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Book Review: Man Alive

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Thomas Page McBee, 172 pgs, City Lights, citylights.com, $15.95 

In April 2010, Thomas Page McBee and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Parker were held up at gunpoint near their Oakland, CA neighbourhood. They survived the attack, but its aftermath left McBee in a tailspin, reflecting on the nature of maleness in the face of violence. Two other important points colour this realization: McBee was also the survivor of sexual abuse enacted by his father, and at the time of the attack, he was grappling with the decision of transitioning from female to male. What does it mean to be a man when violent, flawed men feature in your strongest memories, burrowing into your core? This is the question posed in McBee’s wrenching, candid and deeply lyrical memoir, which is both a fictionalized exploration of trauma and reconciliation, and also a story of a person reclaiming their own identity, making strides towards their truest self.

The search sends McBee traveling — post top surgery — to the sweltering South Carolina town where his father lives, enduring the stares and hostile vibrations of strangers. But their stares pale in comparison to the task of peeling back the layers of a situation coloured by fictions and half-truths, and as we accompany McBee, these revelations twist the knife of self-knowledge and self-analysis. This is an awful pain, but it is necessary for McBee’s development, and necessary for us, the readers, to understand who he was then, and who he is now.

McBee is a lovely writer who leaps expertly between scenarios, memories and time frames. Alongside his journey home, the narrative flips back to Oakland and the trial of McBee’s attacker, who is arrested for murder; memories of McBee’s painful, silent childhood in Pittsburgh, and his present reality, moving to a new city with Parker and working through his preparations towards transitioning. A less gifted writer could stumble amidst all these threads, but McBee’s narrative voice is clear and sure, and weaves through each moment with an aching surety.

“It’s not fear that kills you, but what you do with it,” advises McBee’s personal trainer at one point in the book. McBee has opened himself and shown his fear to the world, and turned it inward, a knife point to remind him where he’s come from, what he’s endured. Empowerment feels like a hollow word to describe such a naked and moving experience, but Man Alive nonetheless provides a revitalizing, strengthening affirmation of self-knowledge, of understanding, and yes — forgiveness. (Alison Lang)

Indie Events Roundup : July 27 – Aug 2

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Tuesday, July 28

TORONTO

July Comic Jam, 7pm, The Cameron House, 408 Queen St W, free

Bring your pencils and pens for the monthly comic jam!

This Magazine Summer Reading Issue Launch, 7pm, Supermarket, 268 Augusta Ave, $5 includes issue

Come celebrate the launch of This’ Summer Reading Issue, curated by Dani Couture. Readings from Kate Sutherland, Sara Peters and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer.

Wednesday, July 29

TORONTO

untethered Issue 2.1 Launch Party, 7pm, Supermarket, 268 Augusta Ave

It’s the third issue! Come support!

Torontaru July, 8pm, The Get Well, 1181 Dundas St W, free

Toronto’s favorite indie gamers and game makers meet up! This month, N++ from Metanet, next-gen screenshots of Pluto and shia_labeouf_do_it.gif So obvi…. DO IT! Thursday, July 30

MONTREAL

Satanic Panic Launch, 7pm, Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, free

Co-editors Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe launch a collection of essays and articles unpacking the bizarre cultural paranoia around satanism in the 80s, including a piece by BP Editor Alison Lang!

Saturday, August 1

TORONTO

Maker Festival 2015, Toronto Reference Library, 9am-5pm 789 Yonge St, free

A week of maker events culminates in this big maker fair at the reference library! Also runs Sunday 11-5pm.

Sunday, August 2

TORONTO

Midsummer Pop-Up Zine Market Fundraiser, 11am-6pm, D-Beatstro, 1292 Bloor St W, suggested $5

Help raise funds for the Toronto Queer Zine Fair! A day long event featuring queer/trans zinesters in full effect!

 

Sneaky, Slimy and Full of Swears: 20 Years of Short Fiction in Broken Pencil

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 “Little Train Pyjamas” illustration by Jayesh Bhagat, issue 64.

Presenting five of Broken Pencil’s most notorious/memorable pieces of short fiction, as chosen by fiction editor Richard Rosenbaum.

Beaverland 

by David Burke (Issue 36 —2007) 

“Funny that, with all the girl trouble, Ben should find himself underneath a moose rack staring at a long, pointed antler and the pink cotton of a dangling pair of panties.” In that first line alone you’ve got images of Canada, coitus, and confusion—all important elements of so many Broken Pencil stories. A kid from the city ending up at a northern lodge searching for he-doesn’t-know-what and not finding it; minimal and moodily familiar. Read it here.

Camp Zombie

by Ian Rogers (Issue 40 — 2008) Ian Rogers is best known today as an award-winning horror author, but when we published “Camp Zombie” the awards hadn’t yet been won, and Ian was just a great writer. He counts this among his favourite stories (and so do we) because, despite the “zombie” in the title, it was one of his first non-horror pieces. In fact it’s a comedy about sleepaway camp for insomniacs, and we loved its unexpected realism and paradoxical sweetness. Read it here.

Some of This is True

by Janette Platana (Issue 42 — 2009)

The Clash are playing in Edmonton tomorrow night and Mom is dying of cancer. This piece (reprinted in Janette’s collection A Token of my Affliction, reviewed in Issue 68) proves that remembrance doesn’t need to appeal to the cliché of nostalgia, that writing can be substantial and serious and at the same time urgent and humane. It’s also punk as fuck. Read it here.

