Schitt’s Creek creator and star Dan Levy stood on the steps of The Metropolitan Museum of Art at his first Met Gala on Monday night wearing a rendering of the work of artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz. A name many of Levy’s younger fans had likely never heard before. In honoring the artist’s work Levy was participating in a through-line of queer culture and queer activism.
Fashion activism on the steps of the Met. It feels very Dan Levy, but it also pays tribute to not only the artist, but to the legions of others who went before.
‘Don’t Send Flowers’ had its London run (finally) at The White Bear theatre from 30th August- 4th September with Forest Theatre Company
We have a couple of lovely reviews starting with this from The Spectator in which Lloyd Evans said:
The characters are original, well drawn and easy to like. The dialogue and the acting are carried off with relaxed proficiency. And the unfolding story is a delight to watch.
‘Theatre Things’ had so many lovely things to say it’s hard to pick one. Sometimes you read a comment on your work and think ‘this person gets it’ and that was wonderful to read in this review- it’s not about praise it’s about understanding what we were trying to achieve.
But I do particularly like this comment, which feels like what I was trying to say:
‘here is no right or wrong way to look at it. Laughing, crying, raging, eating cake, getting drunk, having sex, putting your dead loved one’s ashes in a bag for life… they’re all acceptable responses, especially if they help.’
Read the full review and give Theatre Things a follow here.
Queer Toronto Magazine featured my essay on the ‘Happy Endings’ I found in Schitt’s Creek back in August…
The start of my journey (love that journey for me) as a queer person starts some sixteen years ago in a video store in Montreal. In my mind now I’ve renamed that video store Rose Video and nobody can tell me any different. In that video store my flatmate pointed to a DVD and said, ‘It’s supposed to be good, it’s about AIDS.’ That DVD was Tony Kushner’s seminal play turned HBO mini-series, Angels in America and for me it was the start of my journey as a queer academic, queer writer, and really the point at which I became the queer person I am today.
So, what weirdness did my brain come up with looking at both side by side? how do even I link seminal, Brechtian Epic AIDS play and quirky Canadian comedy? good question… a huge part of what I (try) to do is look at the big picture. ‘Know your history’ is a huge part of how I look at queer culture. I started seeing Schitt’s Creek as a kind of tipping point in the queer cultural history we had to date. Only time will tell just how much of one, but for someone who has spent a career ‘joining the dots’ and teaching students to ‘know their history’ this felt like a truly exciting, and ok yes, nerdy moment, for me in the work I was trying to write.
Because for me it’s about the through line, it’s how I understand myself in the world- culture, and who I relate to. But as a queer person, it’s not always easy to see. To use another ‘know your history’ example, it is the ‘I belong to a culture’ speech from The Normal Heart. And, if ever there was a man kicking down doors, it was Kramer- when he says, ‘I belong to a culture.’ Ned’s speech begins ‘I belong to a culture that includes Proust, Henry James, Tchaikovsky, Cole Porter, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle….’ He goes on and adds ‘These are not invisible men’. The point being of course they were…in terms of their true identity, in terms of the stories we tell. He includes EM Forster- a man who stopped publishing his work when he started writing gay stories, he includes Auden, Byron, Tennessee Williams, all of whom hid their sexuality in plain sight. He says, ‘all through history we’ve been here.’ And that’s what I talk about when I talk about that ‘through line’ in Queer history.
A year ago I did a thing I thought I was done with forever. I posted some fanfiction on a well-known fanfiction site. I’d spent a couple of days writing a story in my head and in between other things at the weekend, I wrote it down and decided to share it.
I wrote that story for the reason anyone writes fanfiction- a bit of extra story was stuck in my head and I wanted to get it out. Outside of that world, it was silly and trivial- it involved crisps and a hangover, oh and a dress. And lots of thoughts and feelings, and was about nothing at all and everything.
That’s what I love about fanfiction, it’s about nothing and everything. It’s about the tiniest detail expanded on, or the smallest moment and what it means. Or it can truly be about nothing at all, just a need to hang out with some familiar characters a little more.
I didn’t expect anyone to care. I’ve never played the fandom game, I’ve never done whatever it is that makes you a ‘Big Name Fan’ I’ve usually stayed out of the way, enjoying a gif or two and minding my business. Quietly consuming not producing. On the rare occasions, I have produced it’s been equally quietly in a corner. So I shared that story not thinking anyone would care.
This isn’t a story about becoming the coolest person in the fandom, that fic writer everyone worships. And that’s a good thing. It’s a story about how I steadily continued to write stories, and a few people like them, they left comments, they said nice things. I quietly plodded on. Story after story- some really short, some longer. Some about nothing, some very much about something. Each time a handful of people liked them. And that was enough- more than enough. I was genuinely writing these stories for me, and if one other person liked it, took something from it, that was enough.
For me, it was about the process of writing them. With each story, I felt more confident, more at home writing again. That was something I’d lost. I’ve spent a number of years being battered by both the legacy of academia and my attempts to write for theatre. Neither, mostly it feels is going well. And 2020, well that just about finished me for theatre writing, even at the time of writing this, even with a play on next month, I can’t quite bring myself to pick myself up and write anything new for the stage. But in writing fic, I started to tell stories again, I started to bring characters to life on the page…and I started to enjoy it.
