The Pitch

During my trip back to the Windsor area last Christmas, my father got a call from a childhood friend, someone I vaguely remembered having visited us once when I was younger, but not anyone I thought my father still communicated with. They didn’t talk long, but from where I was reading the paper at the kitchen table, I could hear him on the phone in the basement rattling off the state of the family: Cousin 1 just had a baby and has turned into quite the sailor; Cousin 2 took a job as a news reporter in a big city; Cousin 3 is graduating journalism school this year and thinks he might look for a government gig, since J-schools produce far more graduates than there are jobs. Then there was a pause.

“Oh, no, no he’s here. About a week. Uhh, well he lives in Toronto now, working for [redacted]. It’s not a particularly high paying job, but he likes living in Toronto, I guess. You know my brother [redacted] had some health issues there for a while…”

And that was it. My cousins all had lives worth talking about at length, but his only son works a low-paying job and lives in Toronto. No mention of crossing the one thing I never thought I would ever do off of my life’s list of ambitions. Remember this if you think having your name on a book spine will change your life in any meaningful way.

But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

(more…)

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The 2013 PFG Playlist

Every year since I started running down some of the songs I enjoyed most in the previous 12 months, I’ve lamented in the intro about what a chore selecting the songs had become, as I grew more and more distant from the popular tastes of our age.

To my surprise and delight, 2013 broke the streak. I have no idea if that’s due to an improved ability at finding things I would like or an overall increase in quality this year; I have no overarching ideas or unified theories on music in 2013, but the fact that I actually to cut my list down to ten selections was a welcome surprise. Even more surprising is how this year’s selection ran across more genres than in previous years. There are actual guitars, y’all! Enough preamble! Let’s dig into this, in no order.

(more…)

Christmastime is Here: Redux

I must be the only person who looks forward to a vacation so he can…work. Just, you know, work on the things he wants to do and enjoys instead of the things he’s mandated to do by financial and fiduciary responsibilities.

I’m writing this from my parents’ kitchen table near Windsor, Ontario. The last time I was here, in June, I was working through the first draft of the book. That was rarely a cheery process, so I cherish the opportunity to visit and just…be. I’ve made no plans with friends, nor do I intend to. I kind of just want to hang out with the fam jam, pet some dogs, eat snickerdoodles, pilfer their record collection (see results on Instagram) and recharge the batteries before heading back to Toronto and researching more ways to make rice and black-eyed peas (meal of champions).

This time last year I took a moment to walk y’all through the holiday music I actually enjoyed, those songs that add comfort and meaning to my holiday season. Since I’m in such a good mood today, it’s a perfect time to look at the songs I cannot stand, the ones that make me burp peppermint-tinged vomit into the back of my throat. I’m only working with those songs admitted to the canon; there are countless atrocities buried in the holiday albums of pop acts from today and yesteryear (looking at you, “Funky, Funky Christmas“) but I want to discuss the mediocrity that’s somehow slipped through the cracks of common sense and become standards.

Jingle Bells

In last year’s post I mentioned that “Jingle Bells” is no one’s favourite holiday song, and the practice of adding a few tinkles of the melody on the outro of your version of “The Christmas Song” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is pandering and repellent.

Look, “Jingle Bells” is fine when you’re a kid and you’re commenting on the odour of certain superheroes and their egg-laying abilities, but there’s no way to save this song for anyone past the age of 11, not that it’s stopped crooners of the past sixty years from trying, and no one fails more spectacularly than Barbra. My mother plays this record every year and I will cast no shade to “I Wonder as I Wander,” but this scat-tacular rendition of “Jingle Bells” is a sewing needle in my ear.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

“Say, what’s in this drink?”
“The answer is no.”
“What’s the sense in hurting my pride?”

Nuff said.

All I Want for Christmas is You

Okay, just—*ducks tomato* will you just *dodges cup full of piss* just wait a minute, damn it!

It’s not a bad song. I might even go as far to say that I actively like it, I’m bouncing in my seat as I listen to it. The issue is, I don’t know that I consider it a Christmas song, or just a pop song wearing a Santa hat, and maybe that’s what makes it exceptional in the first place, but I don’t think it deserves its honour as the last song to enter the all-time canon of holiday classics. But I swear, the fervor that this song inspires in you people, the nuclear rage that can erupt at the slightest criticism of it, is unreal.  It’s good, I will give you that. It’s just not as good as y’all think it is, and not as good as any of the songs I mentioned last year.

