Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

September/October 2013: Vanessa Rubin

My Superheroes

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So here’s my big discovery for 2013: All My Friends Are Superheroes.

Okay, that’s actually the name of a novel by Andrew Kaufman, but it’s a discovery all the same. Stylish and spirited, whimsical and wise, it’s earned a place on the top shelf where all my favourite books hold court. I’m so glad I found it!

The oddball story of Tom (the only “regular” guy) and the love of his life, the Perfectionist (Perf, for short), captivated me, but I think the muscle is in the brief encounters with many of Toronto’s 249 superheroes. They’re a posse of eccentrics: The Projectionist, Stress Bunny, the Clock, the Ear, the Amphibian, Mr Opportunity, Wild Mood Swinger, Falling Girl… “It takes all kinds,” as my grandmother used to say.

I know when a book has claimed me, because it shapes how I look at things. I’m more aware now of how all of us are eccentric in various ways, and how pointless it is to wish we were otherwise. I can see now that I don’t have to like somebody to appreciate their value. I can see now how it might be more helpful and more healthy to indulge a bit more and judge a bit less, because ultimately, all of these different types lock together to form a big, dynamic community.

So, “all my friends are superheroes” is my new mantra. Sometimes it’s right-out-loud obvious. Think for a second about this year’s powerhouse Jazz Camp faculty—those guys are literally superheroes, sharing their experience and enthusiasm with all those Jazz Campers, then blowing the roof off the Art Gallery with their wondrous virtuosity and musical wit.

Sometimes superhero status is a little less obvious. I think about those hundred Jazz Campers, teens and adults, beginners and experienced, introverted and extroverted, who put themselves through the mill day after day to learn more about communicating musically with others on a high level. They get a standing ovation. And the inner city school secretary who came early all week to help three kids catch a cab to get down to the campus to join that learning. She gets a standing ovation too.

But Kaufman’s point is that superheroes aren’t always out there doing good. They’re really just being themselves, and sometimes their superpowers can get in our way. Who wants to be stuck next to the Attention Seeker or Neverwrong or Copycat? But it’s useful to remember that each superhero does offer a particular angle of vision, and—more to the point—that most of us know them more intimately than we might want to admit!

That’s the crux of the matter, and the gift of the novel: we might actually find happier endings and healthier beginnings if we set out not only to accommodate one another, but also to celebrate what makes each of us so particular.

In Kaufman’s universe, every superhero is “special yet common, gifted yet clumsy, triumphant yet sad, simultaneously extraordinary and common.” I know that all my friends are superheroes. All your friends are superheroes too.

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