February 19, 2017
Because I tell you everything, you have to know that I’ve wanted a Wikipedia page since 2008. This was the year my friend got a Wikipedia page. At the time, I barely had a “Published Works” page on my website, and my website was on Blogspot, and I had a long, long way to travel still. And all these details are a little shameful to admit, because we’re all supposed to be cool about this sort of thing. Like, “Oh, do I have a Wikipedia page? I had no idea, because I certainly don’t google myself weekly.” In my next life, I hope to be that cool, but in this life, I’m the woman who finds every mention of me or my work two days before Google Alerts does. Just once I would like Google Alerts to surprise me—for me this would be a definition of success. It would mean not only that my online mentions were turning up in substantial volumes, but also that I have better things to do than hunt about on the internet looking for them.
Anyway, last summer I decided that the time had finally arrived. I’d amassed a small body of work, some prizes, publication credits, and had a debut novel on the horizon. Because it would be cheating to create my own Wikipedia page (although I have been told that this happens all the time) I asked my husband to make mine for me, a really romantic gesture. And he did. It was really nice, and there I was amongst Canadian authors, and Canadian authors born in 1979, even. But it hadn’t even been a day before the Kerry Clare wiki was causing trouble.
The trouble at the start was kind of innocuous. They wanted references and citations, and this was understandable. There was nothing personal about it. I filled in the blanks and added the details. And then the next problem flagged was that my page was not connected to other pages, or referenced by them. Never mind—I’d fix that too. I connected my page to that of authors who’d been published in my anthology; I linked to an author who’d published me in her anthology. If I could I would have literally underlined that I am in fact a National Magazine Award-nominated author, or bolded the text at the very least. And this, the fact of being a National Magazine Award-nominated author, is really a very Canadian thing—you don’t even have to win. But the Wikipedia editors didn’t know this. (Perhaps “this” is also kind of sad. Don’t think I didn’t consider it.)
It was about four days into my career as a person with a Wikipedia page that things got more personal, that the notes on the discussion page began to be written by actual people as opposed to the template messages about links and additional citations. The people, who volunteered their time as Wikipedia editors, were not at all impressed by my accomplishments. And for awhile, I tried to engage with the process, to answer their questions, to fill in the blanks, to vouch for my own notability. But the more I tried, the more adamant the editors became. “Being nominated for an award does not make a person notable,” the editor explained. “She didn’t win the award. And her publication date is so far off into the future that it is likely, especially with the current state of publishing, that her book will never in fact be published.”
At this point I finally gave up. Although saying this suggests I had more agency in the matter than I actually did. Even if I hadn’t given up the fight to be on Wikipedia, I was on the shortlist for speedy deletion and it was probably going to happen anyway. But when I did give up, it was because it had dawned on me that battling to remain on Wikipedia was going to have to become my full-time job, and it was exhausting. Turns out I’m not so unnotable that I had absolutely nothing else to do with my time except battle it out with Wikipedia editors. If I’d devoted my life to staying on Wikipedia, I’d never be able to do anything else that was notable again.
I know some people who are as notable as dirt stuck to the bottom of my shoe, and they’re still on Wikipedia. How, I wonder, have they managed to pull it off? Perhaps it’s such a feat of incredible endurance that it makes a person notable after all?
A few lessons I took away from this: first, that the whole exercise is remarkably gendered. (The dirt on the bottom of the shoe people I refer to are male.) It was not lost on me that I am a woman who does have some accomplishments, and that my work was entirely dismissed without hesitation by a group of men who really knew nothing about those accomplishments, and who did not necessarily have any accomplishments of their own. Perhaps I am wrong about this final point, and I would be ecstatic if I were, in fact, but it does occur to me that profoundly successfully (or notable people) don’t necessarily have the time to be editing Wikipedia in the middle of the night. Anyway, the idea of mediocre men undermining a successful woman was not so mind-blowing—I don’t know where exactly, but I’ve heard that one before…
And the second lesson? That it’s really healthy for a person (especially a person who googles herself on a regular basis) to be reminded of her insignificance. I’m not being facetious. And that Wikipedia notability and other such metrics are not those with which we should necessarily gauge our success in the world. I mean, it would be nice, but these aren’t the things that matter. It’s good to know too one can be a total failure in all these respects, and still be entirely happy, and worthy of existence.
