I still call him Daddy, even though I’m thirty-eight. He walks into the living room wearing his trench coat. I eye his bare, hairless calves and his collar bones between the lapels of the jacket.
“Daddy,” I say, “it’s only four degrees outside. You’ll be cold. At least put on a scarf and some warm socks.” He nods and retrieves a burgundy scarf from the winter drawer and wraps it around his neck before returning to his bedroom for socks. He’s holding his ski mask when he comes back out, which he stuffs into the pocket of his trench.
“Will you be home for supper?”
“I have a shift this evening at the Victim’s Hotline,” he says, and kisses me on the forehead. “There’s lasagna in the fridge. Don’t skip supper. You’re looking thin.” He leaves, closing the door gently behind him.
When everything fell apart and I moved back home, he sighed and said, “This is only the hard part, and the hard parts never last forever.”
I’ve heard his rationale. “In that shocking moment,” he told me, “she has so much choice! She can yell or run. She can fight or turn to the state for help by calling the police. I am a catalyst for action!” He used to say inspirational things like this when I was little, to distract me after Mom died: be a catalyst for action. He started becoming interested in women’s safety issues after he retired as a high school gym teacher. Then, when the sexual assault rate in Nova Scotia hit an all-time high last year, he started acting on his beliefs.
“There are plenty of non-illegal calls to action for women,” I said, half crying, wrapping a blanket around him after yet another outing so I wouldn’t have to look at his trench coat.
“I want women to stand up for themselves.”
“So you’re a feminist?”
“I’m doing what I think is right, in the best way I know how.”
Who was I to judge? Morality, for all we tell ourselves to the contrary, is subjective. That’s what I wrote for my PhD dissertation, and it’s what I used to teach my students. Values and ethics change from place to place, era to era, and person to person. Even, sometimes, within one’s own ethical framework: for the sake of convenience, or that ultimate psychological loophole without our even knowing. Kevin, on the other hand, is a moral absolutist; I suppose it’s for this grand difference of opinion that we are no longer together. That, and because I used to get drunk.
Sometimes I drive by the condo Kevin and I once shared, hoping for a glimpse into his new life. I see movement in the apartment – a flutter or a shadow before curtains close and the lights go out. Depending on the night, this can make me feel better or worse.
“You’re an embarrassment,” he had said, sliding an overnight bag over my shoulder.
“Please don’t make me go,” I had said, still drunk and holding onto the wall for support. Those were the last sentiments we exchanged before signing the divorce papers over one year later. He got the condo and I got money, along with a lifetime’s worth of shame.
Someone once said that love is a verb, but it’s more like a combination of emotional rituals. Like a cloistered mage, I still practice my love for Kevin: I evoke the euphoric heat of our sex life; conjure the stabbing humiliation of our breakup; and sometimes meditate on the easy routine of our companionship, like passing the jam across the breakfast table or cracking a private joke about an eccentric neighbor. There are moments of relief that yield, once again, to a landslide of savage adoration. I have come to the conclusion that love is more fluid than water.
I pace the living room floor, wring my hands, and peer out the window. What do I expect to see? Kevin, with a dozen roses? A police squad coming for Daddy?
I text Jac, my best friend and a fellow reformed drunk.
Mary Lapierre 2:34 PM: Dreaming of vodka martinis.
Jac Logan 2:35 PM: Need me to come over and yell at you?
Mary Lapierre 2:36 PM: Yell from there.
Jac Logan 2:36 PM: ANY PROGRESS ON THE COMEBACK BOOK?
Mary Lapierre 2:37 PM Progress was having the idea to write it. No title yet. Or text.
Jac Logan 2:37 PM: GO WRITE. CALL YOU TOMORROW. DON’T DRINK OR BIG TROUBLE.
The cursor at the top of the blank Word doc blinks at me, a judgmental eye.
(De)Constructed Moralities in the Media?
The Politics of Divorce: When hate isn’t the opposite of love?
Too formal. Maybe I should go the memoir route? Use your hell for healing, they say in AA.
Daddy has only been gone one hour when I hear his car in the driveway. Thump, thump on the front step and the door opens. His nose is swollen, some of the skin broken. He is teary. A plum-colored shadow creeps down from the inner corner of each eye.
