The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Hooky Novel

by Andrew Tibbetts

As November draws to a close I almost have a novel written! Only it’s not the novel I started writing for NANOWRIMO. Turns out the best way to make work on my current novel more exciting was to turn it into a naughty extra-curricular excursion from my official NANOWRIMO novel. Turns out I can only write for fun. Duty dries me up.

Meanwhile my NANOWRIMO novel lies like the five previous attempts I’ve made at National Novel Writing Month, in a puddle of its own sad juices.

Now, if only I can trick myself into thinking there is something scandalous about cleaning my apartment.

Check out 101 Reasons to Stop Writing in case you’re in danger of prolific-ness.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nudging and Trapping*: Pinballing a Story

by Tamara Lee

A few nights ago I revisited an old friend: the silver ball; or, pinball.

Back in the day, I had some “crazy flipper fingers,” able to rock the machine with a certain confidence and finesse. Seems my talents once had some high times.

Trying my hands again on a modern-day machine, I felt that familiar-but-different feeling, like only one small part of me could return to something I once knew quite well, while the rest of me tried in vain to get back to that age.

And today, revisiting some stories I’d let rest for a bit, I felt a similar longing.

What do you do when you’ve left a story to percolate, only to realize you’ve almost lost interest in it? When the characters have lived with you for so long you know they’ve nearly overstayed their welcome and are now dangerously close to seeming rude?

Often, a writer will take this as a sign that the story isn’t any good. Often, that writer would be correct. But sometimes it’s not the story; the story is fine, maybe even very good. If someone of note has assured you that story is near-ready to go, to give it one more edit and send that young adult out into the world, who are you to doubt that well-esteemed mentor?

But the story seems less and less a part of who you are now; belonging to some other mother; you the step-parent, now, who feels a similar-but-different sort of love, and maybe even a bit of duty at this point.

Abandonment of the thing would be cruel. Neglecting it, perhaps, even more so.

Another option could be to try to find that place you the writer were at during the initial development of the piece. For me, for most of my longer stories, that often means sometime between now and a dozen years ago.

As the cautious-yet-neglectful tailor of tales, I am trying to place myself in that time when I felt I knew that story best, trying to nudge and trap the thing while recognizing time has passed, and the experience of the piece may never be what once it was.

Standing in front of the pinball machine that night, I played several rounds trying to get my game back. It would have taken pocketfuls of quarters to get anywhere near the scores I used to reach.

But the feeling of being a Bally-table king was, however briefly, right there at my fingertips.

(*Nudging & Trapping: pinball techniques skilled players use to influence the movement of the ball)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Personality for Writing

by Tricia Dower

I’m taking a short break from attempting to add to the measly 5,000 words I’ve contributed so far toward my next book.

I could’ve/should’ve started before but I didn’t, despite lamenting my absence from writing since Silent Girl turned me into a huckster. I could’ve/should’ve started before, but I wanted to travel, wanted to see my kids and grandkids and visit faraway friends. I could’ve/should’ve started before, but I knew it would send me into that crazy place between inspiration and despair: sitting in a room for hours by myself, wanting to be someplace else until I actually am someplace else.

According to the results of an online personality test that didn’t cost me anything and, therefore, may be worthless, I am somewhat less outgoing than the average female. This makes sitting in that room by myself tolerable. The report says: Most females like to keep themselves busy with continuous interaction, conversations, and the company of others. [Continuous?] You also enjoy these things, but having some time on your own is equally important to you. This is one of the guiding parts of your personality. [I don’t know one woman who doesn’t enjoy having some time on her own. Oops, strike that. I do know one, just one.]

Another guiding part of my personality is that I prefer starting things to finishing them. The average female or male feels most comfortable in an environment that is semi-structured and stable. They enjoy finishing a project more than they enjoy beginning a project. You are somewhat different in this regard: you like the excitement of open-ended possibilities.

Bang on. Before I left the corporate world I drove my staff crazy because I would suggest far too many big ideas than they could implement. I like trying fancy recipes but dislike cleaning up after myself. When I start writing something, I confront that first blank page with evangelical fervour. But soon the enormity of the task (how many more words?) makes my keyboard buckle. The only thing that saves me, if you believe the report, is that I’m also more focused than the average bear, male or female. So, I’m probably going to keep slogging until the book is done.

