Posted on | May 3, 2011 | 2 Comments
I’ve recently decided it was time to open up Colony of Losers to my colony of talented friends. Chad Pelley was the first person to come to mind and we aren’t particularly close in real life. Over the last year of reading his Facebook statuses I slowly began to read his work and found that he was quickly becoming one of my favourite Canadian writers. He’s funny, cynical and has this weird Newfoundland Nabakov thing going on.
He writes with a humour that opens you up to tear you apart and put you back together again. Chad also runs saltyink.com which he uses to promote the work of Canadian writers. In October he did a piece on Colony of Losers and as a result I ended up being signed by his literary agent Chris Bucci. Chad goes out of his way to help others get the attention he believes they deserve. It only seemed fitting to ask him to do the first guest post on Colony of Losers. He’s also from Newfoundland so he wrote the piece very drunk at 3 in the morning. ************************************************************************************ Collecting Things to Throw Away Disclaimer: Michael asked me to write a piece about surviving my 20s, and I wrote this at 3 a.m., after one too many pints and whiskies, and a mixed feelings about the 20s. I thought it would be more candid this way. If you’re reading this, he didn’t disagree … Picture a dumb housefly beating itself off a window as if it could really will itself through the glass. Picture a big, hairy, red-eyed housefly endlessly ramming itself, head first, against a window, thinking it just might get through the glass if it tries hard enough. Hear the soft thud of its body off the window and buzz of its wings … until it falls dead on a windowsill. Because that’s what your twenties are: you think you know what you want and how to get there.
You don’t. But you’ll justify burning yourself out to get there. Like that poor son of a bitch fly who can see the sun and the clouds, and can’t figure out what the barrier is. It’s a byproduct of how we’ve structured life: get bipedal and toilet trained, get talking and get to kindergarten, to Grade 1 and Grade 12, to university and a career, to a picket fence and a bun in the oven. And in your twenties that treadmill of life has us racing too fast. Before I knew it, university had its hands in my pockets and was buried in debt for a degree, a piece of paper, somewhere in the back of my closet. Unused. And all the women I thought I’d marry ended up being gloves on the wrong hand.
I was a 21 year old who hadn’t read a novel in his life, and then I was a 29 year old published author. I was a 25 year old ecology honours student, and then a 28 year old working in editing at a publishing house. I was with a pragmatic politician of a woman, and then an artist. I spent 22-24 in muddy hiking boots, and now I haven’t been in a forest in years. I liked Bukowski and then I didn’t and then I did. I changed way too much in my 20s, and it’s hard not to come out of that decade without feeling a little schizophrenic and instable.
Ten years ago I played loud music in loud bars, and today I play acoustic guitar exclusively. The strings on my old electric guitar are like sawblades: 9 years old or more. That’s what the 20s are: Hands at you, removing all the costumes you put on to see what role suits you: engineer or editor, entomologist or elevator repairman, lover or a fighter.
The 20s are like some cold-hearted bitch of a designer suiting you up and stripping you naked until she thinks she’s found a good fit. The 20s are also about coming to terms with a lie. What I mean is, as a kid, I was misled by bedtime fairytales. The happy endings and the reach for the stars, take what you want morals are bullshit and they did me no good. Luckily I can laugh about it.
All love has taught me is that someone’s going to get hurt. That you’re going to be packing up a uHaul truck while your ex is crying her eyes out in what used to be your bedroom, and every sob is a punch in the throat, but you’re trying to act okay for the moving company. And dreams, the things those kids book raise you on chasing: The world doesn’t care about my dreams. Because the world is a ball of dirt that doesn’t even know I am here. Parents ought to stop reading their kids Cinderella stories and start reading them Henry David Thoreau. Penguin should launch a Bukowski for Babies series.
I’m not saying life is bad and the world’s a shitty place. I’m saying that every couple of years in your 20s, as you stumble towards identity, you’re going to fall into a hole no one prepared you for, and have to climb back out. And they don’t raise kids on that reality. I spent jr high and high school on and off with the same girl. She was my first everything.
