HI! It’s been a while, and I need to update some of the pages and doings on here, but for now I have few things I should mention:
I’m in this anthology! Come on out to the launch: “It’s The PAC’N HEAT Launch Party! Come celebrate with us at See-Scape on Thursday Nov. 10th from 7 PM to 10 PM! Check out the video games! Drink some drinks! Buy some books!” https://www.facebook.com/events/514551702083634/
2. I’m teaching an Uncreative Writing Workshop at Naked Heart Festival (Saturday, November 12th at 10:30am):
When I was a kid it has been my dream to write books that you could look up at the library or bookstore. You could see the name of the book and the author on the spine as you’d scan the rows of shelves. It’s a dream come true and if anything, I’m very happy and grateful to have this opportunity.
Some other big news is that I’ve been hired by theRusty Toque as one of their Senior Literary Editors. I’m honoured to be a part of this magazine and to work with Kathryn Mockler to boot. Their openness to all forms of art, poetry, and literature has been far reaching and I hope to contribute as best I can to it.
I’m still plugging away at my novel. I don’t say much on it since it’s taken all sorts of turns to the form it is now. There’s no stresses on it, just a lot of sorting out of arcs, research, and ideas that need fleshing out.
This fall The Power Plant in Toronto is opening an exhibition featuring the work of Dora García.García‘s work is heavily influenced by literary references and the exhibition investigates and stages the work of James Joyce through annotated books, performance and video.
I’ve been asked by The Power Plant to give an hour talk on my perspective of the exhibit for their Sunday Scene on November 8th at 2pm.
First of all, it blows my mind that we’ll have Dora García’s work here in Toronto, but on top of that I get to speak on it!
On the film critic front, I’ve been accredited again this year for The Toronto International Film Festival! I’ll be a reporter on the scene doing reviews and interviews for Next Projection. Always a high energy time and I’m over the moon about it. It’s work, but it’s fun.
More details on everything as this year has been a bit overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fired up though! This with planning the Toronto Poetry Talks (and many thanks to all who have come to help at the monthly meetings!), it’s all go go go. Staying the course and working at it.
“But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.”
– James Joyce, The Dubliners
I sat in my taxi cab watching the city unfurl like a queen’s intricately embroidered train displayed effusively before her guests. My head still in a haze from the six hour time difference and my neck finally loosening from air travel tension. It was my first time overseas, my first time in Paris. I was excited, but scared.
Paris is cloaked in so many ideas of romance and possibility. It was probably the only reason I was hesitant about going. I didn’t want to like it. I mean, it’s the obvious place to go. But the best place to start any journey is on sure ground so that you can bounce off thrilled into uncertainty. Paris has evoked some of my favourite films, art, and literature. I could have picked Dublin, I thought as I saw a tiny Eiffel Tower in the distance. Surely, I’d be immersed in all things James Joyce. However, in order to live and breathe an author I had to go to where Joyce worked and loved.
You’d think it would have struck me when I saw that tower, but no. I’ll let you know when it did in a bit.
I stepped out of my hotel with my city maps and camera ready to…get lost. It’s the first thing I do as a tourist. I seek a place on a map and walk to the destination. I just always end up lost. The labyrinthian network of tiny streets of the city had my head spinning, unsure if I was going in the right direction, but the charm in the abstruse details of my surroundings, the proliferation of quaint shops and packed patios assured me that all was going to be alright. My one hour walk from the Levellios-Perret suburb to the Louvre, turned into a disorienting roam. Temperatures reached a high of 33C that day. The sun blazing hot and high in the sky, I found a table at a place called Buffalo Grill. I know, I know, why not a cafe? I just wanted a meal and a drink so I could move on. The owner and the waitress did their best to give me directions to the Louvre and asked me to come back later on that evening for drinks.
Off on my way again I finally found my way to the Arc de Triomphe. Once there I could gauge with certainty where everything was on my map.
How on earth do people live in Paris and not get overwhelmed with the grandness of its filigree? I guess, when you grow up constantly surrounded by these aesthetics, they become commonplace, much like the CN Tower is just another object in Toronto. The roundabout is insane.