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

I mean, do I really have to? Sure, it’s for the kids, fine, whatever, if the day ever comes when I’m blessed to loose some spawn on the world I’ll grit my teeth and put this song on repeat, too. But I know grown adults who still hold it down for Gayla Peevey, think it’s adorable. Get your lives together, people. And this is me saying that.

This Christmas (by Chris Brown)

This is not an indictment of the Donny Hathaway song, this is an indictment on the need for anyone [especially the above…individual] to cover it. Stop. Erase the tapes. You have nothing, absolutely nothing to add to the original. As a friend once said, “I know God is good because He brought us Donny.” Anyone thinking they need to trot their flat-ass voice all over the perfection of the original needs to sit down, pour a glass of egg nog and think about their choices.

So those are the songs I’ll be avoiding this year like a kiss from your auntie with the beef smell. Let me know how wrong I am or what I missed in the comments when you’re hiding from family in the bathroom this week.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all y’all who take ten minutes out of your day to read the junk I throw up here. I appreciate it more than I’ll ever let on.

Step Right Up

If you were to guess that the flurry of activity around here lately had to do with me getting the itch again now that the draft has finally left my grubby hands and flown overseas to people like designers and copy editors, you would be correct.

You don’t need me to tell you that writing is like running, or weight lifting or whatever other questionable endurance sport you might partake in. Use it or lose it, and I took my damn sweet time recovering from the process of writing the book (Level 56 on Grand Theft Auto Online, email me for my Gamertag. Get at me, dog). But then ideas for things to write about start to percolate and the longer they stay in there the longer they fester until the process of expelling them from my brain is lacklustre and disappointing. Not unlike passing a bowel movement.

As for how I’m feeling now that it’s out of my hands, the wonderful Julieanne Smolinski summed up that feeling with more precision than I ever could.

Yup.

None of this is to say I’ve been completely slovenly the last couple of months. I continue musing about whatever nerdery comes to mind over at 22 Pages for the University of Toronto (latest are here and here) and I also branched out a tad by tossing some pieces to the folks over at The Same Page on, oddly enough, the 40th Birthday of Hip-Hop and the release of Grand Theft Auto V (do you think I’m developing a niche here?)

As well, my friends and colleagues at 22 Pages Khaiam Dar and Alex Correa have collected the first volume of the webcomic they started in 2011, Smells Like Maturity. If you’re in the Toronto area, swing by Red Nails II at Jane and Bloor for their release party on November 15. I wrote the introduction, so if you’re a Ferguson completist, you’ll want to pick that up. Writing it turned out to be a bigger deal than I was expecting it to be, but I’m really happy with the piece, and for the opportunity to toast those two jerks on the occasion of making their longtime dream come true. Of course they’d release their book six months before mine comes out.

So that’s what I’m staying up to, friends. It’s a moment of respite from book madness as it moves to the production phase, but I’m sure you’ll be inundated with Dilla-related content as the book nears release. For the moment, I’m just enjoying the relative peace and trying to figure out how to stumble my way into being a quote-unquote “writer” instead of someone who wrote a book once.

Kind of weird to think now about how that struggle is what this blog was meant to document in the first place. .

Accepting the Snobbery

At the time, I thought it was a silly question.

Back in the summer my editors at Bloomsbury asked me to do a little interview for their website, all of the authors in my “class” were doing it, a way to introduce ourselves, talk about the albums we were writing about, what we were trying to bring to the table. By the time my turn was up, I started to get this itch like I wanted to jazz it up, do something new, not because I thought the interviews were getting repetitive, but because I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say. So I asked the editors if I could throw together a video instead.  It was fun, I always like flexing those muscles, even if I did blatantly rip off the rhythms and style of a million other video bloggers.

One of the later questions in the interview concerned how I listen to my music: vinyl, CDs or MP3. At the time I said that as much as I enjoyed spending an afternoon flipping through stacks of records, living in a bachelor apartment in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood presents certain realities of storage space (not to mention the financial barriers) so most of my music had to live on my laptop.

