Leventhal Dot Com

I'd prefer not to

Month: January, 2012

Spitting Distance

In fourth grade Jackie and a couple other girls called me over in the schoolyard during recess, which was unusual because mostly everyone ignored me, pausing only to mutter Fishface as they passed by where I was sitting against the wall of the trailer, reading Jesper or Lisa or some book about surviving in the wilderness with only a hatchet and your wits. So when Jackie and two other girls whose names were also Js – Jessica, Jennifer, Janice – called me over to where they were standing in the soccer field I plodded over surely as if I were a dog that had been whistled to. Popular girls can do that to you; no matter how much you curse them in your head, they have that magnetism.
Hey, Jackie said, whatcha reading?
Nothing, I said. She grabbed my wrist and twisted the book toward her face, in a curious more than a violent way.
Jesper, she said, pronouncing the j hard, like Jester. How is it?
What’s it about?
Um. It’s about this guy, who’s in the resistance against the Nazis, in Denmark…
You want to see a trick? she said.
C’mon, Jessica said. It’s a really good one.
Um. Okay.
Touch your toes.
I was confused for a second because I didn’t realize this trick would involve my participation. I thought tricks were something one person did for another person’s amusement, with some kind of fourth wall involved. So I hesitated.

C’mon, it’s a really good trick. Don’t you trust me? Jackie pouted a bit. She had a real theatrical flair. It was very convincing, even though I knew it was an act. The other two Js were starting to giggle. Just do it, one of them said. We’ll be your best friend.

I touched my toes. Immediately Jackie shoved her hand down the back of my jeans, under my panties, and squeezed my butt cheek, screaming GOTCHA GOTCHA BUTTCHA! All the girls started laughing hysterically like touching my butt was the funniest thing in the world. I laughed too; I knew I was supposed to be humiliated but instead I was just confused. This was not within the natural order of schoolyard jokes; after all she was the one who touched a private part. That made her a pervert, or at least put her within spitting distance of one. She didn’t act like a pervert, though. Instead she was laughing with a kind of innocent glee.

My uncle does that to me all the time, she said.

Oh. I blushed, not because I was embarrassed but because I suddenly felt a feeling towards her. It was a combination of giddiness and nausea, and more than anything a desire to get away and quickly. She was pretty and popular and had nice clothes and was the star of all the plays and had seventeen embroidered “friendship” bracelets on her arm from seventeen different boys, but at least at my house no one put their hand down my pants at family occasions.  This was the beginning of some sort of understanding that there is more to us than what goes on at recess.

The Original Wastoids of the Wild West

Last summer I interviewed Lee Henderson for Maisonneuve‘s SLS interview series.  I met Lee when I was doing a writing residency at the Banff Centre.  It killed me how he would doodle all over my manuscript, sometimes in lieu of commentary.  If he thought something was funny, he’d draw a guy laughing.  And then he showed up in Montreal to teach creative writing at the Summer Literary Seminar.  We watched Vancouver lose the Stanley Cup (on TV), and then I interviewed him with the riots and the subsequent fallout providing a sort of wastoid backdrop.  It was weirdly perfect, as his novel The Man Game deals almost entirely with masculinity, shiftless testosterone and its potential (for violence, and uh beauty?). Aside from that, he also says some things I like a lot.  So I’m reposting it here, you know, for posterity.

Anna Leventhal: What do you think is next for Vancouver? Is the city just going to disband and relocate its population to Red Deer?

Lee Henderson: I pity the Red Deer of that scenario! Ha ha. Oh my god, Anna, it’s so true, though. One of the most insipid demonstrations of civil disobedience ever witnessed. The last time something this insipid happened on a mob level in the city was the Guns N’ Roses riot. See YouTube video: http://youtu.be/g_pP40K55Eo

I’ve been stuck here in gorgeous Montreal, as you know, because we watched game seven together at Romolo with all the great expat Vancouver fans. And so when I’m not spending time teaching and drinking with the SLS folks, I’m kind of glued to my Facebook updates as I hear from all my friends in Vancouver. Everyone has a story to tell, and the sense of collective shame, I feel it. We didn’t want a riot. We didn’t need one. A riot is a very misunderstood mentality, though, and we are afraid to recognize its power until it happens. And it can happen anywhere. What incites a riot is never political, I don’t think, but the fear of the mob to disobey the most violent individuals in their huddle.

And also I guess it’s obvious that riots are extraordinarily gender biased, and that the media talks its way around that huge issue.

