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The Invisible Artist

I had an epiphany this week: no one cares that I have an MFA.

Another epiphany immediately followed: no one should care.

It all sounds much more dramatic than it was, really. Sometimes after shows, visitors ask us, “So…did you, like, go to school for this or something?”

“I went to theatre school!” inevitably draws admiring murmurs and follow-up questions. “I have my Masters in Creative Writing!” not so much.

It’s a silly thing. I hate the small, venomous part of me that bristles at it. But you know what? We all have our vanities and our arrogances, and I want to be honest. It is such a silly thing, but sometimes it really sucks.

From “Among Elves and Trolls,” John Bauer (1912).

What helps is remembering why I got an MFA. I didn’t get it for glory. I got it so that I could become a better writer. No other reason. Degrees and workshops and grants are all very nice—but having them isn’t what matters. What matters is what you do with them.

Learning.

Creating.

Forging new opportunities.

And writing isn’t full of much glamour anyway. We tend to be paid last and least. We’re generally the silent partner, drafting proposals in the basement. Like good sound editing, good writing is often invisible, which doesn’t help if you’re after recognition.

GOBLIN 1:    The Snow Queen doesn’t make any sense without goblins. We’ve got the most important part: there’s no story without us.

GOBLIN 2:    But after this, we’re never seen again. No glory, no thanks, no nothing!

GOBLIN 1:    It could be worse. (Pause) We could be playwrights.

The Snow Queen: a Pantomime, by Me (2016).

So if not for fame and fortune, why write?

Because we must; because we’re artists. But I’m not going to say, “Forget external validation.” That’s not realistic; most humans like praise. When you’ve worked really hard on something—put your heart and soul into it—pulled off the impossible on sheer grit and nerve—of course you want a clap on the back. There’s nothing wrong with that.

From “Cinderella,” Arthur Rackham (1919).

But to counterbalance that craving, we need an even stronger core of self-assurance and self-knowledge. Because the praise won’t always come. The kudos won’t. The appreciative murmurs won’t. And when that happens, an inner, steely kernel will keep you going. That’s your compass: external validation is a nice boost, but you don’t want to steer by it.

At the end of the day…yeah, I have a hungry ego. And I’ve worked to temper it, because it doesn’t have any place in the creative process. What good is praise and validation if you don’t value what you do? “Believe in yourself” sounds so cliché, but if you don’t, who will?

I think it’s one of the hardest things we face, as artists. Putting the mitts back on, wiping our faces, and striding out into the silent ring. But if you can know—if you can know, deep down—that what you’re doing is good and worthwhile—

“How Sir Launcelot Fought with a Friendly Dragon,” Arthur Rackham (1917).

Then the fight is already won.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

I found “Dacw ‘Nghariad” by accident and immediately became obsessed. It’s one of those pieces that make stories flash before your eyes. Pretty sure this is a lullaby for my new novel’s protagonist… Of course, she’s not Welsh, but we’ll forget about that for now.

Under the Shadow

So, I had a post all written about the existential anxiety caused by the threat of nuclear war.

But then, this tweet…
Image result for trump locked and loaded

…became only the second-worst thing to happen last week. 

There have been so many words of fury and mourning spoken about the events in Charlottesville, but I’ll add mine anyway. Through Saturday, I alternated between cold anger and heartbrokenness. 

Three people are dead. That it happened in Virginia heightened my emotions – if I have adopted any state, it’s Virginia – but really, it would’ve been equally reprehensible in any state.

This is 2017. We should not be tolerating Nazis. We should not be apologists for them. We should not even see them. The world fought a war about that very fact. It was this whole entire thing.

And my anger spins into froth because – have they learned nothing? Do they have no awareness? How does one read the diary of Anne Frank – look at the photos of mountains upon mountains of shoes – listen to survivors’ interviews and testimony – visit concentration camps – and not see that this is evil? How does one see that evil and embrace it anyway? 

There are no two sides to this. There is the side of evil and that of right. Right is not always polite. It is not always tender or gentle. Sometimes it is loud and uncomfortable, because right is brave, always. 

