Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Robots vs. Bleeders

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I am wrapping up an interview with an artist; it has gone to some unexpected places. My subject intended to be very reserved in his answers, but instead opened the floodgates. I asked very few questions, mostly listened, only offered a few guiding statements. The torrent of words that spilled out of his was unfiltered, thick and vital as arterial blood. I could barely keep up, only offer my repeated thanks at his being so candid, so honest with his statement.

At the end of the interview, he apologized for "rambling," that he was worried I would have too much to soft through for the interview. I told him not to worry at all, that he had given me so much gold, I only had to sift through his words to find it. It was the sifting, he said, that he was nervous about, that somehow in his honesty, his groping and finally finding the right phrases, that he had made more work for me.

I made something up to explain why I didn't mind. And, in explaining, I realized that I had created a dichotomy as useful for describing different types of writers as different types of interview subjects.

There are robots, and there are bleeders.

Robots are those who consider all of their answer and statements and pieces carefully, who agonize over every word and phrase. They hew and craft and polish, until the word-thing they offer up at the end is perfectly wrought and precise as a crystal. It reflects precisely what they want it to and has exactly the right angles to fit into the setting that they have in mind. There is nothing more to extract, no more polish that can be applied to the final product. It is something to be admired in its entirely. It is also, in it's care and consideration, just a little bit cold, and in their exactness, they are at risk of losing something vital.

Then, there are the bleeders. They grope and thrash, and are willing to open a vein to get out the essence of what they mean. The end product is often messy or ugly. It may require a great deal of work and editing, restructuring and reordering to get it to the place where we feel it is presentable. There is often blood involved, or worse. It is agonizing to rip the words out. But, there is also something pure, something authentic about pieces like this. They are ugly and awkward, and sometimes they fail in what they were attempting to do. But, there is an essential vitality to them.

As writers, I think we have to compose like bleeders and edit like robots. We have to be willing to give of ourselves, to be vulnerable, to (as my interview subject said today) rip open our rib cages and show our hearts to people. But, we also owe it to ourselves not to simply stay in that place of pain or vulnerability or blood. As much as our words are parts of us, they also have the potential to become something more, like a gem. We owe it to our hearts not to leave them as raw bleeding meat all the time, but to carefully clean, refine and polish that heart until we find we are actually holding a ruby.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publications, both in print and online. Natalie's second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press in the Spring of 2012.

Go to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Author Page