And, it’s unlikely I’ll stage any histrionics along the way. According to the report: You are more relaxed and calm than the average female and male when it comes to stress and feeling intense emotions. The average female and male are more reactive to their feelings and mood swings than you are. Your balanced way of dealing with emotions is a guiding part of your personality. No shit. Not only am I relaxed. I may require last rites. The average male scored 74 and the average female 76 on Emotionality. I scored 41.

Thank you for sharing this break with me. You probably can’t tell how much I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Don't Go Near Anything Artistic!

By Andrew Tibbetts

Ordinary Canadians managed to pull themselves away from the Gala Channel on TV this past weekend to go the Art Gallery of Ontario’s grand re-opening. I was as shocked as Stephen Harper to see the line curling around the Gallery and blocks and blocks down the side street. In fact, my friend Cindy and I decided not to get in line on Sunday @11:00am when we arrived there like idiots thinking we could wander in have a peek at the pretty art thingies and be out in a couple of hours. (I’m going back when it isn’t free. Ordinary Canadians love free!)

The New York Times has a great summation of the Gehry reno. But I’ll wait to see it on “Museum Makeover” on the Gala Channel (“No, we’re not just galas any more!”) which is on after “What Not to Wear When Trying to Win a Majority Government”.

But seriously, is there a groundswell of Canadians going “that reactionary philistine doesn’t speak for me!” And if there is, will they buy books too? Can we get Harper to say “Ordinary Canadians don’t read!” And while he’s at it, could he please say, “Really hot gay guys in their 40’s won’t go out with Andrew Tibbetts!” I could use a reactive groundswell in my love life!

But enough about my love life, unless you know someone perfect for me (ping me!) It’s cool to be artsy now. So turn that cable TV off and head out into the world and see some art! Drop in and let us know what you’ve discovered…

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Just don't ask me for money

I’ve been running a tavern style kitchen since late summer, and I’ve learned a thing or two from the time I embarked on this stressful and worrisome endeavour(how stressful? one word: perishables!).

Rule #1.

Every penny counts. If you can make a soup out of those turnip peels, then do it.

Rule #2

Anybody comes by, no matter from how far back in your life, don’t give them money. I’m a tight bastard to begin with, but even I can be tested. I was tested today.

I had an old friend pop by. He didn’t know I'd be there. And by old friend I mean from way back when I was a kid.

“Hey, Tony! It’s you.”

I’m bad with faces and names, so I answered the way I always answer.

“Ya, it’s me.”

“You don’t remember me,” he said. He told me who he was, and then he added this: “I’ve changed.”

No shit.

“Parkinsons,” he said.

“Fuck, I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know?”

Why would I know such a thing? I got married and raised a family while you were being diagnosed, as your wife left you, as you stopped working for good, as your friends and acquaintances, probably family, as well, left you like your wife did… for good, because you got sick like this, body all wobbly, limbs going all over the place, your once bright expression gone so people think, naturally, that you’re some kind of a retard. Why would I know these things?

“Zip up your pants, bro,” I said.


I wasn’t going to tell him about his fly being down, like he was supposed to walk around like that. Last second, I convinced myself I should tell him. He needed to know. Then he brings one of his arms up and I notice he’s holding a drill case. He’d come to the brasserie, not knowing I was there, so he could sell his drill. Cheap stuff, for home use. He wanted $120.00. My mind went into defensive mode. Didn’t have much cash to begin with, but also who buys a drill off the street for $120.00?

We went back and forth a few times, me telling him I wasn’t interested, and he lowering his price by about a twenty dollars every thirty seconds. He finally gave up, and I rushed away as if I had an emergency on the stove.

By this time, I had totally forgotten how we’d been as children, what a good friend he was to me, my humanity – even that had gone out the window. I was looking to protect my wallet. Next thing I know he was asking me for a twenty so he could play the VLT. Aha! This was good. An out. In an instant, I knew what I needed to do and say. Gambling is against my religion. I’m one of those people who’re disgusted by gamblers. I turn my nose up at them. I have four children. I haven’t seen you in twenty-five years, and you’re begging me for money to gamble. Don’t piss me off, bro. I knew if I gave him a dime for that shit, he’d be back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. I was emboldened, in the right. As a business man, this was me defending “the store” at all cost. Fuck Parkinsons, and fuck my old friend for whining about how time doesn’t pass fast enough for him anymore. You were fat I remember, I nearly told him. What happened? I even thought of asking him how I looked. No gut, right? Still have plenty of hair, right? I gave him a two-nie, finally. He picked out a machine, hit the button once, and then placed the reserve card and exited with the drill. Ten minutes later, he comes back, minus the drill.

