writer, usually a position of priviledge, i think it's absurd to wallow in the perceived misery of others, or oneself, without seeing any upside or happiness.

that wasn't very succinct or minimalist, but, what i'm saying is, I agree with you.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Benji,

Been homeless, been broke, been crazy. Went bugs.
Had no idea of the unexpected goodness of people and my own home town, Newmarket, ON.
Or, for that matter the generocity and timely rescue from obscurity by the Gloge and Mail.
Hey, I hear my old editor there has gone on to found a literary agency. There's hope!
Thanks.

Donnetta Lee said...

There is always hope. Sometimes have to swim upstream to find it. Sometimes have to fight ourselves to find it. Sometimes have to weed through the less than kind comments to find it. It's there.
Donnetta

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Donnetta,

By some miracle, I find myself somehow born again every morning.. And I'm not a Jesus freak.

Just animal resilience, I think, in spite of all odds.

Don't know much about entymology though.

JR's Thumbprints said...

MFA???? My Friend's Association???
My Fat Ass??? What does it mean??? Anything's better than dumpster diving. Too many bugs. You're better than that, Ivan. Here's to the upswing in your newest project - Cheers! (Where everybody knows your names).

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

JR,

Thanks.
Like lots.

In the eighties, I used to drink in a bar a lot like Cheers in Newmarket ON. Called The Grey Goat.

Probably one just like it in Detroit, though when I was there I used to frequent a placre called "The Sewer" replete with hissing pipes, floating crap games and all. Great jazz bands though.

I would like to come again and have a drink with you in a Cheers-style bar.

Thanks for the pat on the back.
We all need one.

Saw your entry for Writer’s Weekly Summer 2008 24-hour Short Story Contest.

I think it would really rock as a video. Just try it. You'll see.
You could have some voice-over for narration.
A switch in mediums could really give you some insight.
Have your friends or kids act it out.
The thing has life.

Anonymous said...

Attention: Editorial

Make Poverty History! Speakers, Performers wanted!



PACC - Poverty Action for Change Coalition and Make Poverty History York Region Chapter call for Guest Performers, Speakers, Volunteers.



Oct 17 is recognized by the U.N., as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This day is marked annually with events held around the world by poverty groups and was started to give a voice to those marginalized by poverty. 2008 marks the 21st anniversary of this day which originated in France, when a commemorative stone was dedicated to those who live in extreme poverty. Poverty is a global issue that many Canadians experience - with an estimated 1.1 million children living in poverty in Canada.



PACC and Make Poverty History York Region Chapter along with community partners will be organizing this year’s York Region gathering on Friday Oct 17 from 4 -7:30 pm at Newmarket’s Fairy Lake Park located at Eagle and Water St’s. Last years event attracted and the call is now again on for Guest Speakers - such as those who have experienced poverty, politicians, advocates for the poor, religious leaders, organizations dealing with poverty issues and others affected by poverty. “Plug n play” Musicians, Singers, Rappers, Spoken Word Artists, and Drummers are also being sought - however performance/ themes specific to poverty awareness and volunteer performers playing mostly original material will be given preferred consideration. Stage time is limited. Event duration times subject to change. Event entertainers will be replayed for viewers world wide via the “Make Poverty History” website. Attendance will also be counted towards the international totals of Make Poverty History as well as the U.N’s Millennium “ Stand–Up-and-be-Counted” campaigns from same day events held world – wide in hopes to break the Guinness Book of World Records (set last year!) of those standing at once against poverty. Any proceeds raised for the Oct 17 event will be split between PACC and “ Make Poverty History” campaign.



Visit www.povertyacc.com under “Get Involved” or “Media” for info, email, volunteer, or donations opportunities.



PACC is a grassroots, community based group, dedicated to eliminating poverty in York Region. Make Poverty History is dedicated to eliminating poverty nationally in Canada and internationally

ivan@creativewritng.ca said...

Your timing is perfect, Tom.

Here I go writing about dumpsters, poverty, cockroaches--the good stuff--and here is somebody trying to help people in those circumstances.

Jo said...

"I did not make an entire novel of this down period; maybe I should have."

Ivan, you still can. I have always told you that you remind me of a character from a Steinbeck novel - Doc from Cannery Row, perhaps.

Your life is rich with material. Write about it. You spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror, "coulda, woulda, shoulda". You still can, will, shall...!!!

Do it, my talented friend!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Migosh.

Thanks!

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