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It’s been tough.
I’ve been going through a lot of personal issues lately. And these issues have been further compounded by writing problems.
In my last post, my last real one aside from reposts of my other work, I was inspired by Brandy Dawley to actually attempt to personify or give form to my inner critic or judge. If you haven’t seen it already, you should check out her Medium article On Creative Paralysis, Feeling Naked Online, And My Inner Critic Whose Name is Chad: which is what inspired my Mythic Bios post “Time.”
I’ve been thinking about why I haven’t really been creative writing for a while. Originally, last year now, about the time I saw Stan Lee, Alex Kingston, and Michelle Gomez at Fan Expo I was charged enough — re-energized and inspired — to attempt writing full-time for Sequart. The idea was that I would write my 15K words on the side while I re-innovated my Patreon, and only doing so after having something of a centralized creative project or clear series of goals with regards to said project with which to work towards.
But 15K words a month is a large commitment. And perhaps even more than that, there is a difference between writing something that is analytical as opposed to being creative. It’s true that I am fairly creative in expressing myself and my words and viewpoints in my critical writing, and that does tide me over, but it really isn’t the same. Sometimes I become very mindful of the fact that I am not really making anything original. I’m not making something that is mine. While I have made good contacts and gotten my critical writing out there, and got to examine some fascinating creative processes, I can’t really take credit for them. They aren’t my own: at least not the source material that I write about.
This feeling can fuel Imposter Syndrome considerably. I may have to actually cut back, or down, on my analytical writing into the near future. There are some topics I definitely do what to still address and I won’t rule them out, but I need to make the space to create my own primary material once again.
So what will I do instead? Well, I have comics that I need to catch up on reading. And films and television shows that I definitely need to watch. I do require inspiration to continue my good work. I also need to take care of myself and possibly get to the point where I can go to bed at reasonable — read sane — hours.
And this leaves us at what I want to ultimately do in the future. Well. The good news is that recently I have sent out three creative pitches to the Toronto Comics Anthology. It just felt time to put my money where my mouth is. But that is only a start.
I need to go through my notes and my notebooks. I need to type out and I edit what I have of at least perhaps three or four creative worlds I’ve left for far too long. I need to decipher my notes, type them out, and make sense of it or discard what I have and start fresh. Then I need to go back to my Patreon, however daunting it may be and challenging as you need to have a strong following and project to get anywhere, and redesign it accordingly. I am not a graphic artist or illustrator or even a video maker, but perhaps I can do something about replacing my picture on the top border, and making my funding goals clearer for me and anyone who potential wants to back my work.
I still have some critical pieces I want out there, but I think what I will do is return back to the Mythic Bios approach to these matters and write the personal into the critical as I used to do.
All of this is easier said than done, and I have said similar things in the past. I realize I can’t force a lot of this, but if I make the space and just record what I have, and read and write and not force it, I could form something else. I know I can still do this. I’ve been working on a public fanfic that is now forty-five chapters long and counting. I find that I actually thrive on just writing, on doing some research when I need it for a day or so, but then just writing on wards and writing more to back up what I wrote before. I am stronger when I just keep going. This and actual feedback through kudos and comments really does help me, and it is something I should definitely bear in mind. I just need to find the format and the media for it as I am not sure, for example, that A03 is the best place to publish original work.
I find I am at my most powerful when I am painfully honest. And that is scary. But if I have any hope of getting to where I need to be, I need to be at my best. I know that hard work is not a guaranteed method of success, but a lack of work is a guarantee method of no success. It isn’t even failure. Failure doesn’t happen when you don’t even try. And not trying is inaction and nothing. But reading and writing aren’t nothing, even if they are just focused on a fan work.
The point is, I hope to make some changes and to continue the ones that I have begun. I hope that those of you that still follow this Blog and my media will be there to see what I will do next.
