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Friday, October 28, 2011

Interview: J.J. Steinfeld

TDR question (in three parts):

Please tell us about your interest in the short story by
(a) telling us a bit about your recent collection (e.g., how did it come about? does it have a recurring theme? do you have a particular story or passage that's a favourite?)

Writing stories in an ongoing process for me, and after I finish one, I send it off to a journal or magazine in an attempt to “test” my current exploration of the worldly or the otherworldly. Then, for reasons that elude me, I wake up one tormented morning and decide to gather up some of my stories, sometimes in their original form, other times reworked, and put them in some sort of order and literary shape.

For my latest (and tenth) short story collection — I have also published two short-fiction chapbooks — I selected, as is my idiosyncratic tendency, a variety of stories so I could present the themes that engage my sensibilities, and this collection wound up having the most stories, twenty-eight, of all my collections, surpassing the twenty-six of my 1993 New & Selected Ragweed Press collection, Dancing at the Club Holocaust. As for describing the themes in my latest collection, and in much of my other work, I’ll use the description from the back of the book (and the publisher’s website):

“The twenty-eight short stories of A Glass Shard and Memory deal with the influence of the past and memory on the present; how the turmoil and struggle of existence stir some people to rage while paralysing others; the significance of love, creativity, and madness in the lives of individuals as they attempt to deal with the not always hospitable world around them. These stories are interwoven with the tragic and the absurd and sometimes with the darkly humorous.”

While I don’t have a favourite story, I do have a title I particularly like: “The Only One in the Beautiful Magician’s Audience Who Did Not Look Like Kafka.” As you know, Michael, I have a lifelong literary fascination with Kafka’s work and references to Kafka and his writing find their way into some of my writing, including this story, the title (and opening) story,“ A Glass Shard and Memory,” and the collection’s concluding story, “Historical Perspective.”

Since I prefer to allow my writing to speak for my work rather than describe that work, here’s a passage from “The Only One in the Beautiful Magician’s Audience Who Did Not Look Like Kafka.” that attempts to capture the narrator’s entrapment somewhere between the absurd and the existential of his life. Just so you don’t think this narrator is anything like me, he has sky-blue eyes and mine are earth-brown. There, I’m off the autobiographical hook:

…Nervous, a bit disoriented by my disrupted sleep, I arrived early at the old, recently renovated building. Outside, the weather was unseasonable, spiteful; inside, I found my seat near the centre of the third row, and sat with my eyes closed as the audience entered. It was not long before I was enthralled by the featured act, a young top-hatted magician, sensual, long-legged, superbly talented, creating a name for herself making small, growling animals and large, antique cars vanish from the stage. I am here for the beauty, not the magic, I shouted out, forgetting for a instant that I was not alone in the audience. But the magic is beautiful, I declared as a plea for forgiveness. I looked around, nervous about my outburst, waiting for the beautiful magician to perform her next feat of magic, and saw that everyone resembled Franz Kafka, their faces exactly the same. A joke, I thought, a peculiar coincidence, but no, how could that be. I thought of the photographs of the brooding dark-eyed writer I had seen in books, and the resemblance was indisputable. I counted over a hundred of the Kafka-faced, re-counted, looked for discrepancies, slight deviations, but no again, the evidence resolute as the Seven Wonders of the World. Confusion and fear exerted their boisterous language, and I was a poor translator, a frightened linguist. I ran to the washroom, my heart beating faster than confusion or fear, and looked into the mirror: ah, reprieve and a sigh of familiarity, recognizing the reflected face I knew, the well-worn, unhandsome shape. I studied my face half-heartedly, disappointed, and wiped the mirror in unmagical despair, mouthing the words homely and ugly, then peculiar, odd, hideous, unusual, my words a memory stammer. I wondered about the life I would have lived had Nature smiled more favourably on my features or dreams, or if a skilled surgeon would have fashioned my face into something else.