“I guess the hotline is going to have to do without you tonight,” I say.
He breaks into a smile. “I got punched by a Micmac woman,” he says. “At Mic Mac Mall. It finally worked. I found a woman who was willing to defend herself instead of running scared.”
“That’s wonderful, Daddy,” I say. “But you should probably duck next time. And I think they prefer to be called Mi’kmaq.” I sound it out: “Mee-ga-mah.”
Later on, I swab his cut in the bathroom and give him a lecture about staying in for a while.
The next morning my ringing phone jars me into consciousness. It’s Jac.
“Turn on CBC right now.”
“Radio or TV?” I growl.
“Television,” she yells. “It’s the Halifax Flasher! They caught the sonofabitch on camera.”
A grainy security camera shows Daddy in his ski mask in front of the Tim Horton’s doughnut display, at the food court in Mic Mac Mall. His arms are flailing over his head. His trench coat is wide open. His hips shimmy like Jell-O. The black censor blob has to zip around erratically, to hide his moving parts.
“He’s enthusiastic,” Jac says. “I’ll give him that.”
From the camera shot, a heavy-set woman with long dark hair can be seen at a table, drinking coffee. In a hot second, she’s on her feet, her fist flying toward the center of Daddy’s ski mask.
He holds his nose before staggering off camera. The woman takes a few more steps in his direction, her fist still cocked in the air. Mall security appears on camera and surrounds the woman; one of them reaches for his handcuffs and steps closer to her. Her mouth moves rapid-fire and she points in the direction of the assailant. The security team wanders off, in no particular hurry.
The news anchor looks into the camera:
Last night it was a blue nose for the Bluenose Flasher, also known as the Halifax Flasher, who got his comeuppance at a local mall. This morning we spoke with Katherine-Eleanor Francis, the flasher’s latest victim, a resident of Shubenacadie First Nation.
Ms. Francis, you’re the Flasher’s only victim who has fought back physically. Do you have a comment?
The woman nods her head while she thinks about it. Finally, she says: I’m no victim. He dishonored me, so I dishonored him back. That’s all I have to say.
The camera pans back to the news anchor.
The police have released a statement saying that they don’t know the identity of the flasher yet and they are counting on tips from the public to bring him to justice. The assailant is described as five foot seven with very pale skin. He was last seen wearing a burgundy scarf, white sports socks with navy stripes and a beige trench coat.
Jac grunts. “We should cut off his—”
An involuntary squeak escapes me, and I cough to cover it up.
“Anyway,” she says, “let’s meet for coffee. I know your vodka cravings involve a certain man, and we should discuss it before you get yourself involved in something bad.”
The bottom drops out of my stomach: she knows something about Daddy. “The coffee shop near the waterfront?” I blurt out, trying to sound normal. I’ll need to explain – I’ll need to say something that stops her from telling the police. I rack my brain for past conversations. Did Daddy ever share any of his fight-back philosophy that might have tipped her off? Did she somehow recognize him from the news?
“One-thirty.” She hangs up.
Daddy is delighting in front of the television as I get ready to leave.
“Did you see how hard she nailed me?” he asks.
“Yes Daddy, I did.” I sigh and look at the ceiling. “This is serious. I know you have your hobbies—”
“But this has gotten out of hand. Promise me you’ll stop.”
“I’m helping women find their inner fight,” he says.
Does Daddy’s drive to “help” women come from the fact that his own daughter is such a miserable failure? He couldn’t help me to be a more adjusted adult, and he couldn’t save Mom when she got sick, either.
I push the thought away. “I suggest opening a girls’ karate club instead.”
He walks to the hallway and disappears into his room. When he comes back, he’s holding his trench coat and ski mask. He points to the fireplace. “Let’s retire these,” he says. “Ms. Francis’s good example has made it onto the national news. I think my work is done.”
“Don’t forget the socks,” I say.
Daddy’s uniform flares up fast, sending golden flames and rolling puffs of black smoke into the chimney.
I reach for his shoulder. “You still have the Victim’s Hotline.”
“And the lady lifeguards at open swim, Tuesday and Thursday.”
I look at him and blink, afraid to ask.
“What? I bring them bananas.”
