Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Michèle Muzzi

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Michele Muzzi

Girls don't play hockey.

That's what Jane Matagov, teen figure skating sensation, keeps hearing, over and over in Michèle Muzzi's Picks and Sticks (General Store Publishing House). After the 1972 Canada-Soviet Summit Series, Jane finds herself becoming friends with a defecting Russian hockey coach and his daughter. After years of trying to deny her love of hockey, the desire to play comes roaring back. What's a girl to do when her hockey-obsessed Ontario town, her coach, her mother, and her own dreams are all pulling her in different directions? You don't have to be a hockey fan to relate to Jane — just anyone who has ever felt torn about what path to take.

Today Michèle joins us as part of Open Book's At The Desk series, in which writers pull back the curtain on their workspaces and give us a peek into their writing processes.

We can certainly relate to Michèle, whose desk is going to get tidied up... any day now... But as we know, the cleanliness of a desk, particularly a writer's desk, is definitely secondary to its function. Michèle tells us how her desk led to Picks and Sticks, how her rejection letters buoy her up, and about the beautiful Inuit art piece that hangs above her writing space.
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I was just going to clean my desk up. Really. I was. My intentions were pure, I assure you. But I’m going to leave it as is, so I can be honest with you…

Peeking in my eyeline directly behind the computer is a stack of party hats from my son’s 16th birthday, almost two months gone. Also back there is a case of already sharpened pencils, how I like them. Hasn’t been opened. There are two types of organizers vainly trying to filter my material: the right-hand side one has a decaying work folder for teaching information; a level for new mail, mostly unopened, languishing; family stuff level including birthday wishes from three years back; and Picks and Sticks level at the bottom: lots of bills, rejection letters to remind me of my good fortune, and receipt book, etc., etc. Great word, in this case — etcetera.

On the left sits the old organizer that messed up the desk even more with its high letter carriers, the mail always askew. My husband drew the line; now it stacks my different writing projects, the top row of rungs empty since Picks and Sticks got published. To the right of my right typing hand are old magazines and flyers I was just going to throw out; a kid’s sunglasses, headphones; a book with no cover; my headband; a folded paystub; tape holder; hole punch; stapler; unattached wires. To my direct left, more wires; daughter’s dance book; old computer folded up like laundry; more unsorted papers. Other detritus behind the computer: my brother’s family’s Christmas shot poking out of a stand-up stack, circa 2011; an old flask (Whose is that?), CDs, used and unused, wires, wires, wires, cards, cards, cards…Etcetera, etcetera.

This “desk” is actually a 1950s Russell Spanner black dining table, very chic and practical at the same time. For example, it has, folded within it, a leaf for extension. This “desk” turns into a dining room table twice a year for the big holidays. Only then does it get completely cleared off, everything into laundry baskets and down to the basement. The next day, everything goes back. It’s a painful ritual.

Above the desk, dominating this living space/dining room-turned-office, is a three feet by five feet Inuit fur/felt creation by Jessie Snowball. It is outlined with some type of real fur. The felt background sports more real-fur, stuck-on images of four dogs trailing leashes; a rabbit at rest; a couple of curved knives, what looks like a skirt with stones attached and clearly isn’t (a tent?); one dolphin/fish-like creature; an Inuit man with a harpoon, knife, and hood; a woman carrying a baby in a papoose and also a knife. A bird flies, and a round, empty moon sits in the top middle. It’s the first time I’ve really looked at it, detailed it, studied it. It’s rather dusty. Magnificent though.

I’m seeing my desk for what it is. A necessary mess. Usually, I cannot even see it. Not when I am writing. When I am writing, it disappears and my imagination takes over; nothing is seen but what is in my mind’s eye. Take writing Picks and Sticks for instance: I saw snow, ice, pucks, the twirl of a figure skating skirt, the characters’ dialogue in my head — swift — then out on the page. Nothing mattered. Not the phone ringing, not the noise of my family of teenagers and husband, and certainly not my mess. I embraced it, then abandoned it. I’ve heard creative people live with messy desks; it helps with their creative juices. That’s good. I’m glad this reality of mine is in line with current thinking; the knowledge of it relieves me of the alien sense of what good housekeeping should be.
My desk sits in the centre of my family’s life. Everyone uses this computer: for homework, for Facebook, for downloading music. The TV, noisy behind me, also fades away when I’m in the zone. Who cares? Can’t hear it.
I’ve always had superior powers of concentration. Lucky me. My mother tells me she used to have to come right up the stairs and into my room when it was dinner time. I could not hear her calling as I concentrated on my homework. It’s all part of my ability to “zone,” the reason why people call me an “airhead.” I live in the air in my head. Guess that’s why I’m a writer.

Guess I’ll clean it up a little.

Tomorrow.

— Michèle Muzzi


Michèle Muzzi is a writer, actor, director, and teacher. Her short film, Tuba Girl, which she wrote and directed, received awards and invitations to film festivals in Canada and worldwide. Her varied acting career includes performances in film (Hurt Penguins, Swann); television (Small Gifts, Taking the Falls); radio drama (CBC); and stage (the Stratford Festival and numerous theatres across the country). She teaches drama and English at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, Ontario.

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