On Uncanny Delays, Endings, and Dionne Brand

By Shazia Hafiz Ramji

On Uncanny Delays, Endings, and Dionne Brand - Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Last summer I moved houses briefly to work on my novel. A friend was leaving the country for a few weeks and I gladly left my little apartment to take care of his place and write. I came well equipped with everything I needed to knock out another draft of the elusive novel: cables, midi controller, chocolate. Yes, I need those for writing. And of course, notebooks, a tonne of books, and my beloved laptop. 

After a longed-for bath, I opened up my laptop and the working file for my novel was nowhere to be found... Though I had backups, I’d made significant progress in the past month but hadn’t backed it up. I still haven’t been able to figure out how it happened. I was in disbelief and denial. Why did this have to happen to this particular file when I finally had a plan and space and solitude? I cried really hard. I couldn’t muster up the courage to write during those weeks, but I decided to read. One of the books I had with me was Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, which I’d been meaning to read for several years. In the opening pages, the protagonist Sofia drops her laptop at a beach bar. She says, “My laptop has all my life in it and knows more about me than anyone else.” I cried again. I called my friend across the country. He had lost a file that same night, in similarly Sargasso-sea circumstances. I pulled a card from the Tarot and got the Page of Cups, the same card I got the previous summer, when I lost my phone at the beach. The universe was clearly trying to tell me something.

A couple months later, I got another chance to work on the novel in an uninterrupted block of time. I would have to be in my little apartment, but I knew I’d have the chance to be alone for a couple of weeks. I made a plan again: an allotted number of words per day with a timeblocked schedule for work and reading. I even scheduled my own little walks to treat myself like the dog of my dreams. I did meal prep. I was serious. Then I got sick the night before I was supposed to begin and my laptop crashed repeatedly when I tried to persevere. 

2023. I bought a new laptop. The same thing happened a few months ago: I made a detailed plan and got sick the day before I began. I could not believe it, but one must draw logical conclusions: the universe did not want me to complete this particular draft… But I was happy! I was well! I was not scared of writing! I actually wanted to finish it – any possibility of unconscious or conscious self-sabotage (if these were indeed reasons for illness and missing files) was not plausible. I was ready to write – I was so ready. Though I’d been writing in spurts in between, I’ve only ever been able to complete a draft in an uninterrupted block of time. I decided to listen to the universe and concluded that this draft was not meant to be. What was I going to do now? I was not going to read, I was going to live! I was going to do what I wanted to do. I accepted love. I got on flights. I continued writing in spurts.

In Theory by Dionne Brand, the narrator is a PhD student working on her dissertation. She repeatedly complains of the various interruptions to her dissertation, some of which are her lovers. She says, “There are multiple reasons why I find myself in the situation of not having completed my dissertation; on the other hand, I believe one ought to take stock of one’s own bullshit.” This is in a footnote that serves as kind of prologue to the novel (what an opening!). The novel then details several relationships she’s had; each of the first three sections is dedicated to a lover. At the novel’s close she says that she thinks of her lovers “not as hindrances, not even as transit points to myself or as the lessons of my life – but as the life itself, the theory of my life. They and I are not made of nothingness.”

After I chose to carpe diem, I understood that I would not have been able to finish my novel if these delays didn’t happen. If I didn’t experience what I did when I chose to do what I wanted – when I chose to welcome what I had previously considered to be “nothingness” – I would not have been able to see my draft through the end. In fact, I did not see the end of the novel at all. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I wanted to see it. Now that I do, I am very grateful for those delays. 

The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Shazia Hafiz Ramji’s fiction was shortlisted for the Malahat Review’s 2022 Open Season Awards. Her poetry was shortlisted for the 2021 National Magazine Awards and the 2021 Mitchell Prize for Faith and Poetry. Shazia’s award-winning first book is Port of Being. She lives in Vancouver and Calgary, where she is at work on a novel.