A few weeks later I was back in my hometown staying at my parents’ house. The plan was to get out of the city, to the peace and quiet of small town living where I wouldn’t have as many distractions and could bang out the first terrible draft of the book, spending the rest of the month tweaking and polishing. I packed a gift I had received for my birthday the previous year, a copy of Donuts on vinyl. My folks had a turntable and I was curious to see if I’d hear anything different in the album in that format. Donuts is intentionally constructed as one continuous piece of music, meant for a compact disc. Listening to it on vinyl adds an entirely different dimension to it because the listener has to change the record every five tracks or so. None of this ended up in the book, but it was a worthwhile experience nonetheless.

The draft didn’t really get done while I was down there. In all honesty, it was one of the worst trips home I’ve ever had. In addition to opting for the couch instead of my father’s bed, which had been known to give me backaches (the couch gave me worse backaches) I also received some upsetting information of a personal nature that put me in a panic for most of the week. The plan was to wake up early every day, shower and coffee by 9.00 and put in a solid workday of bashing out pages.  That happened maybe once. The rest of the time I was texting friends, emailing colleagues for advice or lying on the floor and generally trying to avoid things in any way possible.

This is where I fell in love with vinyl again.

As later documented on Instagram, I spent an evening rooting around my parents’ crawlspace and digging through their record collection. It was filled with what one would expect to find in crates belonging to white people of a certain age: Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Journey, some disco, a little new wave. I grabbed a stack of LPs known and unknown and took them out to the stereo. My father’s had all of the same equipment for as long as I can remember, so even the act of turning it on was nostalgic and wistful: the chirp as I flicked the power switch on the receiver, the clicks of the levers on his old Dual turntable as the tone arm lifted and positioned itself at the edge of the disc, the pop and crackle through the speakers. There wasn’t much that made me feel good on that trip, but that evening I spent sitting cross-legged in front of my father’s stereo, as I had as a child and teenager was a happy moment. I started thinking it would be cool to have a turntable in the house. Back when I lived with a woman, we talked once about how cool it would be to take the CDs, rip them to a hard drive, sell them, then buy the essential, desert island discs on vinyl.

It’s an idea that never really went away, I just figured it would be too much of an investment. When you start digging through websites about this sort of thing, people will have you convinced that a minimum of 500 bucks is the minimum investment required to  really hear the nuances of the recordings and blah blah puke.

Last weekend I took a stack of birthday money and bought an Audio-Technica LP60. Cost me a hundred bucks. I’m running it through my iPhone dock. I couldn’t be happier.

Cause you see, what I was reminded of back at my folks’ house, what I had forgotten in recent years, is how vinyl forces you to really connect with a piece of music. When I’m walking the streets with my headphones on, I’m constantly skipping through tracks. Three hundred songs on my phone, I don’t want to hear any of them. You probably do the same thing. And walking the street or riding the train is the place for that. Thing with vinyl, though? I put that record on, I’m stuck with it. I have to listen to it. Sure I could skip songs or swap out the record, but that’s a pain in the ass. Putting on a record has forced me to reconnect with music in a way I think I’d maybe forgotten about.

What’s also fun about all this is how little I care for the ancillary concerns that fuel most other collectors. I’m coming at this as a fan, not an audiophile. An audiophile would see my setup and laugh me out of my own house (foremost among the reasons why, in my investigations at least, “audiophiles” are the worst). I don’t give a shit about original or Japanese pressings. I’m only buying albums I consider classics. I’ll get to my hip-hop essentials eventually, but at the moment I’m into soul, funk and jazz. I’m not really into 45s because they seem too disposable to me. I know I should splurge on the 180g  reissues, but I love a record that feels like it has some history. When shopping last weekend, I had to choose between the remaster of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book or a cheaper copy in a dingy, weathered sleeve. Of course I chose the latter.

