Monday, September 26, 2011

How to write Canadian

Hello everybody. This is Tom Chambers, from Expats Anonymous.  Today we are interviewing David Lloyd, a Canadian Expat, whose first novel - As I Died Laughing - has been published as an e-book. We thank David for allowing us to reprint this interview on his blog.

Tom:  From looking at your personal history, I see that you grew up in Canada but spent most of your adult life in Israel. Do you consider yourself, then, a Canadian author or an Israeli author?

David:  That’s a tough one. First of all, it’s strange to even think of myself as an author.

Tom:  Why is that?

David:  I’ve been writing bits and pieces all of my life. I think there was a time when I was young that I thought of becoming a writer. Actually, is there a difference in being called a writer or an author?

Tom: Well, I guess you are only called an author when you get a book published.

David:  I suppose so. Which still doesn’t necessarily make you a writer. I guess that depends on the reviews.

Tom:  Are  you trying to evade my original question?

David:  That obvious, eh? No, I’ll give it a go. I don’t think I could ever call myself an Israeli writer, or author. First of all, the book is written in English, not Hebrew.

Tom:  And that is important?

David:  Yes. The language that we speak is a part of the person we are, or who we are at that moment. I think I am two different people at times, when I speak Hebrew or English. But the more important point, I think, is that my formative years were spent in Canada. Writers always return to their childhood at some time in their writing.

Tom:  Have you done so in this book?

David:  I wouldn’t say that I have gone back that far. But it is there, nonetheless, in my writing. Israel is my adopted country. In a way, it is something like your in-laws. They are now family, but not the family you were born into.

Tom:  And you can always divorce your in-laws, but not your genetic family.

David:  Yes. Canada will never go away, even though I have been living on the other side of the world for more than 30 years. So, I guess if I had to choose, I would call myself a Canadian author / writer. I don’t know what Margaret Atwood would have to say about that.

Tom:  I suppose the irony, then, is that your book was not published in either Canada or Israel, but in England.

David:  Actually, it was published in cyberspace, since it is an e-book. But yes, it was published by a UK publisher. And you can get it on Amazon and Smashwords. Sorry, I couldn't help but give it a bit of an advertisement.

Tom:  Fair enough. Tell me, without my mentioning your age, why is it that you came out with your first novel at such a later age.

David:  I guess I had not much to offer until now.

Tom: Really?

David: No. I think I always had a lot to say. But for a long time it was enough for me to just write for myself and the people around me. Getting published really wasn’t on my mind. But at some point, things changed. 

Tom:  What was the cause of the change?

David: I realized my own mortality, and felt the sudden and urgent need to leave something of myself behind.

Tom:  And this is  your legacy.

David:  A part of it, at least.

Tom:  Do you see the book as something of a self-biography?

David:  God no. If I admitted to that I would have to constantly worry about dodging silver bullets. Of course there is a mixture of fact and fiction, and as the author, I have the luxury of not saying where the fiction begins and ends.

Tom:  Much like the theme of your book.

David:  I see that you have read it.

Tom:  Does that surprise you?

David:  I’m still getting used to the idea of it being out there.

Tom:  What about the people in the book. Are any of them real?

Tom:  I take it by your silence that you aren’t comfortable with this question.

David:  Well, you have to understand that certain characters will always be inspired, in some way, by real people and real circumstances. However, once they enter into the book, they take on a life of their own.

Tom: Nobody threatening class action?

David:  Not yet.

Tom: I have been looking at the book cover.

David:  You don't like it.

Tom:  Well, it is a bit strange. The guy that is sitting there and the things surrounding him.

David:  Believe it or not, the cover was meticulously thought out. The positioning, the way each item is displayed and depicted, has a direct connection to the underlying themes in the book. The problem is that you usually see a downsized copy of the cover on the book sites, and don't get the full detail. I could talk about this at great length, but it would be too much of a spoiler.

Tom:  The interaction between the various plots in the book is quite complex.

David:  Yes.

Tom:  Aren't you afraid that people won't get the book. That they won't understand what you are trying to say?

David: They will get what they will get. The main thing is that they get something. I guess that the success of the book depends on that.  I still discover new things in the book even after ten rewrites and reading it over endless times.

Tom:  Things that you didn’t see when you wrote them in the beginning?

David:  Things that I discovered in retrospect. Some which turned out to be quite clever. But then, I am not your most objective reader.

Tom:  How will you feel if people interpret your book quite differently than you do yourself?

David:  I have no problem with that. I believe that once a writer has released his work, his work no longer belongs to him. Who am I to say what interpretation is right and what is wrong. As an English teacher, I told my students that they could present whatever interpretation they wanted of a piece of literature, just as long as they built a conclusive argument using examples from the text. I informed them that the highest mark would go to the interpretations that surprised me the most, as long as they backed it up.

Tom: And did they? Surprise you?