Not too long ago, an acquaintance of mine, Brandy Dawley wrote something about her inner critic and what it looks like, how it acts, and what it represents in a Medium article called On Creative Paralysis, Feeling Naked Online, And My Inner Critic Whose Name is Chad. I wasn’t originally going to write this, at least not today or tonight. I’ve been very depressed lately, especially with regards to my creative writing. And I’m just going to tell you all now that my inner critic, my judge, my arbiter-out-of-control doesn’t have a gender, or an interesting aesthetic, or is even all that interesting.
My judge is Time.
What can I tell you about Time that you don’t already know? I’m not talking about kindly old Grandfather Time, or even Fotamecus: a chaos magick sigil turned into a servitor, Egregore or complex thought-form, and eventually new god of time, if you want to learn something more obscure. No, I’m talking about the old man with the scythe. I’m talking about Cronus or Chronos who castrated his own father, and ate his children out of fear. But not even that. Think of this grey cloaked figure with a scythe, or maybe more of an impulse that tells you that it is bigger than it really is, while also greatly under-exaggerating the size of its heart: which is, like a singularity, a large implosion with a very small, dense, pitiless centre.
Time is capricious. It likes to tell me that I have plenty of it, sometimes, or that I have all of its attention. It can lull me into a false sense of confidence, or complacency. Time waits as it encourages me to procrastinate, or bears down on my chest and stomach, on my esophagus, and ticks away on the corner of a YouTube video I’m watching to calm down and clear my head. And all that time, it keeps score. It writes down, much in the way that I’m not, everything I’m doing except for what it thinks I should be doing: what it alternatively whispers and shouts at me what I should be doing.
Sometimes Time likes to get fresh. It likes to throw something in my face and yell “Surprise! Deal with it! This is your only chance, but no pressure!” It gets relentless and manic: jabbing, kicking, and screaming at me about how I need to do this thing now Now NOW NOW NOW but it won’t always tell me what I am supposed to do, or how I should do it. And when I ask it why, it mostly answers in the negative. It tells me that if I don’t do this, I will suffer, I will remain in stasis, or I will rot from the inside like the spoiled creature that it claims and makes me feel that I am.
I’m not even talking about when Time decides to take me on a trip down memory lane. It’s like the TARDIS from Hell. It likes to show me everything I was, and what I’m not anymore. It likes to show me what I could have done instead, but no backsies. It likes to show me what I could have been, but how I will never have those chances because of my own ineptness: my own sense of paralysis. It explains to me, in immense detail, how it will stretch out and test all of my friendships and relationships — all of my connections with them — and slowly, and carefully fray the emotions around them over time until I feel detached and disassociated from everyone. It tells me not to trust anyone or anything: how one day, they will all leave me, or I will leave them first.
And then, it takes me into the future. It takes me to a place where it confirms the worst of my fears. Time tells me that I wasted my life. It tells me that I am a loser for living at home after having worked and had scholarships at university. And then, Time likes to be cruel. It enjoys offering me opportunities, waving them in my face, and then right at the last second in an inverse of “no backsies” go “just kidding” and kick me right back into the metaphorical gutter that it took me from: sort of a reversal of fortune writ petty, and small, and banal.
Time likes to play “The Pit and the Pendulum” below me and over my head. It likes to wear me down and remind me of every stupid thing I’ve done, and how no matter what I have done since I will always be that whiny self-entitled child that doesn’t deserve a single thing he gets. It tells me that I’m useless. It says I’m too old, or that I’m getting too old to make anything that will turn my life around.
Time tells me that I am unkempt and that everything is shallow anyway. It tells me I am not nearly as clever or as smart as I think I am. It reminds me of the children that taunted me as a child because I talked too slow, or because I fidget and rock back and forth. It said that I used to be good at “passing” as “normal” but I’ve lost that ability. It says that nothing I do, no creation of mine I create, and no relationship I seek or make matters. Nothing I do will matter. Sometimes, when it is really cruel, it likes to remind me of how good things used to be and how horrible they’ve become now: how I made them that way. It tells me I’ve imprisoned myself, locked myself away, made myself think I am weak and pathetic and rubs my delusions of grandeur — of working hard to excel and be someone — right back in my face like shit.
