[Image Credit: Anastasiya Valiulina]
Make an illogical jump—dissociation—but, then, imperceptibly—so, quickly—return to render it logical before anyone has seen. In this way, you may seem to improve upon reason.
—Lucy Ives, The Hermit
When I told you she was grieving the loss of her mother, I wasn’t trying to inflict her with an impossible loss but to provide evidence of how deeply she loves.
When I named him Arturus—an older, almost antiquated name—I wanted to suggest the potential for a sublime, impossible weight. I was curious to see if he could find his way out from under it.
Every morning he woke to the same thought: I should walk down to see if there’s something I need at the thrift store. It wasn’t boredom, obsession or greed, but how he’d adapted to loneliness.
When I told you that, as a boy, he’d lived a week undiscovered in a department store, I was adapting a news item I’d heard on the radio. I was attracted to the magical elements, akin to British traditions of children’s fiction. Implausible does not mean impossible; most of the time, not even “impossible” is impossible.
When I introduced a fact that seemingly contradicted the rest, it was that very conflict I sought. We are human, and thus, often make no damned sense.
Most of the details I offer are entirely constructed, woven from numerous threads of maybes and what ifs. Being “true” doesn’t presume that it occurred. Any experienced reader of fiction should already know this.
Characters #7 and #8:
When I described the theft of her bicycle and, further on, the bicycle thief, one might suspect I’d be suggesting a link. As of yet, any connection between the two is unknown.
When I described her preference for Bombay Sapphire, I was, in fact, suggesting an unconscious response to her mother’s years of half-hidden drink, and her latent fear of becoming her. It was never about her father. It was, as they say, a red herring.
When I finally baptized him Malcolm, it was towards the end of an unrelated conversation about collaborative naming during our second and final pregnancy. Our list of male names also included: Grey, Samuel (which I’d rejected), Finley (“Finn”) and Erich. Once we were informed that our final child was female, our list of male names was immediately set aside. Only then did she admit she was warming to Malcolm as baby name. Through finally naming a long-nameless character, I was attempting to reclaim that potential.
When I described her parents as older, it was to allow for a distance between generations. I wanted to give her a bit more independence, and possibly expand her patience. I removed her father quickly, as I wanted to explore the currents and complications between mothers and daughters.
I made her a swimmer because I enjoyed the irony of a girl from the prairies obsessed with swimming. She needed something that belonged entirely to her, especially something that, on the surface, appeared nonsensical. Perhaps this was simply my own ignorance of the prairies. When she later abandoned swimming, it allowed for the bittersweet memory. Once she was mature enough to reconsider and recover elements of her childhood, it could be both soothe and distraction.
I named her Alberta because it is such a striking name for a girl. Because I wanted her to hold your attention. And to infer the well-intentioned optimism of her parents, naming their daughter for a destination they never achieved.
When I spoke of her, it was through the lens of my mother’s illness, and not Alzheimer’s, as some have suggested. I find that particular reading curious. To date, this is the closest I’ve written my mother.
And yet, when I write “I,” I am not necessarily writing as “writer” but “narrator,” which is, also, a fiction.
When the story opens, I did not mention their gender because it wasn’t relevant. That is, until it was.
I’ve always been interested in how individuals shape themselves to a variety of external elements, such as their name; as liquid to its container. When I articulated the prominence of what she was named against what she preferred to be called, this was not to highlight her shift beyond how they had known her, but her own comfort upon becoming. She was, and simply required those around to acknowledge.
When I returned to the same character at a point years after I’d last written her, it was to again take stock of someone I felt I’d articulated so completely that wanted to see where she would end up. I wanted to see what had become of her, and where she had gone. I wanted to know what her choices had led her to. I wanted to know if she was happy.
When I attempt to articulate how certain characters move from point A to B, I am less interested in the details of points-of-origin or destination than the journey itself. I am interested, instead, in the result of actions, which then lead up to further action. How did they get here?
When I spoke of my father, it was a fiction based on carefully selected facts. I lied about everything else.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennancurrently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include the poetry collection A perimeter(New Star Books, 2016), and the forthcoming How the alphabet was made(Spuyten Duyvil, 2018) and Household items(Salmon Poetry, 2018). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), The Garneau Review(ottawater.com/garneaureview),seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics(ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater(ottawater.com). He is “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, a former contributor to the Ploughsharesblog, editor of my (small press) writing day, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com