Field Guide to Kleptoparasitism

by Braydon Beaulieu (Issue 51 — 2011) 

“I stole my neighbour’s newspaper this morning. He has never noticed my compound eyes or mandibles.” This Indie Writers Deathmatch semifinalist has something else of which we just can’t get enough: super weirdness. Broken Pencil stories thrive in that zone where genres collide (because it gets harder every day to tell the difference between science fiction, psychological horror, and realism…and I don’t mean in fiction, I’m talking real life.) It’s risky and bizarre and uncommonly relatable for all that. Makes your head buzz a little.  Read it here.

Little Train Pyjamas by Leita McInnis (Issue 64 — 2014) 

“My neighbour, Cheryl. I often wonder what she would do if she knew what kind of games Alex and I play while she works double shifts. She trusts me. Because I’m a woman.” Like Lolita or American Psycho, “Little Train Pyjamas” is legitimately dangerous, but that’s also exactly why it’s necessary — and why we knew it belonged in Broken Pencil. Sometimes art will make you feel bad, you know? And then what are you supposed to do when empathy seems more frightening than indifference? Read it here.

Calls for Submissions: All Image Edition

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Indie Events Round-Up: July 20 – 26

 

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Seriously the only place to be on Thursday. More details below! 

Tuesday, July 21

TORONTO

hummingbird, Paintbox Catering and Bistro, 555 Dundas St E, free

A monthly open mic series with live band support, hosted by Unbuttoned. All ages! Sign up at 6pm, show starts at 7pm. Light refreshments served. Stage is not physically accessible.

Wednesday, July 22

TORONTO

A Night of Readings, 6pm, 8-11 Gallery, 233 Spadina Ave, free

New texts and works-in-progress from Nadia Belerique, Jessica Carroll, Georgia Dickie, Fiona Duncan, Sophia Katz, Laura A. Warman, and Fan Wu.

Thursday, July 23

TORONTO

Prisoner Correspondence Project – New Members Meeting, 6pm, Access Point Danforth, 3079 Danforth Ave, free

Are you interested in doing meaningful prisoner justice work? The Prisoner correspondence Project Toronto is seeking new members. Come share in food and coversation, and learn about how to get involved in letter writing for people in prison with trans and queer identities.

Broken Pencil 20th Anniversary Party, 8pm, The Gladstone Ballroom, 1214 Queen St W, $5 cover includes issue, $10 gets you a subscription

Come celebrate our 20th birthday with us! Reverse fortune-telling, advice from teens, embarrassing high school zines, giant zines, and crowd karaoke make up the meat of this fabulous affair — not to mention shmoozing and boozing with Toronto’s coolest?

Friday, July 24

TORONTO

LIVE MY LIEF, 8pm, Double Double Land, 209 Augusta Ave, $5 advance, $7 door

Poet and video artist Steve Roggenbuck performs, with opening performances and readings by Neil Lapierre and Aisha Sasha John.

Saturday, July 25

MONTREAL

Dirtbag Party, 11pm, 128 St Joseph Ouest, PWYC fundraiser

DJs Cuteface, Fag Face, Bunny Buns, Haterade, and Like The Wolf (how many of these are real? Only one way to find out). Support queer and alternative pride festivities of Pervers/cité! And say goodbye to Mile End’s most epic punk house!

TORONTO

Self Care for Skeptics Zine Launch, 6pm-9pm, Trinity Square Video, 401 Richmond St W, Suite 376, PWYC

Self Care for Skeptics is a zine that takes issue with the [neoliberal] notion of “self care,” approaching self care through lenses of feminism(s) and queer theory. Featuring art and literature by twenty-two feminist, queer, genderqueer, and trans artists and writers. Get yours!

Well Hung Reception Party, 10pm, Glad Day Bookshop, 598a Yonge St, free

Content Factory, Queers In Space(s) and The Reading Salon present new works by old divas including Raymond Helkio, David Bateman, Brock Hessel, Brad Fraser, Amy J. Lester, Paul Bellini and S. MacDonald. Proceeds to benefit Hamlet In A Hot Tub production fund + Glad Day Bookshop.

Sunday, July 26

TORONTO

International Zine Month Celebration – Hangout, 6pm, Tranzac Club, 292 Brunswick Ave, free

Come play! Hang! Make zines! Read zines! Doodle! Celebrate zine month in style at the Toronto Zine Library’s home base.

Zine Review: Touch The Donkey

Poetry zine, rob mclennan (editor), issue 1, above/ground press,touchthedonkey.blogspot.ca, $6

A minor naming misadventure happened here. Series curator rob mclennan men­tioned in an essay on the Open Book Ontario site that Touch the Donkey earned its name from a game that comedian Fred Armisen invented during an improv routine with Seth Meyers. That game was actually called “Chase the Donkey”. Not an auspicious start, but the contri­butions mclennan solicited more than make up for the naming foible.

Touch the Donkey, says mclennan, is an attempt “to engage with more experi­mental and avant-garde poetry.” Nine poets (mclennan included) are repre­sented in this first issue, and styles range from numbered sequences to sonnets (the latter not exactly avant-garde), with several prose poems in between. There’s also an online supplement where mclen­nan interviews the contributors.

The aforementioned sonnets aside — they’re expertly crafted by Camille Martin — several lucid and honest prose entries stand out, in this collection. Across two verses, Hailey Higdon discusses how she has “come to an agreement” with her dog regarding its need to be walked and her reluctance to participate, as she suffers through anxiety (or perhaps agorapho­bia). In “Distraction,” Norma Cole exam­ines a variety of memories that hint at the power of silence and absence, and the creativity born from incomplete knowl­edge.

There’s a consistently bleak — yet oddly gratifying — atmosphere sur­rounding the majority of these works. Pattie McCarthy sums it up in a way that’s both enigmatic and pitiable, in one of several poems titled “wifthing” (which deal with the history of the wife): “the shape of my midlife crisis is daniel rad­cliffe.” (Scott Bryson)