February 7, 2017
Someone tweeted a photo of Airforce One not long ago, its repulsive occupant on board, and occupant’s jacket was draped around his chair in a most peculiar way, as though the chair was wearing it. “Look! The chair has a jacket!” I tweeted in response, not remotely with wit, except that I actually made a typing error, and my reply in fact read, “Look! The hair has a jacket.” Completely lunacy. And I now have visions these days of running into crowded rooms and screaming this phrase, to everybody’s confusion. Who is that strange person?
Somehow between now and my book’s publication, I have to acquire some social skills. I also need to find footwear that isn’t a pair of dirty green rubber boots and a coat that is not in fact a giant duvet with sleeves, if I have any home of creating an impression of the author that isn’t “vagrant.” Vagrant who has forgotten how to smalltalk and keeps pointing out how the hair has a jacket.
January 19, 2017
Three years ago, I wrote about the importance of using books as literal building blocks, but it’s true that our metaphoric bookish building blocks are always what’s most fundamental. I suspect that somewhere deeply twined into my DNA is the book The 1980s: Macleans Chronicles the Decade, published in 1989 by Key Porter Books. It is possible that no one, apart from the book’s editors, have read this book as avidly as I did, for years and years, and at point in my life too when my brain was still forming so that its images are now seared upon my consciousness—in particularly, unfortunately, a photo of Lech Walesa fishing in his tiny underpants. It would be years before I learned why Lech Walesa mattered, and even once I did, I’ve never been able to disassociate him from his weird blue plaid briefs.
1991, of course, was the end of history, according to Francis Fukuyama, and this is the lens through which I viewed this book, perused its pictures, fascinated. History was done. In my recollection, I was literally in my grade seven history class when the Soviet Union was dissolved—though I am not sure how this is possible because the coup was in August and the union was finished on Christmas, and at neither of these moments was I at school, but still. It’s the idea of a thing. Suddenly all of history was there in the past, and I remember wondering what The 1990s: Macleans Chronicles THAT Decade would look like. But my family never got that book. If history is finished, who needs a chronicle after all?
A copy of this book lives on my shelf, and I don’t leaf through with the same regularity I did as a child, but I did the other week, after two months of feeling so downtrodden, uncannily not at home within the world in which I find myself. I’d read somewhere about the psychology of nostalgia, and how for all of us the moment of greatness in the past lies precisely when we were on the cusp of everything, with so much hope. Remember the ’80s, I was thinking, a decade so ripe with possibility, Lech Walesa’s underpants aside. But then as I started flipping the pages, seeing those iconic, devastating images—the Challenger explosion, famine stricken children in Ethiopia, Bloody Sunday in Beijing, the body of a child buried in ash after the gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India; another dead child, lying with its mother, the casualty of poison gas attacks in the Iran-Iraq War; terrorist hijackings, albeit the retro kind when in the end the bad guys let the hostages go. But still. There’s an entire chapter entitled “Assassinations.” The ’80s were really terrible.
I want to hug the woman in the above photo who is protesting for the Equal Right Amendment to the US Constitution. “My foremother,” I want to say to her, “you don’t even fucking know.” Except she probably does, hence the look on her face. To think that 30 years after Henry Morgentaler, on the facing page, won his legal battle to strike down Canada’s abortion law, access to abortion would still seem so precarious (and only theoretical to Canadian women who live in so many places). #FuckThatShit has been my go-to hashtag these last few months as I grapple with “the absurdities that have been foisted on me and my neighbours,” to paraphrase Jane Jacobs. As Macleans chronicles the decade, things right now seem not much different from what they ever were.
None of this is a new story, in what I mean. Donald Trump and his ilk have always skulked the earth, knuckles dragging on the ground. Which is incredibly annoying and demoralizing, but also kind of reassuring too, that people have stood up against dark forces before and we can take courage from them. That goodness prevails, that things can get better.
