Hello dear readers, writers and those who are both,
Oscar Invites You to a Conversation
I began writing Oscar of Between: A Memoir of Identity and Ideas while in London in 2007. In late 2012, I created Oscar’s Salon — a new interactive publishing form I find provocative, even magical. Every month, I invite a guest writer or artist to dialogue with or bounce off of my excerpt. You, the readers, have also become a vital part of this exchange through your online comments.
This March, Oscar the book was published by Caitlin Press’s new imprint, Dagger Editions. It’s an elating, unique experience to have both Oscars running alongside of one another!
I am particularly eager to hear from those of you who have read both Oscars. How is your experience of each similar? Different?
I am always intrigued to read your thoughts! One reason I created the salon was that I missed giving frequent readings from my work-in-progress (there used to be more reading venues). When I give a reading, I directly experience the audiences’ and my own reactions. I can viscerally tell where the writing is (and isn’t) flying. The salon has created an accessible simulation of that environment. Now that I’m giving lots of readings, I realize that the salon has urged me to trust my readers even more.
We—myself along with the guest writers and artists—are all ears! Tell us about your experiences of, and thoughts about, “the Oscars” in the comment box that follows the Featured Reader.
-Betsy ala Oscar
Buy Oscar of Between here and I’ll sign the copy with a personal message.
Latest Excerpts from the book, Oscar of Between
The category is our predicament.
Everyone not in our category is a not. This is the knot.
“… photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880’s and 1930’s … show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done.”
More and more transgender people are choosing gender reassignment via hormone injections and various types of surgery. It’s a relief, often a joyful experience to become the gender one has always felt oneself to be. Mismatched gender can feel like imposed camouflage yet reassignment—in heterosexual society eyes— is often viewed as deception. It’s a camouflage conundrum either way.read more
The larger one notices it tucked in there. Menace pulses out from it (is Oscar imagining this?). It swings over on a guy strand and lands close to the small one, which immediately darts to the other side — its terror palpable. Oscar wants to intercede but traffic is too heavy — she’s caught in the web of this story, gripped by the larger spider’s absolute intent to kill radiating from its body.read more
At the pyramid’s apex: morality, creativity, spontaneity, acceptance, purpose, meaning and inner potential. Oscar’s repeated packing up her personal and professional necessities as she moved between seven temporary locations prior to Montreal plunged her to the bottom. She takes some comfort in this for at the bottom nothing is extraneous: a particular alertness is required. Simplicity.read more
Dinner last night. Lise and Oscar talking about Lise’s meditation retreat at Auschwitz. The puzzlement about why so few survivors of the death camps would talk about it after they were liberated. Oscar mentions an article she read about the alarming increase of PTS in U.S. soldiers and how the suicide rate for returning Canadian soldiers has also shot up.read more
The woman excused herself and went into the bathroom. Within a minute, her partner abruptly strode over and pushed open the washroom door. Went in.
Silence – sound of the lock – silence.
Scuffling then her odd groan that signaled he had entered her, then increasing sounds of force and agony – everyone in the store frozen in disbelief – then her aching sobs. That’s when the male customer went in. Silence. Then. Oscar. Went in. Told him:
“Let her go.”read more
The liar’s sense of reality doesn’t suddenly crumble nor does she or he feel profoundly betrayed. Also, the liar is not subjected to ongoing blame whereas the deceived one usually is (“You should have realized what was going on; you must have turned a blind eye; you drove him to do it.”)
We identify with the liar. Disassociate from the one deceived.
“Manipulation of the truth is worse than no truth.”
Curtain call. Oscar calling out “Bravo!” “Brava!” Final drop of the curtain then the bewilderment of entering hundreds and hundreds of bodies chatting and moving out of the hall down into the subway. J and Oscar staying close, acknowledging how they each want to hold on to what has just happened. Not forget.read more
“Hey. Watch out! This is the latest scam! Don’t help him! It was on the news last night!”
Oscar. Squats to pick up coins and tokens, glances up at him as he stops to watch. Quick assessment. He decides. Crouches down and helps as people stream by on either side but continues on to his girlfriend:
“If you put your bag down to help them, they grab it and take off!”
