The Struggle

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Graining on That Wood

Five years ago I sat in a Starbucks in Toronto’s Rosedale neighbourhood, pulled out my then-girlfriend’s burdensome six-pound Dell laptop and started a WordPress blog. I named it after something I’d had scrawled on a white board in my apartment, something I thought might have ended up the title of my first story collection.

Poetry for Gravediggers was my fifth blog, and my first after being downsized as the ‘Online Editor’ of The University of Windsor’s Lance newspaper. Freed from the demands of mandated content creation, I had a surplus of time on my hands and no receptacle in which to dump my ramblings. So I started this.

This is some of what I wrote on May 28, 2009:

“Maybe you got away from your city, eager for the opportunities for reinvention such a move would afford you.  Maybe most other aspects of your life are happy.  But that need to tell stories never really goes away, does it?  Whether retelling truth or crafting your lies, stories have strong roots, you can never fully pull that need out of you. So you start writing your little stories again.

And if you’re like me, you fail. A lot.  You don’t finish. You despise every word that goes on the page, you question the sanity of anyone who ever had faith in your “talents.”  You get irritable with family, coworkers, friends and lovers.

And if you’re like me, you probably get sick of feeling like that.  So maybe you decide to take some of the skills you picked up when you weren’t writing, and use them to keep  you motivated as you try to make something of yourself, because your thirtieth birthday is already fading behind you and you finally understand that no one is going to make it happen for you.

So maybe, you start a blog.

This site is for me, as I call the bluff of adolescent mentors and supporters; we’ll see if you were right.”

Yesterday morning Okayplayer, a site I’ve read off and on long before I started this site, posted a lengthy and complimentary review of my first book.

You could say it’s been an eventful five years. My then-girlfriend became my ex-girlfriend, I moved to a significantly less-fancy Toronto neighbourhood than Rosedale (as ice cream truck jingles and sires waft through my window) and somehow instead of getting any short stories out into the world I messed around and became a non-fiction writer.

And suddenly this blog  shifts from chronicling ‘How I Got Over’ to ‘How I Stay On.’ One of the best things I ever heard was from the songwriter Mike Doughty when someone asked him why he finally decided to write a book about his time in the 90’s alt-hop band Soul Coughing. He said the reason he did was because someone called his bluff: he’d been saying he should write a book for so long someone finally handed him a little money and said, ‘So go do it.’ And that’s terrifying, because, as Doughty said, if you actually try, if you put yourself out there, you lose the comfort of being an undiscovered genius. It’s a comfort I enjoyed a lot over the last five years. And now I don’t have it anymore, which is good, if unsettling.  I’ve heard it enough that the fear of failure is really just the fear of success, and I finally know what that means. Because now that I’ve achieved some infinitesimal measure of success (I’ve almost stopped shuddering when I refer to myself as a “writer,” which is huge if you know me), I have to do it again. Which I really have no idea how to do, judging from the wall of silence that greets me after I get introduced to editors by mutual friends.

Which is kind of….great?  I recently pointed out to a new acquaintance that I have zero connection to the literary community of this city, not out of any aversion to meeting them, I’m just socially awkward and keep weird hours to pay the bills, so don’t have much of an opportunity. But part of me likes being an unknown quantity who came out of nowhere. Part of me likes that whatever small ripple my book’s announcement made in the community was essentially, “Wait, who?!” Or, to quote that unsung poet, Miguel: “I’ll do it all without a co-sign.”

So what does that mean? Part of it means refocus on the next book (pitch being refined daily) double down on posting around here, make connections when I can but don’t relentlessly network to the detriment of the real work.

In 2009 I wrote a post reviewing two volumes of the 33 1/3 series. Five years later,I have my name on one. This blog may have fulfilled the promise it was created for, but its purpose never ends.

And we won’t stop.

Cause we can’t stop.