The fight is never won, but maybe the winning is not the point, and instead the fight is.
January 15, 2017
I specialize in accidental cakes—I wrote about one of these in my favourite blog post ever. And here is another, in a post that was originally an Instagram post, but I was a few hundred words in before I realized it was a blog post after all. And so here it goes.
Yesterday there was no cake scheduled and there would have been no cake, except that when I was looking in a drawer for chopsticks at lunchtime (we were having udon noodles), I found an implement (shown in the photo above) which I’ve never used and cannot remember where it came from—from my mom or my aunt? Was it my grandmother’s? But regardless of origin, I didn’t even know its purpose: a comb? A plow for mashed potatoes? But then Stuart remembered that it was a cake server. “That’s right. But how??”
And then I googled “cake server with prongs” and found Jessica Reed’s website (“CakeWalk: Exploring Stories, History, and Identity Though Cake”), which is my new favourite place on the internet. In the post I found, Reed writes about this implement, “the cake breaker,” patented by Cale J Schneider in 1932. The cake breaker is specially designed to slice a cake without destroying it, essential in delicate cakes such as angelfood…
“Well, let’s make an angelfood cake,” I declared, determined—until I found the recipe had 12 eggs in it. Our eggs are free range and eggs are far far too precious for that. So no. I scoured my cookbooks for other options, and settled on an apple upside-down cake. Not the best cake for a breaker, I realized in retrospect, because it would have to slice through apples too. So not optimal, but it worked. We ate the second half of it this afternoon, and it was even yummier.
And the point of this, of course, is the amazing way that all roads (even udon!) lead to cake, however indirectly.
I mean, at least they do if you’re lucky…
January 9, 2017
The scene: our bedroom, 11:50 on Thursday night. Stuart has turned out his lamp and rolled over to go to sleep, but my light is shining and there are urgent matters still to be discussed before the night is out. I’m thinking about Vicki Ziegler’s blog post about the books diary she’s been keeping since 1983.
Me: Stuart—I have to talk to you about something.
Me: Remember when I used to keep a list of all the books I read?
Me: I stopped doing that—it seemed a bit less obsessive-compulsive to just read the books.
Me: But sometimes I worry, like I should have been keeping track, but I haven’t.
Stuart: Uh huh.
Me: I mean, I write about books on my blog, and there’s Goodreads, and if I really wanted to go back and compile a list, I could. I just don’t need to. Which is kind of a positive thing, I guess. Not a bad way to be.
Me: And I think probably what I am doing is the least bananas scenario, right? Being in the moment, just reading what I want to read. It’s what normal people do. A sign of good mental health.
Stuart: Normal people read books, or maybe they keep track in a list. But YOU have managed to not keep a list and also worry about not keeping a list, which is the most bananas way of all to be. It’s kind of amazing.
Me: You probably want to go to sleep.
Me: Good night.
December 21, 2016
One day this fall, I opened up a Little Free Library in my neighbourhood only to find it empty save for a bitterly scrawled missive: “The point is to leave some books too, people.” It was very sad, and corresponded with stories I’d heard about ownership of Little Free Libraries not being quite as rewarding as one might assume. A situation rife with narrative, I thought, so I decided to write a little story exploring this idea, and the story is my gift to you.
We’re pleased to welcome you to Idlewood Avenue’s Little Free Library ™, a bastion of democratised learning where our property meets the sidewalk. We’ve been amassing volumes that we’re looking forward to sharing with you here in this box which we’ve painted to resemble a Carnegie library. And we welcome your volumes of all kinds—no literary snobbery permitted!
All books are friends here.
Barbara and Stephen Adolphus-Chang
We appreciate your enthusiasm during our first week and it was exciting to have the library cleaned out three days in a row. A couple of reminders: we’ve had a lot of takers but please try to leave books too. And if anybody knows who is responsible for the penis drawings administered with Sharpies, we’d like to hear about it.