Not all of it is great writing, but it was writing. I was writing fast, writing feelings as they happened- and doing that in a pandemic, while losing my mind over writing a book, while losing my mind over losing my job, my career, and everything else. It was something to anchor me to ….something. Most important it was something creative, a place to escape. Honestly too, the idea that someone might read and like what I wrote, over a play nobody might ever see, or an academic book three people might read…while stuck in pandemic limbo, it felt like something I could do, something to connect my writing to something or someone.
So around writing my big old academic book, around an endless job hunt, around scraping a living together teaching online classes, I escaped into my stories. I would look forward to the hour or so each day I could ‘play’ in that world, tell those tales. Really I was just telling the stories to myself.
That’s the thing too- they made me daydream again, at a time I thought my brain was broken, that I thought my creativity was broken, I found myself telling myself stories. Then I found myself writing them down. Slowly, I think through it too I found a voice, a style again.
Something happened around the Autumn last year. I accidentally started a huge story. That was never the plan- little bite-sized pieces, fluffy escapes, or manageable in a week or so stories that were the plan. But as life would have it, a creative project I worked on for a theatre (an audio documentary about LGBTQ+ life in my city) led me to need to tell a story….and so I did it through these borrowed characters. The story wasn’t ever supposed to be that big, but it spiralled. And I’m proud of it- I poured my heart and soul into it with honesty I don’t think I could have with anything else, it was the cliche ‘safe space’ to both try out those ideas as a writer, get those thoughts and feelings on a page and see what happened. And it sort of worked.
And then I wrote a sequel.
That really wasn’t in the plan. Writing 200,000 words of it wasn’t in the plan. But my god I don’t think I’ve loved writing anything as much in my whole life. It’s imperfect and messy, but I love it. It has too, dare I say it, some of the best bits of writing I’ve done anywhere. I spent hours actually writing through tears at my desk, that’s how invested I was in the story, the characters (dare I say too, the original characters I came up with in that are possibly my favourites ever too).
if you know you know, and I\’m sorry
I suddenly found I was writing every day, and writing a lot. I’d start my day with some writing, use it as a lunch break or spend some evening time doing it, or give myself half a weekend day too. For someone stuck at home, hustling their way through scarping teaching together, writing a book, trying to find a job and all-around stuck in a hamster wheel of ‘everything is work nothing is play’ I finally found a way to creatively ‘play’ again. Writing fic was my time out, my downtime, my escape. But it also taught me that I can find that writing routine and discipline again. It gave me the drive and spark to find that. Now I balance that time with ‘real life’ creative projects and fic, and you could say it had a ‘real world’ or ‘real writing’ impact. Not that this was ever the point. The point was long winters mornings and evenings to ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’ and Aqualung finding a way to be creative….and it worked.
I don’t know if it sounds stupid to other people, that I wrote what, 350,000 words playing with characters in this way. But it made sense to me.
Firstly it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people because there’s a feeling now we have to make everything part of our ‘work’ so writing fanfic is pointless because it can’t be monetised, or exchanged for career progression. Of course, I would argue it makes me a better writer in other areas too, so that’s moot. As is the idea we only do things for career or monetary gain. I started writing fanfiction in my bedroom as a teenager with no concept of it being anything other than for the fun of it, the stories in my head. What’s wrong with returning to that? Especially at a time we all desperately needed an escape.
And no, as we’ve got this far, it isn’t ‘just a load of porn’ …I mean my porn writers are out there and I take off my hat to them (though they’d likely prefer I take something else off). Personally, my work is vanilla as all hell, I’m a queen of a jump cut to ‘and later…’ but that’s a personal preference. People have written erotic novels for decades, and frankly, that’s a less exploitative industry than the places some of you were going to practice a bit of self-indulgence during lockdown ….but I digress (but also subscribe to ethical porn, and pay for your porn, please and thank you). The point is yes, people write porn, but also people write sweet, charming, heartbreaking, silly, funny, action-packed, hockey filled or outright strange stories…just like ‘real’ books.
Secondly, sure it might be weird to people not in this world. But lots of things are weird to me too if I’m not part of that world- football is weird to me but lots of people enjoy that, getting drunk in a club is weird to me, walking up mountains is weird to me, a love of maths is weird to me…just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean its wrong.
And if we must connect it to something bigger, I was writing fanfiction as a teenager, it was the first writing outside of school I did. Back then it was X Files fanfiction, and my X Files fandom is what led me to theatre. And theatre led me to my academic life, to my creative life, to the book I was working on while writing fic, and fic led me to the book I wrote instead (as well) as that book. It’s all connected, and you know what? I don’t value that fic any less than my PhD, my play or my books.
Writing these stories has been healing, both in the things I’ve written about, dark places, silly places, ideas and forms that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. They’ve also allowed me to quietly grow my writing skills, my style, and more importantly, clawback confidence that I can do this, I am actually quite good at this.
