Talking about his large family at a gathering of people celebrating Irish immigration, Mr. McGinty (the Premier of Ontario) said that when he got married it was the first time he’d slept alone. Previously he had to share a bed with several of his brothers. And this was the case for many peoples, working class families. Privacy was not something most people enjoyed. When couples in tenements wanted to have sex they would put their children out in the hall. People internalized their thoughts. Diaries and journals became popular. Personal space became part of the lexicon after World War Two. The suburbs became the valhalla of personal space. Everyone had their own room. Sometimes their own bathroom. And as things evolved, (television was born) life became more fragmented. Different members of a family might keep different hours. They might eat at different times. Work at different hours. But that is changing. The internet is the opposite of television. It brings people closer. Relationships can be created far afield. Intimacy is all around. But it comes at a price. Privacy.

Idolatry and vanity

November 13, 2011

Joan Didion has a new book out called Blue Nights. It is about the death of her daughter. Previously she had written a book about the death of her husband. It was called The Year of Magical Thinking. Joyce Carol Oates recently wrote a book about the death of her husband, A Widow’s Story. And there are more. These tell all books about these writer’s personal grief make my skin crawl. And the reason. It is the detachment that some writers have toward life. They see everything as fodder for their stories. Even harvesting their own grief. I quote from the New York Times Book Review (page 7, Toronto Star, November 6, 2011) . “Somewhere in his published diaries the playwright Alan Bennet observes that when misforutune befalls a writer the effect of it is in a  small but significant measure ameliorated by the fact that the experience, no matter how dire, can be turned into material, into something to write about.”  Art should not be placed above life itself. It is idolatry. And vanity.


Open empty

November 12, 2011

Kenneth Clarke in his TV series CIVILIZATION emphasized that part of a civilized society was confidence. And I think that the west and especially America has lost its confidence. That loss of confidence has not been due to military losses but to lies. The mythology of America has been left wanting. And the long term memory loss has left most Americans with no idea about their own history. Their notion of America has come from music, television, and movies. And much of that has been uncritical. It has referred back to some golden age (the 1950s, post-war America) which was never golden. It is a mythology created by ad machines. By money. By greed. And it is empty.

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Part 9

She’s gotten a job serving draft beer in a topless bar. She begged me not to show up at the place. I arrived one day. At noon drunk. She looked so good we did it in the back room where she changes. She told me that this could cost her the job. The staff is not supposed to fraternize with the customers.

I began to bring new friends home. I don’t remember their names except that 1 of the 3 used to be a chambermaid. I told her to serve us. Topless. At first she would not. I dragged her into the washroom where I wrapped my fist in toilet paper and beat her across the ribs.

She began to drink with us. Sometimes she was bottomless. Once I woke up from unconsciousness and found two of my friends going at her simultaneously. Did I dream this incident? I felt disgusted. What sort of depths had she fallen to.

I received a letter. The other day. The envelope was empty.

She’s decided to change her name. Her address. Her destiny. She’s had enough. She’s going to go to Hollywood and sign on as a terrorist in a stag film. I can’t come along. I would only drag her down. I’m sorry she said reaching across the kitchen table. From beneath the table a huge butcher knife appeared. No, she screamed. I chopped off her left hand and then the right. She help up the stumps. Fireworks exploded from each of their mouths. The two hands on the table began to move. I stared at them. Frozen in fright. The knife dropped to the floor. The two hands crawled up my right arm. They tip toed across my shoulders. Until they reached my neck. Where they wrapped themselves in murderous revenge.

I woke up with a start. She was kneeling over me. There was a cruel grin in her face. What are you doing, I cried. Just pretend that its a dream, she said. I stared at her hands. The fingers caressing the skin around my voice. Tightened.


No matter the price

November 12, 2011

There was a lot of violence in the 80s. It was in the movies. It was in the street. There was a numbness. Like the assassinations had desensitized us. The character in this piece is broken. There are edges to him. That cut. He wants to be healed. No matter the price. It was rage.



Part 9

I have blackouts in which I remember things that never happened.

She placed her hands in a drawer. She tried to lock it with a key between her teeth. She sneezed and swallowed the key.

What’s wrong with me. All of this spare time has made me too creative. I keep devising all brands of possible worlds. In almost everyone she is standing over a casket. Give me one last chance, she cries. I life up the lid of the casket and respond, can’t you see its no longer my problem.

Order in society depends upon each individual’s desire to remain sane.

Drinking too much. Unemployment cheques have stopped. The last letter said YOU’VE SURRENDERED.

Consciousness is something I no longer wish to participate in. I’d rather be a spectator.

Made a lot of new friends down at the Yonge St. Tavern. Its like bleachers ambushing a clock. No one listens. Everyone wants to talk.

One evening she busted into tears. People with university degrees, she wept, aren’t supposed to act so cruel.

Our diet has begun to change. Lately there’s been less meat and more soup and casseroles. I’ve begun to grow fat. She wants me to get ugly. She showed me an empty bank book. Don’t you think I need protein as well, she screamed. I took her mouth and shoved it into my pants. There’s your meat. Chew!

