Guillaume Morissette betrays himself
His name’s a dead giveaway, but when I met up with Guillaume Morissette to talk about his new book, I Am My Own Betrayal, it was his minimal French accent that most struck me: I was stunned that someone who isn’t a native speaker could have such complete mastery of the quirks and twists of our funny mutt language as Morissette’s prose so clearly demonstrates that he does.
In 2009, Morissette was working as a video game designer when he realized that this field “wasn’t really a medium where I could express myself,” and applied to Concordia’s creative writing program. This plunge led him to gorge on anglophony’s back catalog to play catch-up. He describes how, “I went through some kind of binge of buying random books; classics and books that just came out four seconds ago. It was completely random. I think I read more that year than any other.”
The end result of this intensive self-education is the local author’s debut book, a collection of poems, short stories and tweets harvested from over three years’ creative output and released by local publishers Maison Kasini.
His style might be termed “neurotic meta-fiction”; it is composed of abstracted impressions of his own life and relationship with literature, what he describes as “real life in the spirit of fiction.” But it is also sharp, darkly funny and superbly worded, full of word play and moody anecdotes.
As the title suggests, Morissette’s work can be pretty self-deprecating, but this relates partly to his process of transforming life into literature. While he says that he uses “real life as DNA for stories,” when he discusses his process it’s all about recuperation. While fictional, he finds the best parts to be those “copy-pasted from my life.”
Morissette maintains that fictionalizing life experiences serves as a means to both connect with audiences and take stock of one’s own life. “It’s a way to keep life accountable. It’s really easy to let stuff pass you by,” he says, and “just documenting life is a way to reflect back on it, a way of finding out what you don’t know within what you know, to capture things felt but not analyzed.” Success, he argues, is in those moments “when you capture something that you didn’t know you had thought.”
With the book out, he is keen to return to performance projects to create different kinds of spaces for reading, writing and sharing creative work with others. “Readings have kind of a shit rep,” he admits, “and I can understand why, to be honest.”
With co-conspirator Ashley Opheim, he has launched a series of more laid-back readings, called This is Happening Whether You Like it or Not, where a few selected writers are invited to present short pieces in more of a party atmosphere. Keeping the readings brief and uniformly good, and staging them alongside music, dancing and drinking, giving artists a more relaxed environment to practice making literature more accessible to new audiences.
“We wanted to bring a different aesthetic to it,” he says, to strike more of an DIY underground show vibe in small venues, comparable to the local loft party scene that nurtures new bands. This, he argues, is critical to allow new artists to gestate their work, practice their performance styles and test audience reactions to new pieces in a more relaxed environment, “making it fun, as opposed to making it formal.”
I Am My Own Betrayal is out now on Maison Kasini, 102 pgs, paperback, $14.95; you can read a selection of his work for free here. The next This is Happening Whether You Like it or Not event is slated for September.