9.40 Nowhere Else I'd Rather Be
This blog entry is bits and pieces from the book launch for Dreams of Being a Kiwi. The event included music by Arlene Paculan, pictures, and videos to tell the backstory of the book. I’ve added some context and included some of the photographs and videos used in the presentation. Listen to the event on Storytime Podcast HERE. Check out photographs from the event HERE.
It’s funny how stories change depending on the context. Most of the script for the book launch was original material, but I also used some stories that I performed at Stories We Don’t Tell. When I brought those stories to an audience, I got more laughs. During this event, the vulnerability in them and the honesty came through in a deeper sense.
Over the years, I’ve done stories that are deadly serious. Other stories that are purely for entertainment. Something I was trying to do here was to mix the two, move between seriousness and humour in a seamless way. It seemed to work. On to the words from the book launch.
The genesis of Dreams of Being a Kiwi started almost 20 years ago. I was making a film that is quite dated now. What’s interesting to me is that the film was exploring similar themes to the book. Mental health, the thin line of sanity, and what does that even mean. I don’t really want to talk about the content of the film, but what was happening behind the scenes.
My parents were going on vacation for a week. So I took my motley crew of actors and technicians to Ottawa and we stayed together in my parent’s house. We did all manner of things that you do when you’re shooting an independent film with no money. We got dolly shots driving two cars side-by-side with camera people hanging out windows. We had no permits and were stopped by the police and ran from the police a few times.
In the film, one of the characters has a dream where they fight with a life-sized stuffed animal. Again, since this was an independent film, everyone filled multiple roles. There was no one left to play the bear. So, as the director, I needed to step in. That’s me over there beneath the bear costume.
There was also another dream sequence in the film where the main character thought he was a superhero out to find the meaning of life. He was called LifeMan and I enlisted my mother as costume designer to make this superhero outfit. In this picture, I’m wearing a hat that covers my frosted tips, and it’s hard to see, but I’m also sporting a soul patch - which gives you an indication of the time period.
It was an exhilarating creative experience as at the end of a long day, we’d make dinner, eat and drink together while watching the day’s rushes. We became a family.
Another storyline had a character find a locked safe in the street. Again, a bit heavy-handed with the metaphor here. You see, his heart was locked up and he didn’t know the combination.
My roommate and I used it as a side table in our apartment. That’s all it was useful for because I couldn’t remember the combination and couldn’t open it. So, maybe it was my heart that was locked up?
I came home one day to our apartment to find the backdoor open, a small window broken, and the safe stolen. Nothing else was touched except for the safe. My only solace was that the thief probably worked very hard to open that safe just to find that nothing was in there.
Whoever stole that safe, took one other thing - my computer. Back in those days, there were no drives or clouds or whatever. I had all the pictures from the previous year when I had travelled to New Zealand. Lots of pictures. I’m not much of a picture-taker, but those photographs were important to me. Photographs weren’t actually ever that important to me, but the ones from that trip were. New Zealand was a profound experience, and now everything was lost except for my memories. It was so profound that it would be the setting of this novel.
After I got back from New Zealand, I sat down and wrote the manuscript. Then I put it away, thinking that no one would be interested in it. But over the years, I kept returning to it, kept re-working and re-writing. The main character had a brother that turned into a sister. 600 pages turned into 400 pages, then 300. About a year ago, I picked it back up, there was just something about it that I couldn’t let go of. I was determined to get it out into the world.
Intensely writing and editing last summer, something became unhinged. The material - mental health, the threat of losing your mind - was affecting me in ways I couldn’t imagine at the time. What I realized was that although this is a fictional novel, it was more deeply truthful and more honest than anything else I had written. There was a reason why I thought it was no good at the beginning, and there was a reason why I had so much trouble finishing it. I didn’t want to deal with what it revealed about myself.
I did something that seems a little strange now, but was totally normal at the time. Essentially, I created another person separate from me in order to push forward and finish the manuscript. It was the spirit of the book, the humanity of it. By the end of the summer, I was dangerously close to losing my mind. This spirit worked alongside me, inspired me to keep going. But sometimes, I wondered if it had my best interests at heart.
When working on this show, I’ve been thinking so much about truth and honesty and fiction and whether it even matters as long as you get the emotion right.
I can honestly say that I have been unwell and broken in the past couple of years, to various degrees. The only thing I could do was dive back into this book and face some of the truths about myself that I had been ignoring up to this point. Face the truths inside myself that caused so many things to fall apart.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m broken and all the pieces of me are on the floor, the best thing for me is to make something in order to put it all back together. You know, through all of the pain and disappointments, the most important thing I learned was the capacity of connection, of hearing other people’s stories. I wondered if my own story had any worth anymore.
The importance of knowing that writing can be a lonely pursuit, but understanding that I put a lot of years and my whole self into this book and what a privilege to be able to share it with you. The ability of allowing myself to be vulnerable and knowing in my heart that this story is worth being told and deserves to be shared. What a privilege, how lucky, being here with all of you, there is nowhere else I’d rather be.
As a special bonus, here are some videos of the launch. The first video is the movie trailer for LifeMan: Dreams of Being a Kiwi. A big Hollywood studio adapted the book into a film. Against my wishes, they turned the book into a superhero movie. The second is an edited version of the entire performance of the launch.