I’m giddy with the excitement of having a new obsession. I love drafting my wishlist in my head, I love the idea of heading out to the shops in this city, looking for the cheapest copies I can find. Comic books were probably the last thing that gave me a similar sense of meditative peace (sad as that is), but comics could only be found at comic shops. You can find records everywhere. I love the fact that you can spend 10 bucks on a used record and feel like you really bought something. CDs never made me feel like that. I love that the Donny Hathaway album I bought had a gatefold with liner notes by Nikki Giovanni.

Mostly, I just love feeling like a music fan again.

A Letter to Donald

‘Bino,

I woke up from a mid-morning nap following an overnight shift to a phone blown up with texts and tweets alerting me to the spontaneous listening party you’d announced for your upcoming album in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods park.  I was a little shocked, as far as I knew you were still filming your episodes of Community, but with enough time to throw some clothes on and head down, I didn’t want this to be another of those “Cool things that happen in Toronto that I take for granted and don’t go to.”

There were only about fifty people or so when I showed up, standing around a kid with a pair of amplifiers. I foolishly thought attendance might actually stay at those levels, and that maybe I could tell you some of these things in person, but within fifteen minutes the crowd had swollen to around 200. As the crowd grew and 5.00 came and went the kid with the amplifiers started to look nervous, and it occurred to me it was wholly possible we were about to be trolled by a local crew of kids taking the opportunity to promote their shitty mixtape.  But then you showed up, no fanfare, pushed through the crowd to the picnic table, sat down, plugged your phone into the speakers and started playing the album*.

Aw, dammit. I thought. He’s on his art school bullshit again. I can’t lie, Donald. I’d been concerned. You first hinted at restlessness on the ROYALTY mixtape, so news that you were leaving Community (where I first became a fan) was disappointing, but not surprising. But that short film you made last summer (which I admit I didn’t even watch) caused some eyebrow arching, and then there were your Instagram notes last month. So when you strolled up without a word, I started to wonder if I was willing to hang with where you were going.

By the time I left Bellwoods, though, I was back on board, not from anything you did, per se, but from what the crowd did.

Toronto is…we can be a weird town. Superior yet love-starved. Many in that park seemed to think they’d be getting a concert of some sort, despite your earlier tweet to the contrary. A few climbed nearby trees to catch a glimpse of you. When you’d played what you wanted to, you stood up and answered questions from the crowd for half an hour. When a second person asked you if you were going to do any stand-up, a few of us groaned and you chuckled and mentioned someone had already asked that and moved on to the next question.

“Uhh, okay?  Thank you? For not answering my question? Appreciate it!” the guy hollered. And all I could think was Wowww, you know what?  Fuck youguy. He owes you nothing. And that was when it all sort of clicked in for me. You don’t owe me anything either. If I’m sad the antics of Troy and Abed will be shortened this year, tough shit for me. Would I really turn down the chance to run the ship at my own show if given your choice?  No, I wouldn’t. Neither would anyone else.

As for the ‘cry for help.’ Instagram notes, I watched your Breakfast Club interview where you explained that part of what inspired it was just feeling alone and lost, like damn near every other twentysomething butting their heads against the promises of history.

“Everybody stunts on Instagram. Nobody shows their buddy’s funeral, nobody wants to be vulnerable. People thought I was crazy because I was honest. That was it,” you said.

That honesty is what always drew me to your music, that willingness to admit fear that always causes “real heads” to get their backs up and start calling people “soft.”  Like Kanye said, “We’re all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” He was never supposed to be the last.

When I was in journalism school my second writing course was on various styles of column writing, personal essays, shit like that.  For my first workshop submission, I wrote about something extremely personal that was going on with my family. I was older than most of my classmates, who I’d only known for five months by then. You could feel the air getting sucked out of the room as they read it. But I just threw it all out there because I couldn’t stand the idea of restraint, felt like all of our work work would suffer if we weren’t willing to go all the way with it. I’ve grown somewhat more diplomatic in how I deploy the truth in the subsequent years, but I still believe what I did in that class: that any art that means anything has to leave it all on the table. Your willingness to do that, rawer than how Kanye or Drake or even Eminem do it, is unlike anything I’ve heard in hip-hop, and is still so exciting to me. It’s like being 12 years old and listening to De La Soul is Dead for the first time, just being enthralled and anxious and confused all at once.

