Monthly Archives: December 2015

BWS 13.01.16: Kurt Zubatik

Kurt Zubatiuk

Kurt Zubatiuk is a psychotherapist, Japanese sword practitioner and poet. He is the author of the poetry collection, Ekstasis (LyricalMyrical). His work also appears in several anthologies including I Found it at The Movies (Guernica) and Gods, Memes & Monsters (Stone Skin). He lives with his lovely spouse Heather Wood, and two cats in Toronto.

Kurt drops by the blog this week with a guest post comparing two of the three callings he lists above. 

Competing for Empathy: Psychotherapy vs Poetry

I’m a psychotherapist. I haven’t been at it that long: I started training in 2008, started my practice under supervision in 2009 and graduated in 2012. The impact of being a psychotherapist on my life, personality and sense of self is still a work in progress. As is the impact of practising psychotherapy on myself as poet.

When I began studying and training in psychotherapy, I quickly noticed that I no longer had brain or mind space for poetry. Understandable. I was learning and attempting to integrate challenging concepts and experiences, and then I was preoccupied with getting a business, my private practice, up and running. But that wasn’t the whole story.

I should mention that I’m a Relational Psychotherapist, a “style” that falls under the heading of “psychodynamic” psychotherapy, which simply means that the mind and what ails it can be changed. Relational Psychotherapy, amongst many other models, involves the emotional investment of the therapist in the process of therapy in relationship with the client; in fact, it this therapeutic relationship that is the foundation from which positive change can occur in the client. In this relationship, the therapist empathizes with and comes to understand the subjective experience of the client, and helps the client “write the story” of her or his own self.

Okay, so what? Well, poetry is kind of like this too. Or can be. Poetry is a very “felt” process that, at least for me, involves being emotionally “present” with whatever experience is being written about. Whether reinterpreting a personal experience, observing a moment in nature, or capturing the ethos of a well crafted film or the tension of a human interaction, the poet processes a visceral sensorial and affective (emotional) experience then translates that into language. Another way to say it is, the poet “symbolises” the ineffable sense of being and living. Unlike many prose works, poetry often attempts to capture a particular subjective experience, not an objective one. Rather than diluting the experience in order to make it linguistically translatable to a larger readership, poetry often requires the reader to join the subjective experience and language of the poet, not only to “understand” the experience (fictional or otherwise), but to experience the mind of the poet.

That is what I, and many others, do as a psychotherapist. I work hard to find my way into the client’s experience in order to understand, “feel” and make sense of her or his experience; to understand it from the client’s perspective. As analogous to the construction of a poem, I seek to “feel” my way into the client’s mind and experience in order to help the client feel understood, and to help the client find the often profound meaning layered in her or his experience.

In short, the process of being a psychotherapist appeared to use the same part of my brain and mind as poetry, and for a good many years, there was no room for poetry! Until recently, that is. It appears that I finally have this psychotherapy thing down enough that there is space again.

It was a relief to discover, or rediscover, that I am still a poet; that I still have poetry within me. I was trained as an abstract painter, and it was difficult enough to reinvent myself and my identity once already. (The art career never materialised.) More importantly, it feels good to reconnect with writing again. I guess I could say it feels good to reconnect with myself, as well as with the world, through the mirror and lens that is the writing of poetry.

So, I am honoured and grateful to be reading both older and new work at Brockton Writers Series this January.

Kurt Zubatiuk visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Anthony De Sa, Cherie Dimaline, C. Fong Hsiung and a special guest talk by Lana Pesch, “Trailervision: Tips and Trends About Book Trailers”.

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BWS 13.01.16: C. Fong Hsiung

Hsiung_Fong_428_FB

C. Fong Hsiung, a Hakka Chinese from Kolkata, India, immigrated to Canada in 1977. She has published a novel, Picture Bride, and a short story, “Alfie”. Part-time writer, full-time accountant, Fong prefers words to numbers. She is learning how to speak and write Mandarin. Her creed for life: never stop learning.

Fong stops by the blog this week with a guest post and a clip from a recent TV interview ahead of her January 13 visit to Brockton Writers Series.

