Lydia Davis writes that the project of Michel Leiris’s long autobiographical essay collection The Rules of the Game is to “write himself into existence,” and that in doing so he is following Michel Foucault, who said in an interview that a writer is “not simply creating his work in his books, in what he publishes… his principal work is in the end himself writing his books.” (Essays II, 392.) I remember sitting across from the extremely cramped little card table in M’s apartment, where we worked on our laptops and ate mostly silent meals, and her saying, in response to some story I had told about growing up or about the years of writing and loneliness immediately preceding that it was like I had written myself into existence, which was true at the time especially because there was very little of me outside of that writing. One of us—I forget who—imagined it as pulling myself out of the muck. I thought of Fernando Pessoa and The Book of Disquiet, which I imagined as a similiar project, working so hard to build form out of what seemed impossibly various.In many ways this blog (over so many years) has been the most obvious example of that long effort, and my hiatuses—or times when I have substituted more confessional writing for something more difficult to parse—are examples of times where I have, for various reasons, put that project on hold. Or at least publicly done so.

Similarly, in Thomas Hoccleve’s Complaint the speaker (who we can safely assume is Thomas) complains about what it is like to return to society after suffering a long mental illness, with few believing that he has regained his sound mind. He looks in a mirror, practicing appearing in control, and imagines that if people just saw him like that they would believe that he was alright again. In his poem Dialogue, which follows immediately afterwards, a friend—who may or may not be fictional—arrives and Thomas tells him about his desire to cleanse his body (of its “guilt… foul and unclene”) through translation of the consolatory Latin treatise Lerne for to Die. The friend is worried about this project, since he believes Hoccleve’s mental illness already to be the result of “overstudy” (which may be true). Perhaps the job of the writer is balancing the need for rest with the desire to transform oneself. Writing is magic, in that its concerted practice can effect change not only on the world which receives it (as in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius) but also on the body and the mind of the writer. (I have my own translation project that I imagined clarifying or cleansing me.)

Every so often—when I feel at my worst—I imagine that I don’t have time for the writing that I like to do, or that in order to do it I have to wait for circumstances to be perfect. This is never correct—more often I write myself back into sanity. Therefore I am writing this post in the middle of the night, on the eve of a short trip. Soon I will go to bed. I am nurturing the most urgent part of myself, one sentence at a time. 

If I’m going to be irresponsible I might as well be that way with writing. I make lots of room for interruption—not only because I am burnt out, as I tell myself daily, but because I am cultivating feeling interrupted, something I’ve worked on for a long while. 

Would it be possible to go back to who I was before the pandemic? Sure, I still felt lost in things from time to time, but I was never very far from me. Or at least that’s how it often feels, looking back now. I must remind myself that I have felt this numerous times in my life, and even then. Thinking that there was something I could go back to, when I was more thoughtful and intelligent. It is dangerous to feel so consumed by nostalgia for something that never really was.

Remember Sam Lipsyte’s words: writing is a competition, not a race. Was writing here for one reason: to scrape out the inside of my brain. To turn it out, read my own insides for clues.

If I’m going to put anything off, it should be to read. Even if I don’t do it carefully. Why am I alive if not to read, and write, and love?

Reading is its own end. Reading brings me closer. Last night I approached the agitation necessary for writing. The agitation and passion that is the beginning of anything and which I have not felt in a long time, not like that.

Like a boil rising on my skin but something impossible comes out, a horn perhaps, or music. Like I’m firing a gun into the night without a target. Scattershot—like in high school, watching a TV or reading science fiction or going outside and looking at the trees, feeling a vague buzzing that I want to capture but don’t quite know how. 

Reading it Again 

Preparing a conference paper I am giving on Saturday I come across a line from Borges that I realize is intimately familiar. That’s because when I first read it, I think sometime in the fall, it resonated so much that I published it somewhere on this blog (I could perhaps find it now, but I’ll leave this fact conjectural). It was something along the lines of recognizing that if he (Borges) does not live his life in such a way that he is frequently writing, or perhaps relating to the world through writing, something in his very being rebels. I’ve done a poor job of paraphrasing—but even though I’ve just put the book down again I won’t pick it up to check. He describes the chain of action that occupies him, ideally, in this process: inspiration, composition, and then finally publishing (“which is the least important”). 

I think what struck me, that first time, was that final clause. “Publishing is the least important.” Now, having published a book; now, constantly drawing up CVs and statements of purpose to justify my place in academia, seeing friends and enemies (and myself) crow on social media about accomplishments (hollowly, it feels and seems)—I realize I’ve let publishing assume a place of higher importance than it deserves. As I discovered when showing the first draft of my book to the editors of Harper Collins and Anansi, several years ago now, what is acknowledged as good is sometimes different from what is desired. Which isn’t to say that the desires of a reading public is not a thread that writers should chase. Only that taste and hunger are distinct. 

