This is how the poem Tanya Davis wrote about surviving loneliness begins, the poem that is also a film. The title came from her friend, collaborator and director, Andrea Dorfman. Neither expected the film to explode in the public consciousness the way it did.
“Turns out, Tanya’s an expert on how to be alone,” says Dorfman, laughing. “But there’s being alone as in not being in a relationship. Being an artist is a solitary endeavour. You have to be alone in order to produce. A lot of artists, writers and musicians have to reconcile with that aloneness.”
Davis also didn’t expect the work to be used as an instructional video. “When I was saying how to be alone, and talking in that directional voice, I’m actually talking to me. I never meant to be preachy, or [to suggest] I’m an expert or anything. I had no plan or assumption that a lot of people would hear it or how they’d interpret it. I just wrote the poem.”
The popularity of the film really started to snowball last August. That’s when Roger Ebert saw it on YouTube and tweeted about it, activating its viral success. Now, with more than 1.8 million hits, loneliness may be a thing of the past for Davis, if such a thing can be staunched with hundreds of Facebook friend requests.
“I feel humbled that people thought I was significant enough to sit in front of their computer and compose an email,” she says. How To Be Alone garnered even more attention when Russell Smith wrote about it in his column in the Globe and Mail, calling the piece “anti-feminist” and “retrograde.” Naturally, Davis takes exception to Smith’s interpretation.
“I thought he was presumptuous,” she says. “He assumed because I am a woman and Andrea is a woman, it’s a woman’s piece, for women. I had no gendered agenda, at all... he just doesn’t know anything about me.” She adds, “the one thing I did appreciate is he bothered to write about it. Nothing wrong with a bit of critical discussion and it’s the first time something I wrote---as far as I know---inspired such a dialogue.”
Davis is a Summerside, Prince Edward Island native, but the poet and musician has called Halifax home the past five years. She and Dorfman have worked together before, on the video for Davis’s song “Art” from her first record, Make A List. Davis’s third album, Clocks and Hearts Keep Going dropped in November, produced by songwriter Jim Bryson.
“I went to Ottawa in the spring to make it,” says Davis. “I’ve never had a producer before, so it was nice to have guidance, have other ideas. Someone to be a little more objective about the songs and structures.”
The 10 songs are typically lush, sweet and wordy, with more of an emphasis on pop melodies this time out. “I let myself write about love more,” says Davis. “Love was on my mind a lot. I took it into other places, I wrote a lot about the death of love. And just death in general. So it’s a bit heavier, thematically, but the music is lighter, more sweeping arrangements.”
Davis and Dorfman have been busy on other projects: Walter Forsyth directed another short inspired by a Davis poem, This Tear is A Word, and Dorfman has garnered festival awards---including an audience award at the New York Short Film Festival---for her film, Flawed.
They’re also planning on collaborating again in the future, applying to BravoFact for funding to film a poem called “Eulogy for You and Me,” which can be found on the new record. “We also have an idea for a feature film...about a performer,” says Dorfman. “I’d write the script, Tanya writes the songs and poems.”
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