So what I guess I’m trying to say is do your damn thing, Donald, whatever that thing might be. If you want to write, write. If you want to make music, make music. I might not love everything you do, but you’ll always make it worthwhile to check in.

Best,

Jordan

ps: That “rainbow, sunshine” song? The one that sounded like Jhené Aiko sung a hook?  It’s a goddamn monster.

*Because the Internet, out Dec. 10.

 

On Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Last weekend, the nerdmageddon known as FanExpo Canada hit Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre, and despite my well-documented thoughts on convention season, I was seriously considering going, but ultimately tapped out due to the financial commitment required and my unwillingness to spend my rent money getting photos with Nathan Fillion and The Walking Dead’Dixon Brothers.  But it was dicey there for a minute.

I’d forgive you if you’d forgotten or were unaware of how deep my geekery runs. Most of the topics around here lately seem to centre around hip-hop or weak-kneed attempts at personal insight. But it’s always gurgling inside me, ready to spurt out at any moment, from my continued love of professional wrestling, my slavish dedication to the comic series Saga, or the fact that after September 17, I will be on permanent vacation causing mayhem throughout Los Santos.

I did not expect it to be triggered by a Japanese anime about magical girls.

On the off chance you are ever planning on watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica, there will be mad spoilers coming.

GO NOW.

Okay then.

I’d heard of Madoka Magica long before I thought to watch it: one night I stumbled across the ‘Headless Mami‘ meme and found it odd that a character in a cutesy-wutesy magical girl show would get decapitated, but stranger things have happened.  But the image stuck with me, solely because it wasn’t something I’d seen before.  I’ve been long burned out on anime, the tropes of the medium had become too trite and predictable to me [I solely blame Love Hina for this]. But something about Mami’s demise stuck with me, so when I saw that Crackle [the dollar bin of online video] had the whole series available, I gave it a shot. And was pretty much stunned into submission. Because it’s Sailor Moon-meets-Evangelion.

In the late 90’s, the North American broadcasts of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z combined with a fluke viewing of the cult classic Akira to transform me into the most rabid of anime fans.  The crap we would have to go through back then to see anything that wasn’t already bought for syndication on children’s television would floor the fans of today. There was one store [ONE] that had a small selection of VHS tapes from the now-defunct Streamline Pictures and early releases from Manga Entertainment. If you’re of my generation of fandom, you remember these shows: Wicked CityGhost in the ShellMacross PlusThe Wings of Honneamise, Dirty Pair. Smaller distributors like ADVision or Central Park Media had started releasing shows by the mid-90’s, but digging them up in Windsor, Ontario was next to impossible, and when you did they were usually horrific English dubs by barely conscious voice actors [the ‘sub v. dub wars’ were real, friends; even worse, dubbed anime retailed for less than its subtitled counterparts, since manufacturers considered anime in its original Japanese a more ‘niche product’ and because, as rumour had it one executive explained, ‘fans will pay it.’ DVDs, with their multiple audio options, changed the game]. One afternoon in my university computer lab I did a Lycos search [really] of ‘anime’ and discovered something called The Right Stuf International. Today, TRSI is an online behemoth, the oldest North American anime retailer in the business. Back in the day, its sales were done via mail order, and all we had to go on were recommendations and descriptions from the catalogue. There were no trailers to watch, you could maybe glean some info from the fledgling message boards that started cropping up, but a lot of times you went on instinct, what you though sounded good. Then you sent them an order form and a cheque, and six weeks later you got some tapes.

We will not talk about how much of my money this company received from 1996-1998.

Many of the shows I love to this day I learned about from the TRSI catalogue, or from people I met on their message boards and would send/trade tapes with.  One of those shows was Neon Genesis Evangelion. I would never call it my ‘favourite’ anime in the same way I wouldn’t call The Sandman my ‘favourite’ comic, but images and story points of Eva have stayed with me for almost 15 years. We don’t need to get into a major plot synopsis of the show, all we need to say is that Eva took the genre of giant robots, which had been around in Japanese SF for decades and added an element of psychology and deconstruction that no one had ever tried before. When fans didn’t approve of the show’s conclusion, director Hideaki Anno rereleased the ending in the theatrical release End of Evangelion which has to be the most flagrant pair of middle fingers to a property’s fanbase in the history of filmmaking. It was glorious to witness. As the series gets tweaked and retold in a new theatrical tetralogy, its impact is still being felt [the tandem piloting of the Jaegers in Pacific Rim is one of a few ideas in that movie that seems to be inspired by Eva]. What makes that show so fascinating is that ultimately, it was never about smashy-smashy robotic fisticuffs, it was about the trauma inflicted on the 14-year-olds forced to pilot the things, all of them dealing with abandonment issues, all of them searching for a meaning in a meaningless world. Existentialism at its finest [or worst, depending].