I have indeed seen him stuffing bananas into his coat pockets.
“Why Daddy? Why do you do that?”
“They need to eat, don’t they? I would want someone to do the same for you.”
When I get downtown, there is a massive protest on Lower Water Street. Hundreds of women are wearing boxing gloves and grimaces. I spot a few in trench-coats and ski-masks holding picket signs: We’re not gonna take it! and Punch first, ask questions later.
A loud, angry voice booms over the roar of the crowd. I push through to see who it is. Amy McKasgal, the president of the Women’s Council of Nova Scotia, is standing on a platform next to a less-than-enthusiastic-looking Katherine-Eleanor Francis. Amy is holding Katherine-Eleanor’s arm up in the air.
Her voice soars; the crowd is electrified. “What this courageous woman did yesterday sent a message that the women of this province will not stand by and be abused any longer. This is your call to arms, women. This is your war cry!”
The crowd erupts into the chant: “I’m no vic-tim! I’m no vic-tim!”
I cup my hands over my ears and push through the crowd. I jog the rest of the way to the café. Jac is already there. I slide into the booth next to her.
“So,” she says, “do you want to say it, or should I?” Her angular face is drawn, short blond hair palmed forward. She cups the back of her neck and then raps her knuckles on the table.
My cheeks burn. I open my mouth to speak.
She speaks instead. “This is about Kevin. You still love him.”
I laugh spastically as relief drips through my system. Then I’m crying. She rubs my back a bit too hard. Should I tell her about Daddy? It would feel so good to express the anxiety I’ve been feeling. But I operate under the assumption that it’s cruel to tell people things they won’t understand.
“I ran into Kevin at my barbershop,” she says. “He and his girlfriend broke up. Apparently, she wasn’t as bright as you, professor.”
“Ex-professor,” I say, wiping my face, “and I bet she doesn’t fall down stairs at cocktail parties, or throw up on the Dean of Arts.”
“He asked about you, Mary. It’s only a matter of time before he contacts you. But you need to think it through.”
“Why? I’ve been hoping for this ever since we split.”
“He gave up on you pretty fast. Your whole world was pulling apart –”
“Through no fault but my own.”
“—and he cut the cord within a second’s notice is all I’m saying. Anyway, don’t you think it’s time you tried playing for the other team?” She winks and leans back, stretching one arm along the backrest. Claiming it, as if she just installed the booth there herself. Where do people get their confidence?
There’s a bang on the window: a protestor is flashing her bare breasts to everyone in the café. Jac raises her eyebrows and grins.
“This is awesome!” says the guy sitting at the table next to us.
“Oh shut up,” says Jac. She gets up for another coffee, swaggers to the counter. Hands in her pockets, jangling change. Could I ever be with Jac in that way? Being alone is an endless loop of falling from the sky and hitting the ground, only without the release of death.
There’s a basket of bananas next to the cash register. She picks one up and holds it to her crotch like a yellow erection. “Hungry?” she asks, waggling it.
“Not just yet,” I say.
The barista appears at the cash register. “I hope you’re buying that.”
Within a week of the protest, the news is reporting violent acts from women all over Canada. Daddy watches for hours at a time, the TV blaring from the living room.
Early this morning a Niagara, Ontario, woman named Claire Armstrong struck a male intruder over the head with a bottle of ice wine. The man, whose name has not been released, is reported to have undergone a blood transfusion and received more than one hundred stitches. Police are investigating why it took Armstrong so long to call them after striking the intruder. Today, a reporter for CBC talked to Armstrong on her way into the police station.
The camera shot switches to a small brown-haired woman being led away by officers. Out-of-breath reporters are running behind her.
Ms. Armstrong! Are you proud of how you handled the intrusion?
No, she says, looking boldly into the camera. That bottle was a collector’s item.
The RCMP and local police detachments are urging women not to take the law into their own hands.
Daddy is jubilant. “Another one!” he cries, “Another one!”
I am thinking about Kevin. I always think about Kevin, but thanks to Jac, I am thinking about him even more. Did he keep the same phone number? I pick up my phone: 425 223 – I hang up. Can’t do it.
I start over and dial the whole number. The phone rings once and my heart beats in my fingertips. The phone rings twice, and I might have palpitations. By the third ring, my heart is on a horse, charging forward.
