Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Discussions with a Muse

“She never married, you know.”
The room was quiet, darker than usual, the only light coming from the glow of the screen. I stopped writing and squinted into the darkness.
“Who?” I asked.
S...  You remember S. Your first love?”
I remembered. Some things you can’t forget.
“Are we using initials now?”
“You never know who’s listening,” she answered.
“And I thought I was paranoid.”
I could feel her smiling, even though I couldn’t see her.
“How do you know she never got married?”
“I have my ways.” She paused... one of those dramatic little pauses that she was so fond of. “No children, either.”
“And you are telling me this because...” I looked back into the screen, trying to remember what it was I was writing.
“I thought you should know. You never know how far your influence may reach.”
“My influence!” I stared incredulously into the darkness, but it was lost on her. “What do I have to do with her not being married? These things happen.”
I found her tone a little suspicious.
“Can I go back to my writing, now?”
“Another book?”
I heard her sigh. And then silence. I reached for the mouse, hoping she had left.
M never got married either.”
I slumped back into my chair and pushed the mouse away.
“You are not going to let it be, are you.”
“Should I?”
I sighed. The room was stuffy, despite the darkness. I needed to open a window. I couldn’t remember if there was one.
“No children either.”
“Coincidence,” I countered.
“So you say.”
“Look, I have to get this done,” I said, leaning forward, the chair squeaking.
“Before you lose your inspiration?” She had me there. “Do you remember the day you made A cry? Just before she left to go live... where was it?”
“The other side of the world.” I gave up and lowered the lid of the laptop until it snapped shut. Now the room was totally enveloped in darkness. “No, don’t tell me. She never got married either.”
“You’re getting it now.” Even I, with my well-developed sense of denial, could not but feel that this was the beginning of a pattern. “She was a sweet girl,” she said. “She must have been the sweetest of your girlfriends.”
“How would you know? You weren’t there.”
“I’ve been watching the reruns.”
I shook my head and looked down at the computer, which had given in to her ramblings. Yes, she had been a sweet girl, and yes, it had been criminal of me to even think I could be a proper boyfriend at the time. Or maybe I didn’t think, but simply let things sweep me wherever they would go. No, I couldn’t let her trick me into believing that my influence could stretch that far. I raised the lid and tried to hide behind it, waiting as the computer whirred slowly back to life. It was reassuring to hear something other than our own voices.
“No one is ever going to read this,” I said, as the letters began dancing across the screen.
“Hey, that’s my line.”
“In the book. That’s my line in the book.” she protested.
“What does the book have to do with now?”
“The book has everything to do with now. You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the book,” she said.
“I think you have things mixed up.”
“Do I?”
And with that, she was gone, as suddenly as she had appeared.

I wonder if confusion breeds good writing. Was that the reason why it took me so long to write a blog and a book? There had not been enough confusion in my life?

I have been trying to make some sense out of life, ever since I read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams at the tender age of 14. I practiced on my friends, interpreting their dreams, which added to their confusion, but alleviated mine. I discovered that by remaining cold and analytical, I could somehow overcome the bouts of depression which continually swept over me at this age. I decided to adopt the strict Stoic philosophy of controlling one’s emotions. I didn’t realize, at the time, that in order to eradicate the destructive emotions, the positive ones had to go as well. And then one day... A cried...  yearning for the colours that she sensed were in me - where all she got were the multitude of greys.

How can we know how much we influence others? So much else is involved. A hundred things could have convinced S and M and A not to get married, none of them connected to me. True, A told me that last evening, tears streaming down her cheeks, that she should have chosen my best friend instead. One might say that this error in judgement may have prevented her from trusting her instinct in any future, possibly long term relationship. But we were so young then. So many years have passed by since.

“Why should I feel guilty?” I said out loud, needing to be heard. “It’s not as if I couldn't commit myself. I've been married for over 30 years!”
“And you only had to change country, language, religion and culture first.”
“I thought you had left,” I said.
“I forgot the punch line.”
The room looked the same when she was there, and when she wasn't. I wondered how that could be.“Anyway," it was my turn to protest, "you shouldn’t belittle this accomplishment. Do you know that I was voted the person most unlikely ever to get married or have children in my graduating class.”
“Why would you ever want to have children in your graduating class?”
“I...” I sighed and looked around for my glass of whiskey. If it was there, it was buried somewhere underneath black shades of nothing.
“I suppose you want a medal now for staying married,” she said. “Does your wife know?”
“Know what? That we’re still married?”
“No. That there are a slew of former unmarried girlfriends standing out there, waiting in line.”
“Waiting for what?”
“You figure it out. It’s time for me to go.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are Canadian writers Canadian enough?