Then it tells me my only future is around people who I will never relate to, and that I will be alone.
In this way, this version of Time as my inner critic and judge is like Chronos: like him it cuts away the good memories of the past by making me think I’ve learned nothing from it, and it eats my children by paralyzing me, and telling me that I will accomplish nothing but thwarted, angry, bitter dreams.
And Time has been louder these days. Like I said, it wears you down. You defy it over and again like screaming at a brick wall. But you get tired. You get drained. I’ve worked for so long for very little money. I know I should send out pitches or stories, but I don’t feel motivated to do them: as negative motivation from Time is a terrible reason to want to do anything worth while. I don’t even know where to go. But that isn’t true. I have a comics script I never finished because of procrastination and Time telling me it’s too late, and reminding me about my inadequacies. I have a Toronto Comics Anthology I could submit pitches to, but again too much Time has passed and I don’t feel the same way about Toronto as I used to: making it belong to another life. I’ve had talks I’ve put aside because of the fear that something will be over, even though it may well already be, or because I just let it go for too long. It mocks me about how my fanfiction is useless because I will never get paid and there is no reason to do it. It looks at my articles and tells me I am wasting my time reiterating matter I didn’t even create. And it tells me not to get close to anyone because I will end up losing track of the emotions, and by the time they lurch in me full stop they will be long gone.
My judge has the power to freeze itself, to slowly make me watch things change and do nothing to stop them. But it isn’t linear. My critic is definitely cyclical: as circular as this entire post has probably become.
A long time ago, someone I loved wrote a poem before she ever met me. It was called “Where Time Goes to Die.” And sometimes, when Time tells me I should have died in the Summer of 2008 when I was happy and I thought my life was just beginning and everyone was still with me, I wish it would just die. I wish Time would die and I would forever avoid that place where it perished.
Then I would finally be free.
But that’s not what’s going to happen.
What will happen, I think, is this. You see, my inner critic has a weakness. It doesn’t always realize this, but it’s there. Like I said, it likes to pretend to be bigger than it actually is. But what it doesn’t realize is that sometimes I can cut it up into little chunks. Into little bits. Sometimes, I can takes parts of it as well. Sometimes I eat it just like it tries to eat my creations. I take them, these pieces of my judge, jury, and executioner. I eat them one by one with my fork like the pieces of breaded cutlet I sometimes microwave at night.
Then I have dialogues with the parts of myself that Time thinks it has taken away from, or locked away from each other. We exchange notes. Sometimes we wear masks to hide from it. This becomes dialogue. Dialogue becomes interactions and the formation of scenes and descriptions. Sometimes I steal bits of Time when it doesn’t think I can even get out of bed. I take it and read something like Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles: which makes me remember my comics script and dialogue and wondering what might happen if I write just the dialogue of what I want to say and fill in the description later from I have already done.
My past selves talk with each other, to me, on the grapevine that the scythe can never really serrate that well. Then I recall the opportunities. I look at what I have done before and I wonder if I can adapt it into something else. Or I take some space and think of something I haven’t done before.
And then when Time wants to implode like powerful gravity, I just let it. Sometimes I just let it weigh me down and I don’t fight it. I feel it. I remember it. I remember this Spirit of Gravity and I think about its power, coming from a black hole and string theory, and if blackholes are wormholes and if I can harness the power of Wormhole Technology to do something completely ad hoc.
So I work through it. I do the little things that Time doesn’t think are all that important or worth its notice except to make delicate, beautiful, egg-shell bombs. But eventually, one day Time will reach too far. It will offer me something that I can grab back. It will step onto one of its deadly little Easter eggs. I will have more friends. More allies. People talk about Time. I’ve already talked about Time here and what it likes to do. Some people might not like that very much. Some people might not like that at all.
I will take Time’s regrets and uncertainties and create a world out of them of my design. I will take my pain and I will write with it. I will create new life. And then, one day, when I send in more pitches, and better more defined works of which I will have enthusiasm, and I sleep better, and eat well, and people will talk about my name to other people and places all across its surface, I will make the that place. I will create that space. I will make the site of the area of the grave of the ground where Time — my Time — goes to die.