The problem is that lately I have let myself believe too much in that hunger, which is rootless and constant and impossible to satisfy. Hunger—in the author and in their audience—is something entirely outside of the process of writing, which is intuitive and irrational and inspired. To give hunger a place in your life is to worship an angry and insatiable god. 

Don’t. No.  

Lean away from it. Turn in a different direction. Cut against the line. Let it drip beyond the chalked radius. Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones (cover by Joe Brainard): “I cut the daisy from my throat” is better than “My throat was a little sore, so I didn’t say anything.” (Perhaps even by writing that second line the first one is entirely ruined.) Write first without editing yourself. A sustained period. Do not go back, do not cross out. I am working at the front desk of the library, so it is difficult. She is thinking about writing in pen, in which the mind is always faster than the hand. This is less obviously the case on a computer, where I have often found myself able to move much faster than the mind can think (though I try to avoid it now).  

Goldberg however was working in a different era and does not have much familiarity with computers, describing them carefully, as if they are magic objects: “the computer automatically returns the carriage. The device is called ‘wrap-around.’” Wrap-around. That’s what I was talking about earlier—writing faster than I could think. That’s how I learned to write, first seeing how fast I could go—one, two thousand words. Sometimes good ones. Sometimes quite bad. Now I typically write about two-hundred-and-fifty to seven-hundred-words in a fifty-minute period. Depending on how much of the story I can see. I’ve already strayed far in this experiment—“Don’t. No.” was meant to be my theme. But in truth I mostly wanted to write about cutting the daisy out of the throat. What does it mean to cut across the throat, to pull out a flower? To extract a delicate green stem and the petals stained with blood? And why does it feel to me so obvious—as it seems also to be fore Goldberg—that this has something to do with writing? 

This Isn’t Real Content on the Internet


I haven’t posted here very often, I guess, but I feel like I’m talking too much.

“What is the point of anything?”

Finished the first draft of something long last week. Brief high. I left it out and wanted to touch it all day. Printed it size fourteen (aids “readibility” and “fun”). Spent one/two days leafing through it, but didn’t let myself read more than paragraphs/sentences at a time. Could barely contain myself. Wanted to read the whole thing in one go. Resisted. Looked through it once today. Only bits, but I hated everything.

“It’s too boring,” I thought.

“Probably repetitive.”

“Seems like I’m leafing through the same scenes over and over again.”

“Might have to cut 5000-6000 words.”

“What will it look like afterwards?”

“Seems like it won’t be any good.”

Waiting a month or something. Thinking about another project but I don’t want to start yet? For some reason. Should have started 2 days ago. This weekend I’ve felt so untethered and out of it. It isn’t a good feeling. I don’t feel good when I’m not working on something.


It would be nice to have an editor. Some kind of trustworthy feedback loop. It is so hard to know anything. “Who is telling the truth?” e.g.: “Lisa loves me, she has to tell me she likes the things I’ve written. Her knowledge of me is also blinding. Need someone objective who likes the same things I like. Not afraid to put me down.”

What does that mean? Don’t know who that person would be. In Coming Soon!!! tragedy galvanised Hop Johnson and made him into a good writer. Do I need tragedy? That’s too terrible. If I’m a happy person, or reasonably happy, will my writing only be “barely adequate”, or, at best “technically okay, but seriously lacking”? Mordecai Richler says that writers who don’t leave Canada become middle-aged too quickly. Do I need to leave Canada? Am I middle-aged already? Can I call myself a writer, even hypothetically? Farley Mowat fought in a war. The Italian campaign. It was terrible. He hated it.

Unsure of too many things.

*UPDATE* Took a shower. About to go to bed. Feel pretty good. Running tomorrow.

Heteronym Explanation / Yorkville / Queen’s Park


A heteronym. That is the best way of explaining it. My name, my real name (here somewhere, undoubtedly, in the archives) is itself a heteronym, a multi-faceted glass jewel. Reflecting all of the people I have known and inhabit. None of these people are dangerous (you’ll excuse me for saying), they are all illusory, and some have stronger opinions than others…

I wander back and forth, back and forth. Yorkville is a venus fly trap. It is a spider and it unfolded its long legs, capturing and devouring Lisa’s bike whole. Where did she park it? Yorkville isn’t the spider, I am. I am a cockroach. Who are these fancy people? A bed of pansies watches me like a nest full of angry owls: purple-yellow eyes, deep-creased blue foreheads. One day I’d like to keep pigeons. They coo in front of me, picking through the gravel: from their clawed, red feet, it is easy to see they are dinosaurs…