 

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The Pitch

During my trip back to the Windsor area last Christmas, my father got a call from a childhood friend, someone I vaguely remembered having visited us once when I was younger, but not anyone I thought my father still communicated with. They didn’t talk long, but from where I was reading the paper at the kitchen table, I could hear him on the phone in the basement rattling off the state of the family: Cousin 1 just had a baby and has turned into quite the sailor; Cousin 2 took a job as a news reporter in a big city; Cousin 3 is graduating journalism school this year and thinks he might look for a government gig, since J-schools produce far more graduates than there are jobs. Then there was a pause.

“Oh, no, no he’s here. About a week. Uhh, well he lives in Toronto now, working for [redacted]. It’s not a particularly high paying job, but he likes living in Toronto, I guess. You know my brother [redacted] had some health issues there for a while…”

And that was it. My cousins all had lives worth talking about at length, but his only son works a low-paying job and lives in Toronto. No mention of crossing the one thing I never thought I would ever do off of my life’s list of ambitions. Remember this if you think having your name on a book spine will change your life in any meaningful way.

But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

(more…)

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Step Right Up

If you were to guess that the flurry of activity around here lately had to do with me getting the itch again now that the draft has finally left my grubby hands and flown overseas to people like designers and copy editors, you would be correct.

You don’t need me to tell you that writing is like running, or weight lifting or whatever other questionable endurance sport you might partake in. Use it or lose it, and I took my damn sweet time recovering from the process of writing the book (Level 56 on Grand Theft Auto Online, email me for my Gamertag. Get at me, dog). But then ideas for things to write about start to percolate and the longer they stay in there the longer they fester until the process of expelling them from my brain is lacklustre and disappointing. Not unlike passing a bowel movement.

As for how I’m feeling now that it’s out of my hands, the wonderful Julieanne Smolinski summed up that feeling with more precision than I ever could.

Yup.

None of this is to say I’ve been completely slovenly the last couple of months. I continue musing about whatever nerdery comes to mind over at 22 Pages for the University of Toronto (latest are here and here) and I also branched out a tad by tossing some pieces to the folks over at The Same Page on, oddly enough, the 40th Birthday of Hip-Hop and the release of Grand Theft Auto V (do you think I’m developing a niche here?)

As well, my friends and colleagues at 22 Pages Khaiam Dar and Alex Correa have collected the first volume of the webcomic they started in 2011, Smells Like Maturity. If you’re in the Toronto area, swing by Red Nails II at Jane and Bloor for their release party on November 15. I wrote the introduction, so if you’re a Ferguson completist, you’ll want to pick that up. Writing it turned out to be a bigger deal than I was expecting it to be, but I’m really happy with the piece, and for the opportunity to toast those two jerks on the occasion of making their longtime dream come true. Of course they’d release their book six months before mine comes out.

So that’s what I’m staying up to, friends. It’s a moment of respite from book madness as it moves to the production phase, but I’m sure you’ll be inundated with Dilla-related content as the book nears release. For the moment, I’m just enjoying the relative peace and trying to figure out how to stumble my way into being a quote-unquote “writer” instead of someone who wrote a book once.

Kind of weird to think now about how that struggle is what this blog was meant to document in the first place. .

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A Letter to Donald

‘Bino,

I woke up from a mid-morning nap following an overnight shift to a phone blown up with texts and tweets alerting me to the spontaneous listening party you’d announced for your upcoming album in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods park.  I was a little shocked, as far as I knew you were still filming your episodes of Community, but with enough time to throw some clothes on and head down, I didn’t want this to be another of those “Cool things that happen in Toronto that I take for granted and don’t go to.”

There were only about fifty people or so when I showed up, standing around a kid with a pair of amplifiers. I foolishly thought attendance might actually stay at those levels, and that maybe I could tell you some of these things in person, but within fifteen minutes the crowd had swollen to around 200. As the crowd grew and 5.00 came and went the kid with the amplifiers started to look nervous, and it occurred to me it was wholly possible we were about to be trolled by a local crew of kids taking the opportunity to promote their shitty mixtape.  But then you showed up, no fanfare, pushed through the crowd to the picnic table, sat down, plugged your phone into the speakers and started playing the album*.

