Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, and moved to Canada as a teenager. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Salon and the Huffington Post. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her son and his father.
Amy Winehouse made me want to drink again. Even at her most damaged and difficult, she made drinking attractive because it seemed defiant, a big fuck you. At one point I idolized her tragedy more than her work. She was a god of sorts; even her death seemed glamorous, especially when I was younger and hoped to one day die of glamour. Today, though, I’m just scared shitless. Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead over the weekend from an apparent heroin overdose. He wasn’t a rock star, not at all, but many of us took his death personally; I did. The emotional reactions to a celebrity overdose death are a bit like the forces of addiction itself: irrational and uncontrollable.
I published my first book this year. It’s called Drunk Mom and it’s about my relapse after giving birth. The book started off as fiction but turned into a memoir; some people will never read it because of the words “memoir” and “mom” in such close proximity. One book reviewer didn’t read it because she decided ahead of time that she would hate it, but she reviewed it nonetheless. The biggest joy about having the book out is that it’s out and that many people have read it. It’s been eight months since its release, and sometimes I don’t really believe that there’s an actual book with my name on it, but then, I’m the sort of person who occasionally still gets baffled by the fact that she graduated from elementary school two decades ago. My fraud syndrome is probably my most defining quality—to myself, at least.
She thought she should feel guilty but when she locked herself inside her own head, there was no guilt there, only so-what? She could do that, lock herself inside her own head. People assumed that she was ignoring them when she did that (or worse, that she was on drugs) but she was just inside her own head, visiting and revisiting certain thoughts like should she feel guilty.
There must be a ghostland somewhere where dead characters and stories live. Scenes, paragraphs, sentences, too, float like bodiless heads in the lower echelon of this land. Even words—bigger words that died for smaller words. The worst thing for a writer is to be precious about her writing. A writer has to be disciplined, try not confuse cleverness with quality. You have to kill and you have to kill swiftly—preferably without too much sentiment. That’s in theory. In practice, the reactions to those deaths vary and the ways of dealing with them vary too. Some deaths are permanent: a 150-page novel murdered, never to be seen again. Some metamorphose into new forms of life: a deleted scene in a book into a scene in a movie. Some deaths are resurrected, mutated—two characters becoming one. Here ten writers talk about dead characters, dead scenes and dead books and their ways of dealing with those deaths. Andrew Pyper There was a character in my novel The Guardians , named Scott, who was there for the first draft but got the axe and wasn’t there for the second. Both my editors, the Canadian and the British, suggested one of my (then five) main characters had to go, as it was too confusing to keep track of them. It was really hard, actually, because at that point I knew these guys, I’d written a whole novel with all of them there. But now I had to let one of them go. It was like Sophie’s Choice or something.
The first celebrity I knew about was Pope John Paul II . In Poland he was simply known as “Jan Pawel” (John Paul), or “Pope” as if there had been no Pope before him or there wasn’t going to be one after him. He was special because he was Polish and in Poland he was bigger than Madonna, the gap-toothy one, not the mother of Jesus who was a dead celebrity. When John Paul died, in 2005, I felt a tiny prick of sorrow, nostalgia for the years when everything was pure and had a cause. I had worshiped him and then I rejected him. Then I grew up and saw him as an old man, my grandmother’s age. Later, I saw him the way this new Pope will be seen one day—as the leader of a big, difficult religious institution, who will have to fix some things, while screwing up other things.
Had I known of Edward Gorey’s books as a child I’d would’ve been on them like a Goth kid on a coffin. I didn’t discover Gorey until I was already a teenager and had just moved to Canada from Poland. He was, though, was one of the first “things” that I first learned about after arriving here—the first “thing” I loved here, in fact. I remember buying postcards featuring Gorey’s striking, cross-hatched illustrations and mailing them to friends in Poland. “Can you guys believe this?!” I wrote. Because I couldn’t believe there were books like Gorey’s books: dark, disturbing books for children you could argue were not really for kids at all. But apparently the books were popular with children so children’s books they were. My favourite—and perhaps his most best-known—Gorey work is The Gashlycrumb Tinies , an illustrated alphabetical list of children dying under tragic, often brilliantly inventive circumstances. The child that appealed to me especially is Neville who died of ennui.
This year, there will have been close to 160,000 psychological studies published in academic journals, magazines, and books, or as dissertations. Such studies aspire to measure and better understand how we are happy, how we are sad, how we love, how we lie, how we should sleep, why music is sadder, even why art matters. Here are 11 recent studies, sampled rather randomly by advance-searching PsycINFO with key words like “art” and “happiness.” And also words to do with sex.
There are books for kids simply about trucks being trucks. Then there are cautionary tales like the one in which a boy gets his fingers cut off for being a picky eater—stories about cause and effect, separation from loved ones, stealing, and death. But what’s better than books to ruin a child’s innocence?
When J.T. LeRoy—supposedly a young, damaged, former street hustler cum literary prodigy—was unveiled as thirty-nine-year-old Laura Albert, what was quickly forgotten amidst the scandal was how good the books actually were.
Guy is the protagonist of the novel I am writing. He’s very good-looking, a Jonathan Rhys Meyers type, with a curled upper lip. The first thing he ever said to me was, “I am God’s gift to women.” This is the sort of stuff he thinks up. My Guy, plain and simple, is an asshole.
There was a plane crash—that’s the kind of line I’d like to open this with but there was no plane crash, just me wishing there would be one. I was going to a country with no words. Or the words were there but I didn’t know them. Without words, it was as if I was getting born. Except I had already been alive for 15 years.
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