Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Conflict of Interest: Life is About Lynn Crosbie

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Lynn Crosbie

“I’m about to lose my mind / you’ve been gone for so long / I’m running out of time / I need a doctor / call me a doctor / I need a doctor to bring me back to life” – “I Need A Doctor” by Eminem

With her new book of stories, Life Is About Losing Everything, launching this week, Lynn Crosbie, Toronto’s Queen Rat and VillianElle of wit and literary mind control, is set to stir up a new generation of all-knowing, teen-vampire-loving, navel-gazing, Belmont-smoking youths, who are high on Internet television and sushi. Welcome to Lynn Crosbie’s Parkdale, City of Compton, in this, the rosy year of the dragon, 2012.

72 hours with Life Is About Losing Everything

April 26th 6:16 p.m.

Okay, first the City of Compton thing. When I first met Lynn in 2008, I asked her where she lived and she wrote me back: “Parkdale, City of Compton.” I knew then that everyone else on the planet was made in an Easy-Bake Oven, and that she was my alien older sister sent back in time to save me from Horace-quoting-line-breaking chumps in line at the poetry soup kitchen, who were talking about yearning and their life-long dreams of getting published in Qwerty. (I have yet to fulfill this dream. It's a fine magazine, and I was just making a point on our desire to be published versus our desire to be more interesting while in line at the poetry soup kitchen.)

The thing is, I’ve been talking to Lynn about this interview for 100 days, probably more. Maybe 200 days. I don't even know how I know her or why she even speaks to me. Or if we even speak to each other. It's always intense, amusing, poetic and full of wonder. It’s how she puts together words (whether Anansi publishes them or not), it's the way she waits for you to stop talking (or in my case, if you don't stop ‘cos you are nervous, she finds a way into your beam of language and dissolves your first person into something else) and amplifies things. Makes them more real.

In the world of surrealist books of poetry and fiction with titles like My Leg Is Made of Bacon and I’m A Grown Woman Allowed To Jump Inside A Balloon How Bout You?, Lynn Crosbie is about a real as it gets. Written in self-imposed exile, Life Is About Losing Everything is literally hundreds of short stories — or what a black-and-white-chain-smoking French theorist would call “vignettes” — that chronicle Lynn's periphery of pain, anxiety, love, debauchery, memory, desire, re-invention, domestic virtue and self-scandal. Meanwhile, other Toronto authors in their 30s and 40s write about the make believe or half-recalled memories of teen-fresh sex or sing songs (cough Metric) about teen-vampire values (“I'm All Yours” from Eclipse and their new single “Youth Without Youth.” Even Metric’s market-seeking tagline on Twitter is “We’re In The Prime Of Your Youth,” which is perhaps a not-so-subtle awareness that Emily and Jimmy are, in fact, singing for people born when Jurassic Park was coming out on VHS.) Don’t get me wrong, I like Metric’s brand and their CanCon sensibility. I’m just making a point about focus groups in the arts. Plus they are also Parkdale artists-in-residence. And I have the world record for most Emily Haines references since 2004 that I have to add to as well.

Despite not having been a teen in over 20 years, Lynn's portrait of the human artist / addict as an aging, love-seeking human is honest, brave and heart-felt and relatable to anyone who feels their exact age. When you read this book, you can't hide from her thoughts. From what she wants you to know and feel.

I called Lynn on the phone about a month ago to set up our interview. I don't really have a phone so I called her from Jet Fuel Coffee Shop where I had gone after a gallery show at the Power Plant, which I mentioned in my last column on Heather Birrell.

I called Lynn and the first thing she said after “Bell Phone” was how this whole moment reminded her of Back to The Future. Suddenly I saw myself as a orange-vest-wearing Michael J. Fox scouring the phonebook in 1955 looking up Doc Brown's phone number. So I told Lynn that Ronald Reagan was the president and she laughed. I couldn't really hear anything very well because the café was really loud and the espresso machine was attached to an amplifier, which was then attached to the pay phone — or so it seemed.

What I'm saying is, you don't really need me to interview or get a sound bite from Lynn Crosbie. You just need to read her book. It's taken her a long time to write it because it took her a long time to live it.

Here are some thoughts I have on most of her books, a collage if you will of found things that are all Lynn Crosbie related.