Aw, dammit. I thought. He’s on his art school bullshit again. I can’t lie, Donald. I’d been concerned. You first hinted at restlessness on the ROYALTY mixtape, so news that you were leaving Community (where I first became a fan) was disappointing, but not surprising. But that short film you made last summer (which I admit I didn’t even watch) caused some eyebrow arching, and then there were your Instagram notes last month. So when you strolled up without a word, I started to wonder if I was willing to hang with where you were going.

By the time I left Bellwoods, though, I was back on board, not from anything you did, per se, but from what the crowd did.

Toronto is…we can be a weird town. Superior yet love-starved. Many in that park seemed to think they’d be getting a concert of some sort, despite your earlier tweet to the contrary. A few climbed nearby trees to catch a glimpse of you. When you’d played what you wanted to, you stood up and answered questions from the crowd for half an hour. When a second person asked you if you were going to do any stand-up, a few of us groaned and you chuckled and mentioned someone had already asked that and moved on to the next question.

“Uhh, okay?  Thank you? For not answering my question? Appreciate it!” the guy hollered. And all I could think was Wowww, you know what?  Fuck youguy. He owes you nothing. And that was when it all sort of clicked in for me. You don’t owe me anything either. If I’m sad the antics of Troy and Abed will be shortened this year, tough shit for me. Would I really turn down the chance to run the ship at my own show if given your choice?  No, I wouldn’t. Neither would anyone else.

As for the ‘cry for help.’ Instagram notes, I watched your Breakfast Club interview where you explained that part of what inspired it was just feeling alone and lost, like damn near every other twentysomething butting their heads against the promises of history.

“Everybody stunts on Instagram. Nobody shows their buddy’s funeral, nobody wants to be vulnerable. People thought I was crazy because I was honest. That was it,” you said.

That honesty is what always drew me to your music, that willingness to admit fear that always causes “real heads” to get their backs up and start calling people “soft.”  Like Kanye said, “We’re all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” He was never supposed to be the last.

When I was in journalism school my second writing course was on various styles of column writing, personal essays, shit like that.  For my first workshop submission, I wrote about something extremely personal that was going on with my family. I was older than most of my classmates, who I’d only known for five months by then. You could feel the air getting sucked out of the room as they read it. But I just threw it all out there because I couldn’t stand the idea of restraint, felt like all of our work work would suffer if we weren’t willing to go all the way with it. I’ve grown somewhat more diplomatic in how I deploy the truth in the subsequent years, but I still believe what I did in that class: that any art that means anything has to leave it all on the table. Your willingness to do that, rawer than how Kanye or Drake or even Eminem do it, is unlike anything I’ve heard in hip-hop, and is still so exciting to me. It’s like being 12 years old and listening to De La Soul is Dead for the first time, just being enthralled and anxious and confused all at once.

So what I guess I’m trying to say is do your damn thing, Donald, whatever that thing might be. If you want to write, write. If you want to make music, make music. I might not love everything you do, but you’ll always make it worthwhile to check in.

Best,

Jordan

ps: That “rainbow, sunshine” song? The one that sounded like Jhené Aiko sung a hook?  It’s a goddamn monster.

*Because the Internet, out Dec. 10.

 

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Coming Down

This will be a story about two things, poorly organized.

It’s been about two weeks since I gave my manuscript the final read through and sent it off to my editors. My eyes stung, my body reeked, my brain frayed on sugar and caffeine overdose. Almost bankrupt from the work shifts I’d given away to write it. Two weeks on my finances are still kind of dicey. It could be another six to eight months before I see a dime from the thing, if not more. It’s almost enough to make a man wonder why he bothers.

Almost.