Although a little bird has suggested that the culprits were from the student rental house—can anyone corroborate?
Barb and Steve A-C
A note that this notice board is for Little Free Library ™ related news only—posters for Doggie Do-Walk Dog Walker Services have been removed. Also, while your contributions are appreciated, we would ask neighbours to refrain from donating their VHS collections.
Books only, please!
Barb and Steve
Someone has been leaving small lavender-scented bags of dog waste inside our library. Coincidentally, this began when the Doggie Do-Walk Dog-Walker posters were removed from our board, though we are not pointing fingers. Or paws. But this is certainly not neighbourly behaviour.
Barb and Steve
We are writing to thank you for a rewarding first month of Little Free Library ™ stewardship, and also to object to allegations that we “traffic in smut.” If you find Judith Krantz’s intimate depictions too titillating, that is down to you.
Further, passing a copy of Scruples to your eight-year-old daughter was a decision you embarked upon of your own volition, so do know we are judging you right back!
B & S
The penis problem continues, now in multi-coloured hues. We’ll be repainting, but if it happens again, the phalluses will stand and the tone of the neighbourhood will suffer. A reminder to tenants in the student rental house that this is not funny, and if you ever grow up, perhaps one day you might understand that.
Barbara and Stephen
Apologies for slandering the residents of the student rental house. We met with them last Tuesday and found them to be upstanding community members, as invested as we are in keeping Idlewood Avenue penis-free. Together, we are coordinating a graffiti removal campaign involving pressure hoses. Stay tuned for details. We’re grateful also for the students’ book donations. Once we weeded out the second-hand chemistry texts, some interesting titles emerged.
Too bad about the highlighted paragraphs and vulgar marginalia (some of which included penis doodles that looked a little familiar. Hmmm….).
But yours in benefits of the doubt!
Babs and Stee
THE SHIT LEAVING CONTINUES. What is wrong with people? You paint a box to look like a Carnegie Library out of the goodness of your heart, and then people fill it with excrement? HOW DO YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT? And then the VHS tapes keep on coming. This is all very hard.
I never envisioned Little Free Library ™ ownership as a soul-destroying exercise.
Rest assured that while Barbara is taking her temporary leave from Little Free Library ™ stewardship in the name of self-care, the library will continue to operate as usual. Stipulations re dog waste and VHS tapes still stand.
Also, to the man who removed all the books and sold them at the shitty used bookshop at the end of the road, we know who you are.
Thanks to those a behind recent generous donation of poetry—we’ve got enough slim volumes there to stock our Little Free Library ™ for weeks. I urge readers to pick some of these up as they’re rich with wonders and also we have a lot of them. Further, please make use of our newly installed garbage bin for any fast food packaging. There has been some confusion about whether or not our Little Free Library is a waste receptacle.
To be clear: it is not.
PS: Barb is recovering well. Thanks for asking.
I’m thrilled to welcome Daryl Parsley-Hemingway to our Little Free Library ™ team to help me out as Barb continues to convalesce. Daryl is a university student, English major and a distant relative of Mariel Hemingway, who is a noted author of two memoirs, so Daryl has literary pedigree. He has great ideas about how to curate our collection and will be working to enhance our online presence.
Looking forward to seeing you on the information highway!
We’re writing to address last night’s upsetting incident when our entire Little Free Library ™ collection was tossed out into the rain and at least $30 worth of used paperbacks were destroyed. We are grateful to neighbours who’ve come through with emergency donations at short notice. Looking at the library this morning, you’d never suspect anything had happened, but the incident still must be acknowledged. And yes, Larry, we know you did it and we still refuse to stock your self-published memoir.
Sticking to our guns in defense of traditional publishing platforms,
Steve and Daryl
Just a reminder that if you’re taking books, take care to leave a few too. Think of our Little Free Library ™ as a kind of conversation—you don’t want to just be a listener! And to that end, Daryl has set up Idlewood Avenue Little Free Library ™ web presences on various social mediums.
We heartily urge you to “check us out” there and find out new ways to be involved.