A vague cop-out about “all sides” is cowardice that makes my stomach turn. 

“We want to preserve what we have,” says neo-Nazi Peter Cjvetanovic. And yes, unwittingly, he laid it all out. They want to preserve a system which favours them and them alone. They want to maintain their privilege and overpowering voice. They want to stay at the top, even if they must crush everyone else to do it. 

Based on the widespread condemnation, I hope – desperately – that we are seeing the spasmodic death throes of a way of life that is passing. The dinosaurs must have raged too, when they saw the night falling. 

The events of this weekend are indeed America. They could be Canada, too. They are the result of decades of ossified racism, misogyny, and inequality. But this is not who we must be. We know who we want to be – let us work harder than ever to get there. 

“In spite of everything,” Anne Frank wrote, “I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

I believe that too. Now let us prove it.

And let us not fall into nuclear war, either. 

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

A long one this week: I’ve just been running Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame while I work. It’s a 14th century polyphonic mass, and it is gorgeous. The way the parts fit together is so different from my usual Renaissance polyphony—and I love the ornamental quavers so very, very much.

 

Two Lessons

It’s been a hard week for writing. Don’t get me wrong: lots of writing is happening. But there are so many different projects going on, I struggled to steal a few hours to write a short story. And then, when I finally sat down at my computer, the words wouldn’t come. I wrestled it like Jacob with the angel, eked out 1500 words, decided they were terrible, started again and got 1400…

And I’m back to square one.

“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel,” Alexander Louis Leloir (1865).

But I also think I have sorted out what’s wrong with the story. You see, I had to remind myself of two major lessons this past week…

Go smaller

This is a lesson I’ve been learning from my dive into CanLit. Alice Munro does this incredibly well. A woman goes to meet a man in Stratford, and it’s devastating. A young girl kissed a pilot decades ago, and your heart breaks. They’re plots that loop back upon themselves, layering in backstory and inferences. And these small, mundane tragedies, once magnified, become absolutely epic.

Similarly, I finished Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel yesterday. In simplest terms, an old woman flees into the woods and remembers her life.

You guys, I cried so much.

Narrowed focus. Details that catch and tear like fish-hooks. These are stories that dive deeper and closer, spiralling like a Mandelbrot set.

That’s what I want to explore. For now, anyway.

You can only write your stories.

Of course, when the thread of the story snapped, I threw myself into a tailspin. Obviously, the problem was me. My story doesn’t have the gut-wrenching emotion of Keri Hulme. Or the intellectual depth of Theodora Goss. Or the hypnotic quality of Cat Valente. Or the weirdness of Kelly Link, or the sheer storytelling oomph of Kij Johnson, or the beautiful cruelty/cruel beauty of Aimee Bender.

Of course it doesn’t. I’m not those writers.

I’m KT Bryski. Whatever I write has to come from me. In the end, it has to be my voice, my heart, my story.

And I thought: what did I write, before the stress and tension took hold? What did I write before I was afraid? What did I write when no one was watching?

I went back to one of my few pre-Stonecoast short stories: “After the Winds,” in When the Hero Comes Home Vol. II. Guess what I found?

A northern village.

Pseudo-sibling angst.

The yearning for home.

Motifs of breaking free, healing, and finding one’s place.

It was all there. Those are the things that constitute the heart of me. While I’d do some things differently now, it was good to see that, really—I know who I am. I know what matters to me. It’s all there inside: I just need to trust it.

And so I’d add…

Keep Going.

Liz Hand’s words are always applicable.

Go smaller.

Tell your stories.

Keep going.

We got this.

-KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

“Vale Decem” from Doctor Who, because the following line from “The End of Time” popped into my head:

This song is ending, but the story never ends.

This is a transitional time. Some songs are ending, which is painful and exhausting. But the story—the story never ends. Also, add an extra 10 points to this piece for an ethereal countertenor.

Thinking of the Future

My life seems to change drastically every seven years or so. We’re not quite due for a shake-up yet, but it’s been on my mind. Maybe it’s the whole “turning 26” thing. My friends are buying houses, getting married, having babies. Stuff’s getting real…

…whilst I continue to frolic about like a bohemian Peter Pan.  There’s a quotation from the end of Barrie’s book that haunts me:

[Peter] had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be forever barred.

