I am not an artist (What is reality?)

MCMWednesday, August 5, 2020

Here's a ritual of mine: every so often, I apply to the Canadian Council for the Arts to see if I'm still not an artist. Good news: no change since last time!

(this may sound bitter, but I've passed clear into the world of absurdist comedy at this point, so don't worry)

Here's the thing about me: I have hours of produced TV shows under my belt (including two I created/co-created); I've written a few million words as a ghostwriter, and have published a handful of books of my own. I've been flown to a foreign country to livewrite at an arts festival. I've been running experimental fiction projects online since 2001, with Dustrunners.

But none of that apparently qualifies me as an artist.

Part of the problem is, I'm sure, because I work in a niche that straddles media in not-quite-logical ways. I'm a writer, but I'm not writing a standard novel. I work in new media, but I don't create imagery. I do experimental art, but not in a way that lets me check boxes on forms. I sit very firmly between genres, so every time I ask the Canada Council if I can register as an artist, they say nope.

I should explain: this isn't me asking for money for a project. This is me asking to be qualified as an artist, which is the first step to being able to request funding. You can't submit a proposal until you're officially recognized as an artist, but I have spent the last... wow, probably close to ten years being stuck at the gate.

Last time I tried this and failed, I asked for special help from the Canada Council, and after writing a fairly detailed message about my predicament in terms of who I was and what I did, I got a reply that boiled down to: "Hi! The first step to qualifying for funding is to register as an artist, which you can do by following this link!"


Why does any of this matter? Why do I want to be an artist anyway?

Because I have a project I desperately want to do that has very little hope of ever being commercially viable, and the only way I will be able to carve out the time to do it is if I get funding. And so I try. Again and again, until the heat death of the universe.

What project?

It's called Retcon and it is, in a nutshell, a novel that rewrites itself. It's about a young woman named Kari with the ability to rewrite people's memories on a whim. What did you eat for breakfast? If she thinks: "Waffles," then you ate waffles for breakfast, no question. Her mother tries to keep her from abusing her power (keeping written notes helps!) but Kari wants to live a normal life. So she sneaks out one night to see her friends— and screws everything up horrendously.

While trying to cover her tracks by rewriting memories after the fact, Kari inadvertently erases the memories of eyewitnesses to a crime that may very well be a murder — but nobody knows for sure anymore. Worse still, her meddling is framing obviously-innocent people as the prime suspects. But every time she tries to fix things by nudging reality a little here and there, the unintended consequences snowball even more. Pretty soon, she's not sure which way is up — or if the killer even remembers what they did at all.

The story is a novel, but using the Prism technology I used for The Anti-Anti-Anti-Christs. As you read, Kari will rewrite someone's memory to suit her needs. But if you flip back the pages to the section where those events took place, you won't be seeing the original text, you'll be seeing Kari's new reality. The more she meddles, the more disjointed the past starts to be — and, if you look closely enough, the clearer the truth becomes.

Retcon is a book that you're meant to get lost in, re-read in fits and starts, and try to disassemble as you go. It can't exist as anything other than a website or app (not even on Kindle!) and since really understanding it depends on putting in so much work, it's not something that's ever going to be commercially viable. It's an art project studying the nature of reality as a function of memory.

If only I were an artist. Then I might be able to make it.

Well, there's always next year.

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