OK, because of my literary schizophrenia, I picked up a completely random book the other day - A book called Down to This by the improbably-named Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. In 2001 Stall (then aged 27) decided his life was shit and he would go and live for a year in Tent City, in Toronto, among the homeless and perhaps write a book about it.
I was quite transfixed. I'd like the other members of this literary wankfest to read it and tell me what you think. It's spruiked as a memoir and I suppose it is,but it raises on hell of a lot of questions for me.
Stall at no point really, really seems to regret his decision. He never seems to question the validity of his choice or really deeply longs to just go home. He accepts his new life as easily as we accept that what we want to order isn't on the menu today. It is curiously written and perhaps more refreshing that way. He doesn't write the book I expected him to write.
Sure, he describes the people he lives with in details, in depth, but somehow I don't have a picture of them in my head. Nancy, Jo-Jo, Karen - they are all bonkers, one had a baby, one is dying, one fights with two-by-four, one is a hooker - I can't remember which. Maybe all. They are interestingly sad people whose lives have been characterised by violence and abuse. They, in turn, abuse themselves and each other but, like any people, ahve an immense capacity to care and love and look out for others.
Stall, being a well-educated, middle class person just accepts his life in tent city and goes about his way. Sure, he ends up with carbon monoxide poisoning and the shit kicked out of him, not to mention more, but this is his real life. I suppose it shows how much he wanted to run away from his old one. There's crack and coke and booze of all kinds every second of every day. But there's a community and a shit-kicking affection that seems to be missing from his regular life.
And after finishing the book , I don't have closure, and I have been dreaming endlessly about it, to the point that for the last two days I have been grumpy and sleep-deprived. He writes about being cold (remember canadian winter, living in non-waterproof shack that you built yourself/tent), the way that Knut Hamsun describes being starving on the streets on Sofia in the 1800s in his aptly-called Hunger (it's fictional BTW) in a way that you can't help feeling it yourself.
When I read Hunger, I had to get up and make a sandwich every few chapters. I had sympathy pains. And when I read Down to This snuggled up in bed, I couldn't get warm. I am confused by this book. I want to ask Stall a whole bunch of questions. It is a curious tome that really grabbed my attention and I could go on but I don't want to spoil it.
Maybe the end message isn't about homelessness or what Stall thinks about it in the end. I think it's about love and where you find it.
On the courier to the next person who asks. Unless it's Kate. Then I just throw it at her head.