This is the first in a new Catapult Community series, TinyLetter of the Month. Each month we’ll feature a new TinyLetter writer, chat with them about their newsletter, and republish one of their recent issues. (Feel free to recommend your favorite newsletters to us in the comments!)
Teri Vlassopoulos (newsletter: Bibliographic) has published two books, most recently a novel, Escape Plans (Invisible Publishing, 2015). Her nonfiction has appeared on The Toast, The Millions, The Rumpus, and Bookslut. She lives in Toronto.
Small Things, Part II.
Yesterday I had dinner with family friends who’d immigrated to Toronto from Greece. They brought their four-and-a-half-month-old daughter, who has a head of beautiful black hair and the chubbiest cheeks. Her parents met in Athens when her father was sent from Albania to get a better education. Albanians flooded into Greece in the nineties when the borders were much more porous and the regime in Albania was much harsher, despite having to trade in careers for lives of manual labour and overt racism. It’s unusual that a Greek and an Albanian would have started dating and eventually married, but they were in high school and teenagers are the first to see beyond that kind of stuff. And now they’re living here in Toronto, and their daughter is Canadian.
Why am I telling you this? Doesn’t everyone have an immigration story close to them like that? I can get even closer — my parents, from Greece and the Philippines, would never have met if the immigration policy for Canada in the seventies hadn’t been so generous. My father was “highly educated,” but my mother didn’t really have any specific skills or money and wouldn’t have done very well in a point system today. But they were allowed in, met, and built their lives and family.
Growing up, so many of my friends and classmates had similar stories. For a long time I was especially bored of a certain brand of Canadian novel that focused on the Immigrant, as if it was just a literary trope since duh, of course the reality was so commonplace, not that special, whatever.
But I suddenly feel compelled to share these stories again because it’s like the world needs a reminder that we shouldn’t take these things for granted, we shouldn’t dismiss them as metaphors or tropes — they are stories, sure, but they are real events, affecting real lives. Once you start banning people, you lose all this potential, all this richness.
Unrelated, but not. We brought our daughter Clara to get her first haircut yesterday. We waited until she was two to go to a hair salon, and we thought she would hate it, but they gave her bubble solution and a wand, and she was gold. She came home with a short little Amélie Poulain-style bob, and it’s the cutest, but I did feel a pang watching the hair she’s had since she was a baby flutter to the ground.
Later I remembered this Sharon Olds poem:
My daughter –as if I owned her –the girl with the hair wispy as a frayed bellpull
has been to the barber, that knife grinder, and had the edge of her hair sharpened.
Each strand now cuts both ways. The blade of new bangs hangs over her red-brown eyes like carbon steel
All the little spliced ropes are sliced. The curtain of dark paper-cuts veils the face that started from next to nothing in my body-
My body. My daughter. I’ll have to find another word. In the bright helmet she looks at me across a great distance. Distant fires can be
glimpsed in the resin light of her eyes:
the watch fires of an enemy, a while before the war starts.
Right. Their eyes . At two, there is a different glint in my daughter’s eyes (“my”), suddenly more aware of what happens around her. Not world events, but her direct environment. It’s enough, though, to be aware that something like the future exists, and where there’s a future there’s a capacity for hope and disappointment and understanding of joy and fear.
I find myself thinking: how can someone in power inflict horrible things knowing that these eyes exist? That they’re watching?
A chat with Teri Vlassopoulos about Bibliographic :
When did you start writing a TinyLetter, and why?
I started writing Bibliographic in June 2015, when my daughter was six months old. At the time it felt like too much work to update a blog, but with a TinyLetter I could accumulate the notes I typed on my phone while I was stuck under a sleeping/nursing baby. I used to make zines when I was a teenager, then moved on to websites, etc. as I got older, so the impulse to send out regular missives about my life has always been annoyingly strong.
With TinyLetter, I also liked that I could be selective about making letters public or private, like the good old days of Livejournal! I usually send them out monthly, sometimes more or less often depending on the month.
How do you think writing a regular newsletter helps your writing -- or does it?
It does help, I think! I have longer stretches of time to write now than I did when I had a newborn, but I still consider Bibliographic letters to be exercises in flexing stolen-moment writing muscles: an hour at a coffee shop here, a day job lunch break there. I sit down, write a letter, send it out, done.
What are some of your favorite TinyLetters?
I’m going to go all Canadian with this one:
Baseball Life Advice from Stacey May Fowles: I’ve watched maybe one baseball game in the past year, but Stacey has a way of connecting baseball news to everyday life in powerful, often moving, ways.
Kate Carraway: Kate’s writing is a master lesson in Voice! I love her musings on self-care and big feelings.
The Quiet is Loud by Samantha Garner: Samantha writes about her life and her writing process in a way that I have always found really comforting and cozy.