He picks up the phone by the fourth mid-ring. “Hello?”
I would recognize his voice anywhere, despite the passage of three years. He is the love of my life. I hang up.
Beyond a few years of sobriety, and being the model citizen for my AA meetings, what could I possibly offer him now? People would be surprised to know how easy it is to do nothing for a living. But when you do nothing for a while, that’s exactly what you get. I need to draft this book idea and get back in the game. But what? I grab a piece of paper and write Existence and the working body: Decoupling who we are from what we do. Now that’s a topic I can get into! Something thrums inside as if I’ve just had a drink.
Daddy shouts from the living room as if the Habs are winning. “I can’t believe it! I think I’ve started a revolution.” I put my pen down on the table and join him on the couch. “I’m thinking of writing a book, Daddy.”
He smiles. “You just needed time,” he says, putting his arm around me. “I knew you would be fine.” His face has almost completely healed.
I’m starting to choke up. I want to tell him about Kevin, but it’s too much. One step at a time.
Instead I say, “I’m scared, Daddy, for both of us. What if I never work again? What if they find out who you are? You could go to jail.”
“You’ll be just fine,” he says. “As for me, it won’t matter whether I’m here or not. As long as men go on assaulting women, women will go on fighting back. Eventually, all the men will be in hospitals, or all the women will be in jail. Either way, I think we’ve come to a much-needed fresh start.”
But I wasn’t talking about the movement. I get up and go back to my notes at the dining room table. Existence and the working body? What a dumb idea. I crumple the paper and throw it toward the wastebasket. And miss.
It’s getting dark, and I’m in the narrow alleyway next to Kevin’s building. As long as the recycling bin I dragged over from the street holds my weight, I’ll be fine. I hoist myself up to see in through our old bedroom window. If I could just see him – detect some iota of sadness in his expression, maybe I would have the confidence to reach out. Eventually.
The bin wobbles and I grab onto the ledge for stability – the same ledge where I once kept potted herbs in the summer. I ease myself up to look inside, and hear voices from the street. I freeze. My mind races for an excuse. Lost keys?
Two women stand at the mouth of the alley and stare at me. Just as I start to say I’ve locked myself out, the shorter of the two, a teenaged girl in a baseball cap, says: “That’s right, sister! Girls can be peepers too!”
“Shhhhh!” I say, placing my finger vertically to my lips.
“Seriously,” says the taller one, moving closer, “are you going for an eyeful, or are we talking break and enter here?”
“How about we hold this steady for you?” says the younger one, as they assume places on either side of the bin.
“It’s my ex-husband,” I whisper. “I need to find out if he still loves me.”
“That’s cool, that’s cool,” says the tall one. “If he still loves you, if you gotta put a knife in the bastard, if you want to leave a dead animal on his kitchen table – we don’t judge, do we Nel?”
“It’s all part of sisters taking back the night,” says Nel.
With a nod, I rise. The bricks in my line of vision, I grip the concrete ledge that juts out. There’s a glow of a light from inside. With a rush of courage, I stand upright, and look into Kevin’s bedroom window. He’s there, both curtains thrust open, looking straight at me. “Hello Mary,” he mouths.
I tell my new friends to scram and within a minute Kevin is outside, ready to confront me.
“Could it be,” he says, suppressing a smile, “that you’ve gotten even more hysterical over time?
“Since getting sober, I fully embrace my hysterics.” He considers this, and laughs. Something softens in his face.
Inside, he makes coffee and serves it in a cup that says Bad company corrupts good intentions. A gag gift I gave him back in grad school. His UNICEF kid smiles at us from the picture fridge. When we were together, it was an Indian boy. Now it’s a little girl from Ghana. He always wanted to save the world. Maybe Kevin and Daddy aren’t so different?
I long to open up and tell Kevin everything that’s been happening with Daddy. Kevin and I were always able to piece things out.
“I’ve really missed you,” he says. He hasn’t aged much in the time we’ve been apart. His wide face and chin scruff are as familiar as an old song. “I didn’t intend for us never to speak again. So much time went by and then I felt guilty.”