People have constantly asked me throughout this process, But aren’t you excited?! I am but I’m not. The 18 months I proposed, researched and wrote this book were a time of intense personal loss, on a few different levels, not the least of which was the breakdown of my six-year relationship, compounded by the loss of the woman who saw me through that breakup and made sure I stayed above water. There are lessons of self-sufficiency to be found there, I’m sure, but I don’t care to excavate them today. Suffice to say, I learned the hard way what most writers already know: any project may turn into a collaborative process, but in the thick of it, it’s just you, the screen and the words. And in my case, a dead man.

That’s been the strangest part of all this, now that I’m “over the mountain,” as it were.  I spent large portions of every day with this guy in my head, listening to his music, researching his life, reading what people who knew him had to say. I don’t need to do that anymore. I need to let him go. And I’ve started to, but I kind of already miss him.

After I mailed the draft in, I got nine hours of sleep, went to work for a quick shift and tended to the business of cleaning my sty of an apartment after weeks of neglect. I had Songza on for accompaniment, I think it was an 80’s party playlist. Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” came on. I was hungry, so I took a moment to eat some yogurt and take stock of what I’d done and what still needed cleaning. And I don’t know, something about the breeze coming in my window, realizing I’d gotten enough of my life back to actually clean the house, Joe Jackson reminding me we’re all young but getting old before our time… I felt something resembling pride in my accomplishment. It didn’t matter who was supposed to be there when I finished,the point was finishing.

Details have trickled in over the last couple of weeks. A cover design, a release date, a listing on the publisher site [you can find all these details on the recently redesigned page for the book, just click ’33 1/3 Donuts’ above]. Currently my editor’s looking at the manuscript, she’ll send it back to me hacked to shit with ideas on how to make it better, I will spend a month rewriting based on her suggestions and then my tiny little hype machine will kick into high gear, and I’ll really be in trouble, because eventually someone’s going to ask the [reasonable] question, “Who the fuck is this guy, and why does he get to write about Dilla?!” And I don’t have an answer. I’m told most creative types, especially writers, live with the anxiety that we’re all just frauds and one day someone will realize it and tell the world.

Neil Gaiman has lived with this anxiety. Despite winning multiple awards for his writing, building a career that’s endured over 30 years and proving he can write everything from films to children’s books to comics and radio plays, he still worries that one day someone will knock on his door, confiscate his notepads and force him to get a real job.  He discussed this fear in a speech he made to the 2012 graduating class at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. He put everything he knew about trying to build a career in the arts into those 20 minutes, and of course it went viral online, eventually being collected in a slim volume designed by Chip Kidd called Fantastic Mistakes. Knowing Gaiman was stopping in Toronto as part of his “Last Signing Tour” a mere five days after my draft day, the speech, with its dedication to everyone wondering “Now what?” [which I most certainly was] it seemed like a suitable item for him to sign [since I’d forgotten to bring my copy of Sandman #1 back from my parents’ house].

The first time I met Gaiman, I told him about being 10 or 11 years old and stumbling across an interview of his on the old TVOntatio show Prisoners of Gravity, and how I thought he was the coolest guy I’d ever seen, and started reading Sandman shortly afterward. His stories changed my life; where books like Dark Knight Returns or Arkham Asylum left a marked impression on me, Sandman didn’t have any of the nihilism those books did, there was always a humanity and optimism in them, something that spoke to me then like it spoke to me in his latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (no lie, my favourite thing of his in years. No shots, just personal taste). Four years ago, he’d seemed genuinely touched by the story, looked up and smiled, then shook my hand, something I hadn’t seen him do much with the other people in line.

When I saw him a couple weeks ago, he was personable, if a little weary, and I launched into an off the cuff monologue about why I was having him sign the speech, and my book coming out, and how I took the advice to ‘make good art” very seriously, considering the circumstances surrounding my book’s inception (great fun watching his publicist try to piece that one together, as the woman I used to date was standing next to me in line). And for the second consecutive time, he paused, looked up at me and offered his hand, pen still threaded in his fingers. I think this means we’re best friends now.