I’m fine.

But then I started actually thinking about the future. I have no idea how things are going to end up, and it seems a bit silly to fret too much. It all changes every seven years, right?

And so I started thinking slightly differently. Not what will happen?

What do I want for myself?

I’ve never cleaved closely to the conventional narrative, after all. I know that I won’t buy a three-bedroom semi-detached home in midtown Toronto. I know my relationships and family won’t look conventional. We’re not just outside the box: we left it squished three miles down the road. So if the “should be” isn’t a thing…

What do I actually want?

There’s another poem that speaks to me:

Mine be a cot beside the hill;
A bee-hive’s hum shall soothe my ear;
A willowy brook that turns a mill,
With many a fall shall linger near.

The swallow oft beneath my thatch
Shall twitter from her clay-built nest;
Oft shall the pilgrim lift the latch,
And share my meal, a welcome guest.

Around my ivied porch shall spring
Each fragrant flower that drinks the dew;
And Lucy at her wheel shall sing
In russet gown and apron blue.

The village church among the trees,
Where first our marriage vows were given,
With merry peals shall swell the breeze
And point with taper spire to Heaven.

-Samuel Rogers (1763-1855)

That’s all. That’s it.

Essential. Real. Meaningful.

Maurice Cullen, “Summer Near Beaupre” (ca. 1900).

Just need to keep that close.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

I’ve been working on a thing that’s required a lot of fantasy-style music. Here’s a lively piece from Heather Alexander!

We Need to Listen: Guilt and Responsibility in Canada

This is a difficult post to write. It’s painful and awkward, and potentially upsetting. Which is also why it’s important.

This year is “Canada’s 150th birthday.” It’s the sesquicentennial of “our nation’s birth.” Break out the beavertails, deck yourself with maple leaves, and bask politely in our universal health care and handsome prime minister, eh?

Okay, so.

This is complicated.

I’m going to start with the simplest quibbles first and work my way up. On a purely historic, pedantic note, “Canada” was an entity long before 1867. Europeans have been calling it that since the 1530s. Indigenous populations were here millennia before that. This is the 150th anniversary of the British North America Act taking effect, that’s all.

That’s just me being persnickety. Let’s move on to the hard stuff.

We have a reputation, we Canadians. We’re polite. We apologize a lot. We’re tolerant, diverse; we value multiculturalism.

Look, there’s no easy way to say this: we treat Indigenous peoples appallingly, and we have for well over 150 years.

I’m not even sure where to start. With residential schools? With broken treaties? With erasure from the historical narrative? The effing garbage-fire of that “Appropriation Award” controversy? Repeated drinking-water crises on Canadian reserves? Epidemics of suicides? The 1,181 indigenous women murdered and missing between 1980 and 2012? The fact that those are only the documented cases?

It’s horrific.

And it’s not just in the past. It’s not just something that happened in 1867, or 1787, or 1653, or 1535. We’re not done. It isn’t over because it’s 2017: the same history plays out again, and again, and again. How could we be over it, when our country rests on the foundation of such a colonial legacy?

Add another layer of complexity: generally speaking, I’m happy to be Canadian. It’s in every bio I write. “KT Bryski is a Canadian author and playwright…” There are many things that Canada does well. We’ve a lot to be proud of.

But.

But we’re also this:

And this:

And hey, while we’re at it, we’re also this:

And this:

And this.

And yet, we are also these things:

 

 

 

And I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I don’t have suggestions. All I have is a thorny mass of conflicted feelings that I’ve been trying to sort through for over a year.

But perhaps there are two things to consider:

Canada tells itself that we are pluralistic. Our ideal nation-self is one which contains multitudes.

Then perhaps – does “all of the above” get closer to an answer? Can multiple Canadas coexist simultaneously? Can I have strong ties and affection for my country, whilst also being ashamed of its cruelties and failures?

Because Canada does have things of immense beauty and kindness. It also has many things which are horrific beyond words. There is light – I do believe that – but we’ve clung to our “sunny ways” for so long, we have failed to acknowledge and remedy our darkness.

