Tag Archives: Joseph Conrad

Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 2

Junkhouse "Burned Out Car"

Junkhouse “Burned Out Car”

Previously: Fire In The Head

Before I introduce this week’s installment in the Sarah Murders the CanRock Cannon With Her Terrible Teenage Words, I feel the need to state, unequivocally, that I was an insufferable teenager. At least when it came to books and my “art.”

This was probably already clear for anyone who read or scanned the previous entry in this series — or anyone who has ever met me — but I felt that it needed to be said.

I was pleasant about most other things in life — or at least shy enough to hide all of my weird edges and flagrant cultural snobbery and random disagreeability. But when it came to literature I just couldn’t stop myself. I was, obviously, a genius, and I wasn’t about to temper my vision for anything. Especially not for an overly simplistic grade nine English assignment that I knew was brutally beneath me.

This is how I came to write “Birthday Boy” in the early days of 1997, just after I turned 15.

Although I technically attended high school in the dying days of Ontario’s destreamed grade nine, our classes had been unofficially separated into three levels. I had started the year in the ostensibly “advanced” English class but was moved to the comprehensive class after a series of bizarre fights with my teacher that involved, among other things, Joseph Fucking Conrad (of course) erupting into an all-out feud that made the learning environment pretty much impossible for everyone involved. Because the only thing worse than an insufferable teenage lit snob is an even more insufferable teacher who can’t be enough of a grownup to handle an insufferable teenage lit snob.

Anyway, my ego wasn’t taking it well. And so, when we did a unit on One Minute Mysteries and were asked to write simple, plucky versions of our own, I decided to reassert my genius. I deconstructed the form of the Two-Minute Mystery and I rebuilt it into whatever the hell is going on in this story.

What’s even more baffling and sad about this whole process is that this story isn’t actually based on the Junkhouse song. Nor is it based on the album of the same name. It is based on the commercial for the album that ran on MuchMusic that involved some spiel from Tom Wilson that does not actually appear in the lyrics of any song.

I got an A on the assignment, but my teacher commented that it was “Too deep.”

I thought this was glowing praise. Because I was an insufferable little piece of shit.

Not once during this entire process did anyone send me to the guidance counselor.

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Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection

Fire In The Head

Fire In The Head

Someone — maybe Ray Bradbury, maybe some other scribe — once said that every writer has a million bad words in them, and that once those bad words are gone, you can write something worth reading.

When I was a teenager of middling talent and musical taste, I chose to blow all million of my bad words on short stories inspired by Can Rock songs.

I didn’t do it consciously. I just had a deep and abiding love for listening to melodramatic songs that Edge 102.1 played to fulfill their CanCon requirements as well as writing even more melodramatic fiction and I saw no reason that I shouldn’t combine my two great loves into one throbbing mess of angst that I totally wouldn’t find adorably embarrassing 20 years later.

So I wrote. And listened. And wrote. And somehow, I managed to amass an entire collection of short stories inspired by songs that has been released by Canadian artists in the mid-1990s. Not all of those stories were terrible (arguably) and not all of them were by terrible artists (thank god for The Lowest of the Low, whose excellent music and literary references may have single-handedly saved me from this phase) but they all managed to contribute to my million.

Now that I am a nominally successful writer who never pens anything abjectly terrible, I think it’s time to celebrate and acknowledge the words and music that made me everything I am today.

So, for the next few weeks, I am going to be sharing the best/worst of the lot with you. And I’m going to start with an absolute gem.

I wrote “Fire in the Head” at some point in 1997, when I was 15 years old. I was, on the surface, a Good Kid at the time. I didn’t smoke, do drugs, drink, or bang (some of these were personal choices; others were a matter of access) but I did some things that were much worse, like reading obsessive amounts of Joseph Conrad and listening to Windsor, Ontario’s favorite Doors tribute band, The Tea Party.

I have no fucking clue what I was thinking on either count. I read Heart of Darkness at least seven times while I was in high school, and managed to miss every single pertinent point you could make about the book every single time. I somehow missed the glaring bullshit colonialism that runs through Conrad’s entire oeuvre (which is a massive, MASSIVE achievement in obliviousness) and whatever point the old white dude was trying to make himself and somehow got it into my head that all of Conrad’s works, especially Heart of Darkness, were about transferable madness. I was pretty sure that you could pass mental illness around like a common cold, and that this was the greatest literary fodder of all time.

Around this time, I started listening to The Tea Party. I don’t know how or why this happened, to be honest. I resisted for years. I actively mocked them. And then, one day, after seeing them for the 29875483975th time at some Edgefest or other, I just gave in. From one minute to the next, I was just like “Well, fuck it; I guess I’ll be a Tea Party fan.”

So then I bought Edges of Twilight and somehow convinced myself that “Fire in the Head” was listenable. And then I read Joseph Conrad WHILE listening to “Fire in the Head.” And then this story happened.

I probably should have done drugs instead.

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