Sweating & Blinking: Memoir by Dylan Jewers


Dylan Jewers is a writer from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. During 2013 and 2014 he spent 17 months in Montreal, where he wrote the vast majority of his composite novel First in a Chain of Lakes. While in Montreal, he also wrote the first draft of Sweating & Blinking, the manuscript where this excerpt comes from. 

He has been published in Scrivener Creative Review, The Brooklyn Voice, Pictures & Portraits and BareBackLit. He currently lives in downtown Dartmouth and works on the Halifax boardwalk.


An Exclusive Excerpt from "Sweating & Blinking" 

For the month of May, I subletted a relatively cheap room in an old apartment building near the Atwater Metro Station. I had started working in the Plateau just weeks before and had little money. I bussed, trained and walked to and from work. I hung out with Mary Anne in her Plateau apartment. I hung out with James, in his Little Italy basement pad. I wrote when I could but the majority my time alone was spent sleeping twelve, thirteen hours a day, stealing my temporary roommate’s weed and food, smoking on the fire escape, reading The Journal of Albion Moonlight, and watching Trailer Park Boys in an attempt to curb my homesickness.

I shoplifted regularly; sausages, mini cans of maple beans, pints of ice cream, cans of beer. I sold off books I’d brought and purchased. I bummed money from Mary Anne and James. I got twenty here, twenty there from my mother and father. I ate as much as I could at work. At home, even with the help of stolen ingredients, my meals were small, bland and disappointing. The roommates were rarely around. This normally suited me quite well. I didn’t particularly like them and they didn’t seem to care much for me either, but there were nights spent alone and bored and uninspired where I sat up wishing the door would burst open and the two of them would be followed by a mob of fun, exciting people bearing beer, weed and pizza. That never happened. 

I would go for walks around the neighbourhood. Down St. Catharine to Cock n Bull for a pint and up to Concordia for a free meal at the student soup kitchen. I would sit in Cabot Square right outside the Atwater station and write little poems. I would bring Albion Moonlight and read and smoke on the statue, occasionally peaking up at the Inuit prostitutes with missing teeth and beautiful smiles, the skinny black junkies on rollerblades, the two Native men with scraggly beards and bottomless 40 ounces, the big leather bound biker with pills in his pockets, the sleeping homeless and malnourished dogs and the seemingly clueless families eating lunch at the picnic tables.

Sometimes the riffraff would ask me for smokes and change. Sometimes the prostitutes would ask for beer. One afternoon, one sat on my lap and stroked my face telling me I was hot. I quickly shoved her off me and got the fuck outta Cabot Square. 

Towards the end of the month, the internet cut out. I was moving in with Mary Anne the following week and my roommates were both moving out, so it wasn’t dealt with. I spent much of that week at the McGill library using Mary Anne’s account. I was bumming around the library, stoned, sad, bored bored bored and I decided to type my name in the google search engine. The third link had the name of one of my stories with my name right next to it. I clicked on the link and there it was; a story of mine published in a New York online magazine. I instantly thought to what Saroyan had written in the preface to The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze about when he learned he was to be published and how it was the greatest moment of his life. I'm not sure it was for me, but it certainly came close.

Over the years, the majority of stories I've sent out to various magazines around Canada, UK and USA have been given no reply. Some youth magazine outta Boston wanted one when I was seventeen, but I didn't get back to them in time with the edits they had requested and missed my chance. I once received a rejection email riddled with both spelling and grammatical errors. I laughed and quickly forwarded it to Mary Anne. The email had lots of constructive criticism-- more than any other rejection letter I'd had the misfortune of reading. I had expected them to pass on it, considering it was a stuffy Maritime university journal, but I never expected them to fuck up so many words and sentences.

I was fifteen when I wrote my first complete short story. Like many kids, I had notebooks filled with half-finished drafts of novels and movie scripts, but had never taken the time to put final touches on anything. There was an old Asian man with three teeth who lived on my street growing up and I wrote a five-hundred word piece on him one afternoon during math class. I read it over and over again and was happy with it. The following week I wrote another, only this time it was close to twelve-hundred words and was completely made up. It was about a married couple having an argument over an ugly piece of furniture.  I showed both of them to a few friends and they seemed to enjoy them. They encouraged me to keep writing stories. I spent the next few years reading all the great short story masters and continued to write as many as I could. Most of them weren't very good. They were contrived and elementary. Mary Anne helped me reach that conclusion and after months of rethinking my process and approach, I began writing again, only this time, the stories sounded more like me, and had more to do with things I was familiar with and not just reworking’s of old Bukowski and Carver tales.  

The rejections and the ignored stories didn't keep me from writing. It was still exciting to know you were trying. All a rejection letter meant was you were trying, and being ignored made you want to be better.

So seeing a story of mine published, finally, made everything seem alright. The idea of going hungry for another night and stinking like crotch and ash didn't matter as much after that. I stared at the screen and read my story through a few times and smiled wide. I emailed it to Mary Anne and a few others and went back out into the Montreal air grinning and twitching like any other corn toothed madman.


Series Postscript: As a writer, Dylan found meaning amidst struggle by focusing on his publication. In your life, when you're struggling, what aspect of your world has the potential to imbue your experience with meaning? How can you use this aspect to add more intention to your thoughtscape?