"I'm not interested in her divinity, I'm interested in her humanity."
He's travelled to more than 35 countries, lived in India for a few years, and avoids the usual cliches, as he chronicles his adventures, mis-steps and some serious drug-laden trips, writer and artist Dave Besseling tells IBNLive more about his life, writing, and having 3 books in the works.
Q: Possibly the most annoying question first - what led you to write this book?
A: Vanity. Money. Women. Kidding, it was actually a man.
In 2009, I'd written a piece for Rolling Stone, and the editor, also in charge of MW, told me almost off the cuff that he wished he could afford to send me off somewhere for a month and get a nice, deep story. "Somewhere like Manali, for example," he said. And I said, "Well, I just spent two weeks in Manali, living in a guesthouse with no name with a bunch of international drug smugglers." Story commissioned. This led him to ask about all that time I spent in Varanasi, surely there would be a mag piece there? There was, but as I wrote it, I just kept going and couldn't stop, so it became far too long for a magazine, and I decided to sit on it. Things that happened to me in Varanasi kept reminding me of certain events in my peripatetic past, and I'd already written a book of poetry, 50 poems from 50 cities, and going back and reading some of those helped the old memory make its links, and it went from there. I didn't know I was actually writing a book until about 30 per cent was complete.
Q: Did you at any point worry about leaving yourself vulnerable - you've been very open throughout, that this is your journey. This is you unravelling The Great Unmeaning.
A: I still do feel vulnerable because it's me, it's my life, it's my mistakes and my lessons in this book. It's a very personal thing, and I"m sure other people my age have had similar moments of "OK, something's different, it's time for a life audit." The difference is I'm dumb enough to have written it down and sent it out. So sure, to have someone shit on this book would be kind of like shitting on my life. But that's part of the deal. I've been scrutinized in public before, with music and art and sculpture design, and I think I've come out alright.
Q:The cover design and art work in The Liquid Refuses to Ignite is your own - can you send us a few images with a few lines in your own words, on what they signify to you?
A: I did these two images when I locked myself in my aunt's cottage in Ontario for a month before first moving to Amsterdam. I'd had some success showing my work in Tokyo, and so I knew that whatever was produced during that month of isolation would be the first works I'd show in Amsterdam. I don't think I've ever been that focused. There was a weird moment once I finished the two of them. I put the pieces of watercolour paper together and held them against the window, and they lined up almost perfectly. There are definitely specific reasons that the man comes at the beginning, before Varanasi, and his lady twin comes before the book circles back to Varanasi again in the penultimate chapter. There is so much symbology from so many traditions in each piece, that it makes sense that they're the keepers of a book like this. Anyway, I don't want to give away too much about the art in the book just as it's coming out. Let's talk about this sort of stuff in a year or so.
Q: Looking back at your journey, are there moments now that you think were beyond adventurous? Anything that you would re-do?
A: Beyond adventurous as in stupid and reckless? Of course. The one that comes to mind is getting ratarsed pissed on Absinthe in Barcelona, and before I made it out of the alley onto La Rambla, a guy jumped out with a knife and tried to mug me. But I was too pissed to just hand over my hard-earned drinking money, so I reared back my right fist. I was going to --in that swervy state--try and knock him out. So i pretty much gave him my whole right side to just stab the knife in and take the money off my corpse, but thanks be to whoever you like up there, he was an amateur and ran away. So when someone tried to mug me again five minutes later on La Rambla, without a weapon, I wasn't taking any shit and just charged past him. They tell me that area isn't so dangerous anymore.
Q:Who's your favourite character?
The underage transvestite succubus that almost (almost) manages to seduce me in Luang Prabang.
Q: Keeping in mind, that you've transcended that visitor tag and lived here as well for a few years. Could you share your favourite "India moment"?
A: India has so many moments of all kinds, and they happen constantly. I think I knew I'd been in India long enough to have learned something when I knew what India didn't represent to me. In my mind, it was no longer the India in which visitors come to find spirituality or whatever it is, sitting in ashrams and meditating by the Ganga or taking enough yoga courses in Rishikesh to approach the ability to self-fellate. None of that's ever worked for me. But I do think of India as a spiritual place, and it's definitely a 'she'. She can be generous and loving, and in the same breath be rude and obtuse. Her capacity for cruelty is unparalleled and yet she somehow always manages to win be back. The point is that her contradictions are human contradictions. I'm not interested in her divinity, I'm interested in her humanity. This is all the subcontinental spirituality I need, and it's affectation-free.
Q: You have 2 other books in the works -- what can you tell us at this point?
A: Both of them are in second/third draft sorts of stages. The follow-up to Liquid will be a globe-spanning novel centred around a missing paranoid schizophrenic, unmedicated and out to solve a 500-year-old mystery, and his oldest friend chasing him, trying to bring him home. Like a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? for adults.
The other one, oddly for me, is mostly set in one city, Toronto. (Aside from a chapter in Ireland and one in Afghanistan.) It's about an old Catholic priest having a meltdown after a certain confessional encounter changes his life. There are other characters, too, whose specific backgrounds allow me to paint a brief history of the extremely multicultural city as the novel's backdrop.There's also a scene whose true goal is to see if I can win that Bad Sex in Literature award.
Q: And finally, you've travelled through more than 30 countries in 10 years -- do you still have that drive? Or are you inclined to stay put somewhere for a while?
A: After the year of research for the other two books, we're up to 35 in 13 now. Which is not to brag, but to illustrate how much I do feel like I'd be happy to be in one place for a while, my own apartment, with a sink and a fridge and a closet, all that sort of stuff. I mean, I've been living out of a backpack for the last 18 months. At 33, that's not as fun as it sounded when I was 23. But I bet after a year in one place, I'll get the itch again. That itch, I fear, is for life.