— from “The Only One in the Beautiful Magician’s Audience Who Did Not Look Like Kafka,” pages 14-15 (in A Glass Shard and Memory by J. J. Steinfeld, Recliner Books, 2010, copyright © 2010 by J. J. Steinfeld).

(b) recommending a short story or collection by someone else that you admire (and why?)

I am reluctant to single out one short story collection but being gnawed at by my sense of literary fair play and attempting to repay a kindness, I will recommend Rebecca Rosenblum’s new collection, The Big Dream (Biblioasis, 2011), for two reasons: 1) it is an exciting, well-crafted, captivating, insightful collection, and 2) Rebecca said some generous things about an earlier short story collection of mine, Would You Hide Me? (Gaspereau Press, 2003), in an interview she did in this very same TDR. So, that makes as much sense as any other way of making a recommendation. I first ran across Rebecca’s work in the form of her first short story collection, Once (Biblioasis, 2008), when I was one of the three judges for the 2009 Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and was greatly impressed by her writing. And if life were a short story, here’s an interesting plot twist: Rebecca is now engaged to a good writer friend of mine, Mark Sampson, but when I was judging her work I had no idea that they even knew each other, let alone anything romantic was in the air for them.

(c) reflecting on the 21st century and the short story: Are they a good match (and why)?

Gee, is it the 21st century already? My, how angst-ridden time flies when your synapses and psyche are grappling with writing new stories (and poems and plays). I like to think the short story transcends time and place and century, but I guess I do reside on a planet that requires categories and calendars and existential snapshots of our times. Technologically, everything seems to be speeding up, information is accumulating at a ridiculous pace, and perhaps the short story can accommodate this spiralling heavens-knows-where century through language that can be as absurd or realistic or fanciful as a writer wishes in an effort to either depict or deconstruct or reinvent the comings and goings of the century we are caught in but can certainly embrace or escape (either back or forward in time, and with old or new writing techniques) through the short story. Personally, I seem to be writing more and more minimalist short stories in an effort to deal with a century that is becoming more and more cumbersome and overloaded. Seems appropriate to end this interview on an absurd note. Happy (and sad) reading! Happy (and sad) short story writing!

Photo credit: Brenda Whiteway

New Fiction by J.J. Steinfeld

One Last Question

Samuel Prufrock woke up and actually felt good, refreshed. Not even the slightest hint of a hangover. He was never one to hold his liquor and last night he had a half-dozen beers. What was more amazing, he wondered, not having a hangover or being able to perform in bed being drunk, with a woman he had met at the retirement party for the chair of his department less than twelve hours ago. And the wonderment did not stop there. Amazingly, he wasn’t feeling any guilt about what he had done. He thought he’d feel guilty, and when she invited him back to her hotel room and he accepted, he was only half blaming it on the drink.

Samuel looked at the back of the woman in bed with him and couldn’t believe his good fortune. This extraordinary woman had come up to him in the party, handed him a bottle of beer, and said she found him attractive. He was never one for looks. In fact, he had always considered himself unattractive. He felt his head was too large for his small, unusual body. His wife claimed he had inner beauty; at least that’s what she claimed when they dated and married a year later in a memorable ceremony in Buenos Aries. He liked having an Argentine wife. Exotic, he considered her, even though she had spent most of her life in Canada. That’s where she was now, in Buenos Aries, with her critically ill mother. She had taken their daughter and son with her, to be with their dying grandmother who they had never met before.