She wrote poetry and I was her only audience, and then I’d write songs for her words, and we were going to be rockstars. That’s your teens: impossible dreams before your 20s steamroll them. I got out of touch with the girl. Until a phone call one night in my early 20s. I was by her side in a hospital room: two black eyes, bloody gauze in her nose, and her clothes in a policeman’s evidence bag.
All she said when she opened her eyes was, “I want to be able to believe in something, at least one thing, that I believed in when I was a kid.”
I hear “The 20s” and I think of the trenches and the battles where I lost myself and found myself, and I think war isn’t a bad analogy. There were casualties. All the people I could have been, and maybe should have been, were killed off, one by one: The psychiatrist, the next Suzuki, the radioshow host. And all the women who could have been my wife: The wild one, the pretty one, the perfect one, were all in the right place and the wrong time, and I watched them walk on landmines and disappear.
You march from 20 years old, where you’ve got ideals and a beautiful naiveté, into a world that’s going to bomb you into submission until all you’ve got left is pragmatism.
Khalil Gibran wrote, “The most massive characters are seared with scars,” and what I realized by the end of my 20s was that those scars he’s talking about are what made me who I am, the same way we sear numbers into cattle to individualize them from the herd. Getting cut deep by life every now and then is the only way to let the world in. To integrate with it, and create some kind of open system between you and it. Your heart’s got to break before you know how big and important the thing is, and your dreams need to be crushed before you know how important they are and how much you want them, and confusion is life’s way of making us focus on who we are and what we want.
The 20s are about surviving that, and getting beaten into who you are, the way bread is kneaded and scorched before it actually is what it is. It’s ten years of life poking and prodding and pulling you apart and putting you back together again, like life’s an indecisive artist who works by trial and error on every last one of us. I’m 30. The difference between standing on the top of 30 and standing on the top of 20, is knowing there’s no need, no rush, to know what’s next.
Because life’s going to change anyway, and so are you and what you want. I spent my 20s like a dumb fly banging off a window, panicked that there was some place I had to be, like getting all A’s, even though no employer has ever asked or cared that I was a first-class honours graduate. I think about that every time I see studious girls in coffee shops.
Graduate students, their worlds revolving around a single concept. Books splayed lines highlighted though not necessarily understood. It kills me. Their squinted eyes fumbling over the words, and it’s a beautiful look, perplexion is. Pupils tumbling around in their eyes like clothes in a dryer The soft, not-angry M-ing of eyebrows. The way those words seem to matter so much. I get fondly jealous, and want to be that focussed, on one thing, and to be naive about everything else, the way only a person in their 20s can be. Not that I’d go back there if you paid me. The place is a lost and found, and some things are better left behind. *************************************************************************************** Chad Pelley is a multi-award-winning writer from St. John’s, Newfoundland. His debut novel, Away from Everywhere, was a Coles bestseller, won the NLAC’s CBC Emerging Artist of the Year award, and was shortlisted for the for 2010 ReLit award, as well as the Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer of the Year award. It has been adopted by multiple university English courses, and multiple film companies are currently interested in optioning it for film. Critics have all focused on the emotional intensity and attention to detail in his writing. His short fiction has won awards, been anthologized, and accepted for publication by leading literary journals such as Prairie Fire. Chad facilitates a creative writing course at Memorial University, sits on the board of directors at the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland & Labrador, runs Salty Ink.com, and has written for a variety of publications, such as Quill & Quire, The Telegram andAtlantic Books Today. As of 2010 he is represented by Chris Bucci at the McDermid Agency. He also sells photography and writes original music, and only does all of the above because he cannot sing well enough to pursue a career in music. Check out his new online magazine at http://onthelinemagazine.com/ though it’s still finding its identity. It’s in its 20s so to speak.If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!
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