essay //
Bearing Witness to the Light:
Writing Toronto

HLR: Where do you publish? 

I generally publish wherever I can. Sometimes I think about what kind of readers a certain publication will reach, but if a place asks me to contribute, I usually will. When I was younger, I dreamed of being one of the lucky few who “eke out a living” through publishing their work, but these days my primary desire is simply to have the time and space to do the writing I want to do. As long as I can somehow, through whatever means, make enough money to fulfill my basic needs, I am content. This might change in the future. I would also say that I’m a very slow writer; it could take years to develop a poem or story or book to the point where it’s ready to be published, and I’m learning that not everything I write needs to be published. I’m still coming to terms with these aspects of my process. I like that Kurt Vonnegut quote: “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.”

HLR: What kinds of genres do you write in? 

I have written screenplays and poetry and genre fiction and “literary” fiction and creative non-fiction, but it’s hard to do more than two of these at a time. The past couple years have been devoted to fiction and non-fiction. I recently started writing poetry again, as well – not with the idea of publishing it anywhere, but maybe to share with some friends, and for the pleasure of engaging with language in a particular way. In my experience, all forms feed into each other, particularly in terms of structure and pacing, both on the level of the individual sentence and in terms of the overall narrative.

HLR: How does travel affect your writing? 

Hugely. Almost everything I’ve written has been inspired by travel, from my earliest published poems and stories to my two current book length works of prose (one is a novel set in Canada, Romania and the former Soviet Union from 1919-1992, and the other is a memoir about living in Morocco post-9/11). 

HLR: What are you reading these days? 

I’m slowly reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf in English translation, and very slowly reading poetry in Romanian (Mircea Cartarescu, Grigore Vieru), German (Paul Celan), and Russian (Marina Tsvetaeva, Alexander Blok, and some children’s rhymes). And dictionaries. I’m reading lots of dictionaries! In general, the older I get, the more slowly I read. 

HLR: How does the Internet and your presence on the Internet affect your thinking and writing? 

Profoundly, but I’m only gradually able to process and articulate how. I’ve been thinking that perhaps regular internet use has increased the variety and intensity of connections in my mind, and I’ve been starting to wonder how this might be mirrored within a book-length prose structure…but it will likely be a while before I attempt this. I’ve also noticed that if I take a line or an idea from my notebook and type it into Facebook as a status update, I no longer feel the impetus to include this line in a poem or a story. 

HLR: Do you speak other languages? 

I don’t speak any other languages fluently, but I’ve spent time studying, speaking, and trying to read Arabic, French, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Italian and German. These efforts buoy my spirits on a regular basis. Getting outside of English is like getting outside of myself, and does me a world of good (even if only in the selfish and desperate way that Daniel Plainview utters this line to his deaf-mute son when they are reunited in P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood). I also read a lot of stuff translated into English from other languages – more than half of what I read has been translated from another language, because there isn’t time to learn to read fluently enough to gain access to most of the texts I’d like to read in their original languages. 

HLR: Do you think there is a kind of writing that is popular with your peers? 

I’ve heard people say that there’s a certain kind of writing that’s popular these days but I’m not sure what it is. Though if I thought of my peers only as other writers, I’d start to feel claustrophobic and useless and sick pretty quickly. I take my peers to include artists and makers of all kinds thoughout history, as well as people who haven’t been or aren’t currently engaged in creating objects for the marketplace, but who appreciate such things. Nowadays this would include anyone who isn’t freaked out by the feel of a printed book in their hands or who remembers the light from a 35mm film projector cutting through motes of dust. My overall taste and aesthetics tend towards European modernism, but I’m open to people and work from a variety of places and perspectives.

Eric Foley has been a finalist for the Random House Creative Writing Award, the Hart House Literary Contest, and the winner of Geist Magazine and the White Wall Review’s postcard story contests. A regular contributor to Numéro Cinq, he has travelled through over thirty-five countries on six continents. Foley has completed a memoir, I Was Young When I Left Home, and is currently living in Moldova, where he is at work on his first novel.