Now Samuel was waking up in a lavish hotel room, with no hangover and the most extraordinary woman he had ever met who had stirred him in ways he didn’t think possible. Extraordinary if for no other reason than her impressive athletic physique. She was ten inches taller than him and muscular, yet there was an appealing femininity to her. And she could excite him with her talk. Also, when he first told her his name, not only did she know that his surname was the same as in the T.S. Eliot poem, she immediately recited the poem’s epigraph in Italian from Dante’s Inferno and then in English the first two stanzas of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" as if she had been waiting for her cue to begin an impressive recitation. "I can’t stand the poem, wouldn’t memorize a sentence of it when I was growing up," he said. "You were born to be an English Lit teacher," she had said, and he told her he was a philosophy professor. She told him she was a niece of the philosophy department’s chair and that her mother and her uncle hadn’t spoken in almost a decade but she had asked her to attend the party and wish he estranged brother her best. Before he left, though, Samuel wished the chair well in his retirement and commented on what an extraordinary niece he had but the chair claimed he didn’t have any nieces, only two nephews who he hadn’t seen in ages. The chair seemed even more drunk than he was, and Samuel hugged him goodbye, the most affection he had ever shown this man who he had always regarded as unfriendly and eccentric.

Samuel touched the woman’s shoulder gently, but she didn’t respond. The woman felt cold, and he pulled the cover over her shoulders. He gave the back of the neck a little kiss of appreciation, and it too felt cold. Too cold.

"We should have breakfast," Samuel whispered. He said it a little louder, then he thanked her for the most incredible night of his life. He looked at the clock and calculated what the time would be in Buenos Aries . He had promised to call his wife and children yesterday to wish his daughter a happy birthday and chat with his son, and to find out how his mother-in-law was doing, but had forgotten to during the day, remembering at the party at eleven Toronto time but that would have been midnight in Buenos Aries, too late to phone. He wondered if his wife had tried to call him at home. He was preparing excuses why he hadn’t been at home, or called earlier. Forgotten to take his cellphone to the party. Early morning walk. He always did his best philosophical thinking during early morning walks. Bumped into an old friend and they went out for a long breakfast. He was starting to feel guilty. The first time he had slept with another woman. In fact, his wife was the first woman he had ever slept with. His wife was certainly no novice. She had dated three other men in their department before she proposed to him during an academic conference they were both at in France. The stories about her in the department. At first he didn’t want to believe them, but then it didn’t matter. She was a lovely woman and a first-rate scholar. He couldn’t believe what she had said and questioned her. All his life he had been asking questions—he liked to say his calling was to professionally ask questions—but usually in his academic work. He had recently been made a full professor. She thought he’d make a good father, had humility despite his academic accomplishments, and had a great sense of humour, which he didn’t unless cracking groaners about metaphysics or epistemology was one’s idea of the humorous but she insisted that was one of the reasons. You’re so exotic he said after her proposal. She insisted he get her pregnant that night, even before they were married. That was the best conference of his life, even if felt the paper he had delivered with not his best.

Amidst his thoughts about his wife and academic career, Samuel gave the woman a slight shake, a little more forceful—Oh God, she was dead. He felt like a bewildered undergraduate who had received a failing grade on the best essay he had ever written. He got out of bed and saw himself in the mirror, thought he had the body of a much older man. He could see the woman’s body on the bed. He looked around the room, as if the explanation for what had happened were hidden somewhere in the hotel room. He touched her clothes that she had thrown earlier on a chair, opened the small purse she had. Found an ID. It wasn’t the name she had given him. Her middle name, Sarah, was the same as his daughter’s first name. Strange, but so what? A meaningless little coincidence. The ID was for an organization he had never heard of: Worldwide Security Enrichment. Maybe he was being set up, lured to this room and the woman killed. What a terrible plot, yet it seemed plausible. But he was no one, at least in the context of world events and national security. He wasn’t a threat to anyone or anything. I’m a philosophy professor, he said aloud, as if preparing to answer the interrogation that was sure to follow. He picked up the woman’s cellphone and his cellphone, trying to decide not only which one to use but whom to call first. He put the cellphones down and dressed quickly, fearing there would be a knock at the door, or even worse, the door would be broken down by members of the organization the woman worked for.

