Back in 2011, I had the pleasure of hearing Jessica Westhead read from And Also Sharks (Cormorant Books) at Guelph’s amazing local bookseller The Bookshelf. The stories in her collection were sharp and funny, full of striking observations about contemporary life. To say I’ve been anticipating her second collection is an understatement. We’re thrilled that Jessica was willing to let us have a go at this excerpt from one of the stories in Things Not to Do out now with Cormorant.
Other acclaim for her work includes being nominate or shortlisted for: the CBC Literary Awards, Journey Prize anthology, National Magazine Awards, ReLit Awards, and the Danuta Gleed Short Fiction Prize.
The Lesson (excerpt)
It’s all about wielding influence. People see the name of our company on a wedding invitation—because that’s a clause in our contract, that our name has to appear there—and they immediately think, Whoa, this is going to be a classy affair. So you better make damn sure your shoelaces are tied and you’re not wearing an inappropriate belt buckle. This one guy who used to work for us? He showed up at a reception wearing a belt buckle in the shape of a King Cobra, all coiled up to strike. It was pretty mind-blowing, but I was like, “What the fuck? This is a fucking wedding.” Put that majestic eagle or howling wolf in a drawer for another day. This is an occasion for fragrant blossoms and shit floating in big vases with rainbow-coloured rocks at the bottom.
The next weapon in your arsenal is showmanship. Do you ever have that dream, you know, where you’re supposed to give a presentation, and it’s on something really boring, like sustainable development, but you’ve somehow devised a way to make it interesting? Like maybe you’ve got Powerpoints of Herman cartoons that relate to the subject? I love Herman, he’s so fucking deadpan. But when you arrive, you realize you’ve left the cartoons at home, and all that’s left are the boring parts, like about sharing food with poor people and all that? You don’t know how you’re going to get through this thing, and there’s a huge audience, but you have to do it—it’s your turn. That’s the approach I take with DJ’ing.
Dreams are crazy things, right? Last night I dreamed that I ran into the most popular guy from my high school, and I told him what I did for a living. Do you know what that means? It means I’ve made it. There’s Shane Terpstra, just walking along, and I recognize him but he doesn’t recognize me. I had to tell him, “Dude, it’s me!” And he grabbed my lapels and pulled me in and said, “Looking good, man.” The next thing he said was, “What are you doing with yourself these days?” His eyes were these crazy red slits, like a snake’s eyes, that’s the only thing that was weird about him. I said, “I’m a wedding DJ, Shane. I play music at the best moment of other people’s lives.” And he started to cry these gushy red tears of blood out of his crazy red slit snake eyes, it was pretty freaky actually, and he was so ashamed by what he was doing with his own life that he wouldn’t even tell me. Or maybe he was a vacuum salesman, something shitty like that. Anyway, it was a good dream.
(written by Jessica Westhead, read by Chioke I'Anson)
That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here
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