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Bestselling author and Protection Island resident Craig Taylor’s much-anticipated new book New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time hit bookstores this week and between radio interviews he took a moment to tell me about his six-year journey from research (and wandering the streets) to publication.
After the smash success of his book Londoners: the days and nights of London now—as told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it and long for it, he moved to New York at the suggestion of his longtime editor, who also lives there.
“We had been talking about various different projects and he said, ‘Well what about New York?’ And I thought, ‘Oh my god, yeah,’” says Craig. “To go to New York with a project in mind just seems like one of those opportunities I just had to do, you know?”
The aim for the book was fairly simple: go and interview 200 New Yorkers and hear their stories. However, the process of making that happen and deciding who to speak to was a little more involved.
Interestingly, he started with a long list of verbs.
“I went through it and I’d choose all these ones that could be applied to New York City or any place, really. It’s about seeking out people who do those things, so you know, ‘cleaning New York City’ or ‘policing’, just words that lead me towards action. I thought that was more helpful than sitting down with people and being like ‘How do you feel about the city?’ It was better to sit down and be like, ‘Tell me about what it’s like to wash windows when you’re fifty stories up. What exactly do you do?’” he says.
Many of the verbs were intentionally specific, but some words were also abstract, he adds, like “dreaming New York” or “leaving New York.”
The result is something The New Yorker calls a “kaleidoscopic portrait” that “captures the city’s thrilling lexical diversity, as well as moments of grace, compassion, cruelty, and racism.”
The stories Craig includes are those of cashiers, nurses, an elevator repairman, the person who wires the lights at the top of the Empire State Building or who handles the balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, even a nitpicker—a woman who makes a living picking lice from children’s heads.
By going specific, he also found ways to understand the larger stories, he says.
“It was really specific, but it was also a commentary on the school system – some schools used her, some didn’t. It was a commentary on how every kind of mammal changes in New York because she was like, ‘Oh yeah, nits have really changed in the last 30 years, they need to survive.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, they’re not the only mammals in Manhattan or Brooklyn who have changed to survive,” he says with a laugh.
Another example is the elevator repairman whose New York was summed up by the division between “people who piss in the elevators and people who don’t.”
Being an outsider who spent his childhood in Lantzville before becoming a writer at times worked to his benefit, Craig says. He was sometimes made fun of, or referred to as “my pet Canadian,” but ultimately it was an incredibly rewarding journey.
“What I found is that I just learned all of these deeply profound life lessons. It was a really, really rich experience in terms of just being a human being, you know? I didn’t fully expect that but that’s what happens,” he says.
“I just found that giving people a chance to speak about their lives and just being with them day after day and coming back to people, for me, was one of the greatest ways of serving a kind of apprenticeship, in so many ways, in how to be a human.”
In other news
👉While speaking to affordable housing advocates for our Making Rent series I heard about the push to make permanent some of the increased financial assistance that became available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So it was interesting to see that last week, the provincial government did just that. Starting in April, individuals on income assistance and disability assistance will automatically receive a permanent $175 per month increase. It’s not necessarily directed at housing, but it’s a step towards generally making life more affordable for some of B.C. (and Nanaimo’s) lower-income and vulnerable residents.
👉When we asked you for your input into how to solve Nanaimo’s rent crisis, a few of you suggested we look at Nanaimo’s only intentional community, Pacific Gardens Cohousing. Journalist Rae-Anne Guenther continues our solutions series Making Rent with her look into this local cohousing community here in town. Here’s a small excerpt:
When Myriam and her young family moved from Quebec to make a new life in Nanaimo, they left behind their extended support system. “We didn’t know many people when we first moved here. Now, our neighbours have become like grandparents and extended family to our children,” she describes. “It has helped us so much having childcare when we need it. It is very much like family here.”
More than 50 of you have generously contributed to our campaign to sustain The Discourse Nanaimo. Thank you! Reporting for this rental series has made it abundantly clear that in-depth local reporting is a public service that helps us solve complex problems. If you have the means, please become a supporter today and help ensure this work remains free for those who can’t afford it. Support this work today.
Local comedian Peter Hudson’s first single and music video, “Plexiglass,” has been making the rounds this week, a parody of the Justin Timberlake song “SexyBack”. Shot at the Superette grocery store, the song features his ex-con-from-Harewood character, 5-10, and is a romp through the various trials and tribulations of the modern plexiglass-walled world of COVID-19.
What’s going on?
Ongoing: The Innovation Academy childcare centre on Hecate Street has been broken into multiple times are doing an online fundraiser, selling blueberry bushes and other items to help pay for the cost of a new fence and improved lighting, among other items.
Ongoing until April 15: The Nanaimo Foundation is offering Neighbourhood Small Grants of less than $500 for projects that connect people socially or involve sharing skills or talents with each other. Payments are at the end of April.
Saturday, March, 27: The Vancouver Island Symphony presents a Symphony from your Sofa with the Back Row Brass Quintet in BRASS & SONG—a program of “songs…without singing.” Enjoy everything from classical composers to your favourite operas, Broadway & pop hits and more.
Sunday, March 28: The Vancouver Island Regional Library and Lazarus launch an Esports golf tournament with PGA Tour 2K21. Anyone with a VIRL card and living in the VIRLS region can enter for free to win up to $2,500.
Monday’s, starting March 29: Nourish Victory is hosting an online women’s circle called Victorious Sisterhood from 11 to 12:15 pm.
Monday, March 29: Last chance to enter the Vancouver Island Regional Library’s contest to celebrate International Women’s Day and build opportunities for young women in #STEAM. Submit a code block interface project and enter to win big. Contest Closes March 31.
Monday, April 12: Registration is now open for Foodshare’s virtual #growNanaimo classes, designed to engage kids in grades 3-5 or 9-12 in growing their own food.
Thank you to Dalia and Rachelle Virl for suggesting events this week in The Discourse Nanaimo Facebook group. If you’re not already in there, join us.
Earlier this month, the Vancouver Island University Faculty Association’s status of women committee hosted a panel discussion that explored the distinct barriers diverse women face to secure safe homes and housing. You can listen to the discussion here.
As always, I appreciate your feedback. Drop me a note, anytime. And thanks again for making this work possible.
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