Last Holiday I was speaking with a friend who’d recently separated from her husband and told her that for the first time in my life, I really didn’t know what the next 12 months were going to hold, for any of us. Most of the time, we go through our lives with at least a small degree of certainty: X and Y will remain married, you will live in this certain city, work at this certain job, etc. At the end of 2012, I couldn’t speak to any of that. Relationships were ending, careers were changing, people were moving. I had no idea what the gameboard was going to look like a year from then. Almost 3/4 through this year, I have even less of an idea. The book’s in, it could be the start of the career I’ve always wanted, or it could be some footnote on my life, a cool thing I did once.I probably don’t need to know that right now, which is rare for me, and extremely liberating. All I need to know right now is that trying to make good art and trusting my instincts is what got me here, and continuing to do the same is what will see me through.

You can read or watch the “Make Good Art’ speech here.

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Going Home

There’s a neat conceit Zack Snyder & Co. use in the movie Man of Steel to get around the issue of Kryptonite: instead of being weakened by the radiation from the fragments of his homeworld, the cause is more environmental: General Zod and his crew maintain Kryptonian atmospheric and gravitational settings on their ship, which Kal-El is unaccustomed to, so when he ends up a hostage on there, it diminishes the powers that make him exceptional on Earth. It’s also a two-way street: when Zod gets his “breather” knocked off during battle, the sensory onslaught he receives from his superior abilities leaves him harmless as a puppy.

I spent ten days back home last week in an attempt to try and bash out the draft for my book. While it wasn’t a totally fruitless exercise, it left me feeling like both Kal-El and Zod: at times sapped of strength, overwhelmed at others.

It’s always been strange to me, going home. So much of my ‘second period,’ was defined by my seeming unwillingness or inability to leave the nest that every time I go back, I feel like the same trapped 25-year-old whose contrarian nature only left him more isolated as the people around him accepted the rules of the environment. This isn’t to say one approach was superior to the other, I could just never see any other way for myself.

Having been gone for almost seven years, not just from the nest but from the only place I’d known up to that point, there’s a cognitive disconnect there between me and my friends who never left, or left and came back. Again, I’m not saying one way is better than the other, it’s just that I was more acutely aware this trip than ever before that theirs is a lifestyle I stopped being accustomed to some time ago. I’d been seriously considering moving back there in the next couple of years [for reasons fiduciary and personal], but left there unsure if I ever could go back. There are definitely reasons that could entice me to return, and I know I would make a good life for myself there; but somewhere in the local news reports about iguanas on the loose and stolen prosthetic limbs I got that old nagging feeling of being a man out-of-place.

This is probably wholly my issue, and is something people usually chalk up to OoooOOOooh, Mr. Toronto’s too fancy for us, now! Which I would hope is obviously not the case. Most of the time when I’m in a room full of my friends who are now married and parents, I feel totally inferior, because I have not lived my life “according to plan,” and regretful that I’m usually pretty okay with that. My parents would like grandchildren, and while I always retain hope they might get them, I wouldn’t advise playing the over/under on that. And while my stance on children has gotten somewhat more fluid in recent years, my stance on marriage likely never will, as in, if she wants to, I’ll go along with it. But I don’t need any of that. And this is still an alarmingly rare position in small town Ontario.

I’m certainly not alone among people of my demo who find they have to click ‘remove from feed’ on Facebook with growing frequency to soothe the barrage of photos to children they have no connection to, but the sad fact is that you’re left with nothing but Game of Thrones memes and Zoosk ads as a result.

What’s all this mean, then? I don’t know friends. Toronto can feel painfully lonely, so much so that I often spook like a feral cat when friends back home call to say ‘what’s up?’, that’s how fully I’ve thrown myself into anonymity. But still, as I dragged my suitcase along Bay St, up to King to catch a streetcar, weaving through tourists and folks headed to the Jays game and bankers on their way home, I immediately felt more relaxed than I did that morning. Seated at my chair in my shitty apartment that I spend too much of my money to live in, I already feel more accomplished today than I did at my parents’ kitchen table.