“Are you Canadian enough to understand?” she asked.
“That depends,” I responded. “What do you mean by enough?”
“That’s a relief,” she said. “I thought you were going to ask me what I meant by Canadian.”

John Barber, in an article entitled “Are Canadian writers Canadian enough?” (The Globe and Mail - Oct. 29, 2011), bemoans the fact that the shortlists of three major Canadian award programs, designed to recognize the best Canadian fiction of 2011, included very few books with real Canadian content. By “Canadian content”, he is referring to something that is set in Canada or has something to do with Canada and its citizens.

I guess the first question we must ask ourselves is whether a Canadian writer can be separated from Canadian fiction. Can a writer of fiction, which is not recognized as Canadian fiction, still be considered a Canadian writer? Or does he belong to something else? Perhaps he should be considered an international writer, or a universal writer. But to whom does this make any sense? We are obsessed by affiliations. If we do not clearly belong to something, do we exist?

Barber indicates that the jurors of the Canadian writing awards would defend their choices for the Canadian fiction shortlist by stating that it is enough that Canadian  writers view the world, no matter where their stories take place, through Canadian eyes.

Canadian eyes. What does this mean exactly? Have you read a book about something taking place in another part of the world and told yourself, “Now, that really sounds Canadian”? If a movie, like “Cairo time”, were to be produced by an American, rather than a Canadian, would you say that it would definitely lose its distinctive Canadian flavour? Or do you think there was a distinctive Canadian flavour there in the first place.

One of the main problems that I have with my writing is where I fit into all of this. Does a Canadian expat, who has lived for over 30 years in a foreign country, even have the right to consider himself a Canadian writer? And even if we didn’t go by content alone and applied the measure of the Canadian awards jury - could I possibly say that I still see the world through Canadian eyes, after all of this time? Where does my adopted Israeli identity come into all of this?

If I had to choose between being called an Israeli writer or a Canadian writer, I would probably choose Canadian writer, mainly because all of my formative years took place in Canada. And this part of me cannot be forgotten, no matter how deeply buried it is. But, if I were in a court of law, the evidence would weigh heavily in the other direction.

For what defines an Israeli writer? I would say that first and foremost (and I am probably going to get into a lot of hot water over this remark), Israeli writers share a siege mentality. It doesn’t matter whether they live in Israel or abroad; whether they are Jewish, Arabic, Druze or Christian... the siege mentality is there, and it works its way through their writing - whether they are trying to break free or settle in and build stronger barricades. Do I share this siege mentality also? Definitely. Did it infiltrate into my psyche after arriving here in Israel? That is where the jury is still out. Many might say that it was already built in - that this siege mentality might have been one of the reasons why I left Canada in the first place and seemed to fit into Israeli society relatively easily. If so, how does a boy who was born in a small town by Lake Ontario and grew up in a rather sterile suburb of Toronto - develop a siege mentality? You’d have to ask one of my multiple personalities, I suppose.

So why can’t I call myself an Israeli writer? I have the required siege mentality. I married an Israeli sabra. My three children were born in Israel. We speak Hebrew at home. My aggressive driving through the streets of Tel Aviv would make most Israelis proud. My university education took place in Israel and I acquired my profession here. I say "we" for Israelis and “they” for Canadians. And I only began using “eh” late in life when I wanted to still sound at least a little bit Canadian.

But I think the jury will come back with a definite “no”. Why? Simply stated... I am not Israeli enough.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A rose by any other name

What’s in a name? Are you happy with your name? If you had a chance, would you change it?

A name is something that belongs to us. It is both a part of us and a part of how others perceive us. But how unique is it?

It wasn’t until the age of Google, that I realized how common “David Lloyd” was.  A simple google search of the name turned up about 16 million results. That sort of lessens your sense of worth, don’t you think? But what’s in a name, really?

Listen to what Shakespeare had to say, in Twelfth Night.