After dressing, and searching around the room further, Samuel decided to call the front desk. There had to be an explanation for her death. A logical, rationale, verifiable explanation. But not for his adultery. Not for going to a hotel room with a strange woman. Unless it was alcohol. He had drunk himself into a meaningless fling. That was how he was rehearsing it for his wife, whom he would call soon. How’s your mother doing?…I love you, darling …Let me talk to our little birthday girl … But he would wait until she returned to Canada to tell her what had happened. By then, he was sure, the identity of the woman and who or what had caused her death would be known, and he couldn’t be held culpable. As for the sexual encounter, maybe he could deny that, but he knew there would be an autopsy and a thorough investigation, and they could certainly determine there had been sexual activity. Despite his belief in rigorous, rational thinking, he even hoped for an irrational moment that his wife and children would not find out.

No answer at the front desk. Samuel tried over and over again, conducting some sort of scientific experiment. He wanted to take a shower first. Just go down to the front desk and tell them to call the police. Or should he call the police himself. What was the organization? Couldn’t find it in the phone book. Checked it on the internet. Put her name in a search engine and all he found were references to her athletic achievements in high school and college until an injury ended her pentathlon career before she had a chance to go to the Olympics, which several articles said had been her lifelong goal.

Samuel called Buenos Aries , already in his mind attempting to sound cheerful for his wife and children but there was no answer. Called the university, but realized no one would be there on a Sunday. Called the police. Called numbers at random. Voice mail and answering machines. Annoying busy signals. Peculiar electronic signals. Combed his hair, took his laptop, and opened the door. This had to be dealt with. He had a marriage and a career to protect. He hurried toward the elevator as though attempting to catch a departing bus, nearly tripping over a tray of food that had been left outside a room’s door. Near the elevator he saw an open door an stepped cautiously inside. An elderly couple were on their bed, unmoving. They looked peaceful, he thought. He spoke to them but neither person answered, and he decided they had died in their sleep just like the woman in his room. Maybe there was some sort of poisoning or lethal gas on the floor. But he felt no ill effects. Not even a hangover. He left the room and pushed the elevator button, watching the numbers, until 20 appeared. The door opened and he rode down in the elevator wondering how many people had died in their rooms in their sleep.

The elevator opened to the lobby, and there was no one in the lobby, only the clerk at the front desk slumped over the counter. Samuel shook the man, hoping he had merely fallen asleep on the job. Obviously it wasn’t just the twentieth floor. The entire hotel, no indication that anyone was alive. He could leave. No need to tell anyone he had been here.

Quickly Samuel went through what had occurred since he met the woman, watching a sped up film. Thinks if he left anything in the room. His fingerprints. Semen. But there was no record of his fingerprints. He had her cellphone with him, and realized it needed to be discarded. What sort of moral and ethical quagmire had he fallen into. He thought of the colleague in the office next to him, an eminent ethicist who would surely chastise him for the decisions he was making. He didn’t want to go back. Everyone in the hotel, he became certain, was in their room in repose…dead.

Samuel stepped outside and took a deep breath. It was a calm, beautiful morning. The temperature seemed much warmer than he recalled the forecast. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except there was no one around.

Samuel walked for blocks, looking through apartment windows, occasionally seeing people asleep inside, sometimes tapping at windows or banging at doors, but no one responded, he concluding that they too had died in their sleep. Tried his cellphone again. Thought of going to the university, his office. Saw a Rolls Royce parked, with the keys in the ignition. He’d never been in a Rolls. He imagined that the owners of the car, a husband and wife deeply in love, went to bed after a night of partying, and never woke up. He didn’t want to believe that no one in the city hadn’t awoken to such a beautiful morning, and still hoped to find others who were greeting a new day, having a Sunday breakfast and perhaps an affirming kiss or exciting, hopeful conversation with someone they loved and cared about. How he wished he were in Buenos Aries now, close to his wife and children.

Samuel started the car and drove to the university. Maybe the deaths and the strange occurrences were only in the downtown area. Nothing on the radio. He opened the glove compartment and found a gun and car registration. Maybe the car’s owner belonged to the same organization as the dead woman in the hotel room. That was preposterous, he decided, and pointed the gun out the window, aiming at nothing in particular. Aside from toy guns as a little boy, he had never handled a gun. First time in a Rolls and first time with a gun, he told himself, and smiles at the absurd juxtaposition of these first-time images. He abruptly put the gun back into the glove compartment, shaking his head at even the thought of carrying a gun.