Steve and Daryl
No doubt you’ve been made aware of a “competitor” setting up across the street. We’ve been receiving a lot of love from neighbours who view this Wee Take-a-Book Box as a threat to our own project. But we want everyone to know that this relationship need not be adversarial. Idlewood Avenue has room enough for two libraries, though we wish also to remark that the Wee Take-A-Book Box neither bears the official Little Free Library ™ trademark, nor does its stewards adhere to our literary standards. However, patrons are free to decide for themselves what kind of miniature libraries they wish to see in the world.
It’s a free country.
Steve and Daryl
Forgive our sparseness, but we’ve been cleaned out nearly every day, which would be good news, except that all our titles are turning up in the Wee Take-a-Book Box, identical volumes right down to the same dedications. (“Dearest Audrey, Here’s something fun to tide you over until the pleurisy clears up. Love, Edna.”) To consider this a coincidence would be absurd, but even so, police were called and we were banned from the property and then later that night when the Wee Take-a-Book Box’s glass door was smashed, we got blamed for that too—even though Stephen had gone to bed early and Daryl was working on a group project. In all the hubbub it’s been forgotten that we are in fact the wronged party.
We appreciate your support at this difficult time.
Steve and Daryl
Thanks to everyone who was there for us last week. We are particularly grateful for those who dropped off books to replace all those that were stolen. FYI: Daryl is very busy with his group project so if things seem slow on the web this week, that’s why.
And a kind reminder too that we are (still!) not a waste receptacle.
Stephen and Daryl
It’s a beautiful day and we’ve got a stellar selection for you all, including some rare first editions, kitschy 1980s microwave oven cookbooks, and three copies of last year’s disappointing national book award winner, which sold a lot of copies but proved unreadable. Potential collector items, all of them.
I write you with the devastating news that the group project in which my co-librarian Daryl Parsley-Hemingway has been engaged is actually an affair with my wife Barbara. It turns out that Barbara is farther along in her recovery than I understood, and has decided to permanently absent herself both from stewardship of our Little Free Library ™ and also of our marriage.
For obvious reasons, I have asked that Daryl no longer be affiliated with the library, and I will also be taking a temporary hiatus. I hope to return when I am stronger.
For Sale: One Little Free Library ™ box along with official charter status to the Little Free Library ™ organization. $50 or best offer. Must pick up.
May 12, 2016
I was a compulsive photographer and documenter of days long before I’d ever heard of social media, although it’s true that I didn’t photograph my lunch back then. But it’s true that I used to take photos of everything and everybody, evidence of this being picture after people of lined up in a row looking awkward and confused about just why I am taking their pictures. People sitting around a table looking unimpressed seemed to be my primary focus as a photographer, although I think they’d been happy and engaged enough until I pulled my camera out, this being, of course, why I wanted to take the picture. To capture something. As if that was even possible, and it makes me things of the drawers in Joan Didion’s New York apartment in Blue Nights stuffed with envelopes and documents and things that she imagined could keep her from losing the people she loved. I have engaged with that book, in all its messiness and imperfections, in a way that I haven’t with The Year of Magical Thinking. I say “haven’t” because I imagine that I will some day, that like with Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work and motherhood, one day my universe will shatter and I will finally understand what Didion is talking about about. Not that I’m counting down to that. But I understand the impulses of Blue Nights so innately, and not just because it’s May and the nights are blue and we’re coming up to the solstice. And my urge to capture and keep everything that happened to me back in those days between the ages of 16 and 23, say, ultimately would come to nothing. It was always going to be like that.
(For me everything hinges on 2002. I met my husband that year and stopped longing, and have been more or less happy ever since. Everything that ever happened before that year mostly mortifies me to consider now. And I wonder if I was able to shrug off my impulse to document it all and keep everything because from that point on I had someone with whom I could verify that all of these things actually happened. Another idea: that the internet took over my life that year and I started capturing everything online. And that I’m just as a compulsive a documenter as I ever was, and well, you’re kind of reading the evidence of that.)
