The Eagle & The Weasel

I'd prefer not to

Enlistment

Publishing your first book is a weird experience. You spend a year or two writing down what are quite possibly your most ridiculous, most perverted, least sound, least relatable thoughts, while convincing yourself that these thoughts are neither ridiculous nor perverted nor unsound nor unrelatable and are totally worth committing to paper. You get rejected, a lot. You are told this is good for your soul or your creative process but exactly how that works is less clear. You melt down, which even when it’s happening you recognize as being totally embarrassingly banal and clicheed. Finally you get the opposite of rejected. Whatever that is. Another year or two passes. You forget whatever it was you were trying to say in the first place in that ridiculous, perverted manuscript. You get a real job. Suddenly it’s your publication date, and it occurs to you that everyone you’re related to, everyone you’ve ever dated, slept with, unsuccessfully hit on, borrowed money from, avoided making eye contact with, lied to, been passive-aggressive with, forgotten about, and stolen french fries from can now access your most private, ridiculous, unsound, perverted thoughts in one easy-to-quote-from volume. Friends and acquaintances send you pictures of your book on vacation, by swimming pools and the ocean and majestic mountain ranges. Strangers from the internet want to meet you. Congratulations, you published a book.

Anyway, that happened, and now I’m pleased to say Sweet Affliction was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers’ Federation Concordia University First Book Prize. It’s nice to have an award that recognizes that process, and it’s nice to be nominated for it. I don’t know if it gets easier but I hope to find out.

The moving vans are the first sound you hear

Introducting: Moving Day, the audio book! Participate, celebrate, curse the annual festival of permanent impermanence, immaterial materiality, and really heavy ephemera. Stream or download and listen linearly, modularly, concurrently, simultaneously, or put it on shuffle for a postmodern narrative experience!

Moving Day! Have civic crisis and half civic holiday. A festival of exhaust, sweat, lifting, garbage, boxes, masking tape, primer, longing and anticipation.

This audio experiment features music from five amazing and generous bands who let me use their music. Listen to and buy their albums:

Loosestrife
Burden
Echo Beach
Lungbutter
Hand Cream
And audio from the video Super Manif de casseroles dans villeray
All other audio recorded/created by me.

Cover image by NOMNRYN

If you love this story, why not check out the book it came from?

Enjoy, and don’t lift with your back. Lift with your arms, ding-dong.

Sweet Affliction (finally)

I’m very pleased to announce that my book of short stories, Sweet Affliction, is coming out in one month. I made a little page for it, where I’ll post pertinent information as it comes up.

As of April 15th you’ll be able to buy it at your local independent bookstore, or you can order it online.
If you’re in Montreal, I’m having a launch on April 16th, at Drawn&Quarterly, 211 Bernard Est. I’ll read from the book, and will be interviewed by writer and translator Melissa Bull. See you there?

A pregnancy test is taken at a wedding, a bad diagnosis leads a patient to a surprising outlook, and a civic holiday becomes a dystopian nightmare. By turns caustic, tender, and creepily hilarious, Sweet Affliction reveals the frailties, perversions, and resilience of Anna Leventhal’s cast of city-dwellers. Shiftless youths, a compulsive collector of cigarette butts, and a dying pet rat populate fifteen sharply-observed and darkly funny stories that suck at the marrow of modern life.

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Leventhal’s work grasps multiple and brazen connections between sisters, lovers, strangers, friends. These stories wander and please. They knife unexpectedly. Truth is lodged in all the cuts. These stories “know the things energy can do.”

Tamara Faith Berger, author of Maidenhead

Sweet Affliction is — no big deal or anything — one of the most successful, high-functioning, sometimes perfect collections of short stories I’ve read in recent memory.

Andrew Hood, author of The Cloaca

These stories stand Canadian literature on its head — amazing characters, totally original and unexpected situations, absolutely hilarious and heartfelt prose — Anna Leventhal is a one-of-a-kind talent.

Lee Henderson, author of The Man Game

Other Girls

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There’s this part in Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the movie, not the TV series) where Buffy is slow-dancing with Luke Perry, and he whispers into her ear “You’re not like other girls.” And Buffy replies “Yes I am.”

That exchange has been ringing in my head like a gong since 1992, and I’m still trying to figure out what it means.

