The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where are they now and what are they wearing?

By Anne Chudobiak

1999 was a bad year for me in terms of style. My favourite shirt had a slogan: “Y2K” in decal. My hair was dyed, a home job. Chunking, the technique was called. Doesn’t sound very pretty unless you are a fan of Wong Kar-wai.

So you can understand why I was intimidated by Elyse Gasco. “You ask her,” I said to my friend, handing him my copy of Bye, Bye Baby. “I’m too shy.”

Gasco looked millenial. Diesel boots, microfibre pants and a Kangol hat--or that’s what I remember. I can’t help but worry when I see her latest publicity photo.

Is that the hat? I think.

Bye, Bye Baby was big in 1999. The title story had already won the Journey Prize. Gasco was in the paper and on the Harbourfront.

I saw her at Chapters, where I was too shy to ask any questions, like:

Don’t you feel exposed?

I wrote one story in 1999: "Del Piero, Petit."

I abandoned it when Gasco was promoting her book. It’s not enough to write something, I thought. You also have to talk about it--on the radio? No way, José.

Gasco’s interviews were particularly poignant. She was an adoptee with young children whose stories centred on motherhood and abandonment. You can imagine the questions and the candour.

I couldn’t wait for her second book.

Seven years later and Gasco is back in the papers, but the questions are the same, because her work hasn’t changed. Bye, Bye Baby is now a play. All the reviews use the a-word: autobiographical.

I buy my ticket in advance. My hair is coloured, but solid. Professionally done. I wear heels. I take an umbrella although it’s not raining, for extra balance on the cobblestone.

In the lobby, there are cast photos. All black and white. The playwright and the actors at age one. A bad sign. In the program, there is the picture from the paper, with the Kangol hat cropped out.

I recognize one person in the audience. A CanLit prof I had in 1993.

The play is disappointing, but, then, I’m not a fan of the form.

“Bye, Bye Baby” was first published in The Malahat Review. It won the 1996 Journey Prize and was anthologized with eleven other stories, including “Bones” by Danuta Gleed, who died before the nominations were announced. Good reading--Gleed--for writer’s block.

Journey judge Olive Senior had an easy job that year. “Bye, Bye Baby” stole the show. It is polished and accomplished, and not just in comparison to the other nominations, although some read like first drafts, with lines like “something in the back of my mind was shrieking at me to run.” Even the more successful stories, such as Rick Bowers’ “Dental Bytes,” a rumination on love and tooth decay, and Murray Logan’s “Steam,” a portrait of a bank robber in denial, have problems: “Dental Bytes,” with title (The pun?) and “Steam” with plot (a great scenario stopped short, later developed into a screenplay).

“Bye, Bye Baby” is written in second person, a risky choice: it can seem gimmicky, but not here, where it only contributes to the writerly and intimate tone.

The story is about an ambivalent mother who feels distant from her baby, going so far as to leave her alone at night. The baby is compared to “a little astronaut, pointed towards the moon,” a beautiful line, which doesn’t carry over when it is cut and pasted into the play, where it is reassigned to another character with a different point of view.

You can see, though, why Gasco might be reluctant to let go. A little astronaut, indeed.

After the play, I limp to the bus, blisters already forming. I lean on my umbrella to take the weight off my feet.

A woman in her sixties sits in front of me. I wonder who does her hair, it is so flouncy and enviable.

She is talking with her friends. About publishers: British and American.

A writer, but who?

Mary Soderstrom, who you blogged about in May. You get off at the same stop. A good sign, you think. You are glad that you wore heels.


Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Nobody does links as well as you, Anne. great post.

Thu Jun 01, 12:52:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Great piece, Anne. Crossing genres is a very tricky thing. It also fascinates me. Rarely does it work, but when it does it's especially satisfying.

Thanks for the links; lots more to read now.

Thu Jun 01, 02:53:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

Yes, thanks for the links Anne, I am anxious to read this story!! I am not an avid reader, which I need to change!! Thanks Anne!

Thu Jun 01, 04:22:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

You are the first to work in Wong-Kar Wai! I thought it would be me. I would have bet good money!

Thu Jun 01, 04:57:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anna McDougall of the Canadian Writers Collective said...

Anne, you guide the reader through the change in perspective caused as time passes without ever spoon feeding. Will I ever learn how to do that? :)

Thu Jun 01, 10:26:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

What a great piece.

Fri Jun 02, 03:14:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Myfanwy Collins said...

Well done, Anne.

Sat Jun 03, 09:26:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...


Would this be a good time to pledge my allegiance to my beloved hairdresser, Mathilde?

Mon Jun 12, 01:39:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had to look up LOL--thought for a minute it meant Little Old Lady, which I hope I'm not yet!

If you thought my comment about hairdressers funny, you might also be amused by a piece I did for Arcade a couple of years ago. The theme was the Huitième peché, and I chose white shoes, Souliers blancs. Let me know if you'd like to see it.

Mary Soderstrom

Thu Jun 29, 09:14:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

Of course I would love to see it.

Fri Jun 30, 08:27:00 am GMT-4  

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