Guest Post by José Teodoro
One night early in my residency, in the midst of a hapless dream-themed reading binge involving works by Freud, Bachelard, Nabokov and an eccentric British aeronautics engineer-turned-radical time theorist named J.W. Dunne, I’d unintentionally fallen asleep in a semi-upright position. I was awakened by a knock on the bedroom door. I heard it as clearly as I hear the din of the furnace at this very moment. Because of my position, when I opened my eyes I was gazing directly at the bedroom door, which was slightly ajar. I rose to investigate. This house has a peculiar quality: if you begin at the front door and move room by room, upstairs and then down, you find yourself moving through fairly large spaces into increasingly smaller spaces until you reach the basement bedroom farthest from the point at which you started, a room rather like a monk’s quarters, with a low ceiling, a narrow bed, a small desk, a small window. By the time I had reached this smallest room, I felt foolish for undertaking this inspection, collapsed on the bed and promptly fell asleep once more. I dreamed I was on a construction site where I worked with my father as a child. Decades have passed, yet I can still smell the musky odour of freshly cut oak.
I came to Historic Joy Kogawa House to work on a project that involves, in part, the mystery of my father’s past, so it strikes me as curious that that knock on the bedroom door upstairs, which was almost certainly the product of one dream, delivered me to this tiny bedroom room downstairs, where I slipped into an altogether different dream, one that reminded me of my purpose for coming here: to meditate on, and enter into, time with my father, a man who, as it happens, has hung thousands of doors over the course of his long career in carpentry.
Nearly two months have passed since I arrived and my time is nearly up. I can’t shake that familiar feeling that what I’ve done here has fallen short of my ambition. It’s always this way: I dream of solitude and productivity and find myself distracted or waylaid by circumstance. But this house, with its many rooms, has been good to me. The Fraser River, with its barge ballet, has been good to me. The workshops I have directed here, most especially the lovely participants they have attracted, have been good to me. The garrulous ravens have been good to me. My lengthy bikes-rides through this city, which are somehow uphill both ways no matter where I go, have been good to me. While it may seem like every project I’ve undertaken ultimately revisits the same idiosyncratic preoccupations, I can report that every process I’ve ever undertaken has been completely different.
Every time I set out to make something new it’s as though I’ve never made anything before—and might not again. I don’t know how to start, I don’t know how to continue. I remind myself that on a good day, if I’m honest, this is exactly how I want things to be. I’ve spent many days feeling I’ve done no work, only to find myself in the evening, long after I’ve given up for the day, in the large front room, walking endless rectangles around the patterned rug, mulling over some detail I can’t let go of, trying to sort some knotty problem, and suddenly realizing, Damn, I guess I’m working.
What I must routinely remind myself is that, for me, the only work worth doing is the work that, in some crucial way, finds itself. My father is a carpenter and when he goes to work everything he does really looks like work. When I go to work, at least when I’m at the early stages of a project, as I am here, it probably looks like the opposite of work. Some of the hardest work I do is about receptivity, stillness, listening, following, taking notes, asking questions, listening more, waiting not idly but actively. Let things come to you. Let voices come to you. Let life’s myriad interruptions come to you. Let strangers with strange stories and earnest queries come to you. Let inclement weather come to you. Let a house and all its history, good and bad, come to you. Let accident come to you. Leave a place at the table for ghosts.
José Teodoro is a playwright, writer, and editor. He has been in residence at Historic Joy Kogawa House in January and February 2021.
His new play, Cloudless, a streamed audio event with Canadian Stage, releases on March 1st.