In the movie’s context, it comes at a moment where Buffy doesn’t want to accept the responsibility of being a slayer, so the line is a moment of denial, a stall in the narrative, right before vampires attack the school dance and she has to take them out in a whirl of roundhouse kicks and flaming hairspray. It’s sort of the movie’s tagline: she can’t face her destiny, she’s afraid of being special, she just wants to be a regular teenager. But, like Ulysses or Arjuna or Luke Skywalker, she can’t escape the hero’s call. Even the title of the movie itself is basically a sight-gag that’s encapsulated and reaffirmed in her exchange with Pike: Buffy/Slayer. Regular girl/Vampire killer. Cheerleader/Warrior. It’s got a nice comedic ring, and it reflects basically every plotline since ancient Egypt: a character with some special quality who is called to a strange and wonderful destiny. This is the fundamental template of storytelling, if you believe Joseph Campbell.
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2002ish

I was looking through my 2002 journal and noticed a few things.

- I have basically the same concerns
– My drawing hasn’t changed
– I look pretty much the same

2002journal

Happy anniversary of patriarchy! LULZ

The Next Thing

My friend, the novelist and poet Lisa Pasold, tagged me in the The Next Big Thing writing chain letter.  The idea is you answer the questions below and tag another five writers you admire. This was a good exercise for me since I haven’t thought about my manuscript in a while and sometimes when something’s been in a drawer for some time you forget about why you cared about it in the first place. I’ve been working on a novel for the past year, and while that’s provided (and continues to provide) a whole slew of issues and things to fret about, it also caused me to forget about this short story collection that I sometimes feel almost pretty good about. So, thanks, Lisa.

What is the working title of your book?

Sweet Affliction.

What genre does your book fall under?

Short fiction.
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2012 in books

I’m bad at year-end lists because I can never remember what happened when. I’d be a terrible witness at a crime scene. But a few books, or reading experiences, stand out for one reason or another. Here’s a brief what, where, when, how and sometimes why.

Aliens & Anorexia by Chris Kraus. I was reading this on the patio of a sports bar near my house. They make great coffee, this sports bar, and if there’s not a soccer game on tv it’s a nice place to read. A man sitting near me checked out the title.
“Aliens and anorexia.”
“Yep.”
Then he checked me out. “But you’re not anorexic.”
“Well, it’s fiction, it’s not a how-to guide.”
He nodded.

I also read Kraus’s I Love Dick, which I wrote about here.
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Preposterous and Indispensable

from All Our Changes, photos of Winnipeg in the 60s, by Gerry Kopelow

from All Our Changes, photos of Winnipeg in the 60s, by Gerry Kopelow

I am pleased to be considered a Weird Canadian, which I guess is what it means when Weird Canada reviews something of yours:

Change and perseverance. Preposterous and indispensable. Anna Leventhal’s “Moving Day & Other Stories,” a specular collection from the ordinary out-of-the-ordinary, the familiar fantastic, might well have been titled The Montreal Trilogy.

Read the whole thing here. And order the booklet here, if you’re so inclined.

Meanwhile, the next day

My friend Logan Tiberi-Warner and I have started a pop culture blog, because we think the internet needs more pop culture blogs from people who are like five years behind the times and really only like Star Trek. My first post is about Cloud Atlas:

I read the book in a seventy-two hour binge (it’s a long book, okay) because it was extremely delicious and kind of like obsessively watching Olympic figure-skating, in that I was completely in awe while it was happening and could have cared less the next day. It’s great writing (if your definition of “great” is “highly entertaining,” which I’ll admit mine sometimes is), but the message – in a nutshell, In Every Age of Darkness There Is A Pinprick Of Light – is, let’s be honest, banal. This is not a hugely profound book. It’s about as profound as Terminator II or Aliens or The DaVinci Code, which YES HAVE MOMENTS OF GREAT PROFUNDITY but aren’t really going to break the mould of humanity’s understanding of itself. This isn’t Tolstoy, people. So the movie, in taking on the message, which I’ll shorten to IEAODTIAPOL, as a guiding aesthetic and narrative principle, loses some actually quite engaging and interesting storylines and characters in favour of A Very Important (If Pretty Unoriginal) Message: Slavery is bad, be nice to people, do unto others, and so on.

Read the whole thing here!

In residence


I spent the month of October doing a writing residency at a fairly large institution in Vermont’s Northwest Kingdom. If you’ve never done a writing residency, the theory is that, freed from the constraints of everyday life, you will be able to take your work to a new level of intensity, to really, like, hear the whisperings of your soul, catch the bigger fish, whatever your preferred metaphor is. Residencies help you do this by taking care of your daily needs and giving you a room of your own. Your only job is to write, or paint, or sculpt, or do whatever it is you think is your calling. The residency doesn’t really care. It’s like a benevolent but indifferent parent, which is a comparison that will recur with some ominousness.
This residency, like everything else in Vermont,* is fancily rustic, or rustically fancy. You sleep in a small monastic room in a house heated by a pellet stove; you eat delicious food prepared by a chef whose only job is to make food, every day, for you and forty-nine other supplicants. It’s kind of like camp and it’s kind of like Club Med and it’s kind of, very slightly, like being institutionalized. You’re free to barely dress yourself and wander around completely spaced out or clutching your head in agony, because everyone else there is doing basically the same thing.