And to even begin to do that, we need to do the very thing that, historically, we suck at.

We need to listen.

Listen here:

And here:

And here:

Here.

Here. Here. Here.

Here.

Listen. Own it. Listen some more. Repeat.

Happy Canada Day.

-KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

A remixed English folk ballad, because reasons. Here’s “The Three Ravens,” which kind of forgets about the ravens halfway through and becomes an allegory instead. You know, as a lot of old English poetry does.

But there’s some beautiful harmonies that remind me vaguely of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m slowly starting to ponder a novel – and I suspect I’ll be listening to this song much more in the coming months.

 

Birthday Thoughts

I turn 26 on Wednesday.  On the one hand, I know that’s nothing. On the other, this tweet feels scarily accurate:

 

 

So, 26. Aging aside, there’s been a strange shift in the wind, lately. It’s nothing I can quite put my finger on, but it feels like change is coming, thunder rolling in the distance.

And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far

Ancestral voices prophesying war!

– “Kubla Khan,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

My twenties have been relatively comfortable thus far, all things considered. Yet it somehow feels like a chapter is closing. One age ending; another beginning. I don’t know—maybe it’s just birthday feelings.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I had an interesting conversation the other day about writing at different stages of life. Generally speaking, I agree with Theodora Goss’s theory that to write a certain story/novel, you must first become the sort of person who can write that story/novel. Kelly Robson echoes similar thoughts in her wonderful essay “On Being a Late Bloomer.”

Those thirty years didn’t just make me a writer. They made me a good writer. That paralyzing self-doubt morphed into a keen sense for quality in my own work. When I write something that stinks, I can usually smell it. I’ve been reading for more than forty years, so I have thousands of great books and stories banked for information and inspiration. And best of all, I have a lifetime’s worth of unplumbed material to draw on—I’ve seen the world in all its glory and ugliness.

– Kelly Robson, “On Being a Late Bloomer,” Clarkesworld

Point is, all stories originate from somewhere inside of us. If it isn’t in there somewhere, we can’t pull it out. We can fake it—manufacture a piece with a shiny veneer that crumbles at a touch. But you can’t write the story – not for realuntil conditions are right inside you.

Which is why young writers’ works have such a short shelf life. I’d write things, return to them a year later, and immediately see the delta. “I don’t write like this anymore,” I’d say. It was the same feeling you get from examining old photos.

“That was just five years ago—why do I look so young?

2017 on the left; 2012 on the right. Evidently, five years is longer than it feels.

Of course, there’s another implication to all this. If you’ve changed enough, it can make it hard to return to old worlds, old stories. Occasionally, I get asked if I’d ever write another story in the Hapax universe.

And you know what? I don’t think I could. I wrote Hapax at nineteen.

  • I still had two parents.
  • I’d never been in love.
  • I’d never really grieved.
  • I had never even considered working in museums.
  • I hadn’t met my dearest friends and collaborators.
  • I hadn’t failed very much.
  • I hadn’t gallivanted around the Antipodes by myself for two months.
  • There are hundreds of amazing books/stories I hadn’t read.

I’ve changed enough that the world doesn’t fit anymore. Sure, I could resurrect characters and pick up the mythology (I will say that Hapax’s theology still pleases me), but I wouldn’t write the same sort of story. It’s like leaving Narnia. Once the door is closed, it’s closed.

Of course, 19-year-old KT definitely couldn’t have written any of the short stories I’ve done over the past few years. She couldn’t have written Six Stories or the Creepy Play. Of course not—I wasn’t yet the person who could.

So when I think about falling into a new stage of life, part of me is excited. Or at least, curious. After all, look at all the growth in the past seven years. Where will I be in seven more? What sort of stories will I be able to tell then? By the time my twenties draw to their close, what person will I be?

I don’t know, of course. Perhaps that’s part of the fun—or at least the journey. There’s a lot of stories I haven’t told yet.

But just you wait.

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

An unexpected piece. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” floated through my head early last week, and it’s been on repeat ever since. Obviously, I’d heard the song before—but I’d never really listened to it.