And I will point and laugh. And I will be utterly satisfied.
She asks me to walk with her, although I know I don’t have too much time. Even the TTC, in this world, has something of a schedule to keep. But I can’t refuse her. I never could.
“We should take the streetcar when we get to it.” I tell her as we walk out of the Huron Garden behind the Lillian H. Smith Library with its memories of red berries, green and tea. “I imagine you have important things to do.”
“On a day like this?” She shakes her head. “No. I don’t want to put my bike on a bumper. And right now, the only important thing is to enjoy this July weather people keep complaining about. Wouldn’t you say?”
She’s right of course. As we begin walking down College and Spadina, the summery day somehow seems to make everything newer and clean. Even in the sun, her weathered face is as round and cratered as a silvery moon: motherly, worn, and wise.
“Come on.” She says, her voice still sibilant and deliberate despite being an octave lower. “I want to have a look at the Library again before my next book launch.”
There is a quiet eagerness to her steps as she guides the bicycle beside her with both hands. We come to the front of the Lillian H. Smith Library. Even now, I can’t help but marvel at the arch framing the doorway and the elaborate statues of the winged lion and griffin on either side with their entourage of carved animal friends. It reminds me of the guardians set around Morpheus’ Palace of Dreams: minus the Dragon and the Unicorn.
She stares up at the statues as well. As she smiles, the jowls of her cheeks turn into fine lines and her faded blue eyes light up into slivers of sky.
“Mac couldn’t have done better: him or Ruben.” She says. “It’s come a long way from the Spaced Out Library, you know. I haven’t been here in a long time,” she puts a weathered hand on the griffin’s side.
“Neither have I.” I admit and I wonder why given that this is the closest Toronto Public Library I’ve ever felt to home.
“I used to work at Girls & Boys House.” She says. “I was a page there.”
“I know.” I tell her.
She turns and pats me on the shoulder. “Of course you do. Come on. I want to go through the Market for a while.”
Again, I feel a slight nudging of time but she is persuasive. We turn around and walk towards Kensington. We pass many women in summer dresses and Homburg hats, men in vintage suits and T-shirts and children playing with music and somehow I feel happier watching them. I notice a few of them carrying Canadian flags as well, but I don’t pay it too much notice.
“They turned Boys & Girls into a U of T Security building if you can believe it.” She grumbles. “A security building of all things!”
I shake my head. “At least there’s the Merrill Library.”
“The Lillian H. one.” She corrects me. “As much as Judy would have liked that, she’d have corrected you sooner.” She sighs. “Poor Judy. She’d have gotten a real hoot out of what this place has become. I’m so glad we’re having the reception upstairs.”
By the time we get to one of the Kensington Market intersections, the sky is beginning to turn orange in the late afternoon sun. I also begin to see more Canadian flags: some of them set near stalls and others carried out by vendors. They are even there as labels on people’s shirts. Then I remember what day it is.
That is when I hear the crescendo of Bif Naked’s “Spaceman” and notice that my companion is no longer at my side. I find myself wandering around looking for her. I know I should start making my way back now, but I can’t. I just ran into her by coincidence after getting off the car from Lower Queen and getting very quickly lost … no, found in a once and a lifetime opportunity series of conversations with her. But having said so much and yet so little considering, I can’t leave it at this now.
I wonder why no one has reacted to her yet — this Poet Laureate of Toronto — but then I think about it again. Even here, in this place where she is honoured, many of them probably just see a little old lady in a red and Phoenician-purple looking tunic that could just as easily be woven with Greek and aboriginal patterns.
I find her in front of the astronaut. She — the astronaut — has loudspeakers behind her that is the source of the Bif Naked song. The astronaut is a pale woman with straight long black hair. Her white bulky suit has a Canadian tag on its chest. My friend — and yes I consider her my friend at this point — drops a Toonie into the other woman’s gloved hand.
