Heidi Wicks: Art in the time of physical distancing

July 2020

What book(s) and author(s) are you reading right now and why?

I just finished Bridget Canning’s second novel, Some People’s Children, which I absolutely loved. It’s completely consumable, addictive, absorbing, charming, and those characters are still with me.
I’m currently reading Normal People by Sally Rooney. Similar to Bridget’s book, the protagonists live in a small town and deal with the politics and gossip and expectations of the social world that surrounds them and attempts to trap them. Marianne and Connell are the couple in the book, who met as teenagers and kept reconnecting throughout their lives.
Characters – to [Rooney] it really matters that she respects her characters’ dignity and extend the same levels of love to them as she does to real people in her real life.
I’d heard her interviewed recently on Writers and Company and Q, and then noticed that Normal People is now a series on CBC Gem, so I was intrigued to check out her work. Write like no one will read you, she has said.
I like how she works two levels of dialogue – the actual words being spoken, but also what the characters are doing while they’re speaking. Looking at a yogurt container and deciding not to buy it because it has raisins in it, for example. We are all riding various thought trains simultaneously, in the conversations we have in our lives, thinking about multiple things at once.
I also identify with the sense of aimlessness she achieves in her characters, which she has said is due to the deteriorating job market in Ireland she experienced, which is something we have certainly experienced here in NL.
And, you know, Normal People is a love story, and who doesn’t like a good love story? We spend so much of our time thinking about our relationships – familial, friendships, romantic relationships, work relationships, – anything that focuses on trying to dissect a relationship, whatever kind of relationship it is, I’m intrigued by.

Is there a particular genre of films you find yourself watching? Or do you have any recommendations of series or movies on a streaming site?

I love a good documentary. I would highly recommend (on Netflix) 13th – Ava DuVernay’s feature doc about the 13th amendment of the United States constitution, which abolished slavery. It’s a statement on American racism. From slavery to convict leasing to Jim Crow lynchings to mass incarceration in the American prison system, black people have never really escaped slavery. It talks about how the War on Drugs was a cover by the Nixon government to arrest black people and other “problematic” groups. It’s told in a clear, concise, fast-paced, and factual way.
I would also highly recommend DuVernay’s series When They See Us, which is about the five adolescent black boys who were wrongly convicted of a brutal rape in Central Park in 1989. If you watch it, also watch the Oprah special afterwards, which features the full cast [and] also the five real exonerated five.
And I love good, smart stand-up comedy. Hannah Gadspy is an Australian comic, who broke in the US when her special Nanette was released on Netflix in 2018. It’s a brilliant commentary on homophobia and sexual violence, shame and rage, and really subverts the whole concept of standup comedy. I’ve never seen anything like it. She released a new special this year called Douglas (named after her dog!). And anything by Dave Chapelle I would watch over and over again.

What music or artist are you listening to right now and why?

I stumbled upon a playlist in The Guardian early on in quarantine, which was really chill and just what I needed at that time. It has the likes of Alice Coltrane, Brian Eno, a bit of Bowie, Miles Davis, some Massive Attack, George Harrison, Pink Floyd, Philip Glass, Kate Bush, Nick Cave, Velvet Underground – I still pull that one out a lot, and other stuff by those artists.
I’m also really loving Fiona Apple’s newest, called Fetch the Bolt Cutters. It was released in April, and recorded in her home, so you can hear her dogs barking in the background at certain points. The album is a symphony, in my opinion. Her vocals and her lyrics are bananas. Her piano is mesmerizing. That first track, you’ve gotta wait a bit for it, but when the drums kick in, I get a bit foolish every time I hear it.

Are you able to keep to a routine in terms of your own work?  Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for others who are struggling to work from home right now?