“Where’s the drill?”

“I sold it for forty,” he said. “Twenty to play, and twenty for my pocket,” all proud like.

You fucker, I thought. You asked me for $120.00. By now, I’m just looking to get him out of there, and I’m feeling proud of myself. What a businessman I’ve become. Even this… even this can’t shake me.

He lost his twenty… and good for him… he stopped playing. Told me he wasn’t really a gambler.

“It’s just that the time doesn’t pass for me anymore, Tony."

And then he gave me a dirty look, the prick, very faint, his head all over the place, his fucking eyes trying to fuck me up, for old time's sake.

And I'm finding myself writing about it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Contemplating Canadian scents

by Tamara Lee

Recently, I started incorporating some scents into my work.

I'm trying to use scent mnemonics for some characters, based on my own scent associations. A few months ago, some writer pals and I played a game of 7-Up, where we considered the stages of our life in 7-year intervals. I decided to associate each of my 7-year eras with a specific scent. For example: "7: Living in North Vancouver, BC, high up on the side of a rainforest mountain. Best memories include towering evergreen forests and secluded creeks to play in. Best friend is Stephen C--: he shows me his if I show him mine. I discover reading, writing, languages and the lonely pleasure of solitude. The smells for the age are moss and pine."

Not that I want to get all Proustian in my writing, but I wonder if Proust and his "petites madeleines" are the reason scent is the lesser-used sense in the development of story or character. I mean, he really milked a lot out of those cookies. But he also got it right: the simple whiff of gasoline reminds me of childhood road trips; the smell of smoke in a mackinaw reminds me of my sitting with a teen-aged boy and my dog outside a Mac's.

Humans have a fraction of the olfactory capabilities of dogs. Just watch the dog dramas in the dog park, and you’ll observe dozens of stories of dominance and submission. Regular Icelandic sagas, those. But what of literature since the Viking age of Gisli the poet? Poetry, by its nature, has relied more heavily on scent, in a way that fiction does not.

And what is scent’s place in the other arts? We have visual, aural, tactile arts, but why is this one sense so ignored? In fact, smells rarely register as ‘art.’ Even the art of gourmet cooking places taste above scent.

Apparently I’m not alone in this search for scent in contemporary literature. A few years ago Vendela Vida pondered the scentless state of American literature, suggesting its use is more a European tradition. Searching her shelves she "came across long and textured descriptions of sublime fragrances and rancid stenches in Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Emile Zola, and George Orwell. But a casual survey of writings produced by American writers in the past decade suggested that collectively, like Gogol's Major Kovalev, we've lost our noses.”

Apart from Michael Ondaatje, I’m not able to think of many other Canadian scribes who have cooked up gloriously, scent-filled passages.

So, have Canadian writers also lost their noses?

(Photo courtesy of gambafrolla )

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Decripitude: a Real Trip

by Tricia Dower

I just spent a good half-hour trying to remember the first line from a vintage song that popped into my head: “Open the door, Richard.” The second line is “Open that door and let me in.” Or, at least I think it is.

That song is almost as old as I am. My father used to sing it around the house and why it came to me when it did I don’t know. The part I couldn’t remember was Richard’s name. I tried Buster, Chester, Buddy, Albert, Brother, Sister. The frequency with which this sort of memory lapse occurs these days scares the crap out of me. Ginko biloba—I’ve got some tablets— is supposed to help, but you have to remember to take it.

Here's another thing: I’ve begun making up words. Last night, I said earphones instead of headphones and then said, “That doesn’t sound right.” And, of course, it wasn’t. The young woman I was speaking with said, “Well that makes sense. You do put them on your ears.” She was trying to make me feel better, and that’s another sign you’re slipping. Younger people start tossing you false assurances.

“That could happen to anyone,” my son said, when I tripped on a bit of raised sidewalk and fell hard enough to break my glasses, strain my thumb and cut up both hands and one knee. It was my second face plant in seven months and, now, I keep my eyes down when I walk, carefully lifting my feet, watching for the smallest thing they could trip on. It occurs to me that old people don’t walk slowly because they’re incapable of moving faster. It’s because they’re afraid they’ll end up with pins in hips and, then—because they're immobile—blood clots and bedsores.

Mobility is one of those words that creep into discussions about aging, along with vulnerability. A friend with bad hips and knees says, “If somebody with a gun was chasing me, I wouldn’t be able to run to save my life.” We’re the lagging antelopes on the edge of the herd, our asses seconds away from a lion’s jaw. Open the clouds, Heaven. Open those clouds and let us in.

