In his podcast episode called Emergency, Benjamen Walker speaks into a secret recorder hidden in a pen while sitting in a hot tub:
I fled my studio for Spa Castle … I’m just finding it impossible to work these days. It’s the news, blaring out of the radio, blasting from the computer. It’s relentless, and it climbs over every wall I build and slides in under every door I close. There’s no escape.
And as far as I can tell, this is a new thing. Of course, the 24-hour news cycle has been around for decades now, we got that in the 1990s with the Iraq War and the O.J. Simpson case. But it was still a news cycle. That cycle has disintegrated. Today, now, it’s just news all the time. And once you check in, there’s no checking out. There’s no longer a calm after the storm, because it’s a storm that never ends.
And this non-stop hurricane of pain, it’s affecting my mental health, my physical well-being, and my podcast. This is why I’m here, talking to you, dear listener, from a hot tub at Spa Castle. …
The musician Neil Young once said that what is most precious to him is his creative space, a space he goes to great lengths to maintain and protect. Well, the past few months of breaking news has completely broken down the barriers protecting my creative space. It’s now been overrun by hot takes and longreads and memes, tweets, and I’m scared—terrified, actually—that I won’t be able to put everything back together again.
This captures how I feel about writing in the last three years, in general, and definitely here, online. The non-stop hurricane of pain has decimated my mental, physical, and digital creative spaces.
I don’t know how to write on this blog anymore. I know how I used to write, so when I’m in that headspace for the week or so it takes me to write a post, I can write here, but otherwise I feel like I have tape over my mouth. It’s the news and it’s Facebook and it’s parenting pre-teens and it’s Year 5 of living across the country from my family and it’s depression and it’s being in my 40s, facing the reality that things aren’t always going to keep getting better, sometimes things will regress and contract and get worse.
So while I flounder around, boarding up broken windows, sweeping up shards of glass, turning down the volume on the news, I thought I’d tell you where things stand right now.
Lia is eleven. I love her so much that I have to hug and kiss her every chance I get, and thank God she still likes it. She is reading books from the Grade 7 shelf and perfecting her round-off back handspring back tuck. Every day from December to April she wore an orange fox hat named Tiki. A few weeks ago she made a coconut cake from scratch all by herself. I like buying her presents—it’s easy, you just buy something with a fox on it, or something made from strawberries or mango or both.
Nico is nine. He just bought himself a fidget cube, and he has assigned noises to each button and gizmo. His life’s ambition is to get me to belly laugh, which he does often, but he needs to find another audience for his potty humour, because I’m not it. He wrote an excellent short story called “Death Battle,” about a boy named Thor who defends Canada from the monster Holy Fish. I get him to tutoring sessions by play-fighting with him at the bus stop and bribing him with jalapeno Cheetos.
My children are part of the hurricane, and part of the bunker against it.
Today is my wedding anniversary. My marriage to Shawn is now legally allowed to drink in the U.S. In honour of the occasion, I dug up this recording of a men’s quartet singing our wedding text. Shawn is the ground in which the bunker is buried; he is a solid constant.
Reading is my equivalent of noise-cancelling headphones. I have put together a background reading list to inform my current fiction project, and it is both comforting and inspiring at the same time. These are books of utopian fiction, first- and second-wave feminism, middle-class domestic fiction, metafiction, feminist economics. This list would seem pretentious to me except that it’s all so damn inspiring and relevant to what I’m writing, I’m gobbling it up.
I started with the books I had already read, books I had close to hand. Old books bubbled up in my memory, new books surfaced in the Recommendations feed on Goodreads. I’m up to 75 books and I’m aiming for 100. I decided to read the books in order of publication, because I like to eat my vegetables before dessert, but I’m finding that it’s all dessert. I feel like a student again, reading short story cycles for my thesis project.
I’m making butterflies for #the100dayproject and posting them to Instagram. This is turning out to be an ode to my home decorating as well as an origami project.
I don’t watch as much TV since my children started staying up until 9 pm or later. I climb under the covers with one earbud in, listening to Audible, which is the best for reading long, dense books. I’m almost halfway through 27 hours of The Golden Notebook narrated by Juliet Stevenson. I tried to read The Golden Notebook fifteen years ago and couldn’t make it through five pages for boredom. Now I’m riveted. Fascism, socialism, communism, free women, repudiated novels and unfinished novels and diary excerpts—it’s all up-to-the-minute even though it’s the 1950s.
Michelle and I have been inching along with a print version of Pilgrimage of Desire. The designs are all done, we’re reviewing physical proofs, and you’ll be able to order it from Amazon and your local bookstore very soon.
Is it summer yet? I need a breather. I want to do more writing. I think I’ll spread a little sand and a beach towel on the floor of my bunker, hang some rainbow butterflies from the ceiling.