They’ve also brought me joy. The joy of writing them, disappearing into these worlds, telling myself stories. But also brought me a connection with people. I realised that stepping away from the pressure and competitiveness of ‘professional writing meant a connection that I was missing (I’m sure some fic writers see it as a competition- those big-name fans I talked of, but I don’t care if I have three readers or 30,000 personally, and I know it doesn’t make the work less worthwhile for me). And the joy I found in comments and conversations with people reading these stories, was a reminder of why we write- to share our experiences with the world our thoughts, to connect with people.
It also got me back to other writing. From the confidence I gained in writing fic I applied for a novel writing course with the Faber Academy, and I got in. So now I’m writing a novel it seems. And I’m finding it a better fit than playwriting ever was. Who knows if it’ll lead anywhere, but that’s not the point, the point is I’ve found the joy in it again.
I’m not going anywhere just yet in fic writing. I’m sure stories will continue to pop up, that I’ll continue to need to write. As a wise man once said ‘I just don’t think I’m finished with this place’ …I mean I even half promised some unfinished stories of some guy and his stuffed penguin, right? (if you know you know etc). Actually that penguin guy? Might have even crossed some imaginary borders into some ‘real world’ work too…maybe it’ll never see the light of day, maybe nobody will ever read that version of his story…but maybe they will. And if they don’t, getting there was fun, and that’s what going back to writing fic taught me.
The point is in the worst year of all creatively, emotionally, at a time I knew it was time to give up on some things, I found joy in writing again. Playing in a borrowed world is fun, its a reminder that creativity can exist for you, not for what it ‘achieves’ because what it achieves first and foremost, is making you happy. After the year we’ve all had, I say more of that.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to see a man about a penguin…
You can buy my book on Schitt\’s Creek \’Love that Journey for me, the queer revolution of Schitt\’s Creek\’ here from 404 Ink.
Those words in ‘Come From Away’ never felt more true.
495 days after last being in a West End theatre, 495 days after last seeing a musical, 495 days without theatre. And ‘You are here…’
I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a lot of magical nights in the theatre in my life but I think for the rest of my life that one will be the one that stands out. And I hate why, I would trade that night in a heartbeat if it meant not living through over a year without the theatre we know and love if it meant all the loss of the last year could be erased. But out of that came something magical and good, and isn’t that really what this show is about? So it felt right to be there last night. We drove from Cardiff and back, and it was worth it.
It was without doubt an electric night. I was lucky to be in the front row, taking the stance of frankly ‘fuck it I haven’t spent any money on theatre tickets in a year.’ and to see up close the cast’s reactions to that night was a wonderful and powerful thing. People say often ‘the atmosphere was electric’ but truly it was. You only have to listen to the response to the first song here to get a sense of it:
You knew in that moment that the audience was there to celebrate this return. But there was also something else in the air, something I certainly felt- a much deeper need for the story this show tells. A connection stronger than anything I’ve ever had to this much-needed story of hope in the darkest of times.
In some way it’s the parallels in the two stories. For many of us, 9/11 is the first, and biggest ‘living through history’ moment we remember. Having now lived through history in the worst of ways for the last year, that parallel seems even more resonant. For me the moment that gets me, not in a sense of crying but in a more visceral way is when the ‘plane people’ in the show finally see what has happened on the TVs, because we can ‘see’ what they see even if we don’t see it in front of us there, those images are burned into our minds forever. There were moments again in the last year, not least the moment we heard the theatres closed, where we knew we were watching history unfold and our lives change forever. Watching a show about witnessing history, felt apt then after a year of living through history of the worst possible kind.
This show is also about community, about finding community at the worst of times. That’s also why it felt important to be back there last night. In my other life, I am fittingly, deeply ironically, a Doctor of Theatre’s response to another pandemic-AIDS. In that theatre responded by gathering, coming together in mourning, in activism, to shout at governments from the rooftops. For all of my adult life that story has been my story- that in times of adversity, of catastrophe you gather, you make stories, in anger, in mourning, in community. In the last 16 months, that power was taken from us at the time we needed it most and that has been the most painful element to bear. So there’s something for me in particular about Come From Away and it’s a message of gathering together, in the face of tragedy, of community in the face of adversity that feels really fitting.
The beauty of this story too is that everyone has their little moments of the show that connect for them. There’s not one ‘we cry at this song’ moments, it’s a story full of little moments that connect with people, that remind us of things, that remind us of ourselves, of people we know, maybe people we’ve lost. That too is the experience of people collectively having these little moments and coming together. And isn’t that what theatre is about?
There’s so much hope in this story, against a backdrop of tragedy. There’s so much celebration of what remains even in the face of despair, and that’s what last night felt like a celebration of, the triumph over despair. The idea that we somehow made it through all the last year threw at us and we got back to this. In the story that moment of triumph is when the ‘come from aways’ make it back to Gander, making it back to the theatre after so long away, felt like that.
I have a group of theatre nerds. We got each other through this last year. Since almost the day the theatre shut down we said ‘we’ll be there on the day it reopens’ and we were. Everything else aside being there for Come from Away opening feels like we made it, we survived all that and came out the other side. That there’s hope. It was also a reminder that theatre like Gander can be a place that welcomes you back wherever you’ve been.
To go back to The Rock last night was truly to ‘come from away’ it was an electric atmosphere and the kind of once in a lifetime experience I will remember forever. I think all of us there will.
