Will I ever make it To the Lighthouse?

I’ve abandoned my journey To the Lighthouse again, and at this point, I’m just not sure I’ll ever make it there. It’s just that, every time I try to read Virginia Woolf’s canonical work, I get this feeling like I’m barely clinging to life and, well, despite lock-down creating the illusion of a timeless existence, I know that life is too short to waste on reading books that make me want to die, regardless of how academically important they may be.

I thought I could manipulate myself into reading To the Lighthouse once and for all by putting it on my winter reading list and then publicizing said list in my column in The Spec, but all I really succeeded in was delaying my enjoyment of other books by forcing myself to suffer through Woolf first.

From my column, “I’m sharing my cold-weather reading list”:

“One of the most important things to do, as a writer, is to read work that challenges me, not just in content but in style. Woolf’s 1927 novel ‘To the Lighthouse’ employs the literary technique of stream of consciousness, meaning that most of the narrative is conveyed through the flowing thoughts and observations of the characters.

‘To the Lighthouse’ was on one of my reading lists in university, but it fell prey to my strategy of reading about half of the books for each of my classes. I wasn’t partial to stream of consciousness and, as a result, it was an easy cut to make. However, about 15 years later, I think it’s time to plunge into the stream and see where it takes me.”

(Note: I’m not sure why my column was edited to indicate book titles in quotation marks instead of italics.)

Anyway, now I’m all wet and shivering and bewildered, and I haven’t even made it to the titular lighthouse to which the family is supposedly going.

To conduct a major palate cleanse, I started reading Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama, which wasn’t on my winter list but has swiftly replaced that dying-of-thirst sensation with an exhilarating mental intoxication.

Nobody knows what miracles the future may bestow upon us, but I’m starting to think I’m not meant to go to the lighthouse with Mrs. Ramsay and the other characters whose names I’ve forgotten, and I’ve accepted that.

Writer’s pro tip: Don’t stop getting dressed

Read at thespec.com.

“All day in PJs? This deal is for you,” reads the subject of an email in my junk folder.

I know that for many of you, working from home or simply being home in isolation is, for better or worse, a novelty, but as an expert in being a house-ridden bum, I want to warn you: Don’t stop getting dressed.

For the majority of people, the act of going to work provides them the incentive to take a shower, maybe shave or do their hair, put on some makeup and pick an outfit that they’ll feel good in and that’s appropriate for their workplace. Now, I understand that to the untrained eye, unwashed and dishevelled may look like the appropriate attire for home-based work, but this uniform quickly becomes problematic.

At this stage of the pandemic, you may still believe that getting dressed is something you’ve been forced to do to be socially accepted and not get arrested in public, but this, in my experience, is fallacious reasoning. Many people haven’t been given the opportunity to realize how important the appearance of self-care actually is to their self-care, until now.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you should put on a suit, walk down to your living room, and sit on the couch with your laptop for eight hours. I mean, unless you’re Barney Stinson, you’d probably rather wear something a little less restrictive.

But, don’t think that because nobody (except maybe your immediate family) can see you, the effort you put into your hygiene rituals and wardrobe has become pointless. Believe me, as a work-from-home writer, I can tell you that opting out of personal care and personal style can have a deteriorating effect on your self-worth.

Your self-worth is not something to play with right now.

Maintaining self-worth is more critical than ever while you’re stuck at home and possibly jobless for an indeterminate length of time.

Yes, I know the novelty value is real. I think I heard the collective sigh of elastic-waisted relaxation sometime in the latter half of March. But, trust me, wearing the same sweats over and over gets old — literally, and figuratively.

I’ll admit I was sliding into the trap last week. I was rotating through the same few sweaters and beginning to feel a bit directionless. I was running into blocks in my writing, and thinking of house projects I wanted to start but finding no motivation to start them. Familiar with the struggle, I washed my hair, changed my jewelry and put on clothing that was still comfortable, but also made me feel more put together and expressive. With a renewed sense of purpose, I started a new video media project that night. I’ve now been working and exercising in my backyard for the last couple of days and feeling much more capable.

I think too often the upkeep of physical appearance is confused with shallowness and vanity, but it’s biologically ingrained in us to value it. That’s not to say that people who genuinely cannot be bothered to cultivate a style or maintain their looks are less valuable people, but there’s nothing inherently negative in caring about one’s physical presence either.