April 27th 8:17 a.m.

Listened to the song “I Need A Doctor” for about 30 minutes to get into the mood. The music video features a lot of Dre’s deceased friends and past glory. Why is hip-hop so emotional? I find it overwhelming sometimes. They really love each other, maybe that is why the music sells so well. It’s not fiction is it? I mean, this all really happened. Easy E died of AIDS, Tupac was shot, there were fights with rival labels, etc., Dre’s 20 year old son died of a heroine and morphine OD in 2009.

12:18 p.m.

“I have this recurring dream. Lynn Crosbie has become Governor General. Canada is finally a fascinating and dangerous and glamorous and terrifyingly intelligent place to live. The next motherf**ker who wakes me up during this dream is getting a football kick in the nutsack. I swear.” — RM Vaughan on Lynn in an email response to a request for a quote that I sent out this morning.

12:21 p.m.

I love this artwork someone made of Lynn here:

2:16 p.m.

Reread the pink hand-out sheet that I made for Lynn’s class when I read to them and talked at them on Feb 28th. (My roommate Astonished Mike found the sheet in the bathroom and later commented that it sounded “judgmental.” I don’t know what terrifies me more, that he occasionally reads my garbage or that he feels qualified to critique my approach to performance lectures.)

Feb 28th: Terrify and alienate children of tomorrow at Lynn Crosbie’s poetry class while fellow authors look on in abject horror. Also you should all be grateful you have such a terrific teacher. She’s the NWA to my Eminem. But please don’t grow up to be just like me. Go study a tape of NWA. And remember, only you can prevent bad Canadian poetry. And watch out for a man with white hair and a chainsaw mumbling about line breaks. He’s not from CAMH, it could be a small press editor! (You know who!).

“Don’t’ follow my path to extinction” — GINSBERG

Saturday April 28th, 5:53 a.m.

Poetry is about history and its about life its about reimagining worlds we knew and didn’t know. It’s a folded note in the most boring class of all time. I take VillainElle out of the library every few months. The long Jack The Ripper poems are my favourite. At the Anansi poetry bash I tell Michael Lista that I learned about Ted Bundy’s appreciation of socks from Lynn’s poetry.

Not this one:

I can’t sleep and have a head cold and sneezing and it’s annoying. I mess around on photoshop with fan art aesthetic and obsessive West Coast rap visuals fusing Compton and Parkdale in homage to Dr. Dre and Lynn Crosbie.

6:22 a.m.

This story in The Walrus is bone-chilling, undead and poetically hostile.

One of the stories in Lynn’s book is based on a Daniel Jones story, her friend who died about 20 years ago. They launched books together in the early 1990s and she lent him a whip, which he used on stage. The first time I spoke with Lynn in 2008 we talked about Daniel Jones and Ian Curtis. When I think of that moment it’s like how I would have envisioned interviewing someone for Q Magazine in a garden near some dead castle in the UK and the photographer leaves and we’re covered in a new wind and we’re just left in the late autumn frenzy and Lynn is talking about Ian Curtis like he had just died. I think Lynn knows what life feels like more than anyone else. And she tells us.

6:33 a.m.

Lynn’s new book reminds me of how one critic called Leonard Cohen's Death of A Lady’s Man Cohen's third novel, that its intensity perhaps transcended the genre it was lumped into. But we don’t need to mess with genre at this point in the article.

Let me just say then, in many ways, the 100 or so stories that make up Life Is About Losing Everything are a personal inventory, a time bomb that thankfully exploded and repaired. Well let’s hope mostly repaired.

And while many will opt to read the latest briefcase-toting-lawyer-boat chase-summer-blockbuster-trash novel or something Kate Winslet recommended on Twitter, I have a good feeling about Lynn’s book finding sensible homes in the dysfunctional feng shui of readers new and old.

Take a look at these fan videos for Lynn’s new book here:

Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of Wrong Bar and Let’s Pretend We Never Met. There is a very good chance that Lynn Crosbie and Nathaniel G. Moore will be teaming up later this year in a limited run special edition chapbook of Zodiac Killer poems. You have been warned.

Visit Open Book's Archives for more "Conflict of Interest" columns by Nathaniel G. Moore.

Collages by Nathaniel G. Moore. Click on a thumbnail to start the image gallery.

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