BWS 06.05.15: Jane Woods

Jane CloseupJane Woods is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada and spent a decade working in Canadian regional theatre in before settling in Montreal to work as a voice actress. Later, she began translating and adapting French-language films and television series to be dubbed into English. She now works mainly as a translator.

Jane stopped by the blog before her reading to introduce us to her first novel, The Walking Tanteek.

Weirdness

In elementary school, I had a huge honking crush on Linda B, the school pariah. There was something in her off-brand nature that resonated deeply with me; in private, we were blissful confidantes, open and fearless with one another. But our friendship was secret, because Linda was surpassingly weird, and I cared far too much about my public status to let on that we were pals.

Even Linda’s last name was dorky. I won’t disclose it; you wouldn’t believe me. She had wild, matted hair, hideous glasses, and wore black ankle socks with clunkety brown boy’s oxfords, footwear totally at odds with her poufy, babyish dresses and starched crinolines. Her nose dripped green stuff 24/7, and she wiped it on her sleeves, which by lunchtime were hard as bark with dried excretions. She read dorky books, was klutzy at games. She had two younger brothers with lank Hitler hair and similar nasal dysfunction, who got the same grief from their own classmates that we meted out to Linda. When we ganged up on her at recess to pull her hair and rip her clothes–and yes, I said we–she would shoot me, her friend, such looks of outraged betrayal that I still flush like a brazier at the memory.

Is anything worse than being labelled a freak at ten, of knowing that just the sight of your face is enough to turn ‘normal’ kids into homicidal maniacs? Being Mr. and Mrs. B., perhaps, left to stitch up Linda’s torn dresses and apply a clean hanky to her furious tears and streaming nostrils; Mr. and Mrs. B. who had perhaps nursed dreams of three beautiful children who would grow up to play championship cello or cure cancer; Mr. and Mrs. B. who nursed fond hopes of gracing many a front row, fighting back proud tears as awards and citations were given, bows taken.

The early omens weren’t promising.

And so it is, putting a novel out into the world, especially one dealing with the thorny subject of Faith and Doubt. You so hope it will attract a quiet, loyal readership of like minds, soul friends, people who get you. This is your baby, your heart-on-a-plate offering, in which you have had all the time in the world to say exactly what you mean, with nobody interrupting. Please, you think, don’t let my thumping little heart get beaten up out there!

Because your book definitely wears black socks with boy’s shoes.

There’s that dark, woolly word ‘Faith’, for starters. “Hmmm, a novel about a woman’s quest for faith, eh? Are you a True Believer, then?” clamour the True Believers. “It seems you’re drawn to transcendence, divinity and faith like a moth to the porch light, but hang it: all we see is impiety and inconstancy! We’d pull up our socks if we were you, Believer!”

“Are you a True Unbeliever, then?” the True Unbelievers, straightforward as sensible footwear, want to know. “Because if you are, we’re curious to know why you don’t have the courage of your hazy, lazy convictions and just give the whole faith and transcendence song-and-dance a good, solid, well-shod kick into the Void where it belongs.”

Like Linda stoutly insisting that black socks were best because you could wear them for three weeks without dirt showing, you try to explain that you are both Believer and Unbeliever! You hail from the territory of Doubt, Ambiguity, and Unanswerable Questions. “But,” you cry, “Doubt and Faith work together! Doubt keeps faith humble, human and sane!’

Okay, nobody tries to rip your be-snotted sleeve off. But the crowd does thin considerably.

Because, sorry, your book is weird. Misfits and losers populate The Walking Tanteek. And they’re popping up unbidden once again as your second book staggers to its knees, the same people under new management, elbowing in, sucking up all the oxygen. Anxious loners, lost souls, dwellers in silence and unresolvable existential disharmony keep seeping to the surface of your work like bloodstains.

Like it or not, this clash of Faith and Doubt that you choke on as your heart and mind duke it out in your throat seems to be your territory. Your little grubstake.

Maggie, in The Walking Tanteek, thrashes against doubt, despair and the senselessness of death, the apparent meaninglessness of this one-night stand, this chaos, this scribble of a life. Her notion of God seems to be nothing but a figment sewn together from desperate scraps of illusion that she throws over her naked terror. There is no clarity, no blinding revelation, no thumping satisfaction. She squirms in the dark and in the silence. She finds love but can’t hang on to it. Her doubt is tenuous, her faith weak and tremble-chinned.

On the other hand, we smart-ass kids never doubted the rightness of our cause when we mobbed and clawed Linda in the schoolyard. Absolute certainty corroded us, made us smug, self-righteous, intolerant. We knew everything, and everything had no place for a wonky girl with eccentric fashion sense, who, nevertheless, took our punishment standing up, fighting back like a wildcat, and never once bowing to pressure by trying to fake her way into our dull, ‘good’ graces. Linda B. never broke, at least not in front of us. She stayed true to her lonely territory.

I moved away a year later and never knew what became of her, but she still appears in my dreams. She’s always beautiful, in her twenties, forever young. She invariably appears in an elegant yellow sundress. Her hair is wild and gorgeous. She looks so hot (and I’m so jealous!). The dream’s sense is that she has become so beautiful because she stuck to her guns and made a life on her own terms. Awe-struck and humbled, I tell her how pleased I am that she turned out so magnificently well.

And she makes me so proud as she receives this homage coolly, and moves on.

Jane Woods visits the Brockton Writers Series TONIGHT, Wednesday, May 6, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Zainab Amadahy, Ghadeer Malek and Mark Silverberg. The event begins with a special guest talk, “Getting Started in Book Reviewing,” by Emily M. Keeler of the National Post.

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