David:  A few did. Not an easy thing to do. I remember writing a paper about Wuthering Heights, while studying English Lit at university. I set out to prove that Nelly was evil, and that most of the things that went wrong in the novel were the result of her subtle and misguided intervention. The professor had MA assistants who marked the papers. Mine came back as an 86, and with all types of comments in red expressing astonishment at my claims, but not relating specifically to what I wrote. Normally I would have let such things pass, but I really did think that my paper was a masterpiece and that the assistant couldn’t see past her own traditional concept of the book. So I went straight to the professor and asked him to read my paper.

Tom:  And what did he say?.

David:  He crossed out her mark and gave me a 98.

Tom:  Why not a 100?

David:  Now you sound like my mother.

Tom:  Getting back to authors and their works, how do you think Emily Bronte would have felt about your analysis of Nelly in her book?

David:  I hope she would have learnt to let go of her book, just as I have mine.

Tom:  Have you really? It has only been a few days since it came out.

David:  That long?

Tom:  And on that note, it looks like our time is almost up. Is there anything you’d like to add before signing off?

David:  Only that I have set up a facebook group for people to post comments about the book. I’d like to say that the writing of the book was satisfying in itself, and that I really don’t need anything more, but I do feel the need to hear what people think. Not simply whether they like the book or not, but how they relate to different parts of the book, no matter how harsh their criticism. Especially after the second or third reading.

Tom:  Do you think a second or third reading would help?

David:  It certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I’m sorry ... I’m Canadian

It is said that Canadians apologize all of the time, even when there is no reason for apology. Why is it then that I don’t feel the urge to do the same? Could it be that I have lived so long in Israel that this essential part of my Canadian identity has been erased? Israelis do not apologize. Even if an Israeli steps on your foot, he will find a reason for claiming that it is your fault.

But surely we are overgeneralizing. How can we say that a whole nation has an obsessive tendency to apologize? True, a few Canadians have told me that they even apologize to a table when they bump into it. But I am sure that if we dig deep enough we will find a few Canadians who rarely apologize, if at all. The thing is, we like our stereotypes, don’t we. Americans are chauvinistic, Canadians struggle with an inherited inferiority complex; Americans are crass, Canadians are cultured but too laid back; Americans keep guns at home to shoot burglars, Canadians apologize to the burglar for locking the door ...

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Canadians do have an irrational desire to apologize for … well, just about anything. Why is it then, that this came about?

One of my guilty pleasures is watching the reality show “So you think you can dance.” The Canadian finale is in another few days and in discussing two of the top contenders (Lindsay and Melissa) with a good Torontonian friend of mine, he commented that Lindsay comes across as very modest, which is a very endearing trait to Canadians,whereas Melissa shows fierce determination and consistency, qualities that would ensure her victory if it were the US voting.  But this is Canada, and the shy Lindsay speaks to Canadians much more.

Why do Canadians feel it is wrong to aggressively assert themselves? If a Canadian and an Israeli are standing talking to each other, you will see the Canadian continually moving backwards, as the Israeli continuously steps forward into his coveted space. Israelis like things right up front; Canadians prefer them a little more laid back. Israelis live the moment and are continually checking the hourly news to see what new trauma/disaster/flock of rumours have transpired. Canadians may read the morning or evening newspaper, and catch the 6 o’clock or 10 o’clock news, but this is more of an afterthought. If something really important is happening, someone will tell them … sooner or later. There is no such thing as a real waiting line in Israel. Israelis are consumed with how to work the line so that they can make their way up to the front as quickly as possible. Canadians come with a sandwich and a book to read in preparation for the long wait. Israelis act at times as if there is no tomorrow. Canadians often act as if there is no today.

Is the Canadian lack of aggression simply a matter of being polite, or is it a sign of lack of confidence? Canadians are meek, but will the meek really inherit the earth?

In my early years, I remember a Canada which suffered greatly from an inferiority complex. We watched American television and movies, listened to American rock and pop, studied British history and World Geography rather than Canadian, ate at fast food joints that were a part of American chains. And when it came to football, we tried to create our own field dimensions and number of downs, and once again felt the need to apologize afterwards. And even though our North American cultural identity was mostly borrowed from the States, we hated it when people told us that there was little difference between Canadians and Americans.The one thing that did instill confidence in Canadians, though, was our belief in our ice hockey superiority. Everyone knew that Canadians learned to skate even before learning to walk. But that confidence was badly shaken when we just managed to scrape by and win the first hockey competition between the NHL and Russia. Until that point, we were sure that we could crush any competition.

And what else did we have to brag about at the time? Brador beer? Much stronger than the American watered down stuff, but you could only get it in Quebec. There were stories of success, Canadians who had made it: Lorne Greene ... William Shatner. But they had to go and live in the States first. It seemed that a Canadian hadn’t “made it” until he was recognized outside of Canadian borders. Otherwise we continually questioned his worth. But we are finally past all that ... aren’t we?