It was about this time that I realized a few things:
1) I wasn’t lost anymore.
2) I needed to be present. I needed to be constantly in the moment while there.
3) The possibilities in this voyage were endless.
Having never been on an overseas flight in this part of the world, the idea of being there struck me like a euphoric sense of recognition. The world is my home. This is what I learned when I first read Joyce’s Ulysses. My constant state of alienation, no matter where I’ve been, puzzled me my whole life. There’s no uniqueness here (I am not a special snowflake), we all feel it as citizens of the world. Some of us hide it better than others, others navigate it with a great intuition, and others, are extremely sensitive to it. It’s a sense we all have. In my cheesy romantic and uncomfortably confessional way, it’s in everything I do, so I acknowledge it with full attention. It’s not about being a writer or creative in any way. It’s just about being human and in trying to figure out the world, like Joyce, we can get self-obsessed or self-absorbed in our sensitivities with the world. I have to know myself to know you. Society trains us to have a blind eye to anything inside us that is “abnormal,” to hide it and conform to situations in order to keep the status quo. That isolation and alienation we feel on occasion or every day, it’s natural to all of us. James Joyce had a knack for exposing that disenfranchisement like no other writer I’ve ever read. The foreign Jew in Dublin to me is like the astronaut in outer space. The astronaut doesn’t belong out there, but was put out there to quench her need to explore. We all venture out from our homes, cross the street, meet new people, move to different neighbourhoods to seek out something better or just know what’s on the other side. This internal feeling of not belonging in spaces is bullshit most of the time, but it drives us and connects us like nothing else.
I did make it to Louvre. Earlier that week a friend had told me that I had to hold on to the guard rail to take in the Mona Lisa. He was right. Leonardo da Vinci illuminated her face with a care and passion that I can only dream of expressing in writing. Her smile is actively animated. I hadn’t expected her to be so alluring. You see these iconic sights through films and textbooks, but this was truly knowing what life was like artistically in da Vinci’s time. He must have struggled with the enormity of capturing an idea, a place, a sight, and a face. His arousal to materialize Mona Lisa for the world to see must have been so great, especially with a talent as wide ranging as his was. I stared at the Venus de Milo.
But what really struck me with full force for being in the present was this.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace. I fought the crowd to get on her left side eventually. I don’t know what it was. Her stance goes against everything that’s around her; the crowds and the open space. She is positioned as if she’s ready to fight or standing in front of a cathartic moment. Sure, she’s a “winged victory,” she’s Nike, but in a tumultuous time where gender and race (all the things I could be hated and even killed for) are the grinding topics of the moment, this was full of meaning. To me, alienation is now the critical point for artistic expression and change. This statue was a revelation. She’s an insistence that no matter what is ahead, you don’t just get by, you get through by going through. You take a stand and if you do, you stand firmly. You triumph by standing. Suddenly the tattooed wings on my back made even more sense. We are all winged victories. Everything made sense. I broke down stupidly in tears. From then on every statue and every painting became a moment of communion and confirmation. Most people call denouncing religion as a loss of faith. To me faith is living life fully knowing the sizable responsibility we have as individuals in this world. Thinkers, artists, and politicians must understand that responsibility and make it our faith. Nothing else holds true if you are not true with compassion and understanding.
So I walked the rest of the Louvre, with an incredulously full heart, mouth agape, (paraphrasing Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas) with these words: “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?”
WTF IS THAT?”
“What the ever living F is THIS?!”
And so on and so on.
I was starting to fall for this place and without wanting to. Smitten.
On my way to the hotel that day, I figured out the Metro system and was then free to go without the struggle and intimidation of being somewhere new. The Metro is an organic and efficient beast that runs through all the veins from the outer to inner core of the city. It took me everywhere.
I saw the Eiffel Tower where I ate a jambon beurre on the insistence of my best friend, Jen.
And double fisted champagne at the top.
I had wine with Marcel Proust.