PMMM looks to do the same thing with the magical girl genre. In shows of that type, typically some unremarkable girl has a trinket of some sort bestowed on her by a sparkly cat/puppy/squirrel/wolverine which then allows her to transform into a powerful crusader of justice who battles the monster of the week before squaring off the overarching menace.

PMMM takes the formula but turns the magical girl proposal into an overtly Faustian bargain: Kyubey, the show’s wonder-rodent of choice and indeterminate origin grants wishes, anything a young lady may desire, and in return, said lady must work as a magical girl fighting ‘witches’, physical manifestations of hopelessness and despair. For most of the show’s 12 episodes, Madoka, the titular character and protagonist, wrestles with the decision whether or not to take Kyubey up on his offer, despite his forceful encouragement and claims that she would be the most powerful magical girl ever.  For those characters that do decide to accept Kyubey’s offer, the gift turns to a monkey’s paw: Mami’s elation at the possibility of no longer being the lone  magical girl leads to overconfidence and death; Madoka’s friend Sayaka makes a wish to help the boy she loves, which brings her nothing but pain and hurt, and also death, turning her into a witch [the ultimate fate of all magical girls]; the antagonistic Homura reveals herself to be a time traveler who had her life saved when Madoka sacrificed her own, and has gone through hundreds of timelines to try and prevent the same outcome. And when Madoka finally makes her choice… well, I suppose I should leave you some mysteries.

The characters in the show are all wrestling with powerlessness and failure, despite the mighty abilities at their command. When Kyubey’s intentions are finally revealed, he turns out to be a member of an alien race looking to harvest emotional energy to restore balance to the universe and prevent entropy [shaky science here, but it’s still a rare hard-SF angle to the typically new agey approach these shows usually take] and what conduit can provide more emotional energy than adolescent girls?  They’re nothing but unchecked emotional energy. While not nearly as nihilistic in its storytelling as Eva gets, I was taken completely off guard by the weight of the story, by the loss the characters feel, the elements of horror that emerge during the witch battles [the animation style changes to a flat, stop-motiony style whenever a witch is around, and the ending credits are…off putting].

At 12 episodes, it’s a tightly wound narrative, nothing is wasted, it has none of the filler that tends to plague most anime shows. You could do worse than checking it out on Crackle.

And I’ve always been a sucker for a good J-Pop opening theme.

As for me and anime, I’m already three episodes into Attack on Titan. This could be a problem.

 

Coming Down

This will be a story about two things, poorly organized.

It’s been about two weeks since I gave my manuscript the final read through and sent it off to my editors. My eyes stung, my body reeked, my brain frayed on sugar and caffeine overdose. Almost bankrupt from the work shifts I’d given away to write it. Two weeks on my finances are still kind of dicey. It could be another six to eight months before I see a dime from the thing, if not more. It’s almost enough to make a man wonder why he bothers.

Almost.

People have constantly asked me throughout this process, But aren’t you excited?! I am but I’m not. The 18 months I proposed, researched and wrote this book were a time of intense personal loss, on a few different levels, not the least of which was the breakdown of my six-year relationship, compounded by the loss of the woman who saw me through that breakup and made sure I stayed above water. There are lessons of self-sufficiency to be found there, I’m sure, but I don’t care to excavate them today. Suffice to say, I learned the hard way what most writers already know: any project may turn into a collaborative process, but in the thick of it, it’s just you, the screen and the words. And in my case, a dead man.

That’s been the strangest part of all this, now that I’m “over the mountain,” as it were.  I spent large portions of every day with this guy in my head, listening to his music, researching his life, reading what people who knew him had to say. I don’t need to do that anymore. I need to let him go. And I’ve started to, but I kind of already miss him.