There’s commotion somewhere on the street. The crystalline implosion of glass, maybe a car window. The chorus of voices gets louder. “Fight back now! Fight back now!” It floats just outside the window before fading away.
“Guilty?” I say. In my recollection, fuzzy as it is, I was a functional alcoholic until I wasn’t functional anymore. Until I was spending all our money on booze and showing up drunk to lectures.
“You had a problem and I abandoned you.”
I think about what Jac said in the café, and then push it out of mind.
“I’m slightly flattered that you trespassed,” he says. “But only slightly.” He leans over and kisses the top of my head. I light up like a camera flash. “I’ve been wondering whether it would be possible for us to be in each other’s lives in some way?”
A faint pulse from his neck, soap or cologne mixed in with his natural scent, oaky and unforgettable.
“Mary, I want you to trust me again. You can trust me this time.”
Suddenly I’m telling Kevin everything – about Daddy exposing himself, about his high-minded ideals and how I’ve spent every day for months afraid that he could get caught and taken away from me.
He holds me and smooths my hair; I make him promise never to tell anyone. We make plans to meet in a few weeks. “It’s going to be okay,” he says.
The next morning, Daddy hands me the Chronicle Herald over breakfast:
Vigilante Woman Arrested
Halifax police have arrested twenty-one year old Kayla Myers after she allegedly posted a video to YouTube where she sexually assaults a tied up, unidentified, groggy male. Myers is accused of wearing a ski mask while she abuses the man. She’s allegedly shown flicking his genitals and chiding him for his placid member. “Look who can’t get it up now,” she says, followed by, “I’m no victim” and “he dishonored me, so I dishonored him back.” Sources say Myers claims she had been given Rohypnol and raped the previous week by the man in the video. When police did not act, she decided to take matters into her own hands. The video ends with Myers repeatedly striking the victim across the back with a hockey stick.
A close friend says Myers filed a report with Halifax police last week, but was told there wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest. The video, which captures Myer’s assault on the man, went viral before police took it down early this morning.
By the end of the day, even the Americans are talking about us. Camille Paglia is shouting at Anderson Cooper on CNN. “This is girls in the north gone wild, wild west, okay? Women are using their dark, chthonian instincts to fight back, okay?”
The news coverage shows a surreal scene of thousands protesting outside the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. They are banging hockey sticks on the ground in unison and chanting for Kayla Myers’s release. Reports are circulating that First Nations’ leaders across the country are pledging their support by vowing to eat nothing but maple syrup until Kayla is set free.
Jac calls from the protests.
“I never thought of you as the activist type,” I say.
There’s a speech going on in the background. A woman is saying, This isn’t just about middle-class white women complaining! This is about unified action!
“It’s a serious puss fest down here,” says Jac. “But I’ll be faithful if you want, just say the word.”
“I wouldn’t dream of ruining your moment.”
The speaker rears up again. We don’t need your protection!
The crowd calls back: No!
“You should come and join in. It might help you get over your issues with women,” says Jac.
“My issues with women? What issues with women?” A remote pain, from somewhere deep inside stirs.
“I’m no therapist, but I’m pretty sure your Mom’s passing had an impact on you. And maybe at some point you stopped relating to the fairer sex, you know?”
“Yeah,” I admit reluctantly, “I guess I’m more comfortable with men.”
We don’t want your institutions! says the speaker.
Fuck no! answers the crowd.
“Well, I’m not a man,” Jac says.
I stifle a laugh.
“At least not in the technical sense,” she adds.
For a few days, I’ve been mulling over my last conversation with Jac, feeling like a traitor to my gender. Even Daddy seems to think I should be at the protests. But beside the fact that I’ve never had a strong opinion about anything, I’m still working on my book.
The book. That’s it! I know what I must do. “Daddy,” I say, “I’m getting my career back and then I’m getting back together with Kevin.” I stumble up from the couch and run for my laptop.
“You go girl,” he says, but I have no idea whether he’s talking to me or the woman on Canada AM who’s demonstrating how to turn the blade of a hockey skate into a knife to “scare off” intruders.
I open a Word document and start by making seven points, and then filling them in with chapter outlines. I drink coffee. I type. The hours pass, and I don’t even feel hungry. The phone rings, probably Jac. For the first time ever, I ignore it. At three o’clock, Daddy puts a sandwich on the table beside my laptop. I don’t even look up. He squeezes my shoulder. “I haven’t seen you concentrate this hard in years.”
