Birding in the Glass Age of Isolation
By Curtis LeBlanc
Curtis LeBlanc has an active mind, and a troubled one, too. Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder is one thing but putting Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder on top of that can make daily living quite a challenge.
Perhaps it was the psychological issues that fueled his poetry or maybe it was even the poetry that allowed him to sort his life all out. Maybe both.
“I started writing it and got really interested in it in high school. I was a songwriter since I was probably about 13. I was writing songs in secret in my bedroom. I was always obsessed with writing lyrics. The more I became familiar with literature, the more I wanted to create that as well. That ended up taking over from the songwriting eventually,” he recounted, the word ‘obsessed’ popping up casually though it does colour the rest of the conversation, all things considered.
“Probably Grade 11 is when I started to really seriously think about writing as an option for me and something that would make me happy in life. I'm fortunate to get to do it now.”
LeBlanc, a PK grad now living in British Columbia, just released his second book of poetry a month ago. Birding in the Glass Age of Isolation explores one man’s experience of mental illness even though the title seems to offer the same kind of examination of society in the age of COVID-19.
It was all just happenstance, he made sure to note. He actually started writing it three years ago, just before his first book (called Little Wild) was published. That one dealt more with his childhood in St. Albert: how masculinity was reinforced in his upbringing, how he presented himself and how he experienced and felt about the world.
Now an accomplished writer who already has a pro’s CV for publications and awards, he is also the managing editor of Rahila’s Ghost Press, co-host of Tonic Reading Series, the web editor at Nineteen Questions, and a Grade 12 English and Humanities teacher at BrainBoost Education, an alternative high school in Vancouver.
Some of his students have their own unique challenges, though he finds they are really creative as well. Class discussions openly include the subject of mental illness.
LeBlanc is pretty open about his life. His late teen years, he said, are when he struggled the most with visual hallucinations that would persist for several months. He wanted to write the poems that would comprise Birding ever since.
“It’s difficult to capture because it's such an abstract concept and one that's difficult to understand, even put into words when you have experienced it,” he said, adding he did write an article for Maclean’s a few years ago that explained it in non-poetic detail.
“Since then I had been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder as well, which explained a lot of things that I felt and some of the anxiety that I'd felt growing up, and especially in my young adulthood. I wanted to explore those two things together and what it meant for me as an individual in the world and a lot of that isolation that comes with feeling anxiety.”
The book deals with the conflict between the “artificial and the natural world” and how nature can be healing and maybe even a source of its own anxiety for him as well.
“The book ... travels a lot of different spaces,” he summarized.