I’ll be travelling around Canada and the US & doing readings & things for the next month or so. I’ll try to blog my way through this period of my life, with updates in pseudo-real time, though I currently feel like this experiment might end in total failure. We’ll see, I guess.
09/22 – Winnipeg @ Thin Air Book Festival 09/25 – Kingston @ Writers Festival
10/02 – Chicago w/ Rachel Bell, Rachel Hyman & more
10/04 – San Francisco w/ Alexandra Naughton, Jesse Prado & more
10/08 – Los Angeles w/ Mira Gonzalez, Melissa Broder & more
10/10 – Seattle w/ James Ganas & more
10/12 – Vancouver w/ TBD
10/16 – Calgary @ Wordfest
-Got up at 6 am to get to the airport. Felt surprised that the 6 am bus wasn’t empty. Everyone looked like they knew each other, like they were used to seeing each other every day at this hour or something. It felt like having stumbled on some sort of underground secret 6 am bus society.
-Realized twenty minutes into bus ride that I had forgotten a small bag with copies of my book in it at home. I texted Jill being like, “Shit” & she miraculously texted back telling me that I maybe still had time if I wanted to come back & get them. I said, “It’s okay, maybe I don’t need them, maybe I can do without, maybe this is a good thing” & then she texted back, “Wait, you also forgot your laptop.” I was like, “Okay, this is completely unacceptable, I am coming back.”
-Jill ended up coming out & meeting me directly at the bus stop to hand me the bag. I said, “Sorry I suck” a few times.
-I felt weirdly happy on the second bus to the airport, like I was thinking, “Wow, that was super fun.” Maybe it was because I had had to run, which had produced dopamine in my brain, but happiness seemed like a really stupid emotion to be having at that moment.
-Guy next to me in the bus had glasses with the word “embergsbik” written on the side, which sounded like a made-up brand.
-Looking around for the Air Canada booth at the airport, I saw an airline called “Sky Priority,” which I misread as “Sexy Priority.”
-Airport staff was very polite to me until they realized I was late, at which point they immediately shifted to panic/frenzy.
-I was put on standby & had to wait to see if I would be able to get in. Lots of nervous-seeming airport employees calling different terminals, feeling powerless. Almost got stuck having to wait for the next flight, but then was able to go in at the last minute. I felt like I had annoyed the flight, like the flight was mad at me, like I wasn’t wanted anymore by the flight.
-Was asked for ID I think three times at the airport and then it dawned on me that I was going to spend my next month being repeatedly identified, being repeatedly confirmed by airport staff & other strangers that I am me.
-This plane has cheap touch screens built into every seat, which means passengers can individually select which movies or tv shows they want to watch while flying. I didn’t touch my screen, but as I was I falling asleep, I watched, without sound, the movies that the three passengers sitting in front of me were watching. It didn’t feel like three separate movies, but just one movie in which a confident-looking Cameron Diaz was pushed into a bush, then some sort of tree creature was running after Angelina Jolie, then teenagers were singing along to a song in a car. It seemed like a good movie, lots of plot twists.
-Now that I think about it, I am probably glad I wasn’t around during the first maybe 60 years of modern aviation.
-There was some turbulence mid-fight at one point, like the plane hit an air pocket or something. People around me seemed anxious, and I was also going to feel anxious by default, except a voice went off in my head saying something like, “It’s okay, you need instability in your life” and after that I just found the turbulence calming.
-If you created a city that blends together all the cities, big or small, that I’ve ever visited, feels like you’d probably end up with something like Winnipeg.
-I think I am surprised that this festival is actually real. As a writer, I don’t live a glorious lifestyle and usually survive on a combination of rice and buying nothing, so being remunerated to do a reading and lodged in a hotel seems very surreal to me, like some sort of elaborate illusion, like I’ve been hypnotized.
-I did a “book chat” in the afternoon at this surprisingly large, seemingly thriving independent bookstore located somewhere in Winnipeg. The festival had paired me with a writer who was maybe in her late fifties and whose book was a collage of fragments from older books. There were maybe 30-35 people in the crowd, almost all of them women probably age 50+, except for Dave Shaw and his girlfriend, who were sitting in the back. I read a scene from New Tab in which two people chat online on Facebook, material that seemed, to me, like an almost comically bad fit for this crowd, but people laughed here and there and seemed okay with it.