On a cheerier note, in this recent online interview I had a chance to opine about how living for so long contributed to the stories in Silent Girl. Please check it out and leave a comment. The questions are from Kerry Clare, Toronto-based writer and literary blogger. Kerry has a story out in the latest issue of The New Quarterly and, just like our very own Andrew Tibbets, she’s a blogger-in-residence at Descant.

Photo by Colin Dower: Autumn leaves in Wellington, Ontario

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Objects: #6—Piles of Nail Clippings

by Andrew Tibbetts

I like to tear off the edges of my toenails. I pile them on the bedside table or the coffee table. (In the photo at left they are right on the headboard!) There should be about ten tiny white keratin sickles, but the truth is sometimes I go back for more on the odd toe. Until it hurts and there’s bloodshed. That’s what stops me.

People who I’ve lived with have had fits because every once in awhile they’d stumble across a little pile. Which, surprisingly, other people find gross. I have been yelled at many times.

And yet I cannot stop.

I think a little pile of toenail clippings is beautiful. I look at one and my toes tingle. Nails grow about 3 millimetres a month. It feels like such a long time. In the meantime you can adore last season’s harvest and get tingly in anticipation until your mother/roommate/intimate-partner comes along, flips out and dust-busts your trove. Then you must wait in the toenail barrens drinking milk, watching Fu Manchu movies and sighing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Journal of a Novelist Wannabe

I think this is the opening to my book. It was during my last round of edits, the squeezing and the stretching, and I still feel comfortable with it, comfortable enough to want to work it even more. I had the boy’s age noted, but decided to leave it out in this version. I see him, the shape and size of him in relation to his parents, but any specific age I affix to him as the story rolls out of the gate feels almost arbitrary. Does that make sense? That extra bit of info, 7, 8, 9 years old, in this case, had my first readers questioning my version of how a boy that age should be. Later on, he’s sixteen, and having had that earlier age noted, I felt compelled to fill in what I thought were blanks in his timeline, to normalize his life, the last thing I want to do with Karl:

He was still at an age where he relished the warmth and feel of his mother’s hips and thighs during his nap time, her soap opera hour. “My show’s on,” she’d say, and he’d become her cozy blanket for the duration, only pretending to sleep as he covered her legs with his body, his little arms trying to make it all the way around her thighs, each breath wanting to explode out of his chest, the other-room voices coming from the TV, the steady whine of their lives helping him to focus and not suffocate.

Karl wiggled and rocked the bottom end of one rotted board loose of the backyard fence, careful not to get scratched by the rusted nails as he swung the board aside. He slipped through the opening head first, falling into the underbrush of the woods behind their house.

His mother hated the fence. She called it an eye-sore, as old as the house and a real danger – the proof was in the way it would tremble when the wind was gusting. But as long as it still marked the property line and kept the woods out of the yard, Karl’s father refused to spend good money building a new one. This suited Karl just fine. He didn’t think it was up to his parents to decide the fate of the old fence. The hidden side, encrusted with living things, covered bluish-green and humid dark, belonged to the wilderness, and to Karl, as well, now that he’d seen the woods.

He ran his hand along the backside of the plank, we’re friends coming through in the gentleness of his touch, careful not to remove any of the growth, and then closed his eyes, a deep love welling up for this quiet place so close to home, the fence that had always been there trembling when the wind was gusting, calling out to him as if to say there was shelter from the storm behind these weathered planks, his lips sticking to his mother’s belly as she watched her world turn in serial. With his eyes still closed, he allowed his hand to lead him through the greenery of the underbrush and away from the comfort of the fence, his fingers like the legs of a giant insect from the Early Permian, the thick blue ink lines of the illustrations he’d memorized from his schoolbook coming alive in his mind.

He crawled forward through the tangle, aware of the exposed roots and ground hugging stems of the plants that would shoot straight up to become a part of the canopy if only given a chance. For now, he understood, they were sleeping giants, as mindful of him as he was of them. Unafraid, he let his insect hand guide him, at peace with the notion that this wild place would eventually open up onto a back road. He’d never seen it, but he knew it was there. He’d listened late at night as the odd vehicle tore down what sounded like a gravel surface, a distant thundering, the low growl of a monstrous beast, wishing he could know for sure who the travelers were and if they were scared in the dark, heavy woods on either side.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Novel relaxation

There's a bit of controversy going down over at FWJ about the value and merits of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). NaNoWriMo, for those who don't know, is an annual event, when participants attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. For the fun of it.

