This week on The Chat, we speak to Jordan Tannahill, interdisciplinary artist and author of the much-anticipated debut novel, Liminal (House of Anansi Press).
Ann-Marie MacDonald calls Liminal “generous, bold, unabashedly emotional, and really smart—an ultra-engaging portrait of the artist, and portal to the art.”
Teva Harrison, artist and author of In-Between Days, says “This book has everything: a road trip, coming of age, philosophy, mythology, meditation on the nature of self, and the tender love of a son for his mother—all infused with uncommon emotional intelligence.”
Jordan Tannahill is a playwright, director, and author. In 2016 he was described by the Toronto Star as being “widely celebrated as one of Canada’s most accomplished young playwrights, filmmakers, and all-round multidisciplinary artists.” His plays have been translated into multiple languages and honoured with a number of prizes including the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama and several Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Jordan’s films and multimedia performances have been presented at festivals and galleries such as the Toronto International Film Festival, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Tribeca Film Festival. From 2012 to 2016, Jordan and William Ellis ran the influential underground art space Videofag out of their home in Toronto’s Kensington Market. In 2017, his play Late Company transferred to London’s West End while his virtual reality performance Draw Me Close, a co-production between the National Theatre (UK) and the National Film Board of Canada, premiered at the Venice Biennale. In 2018, Jordan will premiere his play Declarations at Canadian Stage, as well as Xenos, a collaboration with dancer-choreographer Akram Khan, at the Onasis Cultural Centre in Athens. Born in 1988 in Ottawa, he currently resides in London, UK.
THE CHAT WITH JORDAN TANNAHILL
Trevor Corkum: Congrats on the publication of Liminal. After working in so many other media, how does it feel to have a first novel out into the world?
Jordan Tannahill: Thank you! Initially it was rather terrifying, to be honest. But I’m proud of the book. And it’s been heartening to hear from readers who are connecting with it.
TC: The book centres around the relationship between Jordan and his mother, who may or may not be dead. There are powerful scenes and lovely, lyrical passages unpacking the complex terrain between mothers and sons, which is fraught territory for so many men—queer men in particular. Can you talk about this more?
JT: For a lot of queer men, our mothers are the first prisms through which our gender-identification and sexuality are refracted. This can forge a profound and intimate bond, but also one that is very loaded and fraught. I would say the relationship depicted in the novel is certainly both.
TC: Liminal is a work of autofiction. You draw heavily on your own life and experiences. There are overlaps, for example, with the essay you wrote with William Ellis in the recent intro to The Videofag Book, covering your years as co-curators of the artspace. What was most challenging about using your own life so directly in your fiction?
JT: The greatest challenge was ensuring the people who saw themselves reflected in the book felt respected and protected, without compromising any of the juicy, dramatic elements that give the novel’s characters their lifeblood.
TC: What scares you most as a writer?
JT: When I began the book, I became convinced that if I spoke to anyone about it, I wouldn’t finish it. This grew into a really potent superstition for me. It wasn’t until I was almost done that I even told my mother I was writing it.
TC: These days you’re based in London. What does the writing and art world look like for you from outside the country? What do you miss most about Canada?
JT: I still think of Toronto as my second home. All of my friends are there. My chosen family. My collaborators. The Toronto arts scene is still a major source of inspiration for me. The thing I miss the most is being able to see my friends’ work on a regular basis. And all of the casual conversations in bars, restaurants and around kitchen tables that inform the work. They’re conversations I very much want to remain a part of.
The Toronto arts scene is still a major source of inspiration for me. The thing I miss the most is being able to see my friends’ work on a regular basis."
Excerpt from Liminal
On the morning of Saturday January 21, 2017, you didn’t wake up. Not at six thirty or seven, the time you were normally having your coffee and finishing your Sudoku. Or at eight or eight thirty, the time you’d wake after a dinner party with girlfriends, or even nine if you’d managed to get through a few bottles of wine together. By ten I managed to make myself think, Good for her, she’s having a lie-in. You’d gone to bed early the night before. We were watching coverage of Donald Trump’s inauguration when you began to complain of a headache. I joked you could expect to have one for the next four years. As the evening wore on it developed into a migraine, which of course worried us in light of your Transient Ischemic Attack. TIA. What your doctor had called “a warning stroke.”
You said, “I’m going to turn in,” and as you walked upstairs I called, “Make sure to keep your head propped up,” for which I had absolutely no idea if there was any medical basis.
By ten thirty that morning I was sitting on my bed checking emails, waiting for the soft thud of your feet hitting the floor of your bedroom, the creak of the floorboards, the scraping of hangers in your closet. But the usual sounds didn’t come. Not even a cough or the rustling of sheets. Only the occasional passing car punctuated the silence, the spitting of its tires on the asphalt suggesting the snow was melting to slush. I’d made plans to meet Ana downtown for the Women’s March at noon; she was back in Ottawa visiting family as well. She sent me a photo of herself wearing her pink knitted Pussy Hat and a giant fabric banner she’d sewn declaring, I’m So Angry I Stiched This Just So I Could Stab Something 3000 Times. The text was laid out like a rainbow above a raised fist holding a large knitting needle.
“Purrrrrfection,” I texted back, before pointing out that she’d forgotten the “t” in “stitched.”
“Pretty sure Trump can’t read anyway,” she replied.
You’d mentioned wanting to join us but had to see how you were feeling. Should I wake you, then? To give you time to get ready? As it hit a quarter to eleven I jumped in the shower and was expecting to see your door open when I got out; to hear the clinking of your spoon against your cereal bowl in the kitchen. But as I walked into the hallway in my towel your door was still closed. I dressed, combed my hair, and packed my knapsack for the day. At eleven I peeled open a can of Whiskas for Chloe and let Al out into the yard to pee. And as I stood there watching him sniff about I fought an almost overwhelming urge to check on you. You’d been having restless sleeps all week. Maybe you’d had another bad night. You’d resent being woken. I was sure of it. But if I didn’t it would gnaw at me the whole bus ride, at least until I got your text — “Sorry, I slept in. Send photos.”— but what if that text didn’t come? I’d be in the middle of the protest nauseous, ripped through with worry, noon, twelve thirty, one o’clock, Ana saying, “We can go home if you like,” and yes, I’d have to come all the way back, an hour on the bus, always taking a goddamn eternity to get anywhere in Ottawa, calling the house over and over and if you didn’t pick up what then, 911, the ambulance, the medics already outside the house when I arrived ...
This excerpt is taken from Liminal, copyright © 2018 by Jordan Tannahill. Reproduced with permission from House of Anansi Press, Toronto. www.houseofanansi.com