Toronto writer Liz Worth shows the world what most people hide with Louis Vuitton and papery smiles. She’s the author of the chapbook Eleven: Eleven and the upcoming tome Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond. She took the time talk to us about these and other projects in the third installment of the “Introducing…” blog series.
1) Tell us about your novel Eleven: Eleven.
I’ve always kept journals on and off throughout my life, writing in them more often during some periods than others. A couple of years ago I started looking through all the journals I’d kept between the ages of 13 and 20, because I was trying to decide if there was a point in holding on to them or not.
I definitely don’t look back on my teenage years as a happy time – I created, and consequently ran into, a lot of problems. Emotionally I was unstable, vulnerable. I always thought my memory of those years was pretty clear, but when I started reading these journals I was amazed by how much I’d actually forgotten, or chosen to ignore – it turned out to be an even darker time than I remembered.
A lot of what was documented was very painful, even embarrassing to some extent, but a lot of it was also very surreal. My friends and I had some strange days. Some of us were dabbling in the occult, so some of that got documented. I was also writing about dreams and nightmares I was having, so my journals captured a wide range of scenarios and images.
I wanted to turn these writings into something and began pulling out certain parts that really struck me hard. Fortunately I found myself between jobs in the spring of 2008 and that’s when Eleven: Eleven really came together. I didn’t have a plan or a plot, only that I wanted to combine poetry and fiction for a retelling of some of my earliest journal entries and went off from there.
The story turned into a massive collage of journal entries, some re-worked, some left as-is, fused with surreal poetics. I wouldn’t say it’s entirely autobiographical but there are things in there that did happen. A lot of people have asked if the character Maxine is based on a real person. She isn’t; with her I was aiming to personify suicide. But other characters were inspired by kids I used to know and hang out with when I was a teenager.
2) I watched you perform the surreal piece “Fox + Deer” as part of your performance duo, Packanimal. What inspired such a dreamy yet dramatic work?
Like a lot of my writing, “Fox + Deer” started off as a dream I had. In it a fox was chasing a deer through a red forest, but it was all very fragmented, the way dreams are. The same summer I had that dream I kept seeing a deer in a valley near my old place, and I felt very connected to that deer and the one in my dream, so I wrote it all down and it’s evolved into “Fox + Deer.”
3) Do you get your best ideas while awake, dreaming, or somewhere in between?
Ideas come to me at any time. While I do draw a lot of inspiration from dreams I also have ideas come to me out of nowhere throughout the day. I don’t force anything; I find my best ideas come when I’m just living my life, doing the smallest things like walking down the street or waiting to meet up with a friend. I also find I get my best ideas when I haven’t overextended my schedule – downtime is a very important part of the creative process. If my mind is too focused on multitasking there isn’t much time for it to play around.
4) Besides live readings, what other things are you doing to promote Eleven: Eleven and your poetry?
In terms of promoting Eleven: Eleven, I did send out a press release and some promo copies to independent and alternative media outlets. I think it’s really important to promote yourself, especially as a writer. A lot of people are happy just to get published, but you can’t stop there. Your work needs proof of existing beyond just being put on a page, and you need to promote yourself to make that happen.
Musicians do it all the time – pick up a copy of Exclaim! and you’ll see just how much ink is being given to music. Writers should aspire to have the same kind of drive for publicity, and push for the same kind of support from the media. It’s especially important to get yourself out there because writing is not a social process. You have to hide away for a couple years to get a manuscript completed, so you need to remind people that you’re around. Writers also have to work a little harder at it because reading takes a lot more effort for an audience than listening to rock n’ roll, but literature is just as important, and subversive, as music and should be promoted just as much.
Social media, small press fairs, and talking to strangers are also good ways to get the word out.
5) Have you ever been tempted to jump in a van and tour coast-to-coast with Packanimal, hitting every small town along the way?
Getting Packanimal out of Toronto is definitely something that I am working towards. I don’t know how well the project would go over in small town Canada, though. I don’t think we have enough blue collar appeal, so I don’t know if there would be enough exposure if we went too far out into the wild.