Within a few hours, I have completed my outline, the main thrust being that violence against women can only be countered with violence against men. Scrolling back to page one, I center my cursor and write:
Hockey Stick Feminism: A Canadian Paradigm for Sexual Justice
I save the document and lie down on the living room rug, rubbing my forehead and rolling out the tension in my shoulders. Breathe in; breathe out. Tomorrow I will send queries to book agents, and contact some of my old classmates who ended up at Mount Saint Vincent University. For a moment, I feel like I can do anything, even reconcile with Kevin. But for tonight, I want to celebrate Daddy. His dream, his strange philosophy put into practice.
The phone rings again and it’s Kevin. My heart coos at the sound of his voice.
“Mary,” he says, “I’ve been thinking really hard about what you told me, and I just can’t let it go.”
“Everything what?” I ask, hoping he’s referring to his guilty feelings about leaving me.
There’s pounding at the front door. “What did you do, Kevin?”
“I’m so sorry, Mary,” Kevin says, “but wrong is wrong.”
Bang. Bang. Bang. “Open up! Police.”
I cry. The phone keeps slipping out of my hand. “You’re abandoning me again,” I say. “Because you’re a coward.”
“I’m not abandoning you. This doesn’t change anything between you and me –”
“You’re wrong.” I say, and hang up.
Three police officers rush in when I open the door, each going to different parts of the house. For a second, I imagine getting to Daddy’s bedroom before them, shoving him in the closet and heaving a duvet on top of him.
Down the hall, one of the cops says, “You are being arrested for indecent exposure –”
They’re leading my father away. If I have to see the only man who’s ever loved me looking broken and ashamed I will drink again, I swear that I will get drunk and never sober up. But I can’t help it. I look at him anyway. “Daddy,” I say, “this is only the hard part.”
Photo by Jen Matchett, Branches Photography
Dorothy Reno is a senior editor and columnist for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Her short fiction has been published by various literary venues in Canada, and she was a 2014 finalist for the Larry Neal Award in the District of Columbia. Dorothy has lived in both Canada and the United States. In July 2016, she relocated to the former Republic of Georgia with her family.
5 Questions for Dorothy Reno:
TD: Tell us a little about this story? Where did the idea come from?
DR: We are living in a time of received ideas. Perhaps it’s always the case with human societies, but I find this disturbing, and I have for some time. Some of this has to do with ideology and the political spectrum, but most of it has to do, I think, with the psychological immune system.
There seems an unwillingness for people to examine themselves. On one hand, we’re wired to survive yet self-criticism goes against the survival instinct. On the other hand, we need to live in communities, which lead to clashing perspectives because we’re all walking around with huge blind-spots. We understand the terms “good” and “bad” within our cultural context, but there’s an over-flexibility in their application from person-to-person so that “good” becomes what happens to be convenient for the individual and “bad” becomes all that would foil us. We’re living in subjective realities, but for society to function, we operate within frameworks (legal, moral, cultural) that pretend a certain measure of objectivity. What do we do with that?
The response is to construct a system of principals, like putting a solid structure in a bog. But then, we forget about the bog, because the point was to bring order (solidity) to an otherwise chaotic situation. To survive, psychologically, we must ignore the bog. And you can imagine how this leads to an inherent hypocrisy in people. This is the issue that inspired Hockey Stick Feminism on a philosophical level.
At the level of plot and character, I was grappling with the other side of sex offenders, the side we don’t often see in the public discourse. We have such a well-treaded lines on sex-offences (they’re bad, they’re sick, they’re evil, etc.) And while I don’t disagree, I think these lines are too categorical for what happens in real life. Most sex offenders have families who love them; some of these people might be decent aside from the horrible acts they perpetuate. If you want evidence of this, just look for the mother/sister/wife/daughter of an accused offender and see what they are saying: “No, he wouldn’t do that. Not my son/brother/father/husband/friend.