The first night, one of the residency’s founders gave us a half-pep-talk half-lecture about the artist’s life, and how it’s important not to get too overwhelmed with self-important woe at the difficulty of our creative tasks. It was kind of a “first world problems” lecture – I believe he actually pressed a burdened hand to a furrowed brow and sighed dramatically, to illustrate the mindset we were to avoid. Because, after all, look at us! Living in the shadow of rolling copper hills; eating local organic greens and delicately prepared fish garnished with some other kind of fish; working in well-appointed studios; mashing out our kinks in a yoga studio with heated floors. No schedules, no chores, no responsibilities other than to our craft. To be anything less than constantly joyous would make us total ingrates.
I tried to take this admonition to heart, to remind myself not to be crabby or self-pitying (my two preferred mindstates), to approach my work with an open, joyous heart like some kind of literary yoga instructor. But after a while it started to feel a little fake and even a bit insulting. Because either you take your work seriously or you don’t. Given the amount of time and money and logistic coordination needed to participate in something like this, it’s safe to say we all take our work pretty seriously. And if you take your work seriously, its difficulties can’t be negated by really excellent prime rib. People who do other kinds of difficult, rewarding work that they care about are expected to have hard, frustrating times, to feel bad and useless and like they’re not achieving what they hope to. So it’s normal for us to feel that way too. If my goal was to write decorative sentences to make the world a prettier place, it would be easier, maybe, to feel light and joyous and positive about it all the time. But that’s never been the point. If art matters, and I’m saying if, then feeling bad about it sometimes is a given. (It doesn’t work the other way, though – feeling bad about your art doesn’t necessarily mean that it matters. I would know.) How depressing would it be to feel good about everything you wrote?

I didn’t feel bad all the time, of course. It’s truly wild to live surrounded by people who are doing basically the same thing as you, where you can say things like “I’m working on a novel” and not feel, every single time, like Brian from Family Guy. Like the bumper sticker says, a bad day at a residence is still better than a good day at the rest of your life. Which is partly true and partly bullshit. In daily life you have lots of things to succeed or fail at, to feel okay or stoked or totally miserable about. In residence you have one thing, and that thing is probably the thing that’s the most important thing in the world to you. So a bad day at a writing residence is bad on a big, deep, horrifying existential level, the kind of state where you think, Okay, clearly even under these ideal circumstances I still suck at doing the one thing I care about and am supposed to be good at, so I guess I will just throw myself in this (very shallow) river right now. Which is exactly how we were told not to think. But having your every need met does actually breed a kind of hilariously infantile mindset.

David Foster Wallace writes about something like this in the title essay of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again – the one where he takes a luxury cruise and finds himself turning into the sort of demanding, pucker-lipped, perpetually unsatisfied velour-swaddled person he would otherwise ridicule:

But the Infantile part of me is insatiable – in fact its whole essence or dasein or whatever lies in its a priori insatiability. In response to any environment of extraordinary gratification and pampering, the Insatiable Infant part of me will simply adjust its desires upward until it once again levels out at its homoeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction.

Where DFW charts the terrifying upward spiral of desire in an atmosphere of “total comfort,” I simply observed that, not permitted (or not able) to do anything for myself, I became totally physically and emotionally dependent on the institution’s care, to the point where I almost cried when the pot of coffee I’d been waiting for was whisked away in front of me to be taken to a board of trustees meeting. The staff guy, who has surely seen way too much of people like me, told me another one would be ready in ten minutes. “Okay,” I said. “Why don’t you come back then?” he said. “I’ll just wait here,” I said, like a huge asshole who hasn’t had any coffee.
Lest this be mistaken for some kind of veiled critique of the social welfare state or something, I should say that most of my time there was amazing, and I did actually do some really valuable work and maybe even heard the whisperings of my soul now and then. Anyway I’m back to making my own coffee and worrying about inane things and working on my novel at my desk, at home, joyously and crabbily.

*In Vermont even the things that are falling apart are doing so in a quaint, picturesque way. My friends who live in New England call it “tickety,” as in “tickety-boo”: “This organic maple ice cream shack shaped like a log cabin and festooned with bunting is so tickety.”

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