-At one point during the Q&A, I felt myself mentally drifting away for a few seconds while someone was talking, the same way you sometimes tune out at readings. As an automatic reflex, I kind of wanted to check my phone, except then I remembered I was currently on stage.
-So far, I’ve mostly felt like I am everyone’s little brother.
-Feel so out of my element that it’s my like my element is some sort of fantasy to me.
-They should do a thing where if you win a national book award, you automatically get to write WWE Monday Night Raw for three weeks.
-I was part of a mainstage reading, which was held at a theatre that usually presents plays featuring children and young adults. This is a screenshot of the venue’s website:
-Read first out of six performers. Unintentionally did my usual “looking confused and mildly anxious” routine behind the podium on stage, then read a thing from New Tab. I did a good job overall with the reading thing I think, except my excerpt had mentions of casual drug use, which I wasn’t sure was cool with this crowd or not. Maybe it was from being in a children’s theatre, but I felt aversion to reading these passages live, so I kind of ad-libbed a few lines on stage to soften that aspect of the book a little. It was like when they censor Japanese video games to make them more acceptable for American audiences, like they’ll replace beer with coffee even if it doesn’t make sense.
-Felt like I wanted to make a “big speech” about school spirit or something from behind the podium.
-Just thought, “Feels like Ashley should be reading at this reading,” though I probably feel that way about every reading I do.
-Everyone is so impressed by how I am Francophone but I write in English, this must be how Koko the talking gorilla feels.
-My hotel feels to me like it was imported from the year 2145.
-Saw an ad for a kind of motor oil whose slogan was, “Engineered to move you,” like the motor oil wanted me to have a profound experience of art or something.
-Feels like I am living inside a game show called, “Whose Wi-Fi Will I Use Next?”
-Spent the afternoon holed up in a Starbucks. Took Dexedrine to reply to emails and work on Marie Darsigny’s book, which I am editing for Metatron. Marie, like me, is French Canadian but writes in English, so we have this weird kinship. Her book is kind of like an AK-47 of feelings. Here’s a small passage from it:
You used to text me all the time in the middle of the night
and I told you that I loved this dim presence,
but let’s be honest here: your presence wasn’t dim at all.
-Also worked on grant stuff, here’s a paragraph from my grant application:
For the overall tone and structure of this new novel, I am drawing inspiration from the works of writers such as Elena Ferrante, Ben Lerner, Osamu Dazai, Lorrie Moore and Tao Lin. My work, I feel, is firmly rooted within contemporary literature and tends to explore themes and subjects which aren’t overly represented within Canadian literature. With the support of the Canada Council for an eight-month period, I hope to be able to complete the manuscript for this book.
-Dave Shaw and his girlfriend, Patricia, came to pick me up at Starbucks and then we drove to their apartment. I became online friends with Dave through probably Steve Roggenbuck maybe two-three years ago. Dave was very nice and chill and we got along pretty much effortlessly, I feel.
-Dave and Patricia’s dog seemed meme-friendly to me, here’s a photo of her:
-Patricia was born and raised in Mexico and moved to Winnipeg for school. At one point, we talked a little about racial profiling and how to overcome racial stereotypes and stuff and I said something like, “Well, obviously, it’s easy for me and Dave, we’re white dudes, we have it the easiest” and Dave was like, “Yeah, we should maybe high-five to that” so I high-fived him as a joke.
-I wanted to give them a copy of my book as a thank you for hosting me and feeding me and being nice to me, but they already had it, so I gave them lemon-scented body lotion that I shoplifted from my hotel room instead.
-Flying to Toronto today, taking a Megabus to Kingston very early tomorrow. Not even sure where I am saying in Kingston yet, might have to try couch surfing or something.
-The pizza hotline and the crisis prevention hotline should be the same hotline.
-Someone on Facebook was like, “When is your tour coming to India” and I imagined myself putting together a reading in a Buddhist monastery, which seemed really good.
-Planes seem like such a fuck you to gravity.
-The video that tells you what to do in case the plane crashes kind of feels like a huge tease, like an exciting trailer for a bad movie.
-That being said, I could totally see this plane being the plane from Lost, like crashing randomly on a remote island somewhere. I feel like I would be this plane’s Charlie maybe, like my job and skillset would be totally useless, everyone would be panicking and I would be like, “I am a writer, I have the ability to come up with sarcastic dialog, how can I help?”
