This instalment of Taking Notes features a conversation with Toronto-based writer and witticist Cason Sharpe, author of Our Lady of Perpetual Realness & Other Stories (Metatron Press, 2017) and contributor to Canadian Art, C Magazine, Guts Canadian Feminist Magazine, Brick, PRISM International, and the Hart House Review, among others. Recently, Sharpe has begun writing Cason’s Casting Couch, a column on film casting for In The Mood Magazine.
Late this spring, we chatted with Sharpe about his predilections for thrice-daily baths, perfectly worn-in denim, and the eclectic style of Sarah Jane Adams, Big Brother Australia’s oldest-ever housemate. We also spoke about the pandemic’s impact on Sharpe’s writing habits, his current work on a short story about sex robots, and what it’s like to have two older sisters be his best editors.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
When did you last leave the house and where did you go?
I went out yesterday to get some flowers and picked up some purpley pink tulips.
What’s the last object you’ve encountered that gave you cause for pause?
While I was on my flower walk yesterday, I found a dark brown wooden chest. It’s about two-feet high and has small carvings of snowmen-like figures. It’s right on the border between pleasantly kitsch and slightly tacky. Part of the bizarreness of the pandemic is that I haven’t been able to have friends over to my new apartment to confirm whether certain objects are great or gaudy. For now I’m trusting my intuition that the chest is cool. [laughs] I hope!
What effect has the pandemic had on your writing practice?
It has let me sit with myself in a way that I wasn’t able to before. In the past, I usually worked full time and then wrote in the evenings, so having time to centralize it has definitely changed my practice. If you’re used to writing from five to ten pm during your free time, there’s pressure to consider whether something will get published or if you’ll make any money from it. These days, I feel like I can just write and trust that even if the results don’t go anywhere immediately, it’s still part of a worthwhile process.
- the last outfit photo saved on your phone* the last image of your home saved on your phone*
What sources (art, film, writing, friends, Instagram accounts, etc.) do you turn to when you feel sapped of inspiration?
The @affirmations Instagram account has been really helpful. It has these semi-ridiculous memes overlaid with texts of positive affirmations. For example, “I am the influencer that I've always wanted to see,” or “I am a positive impact on the world.” The tone pokes fun at toxic positivity culture, but the affirmations also sincerely do that work. I’ll find myself reading an affirmation and thinking: Haha, that’s hilarious, but also, yeah, I am a positive light in the world. [laughs]
Do you have a reader in mind as you write?
I don’t think of an ideal reader in terms of a certain demographic, but more as a type of person that I often encounter in job settings and who I’m trying to make laugh. A lot of my writing is geared toward a millennial audience whose day-to-day experience may be similar to mine. They might have a creative pursuit that isn’t fully formed and they’re struggling to make ends meet. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the hypothetical goal of writing a novel and wondering if my audience even reads novels? Do they have the time, or even the interest, to read a full-length book? I’m curious about what they actually want or need.
Who is the first person you want to share a new idea or project with?
Probably my two sisters. They’re also writers so I trust them as family members and peers. They're both very honest with their feedback, which I appreciate. A while ago I sent them a manuscript and one of my sisters was like, “It's not ready yet.” I don’t think even a close friend would have been able to share an opinion so candidly, but my sister was right—the piece wasn’t ready. Having objective eyes that know me so well both as a person and as a writer is really valuable.
- the last image of an animal you saved on your phone*
Is there anything that you're working on right now?
It's still very much in progress, but I’ve been working on a short story that's been a bit of a weird departure. I guess you could say the genre is sci-fi erotica and I’m writing it for Smutburger, which is a little imprint that Tamara Faith Berger is starting. It’s kind of similar to Olympia Press—small-batch publications of short erotic works. And for some reason I thought, why not try writing about sentient sex robots?
Have you picked up any weird snacks, diversions, or vices during the pandemic?
I've become regimented with myself in a way that I wasn’t before. I don’t necessarily have one weird thing, but my days have begun operating on a bizarre internal clock that involves taking three baths a day. One in the morning, one in the mid-afternoon—maybe around four or five o’clock—and then another at eight or nine. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and because I’m not working right now, it doesn’t coincide with a typical workday schedule, but it just feels right.
Are there any textiles, garments, or looks that you're sick of seeing right now?