Czeslaw Milosz said a writer in the family is the end of family.
Jamaica Kincaid said she writes about her family as if they were dead.
What do author and family have in common?
A book can bring us to our knees.
It has taken Oscar almost forty years to acknowledge in writing the other author in the family.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted and was stationed on a Navy supply ship for fourteen months. Utterly bored, he repeatedly requested a transfer to a destroyer but his commander repeatedly denied his request. To counter numbing monotony, he began writing vignettes about the small dramas being played out on ship.read more
Two large hives. Oscar and bees gingerly becoming acquainted. When they buzz around her (don’t bat them away!) she hums the note they make and this seems to ease their uncertainty. She watches their typical fourteen-hour workday: constant stream of ninety-degree-angle ascent and descent to and from control-tower hives.read more
October 2013. Oscar in Vancouver at the reception before the Virginia Woolf Conference banquet. Oscar nervous “in the extreme” (Orlando). As Oscar walks into the hotel convention lobby, she spots Miranda and Sharon (who’s also reading) huddled together by Helen, the conference chair. Helen offers to buy them a drink. Oscar confesses she’s socially inept in these situations, to which Miranda and Sharon confess similar feelings.read more
Vancouver. Oscar invited to read at the 23rd Annual Virginia Woolf Conference banquet – between the entree and dessert.
Of all her betweennesses, this is a new challenge for Oscar.
She considers. A palate cleanser? Something refreshing, humorous (the typical fare), but this is not Oscar’s forte.
Oscar flummoxed. Every idea of what to read nosedives like an inadequately made paper airplane.
Then Orlando taps her on the shoulder.
There’s the fit: Orlando and Oscar– food, drink, lively exchange of ideas.
On Vancouver streets, panhandlers most often are met with suspicion, anger or averted eyes (“you don’t exist”).
Street people streetwise living close to the ground see through who we are as we rush by. Panhandlers’ eyes and Oscar’s often meet; sometimes they speak and, not infrequently, Oscar gives some change (change—what is needed here).
No “Milord! Milady! Milady! Milord!” Street people spot-on about gender for they cannot afford even the most unintentional insult.read more
Over the course of her life, all the unacknowledged, unsaid undercurrents about her betweenness denied outright but mostly camouflaged. To have it spontaneously shouted at her and to shout back was refreshing. Yet, she also realizes she is safe, she is not a young Black man who could have been as easily shot.read more
Big Data collection corporations on average have 18,000 pieces of information culled from every aspect of our online activities to sell to other corporate marketing departments. Big Data’s cannibalizing of our habits and preferences is becoming the world’s most valuable and profitable resource.
Big Data refuses to disclose its information on us, to us. Harmful misinformation is almost impossible to correct.
For Big Data (echo of Big Daddy), anonymity on our computers, our handheld devices is a ruse.read more
Happens after twenty years of writing; twenty years of applying; twenty years of “Unfortunately(s) …”
It happens on a sunny Montreal day as the magic realism of the storm’s creations begins to melt. On this 20th of March, 2013, day: the spring equinox. This day when the length between sunrise and sunset/sunset and sunrise is exactly the same. It happens on this one day of perfect betweenness. Oscar receives the call.read more
Librairie Le Port de tête on Mont-Royal: Carla Harryman reading from her new book Adorno’s Noise, Gail Scott presiding. When Carla reads from final section, “Headless Heads,” Oscar reverberates, shifts in folding chair, spreads her knees apart to rest her forearms on tops of her thighs and looks down at the old pine floor. Carla’s piece riffing off everything from Max Ernst’s La femmes 100 têtes! to Blake’s “The Ghost of a Flea” to Richter’s painting “Betty” (his daughter the model for adult head on butcher’s paper).read more
The paper is coarse and browned with time. She reads the first page, a Short Biography. The sentence “Recurring bouts of madness plagued both her childhood and married life and in April 1941 Virginia Woolf took her life” startles Oscar with its confident use of the term “madness.”read more