Yes, I can be a ridiculous sap. But those gentle, lilting broken chords and the velvet richness of Elvis’ lower register—

It’s a lullaby.

Liminal and Literary

When I was a wee sprogget of 16, I went to tour a university. They had a creative writing undergrad, you see, and I’d somehow wrangled a one-on-one with one of the instructors. She seemed distant, impervious to my earnest charm.

Until I asked brightly, “So, do you teach genre fiction as well, or is it all literary?”

She recoiled like I’d slapped her. “Oh, no,” she hissed. “We only teach literary fiction.”

And so I did not attend that university.

Photo de Katie Bryski.

I ended up at the University of Toronto, instead.

Through my late teens and undergrad, I similarly avoided  anything smacking of “literary fiction.” Meandering vignettes of people sitting on park benches, pondering the banality of existence? Dysfunctional families in the woods? Giants of the literary canon deriding my chosen genre as nothing more than space-faring octopi?

To hell with all that. I was a speculative fiction writer. I was interested in telling good stories.

Have I mentioned that I was incredibly arrogant through my late teens and undergrad?

In any case, I took a half-credit Science Fiction course, which is probably one of the best moves I’ve made. We started with Darko Suvin, forged ahead from Weinbaum to Gibson, and highlighted LeGuin and Tiptree along the way. My final paper contrasted notions of bodily autonomy in “Boojum” (Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear) and “Bloodchild” (Octavia Butler).

Quite a literary analysis, if you think about it.

Then I did my Stonecoast MFA. We’ve talked about it before – that was when my authorial voice started to change. And there—I learned that perhaps “literary” didn’t mean what I’d thought. Perhaps it wasn’t just “the opposite of genre fiction.” So what was it?

It was introspective. It was character-driven. It was devastating. It was lyrical and elegant.

Literary was an approach.

And literary could still have magic and spaceships.

Dysfunctional families in the MAGIC woods!

So I’ve been undergoing another reading regimen. In some ways, I still feel like an interloper: scuttling across the border to see what I scavenge and bring back to my fantasy. But startlingly, I sometimes recognize myself in the small villages, the bitter-dark humour, the pervasive loss, the tension between things beautiful and grotesque…

Of course, humans like to classify things. We like to label ourselves. That’s what we do. And genre markers are a useful common language for markets, authors, and readers.

But I’m feeling my way towards a strange, interstitial space. Not terribly surprising: I’ve always been fascinated by the liminal. It’s the place betwixt-and-between, where we gleefully borrow principles, turn them inside-out, and blur the lines as we cross them.

That’s what I’m writing towards, I think. It feels right.

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

Have I done Carmina Burana before? I guess it doesn’t matter; it’s what I was listening to this week.

It’s an Orff cantata, using poems from a medieval manuscript called – appropriately – Carmina Burana, or, “Songs from Beuern.” The “O Fortuna” movement is the one everyone knows.

Two main things. 1) I love the contrast between driving whispers and orchestral cataclysm. It’s the Wheel of Fortune going up and down, you know? And 2) Those lyrics. They are. The most. Metal. Lyrics. EVER.

Writer/Author/Artist

Last week, I had a dream—one of those dreams that makes you wonder if sometimes we really don’t just leave our bodies for a bit and go walking on another plane.

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In the dream, I was in a train station. It’s one I’ve visited in dreams before: the station a little way out of town, but still pretty close to the big junction. (My dream-geographies are remarkably consistent.) A writer whom I deeply respect and admire was hanging out too, waiting for the train. After some chit-chat, I said:

“Everyone else taught me how to write. You taught me how to be an artist.”

All the next day, the dream stayed with me, seeping into the sunlight as only certain dreams do.

Everyone else taught me how to write. You taught me how to be an artist.

Every so often, the sleeping brain figures things out. Craft and art: slightly different aspects of the creative self, aren’t they? Here then, is my theory. Just like we all have public, private, and innermost selves, I think that writer types are three selves as well: writer, author, and artist.