At my old job, we did a writing lab about Y2K fashion coming back. I think now being at an age where I can remember experiencing certain trends during earlier incarnations has made me more critical. When I think back to the early 2000s, the cuts and styling just felt more janky and rough. Now some of the same looks are being brought back in ways that look much more refined and, for lack of a better word, expensive. It’s almost too perfect. When I think of Y2K-era fashion, I think of cheap and synthetic materials and cuts that often felt awkward and wrong. It feels like the badness of 2000s styles is being edited out in its revival and I guess I’m a bit sick of that. I’m probably also just being crotchety. I need some zoomers to guide me on aging gracefully. [laughs]
What textiles or textures do you most like to feel on your body?
I know there's been a COVID backlash against jeans, but I do really like denim, especially when it's worn and soft. It can be a long process to get denim to your preferred texture or condition—sometimes you have to wear a piece for years. I’ve had certain denim items for ages. Many are now falling apart and I should probably repurpose them, but I like that I've worn them down to a specific level of softness. There’s something rewarding about finally getting denim to be as comfortable as you want it to be.
- the last selfie saved on your phone*
What television show or film would you most like to borrow costumes from?
This is left field, but I’ve been watching Big Brother Australia and there's a contestant named Sarah Jane [Adams], who is sixty-five. I think she may be one of the oldest contestants in the show's history. She's a yoga teacher and has a really zany sense of style, for instance you’ll see her in a matching camo tracksuit with a huge gaucho belt and a sun hat. Her look is very whimsical and fun. I feel like it's rare for characters on reality shows to wear their own clothes and you can tell Sarah Jane brought her own closet with her and that it informs the way she is in the house.
Tie-dye or tartan?
Linen or PVC?
Chainmail or taffeta?
This combination is really evoking a Grimes music video! To you, what is the most overrated part of working as a creative?
There's a certain careerism that I don't like or identify with. Obviously people need to make money, but I think there’s a difference between networking and making a connection. Not being able to tell if someone wants to hang out or wants to have a business meeting is bizarre.
What is the most underrated part of working as a creative?
My answer is almost the flipside to the last question—meeting people who creatively or intellectually stimulate me and whose values I align with is exciting. Toronto can feel diffuse and isolating at times, so I think an undervalued part of the creative industry is that it prompts you to meet and talk to people and develop a community that way. As much as I disparaged networking in my last answer, I do think there’s a positive side.
It’s like a Shakespearan marketplace. There’s good and there’s bad.
All types! [laughs]
- the last image of your neighbourhood saved on your phone & the last image that made you laugh*
Who is your dream collaborator?
I would love to work with Grace Wales Bonner. I think she’s a really important menswear designer and I admire her collaborative ethos. She brings fashion, writing, visual art, and film together in a way that doesn’t feel all about marketing a product. It reminds me more of worldbuilding or existing somehow beyond a strict structure of capital and fashion. It’s obviously still an enterprise, but it seems like [Wales Bonner] is engaged in ongoing collaborative processes and I would love to be a part of that in some capacity.
What is something you’d like to learn in the upcoming year?
I started hand sewing during the pandemic and now I’d love to learn on a machine. In the past I’ve patched pants and darned socks, but having a machine and being able to sew my own alterations would be amazing.
What is the first section of the thrift store you gravitate to?
I generally go to a thrift store on a mission, so it depends on what I’m looking for. Recently I’ve been noticing that the homewares section of Value Village can be quite good. There will be bizarre candlesticks and butter dishes and things that are less picked over than the clothes. I also look for men’s suit jackets. It’s hard to find a full suit that isn’t too corny, but every once in a while you can find a nice, well-fitting standalone blazer.
Is there a specific garment or accessory you’re always on the lookout for?
A well-fitting trench coat. A bit oversized, but not to the point where I’m swimming in it and also not a tight-fitting, hour-glass silhouette. I’m picturing something drapey. Because I have a small frame, I tend to get drowned in big coats, so I’m always looking for one that is still big and flowy, but doesn’t make me feel like a Dickensenian street urchin. [laughs]
-the last image of an artwork saved on your phone (this pic is of a piece by the artist Gordon Shadrach)*
Do you have a fashion item that you treasure?
I have my dad’s leather beret that he got in the ‘70s in Chicago. He was a young kid interested in Black Panther politics and fashion, so it’s a piece that has a lot of history. Sometimes I get a little defensive and possessive about it when I see other people wearing leather berets—I’m like, well they don’t have an authentic Black Panther beret.
I feel like I’ve seen you wearing that hat and it’s excellent.
I do wear it quite frequently!
Thank you for your time—I hope this hasn’t cut into your next bath.
Not at all!