He didn’t see a single living person on the half-hour drive to the university. There were few cars in the parking lot. It was Sunday, after all. His office was exactly as he left it. No one around. Looked at the photographs of his wife and children. Sat at his desk and turned on his computer. A paper he had been working on. Wanted to watch the episode of The Twilight Zone with the last person left alive. "Time Enough at Last." How he liked that television series and "Time Enough at Last" fascinated him, so much so that he had incorporated that one, along with several other episodes he found philosophically stimulating, into one of his first-year philosophy courses. He even liked to attempt to imitate Rod Serling when he gave the introduction and summation to each episode. He had all the episodes from 1959 to 1964, all 156 of them, on DVD in his office, and had watched them with his children. He wasn’t the last person alive. There were close to seven billion people on the planet. A few weeks ago his son had found a population counter on the internet and showed his father the date the seventh billion person would be born. Now he seemed to be surrounded by death: a hotel of bodies, at least on the 20th floor and in the lobby. Tragic and sad these hotel deaths were, it was a mortality glitch. How could he be the last one left alive? Continued to think about stories and films that dealt with the last person left, but it was The Twilight Zone episode that occupied his thoughts. Wanted to go home and watch that episode. Put the DVD in his computer and watched the episode. Watched it twice.

Samuel drove home, walked around his neighbourhood, went into houses, searched through the lives of people he knew, had some wonderful liquor, a few slices of cold pizza. Found no one alive or any explanation for what had happened. His confusion worsening, he got back into the car and drove toward downtown, wanting to return to the hotel.

Before Samuel reached the hotel, he slammed on the brakes in front of an imposing church. The oldest church in the city. Sensed there would be people alive inside. A church full of people praying and attempting to understand what was happening. Gets out of the car, not bothering to close the door. Strange, he thinks, how he is drawn to this religion’s place of worship. Shouldn’t he go to a synagogue. He was Jewish, after, all. The synagogue where he was bar mitzvahed. No, what’s the difference. Church, synagogue, mosque, temple. Starts thinking of holy places in the city and other places in the world. A mental exercise, fighting to make sense of what was happening all around him.

Inside the church, not a single person present, Samuel looks at the iconography. His wife would be proud of him, he thinks. Attempts to call her again. Starts singing songs from his youth. Thinks about the woman in the hotel room, the chair of the philosophy department’s retirement party. Looks at his watch, and shakes his head. Takes his watch off and hurls it toward the front of the church. Decides to take a drive, a long drive. And when he runs out of gas, then he would decide what to do next. Samuel continued to hold out hope he would find people somewhere.

As he is about to leave the church, Samuel asks one last question: Why am I still alive? He half expected to hear Rod Serling’s voice doing the opening or closing narration of an episode. How he wished he were in a classroom, lecturing to students, attempting his inept imitation. He asks the question again, more like a prayer this time.

All the icons and statues start speaking, but in voices Samuel Prufrock cannot understand.


Read TDR's new interview with J.J. Steinfeld.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fiction #29

Here is new fiction, issue #29:
Submissions now open for #30.

Fiction #29: Catriona Wright


I didn’t quit. I resigned. Quitting is for hormonal teenagers who have difficulty with authority and I am a twenty-five-year-old woman in possession of a B.Com from McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management with a concentration in Entrepreneurial Studies.

Skills: My technical savoir-faire and interpersonal acumen provide the ideal compliment to my Creative Disposition and Self-Motivation.

Why did I resign? Because there weren’t enough opportunities for professional development. My boss didn’t even need to read the entire three-page resignation letter I handed over to him. He knew this day was coming, that he couldn’t keep me there forever; I have a degree from McGill, I had my eye on bigger things—no offense to the others in the office who will probably be there for years to come. It was a 100% positive and professional exchange: mutual expressions of goodwill were made, I handed over my nametag, and we shook hands.