After I mailed the draft in, I got nine hours of sleep, went to work for a quick shift and tended to the business of cleaning my sty of an apartment after weeks of neglect. I had Songza on for accompaniment, I think it was an 80’s party playlist. Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” came on. I was hungry, so I took a moment to eat some yogurt and take stock of what I’d done and what still needed cleaning. And I don’t know, something about the breeze coming in my window, realizing I’d gotten enough of my life back to actually clean the house, Joe Jackson reminding me we’re all young but getting old before our time… I felt something resembling pride in my accomplishment. It didn’t matter who was supposed to be there when I finished,the point was finishing.

Details have trickled in over the last couple of weeks. A cover design, a release date, a listing on the publisher site [you can find all these details on the recently redesigned page for the book, just click ’33 1/3 Donuts’ above]. Currently my editor’s looking at the manuscript, she’ll send it back to me hacked to shit with ideas on how to make it better, I will spend a month rewriting based on her suggestions and then my tiny little hype machine will kick into high gear, and I’ll really be in trouble, because eventually someone’s going to ask the [reasonable] question, “Who the fuck is this guy, and why does he get to write about Dilla?!” And I don’t have an answer. I’m told most creative types, especially writers, live with the anxiety that we’re all just frauds and one day someone will realize it and tell the world.

Neil Gaiman has lived with this anxiety. Despite winning multiple awards for his writing, building a career that’s endured over 30 years and proving he can write everything from films to children’s books to comics and radio plays, he still worries that one day someone will knock on his door, confiscate his notepads and force him to get a real job.  He discussed this fear in a speech he made to the 2012 graduating class at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. He put everything he knew about trying to build a career in the arts into those 20 minutes, and of course it went viral online, eventually being collected in a slim volume designed by Chip Kidd called Fantastic Mistakes. Knowing Gaiman was stopping in Toronto as part of his “Last Signing Tour” a mere five days after my draft day, the speech, with its dedication to everyone wondering “Now what?” [which I most certainly was] it seemed like a suitable item for him to sign [since I’d forgotten to bring my copy of Sandman #1 back from my parents’ house].

The first time I met Gaiman, I told him about being 10 or 11 years old and stumbling across an interview of his on the old TVOntatio show Prisoners of Gravity, and how I thought he was the coolest guy I’d ever seen, and started reading Sandman shortly afterward. His stories changed my life; where books like Dark Knight Returns or Arkham Asylum left a marked impression on me, Sandman didn’t have any of the nihilism those books did, there was always a humanity and optimism in them, something that spoke to me then like it spoke to me in his latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (no lie, my favourite thing of his in years. No shots, just personal taste). Four years ago, he’d seemed genuinely touched by the story, looked up and smiled, then shook my hand, something I hadn’t seen him do much with the other people in line.

When I saw him a couple weeks ago, he was personable, if a little weary, and I launched into an off the cuff monologue about why I was having him sign the speech, and my book coming out, and how I took the advice to ‘make good art” very seriously, considering the circumstances surrounding my book’s inception (great fun watching his publicist try to piece that one together, as the woman I used to date was standing next to me in line). And for the second consecutive time, he paused, looked up at me and offered his hand, pen still threaded in his fingers. I think this means we’re best friends now.

Last Holiday I was speaking with a friend who’d recently separated from her husband and told her that for the first time in my life, I really didn’t know what the next 12 months were going to hold, for any of us. Most of the time, we go through our lives with at least a small degree of certainty: X and Y will remain married, you will live in this certain city, work at this certain job, etc. At the end of 2012, I couldn’t speak to any of that. Relationships were ending, careers were changing, people were moving. I had no idea what the gameboard was going to look like a year from then. Almost 3/4 through this year, I have even less of an idea. The book’s in, it could be the start of the career I’ve always wanted, or it could be some footnote on my life, a cool thing I did once.I probably don’t need to know that right now, which is rare for me, and extremely liberating. All I need to know right now is that trying to make good art and trusting my instincts is what got me here, and continuing to do the same is what will see me through.

You can read or watch the “Make Good Art’ speech here.