The other night I had occasion to sort through my boxes of photographs upstairs. I have one from high school and the other from university. There used to be many, many more photographs, but I did a cull about a decade ago because there are only so many photos a person needs of her boyfriend from grade eleven, though I did not think so when I posed for those shots. And what I realized the other night as I was looking through photos from my university years is most of these photos signify nothing now. There are people I love and unbelievably bad haircuts, and I continue to be baffled by everything I ever wore. The decor of all of my bedrooms is also unfathomable: throughout those years I had either a Spice Girls or John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino post above my bed at all times, plus inspirational quotes written in marker on index cards, an album cover with a picture of Nana Mouskouri on it, and a campaign poster for John F. Kennedy. It was kind of a weird aesthetic.
And maybe I knew it was always going to get lost. Perhaps it was never about capturing and keeping, but instead about evidence that any of it had ever been. That if it weren’t for the photos, I’d never believe in a room like that, and I’ve got the pictures and I still don’t. And I see my friends and I with our arms around our shoulders in rooms that I don’t recognize, places where I’m sure I’ve never been. There are people in those photos who mean nothing to me now. And there are holes in my memory as big as oceans—did you know that I saw Prince on stage with Sheryl Crow at the Lilith Fair in 1999? I didn’t. I still don’t, really. And even the stranger things, like the photo from my 22nd birthday party, me and three other people, and two of them are dead. Or that during the 2000/2001 school year, I lived in an apartment with a huge black and white photo of the New York City skyline at night hanging over the fireplace. The World Trade Centre, but I never even knew what those towers were called until five months after I’d moved out of there and into another apartment, until the towers were gone and we sat on our roof that night watching the CN Tower gone dark.
Maybe it’s not the photos that turned out to signify nothing that so fascinate me, but instead the ones that ended up telling stories so different from those I thought I was telling at the time.
May 2, 2016
I’ve been working my way through the works of Tana French ever since my friend Nathalie delivered all of her books to my house on New Years Day in a Waitrose bag, along with a container of soup. (Remember December, when everybody was sick?) Now usually such a loan would constitute a kind of imposition, but I’d been meaning to get into Tana French, and as soon as I opened the first book (In the Woods), I was hooked: “What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracted confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies and concealment and every variation on deception…”
And this is what’s most compelling about French’s novels, the slipperiness of her first person narrators, how they’re always just clinging to the edges of things, and totally unconscious of how close they are to falling. The subtlety with which she reveals the true circumstances behind her narrator’s carefully constructed reality, the skilful way she manages to reveal all the things these characters would never, ever tell us. The things these characters don’t even properly know themselves.
I’m reading her fourth novel now, Broken Harbour. (One more title to go before I return the Waitrose bag, and then French has a new novel coming out this fall. And then I fear it’s going to be like Harriet and Amulet, the way she went through the whole series, 1-7, boom boom boom, having no idea that Amulets don’t grow on trees, thinking new ones were an ever-available resource, and now she has to wait an eternity for number 8). And the book is kind of ruining my life, because I can’t stop reading it, staying up far too late and just-one-more-chapter. Because how can I not want to know what happens next?
Both my children are currently undergoing sleep changes and bed experiments and we’re all playing musical beds at our house these days, and the last few nights I’ve been awakened twice or three times before dawn. But I really can’t blame my current stupor on this entirely, on my children. Because the real reason I’m so tired, like words-confusingly tired, should-not-be-permitted-to-operate-a-motor-vehicle tired, is that I’m staying up past midnight reading Tana French, and then even once I manage to put the book down and turn the light off, I’m still immersed in its atmosphere, fearing shadows in the darkness. Awake and lying still, alert to barely perceptible sounds. Perhaps imagined ones. And the distinction doesn’t even matter.
April 21, 2016
This morning I dropped Iris off at playschool, and noticed pussy willows in a jar on the counter, which took me back to a scary time we went through through just over three years ago now. It was a time in which I learned that it was possible to navigate life even in the presence of one’s deepest fears, and also that doing so sometimes required errands such as an excursion with shopping list consisting only of a bouquet of pussy willows and a tub of chocolate ice cream. I remember that with the pussy willows, I finally began to feel better, and I think I was thinking of A Swiftly Tilting Planet at the time, but I didn’t pick it off the shelf to get the reference.
