Writer's Block: Cliff Cardinal

June 21, 2017

For National Aboriginal Day, we interviewed Indigenous playwright and actor Cliff Cardinal whose collection of two solo plays, Huff & Stitch was just published by Playwrights Canada Press. His plays offer up a powerful snapshot into the lives of marginalized Indigenous characters: a single-mom who makes her living as a porn star in Stitch; and three brothers who huff gas to escape their brutal realities in Huff. John Threlfall of analogue magazine called Huff a “stark, staggering and utterly compelling slice of rural Ontario life guaranteed to change the way you think, and feel, about contemporary Indigenous issues.” Below we learn about Cliff's writing rituals, his favourite books, and what he'd drop everything for.

 

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For National Aboriginal Day, we interviewed Cree playwright and actor Cliff Cardinal whose collection of two solo plays, Huff & Stitch was just published by Playwrights Canada Press. His plays offer up a powerful snapshot into the lives of marginalized Indigenous characters: a single-mom who makes her living as a porn star in Stitch; and three brothers who huff gas to escape their brutal realities in Huff. John Threlfall of analogue magazine called Huff a “stark, staggering and utterly compelling slice of rural Ontario life guaranteed to change the way you think, and feel, about contemporary Indigenous issues.” Below we learn about Cliff's writing rituals, his favourite books, and what he'd drop everything for.

 

 

 

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Do you have a book that you’ve gone back and read several times?

I’ve got a bunch of them. The first are from when I was a little kid: Gretzky: An Autobiography, and The Catcher In The Rye, George Carlin’s Braindroppings, Scott Was Here, That Was Then, This Is Now. Then, after I lost all my innocence I got into darker stuff: Last Exit To Brooklyn (All-Time Favourite), Requiem For A Dream, Invisible Monsters, Fight Club, Trainspotting, Porno, Filth, Sarah Kane’s Book of 5 Plays, Permanent Midnight. I like other stuff too. These are triumphs of the human spirit that deserve your twenty bucks: Catch-22, Life Of Pi, Slaughterhouse Five, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The Corrections, The Selected Stories of Gordan Lish, How To Reassess Your Chess. (That one’s a chess book. If you challenge me to a game of chess I’m compelled to accept no matter what I have to do that day.)

 

Do you have any rituals that you abide by when you’re writing?

I set a daily goal of 2000 words and a new song. That’s the ritual. Also I sacrifice minor (chess) pieces to the creative goddesses every day.

 

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Cliff's workspace.

 

 

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Tyler Durden.

 

What are you working on now?

Writing-wise, a novel; an album of acoustic songs; and I’ve got a commission with Soulpepper Theatre. I’m also a performer. I’ve got a few different shows that I do, telling my stories and/or singing my songs. I try to make performing take up most of my time.

          

Why do you write?

My mom is an actress. When I was a kid she travelled around a lot. It kind of bummed me out at the time—and her too. But the one thing that made her walk on air, was when she’d been working on good writing. My whattyacallit, “id” is trying to write something so good that my mom won’t have to leave.

Isn’t that fucked up? Whatever. I’m wired the way I’m wired. My book is dope.   

 

Describe your perfect writing day.

It contains no writing at all. Just having sex with my girlfriend and ordering takeout with the proceeds of writing.

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Cliff's practical writing advice.

 

Have you ever experienced writer’s block? What did you do about it?

Every day. Every. Fucking. Day. Writing is really hard work. I almost never feel like doing it. There are moments of great inspiration where the hours fly by; but mostly it’s a drag and I write to have written. Because I’m compelled by a story. I overcome writer’s block every day.

I got to talk to American playwright, Gary Garrison one time. He’s a better person to listen to on this so we’re all probably better off if I paraphrase what he said. Watch out for resentments. If you’re looking around at what other people have and getting pissed off at what you’re not getting, it weighs on you. If you resent your family for not respecting your art, it weighs on you. (It’s not that they don’t respect your art, he says, it’s that they don’t know HOW to.) That emotional weight is something you have to also carry before you can pick up your pen.

Forgiveness, the dictionary says, is to cease to resent.

 

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I live in Hamilton with my Fiance (we’re getting married next month) and our dog, Frodo and our cat, Tiga. We just moved out here a couple months ago. It’s a lot cheaper than Toronto and not too bad a commute to downtown. The community is really generous and inviting. I’ve been invited out to tons of stuff- and I even got a job teaching with Theatre Aquarius this summer. The new coordinator, Jennie Esdale, is also relatively new to Hamilton. A lot of artists are moving here on the cheap and it’s becoming a really exciting community. Check me on Sunday nights at The Hub. I never have enough time to do as much as I want. In fact this blog post is late right now. I gotta go.

 

 

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Thanks so much to Cliff for answering our questions, and to Jessica at Playwrights Canada Press for connecting us! For more author interviews, click here.


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