Still. I once heard it said that a great life in a mediocre place is superior to a mediocre life in a great place. It’s always stuck with me. I would still love to force my will onto the culture of the Rose City. I just want a reason to go back.

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“So, how’s the book going?”

It’s a reasonable question. It’s about the halfway mark of this adventure I’ve been on. I’ve read a pile of books, a stack of articles, reached out to and spoken with amazing, brilliant people, I’ve listened to Donuts and the records used to create it at least 75 times front to back [and that’s likely a conservative estimate].  So I can certainly understand why people ask.

Doesn’t mean I have any fucking clue how to formulate an answer.

But I try. People are being polite, taking an interest, and I’d like them to pay for the thing when it comes out, even if they have no intention to read it and buy it out of courtesy. I’ll take it. The popular answer, as in the one I go back to again and again is the ‘oil tanker’ response.

See, oil tankers actually consist of eight to twelve smaller tanks within the ship. Keeps the cargo from slooshing around too much, which could compromise the ship’s balance; less movement = more stability. My brain currently feels like an oil tanker with a single tank: production techniques, Soren Kierkegaard, the Kubler-Ross scale, Albert Camus, different approaches and opinions on late style, Roland Barthes, the epidemiology of lupus; all these things are just rolling around clumsily from one end of my brain to the other. I’ve given numerous lengthy and sensible ideas to the showerhead as I prepare to face each day, but this hasn’t translated into as many words on paper as I would like.

Put it another way: late last year the webcomic Toothpaste for Dinner put up a single panel gag called ‘The Creative Process.’

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That seems accurate. We’re well into the ‘Fuck off’ segment of the program, far enough from deadline that panic isn’t on my back yet, but it’s waving at me from just over the horizon, a box of tissues in its twitchy hands.

And that’s fine, because I know it’ll get done. The structure of the thing, what I wanted it to accomplish, has been loosely in place since I began, a requirement of the proposal. Scenes, fragments, caveats and addenda are floating to the surface with more regularity than they once were; you can’t have all that material swishing around in your brain without something coagulating into something usable eventually. It will get done. It might have more academic meandering than the heads will want, and not enough for the theory kids, and maybe it gets savaged on Goodreads and the Stones Throw Message Board, but it’ll get done. If you’ve been with me a while, friends, you know that’ll probably end up the most surprising victory of all.

So keep asking the question. It’s good, it keeps me focused. Just don’t expect me to have an easy answer for you.

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What Would Be and What Is

Last Monday I spent most of my morning waiting around for my local TelComm technician to show up and finally get my Internet up and running at the new place, thus ensuring I could continue to Netflix and Hearthfire as much as my little soul desires [note: it desires a lot].

As is typically the case with waiting on TelComm technicians, he finally showed up in the last ten minutes of the four-hour appointment window, but I didn’t terribly care, I had the day off and being up that early gave an opportunity to take a significant bite out of the book I’d been reading. Out of the company van stepped a young black man, denim shirt a couple of sizes too big, Leafs hat cocked to the side. After he checked the lines at the side of the building I brought him up to the apartment.

“Hey Jordan, what novel are you reading?”
“Oh, it’s not a novel, it’s a biography. About a novelist, so that’s pretty much the same thing, though.”
“Yeah? You a writer?”
“Heh. Trying to be.”

I walk him into the apartment, he susses out the connections, stepped out to work some magic around the block, came back and told me to grab my laptop. I open my Macbook and start scanning for the network.