With Hockey Stick Feminism there’s a certain unkindness where the reader is convinced of Daddy’s “principals” and his affection for women becomes an excuse to moderate the acts. Also, we see how he’s been such a support for his daughter, Mary, and we feel her love and dependence on him. Despite the hysterical and over-wrought atmosphere of the story, the picture we get of this sex offender is a more realistic one than what you might see on the news. In a way, I suppose I’m warning people: sex offenders don’t have purple horns growing out of their foreheads.
There are other issues and seeds there as well: social movements, gender, ethnicity and racism. Ultimately though, the central question of the story becomes an open-ended debate about whether having principals, even if they’re completely bonkers, is preferable to a world-view like Mary’s where she understands the bog, lives directly in the bog, and uses it as an excuse not to make any uncomfortable judgements about other people.
TD: Who is your greatest writing influence?
DR: It’s Spanish filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar. He takes taboo subjects (violence, promiscuity, death, prostitution, etc) and explores them far beyond the prescripts of any other mode. Somehow, he meets these topics in a way that’s funny as hell, without ever losing the gravity of how people’s lives are impacted by various social ills. But even as I write this, I wonder if what I’m saying is a rationalization for something more subterranean and inexplicable that I feel from his work. There is so much fire and desire in Almodovar films, and that connects with me. The only thing that moves me in an almost equal way is looking at classical sculptures, or attending High Mass at a Basilica. I don’t think this is a coincidence: Almodovar finds a way to channel all of his exploding Roman Catholic angst (and sorrow, and joy, and passion) into his work.
TD: What is your favorite place to write and why?
DR: I lived in Ottawa, Canada for many years. Ottawa has a tough energy about it. There, people don’t typically speak to strangers or make eye contact in public. I grew up in a place where we invite strangers into our homes for tea, so this tense, awkward vibe was a difficult one for me to bear. Anyway, the exception to this rule was the Starbucks on Elgin Street, in downtown Ottawa. It was like the sitcom, Cheers. I wrote my master’s thesis there, some poetry, and a few short stories at the corner table near the huge, eastward facing window. I love that place. I don’t get back to Ottawa much, but when I do I always go there and have a cup of coffee at “my” old table.
TD: Do you hand write your work or go directly to the keyboard?
DR: I often jot ideas in a journal, but going to the keyboard even for some very basic bullet points is what makes me feel most committed to getting a project off the ground. However, if I’m struggling with an idea, a sentence, or a problem with my logic, I will often work that out with a pen and piece of paper. I suppose it’s the case that the foundation needs to be there before I take to the computer. There is, indeed something important about the weight of a pen in my hand during the earliest stages of a creative act.
TD: What book would you want on a desert island?
DR I recently wrote a short essay about Robinson Crusoe. My opening line reads, “What’s your desert island book?” RC is the cutest answer, but certainly the only answer for me. As my desert island book, RC would remind me of the things to do: ransack the island for resources (or the crashed ship, assuming one is available), use tobacco smoke to ward off sickness, and get rid of all the cats straight off. (Marooned dogs, though, are welcome to stay, especially thoughtful ones.) More important than securing the basic material needs though, RC teaches us about solitude, and how we might endure it.
I live in the former republic of Georgia and since moving here and getting to know a little about the culture, I’ve found myself meditating more and more on loneliness of Western life back home. Our institutions are well developed and strong, and we enjoy an incredible standard of living because of it. And yet, social and economic development have eroded the family structures and made it difficult for people to interact in warm, interpersonal ways.
As a collection of Western cultures, which view the smallest unit as the individual, and as individuals who are trained from birth to strive, we’ve lost all sight of human connection. The unintended consequence is that having “other people” in our lives become problematic. They are either seen as competition, or at best as players that put demands on our finite resources. Time spent with our children, even, is viewed from this lens of productivity.
Here in Georgia, institutions are still finding their footing, and the economy is growing. Therefore, the family unit in Georgia remains the core of all life. But those relationships go beyond function and survival. Children are absolutely adored in this culture! Georgians have a love for family, and they grieve their dead in such a whole-hearted and beautiful way. Getting back to RC, all of this was to say that I believe we Westerners (in broad terms) are emotionally disconnected, and suffering from terrible loneliness because of it. If this is the case, then a contemporary reading of RC (from a Western perspective) has to be all about surviving emotional “island[s] of solitude.”