Are You Born to be a Writer

Are you born to be a writer? What clues throughout your life hinted at your love for words? What compels you to write?

When these questions pop up on social media and in blogs, writers everywhere cover their head with a blanket to gaze into their navel. Then when they emerge, they weigh in with profound insight about all the signs that led to this one and only path.

And this accountant is no different.

I spent many months in boarding schools during my formative years in India. While in Classes Seven through Ten, I remember borrowing a book from the library every week. I devoured works by Somerset Maugham, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, and numerous other authors of that ilk.

Once a day the boarders went to the playground. I smuggled a book in my tightly belted navy blue tunic, shielding my bosom from projectiles aimed at eliciting—God forbid—physical activity from me. While the rest of the girls screamed and dribbled or passed balls around, I stood with my back to them, arms over the fence. I pretended to look down at the winding mountainous roads, and read my book instead. Sometimes when the supervising teacher caught me, I’d dimple at her sweetly and lie. “Please, Miss, don’t make me play. I have to finish Tess for my book report tomorrow.” For some inexplicable reason Miss Das, my physical education teacher, always let me off the hook; I never got into trouble for reading during her watch.

The same boarding school also gave me myopia, my life-long companion. Sister William ran our dormitory with military precision and turned out the lights at 8:30 every night. Each semester the girls asked, “Could we please stay up for another half hour?” Her response never varied. She narrowed her eyes and furrowed her brow. Then her mouth, like a cleft in her veil-framed face opened. “No,” she said through pursed lips, and that ended the pleas. A dark dorm was but a minor stumbling block. I resorted to sneaking a flashlight underneath my bed covers as soon as Sister William closed her door for the night. I had books to read and pages to turn.

It’s not surprising then that my role models were my English teachers. I craved their approval over any others’. If you were a fly in my eighth grade classroom, you’d hear Miss Fernandez say, “As long as I’m your English teacher, you will write one essay a week.” While these assignments caused many of my classmates to suppress a groan, I started to write furiously.

When my school closed for the holidays and I went home, I read one uncensored novel after another. No teacher hovering over my shoulder, or nun eyeing the title on the book cover. My mother chided me for lolling in bed all day long. What would she have done had she found out that I often stayed up past midnight with The Godfather, Jaws, The Exorcist, and more?

Years later, living in Toronto with accounting textbooks as my closest “literary guides,” I once offered to write one of my sister’s grade thirteen essays for an English assignment. Alas, I still cringe when I recall my finished piece. Every sentence shouted, “Awkward…uninspired…” Needless to say I destroyed the essay and never tried to resurrect that masterpiece again.

My accounting career took off nicely in my thirties. I started a periodical called No Accounting for Taste and thought I could flex my writing muscles again. After one humorous article that garnered rave reviews from my colleagues, the literary spark sputtered and fizzled.

What did I expect? I am a trained accountant. I’m not supposed to know how to have fun with words. I do know how to interpret the dickens out of numbers on my spreadsheets, though. There was even a brief period when I thought I could make a living as a writer entering short-story competitions. My naïveté wore off quickly. Yes, my accounting side continues to pay my bills while my writing side brings gratifying trickles.

My writing heart beats on while my forays into other art forms die premature deaths. Like the time I took piano lessons when arthritis had already claimed most of my knuckles. The moment my schedule became overloaded, I ditched the black and white keys for the letters on the keyboard. I said to my piano teacher, “Eleanor, I am truly sorry, but it was never a fair competition.”

Despite my circuitous writing path, often stumbling and scraping my knees, I have now published a short story, “Alfie” and my first novel, Picture Bride. A three-time nominated and two-time winner of the Giller Prize edited my book and his wife published it. It’s my fairy tale come true.

Click here to see Fong’s recent interview!

C. Fong Hsiung visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Anthony De Sa, Cherie Dimaline, Kurt Zubatiuk and a special guest talk by Lana Pesch, “Trailervision: Tips and Trends About Book Trailers”.