“Are those things good for video editing?” he asks me.
“Supposedly. I’ve done a bit here and there, nothing too extravagant, though. But they say these are the machines that make it really easy, you know?”
“They’re expensive though, huh?”
“Ha, yeah. This was the result of a lot of saving and a lot of birthday and holiday charity.”
“Yeah, man, cause you know my woman, she does a lot of videos on YouTube, right? She’s got like half a million views or something? I don’t know anything about that shit, I’m not on YouTube, Facebook, none of that. But she’s doing her thing, you know? She got a birthday coming up, says she needs a new laptop to really step all that up, you know? But man, like, twelve hundred dollars, though?”
“Yeah. Though you can always get a PC with the same specs for a lot less, it’s just a style thing.”
“Well, that’s her thing, though, right, man? She does these like, make-up videos? Like, showing girls how do apply it and stuff. Here, I’ll show you.”

I shit you not, friends. He spent at least 20 minutes showing me photos and videos of his fiancée doing her makeup tutorials. It was actually kind of cool, she does both high fashion and zombie/horror designs, which I’d never seen before. And the dude wasn’t lying, she’s got like 10,000 subscribers, hundreds of followers on Instagram…she’s doing her thing.

The installation’s wrapping up, he asks me for a pen so he can jot down his contact info in case of any problems. I can’t find one lying around so I grab one of the pair I keep clipped to my satchel, for pretentious Moleskine writing and the like.

“Thanks, money,” he says as he starts to write his name. He stops, suddenly. “Yo, this pen is SICK, dude!”
I start coughing on my laughter, “You have no idea how much it makes my day to hear you say that.” I take my pens seriously, what do you want?
“Dude, like, I’m about to write my full name on here, and I never do that, I just want to keep writing with this thing.”

He hands me the sheet with his info, asks me where he can find some lunch in the neighbourhood on the cheap and shakes my hand. Honestly, my whole heart is warmed by the encounter, to meet the cool guy who hooked up my Internet and shared my love of a good pen. And then this happened.

I’d left the apartment door open because he’d been running up and downstairs for equipment. Now, the hallways in my building are ceramic tile creating a sort of echo chamber effect throughout, and the doors all seem to have very loose hinges, meaning my neighbours are always inadvertently slamming their doors, the sound of which gets broadcast all around the building. And that’s what happened as I was shaking the technician’s hand. Someone on the second floor was stepping out, didn’t catch the door as it was closing and a loud POP! could be heard from my apartment one storey up. And when it happened, his whole demeaner changed for a moment. His grip tightened, his eyes grew wide and darted to the door.

“Yo, what was that?”
‘Huh? Oh, nothing man. Someone just slammed their door downstairs.”
“Oh!” he starts laughing, nervous and embarrassed. “Man, for a second there I was like…like, I don’t know.”

It takes a minute for my muddled brain to connect the dots: Oh my God! He thought it was a gunshot.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since he left, and what that says about the differing experiences between races. The writer/scholar/intellectual Michael Eric Dyson, in one of my favourite essays on the subject, once took aim at what he called the “Liberal Theory of Race,” the one that attempts to convince us that deep down, we’re all the same. It’s Dyson’s belief, and I’m inclined to agree with him, that such a viewpoint chooses to ignore, “…the irrefutable reality of race. Because it conceives of race as merely a part of one’s broader ethnic identity, liberal race theory is unable to make sense of the particular forms of oppression generated primarily by racial identity.”

An idea fully on display as I shook hands with my technician. To me, even if I didn’t know it was a door slamming, it would never occur to me that a loud popping noise could be a gunshot. But for him, it’s in the realm of possibility. Whether that’s a result of his own social conditioning or personal experience I don’t know. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. He comes from a place where that kind of violence occurs to him, I come from a place where it never even boards my train of thought. And we can get along, have our chats about the fiancées, the appreciation of a quality pen, all that. But there will always be a gulf that we won’t ever be able to fully cross. All we can do is acknowledge it exists, because that might be the only way white and black folks can ever really fully understand each other.

[Jonah Lehrer confession: I made points similar to the ones found in here in a post for the University of Windsor newspaper in 2007. Since no one’s paying me for this, I reserve the right to recycle to a new audience.