Read the rest of this entry »

On Process

A couple of years ago I did a residency at the Roberts Street Social Centre in Halifax.  I lived in a shed (that one) and tried to write.  In the end I didn’t write a lot of fiction, but I did obsess over the process of writing itself, and why I was having such a hard time with it, and wrote mostly on that.  Not stuff like how do I get ideas or create characters or advance the plot or how do I describe the ineluctable modality of the real, but the process of creating form, or something like that.  (Though I guess that’s what describing the ineluctable modality of the real is, isn’t it.)  Here’s some of what I wrote:

“How can writing actually make you lose your mind:  there are infinite possible ways of saying anything, any one thing can be said an infinite number of ways.  Each choice is a foreclosure on another pathway and subsequent possible other cruxes/choices until you’re backed into a corner and get eaten by a cat.  (HOLY SHIT I wonder if that’s what Kafka is talking about in that parable.)  Let’s attempt to work through this.  Somewhere in between infinite possibilities of beginning and the zero-axis of no possibility/END there is something called a “flow.”  Which is generally agreed upon to be desirable, and from which the majority of art ensues.  But to reach that “flow” you have to take very careful steps, like you have to construct this kind of perfect staircase in order to get there, or else you’re fucked.  How to begin with a structure that will lead to “flow” or even the possibility of “flow” when you have no idea from whence that flow will emit?  It will emit from wherever you start, that’s the really terrible part.  So the important thing is to start and it doesn’t matter where?  I guess, but nevertheless the feeling that there is a right way to tell something persists, or just the thought that every structural and stylistic choice made early on will result in completely unforeseen results, unforeseeable results, which is a way in which writing is like weather.  People live with weather though, and people live knowingly or otherwise with this exact same kind of structure framing the conditions of living without losing their minds.  So maybe I’m just being a sucky baby.

Maybe the key is to not think of it like a linear/line but like a matrix.  That is to say that each decision leads not to one logical next step but a bunch of nodes from which it’s possible to make any number of choices.  You are never backed into a corner as long as you continue to move two-dimensionally (at least) on a plane.  Any previous decisions affect the ones to come after but not in any kind of deterministic or foreclosing way.  I.e. this whole little ramble here opens up certain possibilities which can be followed or ignored but doesn’t actually cut off the potential to like get somewhere good.  Whether or not it increases the likelihood is as yet unknown.

The problem with this is that at each node you are faced with any number of possible directions, which requires being in a near-constant state of readiness and/or cleverness and/or inspiration needed to make the right choice EACH TIME.  Which is kind of a refutation of “flow”, wherein choices proceed naturally from each other, seemingly without conscious thought or decision.  Which process is not something I want to give up or cede right now.”

Do other people get driven crazy by this kind of thing too?  How do you deal with making decisions?  Sometimes shuffling a deck of cards gives me a panic attack, because I think about how every cut is changing how the deck will come out forever, infinitely.

OO-OO Sigh, The Constant Bore

Don't google this title at work, fyi

I’ve been reading Chris Kraus and thinking about her in relation to a couple of these songs by The Raincoats.  The two seem connected in some essential way, maybe because over the summer I was reading I Love Dick while playing in a Raincoats cover band and staying up late trying to teach myself their songs on guitar.  Learning a song someone else wrote is like living in a house they built.  It’s very different from building it yourself, and it’s intimate in a powerful way.  Anyway, there’s this part in Fairytale in the Supermarket where she says

You’re rereading a book
To feel reassured
By the life
Of your favourite hero

It’s such an anti-lyric, so awkward and literal.*  It’s something Chris would say to Dick, to pinpoint his particularly masculine endeavours.  The women in The Raincoats address their songs to a you, like Chris’s letters.  There is something very moving in the bluntness and the raw cliche – it’s like a liturgy, or a mantra.  It’s quite fearless.

I can’t listen to what you say
I can’t understand you anyway
I haven’t eaten all day
In love is so tough on my emotion

I saw The Raincoats interviewed this past fall. They said some cool things, and it was amazing to see these older punk women talk about their lives, but it made me realize how sick I am of the punk narrative, the one that goes basically “You didn’t know what you were doing and you had no talent and no ideas, but you just kept doing it anyway and now look how successful you are!” This is so often how we talk about punk bands and punk movements,  especially when they involve women.  Women writers and musicians are commonly credited with being “accessible,” with speaking in plain language about ordinary things, which I’m not against, but I think The Raincoats at the very least deserve some credit for originality, if not world-rending profundity.  Like:

The roots of your thoughts
They’re essentially polaroidal


But you don’t say
That love never externalizes

What?  I have no idea what these things mean.  I don’t think they’re being deliberately obscure, but they do require some thought.

The interviewer, who is a very smart, accomplished lady, at one point said something along the lines of “Your songs are like hearing ordinary words from ordinary people,” to which Gina Birch responded “Well, I don’t think Ana [da Silva] is an ordinary person.”

One of the many quotes I copied from I Love Dick:

What happens between women now is the most interesting thing in the world because it’s least described.

*I don’t listen to lyrics like I used to. In fact I can’t think of a new song from the past couple years where I’ve even really had an idea of what it was about – I’ve been more or less singing songs phonetically, like the people in Bad Lip Reading. There’s this Austra song I really love, and for a long time I would sing along to the chorus as something like “OO-OO sigh, the constant BORE.” I only realized lately that she’s singing “Who signed the consent forms?” which is much stranger and more interesting. This seems weird for someone who as a teenager committed hundreds of songs to memory, but maybe it’s not.