But yesterday morning I was walking to school with my seven-year-old neighbour who’s currently in the middle of A Wrinkle in Time and has the other books in the series before her, and I told her how much A Swiftly Tilting Planet still means to me as an adult. It was the book I picked up in September 2001, after two planes flew into buildings and we wondered if the world as we knew it was entirely gone. I remember the comfort it brought me, the comfort it always has.
Mrs. Murry said, “I remember my mother telling me about one spring, many years ago now, when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were so tense that all the experts predicted nuclear war before the summer was over. They weren’t alarmists or pessimists it was a considered, sober judgement. And Mother said that she walked along the lane wondering if the pussy willows would ever bud again. After that, she waited each spring for the pussy willows, remembering and never took their budding for granted again.
I took it down off the shelf this morning to find the pussy willows paragraph, and realize that I absolutely have to reread this book again. And I considered how fundamental it might have been in cementing my understanding of the cosmos, the world.
Darkness was, and darkness was good. As was light. Light and darkness dancing together, born together, born of each other, neither preceding, neither following, both fully being in joyful rhythm.
April 18, 2016
Tonight I was inspired by Sarah’s #ShortStoryaDay post to pick up “Not Her Real Name,” by Emily Perkins, from her short story collection of the same title. I’d first read the collection when I interviewed Emily Perkins in 2008, when Novel About My Wife came out. In her post, Sarah notes that she was surprised to reread this story and discover that two characters share a name with her daughter, and surmises that it was was with this story that she first fell for the name. She quotes a couple of lines from the story: “—Imagine a couple both called Thea, says Thea. —Isn’t it awful? One of the hazards of same-sex relationships I suppose.”
Now right now I’m reading a book called The Name Therapist, by Duana Taha, which is so much fun and absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. And perhaps I should have seen it coming, going from such a non-fiction book about names and how they define their bearers to a story called “Not Her Real Name” that I might encounter uncanny connections. And while I didn’t encounter either of my own daughters in this story, what I did find was really kind of strange.
I read the beginning of the story, the part about the two Theas, and then went back to The Name Therapist, in which Taha writes about the possibilities of same-name couples in same-sex relationships and how this idea fascinates her as a name enthusiast. And then there was a bit about a guy named Marc who orders coffee at Starbucks and gives his name as “Marc with a C,” which comes back on his cup labelled, “Carc”. Going back to “Not Her Real Name” then to find another Marc drinking coffee:
“Marc with a c. Cody’s seen it written down by the telephone… Marc. Marc. There’s something disturbing about the name. Like Jon without an h. Or Shayne with a y. Marc. Spelt backwards, it makes cram. A real word. This makes it seem like code. Code for what? Cram, cram. Trying to break the Code. OK, so her own name is enough of a liability. She shouldn’t laugh at other people’s. But Marc—its like biting tinfoil.”
Cody’s own name is referred to in connection the Jack Kerouac novel, Visions of Cody, which she’s never read, she says, and I haven’t read it either. I’m still a bit confused by the story’s title and what it means exactly, trying to break that code. And maybe this is the point. Earlier in the story, Cody’s thinking about a guy called Francis. “You always thought, Francis, rhymes with answers. Which it doesn’t, really. But you’d change the s of answers to be soft like his name.”
And isn’t all that so weird? I am really not so singular but I suspect that I am the only person in the world who is reading The Name Therapist and “Not Her Real Name” concurrently, two works that speak to each other so clearly, asking questions with answers echoing back. A book that came out the other day with a short story collection that was published twenty years ago by an author on the other side of the world—and they are connected in ways their authors never even fathomed. And this is why I love books and literature so much, that it’s all a code, quite beyond us and quite unbreakable. And the infinite possibilities of these connections too, how books upon books can talk to each other, the libraries of the world abuzz with these private conversations.