To hear me discussing the story in relation to Greek mythology, the series theme of “Borders,” and The Red Word, check out this CBC Radio episode of Ideas with Paul Kennedy (my bit starts at 15:50).
Here’s a piece I wrote for Lapham’s Quarterly about a poster that hung in university dorm rooms across the country in the 1990s (click picture to read):
This is me, halfway through the first draft of a new novel. It’s time to focus and get to work on building word count, so I need to minimize distractions. Meaning social media.
Quitting social media is a lot like quitting coffee. First, a few days of headaches: How do I remember where that book launch is if I can’t check Twitter? How do I buy tickets for that festival if I’m not in the FB group? What if someone wants me to do a reading and I’m not answering their DM? Then a week or two (or three) of figuring out what else to do for that little pick-me-up between meetings, on transit, during that late-afternoon slump. Then calm.
At first, I shifted my cheap-thrills thirst to other online pleasures, like hunting for a wardrobe on Kijiji or “researching” way too many recipes for kimchi. Luckily, the internet gets boring really fast without the (illusion of) social connection. Then I started to remember some things I liked doing before social media, like writing letters and DIY projects. I picked up a couple of pen-pal relationships I’d let drop in the last few years, and started a new one. I got out my sewing machine and, over several evenings, made a Roman blind for my front window from a beautiful piece of batik I’d had waiting in my basement forever. These activities feel may seem dauntingly Martha Stewart-ish, but it’s amazing how much time there is when you’re not getting sucked into your phone for 45-min periods at a time.
Going off social has also confirmed a strong hunch I had all along (the reason I quit in the first place): solitude is simply not solitude when there’s social media in the room. As a typical introvert, I need solo time to bounce back from the day-to-day human interactions in my life, and I simply wasn’t getting it when “solo time” meant “scrolling Instagram.” In a low-grade way I was feeling chronically depleted and ill-at-ease.
And reading! Oh, my, what a transformation in the experience of reading. When was the last time you read a novel without imagining, somewhere in the back of your brain, how you’ll review it on Goodreads, or where you’ll snap a pic of the cover for IG, or what your shout-out to the author should say on Twitter? Well, I’m here to tell you that reading a novel just for you, in true privacy, is way, way more pleasurable. And you don’t have to not share it: When you’re finished the novel, you can pass it on and sing its virtues to a friend, in person, the next time you see her.
We Contain Multitudes is in that stage of editing where details have to be made consistent. Details like the relative ages of one of the narrators and his two older brothers…
It took me 45 min just now trying to work out the math so that various scenes make sense. How old is Sylvan when he gets his own apartment? When is Mark deployed to Afghanistan? If Mark learned to cook at age 13, would his younger brother Adam really say it was “before I was tall enough to reach the knobs on the stove”? (Answer: uh, no. He’d have been 8.) Etcetera.