The implication in the protest blog is that 'serious writers' wouldn't participate in the event, and that the occassion has become 'overblown'. Some NaNo'ers have been on the defensive, and writers from a range of genres are weighing in.

While I'll agree it seems many take their participation in the event more seriously than others, I am baffled by the arguments listed against the event, but mostly this one: Writers write novels to relax.

Having a drink with friends is what most would call relaxing. Taking a stroll along the seawall is relaxing. Singing, dancing, or petting a dog would hit that list.

Pleasure, of course, factors into the novel-writing process, for most. But I thought I'd try to track down a 'serious writer' who calls the process 'relaxing.'

Mostly, I found writers describe the process as a certain hell, like Honoré de Balzac ("I am a galley slave to pen and ink"), Gustave Flaubert ("I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within") and George Orwell ("Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand").

I was able to find a few who raved about the process, notably Gloria Steinem ("Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else").

Generally, it seems, writers bitch and moan and go back for more in spite of it all, because that occassional writer's high is enough to keep them jonesing for the process. All too painfully well, I know what side I stand on in this debate. Call me a sucker for punishment.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Horses to Water and Other Tricks

by Tricia Dower

Writing the book is one thing, persuading other people to read it, another. If your publisher has a big ad budget and can get you a New York Times review, it’s less of a trick. Most of us have to sniff out our own potential readers and entice them to our literary watering holes.

I’ve sent e-mail pleas to Shakespeare festival workers and professors of literature and women’s studies—all theoretically receptive to a collection of short stories inspired by Shakespeare’s female characters. Stories that touch on feminist issues such as sexual slavery, bride kidnapping, domestic violence, and gender politics. Did any of them buy the book? I have no idea.

I’ve run ads in magazines, done eight readings in six cities and recorded myself reading from the title story. Has it helped? Your guess is as good as mine.

When I began my promotional journey, I swore I’d never go on Facebook, but I’ve got 111 friends on there, now, and numerous other connections through Linkedin, Goodreads, YouTube, Zoetrope, and the Chapters/Indigo authors community. I’ve been invited to Twitter, Yedda, Digg, and StumbleUpon, as well, but my tiny brain can’t hold any more passwords.

I haven’t yet dressed up in an inflatable costume and hawked books on the street as an old high school friend did. (He was a dolphin.)

My latest venture is a two-minute video preview, like a movie trailer minus the big stars. Helping me to put it together was Blazing Trailers, a new venture of fellow Zoetroper Kim McDougall. (Now, that connection paid off.) The images form eight mini-tales, each suggesting a story in Silent Girl. Finding photos that matched my mental image of characters and situations was challenging. Choosing the music even more so.

I'm banking on the video appealing to an audience that wants a fun, painless, Coles Notes kind of way to find out about books. I hope it so effectively communicates the essence of Silent Girl that I can go back to doing nothing but eating bon bons and reading dime novels. Please help me out by sharing it with your Shakespeare-loving, feminist, literary friends, okay? They can watch it on You Tube.

You can watch it here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Maggie Bucks!

by Andrew Tibbetts

I was accosted on the corner of Yonge and Dundas yesterday by happy people trying to give me something. This happens a lot at that corner. It’s usually gum or iced tea or Kleenex; never cars or large appliances.

The young woman handed me a big fake dollar with Margaret Atwood on it. WHAT? That was different. Cultural direct marketing. I love it! I took a closer look at the hawker and she had a giant A on her sweatshirt. By goodness, she was from ANANSI! I hollered out, “ANANSI” as I often do. But this time, it seemed to fit. She seemed moderately surprised that someone would know and be excited about it. Afterall, most Canadians don’t read. They spend their time watching the GalaChannel on cable.

I got half a block and then decided to rush back and snap a picture. The young woman was on the phone so I grabbed a shot of the young man. Two cultural hawkers on the most market saturated corner in Canada. Storm the Barricades! Play the Game by Their Rules! Damn the Torpedoes! Hand Out Phoney Maggie Money! These are the slogans of my dream cultural rebellion. And now my dream was coming true.