Suspicion took over. It was a time when the best in people’s nature was suspected. We lived a kind of soap opera existence. People magazine and the adoration of the celebrity became the great escape. It was like the ancient Greeks who worshipped their gods. America had become polytheistic. They preferred the pantheon of celebrities. But the celebrities who were of interest to those in the shopping line were dull as dishwater.

Jimmy Carter, a genuinely good man, was elected President of the United States. He was like a freak of nature. America distrusted him. They preferred the man from General Electric. I liked Reagan. Had since I was a kid. He was always the soft spoken, good humoured, pleasant fellow. In a different set of circumstances he might have played Jimmy Carter in a movie. To this day, there are many in America who believe Reagan was a great man.

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Part 8

I don’t remember the exact moment when it occurred to me that she was having an affair. I had my suspicions. For some time. We had gone without sex for weeks. She told me that our lovemaking had become too brutal. She felt punchy. Where are you getting it then I wanted to say. I knew all about her appetite.

Sitting on a curb in the blue rain. Yellow dogs were praying for the moon. An avalanche of green sleepers had stolen the city’s light. Drunk. I passed out beneath  a billboard that read – THIS IS THE DEATH WALTZ BETWEEN HONESTY AND THE UTTERLY FANTASTIC.

I kept having this dream where she strangles me. Its as if the hands around my throat aren’t hers. They look like a necklace. In my hand is a dance card. It is filled with handwriting I can’t quite make out.

One day I handed her a list of names. She asked what it all meant. I told her to place a check mark beside the name of her lover. I couldn’t stand to hear his name from her lips. This is silly, she said. You know who I’ve been sleeping with. Do what you’re told, I shouted. She handed the list of 20 or so names back to me. Every name was checked off.

The definition of weakness

November 10, 2011

Maybe they were right. The conservatives. Maybe it was the rock’n’roll. Maybe it was the beer. Or the speed. But it does seem like we were all half mad. Like a love-sick fool who can’t have the woman of his dreams. Either because she is married. Or because she wants nothing to do with him. Or because she doesn’t exist except in some dark fantasy. There was such a desperation to be good. But the hypocrisy was crippling. We didn’t see it right away. The scandals in the Church hadn’t been revealed yet. Daniel Ellsberg was hardly believed. The environment was still saveable. Everyone was denying. We lived in an age of liars. And they were powerful men.  And their opponents. Being honest meant that you weren’t sure. And that was the definition of weakness. Carter lost. Reagan won. And so continued the corruption of the American story.


Part 7

Today I began a story. In it a son wants to kill his nagging mother. Martyrs, he believes, should have their wishes fulfilled. After a good deal of thought he decides to poison her by sticking her head in the gas oven. A suicide note was easy to fix. He dictated it to her. His mother was a saint and would do anything he pleased. She was not a strong woman. She hardly resisted. He kept a wet cloth over his mouth. Afterwards he went up to his room to clear his head. There was an envelope on the desk. It was addressed to him. He opened it. Dear son. I will be going out tonight. I will leave your dinner in the oven.

Did I write this story, dream it, or steal it? I went to the library and raced through their periodic section. I didn’t want to be accused of plagiarism. I burnt the story. No use taking chances. The next day I rewrote it.

I know its about me, she said. There is no such thing as fiction. Its just facts at a masquerade. I stared into my hands. They look worried. Palms are like the underbellies of spiders. My hand crawled up her arm. She screamed and fled into the washroom where she plugged in an electric toothbrush. To defend herself.

Making love one night I called out her sister’s name.

College life

November 9, 2011

Morley Callaghan, one of my favourite Canadian writers, was teaching a course in creative writing at the University of Windsor. He asked the students to raise their hands if they wanted to be writers? All the students raised their hands. Then what are you doing here?  he asked. Get out there and write.

Its rubbed me the wrong way for decades. The masquerade. (I’m going to generalize here and thus be extraordinarily cruel.)  In the Toronto Star today there was an article about 2 young writers. Emerging from anonymity. Each of them had won a number of prizes. And then they said it. Presently teaching creative writing courses at the university of blah blah blah. Writers, artists, poets who live in universities. Winning prizes. What are they writing about? What could they possibly have to write about? Their parents’ stuggle? Their memories of childhood. There are dramas, tragedies happening every day in people’s lives. People who have lost their jobs. People who have lost their homes. Young people who are being beaten by their parents. Who are beating their parents. Fractures. Pain. Love won and lost. But you won’t feel those people’s pain teaching a college course. So what are our artists writing about? Life at college? An Andy Hardy culture.



Part 6

I don’t adhere to the BIG BANG THEORY for the creation of the universe. I believe it began at some kid’s birthday party. A little boy made a wish. His sister in an act of heroism, blew all the candles out.

Why don’t you apply to some magazines. She grins like the chief of police. There is a dream of me she is trying to enforce. In it I am being interviewed on a talk show. The host is congratulating me on the thoroughness of my muscles and the power of my insights. I am grinning like a man running for public office. And then in a moment of solemnity I confess that none of this would have been possible without the support of my wife. She is the wheelchair and I am the cripple. From a hush the audience rises into applause. The program’s ratings soar. Editorials claim that I should be the PM. With a wife like that how could the country ever go wrong.