The only drawback is, this adopted Canadian is now really craving a Tim Hortons.
Published by 404 Ink, as part of their Inklings series, a brand new non-fiction series of books that capture big ideas in a compact way.
Love That Journey For Me dives deep into the cultural sensation of Canadian comedy-drama Schitt’s Creek. Considering the fusion of existing sitcom traditions, references and tropes, this Inkling analyses the nuance of the show and its surrounding cultural and societal impact as a queer revolution.
By discussing how the show reshapes LGBTQ+ narratives from the crafting of the town itself, and celebratory influences including Cabaret, to how writer-creator Dan Levy utilised and subverted expectations throughout his work, Emily Garside will showcase how one TV show became a watershed moment in queer representation and gay relationships on screen.
Part analysis of Schitt’s Creek’s importance, part homage to a cultural landmark, this is a show that – in the words of David Rose himself – needs to be celebrated. This book is that celebration.
This book is unofficial, and unaffiliated with Schitt’s Creek and its brand.
You can buy a copy (shipping worldwide, ebook available) here.
Last week my book went out into the world. And I’m really proud. I’m also really touched at people telling me how it resonated- whether their own thoughts on the TV show or on Queerness or whatever. That’s what I wanted to say and that’s what is making me so happy.
Of course, I had both a bout of existential dread on Friday of ‘why have you poured so much into this when nobody will care and nothing will ever come of it’ but that’s life, that’s a battering from rejection and writing for so long.
But while I still have a certain amount of existential dread that either someone from the show will see it and hate it. Or that fans with pitchforks will come for me because of it, actually I know I said what I needed to. That book is truly in my voice, and from my (nerd) heart. And I’m proud. It also was part of a huge shift in how I think about my writing and what I plan to do next.
This weekend I also finished a piece of writing I’ve been working on for months. I’ve been writing it for about five months, and it’s over 200,000 words…and yes it’s fanfiction. And I’m actually just as proud of that.
Here are some guys with the book in a reference a select few will get, but also it’s pretty darn cute.
Writing that story started out just because it was in my head, and it felt like a good writing exercise to get it out. It was about writing a thing that needed to be written, even if it only exists in a bubble of its own making. (Midway through writing this blog I realised my Fic writing needs its own blog, but I also needed a minute with that so next week…I\’ll get there sooner or later).
At the same time, I’ve been continuing my novel writing course with Faber Academy. That’s linked to the above too (maybe in more ways than one), mostly in that writing fanfiction last year made me rediscover a love of writing stories. And in particular writing prose. The little confidence boost writing fic gave me, allowed me to take a leap and say ‘well let’s experiment and see if this is a thing I can do….’
It’s not been easy, partly because the emphasis on reading in a ‘literary’ way is what made my PhD so miserable…or the emphasis on formatting also giving me PhD flashbacks. But also because last week a course participant said my writing was ‘trying too hard to show they were gay’ (which basically amounted to ‘counting the kisses’) And a certain level of imposter syndrome as to ‘what am I doing’. But I’m deeply in love with the story I’m telling in that wonderful way where the characters live in my head, and talk to me, and tell me their stories…and keep me company. Much like writing fanfiction actually. And you know what? I haven’t had that in years. Theatre writing has felt too much like ‘what can I write that someone will want’ not ‘what can I write that is for me.’ because really shouldn’t whatever we write come from somewhere authentic, not from trying to fit into some box. Not from trying to be the thing people want you do be? And even if nobody ever reads this novel I’m drafting, I’ll have spent time in a world, with some characters I have already fallen in love with. And I’ve missed that feeling.
I’ll let you into a dirty secret: I love writing.
According to the memes we shouldn’t, it should be hard, and painful and you should want to do everything but write. I’ve never understood those memes. I would rather write than do anything else. Writing itself, putting words on a page has never been hard. Editing? That’s hard, that’s work, that’s painful. But writing? If I could live in those worlds, do that forever I would.
And not just in fiction, there is so much joy for me in writing about something I love. It’s why I started blogging, it’s why I (used) to enjoy theatre reviewing. It’s why I did a PhD I just have a lot of words to say about things I love- and indeed things I hate. I also have the kind of brain that finds weird connections in things, which is why in short I ended up writing a book on Schitt’s Creek when I should have been writing about Angels in America. I have this ridiculous, unrelenting, slightly irritating need to share information about things I’m passionate about with people.
I re-watched Hamilton at the weekend (which reminds me I really should write some proper thoughts on that sometime) and the thing that always resonates with me about A.Ham is ‘Why do you write like you’re running out of time’…because I would be the little shit who wrote the other 51 Federalist papers. I’m the idiot who would leave thousands of pages of writing (mostly indecipherable).
What I’m also a believer in, to make a parallel with Hamilton as a musical, is making things accessible and appealing, not shutting them off from people. I’m not about to write a game-changing Broadway musical any time soon, but I can in small ways write for people who care to read what I write. I might have guilt about failing as an academic, but actually, do I care if three ‘chosen ones’ of academic reviewers liked my book on a TV show or musical and deemed it worthy? Or do I care that people read what I wrote and said ‘yes that captured something I felt’ and ‘I didn’t know that’.