I did an epic robot in front of Marcel Marceau’s grave (it’s a dream of mine to learn miming – I’m not joking), finished the bottle of wine with Oscar Wilde, and kissed a carnation to place it on Edith Piaf’s grave. I visited many. At the Pantheon, I communed with the grandness of the history of rebellion around me. I sat here for a very, very long time.
The quiet emptiness of the uninhabited crypts was palpable, the mouldy smells of the darkened ones was eerie and worthy of pause. I shudder to think that the world can move and hold a death grip on stagnation by forgetting that we must still grow. Humanity does in fact grow every day with knowledge and advancement. However, we either lack a reason for murals or we are not taking time to say, “This here is important. Let us pause and grow from here.” I’m being very vague because in essence I don’t find us imparting the importance of moments. We tear down and move on. My mind is too preoccupied with my daily life and doings that I can’t grasp the words right on how we need to slow down again. The best of our generation leave us and we pretend we still know better. No, we must know more. Hence the Pantheon is a testament to stopping and saying thanks and we must do more.
And James Joyce. I.can’t.even. No, really. I can’t even.
I don’t know if I’ve ever imparted a weird feeling I get. It happens in moments where I feel like I’m unworthy of anything that is happening to me. Some might call it imposter syndrome, but it’s not dismissal of my worth. It’s actually, I AM NOT WORTHY OF THIS right now because again, in my own confessional, romantic way, everyone can do what they set their mind on. I’m nothing big. Even in times where I feel pride or passive aggressiveness, I know I am just as unique as everyone else. Anyways, James Joyce, well, this is me being all cocky taking pictures of myself in Paris.
Oui, oui, I’m an everyday person in Paris. Look at this tourist look at me taking a cheesy selfie. And then, AND THEN this happens.
“I’ve been working hard on [Ulysses] all day,” said Joyce.
Does that mean that you have written a great deal?” I said.
Two sentences,” said Joyce.
I looked sideways but Joyce was not smiling. I thought of [French novelist Gustave] Flaubert. “You’ve been seeking the mot juste?” I said.
No,” said Joyce. “I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence.” – Frank Budgen
Yup. I peered into and wriggled a step in between the iron wrought gate at 71 rue de Cardinal Lemoine where James Joyce finished editing Ulysses. ULYSSES! I’m still transcribing it. I’m being very slow at it. I think he would have liked it that way.
My knees started buckling and I couldn’t move. I wanted to hide. This is the gut reaction I have when I feel like I’m not worthy of something (even though I fully know that I paid good money to be there and study James Joyce with an obsessive fury), I either clam up or run to hide. I felt paralyzed and overjoyed in that state. Paris became like visiting a grandfather.
I ate here (Hello Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir):
I met people, saw so much, filled my days with wonder, and got a little crazy as I am prone to do.
The quiet confidence of the people, especially the sensual beauty of the women, was inspiring. They stand here. They take up space, but they allow space for others. I was always greeted with warmth and welcome. I am very grateful to everyone I met.
With very little resistance, I fell in love and I ended off my fun in Paris dancing to Joe Arroyo’s La Rebellion at Caveau de la Huchette. The symbolism of that moment did not elude me.
I missed the last train up to Anatole France, but drunkenly made my way to my hotel taking in everything I could. The next day, I had my croissants in the hotel patio and took the train part way to ORLY airport and the rest in taxicab. Out the window the river Seine extended her arms like it was calling out to me. My stay was incredibly short, just a few days, but my love for the city…I’m tearing up writing this, I feel like needed it. On the other side of the river an old bespectacled man with silver hair and blue suit walked slowly. For a few seconds, as my car drove along, I squinted and he became James Joyce in my head.
“She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.”
– James Joyce, Dubliners
I’m definitely going back.
You know when you think you need something to fill you up and give you purpose? You know when you realize that you didn’t really need that something, that that thing was already inside of you? That’s what Paris did to me. When I arrived home, I woke up my children and hugged them tight. I kissed my husband with my all. The next day I gave away most of my wardrobe. I know what I need now. I know the enormity of the world around me. I am free. I am a lover of many. The world is my home.