I think this becomes apparent when a person is physically isolated from the world, and still finds satisfaction in taking a shower and getting dressed. I watched my friend through video chat put on a full face of makeup. I asked her why she was doing it — I mean, I’ve seen her without makeup plenty of times, so it certainly wasn’t for me — and her answer, in essence, was “why not?” It was something that made her feel good, feel more “herself,” and she just wanted to do it regardless of who would or wouldn’t see her face.

This is what I’m talking about. Don’t stop doing the things that make you feel like “you,” just because you’re at home, because when it comes down to it, if those rituals weren’t primarily for you in the first place, you wouldn’t do them for anybody else.

If you want to wear a dress and big, sparkly earrings, wear a dress and big, sparkly earrings. Hey, if you’re a Barney Stinson, go ahead and wear a suit to your home office. If the sweatpants-clad basement dweller is truly your spirit animal, then wear sweatpants. Whatever you choose to wear, don’t feel silly about it, because right now, your self-worth is critical.

So, what am I wearing right now, you ask? No, I’m not trying to get fresh with you, unless we’re referring to my fresh-from-the-closet blue-patterned shirt. It has a collar and everything.

The artist’s guide to the zombie apocalypse

Read at thespec.com.

Last night, I was plagued by zombie dreams. I don’t know how much of my all-night undead-a-thon was influenced by reading coronavirus updates, and how much was just my everyday tendency to dream about zombies, but I woke with a clear purpose. Rather than focusing on the real-world threat of COVID-19, I’ve decided to lighten the mood a little with another artist’s guide — to the zombie apocalypse!

I watch a lot of zombie movies, basically anything that isn’t too cringingly B-quality. (Side note: I’m wary of anyone who claims to love B movies. Who knows what else they’ll lie about?)

When I dream about zombies, the dreams generally aren’t scary — rather, they usually consist of totally unrelated social situations, and the zombies are just sort of there, milling around. Sometimes they try to attack, and I vanquish them like it’s regular, or I problem-solve to contain them or shut them out. On the rare occasion, there’s a pulse-spiking moment, as happened last night when Zombie Lois Griffin tried to bite me from behind, and the in-dream sensation of someone (albeit a cartoon someone) leaning in and breathing on the back of my neck was so realistic that it shocked me awake with a gentle snort.

Anyway, I’ve spent my share of time thinking strategically about the zombie apocalypse, and never more than during real-world viral outbreaks.

How would an artist approach a zombie world?

I wouldn’t call myself a survivalist. To survive a zombie apocalypse, I would have to get creative.

Strategy 1: Think like a plot master.

I think if you asked an average group of people what their first goal would be immediately following a zombie outbreak, many would cleverly state gathering supplies would top their lists.

Any writer with a grasp on plot lines will tell you that these people are eaten first. The character who secures reliable shelter while others panic and run around like zombie fodder will still find plenty of food and tools after the initial chaos has died down (literally). I mean, think about it. The mass of people looting frantically while the first wave of zombies is at its freshest and most spry is going to be thinned out pretty quickly, leaving most of the supplies untouched.

Strategy 2: Think outside the boards.

I don’t know where everyone’s getting all these wooden planks with which to board up their windows, but let’s be real. If zombies can break a window, they can probably break through a barrier of nailed-together wooden boards. What does this tell you? The wood isn’t really for strength, but for visual concealment.

Instead, my painter’s mind goes to — yes, exactly. Slap a few coats of black acrylic paint onto the insides of your windows, and you’ll have much more opaque window coverings than a bunch of planks with cracks between them.

What if you don’t have paint either, you ask? Well, you’re on your own.

Strategy 3: Think like a method actor.

Now, I’m not an actor by profession, but the arts tend to commingle quite a bit, and in this case, I can think of a pretty solid hybrid technique to combine painting skills with my first foray into serious method acting.

Start by painting yourself up like a zombie. Think, your best, prizewinning Halloween costume. Then, wander around your shelter moaning and tripping over things until you’re sufficiently confident that you’ve assimilated the thoughts, emotions and behaviours of a zombie. When you’re fully in character, go outside and join a zombie horde.