Writer

To my mind, the writer is the craftsperson. The Writer-Me is the one who managed to get Hapax published—clean, solid, functional prose and a well-crafted story. She’s the one who beat her head against POV for months until it finally clicked. She’s the one whose voice broke—from clean, solid, functional prose to a distinctive sharpness and lyricism.

Stonecoast1

The Writer-Self dissects other people’s books like kids taking apart radios to see how they work. She delights in seeing exactly how a plot twist or character arc was constructed. She tries to articulate why some stories just don’t do it for her.

She’s writing presently—she preferred writing presently to writing right now, because of the homophone in the line—but she’s sharing the job with someone else.

Author

I draw a distinction between writer and author. If you like, you can picture a parallel between author/writer and public/private.

So the Author-Self handles the social media, and she’s the one who does readings and sits on panels. She’s aware of how she presents: she’s the most outgoing version of myself, and she tries very hard to be gracious and polite, even when she’s exhausted, because that’s just good manners.

Photo de Katie Bryski.

Yep…there she is.

But more than that—it’s the Author-Self who does the business side. She maintains the submissions spreadsheet: which stories are with which markets, when they were sent, and their current status. She reads contracts and records earnings. She’s the one who learned to podcast, and create e-book files, and edit video, and lead workshops, and customize a blog, because those are all important authorial skills.

But there’s one more…

Artist

"Proserpine," Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882.

“Proserpine,” Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882.

The hardest one to get a handle on. The Artist is the one who makes stories sing. She’s the one that gives warmth and life to the skeleton so carefully wrought by the Writer. She’s the one who has to create, needs to create. She’s very probably the one who had the dream in the train station.

But the Artist isn’t just a self, it’s a way of life. It’s a way of seeing and breathing and being. And so the Artist is the one who wanders galleries and gets drunk on light and colour. Certain pieces of music make her cry, or gasp, or conceive a creepy, creepy play.

It’s the Artist who pays attention to the small things: apple blossoms and held-back tears. It’s the Artist who rises to the big things: love, and injustices, and fear. She looks to the Other and tries to understand.

She believes in fairy tales.

She wants to make her own.

But the thing is…

They’re not wholly separate, these aspects of ourselves that make up a creative self. They’re interdependent; they need each other. So I guess, as with so many things, it comes down to balance: the harmony of many parts moving as one.

Because really, they are one.

Now rock on with your bad selves! 😉

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

 A cheerful little madrigal by John Bennett. Actually, it’s not cheerful at all; it’s about wanting to cry so much you drown in your own tears. As one does, I suppose.

But it is very beautiful; there are some wonderful chords in there, particularly around the “springtides” section. I also love when the upper and lower voices start dialoguing with each other, before returning to a four-way conversation.

Wildfires and Reflections

Until last week, I snickered at the name “Pigeon Forge.” It sounds like a made-up name, doesn’t it? The name alone has always struck me as the Platonic ideal of a small town in the Deep South. I mean, listen to it: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

https://i1.wp.com/www.tourist-destinations.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/pigeon-forge-attractions.jpg

Pigeon Forge (www.tourist-destinations.net)

The Tennessean towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. For me, they’re the gateway to an annual writing retreat I take with ~20ish dear friends. And yeah, until last week, I dismissed them as “the weirdest places I’ve ever been.”

Until last week, this is what I saw:

The main street unfurls like a midway, flashing lights and sugary music spilling onto crowded sidewalks. On one side, a collection of concrete faux-log cabins nestles like a sanitized vision of an alpine village. Olde Time Photography Studios and Olde-Fashioned Candy Shoppes stand every few paces, while black bears grin from neon t-shirts, chipped ceramic mugs, and motel doorways (TV WIFI POOL).

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The main strip in Gatlinburg (www.gatlinburg.com)

Outside of Gatlinburg, signs proclaim JESUS SAVES right next to others announcing GUNS GUNS GUNS. Pickup trucks trundle past with plywood bumpers, and rusted-out trailers sit on hills, and Biblically-themed parks and theatres abound.

Until last week, I snickered. And believe me, it feels very uncomfortable to say that. Giving myself a long, hard stare, I see a blend of big-city blindness, liberal arrogance, and Canadian smugness.