“Yes, 11 tid. There’s where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush 12 to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us 13 then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thous- 14 endsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a 15 long the 16 PARIS, 17 1922-1939.”
– James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake
– Jacqueline Valencia
(I took so many photos and you can see some on my instagram or twitter. I’m posting the rest of them for my facebook peeps.)
I’m actually really tired of the conceptual versus lyrical debate. But I’m still heavily invested in it because I’ve learned so much from both camps. They’re camps that move forward if the tensions are in good condition and out of that they progress. I’ve been thinking on Newton’s Second Law whereupon “the acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.” Using that logic works in favour of creating mutual solutions in arguments. You defend your point, you listen, and then you agree to see the positive points and discard the flaws in each other’s responses. Then you move forward, or rather, no one wins or walks away, but you both move forward. Of course Marie Curie says it best: “I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy,”ie. things aren’t always simple.
In my This Is Room 101 project, I mixed Orwell’s 1984 with headlines stories of the Wall Street Journal. The work itself was very non-sensical. Yet I found spontaneous meaning scattered throughout it. Ongoing international revolutions were mixed with integral parts of Orwell’s text, showing a predictable synchronicity. It’s fascinating to me. In the Wall Street project, where I created found poetry out of the journal, a created a sonnet out of the evil looking power morcellator. None of these works, however (as far as I know), benefitted anyone, but myself, intellectually, that is. I haven’t made any money from it. They made me a better poet, a better critic and in that regard, I hope to give back one day.
I do a lot of lyrical work and that’s the way I started creating. Words that were given to me by my parents, by my school, and by everything that influences me, made me into the writer I am today. Today those words are questioned. Where did this language come from? It came from conquistadors, conquerors, enslavers, and a school system that is still very blind to the people it teaches. The language also comes from my mother, my father, the land that birthed them, and the people whose blood runs through my veins, that were made extinct by the same people that taught them the new language. Chibcha is the language of the natives in Colombia. It is taught to a small population of students in Cota, Colombia. It is an extinct language.
So when I read people quoting white men, white women, teachers of the conquering language, in favor of killing conceptual work, it’s hypocritical to me. To kill oppressor, one must really obliterate them, but where do we go from there? The poet is the world’s unpaid politician. Do we cling on to capitalism? Do we run to communism? Do we call for anarchy? All the -isms have been done and tried and were birthed by a conquering people. Where are the solutions beyond this new lack of language and lack of new politics?
As we sit hear raging and outraging towards one aspect of poetics, where are the people screaming about the lack of people that look like the general population in literature awards? Where are the people that are supposed to be defending our right to be listening and teaching our children international poetics? The ghazals, the sagas, the beautiful forms and rhythms in slam poetry? Yes, slam poetry. A world of orators that most of the Western world still doesn’t “get.” Why? Because it isn’t white? Because it doesn’t live up to the standards of “classical-this-is-how-it-has-always-been” poetry teaching techniques? What of the female driven oral cultures? What of the stories and rhythms passed on from father to child in the desert, jungles, and places and times without the master?
Do I stop conceptualizing if someone tells me to? Hell, no. This is how it all started to begin with, with one person telling another how they should and should not do things. Words belong to the people. Words help the individual speak. The only rule for me is to create with compassion, even if it is out of anger or love, compassion and understanding. Rage on, destroy, and create. Lyrically, conceptually, or whatever the future brings. Just think about it while you create. Analyze it. Shed new lights on it. Progress.
This conversation isn’t over. My own thinking, rendering, and analyzing of the world will never be over.
Resist I must — I must resist
In the hope of deliverance.
There is a living seed in water
That shall become a towering tree.
– Simin Behbahāni
I am grateful. From now on, I fight, I will rage, I will create with my words now stronger than ever.
James Joyce is a maddening writer to read. If you were to ask me why I love reading him though, part of that love is in the aggravation he causes with his writing.