Best case scenario, you are then able to move about unharmed, giving you much greater access to supplies and the option of migrating. Worst case scenario, you get turned into a zombie.

At least you’ll already have gotten some practice.

The pandemic is showing us the value and potential of social media

Read at thespec.com.

Imagine the COVID-19 pandemic without social media.

Mere weeks ago, apps like Facebook were still a guilty pleasure. It was hip to deny the distraction of scrolling through other people’s trip photos on Instagram. Twitter was little more than a squash court for self-important crusaders.

COVID-19 has brought new importance to the connectivity social media provides us. I realize there are people who have never used it, and no amount of pandemic isolation will convert them. However, those who have used it reluctantly, raise your hand if you still think it’s a waste of time. Anyone?

Sharing posts about how we’re all coping with isolation and the extreme potential for boredom and mental health challenges is a great way to feel less secluded. Before the novel coronavirus, posting photos of one’s meals on Instagram was considered narcissistic and gratuitous, but now that many people have been forced to cook more, it’s become a wholesome way to share in our collective experience.

Social media also connects us in real time. In the absence of physical proximity, the video call has become the new family dinner, the new ladies’ wine night, the new gathering of friends. I’m an outgoing person, but I’m also an introvert who enjoys my space and independence, and yet I’ve found myself shooting out video calls to friends and family without reservation.

For a long time, I’ve appreciated social media for what it is: a series of platforms for engaging with others, whether personally or professionally. I have had countless conversations and arguments with those who have insisted it’s simply a waste of time, or even an unhealthy addiction. The current state of things is strong evidence in favour of my stance.

While there are potential pitfalls, social media is also a comfortable arena for the sharing of information. Especially during such challenging times, people tend to protect their mental states by opting out of reading, watching, or listening to the news. In rapidly developing situations such as viral outbreaks, important and even life-saving information can trickle down from news outlets and through the interconnected chambers of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, there will always be false information that spreads like bushfire on parched land, but with so many eyes on newsfeeds, these reports seem to be pretty efficiently discovered as faulty or fictitious, further narrowing reliable resources on a given topic.

In pre-COVID times, the ability of social media to keep us informed was a questionable feature, but I’ve never before had so many discussions by Facebook Messenger on the state of the world, and each individual’s — and each household’s — thoughts, feelings, and boundaries relative to a world event.

Social media is keeping us all together — families, friends, communities, and even artists and their audiences.

One of the professional activities I depend on is reading to a roomful of people. When it comes to recording video media to share online, I’ve been dreading the inevitable for years. The thought of talking to nobody as though I were talking to somebody has always made me cringe, but with the limitations set by the pandemic, my perspective on creating and sharing video content has evolved. Whereas I previously thought of talking into a recording device as grossly self-congratulatory, I now view it as an essential way to reach people and contribute to global wellness through the celebration of literature.

And, of course, no small helping of sarcasm.

Gag Cartoons?!

COVID-19 sucks for a lot of reasons. It’s hard to sit idly with the knowledge that people everywhere on Earth are suffering, and, of course, the promise of an economic depression is stressful regardless of how one’s own household is managing. However, isolation has its perks when you are a self-employed artist. Because I’m not distracted by social engagements, I now have the opportunity to work on creative projects that I previously hadn’t taken the time to develop.

My childhood dream was to be a cartoonist, but as I grew up, my passion for writing overtook my younger plans. Art school also had a way of sucking the fun clean out of being a visual artist, so when I went on to university, I chose to pursue an English literature education, rather than continuing in fine arts.

I think, over time, I just stopped considering that I could be a professional cartoonist–that is, until I went from being home, oh, let’s say 80% of the time to being home 99% percent of the time. There’s only so much avoiding work a person can do before it gets tiresome and quite frankly kind of icky to wallow in unproductiveness, and when you’re in full creative control of your work, variety can keep the machine well-oiled.

So, all that to say, I’m making gag cartoons now, but I can’t show them to you yet. To take this new branch of my career seriously, I can’t post cartoons on my blog, or they won’t be considered by the publications to which I hope to eventually sell them.

I suppose this blog entry is a bit anticlimactic, then. Here’s a picture of me enjoying my backyard, as consolation.