“So typical. So kitschy.”

Then the fire happened.

Last week, wildfire (possibly “human-caused”) broke out in the mountains and swept with little warning into Gatlinburg, fuelled by the region’s worst drought in a decade. Within hours, swathes of mountainside and residences were destroyed, and 14,000 people were evacuated. At time of writing, 13 people are dead and 1000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

Our retreat cabin is right in the danger zone, so we stayed glued to the incoming reports. As more data rolled in, I was stunned.

  • “[FARM] has a field for evacuated livestock. No charge. Call [Suzy] at [NUMBER].”
  • “Shelter for pets available at [LOCATION].”
  • “Biologists reluctant to leave Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, fearing for animals.”
  • “Dolly Parton is giving $1000 a month to victims of Tennessee wildfires.”
  • “Thank you for your prayers.”
  • “We’re okay. Thank you for your thoughts.”
  • “Thank you.”

With all the tourists, it’s easy to forget that Gatlinburg is a town of only 4000 people. The more I read, the more I glimpsed a tight-knit community, generous and kind-hearted. My throat closed up.

I was wrong about Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. I was so very wrong.

Coming on the heels of the US election and the subsequent soul-searching on the political left, this feels particularly poignant. It is so, so easy to see the JESUS SAVES signs and forget about the genuinely fervent faith enclosed within those walls. It is so, so easy to wander through a fake village and laugh at the concrete snow, not seeing the livelihoods that happen behind the STAFF ONLY doors. And this is the sort of easy self-absorption that we cannot afford. Not ever, but especially not now.

In a cabin outside Gatlinburg, I wrote both “La Corriveau” and “The Love it Bears Fair Maidens,” my first pro short fiction sales. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge will always claim a very special place in my writer’s heart.

So.

If you enjoy my fiction—particularly those stories—may I request something?

Will you help me give back to Gatlinburg? I’ve done some digging: most donations of food, supplies, and money need to be dropped off in person, but if you’re far away—

The Dolly Parton My People Fund is here.

And a relief fund for locals and businesses has been established by the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Donations can be mailed to:

PO Box 1910

Pigeon Forge, TN

37868-1910

All my best, Tennessee. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I will never, ever look at you the same way again.

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

I’ve never listened to Dolly Parton before, but now seems like a good time to start…

Thoughts, a Few Days After

So.

Now that the dust has settled and the shock worn off, I’ve articulated a few thoughts about the travesty that is a Trump presidency.

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Actually, I’d like to share a story. It may or may not fit into the neat structure of a personal essay, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about since Tuesday.

A few years ago, fantasy author Philippa Ballantine and I visited Mount Vernon: George Washington’s home, now a historic site. You can tour Washington’s house and grounds; watch a blacksmith making nails; chat with a wandering Ben Franklin. There’s also a more traditional museum stuffed with multimedia exhibits, displays, and artifacts. Fairly standard set-up.

mtvernon

Washington’s house.

It was so bizarre.

The museum’s narrative makes Washington a god forging his country from the fires of British oppression. As we watched mini-films about the “enemy British” and gazed at reconstructions of the general’s face, Pip and I—New Zealander and Canadian—giggled a little nervously. In one gallery, a woman openly wept over Washington’s wooden teeth.

This is not my narrative, I remember thinking. I see what they’re doing, but I don’t share this.

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The current state of affairs is not my narrative. However, I do share this. Wednesday evening, I commented to author Lauren Harris, “It feels like someone’s died.”

“It feels,” she said, “like the day after a national disaster.”

And that was it. That was it, exactly—the same mix of helpless grief, and grim determination, and need to reach out and make sure everyone was Okay. Strong emotions, and they honestly took me by surprise. After all, I’m not American. I am fiercely, proudly Canadian. Every bio reminds the world of this fact: “KT Bryski is a Canadian author and playwright…”

That said—

Holy frak, I have a lot of American friends of every kind. The effects of a Trump presidency hit them a lot harder and a lot quicker than they do me. There are a lot of people I love who are very scared right now.

Beyond which, a racist, sexist man with a short temper sitting in the world’s most powerful office does not exactly fill me with confidence for the greater global community.