Typing A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man was one thing, writing Ulysses by hand is quite the other. In A Portrait, I had the pleasure of not having read it, thus being exposed to the work was like being presented with an interesting set of data. The experiment was what that set of data, how it was arranged and collated, would affect me. The early chapters made my creative work suffer. The infantilism and repetitive structure of it at the beginning, handicapped my writing. I couldn’t come up with proper sentences for a while. After young Stephen Dedalus finds the poetic language within himself, I found my own writing took off as well.
When copying from a book to a page (whether that be on a computer or on a piece of paper), I digest the work in a sort of peripheral type of reading. I’m reading the words as visual objects while transferring them over to a new environment. I know the controls: pen, paper, and a somewhat quiet environment. While writing/typing it, I notice little ticks or weird punctuations in the work because I’m focusing on transcribing what’s right before me. Half of my brain is on that, while the other is reading the words and doing what our brains have been trained to do while reading: visualizing the scenes. A Portrait was interesting because in its newness to me, I was absorbed into the pages.
I’ve re-read Ulysses several times because there are always new things I’ve found upon the re-read. And I’m known to get a little obsessive with my interests. Ulysses happens to feed something in my head. The first time I read it was back in a third year course on modernism. I was in the middle of mid-term exams and suffering a long bout of insomnia. I had just finished a long exam on Nietszche and Hegel for a philosophy course and headed home on the eastbound train from Islington station. My commute from UofT Erindale College was about two hours (bus and subway to Jane station, then up to Weston Rd. and Eglinton. Torontonians will know this intersection as the giant Monster Donuts stop). I spent that commute reading my course work and I was at Episode 9: Scylla and Charybdis in Ulysses when I fell asleep. I dreamed. In the dream, Stephen Dedalus was watching the sea from a hill with books from the library tucked under his arm. His head was full of every single insight he had gathered in his conversations of the day and the sun shone blindingly in his face. It was still image, but what I remember most was the churn of the water and the tumultuous thoughts coming in and out of Stephen’s head.
When I woke up I was at Christie station, many stops away from where I supposed to get off, but I didn’t get up in a fright. I kind of floated in a euphoric state, on the cusp of an eventual epiphany. And it happened when I hit my head on the window sill of the train. It was like a rush of everything I’d read my whole life was in that book in my lap. The best I can come up with to describe that event would be as if you could smell a rainstorm approaching, hear the thunder and see the lighting for years and then suddenly the sky opens up and it’s raining every truth all around you. I felt truth all around me in that subway car for only a few seconds before it left me as quick as it came. Ever since then, Ulysses has had a special place in my heart and mind. I don’t know whether it’s because I want to relive the epiphany or if its a weird addictive curse born out of a compulsion for a spiritual high again, but either way, Ulysses upon the re-read has never failed to deliver to me many insights on writing, reading, and some pretty wacky perspectives of life. And hell, is Joyce ever wacky. Horny for spirituality and physicality, Joyce masturbates and orgasms his way through an ordinary day in an ordinary life.
I started handwriting Ulysses on December 9, 2013. Today I’m in the first half of Episode 9 and on the second green moleskine journal. The journals I’ve used have taken a beating because I’m a heavy handed writer. When I flip a page, I can feel my pen marks as if I had dug them into the page instead of just writing them. I’ve exhausted four pens in the process, and that’s not counting the ones I’ve lost as well. I began with a few constraints (writing down where I was writing it, or indenting the cited poems/songs), but I’ve decided to just stick with a random flow on each writing session.
I’ve found Joyce to be a difficult writer to transcribe. Ulysses is basically pulled together by the inner thoughts of people, some of them very random. Joyce tries to capture a reality that storytellers fail so often at capturing: the humdrum. If Leopold Bloom is thinking about the skirts of his mistress, he will go into detail about the smell and feel of the skirts, the colour of her hair against the light, the scent of her sex, while still making a point to list the errands he has to get to during the day. If it occurs to Mr. Bloom it will get recorded and archived. Beyond the incredibly entertaining conflicts that happen to Leopold or to Stephen, beyond the philosophical psychedelia that is the meat of the book, what glues it all together is this frustratingly mundane minutiae. It’s boring to read and frustrating to write, especially if you have a short attention span like me. Yet life in general is made up of mostly frustrating and mundane stuff. Life can be distracting in its grandness, it can be in the focus of its banality, and vice a versa.