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BWS 13.01.16: Cherie Dimaline

Cherie Dimaline headshot

Cherie Dimaline’s first award-winning book, Red Rooms, was published in 2007. Her 2013 novel, The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy, was shortlisted for the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature. Cherie won a 2014 Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (Emerging Artist of the Year), and in Spring, 2015, the Toronto Public Library appointed her as its first Writer in Residence – Aboriginal Experience. Her new collection of short fiction, A Gentle Habit, was released in December, 2015.

Cherie stops by the BWS blog this week with a guest post. Enjoy!

Growing the Galaxy, Swimming for Shore

“I’ve always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it’s a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don’t do much giggling.”

-Hunter S. Thompson

Hey kids, want a job that pays nothing and demands all? One that allows you to continually exercise the muscles that both hold you tense in anticipation and release for the crashing let-down? Oh boy, do I have the job for you.

As a writer, you can master the art of coupon-cutting and insomnia. You’ll also hone your sense of hearing to pick up the shuffle of the postman from a mile away around the time grant letters go out. You’ll be a better actor, pretending your insides aren’t melting into a pool of gooey self-hatred when the rejection forms come in. And with the royalty cheques for successful books, you’ll appreciate the finer things in life, like food court Chinese food. Or heat.

Now, I’m not saying we no longer live in a world where you can parlay your pen into international celebrity and into the beds of gorgeous fans. But I might be saying those groupies will be the kind that are okay with jumping under your 150-thread count sheets at the Thunder Bay Best Western (no offence, Thunder Bay).

The good news is you can still make a living as a writer. The bad news is that it won’t be at writing. It’ll be as a consultant, or banker or at one of those off-shoots of literature that makes you feel like somehow, if even by a fingernail, you are still living the dream; a copyeditor or perhaps the manager of a suburban Indigo where the books smell like maple syrup-scented candles.

So then, why? Why in the hell would any sane person write? Why would they struggle to scribble in-between annual reports at their cubicle, spend Friday nights hunched over a laptop, back curved like a question mark? Why would anyone waste their university years when they could learn a perfectly good trade, like finance strategist or surgical nurse, instead of learning about the metaphor and story arc?

For the same reason Harry chose Hogwarts, I suppose. For the same reason the Pevensie kids went through the door at the back of the professor’s wardrobe to find a lion and a witch. For the same reason, even though you just knew shit was going to end badly in The Beach because you read Lord of the Flies, you were still happy when they found the island and finally reached shore. Because once you have glimpsed real honest-to-god magic in the world, how could you give it up, at any cost?

When I was young (really not that long ago, I swear), it never occurred to me that there were two distinct parts to the whole writer thing or that, as much as the one compulsory segment of actual writing would sustain me, the competitive other side known as “the business” would push me down in the mud repeatedly, like in front of a crowd.

My first book of short stories, Red Rooms, was one of those small miracles that writes itself, gets accepted by the first publisher that sees it and ends up on reading lists and curricula. Awesome, right? Except, I thought maybe that was normal and that’s how things would be from then on–just spit ‘em out and watch ‘em go–and that maybe this even meant that the next one would make money, like rent-paying kind of money. Then I spent 3 years sweating over a novel called The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy. And spent just as many years getting rejection notices with helpful notes like, “Oh, this isn’t where I imagined the story going. Not really for us”, and “Some people are good at short stories and maybe aren’t meant to write novels”.

How did I take it? Well, let’s just say that for a season there I had a really tragic theme song to my life, one that made Adele uplifting. I moped; I questioned my existence and the existence of a literate god; I even tried to write popular fiction, of the sort I imagined was meant for such a cruel world as this, with vampires and crushes and special girls with super powers. I hit bottom when a proposal I wrote for a Harlequin romance was returned with no encouraging note at all.

So I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I called my mother long distance and whined. I imagined her sitting at her kitchen table with a mug of tea and a sympathetic look, nodding throughout my tirade against the artless heathens, the commercialization of our storytelling tradition and the “chosen few” for over an hour. I told her I was done. That I could no longer write because well, why bother. Finally, while I paused long enough to find the right word to describe the sacrifice of culture-bearers (“martyr”, I decided) she said, “But what does any of this have to do with writing?”

I stopped. Had my mother reached early dementia? What did she mean, “What does any of this have to do with writing?” I was just calmly explaining all about writing!

