Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

rodfrasers's blog

CREATIVITY, QUALITY & TASTE

Speaking as someone who has no imagination, I’m always annoyed to hear people natter on about “creativity.” If you’re a writer, creativity is a given. If you’re not a writer, you natter on about it all the time. Workshops and courses are given on the “creative process,” as if creativity were like learning how to make jam or drive a car. Depending on how much they cost, they are typically attended by widget-manufacturing executives or disaffected housewives.

PLEASURES OF THE STRANGE

I just finished reading Rabindranath Maharaj‘s fresh, sad, funny novel The Amazing Absorbing Boy. The story is narrated by Samuel, a teenager who comes to Canada from Trinidad to live with his father. Some years earlier, his father had decamped to Toronto, abandoning his wife and son.

Samuel’s mother has recently died. His father has been pressured into taking him in. Now Samuel uncomfortably shares — if that’s the word — a bare, squalid Regent Park apartment. In Maharaj’s handling, what’s interesting is that, to Samuel, Toronto is just as exotic, even as bizarre, as his Trinidad village might be to a Canadian who had immigrated there. The people Samuel meets tend to be gargoyles, characters lifted straight from the comic books with which he is obsessed.

WHENEVER

Whenever a public broadcaster, like TVO or the CBC, runs an artsy documentary or an author interview, it means that the broadcaster otherwise ignores dance, music, theatre, literature, and the visual arts.

Whenever a supermarket identifies a product as having a new price it means it is the same price it was a month ago.

Whenever a government promises to get tough on crime it means that the crime rate has gone down.

Whenever an author says a book would not have been possible without the help of a domestic partner, she means it wouldn’t have been possible without Employment Insurance.

Whenever a client says a cheque is in the mail it means the cheque has been lost in the mail.

THE DRY SWIMMING POOL

As an inveterate sponger, I once read with admiration a magazine’s account of a professional gatecrasher in New York. The man, a consummate pro, would get up in the morning and consult a list he’d compiled of corporate and professional events happening that day. He’d shave and put on a plausible-looking business suit, then set off on a busy round of coordinated activities, steadily guzzling and munching his way through a long series of receptions and product launches — likely causing more than one promotional budget to be blown.

If this man had attempted to mooch for a living at Toronto book launches, he would have starved, or died of dehydration.

CHINESE ON THE MENU

Chinese-food addicts like me will know the queasiness that, when you enter a Chinese restaurant, has nothing to do with food and everything to do with language. Splayed across the walls are sheets of vividly coloured paper crowded with big black characters. You know they’re naming the dishes being offered. Now, these dishes could be identical to the ones numbered in the English menu you’re holding in your hands. But the feeling that grows in the pit of your stomach is the fear that they could be more authentic, tastier, much, much better. And you can’t do anything about it: you neither read nor speak Chinese, and you’re too embarrassed to admit it.

Random Conundrums

At intervals, tiny random enigmas beset me. They are riddles that cannot be solved, questions that cannot be answered, incidents so inexplicable and yet so self-contained that they resist being transformed into fiction or poems. Here are a few.

*

I was walking up the street when a man in a dark baseball cap, loose striped black-and-white shirt, and baggy yellow trousers passed me on a red scooter, calling back in a thick Jamaican accent, “Get be-hin’ me, Sa-tan.”

Did he really think I was the Devil?

*

I saw a poster on a bus shelter advertising a fitness centre. It showed a picture of a small forlorn boy, captioned: Does my mom know the fitness centre has an Ikey defibrillator?

HOSPITALITY SUITE

I have fond memories of the International Festival of Authors’ hospitality suite. In the days when I was acquainted with it, the suite was at the top of a tower in the Harbour Castle Hilton, now named the Westin Harbour Castle. Once you knew how to get there, it was a wonderful place to freeload, at only minimum risk of being bounced as a gatecrasher.

NEWS, WEATHER & SPORTS

Every time I catch, more or less by accident, the TV news, weather, and sports I realize anew that the whole performance is as stylized as a Noh play.

In this drama, the anchors swap old-fashioned conceptions of gender. The woman takes on a man’s gruffness; the man, a woman’s tenderness. Yet the co-anchors are not quite girlfriend and boyfriend, much less man and wife, but are old friends fondly familiar with each other’s foibles.

Both anchors are affected by bipolar disorder. They are grim-faced at bad news (house fire, highway pile-up, corner-store shoot-up, little girl lost), or beam at good news (awards gala, lotto big winner, movie star in town, little girl found unharmed.) Generally, there is more bad news than good news, but the pair always finds time to tease each other.

POEMS FOR EYES AND EARS

Every poem implies two creative acts: one by the poet, one by the reader. Put another way, the poet performs one creative act; the reader, many.

Plentiful examples can be found on Reely's Poetry Blog and Reely's Audio Poems, also findable as Reely's Poetry Pages. They are owned by Valerie Smith, a New Jerseyan who lives in Houston, Texas and has a day job in a law office.

I hope the above clues will allow you to find Reely’s. No doubt to the inconvenience of some, I vowed to myself not to supply links in my own blogs. I’m vain enough to want people to concentrate on my words, and not go haring off in all directions. Indispensable as the Web may be, it is a kind of flypaper that creates its own flies.

THE JONES BOY

Dr. Ernest Jones (1879-1958) lived in Toronto between 1908 and 1912. An exceptionally randy Welshman, he spent much of his professional life as Sigmund Freud’s all-purpose attack dog, organizational drummer, heretic hunter, and hagiographer.

Jones came to Toronto trailing clouds, though not of glory. In London, a physician of precocious ability, he had been accused of sexually assaulting two mentally handicapped girls, and of talking dirty to a physically handicapped girl, who he had examined without permission. He was acquitted of the first charge, but the second one sent him packing.

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