I always say go big or go home, and if we were going to go as big as to actually tour I would want to hit Europe. If you fail here, you’re failing in a haze of plaid shirts and Labatt Blue. I can go and hang out in my parents’ backyard on a Friday night if I want to do that. But if you fail in Europe, well, you’re in Europe so who cares?
6) You also work as a freelance journalist, appearing in the Toronto Star and Eye Weekly among other publications. What are your favourite topics to write about?
A lot of articles I write come from things that are going on in my life or in the lives of people around me. Some of my favourite articles to work on have been about finding a balance between a working life and a creative life; my generation’s fixation on personal fame; the impact of the internet on youth movements; and the ongoing cooptation of subcultures.
7) Can you describe one experience that affected you on a personal level so deeply that you had to express your feelings in a poem?
All of my writing is influenced by my reality, to varying degrees depending on the piece and the source of inspiration. A lot of incidents blend together, often leading into each other – I can’t separate them out because everything is connected, even if it was never meant to be.
Like when I was nine years old I sat in the backseat of a car while my grandmother threatened to kill herself by jumping out of the passenger door. We were driving along a country road and I remember seeing the gravel shoulder fly by as she held the door open. Another family member was at the wheel. They were having an argument. I don’t remember what it was about. The driver didn’t even bother slowing down the car. My grandmother eventually calmed down and we all got back home fine, but I’ve always wondered why we didn’t just pull over in the first place. Why did the car keep going? What had pushed my grandmother so far? That incident, and that question, are really distinct childhood memories for me and ones that I feel sum up a lot of experiences I’ve had internally and externally. That would be an example of an event that I feel ties to many more that have been influences in my writing.
Past drinking problems and insomnia have also driven a lot of my recent writings over the last year and a half. Dealing with them together left me feeling paranoid and run down and all kinds of shit was going through my head.
My poems don’t always tell of one incident, but often speak to a broader emotion, state of being, or combination of events.
8) What scares Liz Worth?
Boredom and routine.
9) What made you want to document the Toronto punk scene in your upcoming book Treat Me Like Dirt?
Sometime around 1999 I was at Canzine or some other indie press fair and saw this novel called 1978 by late Toronto writer Daniel Jones. The cover design attracted me first but I wasn’t totally sold on the synopsis. It was a punk rock novel set in Toronto, and dropped band names like Teenage Head and the Forgotten Rebels on the back. I knew of those bands but hadn’t actually listened to them yet.
Anyway, I kept seeing this book around at other book fairs and in bookstores. I couldn’t avoid it. And every time I saw it I would look at it, flip through it, and ultimately decide against buying it. This went on for a good six months until one day I was hanging out one afternoon, underemployed with not much to do, and I decided I needed something to read. I ended up down at Pages buying a copy of 1978.
Even though it’s fiction, 1978 made a lot of references to actual Toronto punk venues and local first wave punk bands like the Viletones and Diodes. The timing was great because a lot of these bands had had their recordings issued on CD in the ‘90s, so the music was easy to get.
I was very interested in the fact that Toronto had had a punk movement of its own and when I started listening to these bands I liked them right away. But even though their music was out on CD they were still very obscure. I couldn’t find out much about their history, not in print or online. A lot of these bands had only released small-run 7-inch singles and many of them had short careers, so they didn’t leave much behind. Even the bands that did get more of their music out on vinyl, like the Diodes and Teenage Head, still offered challenges when it came to learning much about their history.
I was always on the lookout for a book about Toronto punk history to come out, but it never happened. In 2006 I graduated from college and had been working as a freelance journalist for a few years already, and with school off my list of responsibilities I suddenly found my schedule was a lot more flexible. I had the time to take on a new project.
As a fan of these bands I wanted find out what happened with punk here in Toronto. I was tired of waiting for someone to put that story together and figured if no one else was going to do it then I would, so I did, and it became Treat Me Like Dirt.
10) Thanks for baring yourself to us. Any parting words?
Life’s too short to read bad books, so don’t do it.
Sage advice. Thanks to Liz for sharing her story with us. She can be reached at www.lizworth.com.
Richard S. Todd is the author of the critically-praised Raincloud: A Novel and holds talks on the self-publishing experience. He spends his time blogging and working on his next novel, The Orphans of the Creek.
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