“No, but what does publishing or sales or marketing have to do with writing? Aren’t those all different things? I mean, you can still write, just don’t publish.”

She was right, of course. But we all knew that’s where this story was going. You don’t introduce the mother figure unless a life lesson is about to be imparted.

What did any of this have to do with writing? I’d been writing since I could formulate words. I wrote on my desks (sorry Ms. Cochimilio), on the covers of my notebooks, on the bottoms of my shoes. Eventually I graduated to teenage journals and the more adult “backs of annual budget projections”. I wrote because I had to, I wrote because I could, I wrote because I couldn’t stop worrying about the loose board at the back of the wardrobe once I knew what was behind there. What did publishing and sales and jerks who couldn’t see the potential of a little girl growing an entire galaxy have to do with writing? Absolutely nothing, really.

Clearly my mother is (1) a kind of quiet genius, and (2) the kind of mother who doesn’t mind her kids coming back to live with her in abject poverty.

Writer Leanne Simpson once talked about how important it is to protect the part of you that creates, how vital it is to honour that place where story comes from. For me, that means separating the writer from the author, if you catch my meaning. It means living fully in that first segment–where creation is the rule–before striding into the latter where it may be the exception. I need to not think about sales, contracts and book jacket photos (shudder) and just write. Because even if you know it may end badly, while you’re writing that book, you just have to swim for shore.

Cherie Dimaline visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Anthony De Sa, C. Fong Hsiung, Kurt Zubatiuk and a special guest talk by Lana Pesch, “Trailervision: Tips and Trends About Book Trailers”.

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Brockton Writers Series: 13.01.16

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 13, 2016

bws_jan2016

L-R: Anthony De Sa, Cherie Dimaline, Kurt Zubatiuk & C. Fong Hsiung.

Kick off a new year of Brockton Writers Series, with special guests:

Anthony De Sa
Cherie Dimaline
C. Fong Hsiung
Kurt Zubatiuk

AT

full of beans Coffee House & Roastery

1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto

Guest speaker at 6:30pm

Lana Pesch, author of Moving Parts

“Trailervision: Tips and Trends About Book Trailers”

Readings begin at 7:00

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and treats are available for sale. Please note that while the venue is wheelchair accessible, washroom facilities are not.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

Print

GUEST SPEAKER

LPesch_headshotDEC2_2015

Lana Pesch is a Saskatchewan-born, Toronto-based writer and producer. Her debut short story collection, Moving Parts, was published in October, 2015 (Arsenal Pulp Press). Her writing has has appeared in Elle Canada, Taddle Creek and Little Bird Stories: Volumes I and II. She was long-listed for the 2014 CBC Short Story Prize, and won the Random House of Canada Creative Writing Award at the University of Toronto in 2012.

READERS

Anthony De Sa’s first book, Barnacle Love, was critically acclaimed and became a finalist for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2009 Toronto Book Award. His most recent novel, Kicking the Sky, is set in 1977, the year a twelve-year-old shoeshine boy named Emanuel Jaques was brutally raped and murdered in Toronto. He lives in Toronto with his wife and three boys.

Cherie Dimaline’s first award-winning book, Red Rooms, was published in 2007. Her 2013 novel, The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy, was shortlisted for the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature. Cherie won a 2014 Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (Emerging Artist of the Year), and in Spring, 2015, the Toronto Public Library appointed her as its first Writer in Residence – Aboriginal Experience. Her new collection of short fiction, A Gentle Habit, was released in December, 2015.

C. Fong Hsiung, a Hakka Chinese from Kolkata, India, immigrated to Canada in 1977. She has published a novel, Picture Bride, and a short story, “Alfie”. Part-time writer, full-time accountant, Fong prefers words to numbers. She is learning how to speak and write Mandarin. Her creed for life: never stop learning.

Kurt Zubatiuk is a psychotherapist, Japanese sword practitioner and poet. He is the author of the poetry collection, Ekstasis (LyricalMyrical). His work also appears in several anthologies including I Found it at The Movies (Guernica) and Gods, Memes & Monsters (Stone Skin). He lives with his lovely spouse Heather Wood, and two cats in Toronto.

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