I was recently discussing this with Tony Burgess at a poetry night we did. He asked about Ulysses and I had had particularly trying session with the page I was writing that day. I said, “I yell at the book sometimes. Fuck off, James! Again with the murmuring and the sighing! Today I wanted to throw you across the room.” That day Mr. Bloom was observing the people around him eating and he was thinking of eating and what others thought of him eating. It was such insular blabber, but it’s what we do every day in our heads. This is the brilliance of what Joyce set out to do. The day in the life of Leopold Bloom is the day in the life of you and me, or rather what he perceived to be the every day person. Upon the reading his approach read with an eerie accuracy.
Many scholars have picked Ulysses apart and will probably continue to for hundreds of years to come. I’m not bringing anything new to the table, I think, but it is in my reading and in my transcribing that I’m finding myself attuned to the unique perspective in the minuscule parts of my day. I know now that I handwrite my “f” in two different ways. My handwriting is also a mixture of cursive and printing. I write sloppier towards the end of the page and neater when it’s in the middle.
This “uncreative writing” project has made me a transcribing machine. I am but a means for those words to end up on a different format. Are they read? That’s not the point. Neither is it the point for me to know more about Joyce through handwriting his work. No. Getting Inside James Joyce’s Head is just a title. For me, this endeavour has me learning that writing is copying what is in your head to make it material in the real world.
Manifesting the prosaic, (whether it be lists, errands, important dates on a calendar, etc.), by common means is an extraordinary endeavour. It is just one of many ways one can be intimate with a novel or a piece of art. People copy paintings and trace drawings to learn how to draw and paint. Writers sometimes retype work (the quotations in an essay are integral part to that essay’s defense). Hunter S Thompson retyped The Great Gatsby just to get the feeling of typing a great novel. Replication of thought and ideas is what Joyce did and it’s what many authors already do. My work with James Joyce’s work is mundane, ordinary, and perplexing to me, but it’s my work. I have infused Ulysses with my own thoughts in the margins and have been physical with its words through a pen that I hold and maneuver. I often think about monks transcribing important literature before the printing press. I am a printing press.
The concept of person as machine is an important one to note today. The objects we utilize (computers, televisions, phones, lights, dishwashers, trains, buses, etc.), were once dreams in somebody’s head and those dreams now conveniently help move the world. If we didn’t have the machines, we’d be spending most of our days in desperate pursuit of the next meal and busy transporting ourselves with our own two feet. Now with all this convenience, the machines have made it possible for us to explore. The machines themselves, ones we built with our brains and hands, are exploring too.
It’s time to explore past the line of traditional and try new things and new methods of doing those things. I’m constantly reading books (not just Joyce), and usually have two or three on the go. I also find that the best books, inspire new ways of reading (having read a book backward online and remixed another).
Handwriting Ulysses may be the dumbest thing I’ve done, but Joyce was an idiot to write all the thoughts of Leopold Bloom and call it a novel. I really don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not keen on labelling it anything more than uncreative writing at the moment. It’s art in its performance. It’s a concept in my explanation of it. It’s writing in my execution of it. It will be a feat in its completion. It will most likely take me two years to finish.
I am very excited and happy to announce that Derek Beaulieu’s no press has published four pages of my work. ULYSSES by Jacqueline Valencia is now available for purchase. Details at the link:
I am copying the 1993 Oxford Press of Ulysses which I bought for my English Modernism & Post-Modernism 2nd year university class at the University of Toronto. I’ve carried this copy for many years with me. It’s torn up and written on. I’ll be playing with the text. I won’t be changing the words or diverting from what is written in the original copy. I want to experiment with the letters and the words as visual mediums. It is 729 words long, therefore, it will take me 729 days to complete my writing.