-Guy with a ponytail who is wearing a Megadeath t-shirt sitting in the isle across from me seems like he would be a good Sawyer.
-The word “Useless” made me think of this story that my friend Julie was telling the other day. It was something like, a couple of people, all with English or Creative Writing degrees from different schools, were hanging out at her apartment and talking about “Who had the best education.” Then her faucet broke somehow and water started flying all over the place and none of them could figure out what to do and they were all stressing. Then a few more people arrived and this one guy who was with them was visiting from New Brunswick and he was like, “Oh wait, it’s easy” and fixed the faucet in like two minutes. He only had a high school diploma, which made everyone feel really bad about their education, like they actually had developed no concrete real-life skills whatsoever.
-Got lost in the Toronto airport for about 30 minutes.
-I holed up in a Starbucks for a few hours, then Sophia came to get me. Sophia had to go to someone’s apartment to get a thing, but the person wasn’t there, so we couldn’t get in. While waiting, we looked at a pile of discarded photographs that we had found on the side of the road. One photograph was of people partying inside what looked like a giant robot and felt like a mix between Pacific Rim and American Pie.
-Sophia was supposed to read poems on Spreecast for a thing, but we were running late, so we ended up stopping at a McDonalds and broadcasting from there. People in the chat liked our initiative, I think:
-Reading poems while “Anaconda” is playing in the background.
-We ended up flaking on pretty much everything else that we had discussed doing and later ordered pizza, which seemed about right.
09/25 (Morning, or, like, not even that)
-I got up at 5 something am to get a Megabus to Kingston. Two bros in the Megabus were discussing how the FBI “wasn’t called the FBI at first, it was called something else.”
-In a meeting room at the hotel, I was introduced to festival staff members. Eleanor Catton, who won the Man Booker prize for her book and was probably the highest-profile writer at this festival, was there. She ate a cookie semi-nervously and later said “Oh dear” aloud in a tone of voice that made her sound exactly like Lucy K Shaw. I kind of wanted to ask her, “Do you know Lucy?” but it didn’t seem like she did.
-I get to wear this badge that says “Author” along with my name, which means random people in the hallways think I am important and then engage me in conversation about my art practice.
-My thing was a short reading and talk early in the day that the festival had titled “Status Update, or What Should I Do With My Life?” I was paired with a poet whose latest book was a collection of poems made from status updates on Facebook, and the crowd was maybe 100-125 people, 85% of which were teens from probably a local high school. I decided that maybe I should ease up on the scenes that contain casual drug use, so I read two less flashy scenes that were basically just sarcastic dialog, which the teens liked, I think. They were laughing throughout and seemed to enjoy the lines in which I shit-talk Concordia University.
-The writer I was paired with read a poem about “Stealing things from your workplace” and after her reading, I asked her, “What about stealing stuff from work, have you ever done that?” and she was like, “Well” and I said, “I just want to make sure that we establish that we’re excellent role models for you guys.”
-What I like from the teen audience is that they actually prefer it if I don’t look like a serious author who takes himself seriously.
-There was a q&a at the end and a teen asked “What’s your favorite poetry?” and the writer who I had been paired with gave a very elaborate and well-thought out answer and then she turned to me and I was like, “Hum, I was just going to say ‘depressing poetry’” and the crowd laughed.
-Some teens asked me to sign their notebooks and stuff after the reading and it felt like I was Bono or something. I just wanted to shout, “I AM BONO” and trash my hotel room.
-An hour later, I went outside the hotel and found a coffee shop and waited in line. A teen talked to me and said, “Hey, I was at your talk, it was really funny, I am going to have to get your book” and I said, “Oh, wait” and then just gave her a copy of New Tab from my bag and she seemed, like, emotional and really happy.
-I want to make this liveblog “next level” somehow, not sure how, is this next level?
(I look insane and very terrifying in this, this is probably why I prefer not smiling in photos)
-Hotel room selfie #2.
-The festival had organized an hour-long cruise to get authors and staff members to mingle a little and network each other and stuff. I talked to Sandy Pool, a writer I know from online but had never met in person, and we decided that we were going to be each other’s friend on this thing, since we both didn’t know many people. Whenever I didn’t know who talk to, I would just join whatever conversation Sandy was in, or she would join whatever conversation I was in. This system felt like a kind of safety net for my anxiety.