It’s always got to be the latter.
That’s something I’ve finally learned this year: The right way is your way.
In the realm of being honest, and transparent too, yes I’m ‘winning’ in some respects, making progress if you will. But also as someone who talks about rejections a lot, to also be transparent about the reality. Someone commented on Instagram that it’s ‘about time’ things started going well. And the honest answer is they are and they aren’t. Yes, creatively or however you want to put it there are good things. But I’m still very unemployed thanks to the pandemic. I’ve had to finally admit defeat in terms of theatre and arts jobs, I’m scraping by on bits of teaching and other odds and ends of freelance work. And the honest answer is, I don’t know what’s next and I’m scared.
So I’ve taken a pause. Just for the summer, to concentrate on doing properly what I’ve worked hard for, and then take the next steps. Because somehow, this side of writing has managed to click into place, so I’m taking the bad, and turning it into good, and putting the energy it deserves into these projects, for a little bit.
In the realm of honesty too, none of this was easy. I’ve not tallied up the rejections this year yet, but it’s a lot. I had one ‘maybe’ that went on for six months and it made me ill, actually. The level of anxiety, sleepless nights and tears. Because when everything else feels like it’s falling apart you cling to the shreds of hope. But a Valuable lesson learned: if it’s that hard, walk away. It shouldn’t be such a battle. That’s a thing I learned in theatre and in book-writing the hard way. If it’s an endless battle it’s probably not worth it. And there’s no ‘right way’ to do it.
Despite outwards success I still feel like a ‘failure’ often- I know people judge me for my failure to find a ‘proper’ job again, to not have attained certain things there. To which I say don’t worry I judge me too, but also maybe that’s just not the path I’m on.
As a wise man once said ‘The choice may have been mistaken the choosing was not’
And in choosing, I think I managed a few wins;
Last week my little pink book went out into the world. It’s probably the thing I’m most proud of writing (so far). It’s also the most ‘me’ thing I’ve written. When friends said they can hear me in it, that was the win.
Yesterday I posted the final chapter to a story that was meant just for me. But really seemed to resonate with people. I got so many messages about that story, and my heart is warmed. That story also felt like me.
I’m working on my novel for my writing course, and that story feels like me too.
I’m writing about Rent the thing that changed me and who I am, in a way that will give me my voice. And let me tell that story the way I want to.
And there’s likely a continuation of that little pink book happening too.
All these things will bring me joy to create.
‘Anything you do let it come from you then it will be true’
When I was in Year 9 or maybe Year 10 of school, my English teacher wrote in my report ‘I look forward to reading your first book.’
I’m not entirely sure that Mr Evans, teaching in my slightly skanky High School under Section 28 quite anticipated my first book being about a Canadian TV show that ends with a gay wedding. Or maybe he did, who knows. But here we are.
In all fairness, I didn’t expect my first book to be about a Canadian TV show that ends in a gay wedding. Certainly not as a teenager. I don’t think I could even imagine writing a book about a Queer love story on TV. Imagine if I could tell teenage me that.
But that book made it out into the world today and I couldn’t be more pleased that it ended up being this one that made it first.
It’s actually a neat parallel to the show itself that not getting what you planned, turns out to be what you need. And what you get also gives you the path you needed to be on.
When I got offered the Inklings book I’d just finished the first draft of my first (last?) academic book. My long-worked-on, my much blood sweat and tears put into Angels in America book. It was while writing it in fact the idea for writing about Schitt’s Creek came to me (and the inclusion of a Dan Levy quote in the Angels book just to piss off the snobs). That book is still sitting in peer review limbo. And I’ll be honest I don’t know if it’ll ever emerge. In fact, I wrote that book just so I could say ‘I did as much as I could and failed’ because at least if I did all I could fail with some sense of dignity.
Because it’s no secret I don’t fit in with the academics. I think maybe that book may still survive, but the ‘real’ academic writing game isn’t for me. In writing this book I realised that. In many ways. Part of me worries that the academics I know might look at what I’m doing and give me an ‘Ew’ and look down on it.
But much like Moira Rose I’m through trying to impress people. And maybe, just maybe like Moira too this is the point at which I say ‘well I’m doing it my way or not at all.’
This book is written from the heart. It’s written from my nerd’s brain. It’s in my voice, unlike anything academic writing would ever let me do. It tells a bit of my story and a whole mish-mash of the nerdy things I love in and around this show. And if that isn’t truly me being me as a writer I don’t know what is.
This show- and writing this book about the show- helped me find my voice as a writer, in a way nothing else has. It gave me the confidence to say, yes this is what I’m doing, and it’s no less than the academic work that I wasn’t allowed in the ‘club’ for. It’s also no less important than the ‘cool kids’ of theatre who never quite wanted to let me play. In writing this book I discovered what kind of non-fiction writer I am. But tangentially because of this show, and because of this book, I started to discover what kind of fiction writer I might one day be.