As a matter of pure moral principal, it simply isn’t right.

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Cliché as it sounds, Hamilton has helped me understand the American psyche: a little brash, a little loud, a little arrogant, but passionately and utterly devoted to its ideals. Seeing this (you can skip to the 3:00 min mark)—

—stirred more sympathy and understanding than anything at Mount Vernon did.

But that’s what art does, isn’t it? It fosters connection, encourages empathy. It shows another world. And that is why I expect art—art that is beautiful, but above all, brave—will be so important in the years ahead.

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There’s been a lot of Tweets thrown around, accusing the left of melodrama and hand-wringing. “It’ll be Okay,” they say. “He can’t do that much. It’s not the end of the world.”

I direct them here.

As to the specifics of American executive power—I don’t know them well enough to comment. I don’t know how much authority and/or autonomy the president really has. But I do know that he’s got a Republican senate and house, which tends to undermine the checks and balances built into the system.

But leaving aside the practicalities for a moment—

This is a man who has gloated about sexual abuse. He has picked needless, painful fights. He has threatened to deport Latinx en masse and bar Muslims from entry. He is a bully.

And the United States awarded him the top job.

What sort of message does that send? How does that not legitimize sexism, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance?

We’ve not even touched on the economy yet. I’ll admit: I expected the dollar to tank. I thought we might be exchanging at par in the foreseeable future. I didn’t realize the loonie would sink first—at time of writing, we’re trading at $0.74 USD.

It makes cross-border travel harder. A collapsing economy hits freelancers hard.

But that’s just my knee-jerk survival mode reaction, since most of my business is with American publishers/readers. Breathing, stepping back, thinking about others—a collapsing economy hits freelancers hard. Especially freelancers who have just lost their health care (if the ACA vanishes, as is likely). Again: many people are very scared right now, with good reason.

Breathing, stepping further back—you thought 2008 was bad? You know, the recession that kicked an entire generation in the knees? The one that triggered a housing and banking crisis?

Yeah.

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When 9/11 happened, I was ten years old: old enough to realize that the world had irrevocably changed, young enough that I fretted about my dad being sent to war, à la Mulan.

We went to Disney World shortly thereafter. And you know what? I was scared in the airport. Nervous until we passed through Disney’s gates. All my life, I’d been told that the United States was our friend—and suddenly, it didn’t feel like a safe country.

This is the first time since 9/11 that I’ve been legitimately nervous about travelling through the States. I do not intend to be in the country around December 19th (when the Electoral College passes their votes) or January 20th (Inauguration Day). Any travel plans not currently locked down for 2017 are being suspended; I anticipate reduced travel in 2018.

The United States is our friend. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like a safe country.

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So what can you do to feel safe?

Reach out. Ask if people are Okay. Listen. Stand up.

Donate, volunteer, practice self-care.

In some ways, it feels like the beginning of a resistance movement. Wherever I look, I see people girding themselves, getting ready. Digging in, fortifying their trenches.

It makes me nervous, of course. But as my friend Dave Robison has been posting:

wwi-poster

WWI poster, still relevant.

I have a message for the NSA, the Bots, the Web Spiders, the Social Media filters, and all the other techno-sniffers that troll people’s feeds for information.

Let me lay this out for you and save you some demographic algorithms…

I am Pro Choice
I am Pro LGBTQIA+
I am Pro Women’s Rights
I am Pro Reglious Freedom for ALL religions
I am Pro Arts

I am also…
Pro Tolerance
Pro Compassion
Pro Human
Pro Global
Pro Creative

Remember #IllGoWithYou?

No matter who you are—if you feel unsafe, #IllGoWithYou.

I will also make art. Because that is what I do.

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I spent six months in New Zealand a fear years ago. While there are many, many similarities, I did feel some culture shock and a lot of homesickness. It was always wonderful to run across another Canadian: we didn’t have to explain. We just got each other.

While backpacking alone, Americans made me genuinely, desperately happy for much the same reasons. Two different countries, two different cultures—but definitely a common understanding.

I’m glad to have that understanding now.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

Solidarity. Always.