Today Pessoa makes my eyes wet, though not with tears. I sit at a table in the gravel on the south side of Cumberland, my metal chair tethered to my metal table. Growing out of the gravel is some kind of sparse willow with bark like peeling cedar– a kind of birch, perhaps. The men and women that pass me look over and seem to say “You don’t belong here,” and I look back and they are unashamed to hold my gaze, and I think something unnatural and out of character to these well-dressed people who openly gawk at my appearance (what is so wrong with it? is my pen offensive? my bicycle helmet?). What I think is this: “I could kill you.” I can’t write, which is why I find myself staring at the people who pass me. The shade from the buildings is gloomy and I wish that I was in the sun, across the street on the patio of the restaurant, where they will begrudge serving me and offer repeated, insolent suggestions that I should leave… A man wakes up from sunning himself on a rock and screams something in Polish.

A while later.

There the atmosphere was bad, and so I changed it. I could feel my internal barometre relax as soon as I stepped off the curb on the north side of Bloor, and it relaxed completely when I passed the Gardiner Museum and its packs of school-children, their calm teachers, a little boy in a Dodgers uniform sitting in the freshly cut grass.

And here, in Queen’s Park… I can hear children shout in the distance– I can smell the trees. I remember coming here, five years ago– a child. Now I do have the peace of an adult, even if that peace is only the knowledge that nothing matters and no one is really interested in anything outside themselves… The world can be mean, and coarse, but it can be nice as well. A squirrel, convinced I have some food, comes to my hand and nibbles gently on my middle finger. Years ago, with bread crusts, I could not get the squirrels to come closer than across the table.

I can write about life or I can live it, and the two are opposite sides of the same coin. I shouldn’t be disappointed if I do as Pessoa did, walking in the streets of Lisbon, the first sunny day after a period of storms: he saw the open-air fruit sellers and their resplendent yellow bananas soaking and reflecting all of the sun– he felt greatly cheered by the bananas, but refused to buy one. He didn’t want to spoil the scene by interjecting with the voice he knew the vendors would find funny, or his worries about whether or not the old fruit vendors would properly handle or pack his bananas…

Of course it is better to buy the bananas, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it. It’s all the same, either way.


Open, Open, Open


They talk about neolithic agriculture on the radio. “Caribou or reindeer are strictly arctic.” Neanderthals buried their dead in caves. In the background the Globe and Mail is refreshing every 120 seconds. I learn about the Blue Jays in slices, crumb by crumb. Lisa will be home soon. A city squirrel is a neurotic, anxious creature, forced into close contact with many species of animal (humans, cars) that might otherwise present some danger to it. It pauses at the top of a gigantic black garbage can. Looks at me.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing, I don’t have a problem with you.”

“Do you have a problem with me?”

“No, I don’t have a problem with you.”

The squirrel darts up the tree. Chits something to his neighbour.

“I think he had a problem with me.”


I keep thinking about ‘opening the floodgates’. Some days it is has been hard to write. If I am honest with myself I will say these days have gone slowly because I avoided it for other things, or because of despair. Instead of attacking the problem directly, if I feel that I don’t have the time to do that, I will despair. It’s a useless and debilitating reflex. I have many things to write. In order to write them I have to turn my brain into a monastery. At least when I am alone. I work best if, when I am alone, I turn my brain into a monastery. Internet, you have done me no wrong but I don’t like you.

I’m surprised that I’m able to concentrate while the radio is on. I am not really concentrating.

When Lisa comes home I will look at her like I am a squirrel. There will be a lightness in my head that will pull me away from our conversation. If the computer is still on my head will feel like throbbing magnets. At least I can say that I did this.

The Needy Lie


Fantastic! This entry now comes with a “plain english, less abstract bullshit” summary below!

Over time comfort becomes passiveness, passiveness becomes idleness, and sentences and thoughts lose all inertia. Impetus dissolves and every statement is misunderstanding. The body lives an unsatisfying half-life, scrambling from crumbling shelf to crumbling shelf in an effort to appease itself.

Thoughts twist, motivations and purpose wither. A man finds comfort in the presence of his family: his family is a balm and the problem is ignored. Neediness forms, and, once unleashed, grows. Family can be real, imagined, electronic, platonic, or sexual.

“A sentence worded directly or succinctly has less meaning than one made intentionally ambiguous.” Writing directly is a betrayal of reality: as if reality, because of its resistance to definition, is inactive. “The sentence doubts itself. Nothing is sure, don’t you understand that? My thoughts are nothing; I am nothing. Everything I do shakes and quivers like a dried leaf hanging in the wind.” Every thought uttered, typed, or imagined, doubts itself, doubles back and doubts again. Waking up, a recursive loop forms. Every atom in the man’s body is sick with doubt, trembling and doing dry heaves.