In the case of the show, the way it tells its stories, full of heart and unapologetically, made me say ‘yes, that’s what I’m doing now’. My yes, very rom-com inspired way of storytelling fused with a slightly dark and twisty sense of humour has never quite fit the world of theatre where I tried so long to fit in. I’m just a bit too from-the-heart-honesty and not ‘quirky for the sake of quirky’. And so inspired by both a show that wore its heart on its sleeve and told its stories unapologetically and being told ‘yes you are good enough to publish a book on this I took a leap and applied for a Novel writing course with the Faber Academy. A couple of months in and I feel like again, as a writer I’m finally finding who I am. I’m writing a story that I love with all my heart, whose characters inhabit my head and heart, and which I’ve cried so many good tears over. I haven’t had that in a long time with theatre writing, that just felt like a battle, a popularity contest I couldn’t win. It feels good to just be alone with the writing. Of course, I’m aeons away from publishing any fiction, and even if I never do, it feels good to finally know how to tell my stories.
To borrow from sitcom-land, this book didn’t make me break up with theatre entirely, but like Ross and Rachel, we’re on a break.
And to continue the appropriate romcom metaphor, I’m the man with the signs from Love Actually saying ‘enough now enough’.
Because writing this book proved to me that you can be smart, occasionally funny (?) informative, analytical…and write something people (hopefully) want to read. And that’s what I want to do. That’s what I plan to do.
I already signed a contract for another ‘trade’ book, taking my other PhD research to an audience that actually wants to read it (book on Rent coming 2022…) after being told by academic publishers I wasn’t good enough to write that book, the right publisher for me saw the potential in that book, and I’m excited to write it. Alongside that, it’s not too preemptive to say there’s something else in the works too, and it feels like finally being given permission to be the writer I am instead of trying to fit into a box.
And isn’t that a very Schitts Creek thing?
I think too there’s a measure of ‘I need those people to know I’m not a joke’ in all this. And maybe, just maybe I’ve managed that.
As for the book itself? Of course, it’s terrifying to have it out in the world. I’m scared that fans of the show will hate it. I’m scared I’ve got something wrong. I’m scared people will just say it’s terrible.
That’s ok. To the fans (the real fans) I say, this book was written from the heart. This book was written because I’m a big old nerd who had a lot of words to say about a thing I loved. And I hope you like it too.
And as a Queer person, as a queer writer? It’s so so important. I never could have dreamed that it would be ok to write this book when I was in English class as a teenager. As I say to my Queer Lit students, I learned about The Color Purple without knowing Celie was gay. When I first started writing about gay stories in University, I had to hide the books at home from my father. We’ve come a long way, all of us. I couldn’t have dreamed this book because couldn’t dream we’d have TV like Schitt’s Creek or that I’d have gotten myself to a place, both as a writer and a queer person, to be able to write a book about it.
My first book might not have been what I or my English teacher imagined it would be. But it’s a book that say a lot about me I think. It’s got a lot of me in it, and it feels like a shift towards a new chapter. It’s both about saying this is who I am as a writer, but also as a person. ‘Coming Out’ as I talk about in the book comes in many forms, and for me, it’s been through my writing I’ve been able to figure out who I am in that respect, the more write, research and teach queer stories the more at home I am in my queerness, and that’s important for me, and the work I do.
So thank you to everyone who has bought a copy, who reads it. In no small way, you’re making a kid in a skanky high school, who didn’t imagine she could write a book about queer stories, really really happy.
Oh and as a footnote, interestingly, around the same time (give or take a year) everyone my age was going to see some teen film called American Pie. I wasn’t cool enough to go and see the teen film about sex. So I didn’t. I didn’t meet ‘Jim’s Dad’ as a teenager. But I’m really grateful that I met Johnny Rose as an adult.
p.s should you be inclined, you can buy the book here
I’ve been doing a lot of enthusiastic tweeting about things I love lately. This in itself is not unusual, after all if nothing else what is Twitter for than foisting your unsolicited opinions on people?
It’s also not entirely my fault, I had a book announced, and a Crowd Funder to promote, so my Schitt’s Creek tweeting levelling up wasn’t my fault. And then Taylor Swift released her version of Fearless and what kind of self-respecting Queer Millenial Woman would I be if I didn’t dedicate adequate airtime to that boss move.
But also, why do we feel the need to sap other people’s joy? I often think of the words of that other pop-country icon Sheryl Crow at times like this ‘if it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad’ but of course there is nothing people like better than sapping joy.
Please check out this 90s classic if you aren\’t familiar
It seems whatever people show a passion for someone will find a way to try and ruin. To stick with the Swift example, of course, we Swifties know Taylor’s brand of pop-country isn’t musically for everyone. In the same way, Death-Metal isn’t for everyone. The difference being most Taylor Swift fans aren’t deliberately seeking out Death-Metal fans to tell them how awful their taste in music is (in their opinion) they’re just letting Death-Metal fans listen to their music, while they dance it out to ‘Mr Pefectly Fine\’ (which is, a total bop, and I\’m not saying that Jonas didn\’t deserve it but I\’m not not saying it)
Of course, some of it comes from a place of intellectual or taste superiority. The idea that liking something like Taylor Swift is just so lowbrow or ‘basic’ (is it basic to say basic now?). Or the idea that it isn’t ‘professional’ to be seen as being enthusiastic about a thing. Of course, locked up in that is a whole mess of things about the performative nature of Social Media, but let’s not get into that here. What really we’re talking about is a kind of person who just likes to sap joy.