I am actually going to pick up a copy of Margaret Atwood’s “Payback” just to encourage this sort of thing. Now if only Leonard Cohen would call me at home while I’m eating dinner and try to sing me a song!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Wannabe, the Comback Kid

As I prepare for another assault on my novel, the one I’m sure I intend to finish, I can’t help thinking I’m coming back to this as damaged goods. I’m battle weary, yes, but shell shocked, as well. The questions I’m asking myself as I careen toward the inevitable, stuffing the Canon XBJ-whatever with paper so I can print out the first chapter, are pointed and cruel.

Why for?

The ending should come clear to me as I revise that first chapter for the third time. Here, I’ll be searching out the details that’ll make my protagonist his own person, detached from myself, bossy, even, telling me where to go rather than waiting for a tug, or a click of the tongue, a zzzzt! This way. Let’s try this way. By the time of this revision, I should find my buzz, waking every morning all jittery and excited to reread and see where we’ve been, where we might go next. The first draft came out of other first drafts, and was extremely painful to write. Sounds like crap, but just keep going. Page count sort of meant everything. Second draft was me trying to make something out of nothing, transforming infomercial passages to Superbowl spots. Hey, if the language don’t grab me… Now, now my friends, I’m all psyched because this feels like one of those pieces you never doubt you’ll see to the end, making it as good as you can get it. It feels like a story I was always meant to finish. The months I’ve spent away… they done me good. Don’t know what set this off, btw. Why now? I’ve been shirking my duties here at the Collective of late and getting back to my Journal of a Wannabe Novelist will Shirley help, but that’s not it entirely. I think this story never left me. I’m sobbing from joy -- she stuck by me, watching from the shadows as I wrote flash after flash, as I trudged through the daily jizms of my life, lost in space but not in a good way. Mmmmn, I love you, you big-arsed, curvy and vivacious novel you. Let’s make out!

Monday, November 03, 2008

In defence of a Dylan concert

By Tamara Lee

I’ve been feeling a wee bit hopeless lately, what with all the doom and gloom swirling around in the news, various personal crises (relatively minor, mind, but certainly weighty), and seemingly every friend going through some sort of emotional or personal crisis. It’s everywhere; it’s inescapable. And the noise—the buzzing saw noise—just keeps getting louder.

But last week, for 2-1/2 hours, sitting in the middle of a darkened football stadium nursing a nasty head cold, I got some peace.

It started when Bob Dylan took to the stage, playing ’Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’, one of only three songs he’d play on guitar all night. The band, dressed in old-timey white suits, contrasted Dylan’s black suit and white hat. This inversion would be a visual clue of what to expect for the show; his second song, ’The Times They Are A-Changin',’ would be the second clue.

Because the times are changing.

While he played this 44-year-old classic pretty much in the tempo we know, albeit with a full band, it was especially significant—as much a warning call then, in 1964, as now. It’s a rare musician who’s able to take a nearly half-century old song and twist multitudinous meanings out of it, revealing its relevance and continued currency. Yes, the world is uncomfortable; change is scary; plenty of things are difficult to comprehend; nothing is predictable. But if you stick with it, if you give ‘the song’ you knew so well a chance to be different, you can come out the other side of and realize you’ve just been through something remarkable.

And from that point forward, much to the disappointment of a few jaded music critics and likely audience members who expected to hear studio-recording versions, Dylan played each classic in some different-than-expected manner.

Surprisingly loose and playful on this second date into his tour, Dylan did look a bit lost at one point. He seemed suddenly unable to play so, mid-song, ran back-forth from front stage to keyboards. Finally settling into the song, in recognition of his screw-up, he did a little Elvis-style leg thrust. At 67, his motor skills are now suspect, his voice a bit more off than usual. But this save seemed to prove the concert’s overall theme: we may no longer be able to do things exactly as we used to, but in the end we can still make the damned thing work.

Judging by the number of people who kept wandering up and down the aisles, missing some of what I would easily call the best moments (How often do you see Dylan do a jig; or do a crooner impersonation? Or do a beautiful rendition of Modern Times’ ‘Nettie Moore,’) not everyone was willing to receive the bard’s message.

Sure, he's always been obscure. But for those of us who were patient and attentive, for those of us who remained in our seats until the last song, we could recognize the semblance of a lesson. Completing his overall theme with a jazzy-blues, slightly Hendrix-y version of 'All Along the Watchtower', with frenetic bits thrown in to emphasize ‘too much confusion’, it seemed the message, folks, was to remind us of the benefit of remaining alert. And, more importantly, open to change.

(Image still from Subterranean Homesick Blues. And as further evidence of the changing times, check out the link to the Dylan site, where you can write your own messages on the cards and send the final video to your friends.)