The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, September 14, 2006


There are significant moments in everyone's day that can make literature.
~ Raymond Carver

I’m not sure I know how to write a happy story, though I don’t see myself as being a totally miserable person in life. I hate it when things go bad. Good news, good times make my skin tingle just like everyone else, but that’s got fuck-all to do with literature, imho.

There’s something about finding a character that may be in a pickle, a difficult situation, a dead end, and then writing about it that gives me a rush, makes me feel like I’m in control. Hey, as long as it ain’t happening to me, right? I’ll give him some rope, but whether he hangs himself, or not, is of little concern to me. Soon as he picks it up, I’m gone. I don’t need to see him swinging, kicking, and turning purple. Like I said, I’m not all doom and gloom. I want these moments to stop just short of the absolute end. I want the reader to sense that I’ve left some unused space after that last period… where things may take a turn. The tinier the space, the closer to the end I get, the less hopeful I am, I suppose.

As bleak and as dark as my stories might seem, I’m the type of writer who feels for his characters. I allow myself to hurt, even, when I’m on a roll. But I’m just the writer. I need a way out, as cruel as it might sound, I need to be able to walk away, leave that character just as he stumbles over the coil of rope.

But Carver’s talking about human beings. You spot a significant moment, and if you’re lucky, you’ll store it away before it goes poof. I’m a great listener. I can’t do math, but I can do quick calculations when it comes to these moments – like doing those mazes where there’s a start and a finish, a bunch of writhing snakes in the middle. I need to see a way out… for me.

Here’s a story I started last week I’d tentatively called Falling:

I was in the same building as the shooter, same room, in fact, looking out the same window, our shoulders touching as we marvelled at the pattern of the windows like a cheese grater.
“I got it,” he said, raising his camera in the air.

It’s as far as I got -- dry the rest of the week because I couldn’t get the image of the falling man out of my head, sensing there was a story there, but maybe not for me.

Not all moments are easily turned into story. What I really wanted to write about was the guy who jumped. It was him who touched me, not the shooter, who seemed like a nice enough bloke from the documentary I saw. But I just couldn’t get there. The shot of the falling man was too close to the end, out of my hands – no room to work, not even for a flash. If you look closely at what I’d written, the piece was moving away from the jumper at great speed, away from that knot of emotion that had me sitting at the computer staring a the screen.

We had a horrible shooting just yesterday at Dawson College, here in Montreal, a college I attended.

Someone else is going to write about it, I’m sure. Me, I’ll wait until I’m past the horror, and I can envision a mom or dad finding their son or daughter amid all the chaos that came out of that day. I’ll make sure. A fucking happy ending. Why not!


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Great quote from Carver. The challenge is finding the universal in those moments, finding what others will find compelling reading. It's temptng to want to write about a falling man -- what a moment that was for everyone who witnessed it or saw the picture. And, you're right, someone else will write about those shootings.

Lovely post, Tony. Really made me think.

Thu Sep 14, 11:43:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

You didn't include a byline at the top this time, but I recognised your voice right away, Tony, plus the fact that I know your stories are often, umm...unhappy. I see what you mean about taking one step away from the most horrible part of the fallen man, the story around the shooter has a longer life, it is perhaps even more interesting.

I thought of you and Anne yesterday, wondered where you were when you heard and whether you had any connection to the college now or in your past. Tell me your girls are too young to be there.

Thu Sep 14, 11:47:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

I was walking a little pitcher with big ears home from school when a neighbour told me the news.

Until yesterday, almost everyone I know who wasn't already a Cegep teacher aspired to be one. The pay's okay, especially if you have an advanced degree, and the hours, especially the summers, are nothing to complain about. Sometimes I forget how much responsibility teachers shoulder. Imagine trying to guide your students through that kind of chaos.

Thu Sep 14, 12:05:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

Very nicely done, Tony.

Thu Sep 14, 12:33:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was touched by your post today, Antonios. I watched the commentators at the College site and again, I was utterly lost by a student who comes and kills his peers, so distant from my personal memories of college.

I thought your writing, transcending and layered against this tragedy, said so much. Diane

Thu Sep 14, 12:58:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Oh, I was just thinking about you and Anne (at the Maple Room). Great post; I completely understand your anger and not wanting to get all the way to the 'end', as it were. A lovely--and sad is often lovely--post.

Thu Sep 14, 07:38:00 pm GMT-4  

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