“So cool.” I hear my friend say before she walks past me to a nearby booth to buy an orange from a lithe dark-skinned woman with multi-coloured dreadlocks.
“I had a photo taken of me in a space-suit once.” She pays for the orange. “It was supposed to be the cover for my latest book of poems, but because it was the seventies my publishers wouldn’t let me use it. Now you have all these famous singers and female astronauts making fashion statements alike. Just look at how far we’ve come.” She pauses. “Still, let it be said that I did it before it was cool,” she ends off with a wink in my direction.
I laugh and look back at the street. “You know, Kensington Market reminds me of the Carnival scene in Issue #22 of Miracleman.” I offer, caught by the myriad of different people buying and celebrating in the streets.
She nods beside me. “And it’s Marvelman. It’s the Marvel Family. A happy family of superheroes. None of that litigation bullshit.”
I’m laughing again. “No. The only thing missing are the balloons.”
Then we see a booth with balloons. We exchange a look. She’s the one that breaks the tableaux. “Well, let’s see if these ones will let us float into the sky.”
And so we get some balloons. We don’t fly, but we might as well have. Our conversation about comic books continues.
“I think Neil was the best thing that happened to Marvelman.” She says as we walk–her with a green balloon and me with a red one. “I love the mythopoeic, the changes that legends go through. Neil keeps an essential humanity throughout all of his works.”
I feel a lightness in my chest — a giddiness — as I hear her talk about Neil Gaiman. “And not Alan Moore?”
She turns to me and frowns a bit, the wattles of her neck forming a cavern underneath the worn Anglo-Sphinx of her face. “Don’t get me wrong.” She tells me. “Alan Moore is brilliant, as brilliance goes, but I’m not sure I like the direction he took my Marvel Family. It was too dark. Too …” she shakes her head. “Too eighties.”
As she grins again, I feel my mouth matching her expression. “You know, I was born in the eighties.”
“Yes, but I lived through them …” She stops walking and stands there. People continue to move past us, but she remains still. Her blue eyes blink a few times and her face begins to resemble an older version of the gaunt and haunted expressions I’ve seen captured in photograph.
“The city became so cold and impersonal.” She says faintly. I look at the distance in her gaze and I can’t quite find it in myself to meet her eyes.
“My drinking got worse. I wasn’t writing and I kept making myself sick. That time, in ’87 I almost died …”
This time, I can’t even look in her direction. She’s quiet for a few more moments, as though considering something. “The irony was if Frank — my drunkard buddy Frank — hadn’t come into my apartment when he did, I would’ve been dead. There’d be no walks on Kensington. No lectures at Western, York, or U of T. No coffee with Peggy. No new cats. No new books. No life. Nothing.”
“I’m glad you survived.” I whisper, still not meeting her gaze and trying not to think about the alternative right now.
She shakes her head at me sadly. “That time in the Animal Rights Movement probably helped. I honestly didn’t think I had anymore to give, you know? And then, when I went back to that infernal Black Tunnel Wall,” as she keeps talking I wonder if — in this world — she’s told anyone about this in an interview or anywhere else millions of times before, “looking at my mother’s experiences during the Blitz … you know, they compared the thing to Plath’s Bell Jar, though I never really got that comparison. Looking back though, it’s like I passed through that tunnel and … I’m so glad I did.”
She smiles at me again. “You’re right. It wasn’t a bad time. I got to see Toronto get beautiful again: with all those clubs and Goth Nights coming up with their lithe, pale, made-up young boys and girls in black and kohl. Really cool stuff: made me almost want to be sixteen again. And my friends were there and I got a whole ton of honourary doctorates …”
“No. Don’t call me that. Professor or Doctor is for someone who graduated high school. Miss is for someone more authoritarian than I ever was. You can call me by name.”
I almost do. Instead, she shakes her head. “I’m sorry. It’s just Alan Moore reminds me of the rest of the eighties and I know that’s not fair. We all have to work with darkness and re-imagining those Jungian archetypes. Look at George Lucas’ Star Wars.”