No! Ha. Just kidding. At first, I really struggled, just feeling guilty about getting work done and not neglecting my daughter, fearing that she was lonely and was having too much screen time. Since then, thankfully, the situation is different. While I’m not a morning person, I do find that being at my desk and working by 7am or so is great. I can get on top of things before too many emails start coming in. And for my own writing, I have found for years that early morning writing is productive. I often write for an hour or two in the morning if I’m working on something in particular, with the goal of ending the session by identifying where I’ll pick up on it or what I’ll write next when I go to sit down at it again.

Social media is exploding with daily check-ins, poetry readings, virtual art gallery tours, etc – is there anything in particular you have discovered that has delighted you?

Well, I have enjoyed watching the Covideo Collective! They do covers of popular songs, and all the musicians record their own parts in isolation. Ritche Perez started it, and has had so many musicians take part, and brought such joy to our community through that initiative. Maggie Burton gave a house concert back in April sometime I think (or it could be May … I moreso look at things as just “sometime in the past” now – time seems to have all blurred together). But I loved that concert. At the same time I was flicking between that and Ed Kavanaugh being interviewed. I also had a beer and rocked out alone in my kitchen to a Mark Bragg show one night.

How has food provided a comfort?

By eating a lot of it? Ha.
Oh good lord did I ever buy a lot of cheese during quarantine. During the first month or so of lockdown, my joy consisted of eating cheese, drinking wine, and watching Schitt’s Creek.
I’ve noticed so many people baking and trying new recipes, and really enjoying their time at home, which has been one of the awakening things about quarantine, I think. We all need to appreciate life’s simple joys.

Can you describe the physical situation you are in right now – what location, who you are spending this time with.

I am working from home, and spending time with my daughter, who’s seven. Looking back at the early days of the lockdown, despite that it was such a tense time, she and I got to spend some quality time together doing drawing tutorials online (the children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems offered one), or doing a hike and a picnic with her stuffed Ernie and Bert toys, or practicing piano together (she makes me practice her songs, too), or we’d stay up late and have dance parties with a disco ball in the living room (which we have always done and still do) – by the time we were allowed to bubble up with my parents, she felt a bit strange leaving me because it had just been the two of us for so long. I’d like to think she’ll think back on that time with some fondness.
Now we see my parents and a special select group of friends. We’ve been blessed with nice weather, so we’ve spent time outside in small social gatherings. We’re in Bannerman Park a fair bit, or biking around the neighbourhood. I hike whenever I can. And I’m even attempting some landscaping!

In your opinion, what’s the best thing about being in NL during a global pandemic?

The nature, for sure. I have been into hiking for a long time, but I love seeing more and more people get into it. Once you start studying the trail systems, you realize just how vast they are and how much there is to explore. Our province really is breathtaking. The sense of togetherness and connectedness is heartwarming and encouraging. In the early days of lockdown, I had phone conversations with friends I had only texted with for years, and it was so nice.
We’re all in this together. We really do need each other and I get the sense that people are keenly aware of this now, and I hope we can all remember that as we move through this pandemic.

Any overall words of wisdom to share?

I always feel my best when I’m completely in the moment. I remember chatting with friends in the early, really stressful times, and they said that just walking in their garden, enjoying a cup of coffee, a good book/show/movie/music, brought them the most peace. It’s important to be able to come back to the moment, in whatever way possible.

What do you miss the most?

Live music and live performance. The knowledge that film and theatre production has halted is upsetting. The festival circuit will be absent this summer, which will be weird. No Folk Fest, Busker Fest, Lawnya Vawnya, etc etc. Not to mention the literary festivals. It’s strange and sad launching a book where there are no launch events or live readings. And it’s strange not knowing when we’ll be able to enjoy those things again. It really does feel like a big gap in our city and province. I know our arts community will return in fighting spirit from all of this, better and brighter than ever. But I sure do hate that loud silence that is just kind of hovering there where the sounds and bustles of The Ship should be.

Heidi Wicks has written for The Telegram, The Independent, Newfoundland Quarterly, CBC, and The Globe and Mail. In 2019, she won the Cox and Palmer Creative Writing Award. Melt (Breakwater Books, $22.95) is her first novel.