Work Experience: Data Entry Information Management Agent (September 2009—February 2010). I inputed large amounts of data into a database. Accuracy of data was paramount whether numerical or linguistic or other (i.e. photographic, graphical, etc.). Employed analytic tools to analyze the data and ensure that accuracy complied with Data Protocol and Standards Regulation as devised by the Data Auditing Department.


It’s strictly temporary. I’m only working this catering job until I can discover where my true calling lies. I am a creative person with a loving heart and a strong work ethic who believes in results. My career must align with my innermost passions or, I know myself, I just won’t feel fulfilled and if I don’t feel personally fulfilled I will not be able to fulfill a life partner or fulfill my children and that is not the way my life is going to happen.

Volunteer Experience: Event Coordinator and Social Media Technician for Breast Cancer Society (September 2004—March 2005). Organized a formal ball for the Breast Cancer Society in order to raise funds for the organization because philanthropy is close to my heart and it is our duty as concerned citizens. Updated the Facebook site, designed the invitations, and brainstormed with my student colleagues to come up with an appropriate theme (cleavage).


I opted not to return to my catering job after working at an Arts Fundraiser where I ran into a former professor from McGill, who I approached, balancing a plate of miniature eggrolls and dipping sauce, with the intention of sneaking a little networking into the evening—I am an adept multi-tasker. The professor did not, however, recognize me and actually ignored me entirely after taking two eggrolls off the tray. When at last his companion left and he turned to me, I thought he was going to speak and perhaps offer me a job lead, but instead he asked for a napkin. There weren’t any on the plate, so I seized the opportunity and offered him my vest to wipe his hands on, which he did. And then I asked him if he thought he could act as a reference, which he did not.

Awards: Employee of the Week for West Island Catering (April 2010)

I lost touch with most of McGill friends. Occasionally I get emails from my former roommate, Maria (though, come to think of it, she still hasn’t responded to my last one). She’s teaching English in Japan. Every time I think about the opportunity cost, I am overwhelmed with sadness, because who will hire her when she eventually returns? Karaoke isn’t exactly a transferable skill.

Are you able to work well in a team and alone? Yes, friends are important, especially as stress relief, but I am rich in Inner Resources, most notably Resiliency and Initiative, and I participate in many selfcare activities, like bikini waxes, so I am prepared to meet the challenges of today’s working world. Yes, with a team. Yes, alone.

My job right now is looking for a job. I take this search seriously. I have written hundreds of personalized cover letters, have changed the font on my resume from Times New Roman to Verdana to Garamond, depending on my perceived perceptions of the recipient. I am a creative person and I work on that kind of wavelength, the detail-oriented one where every single decision needs to be made with care and conscientiousness, because if I have one major fault, it is perfectionism.

In the mean time I have offered to take care of my sister’s children, Rose and Emily, who are three and five respectively. Family is important and a strong stable base for anyone with ambitions and you should never forget them, ever. My sister, who is a grade 10 Biology Teacher, is insisting on paying me, which is nice, but unnecessary. And in fact I wish she wouldn’t because she is paying me the awkward sum of fourteen dollars an hour, which is obviously excessive for a babysitter and yet is not actually very much if she sincerely believes I am in financial duress, which I am not because I am fiscally responsible and also I have a credit card with a high limit. I am putting my sister’s money toward printing, paper and postage costs and I intend to buy presents for the kids as soon as I secure appropriate employment which will happen momentarily because I am a worthy person and thus far in life I have passed all the signposts to success, such as a getting into a good school (McGill), so there is no reason to believe that I am now off-course in any permanent or meaningful way.


What special talents can you bring to the organization? One day I am sitting in a waiting area with several other applicants. As I look around the room, I realize that I am the youngest person there. Ordinarily I do not even notice that kind of thing because age is just a number, but then one woman asks another if she has any children, just small talk, and this look of disappointment crosses the other woman’s face, and she doesn’t even try to suppress it or anything, she just lets it expand over her entire face. “Trying” she says without elaborating and explaining about fertility treatments or acupuncture or special diets. Just “trying.”

