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An imperfect life guide for women
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15 Minutes with Writer Brecken Hancock

Brecken Hancock’s poetry, essays, interviews, and reviews have been published or are forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry in EnglishBest American Experimental WritingPapirmassLemon HoundThe Globe & MailHazlitt, and on the site Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. Her first book of poems, Broom Broom (Coach House, 2014), won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry.

What spaces in Toronto do you go to escape your regular routine?

Because I live in Ottawa, the whole of Toronto is outside my regular routine. I take the train many times a year—to visit my cousin and to attend writing events. Transit always provides a precious stretch of time for working on pressing projects. Special places and events include Coach House headquarters, Bookthug’s HIJ reading series, Pivot Readings at The Steady, and any opportunity at all to spend time drinking and talking with friends.

What aisle do you spend the most time in at the grocery store?

Lately it’s the baby food isle—my seven-month old just started eating solids. I make most of his food myself, but iron-fortified cereal is important and I also like to browse the baby snacks. But it’s so confusing. There are about a million types of every kind of cereal and cracker and I can spend half an hour bouncing my son in his carrier while reading the lists and lists of ingredients before settling on something that looks relatively benign.

Which virtue do you try to cultivate within yourself?

Empathy.

The receipts in your wallet would indicate what?

I like to send mail—there are stamps and receipts for stamps in my wallet. And I collect children’s books from Kaleidoscope Kids in Ottawa.

What did you think you were going to be when you were 8 years old?

A doctor. A ballerina. An astronaut. A marine biologist. It never occurred to me that I would work with words—although my understanding of all the other professions in which I was interested was sparked through reading. Yes, I was attending dance class at age 8, but what especially attracted me to dancing were the novels I was reading about young ballerinas and their adventures at boarding school. I loved outer space because of science fiction. I loved marine biology because of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I loved medicine because of Albert Schweitzer’s memoir. From an early age, almost everything in the world has interested me. All of those things have come to me through books.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

My husband and I fell in love in Kyoto. We were both writing books and biking around with no obligations to formal employment. It was magical and completely unsustainable. Now when I daydream about living elsewhere on the planet, I inevitably picture going back and renting an apartment long-term. I’d love to take our son and bike and hike, experience onsen and the Shinkansen, and sakura.

What makes you happy?

Friendship. Relationships, in general, are crucially important to me and I cultivate my attachment to my long-distance loved ones through frequent e-mails and phone calls. I’ve never been good at being alone. I used to think of this as an abysmal failing, and I remember acquaintances over the years explicitly judging me for my serial monogamy, my inability to sit still, my attraction to interpersonal drama and nightlife. I think I tried to change, to learn how to tolerate loneliness, but it didn’t work and I’ve since decided that my natural tendency to find community can be as healthy as any gift for embracing solitude. The bad habits of youth have softened—destructive love affairs have given way to a nourishing marriage, turbulence has given way to productivity—but I still relish provocative conversation into the wee hours, mutually invigorating intimacy, and that warmth that overtakes me when I feel understood or when I’ve been able to offer understanding. 

What makes you cringe?

As in, shudder, squirm, tremble, quake: fear that we won’t defeat Harper.

What quality do you loathe most in others?

Self-righteousness.

What, in your opinion, is overrated?

Chocolate.

What is the one thing you wish you could change about yourself? Why?

Do you have all day? I’ve had to work really hard to try to accept myself for who I am, so mostly I’ve wanted to change everything about myself: I wanted to talk less loudly, retain facts and statistics so that I could debate politics more effectively, show appreciation for kindness more fervently, be less fervent, invest less in my appearance, be more beautiful… These antithetical desires are exhausting and, ultimately, self-defeating. I’ve thought about this a lot: what is a “good” person? I mean, I’ve made mental lists. The lists are inevitably hyperbolic, contradictory, impossible to execute. Maybe what I’m trying to change is my naïve belief that perfection exists but I’m just not up for it. Instead, I’d like to harness my skills and moderate my flaws. I’m trying to appreciate those whose strengths I admire, to treasure those whose aptitudes I can’t replicate.

What frustrates you the most?

Blind rule-following.

What quality do you value most in a lover?

Voracious interest in my human body.

What is your favourite thing to do on a Saturday?

I love going to a coffee shop first thing in the morning to write. It’s difficult to find time because I have a full-time job that has nothing to do with my work as a writer. Saturday mornings are inviolate.

What is your comfort food?

My husband’s taco salad.

What word or phrase should we all use more?

We should say “I’m sorry” more often—and mean it.

 

 

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