Lynda Barry describes creativity as action. Werner Herzog believes it is athletic; it inhabits the same teleological sphere as traveling on foot. On some level a dog is a necessary purchase because of the activity it demands. Your routines and the dog’s routines merge and become one. The dog is an action stimulus. The necessity of tending to fields and farm animals, or traveling long distances under one’s own power, reveals itself. Our bodies are active, not built to live in an abstract mind space. The only world where thought is equivalent to action is that of the conscious, disembodied, cloud.

“Plain English, Less Abstract Bullshit” Summary: At a low point in my life I became an indecisive ghost. I could not do anything for myself. Now, much later, I feel better– but my indecisiveness survived in my writing and, by extension, psyche. That might strike you as a weird order. It’s not. I’m by nature a reserved person. Some days I do most of my re-evaluation through written words and sentences. This post is an exploration of that.

The Passive Sentence

I don’t know when exactly I noticed the passive sentence shivering out in the cold, or what prompted my decision to take it in. But shortly afterwards I noticed that it wasn’t quite so helpless as I’d imagined. Its teeth– why did it have teeth? –were much sharper than I expected, something I discovered while trying to bottle-feed it back to life. I think some of the bile on its tooth-edge found its way into my bloodstream, eventually taking up residence in a pronounced tumor just above my left elbow. For the past several weeks I’ve been trying to excise it, messily.

Hubris, man. I don’t know when I took the passive sentence in but I’m sure it was sometime between here and high school, most likely a period when I thought I was so clever (oh really, you too?) I didn’t have to play by the rules. I also implicate “the essay”: one of the few water marks for writing while in school, its taught style reliant on the bureaucratic passive sentence as a rule. Don’t forget my parents, teachers, and Mike Harris, all perfectly acceptable (and time-worn) scapegoats. Hey Mike! Why don’t you get off your high-horse and teach me some grammar, why don’t you?

You’d think my change in philosophy would be due to the critiques received in the writing program I am currently enrolled in. And you’d be right, but only vaguely. My appraiser has never actually stumbled on the root of the problem, only spouting such useful tidbits as “Sometimes your writing seems inexact…”

It definitely was! For all I know, it could still be. But I don’t think I’ve received any direct advice regarding language. What my mentor does note is dissatisfaction, which doesn’t exactly make my failures easy to pinpoint. I suddenly understand the travails of perpetual has-beens, such as Toronto Blue Jays minor-league pitcher Ricky Romero. Drafted in the first round, he was picked above so many future stars that his failure as a prospect is frequently noted by detractors of the Jays’ current general manager J.P. Ricciardi. His raw “stuff” described universally as “electric”, Ricky’s repeated failures have to do with his mental makeup, specifically his ability to “keep it together” during games. By all accounts he approaches the game sincerely and seriously. So how do you correct his breakdowns? I don’t think the Jays know. I imagine the pitching coach pulling him into his office after a particularly terrible game.

“Ricky, you’ve got a tendancy to fall apart.”


“You know, you really should work on that.”

“You got it, coach. I’ll make the majors, I will!”

“Attaboy, son.”

A single tear rolls down the coach’s face as Romero exits triumphantly.

Anyway, I’m working on it. My higher faculties (and my spell check) focus on the problem of the passive sentence like a shark trailing a straggler in a school of fish. I guess I could be neglecting a whole slew of other problems. I probably am. But one thing at a time, right?

An Interview

I.N.: Where have you been?

B.: That’s hard to say. I don’t know if I can express that in terms that are physical. For a time, I felt lost. I cannot quite explain it… it’s not that I lost the desire to work or to be social. It’s more that I felt myself almost hyper-consciously aware of my surroundings–like a drop of gas in a puddle, if you get my meaning. I was everywhere and I was nowhere; I was everything and I was nothing. I was not exactly productive. I was not even the slightest bit productive. Still, as in everything, I think I am the better for it.

I.N.: The image of gas in a puddle somehow reminds me of that famous line of Fraser’s.

B.: Oh? Which one? “A turnkey in the evening, a turkey in the morning”?

I.N.: No, I’m thinking of something from much later in his career, from his most transcendental work, in fact: A Study of the Nineteenth Century. “The world has yet to coalesce. The world coalesced at noon.”

B.: Yes! Yes, that’s it exactly! I was perpetually on the verge of coalescing; to describe it in finer terms would be bordering on blasphemous.

I.N.: You’ve said that the past several years haven’t been easy.

B.: That’s right. I hesitate to get into it. Continue reading →