Critics are everywhere humbly crowning the next soon to be released ts eliot. It must be remembered they will tell you that it is not America but Columbus who is important.

I want to be a fiction writer, I say. She replies, you’re just making that up.

Hot and sticky nights remind me of her. Breasts pointed in opposite directions. Beads of sweat on her chest. A rasp in her voice. Keeping her distance from me. I try to explain to her that it is in moments of greatest discomfort that I need her the most. Why is it, she interupts, that all men want to die while inside a woman.

You want the limelight for yourself, she screamed. You’re so selfish. You should be an atheist.

Hollis McLaren

November 8, 2011

There was a debate going on in my head. Was I smart or stupid? I applied to graduate school in philosophy. My undergrad marks weren’t good. Except for philosophy. They interviewed me. I separated from my girlfriend at the time and headed off to higher learning. I had to take a course in logic. One which I was not equipped for. Neither was the prof who taught the course. Nor were the students in the class. We all clearly over our heads. And that’s what saved me.

I met Hollis McLaren that year. What a beatiful young woman. She would soon become a famous Canadian actress starring in Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster and Susan Saradon and in another film Outrageous. I didn’t much like either film. But Hollis was terrific.



Part 5

Steam rose from the coffee forming clouds around my eyes. I remember this picture from the moon where there were no clouds. The astronauts never seemed surprised. It was as if they had something to do with it.

I’ve decided to free my dreams from sleep and imprison them in time.

She always wakes up so cheerful. Depresses me. Its bad manners to smile before noon. Ask anyone born in Mississauga. She always picks up after me. Enrages me so i can hardly breath. Let me leave something to posterity even if its only a messy room.

When we make love she apologizes afterwards. It makes me want to crawl into my mouth. I think its all part of some clever plan. She accuses me of lusting after every woman i see. I tried to reassure her regarding my feelings toward her. No, she responded. You’re not interested in my soul. You’re just in love with the uniform.

Honeymoon in Niagara Falls. It was the time they stopped the water from going over the falls. Repairs. We were kept awake all night by the roar that wasn’t there.

Empty that chamber for me

November 7, 2011

Although this piece is about a relationship. It is more about a persons place in the world. More beer was spilt over that question than was drunk to anyone’s health. Why was everyone trying so hard to have a good time? For Kodak moments. Sometimes it felt as if we were all on a speeding train. Some of us drank. Some slept. Some jumped off. They all seemed interchangeable. The desperate lives of the affluent. And I remember the Russian roulette scene in The Deerhunter. Every evening felt like that. Like this moment was it.




When I was 15 i thought i would have to marry my sister. She was the only girl who listened to me. Later the family discovered she was deaf. Had been for years.

We never communicate anymore, she said. And you’ve stopped clipping your toe nails. My legs are all scarred. What is it you’re punishing me for. Has love crippled us. When we were just friends your conversation was so naked. Now you seem ashamed as if you’ve run out of things to say. I feel deserted when i’m alone with you.

Laying fully awake beside her. Listening to her breath. I want to hear her stop. Why didn’t we survive happiness. I turn over and find her gone.

I need her face in my hands. The darkness would not allow us to draw apart. Sleepless one night. I picked the lilacs outside our bedroom window. And buried her in spring. The next morning i fucked a compost heap.

It is this boredom that is driving us into insanity. We keep trying to amuse ourselves with each other. Moving from lover to lover like Russian roulette players move from chamber to chamber.

Insane stories

November 6, 2011

There were discussions at night. Evenings all over the town. Apartments. Kids discussing the war. And how to react to it. Justifications for violence. So many people seemed to agree that we had to do something to stop Nixon. The icon of evil. Or so we thought. Everyone was so paranoid about Nixon. Rumors about the Americans dropping a hydrogen bomb on Hanoi. And one night we were asked to hide a guy. Who needed an operation. He was being sought after by the Secret Service. They wanted him dead. He wanted to set off an explosion at a naval base on the west coast. A crazy story. But it was the kind of story you believed. The guy never showed up at our apartment. Maybe he thought we were the Secret Service. Sometimes it felt as if your head would explode with all the insane stories that crossed your path.



Part 3

She says I’ve begun to take my life too seriously. I brood. She says its contagious. It make her feel restless. She tells me about the time she flew from Winnipeg to meet me in Toronto. There was so much apprehension. At 3000 feet she looked out the wing. She saw footprints.

The plane was filled with closet terrorists. Dressed up as businessmen. Toronto lay below like a plastic model. The plane swooped down and bombed the city with passengers.

Asleep. Her face loses the years we have been together. I could almost fall in love with her again. Is beauty always so quiet. If only i could make love to her without waking her. I feel like a bird trying to build a nest on the moon.

What happened to all of our friends. All i recall is the snap shots of their shadows that we keep in the bottom drawer. She plugged in the iron and threw her eyes at the clock. Yours went to the coast to dangle their feet off the ledge of the continent. Mine got married/were abandoned in convents where time is told in mirrors. Wasn’t there any other choice, I said. Yes, she replied. We could all have been born men.

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