We all know them, the ones who see ‘culture’ as only a performative reflection of who they are, and not something to be actually enjoyed. The ones who wouldn’t dare to admit to anything less than a subscription to BFI Player and a lockdown playlist of obscure Indie Bands You’ve Probably Never Heard Of. Or that cool show everyone loves? I totally over it because they watched it first. And, ugh are you really still watching Friends on Netflix? Yes because it’s comforting to watch something familiar while the world burns, also it’s funny, and I’d like a laugh right now (sidebar, as humans we are actually capable of recognising something’s problematic elements while also enjoying other parts)
these people raised me Ross is still The Worst
Don’t you dare mention reality TV to them, they won’t even watch it ironically and they’ll drag you over the coals or even stop speaking to you if you do (yes, this actually happened, someone no longer speaks to me because I watched Queer Eye). Look the truth is I got VERY (very) invested in Married at First Sight Australia this year, and let me tell you it was a joy. One of my weekly highlights is watching Gogglebox with a very large gin. And obviously, the joy suckers will tell you all reality TV is trash, but as someone from ‘First Generation’ reality TV of the 90s and 00s I would argue that the right kind- the non-exploitative kind, is harmless telly fluff. And sorry but the year we\’ve all had surely watching some people go on awkward dates is the escapism we all deserve?
Cam and Jules, if you know you know
If the Joy Suckers can\’t cope with my MAFS love, just wait until they hear about my penchant for watching Sorority Recruitment videos on YouTube, or mid-level YouTubers ‘Week in the Life’ oh my God what if they hear I have watched many a Zoella video?
The thing is I unironically love many things that aren’t ‘cool’ or ‘high brow’.
I cannot tell you the number of glossy teen dramas I will still watch. Or things were equally glossy twenty-somethings have impossibly glamorous careers in New York, despite the fact I am neither glamorous or a twenty-something. What can I tell you I’m the Friends and the Sex and the City generation and I was raised by this nonsense…But I KNOW it’s nonsense, and that’s what the Joy Suckers hate right? They want people like me to think I’m enjoying quality high brow stuff and judge me for it.
I’ve got news for the Joy Suckers…it’s perfectly fine to watch both Normal People and Zero Chill (terrible Netflix Ice-Skating Drama, check it out, it’s terrible) and understand that quality-wise these are not the same…but enjoy them still for different reasons.
90s haircuts and hockey? I am SOLD.
It’s the same way that I know Sunday in the Park with George isn’t musically the same quality as Bat Out of Hell: The Musical but I can have a good time at both. I constantly tell my writing students of my lowbrow tastes, I feel they judge me, but you know what, I\’m just as influenced by the low brow as the high brow.
This musical was terrible. I had a lovely time.
It just makes me wonder, what joy people have from stealing other people’s joy? Personally, I find utter joy in someone being oh-so-nerdy about a thing. Obviously, I love finding people nerdy about a thing I love, so we can nerd together. But also there is nothing more attractive (in a platonic and romantic sense) than someone with PASSION for something in a fully nerdy way.
But people really love to hate on your passions too, don’t they?
I don’t need my friends to all have the same interests as me- far from it life would be boring without. I love when friends are passionate, even dorky about things, tell me all the things about the thing you love! For example, my friend Martyn is a passionate knitter and a recent sewing enthusiast. Anyone who knows me knows I do not have a crafty bone in my body, but I am here for hearing about knitting projects and seeing works in progress, and occasionally being a knitting photoshoot coordinator.
(please subscribe to Martyn\’s Youtube channel)
Similarly, I have zero interest in sports as a rule but if someone is passionate about their team, their sport and wants to chat I’m here for it. I might just learn something and I love learning things!
What I hate however is what I call ‘performative passion’ which seems to be a thing for the kinds of Joy Suckers I’m talking about too- they’ll like the ‘acceptable’ things, or things they think will make them look good- Cricket, certain plays, high brow music, be seen with the right books on the bus…but none of it goes beyond a surface level. And isn’t that sad?
But the real passion is frowned on by these sorts.
Increasingly, I’m seeing the narrative of ‘you can’t be seen to be doing that, it\’s ‘unprofessional’’. Now obviously we’re all aware there’s a line of what is or isn’t acceptable to share on social media, but the idea that it’s somehow ‘unprofessional’ to profess a love for a musician? A TV show? This is ridiculous. I have had these conversations with people that ‘Oh I can’t believe you would share that I would never it would impact my image/career.’ Honestly, if your image is more important than sharing some Taylor Swift love, have a word with yourself. (I mean unless your career is being John Mayer’s PA then maybe keep that to yourself)
Maybe like the TV show not the label?
Obviously, there are exceptions, I would not, for example, recommend professing your love for a certain Harry Potter author personally, and publicly, or perhaps a certain candidate for Mayor of London. But we’re not really talking ‘your faves are problematic’ here are we? We’re talking Joy Sucking.
But also, dare I say it, outright snobbery for what isn\’t considered \’cool\’ or \’good enough\’. But also those certain things (TV, film general nerding about things that aren\’t sports) aren\’t considered things that you should take \’seriously\’. And that really gets my goat.