-There was a short announcement at the beginning telling us what to do in case the boat crashed. Sandy was like, “We would be so fucked if this boat drowned” and it felt she was pitching to me a sequel to the movie Castaway in which 45 award-winning Canadian authors are lost at sea together.
-Here’s me talking with Eleanor Catton, she was very nice. I look less terrifying in this than in the previous photo, but still mostly terrifying, I feel.
-Chatted with Jill from my hotel room, here’s us hanging out on FaceTime:
-A lot of people in Kingston asked me what I normally do for a living and each time it felt like what I wanted to respond was, “Um, I just don’t spend money.”
-A teen who was at my thing yesterday talked to me in a hallway of the hotel and said that she liked the part where I said, “Revenge is a great motivation for writing” about getting rejected by literary magazines.
-I met Adam Wilson and we traded books. Adam is a New York-based author who was also performing at the festival. We had never met in person, but had enough friends in common and basic understanding of one another to be able to put together a conversation and hang out a little. Earlier in the day, Adam had flew from New York to Syracuse, where a volunteer from the festival, who was a former correctional officer at a prison, had picked him up and then driven him to Kingston. The retired officer was overly talkative and wanted to get to know Adam too much and asked about “what kind of hobbies he had.”
-Adam told a story about being asked to judge a “pun competition,” which is apparently a thing. He wanted to have fun with it, but apparently the participants and the other judges were all taking it very seriously. Adam said that one of the other judges was also the author of a book called, “The Pun Also Rises.”
-Sent my grant application to Canada Council using the free wi-fi in a Tim Hortons, which I am hoping makes my application look extra pathetic, like I really need this. I won’t know until maybe March whether I get the grant thing or not, seems likely I’ll have to find some form of employment when I get back to Montreal.
-Read two stories from Adam’s book while waiting for my bus to Toronto, here’s a short paragraph from it:
There’s something unsettling about a shaven head. Maybe it’s that you can really see the skull, the shape of it, all its lumps and juttings, skin stretched tautly over bone. So little separates our brains from the world.
-Slept for maybe an hour and a half in the Megabus. I arrived in Toronto in the middle of the night and didn’t know how to sleep anymore, or even where to sleep, so I found a Denny’s that was open 24 hours and ordered food. I was also really cold for whatever reason, so now I am wearing two sweaters and a hoodie while randomly listening to The Aquabats in a Denny’s at 5 am.
-I tried watching anime out of boredom and low brain power, but couldn’t understand anything of what was going on and gave up maybe ten minutes in.
-Saw a Chinese restaurant named “Regal Garden,” which I misread as “Rectal Garden.”
-Felt fucked and really tired around eleven am, so I found a small park nearby and slept in it for two hours. Seems amazing to me how quickly I’ve devolved from mediumly successful published author to homeless person.
-Stumbled on this cool alley in Toronto.
-Hanging out with Meghan in a coffee shop. Meghan just moved back to Toronto after being abroad for a little while, she seemed more confident and probably happier than the last few times I had seen her. She just got this job as an administrative assistant for OCAD, part of her duties involve giving prospective OCAD students a tour of the school. Some of the teenagers ask her if she went to OCAD as a student and she says yes and then they ask her what she does now for a living and she says, “Well, this” and then they look disappointed.
-Seems funny to look around you in a coffee shop and imagine that everyone else here is on a date.
-Meghan went to a show with other people, seems like there was potential for interesting interpersonal human drama. I stayed behind at her apartment to sleep on her couch and I said, “If anything strange happens, you can just wake me up at three am and tell me about it.”
-The wifi password here is “muppetsfromspace.”
-Slept for twelve hours, then saw that I had received a text from Meghan at two am that said, “Oh no, now I actually want to wake you up and talk.”
-Took Dexedrine at Starbucks and then edited Marie Darsigny’s book some more. I asked this guy sitting next to me if he could watch my stuff and I went to the bathroom and my laptop charger was gone when I got back.
-Weird how my life goes from “acceptable” to “total living nightmare” just from getting my laptop charger stolen.
-I feel like I was bound to lose something or break something or get something stolen from me on this trip, so I am kind hoping this fills some sort of secret quota and that I don’t have to worry about anything anymore.
-I went to the mall to get a new charger, could really see myself getting PTSD from working in an Apple Store.
-Sophia just published this piece on Medium that’s very sad and moving, it’s about a personal experience with sexual assault in a literary community. She seems really brave for writing this.