CLOWN:  You have said, sir. - To see this age! - A sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned outward!
VIOLA:  Nay, that's certain; they that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton.
CLOWN:  I would, therefore, my sister had had no name, sir.
VIOLA:  Why, man?
CLOWN:  Why, sir, her name's a word; and to dally with that word might make my sister wanton.

Is it better to have a name that goes by unnoticed, or one so unique as to catch the interest of all around you?  Remember those days in elementary school when the teacher would insist on reading out the names, one by one, for attendance? David Lloyd didn’t bring about any snickering, but anything uniquely different at the time brought about endless teasing. However, if you did survive the teasing, an unusual name later in life could help you make your mark. Don’t you wish now that you had one of those names that barely fills up a page in a google search result? So unique that google actually offers alternatives. (“Did you mean...?”) They never offered an alternative for David Lloyd.

Another problem of having a common name is the people that you share it with. There is a David Lloyd  - professor of English at the University of Southern California - who is aggressively leading an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. I received a phone call once, late at night,  from someone in Israel.

“Did you know that I searched your name in google and got this person organizing a boycott of Israel?”
“It isn’t me.”
“Maybe so, but he has the same name.”
“It isn’t me.”
“It’s on google.”
“He lives in California and I live in Israel.”
“Maybe you should do something, so that people don’t think he is you.”
“Right, I’ll get on it right away,” I said politely, hanging up.

Why can’t people confuse me with the David Lloyd who wrote one of the most beloved episodes ever in a comedy sitcom - the infamous “Chuckles the Clown” episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show? There was a man who left a true legacy. If only I could meet the challenge that he set for the rest of the David Lloyds out there in the world.

Here is something else that Shakespeare wrote about a name: in Romeo and Juliet:

JULIET:  “What’s a Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title: - Romeo, doff thy name; And for that name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself.”

Some people do change their name, for all sorts of reasons: artistic, political, a desperate attempt at trying to reinvent themselves... but I don’t see the point. You are who you are, and your name is a part of that.

Well, actually we weren’t born with a name labelled on our heads. This was decided upon by our parents, however misguided some of them may have been. (Remember the Johnny Cash song - “A boy named Sue”?) Deciding on a name for your children is no simple feat. Adva and I had to do it three times. And this was before the age of Internet when we had to actually buy books designed for helping you name your child. I had two ways of testing how well a name sounded. One was imagining how it sounded when calling the child in for dinner:
“Joshua, come into the house right now for dinner!!”
Doesn’t quite work, does it?
And the other was imagining all of the pet names people would make of it: Josh, Joe, Joey, Gee Willikers...
As if this wasn’t enough, we had the added complication of not only finding a more modern sounding Hebrew name (unlike the dated Biblical names: Devorah, Rivka, Abigail, Esther, Shimon, Avraham, Aharon...), but one that could be easily pronounced by the non-Hebrew speaking side of the family - those back in the old country. You didn’t want to have a “chet” stuck in there somewhere which would cause people to choke when trying to pronounce it.
“That’s what I said, Hannah.”
“No, Chana.”
“Cha... “ cough, cough., choke...
“Get the woman some water!”

All said, though, picking a name for our first child, Edan, was rather easy. It took us a little longer, though, to choose a name for our second son, Noam. But by the time we came to our third and last child, it was anything but easy. Knowing that it would be a girl, we were nowhere near agreement as the delivery date neared. We must have tried out every Hebrew name in the book on each other: from Modern Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew... even Proto-Semitic. And then, as the clock ticked down, realizing that the Hebrew option was exhausted, we settled on something quite different.

I remember walking down a kibbutz path the day after Adva gave birth and meeting one of the founding kibbutz members.
“I hear that Adva gave birth,” she smiled sweetly.
“Yes, a baby girl?”
“And what’s her name?”
“Nicole!” I had to catch her as she almost fell over backwards. “That’s not a Hebrew name!” she exclaimed.
“Yes,” I concurred, and moved on.

I guess we have to be grateful that we didn’t have to choose a middle name as well for each of our children. Israelis only have first and last names. I never could figure why we needed a middle name. Although, when I did put “David Gregory Lloyd” into a google search, only about 3,600 results showed up. So maybe I should have used first, middle and last name, as some people do. It would have made my name a little more unique and probably stop people from phoning me in the middle of the night asking me why I want to boycott Israel.