And that’s when I understood that what I can offer is not more experience, but less. My youth is the ultimate leverage.

Seeking Would-be Parents for Exciting Opportunity!
DATE: 31-DEC-10

McGill graduate seeks driven sperm and receptive egg to house in her womb for nine months. Sperm and Egg producers must be generous, possess excellent oral and written communication skills, and be able to prioritize the surrogate’s wellbeing above all else.

Both parents must provide a cover letter detailing why the surrogate should consider them, four references, and a CV.

Only qualified candidates will be contacted for an interview.


Just imagine! I’ll be the one asking the questions now. I’ll be the one deciding. And once I find the right candidates and my belly begins to swell, my life will finally be fulfilled. People will eye me in restaurants to make sure I don’t order wine. They’ll offer me their seats on the bus. People will stop me on the street to feel my belly for kicks or to predict the sex based on whether I’m carrying low or high.

I will finally stop being ignored.


Catriona Wright has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, such as The Dalhousie Review, Contemporary Verse 2, Room, and The New Quarterly.

Fiction #29: John Delacourt


To the Editor:

I read your magazine’s review of Aimée Yamada’s recent video installation “You Are My Music” at the Barker Gallery with great interest. As one of the men featured in the video, I just wanted to clear up a few factual errors your reviewer Maya Turner made.

1. “Aimée Yamada’s video project features lonely middle-aged men who started conversations with her to pick her up. Yamada would then agree to go home with them as long as they allowed her to videotape what happened.”

It was Aimée who first approached me - at Topper’s Vinyl where she began to come in last September. At first she was accompanied by two other students, as pale and androgynous as my friends and I all wanted to be thirty years ago. What began as conversations about Kraftwerk and Brian Eno inevitably led to us talking about my past and her future.

Was I attracted to her? That’s complicated. The way she put herself together, all bold monochrome patterns, nylon and leather and sharp angles, it was like some ghost of a girl had come back to claim her rightful place among the memories I resist. As soon as she spoke to me that apparition vanished and I was just as anthropologically interested as I usually am by the young.

It was she who persisted and who kept the conversation going for weeks before there was any mention of her video project. It was the fear of confronting the ghost of my old self that got to me and made me care enough to consider it.

2. “The men Yamada selected are beer-bellied awkward loners who seem remarkable mainly for how unremarkable they are.”

I will fully admit I could lose about twenty pounds. I’m also forty-eight years old and can’t bear the indignity of tramping and panting through the streets in cartoon clothes.

You want unremarkable? You go stand in line at your grocery store and take in the countless wizened, tucked and taut fifty-year old men, their bum cheeks vacuum packed into those two hundred dollar jeans they bought to save their third marriage.

Yes, that would be the marriage to your critic Maya Turner.

As for awkward? When I was twenty-four and the keyboardist for Broken Lines, the reporter for Canadian Music Express magazine described me as “reserved,” “intense,” and “mesmerizing” live. Maybe all of that changes twenty-four years, four pant sizes and a shaved head later. I’m the same guy. Not sure what I could do to be mesmerizing though.

Even the word loner here is questionable. If you spent your best years traveling around the country with four other troubled introverts and one untroubled extrovert, committed to the code of conduct the music business requires, you’ve seen and heard quite enough of human behaviour to favour moderation in all things, including human contact.

I still talk to people but in contexts that do not cause me undue pain, stress, hostility or possible humiliation. I believe I have a higher tolerance than most for the company of men my age who want to discuss music. If you were to add up all the hours I spend each week standing at the counter discussing Bowie’s Berlin period or the once-pervasive influence of Rudy Van Gelder, I would challenge you to tell me how much more of a loner I am than any man who bases his very livelihood – such as it is - on transactional conversations.

