I can’t quite remember how I met Trevor Corkum, but it was online and shortly after we began communicating we discovered a bunch of connections: we both went to Trent U., in Peterborough, Ontario, at the same time, and we had a mutual friend unrelated to our work or our schooling. Plus, there’s the writing thing. Once I started reading his stories, and his thoughts, I knew he was someone I wanted to hear more from, and read more of. So here he is. Enjoy!
Who are you?
Well, I am a Scorpio, for starters. Make of that what you will! I’ve also been highly mobile for most of my life—I’ve lived in seven provinces/territories and four countries, attended thirteen schools, and stopped counting the number of times I’ve moved after about thirty. I assure you, however, this has nothing to do with commitment, but rather a sense that fluidity and motion and wandering have always been a big part of my identity. As a result, “home” for me has never been a place, a group of people, or a particular corner of the world but something I carry inside, a sense of being connected to an energy larger than any one place or location.
What does it mean to tell the truth in writing?
Truth is always a difficult, shape-shifter of a topic, but essentially it’s the idea of capturing the right shade of light, the correct emotional energy of a scene or moment or thought. Because the fact that how we interpret events, phenomenon, experiences are shaped at a physiological level by memory, and how earlier events are encoded within the brain and body, “truth” is extremely relative and personal. So you and I can each experience the same event and will respond to it according to our own past experiences of fear, trauma, love, desire, loss, identity and so on. Events get filtered through an emotional lens of memory. So telling the truth in writing means paying exceptionally careful attention to the emotional heart of the story, to what’s at stake and what’s really going on under the surface for a particular character or set of characters. We tell that truth through what we say, the words we choose to say it, what we choose to omit.
I write both to make sense of the chaos of the world, and to capture a flicker of the mystery underlying the experience of being alive, but also to return my own energy back into that same dark well of mystery. Put differently: writing for me is a way both to affirm and transform the very fleeting experience of being alive in a human body.
What’s the difference between how you approach working in multiple genres—for example, fiction and non-fiction?
Essentially, in all genres I need to feel like something is at stake, that some important question underlies the project. There’s a certain risk involved in finding the right tension between space/chaos and accuracy/order. What I mean to say is that in every genre—I have also worked in screen and poetry—the important thing is to respect the will and demands of the subject matter and that central burning question. All genres demand precision, honesty, attention, and respect.
In what ways is writing a metaphor for life?
See above re: risk. To be fully alive, in my experience, and to bring life fully to the page, are one and the same endeavour. They both require constant, unending acts of humility, daring, letting go, wooing, learning getting out of the way, discipline, practice, courage, truth-seeking, generosity, patience, and extreme amounts of love and care. They call for allowing yourself to fall down on your face and learn from your mistakes. Sitting down to a blank page each day to write for me is like yoga or meditation—you only really begin to cross over into the realm of transformation when you are able to be fully present, to acknowledge and work with and be aware of what comes up, not to control the situation, but to work with what comes up. That’s my experience. There should be a certain amount of fear and a certain amount of surrender, and at the heart, a willingness to sit inside the uncomfortable, unknown space for however long is required without resorting to distraction or self-doubt—easier said than done, most days.
Talk about how a story or piece comes alive for you.
Often a story begins with a sort of gathering of seemingly unrelated facts or events, the flotsam of life or the unconscious that seem to have some kind of psychic or energetic connection to one another. For example, a certain angle of sunlight on a sidewalk, the sound of a couple fighting, a dog collar on the grass, a news story about an airplane crash, the way grief feels held in the chest. These bits may begin to cohere, to zygote into some related new form, but only, for me, when a character or narrator comes along to make sense of these phenomena. I know I have a story on my hands when I suddenly find myself inside the mind of a character, when I see or experience something through their conscious reality, with its attendant hopes and fears and crazy, heartbreaking desires and manic half-lies. It’s the consciousness—theirs, not mine—that makes it come alive. Typically I spend a lot of time with these characters, inside their consciousness, listening for their voices, understanding the arc and flow of their lives, before I begin to write, so that when words finally meet the page, we’ve established a certain level of intimacy with one another.
Where does the writing ‘come from’ for you?
It’s all part of the mystery of the universe, really. We’re all part of that same crazy beautiful cosmic energy, in one way or another, so I feel that it’s being open enough and humble enough to receive that energy. It’s always all around us.
What has recently turned your crank as an artist (sentence, phrase, novel, short story, play, painting, philosophical question, deep understanding about art-making)? Why do you find it so exciting?
I’ve been deeply affected in the past few year by some of the readings I’ve been doing in Buddhism and other Eastern religions. The Buddhists understand that all things are connected, that the body and mind are not separate, and that every action has a reaction. As an analytical person by nature, who is also fascinated by the many ways we store and experience emotion through the body, it’s been extremely liberating to try to work past certain dualities, to accept and embrace the fundamental ambiguity of our lives in human form, and to understand that much of my writing (and the writing I admire most) has underneath this same energetic quality of interconnection and mystery, that acknowledges something pulsing and living under the surface of the page, that same fleeting energy we sense in flickers and sharp pangs in our own lives.
I am also endlessly fascinated by the Buddhist idea of karma—how we are all, day by day, in our thoughts and actions, planting the seeds of our own future. This gets really misunderstood or simplified and misrepresented in the West. But essentially karma tells us that we create much of our own suffering through our repeated patterns of behaviour that trap us in cycles of suffering. This is a central experience of being human, and it’s something I’m drawn to in my own characters, and try to understand and witness with compassion and humility. What’s exciting about it—and what I think makes for good art—is the struggle or journey to try to overcome these habitual patterns or fears. What choices do characters make, and to what end? What choices don’t they make? No choice, the status quo, is often just as risky or riskier than making a bold choice. There are as many variations on this dilemma as there are human lives.
Next month: Jael Richardson, the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lessons, A Father’s Life