My Goat that has been got.
This is not a new observation obviously. Fans are used to the idea that being passionate about things like TV, film or comic books, even theatre fans, that it\’s a \’silly thing\’ that is a pat-on-the-head \’that\’s cute\’ but take it step further and you\’re \’weird\’ and \’why are you so obsessed with this\’. Those frivolous things should be taken seriously is a bigger debate than this, but you would think, the year we\’ve just had, people would see the value in the joy.
But also as a person who yes, thinks about things too much, and yes, makes these things part of their work, this refusal to give things that spark joy the recognition they deserve- but worse than that, people who pass judgement on them and people who love them- really really actually hurts.
Case in (professional) point, I talk about Fan Fiction often when teaching- I talk about it as a Queer response to media, I talk about it as a creative outlet. In teaching recently a student basically rolled their eyes and then left my workshop shortly after. I don\’t know that the two are connected but I can guess. And for sure Fan Fiction isn\’t everyone\’s bag, but neither is Harold Pinter and you wouldn\’t leave a class if someone mentioned him? (well actually…). The point is, I feel like my use of Fan Fiction as an example was used as a judgement on my quality as a teacher and a human. First of all I can give you whole essays on why Fan Fiction is important- I just took part in a dissertation study on that very topic, whole books exist on it also. My own blog on it here goes into more detail. But even if we\’re just talking about Fic as Joy…it\’s one of the few things that has brought me true joy this last year. I\’m clinging onto one Fic I\’m writing like a life raft right now, and I shouldn\’t feel ashamed to admit that out loud because of some Joy Suckers and their snobbery.
Lately my love for \’silly things\’ has been at the forefront with the announcement of my book on Schitt\’s Creek, and with it, a feeling that yes actually people are judging me a bit for my love of \’silly things\’ and a revelation that, actually I\’m really, really done with the Joy Suckers. The launch of that book was actually a real revelation about who is on my wavelength, and who surprisingly sometimes that was, and also who the real friends who celebrate your wins even when they don\’t fully share the same love for the thing.
I don\’t expect any of my friends to buy the damn book, I don\’t expect anyone to part with hard-earned cash for something I\’ve made. But my god was it a joy when people sometimes really surprising people from my life did. I had more than one cry seeing someone\’s name come up on the list of backers. My utter favourites were people who hadn\’t even seen the show but who went \’But you love it so I\’m going to buy the book and watch the show.\’ for those ones I really cried. On top of that lots of fans of the show too have found me, chatted with me, and I feel like I\’ve already made some new friends from it, and people who share my not just joy, passion for something.
Look, I know I get interested to things to an extreme degree. I did a PhD for goodness sake, that’s the textbook definition of being excessively interested in things that interest you. And of course, I don’t give ‘lectures’ on things I’m nerdy about to people who don’t want to hear it. Of course, I save the extreme niche nerdy facts for friends who want it (the exactly two people I knew would appreciate my Greys Anatomy/Schitt’s Creek crossover nerdy information, for example, heard about it, nobody else needed to). I have friends, who while not interested specifically, like me like hearing nerdy things, and so they get chapter and verse of the latest nerding if they ask for it.
this is my Greys/Schitt\’s crossover, if you know you know
I can’t tell you how much I longed to get a message from friends saying ‘Well done you wrote a book.’ and honestly? As much as I know we’re in a pandemic and we’ve got shit going on, if someone I consider a good friend writes a book I’m taking time to leave a comment, send a message and say well done.
And really, well that says something about those friends.
This was brought home to me recently, very recently at the weekend, I had a dorky thing happen that was a big deal to me and it got me thinking about how those people who don’t celebrate the things you love with you, however small, however ‘silly’ aren’t worth your time.
I’m going to bring it around to Schitt’s Creek because actually, it’s David’s New York friends, isn’t it? For those who don’t know, David has a group of friends from his former life in New York, to who he is desperate to prove he ‘isn’t a joke to. Desperate to impress. One of the biggest lessons David learns is he doesn’t need those people’s approval to prove anything.
if this picture makes you cry too I\’m sorry
And that’s one of the lessons I’m choosing to learn here. Am I hurt that some people I considered ‘good friends’ think my ‘silly little interests’ aren’t worthy of acknowledgement? Even when they turn into something concrete and important to my life? Of course, I’m human. I can’t say otherwise. But I’m done with trying to impress them. I have so many people in my life who did celebrate the win with me, and who also commiserate the losses too. Those people who matter. The people who see the ‘little things’ for the huge things they are to you.
Beyond the ‘wins’ too, I’m not putting up with people who put down the things I love. Nobody has to share my love of things but back in the summer I was having a coffee with someone (remember when we could do that? No me either) and I caught myself moderating my enthusiasm for something, I caught myself editing myself, ‘don’t talk about that they’ll think you’re stupid’ I thought…I didn’t let myself say ‘I love this thing’ because I worried they’d judge me….and you know what? I’m done editing my joy.
be as joyous as a Brewer-Rose combo watching the game
If you want to pre-order my book \’Love the Journey for Me: the Queer Revolution of Schitt\’s Creek\’ you can do that here