I thought so until this season of “So you think you can dance, Canada”. My doubts began to surface when the Canadian judges on the show not only applauded the Canadian talent, but went on to say that this talent was just as good as anywhere else in the world. That, in itself, was not the reason for doubt. Quiet affirmation of our own worth should be commended. But the week after, and the week after that, the judges came out more and more vehemently in claiming that Canadians were not only just as good, but even better than dancers outside of Canada. It appeared to me that they were trying very hard to convince themselves, more than anyone else. How far had we really come?

So, if you are Canadian, the next time you feel the urge to apologize - stop for a moment and ask yourself “why?” I am not saying that you should claim the world “as your oyster”, as Israelis are so apt in doing. But stand your ground. Remember, the Americans have been eyeing Canadian territory for some time and they never really did learn from The War of 1812.

As for me, I’m sorry if any of this offends your Canadian, American or Israeli sensibilities.
Whoa... I just apologized. There may be hope for me yet.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Walking among the ibex

“Where have all the flowers gone?” my wife asked.
“Flowers?” I suddenly remembered the image of an ibex walking past me the day before on my way back home from work, white petals sticking out of the side of his mouth.
“Yes the flowers in the garden. All of them. Suddenly gone.”
What had struck me most was his sardonic grin. Ibex are not known for expression of any type.
I shifted uneasily in my chair. “I don’t know.”
“It must be your friends,” she said, shooting me an accusing stare.
“Friends?” I replied innocently.
“Yes, the ibex.”
The thing is, you can’t really call the ibex your friends. Sure, I have a soft spot for them, and they humour my existence. I can walk among them and they accept me there. I have always seemed to have had a special connection with animals. As if they view me differently from my fellow humans. This may explain my lack of communication with people on a whole. For, when it comes to connecting to the human race, I am basically autistic.
My connection to the ibex has increased greatly over the years, especially as the dry winters forced them up from the wadi below to search for edibles on the outskirts of our community. I meet them each morning, as they breakfast on the greenery outside my office building on the edge of the wadi. And again, on my way home for lunch, while they are perched up on their hind legs trying to trim yet another circle from the bottom of the trees. But as summer wore on this year, their search for food has taken them further and further into our community.
And then, one day, it happened. I was standing out on the balcony, hanging up the laundry, when I saw them. There must have been about thirty of them, munching their way through two neighboring houses. One stood, with his mighty antlers, on the other side of the walkway, staring up at me. The ibex are great starers. They don’t even blink.
I shook my head and pointed back towards the wadi. “Don’t even think of it,” I warned.
I felt a little guilty saying these words. Here were these poor hungry ibex, who had been here far before this human community. Actually, not the exact same ibex, but you get my point. And all they wanted was to eat to survive.
Finishing with the laundry, I went in to check my mail. Soon I heard this weird crunching noise. Going back onto the balcony, I saw that about ten ibex had encroached onto our territory. A few were trying to create a diversion by seemingly munching on the grass, while others made their way to the much more promising garden at the back.
“No you don’t,” I instinctively called out, the thousands of years of genetically developed territorial imperative pulsing through my veins. I rushed down the stairs and shooed them away. They cantered back to the other houses and regrouped there.
They waited until I had gone into the house before making their way over again. Once again I shooed them away. But when it happened the third time - this time all thirty had made the move - I decided to give up. “Forces of nature,” I thought to myself. Who was I to deny them their means of survival. What was the garden, actually, other than another futile attempt to bottle up nature and make it our own trophy?
“Don’t you prefer it that way?” my wife would ask, pointing to the existence of the garden as we sat outside, reading.
“Yes,” I’d answer.
“Then stop complaining.”
And then, just as I had accepted their right to nibble our offerings, the whole herd of ibex suddenly stampeded their way past me back to the wadi. This was the first I had ever seen a stampede of ibex. They must have stumbled upon a neighbour’s dog. The ibex are a protected animal, but it appeared that they had overstepped their area of protection.
“So, that’s that,” I thought to myself. “In the end, all’s well that ends well.”
But now, a few days later, the flowers were gone.
“I’ll go down and take a look,” I said to my wife.
Despite the many green delicacies on offer, it appeared that they had only eaten the petals off of the flowers. Each and every petal, with only the stems remaining. I wondered whether the petals had added flavour, or whether the ibex were as frivolous for beauty as we were.
In the days that followed, I kept an eye on their progress. At the end of each day the stems on the plants were munched down even more. No matter their penchant for petals, the ibex didn’t seem to have much patience to wait for them to grow back. Life is just too short.
You might think that all this has significantly changed my relationship with the ibex. Well, either they have a short memory or they have forgiven me for my moment of betrayal in trying to shoo them away. For in the desert, a host honours his guests, no matter how they find their way to his abode. Live and let live. For the ibex, each new day is one of discovery, and for me, it is another opportunity to walk among them.