“And then the Prequel Trilogy.” I mutter.
“Please,” she holds the palm of her hand out to my face, “let’s not. It almost makes me wish I hadn’t survived the eighties.”
I shake my head, case in point. “There was no comparison. I think Neil had the more difficult job though,” I tell her as we make our way towards the College and Spadina streetcar line, “I mean, where do you go from utopia?”
The sky is more pink than orange by the time we get to the tracks.
“All utopias are problematic. As long as human nature exists, as long as that yearning is there, as long as we tell stories nothing ever really stops. There is always something after ‘Happily ever after.’ It never ends. It is never over.”
With that remark, she stops to ease herself onto her bike seat. And then I know.
“But this is.” I state, feeling myself deflate inside.
She takes her helmet and begins to put it on over her silver hair. “You knew that already.”
There is so much I want to ask her still, so much I want to say but all I can actually say is, “Please …”
She shakes her head at me. “You know, when I stare off like this, I can see why Louis Dudek once called me ‘Crazy Cassandra,’” she says, fondly.
“You’re more of a Tiresias than a Cassandra.” I whisper helplessly as I try to ignore the tears welling up in my eyes.
“No. You’re wrong, my friend. I’m no more the shade of Tiresias than you are Odysseus feeding me blood at the Nekromanteion of Ephyra, though your heart is in the right place.”
There is a light in her eyes. They are somehow an even stronger blue than ever in the pink light of an early Toronto evening. Their dreamy expression stares right into me. I feel ashamed.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her.
“I understand.” She says not unkindly. “You’re trying to do for me what I attempted to do for Lawrence. And I thank you for that. But I am not your Other. I am not your Cloud-Gwen.”
I hang my head because deep down I know she’s right. Then I feel a gentle hand cupping my face and turning me to look up at her again. As she sits up on her bicycle, her white hair sticks out of her helmet is a pastel of different colours in the sunset.
“Mishugina,” she murmurs softly, her smile wry and gentle. “All of this is an elementary world. A mythical world. You should be proud.”
She leans forward and we hug. I wonder if anyone else can see us: and what it exactly is they are seeing. Is it an embrace between friends, a grandson and grandmother, or something more wishing the other farewell, and never goodbye?
The next thing I know, we’ve let go of each other. She is looking up and around us. “It’s funny,” she says, “today is Kanada Day and this country still doesn’t know what it is.”
“Maybe not.” I try to keep myself from choking up. “But neither does Toronto.”
She laughs. “It never did.”
I shake my head this time. “But I can definitely tell you that you helped it dream up some of its coat of many different colours.”
She smiles and in the waning sun, her face seems ageless and Egyptian again.“Dream well, my friend.”
She turns around and begins to peddle away.
Suddenly, I find myself running after her. I’m shouting, calling after her, “Tell me, Gwen! Did Julian the Magician know how to resurrect the dead? Did he know how to resurrect the dead!? Or was he supposed to bring back the living? Or himself? Tell me, Gwen! Please tell me!”
But by the time I ask these questions, she is already gone. I stop running. Soon, a far-too-clean and far-too-efficient TTC streetcar visits the too-clean street and rail shelter. As it comes to a stop in front of me, I know I have to go now. I helped make this place, but it isn’t mine anymore.
I came here through Lower Queen, the Gate of Ivory that could have been, and now I leave back through Lower Bay, the Gate of Horn that actually happened: back to a colder place, a more cordial place, a place of slow public transport and garbage, an asymmetrical place, a city that doesn’t make sense, a city with dark memories that never really took root.
It is a place without her.
But she did exist here, and so did I. So do I. Because today is Kanada Day. Today is a day of potlucks and shadows; magic shows and superheroes; Greeks and Egyptian exhibits at the Royal Ontario Museum; and all the people on the streets who are no-man.
Yet more than that, she showed me the secret. Because I know now, even riding this streetcar, that whatever this place and this city is, it is ultimately a land that turns you inward.
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