3. “It is difficult to explain how uncomfortable it is to watch Yamada’s videos. No matter how much the camera loves her, the stubborn presence of her co-stars denies any possibility of eroticism.”

I’m going to suggest that what Maya Turner really means is not eroticism but arousal. In other words, it is not porn, these old guys Yamada is with are too unattractive and there’s no fucking. So it’s probably art.

I’m the last person to deny Aimée Yamada’s claims that she is making art. I would hope more than anything in the world that she realizes all her ambitions. The closest thing to ecstasy I saw her experience (clothed – always clothed) was when she spoke of her new dealer and to whom and how much the stills from her video are selling for. I am not begrudging her that; who doesn’t want ecstasy to still exist, especially for the young?

But I think she may have indeed been making porn with “You Are My Music.” It’s just a different kind of pornography, maybe. One that transcends arousal.

4. “In one segment, when Yamada and one of her costars dance along to a music video from the nineties, there is something deeply poignant about the connection made that transfixes the viewer.”

The video in question is actually from 1983. It is the one song of the Broken Lines that entered the top 20 of both the UK and US charts and led to two years of constant touring, opening for bands that are also best forgotten, ten years of anger, legal battles, intermittent sallies of bitter recriminations among all the band members and twenty years of therapy for me, as I tried to come to terms with my boyhood friendship with lead singer and arch-narcissist Davis Clegg.

Aimée turned the camera on after we had finished a pitcher of vodka and tonic and I had unspooled all my hurt. I was trying to explain to her all Davis Clegg had done to me during the time we were on speaking terms, and the glee Aimée and I shared, dancing to that flickering image on my old person’s Eastern Bloc TV, was the glee of ridicule, a cowardly, pointless gesture of revenge on my part.

What it meant to Aimée, I don’t know. But I think she may be one of those people who can only feel such emotions when she is performing them for others.

5. “As brave and remarkable as it is to see Yamada attempt to own the creation of sexual imagery, it is less the presence of her in the frame than the way we are forced to pay attention to these men that resonates. We watch them watch her. Images of sexy young women are everywhere in our culture; images of titillated middle-aged men are not.”

I haven’t watched porn in two years. The diagnosis on my prostate made it very clear to me that even masturbation was going to be a fail so why indulge? Nostalgia? Yet what I can tell you from any casual browse of the internet is that the explosion of thousands of sites put up by enterprising stay-at-home moms across this country has given us no shortage of images of titillated middle-aged men. And somebody’s watching these videos; Aimée told me all of her friends have watched porn since “the beginning of time.”

With the prospect of intimacy just a memory, a not altogether fond one for me, I can say with complete assurance that Aimée never “titillated” me. From our conversations I know the fearsome presence Aimée’s architect father still exerts, and I would take no part in creating the kind of guilt he would burden her with if there was a real videotaped seduction, publicly exhibited. It is guilt she would live with for the rest of her life.

Now let me digress because I believe it is important here; it will give you the context for what actually occurred. The rest of my time alive does not amount to much. The cancer is back, and this time it really means business, as they say. That is probably why I’ve tried to get some peace with my attraction to narcissism and what it has cost me over the years (whether it was with Davis Clegg or Bryan Menzies, the investment advisor who squandered the thousands I made from over twenty years of studio session work). Performing that footage with Aimée, from the time when all of my fatal mistakes began, felt like a rite, a way to claim that my feelings of rage for all those years are now gone.

Let me just emphasize Aimée is a lovely young woman. She invited me to the opening at the Barker, and she was the one who directed me to your review. She says that knowing how this whole process has helped me has changed her a little, and I’m just happy we have become so close. If in the time I’ve got left this video only serves as a memory of our friendship, I’ll be happy with that too.

Sincerely …


John Delacourt's stories and other writing have appeared in a number of publications in Canada and elsewhere including The New Quarterly and The Guardian (UK). He's also written for theatre and had his work staged at Theatre Passe Muraille and Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto. He currently blogs on culture and politics at delacourt (