Sci-Fi writer Spider Robinson used to say home was “wherever I plug in my stereo and computer.” To his astonishment it hurts to leave “this cold, grey town, which starves its artists and then imports its art from points west . . . I am one of the rare, fortunate artists who can earn a living here – because my art can be put in an envelope and mailed elsewhere .”
By Deborah Jones
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1987
It came as a shock to Spider Robinson when he realized he’ll miss Halifax. A self-confessed cave dweller, the internationally known science- fiction writer rarely ventures outside his house, where his imagination roams the universe unfettered by the clutter of the 9-to-5 life.
“For years I have been telling journalists that home is wherever I plug in my stereo and computer,” Robinson wrote recently in a bittersweet treatise called Leaving Home, published locally in Cities magazine. “I’ll follow my wife Jeanne wherever her dance career takes her. Now I’m doing so, preparing to ship out for Vancouver, and I discover to my astonishment that it hurts.”
“He found out inside his guts he loves this place when I told him we’re moving because I can’t dream here any more,” Jeanne says.
Jeanne Robinson ‘s Nova Dance Theatre folded early this year. She started the only regional professional dance company against formidable odds in 1981, and for six years poured all her energies into building it, achieving successes and critical acclaim along the way.
But the problems of the small Atlantic market and the “Catch 22” of funding were daunting. Corporations were reluctant to donate to a new professional dance company until the Canada Council bestowed its seal of approval via a grant. The Canada Council was reluctant to fund it until it achieved a certain financial and artistic strength on its own.
In the end, the lack of funds defeated Nova Dance.
Next week, the Robinsons will close the doors of their rented Halifax house (affectionately dubbed Tottering on the Brink). With daughter Luanne they will pile their belongings into a second-hand Honda and head west.
When the Robinsons married, they made a deal that Spider, with his portable work, would go where Jeanne’s ambitious dance career took them. A decade ago, Jeanne chose to dance, teach and then choreograph in Halifax. Now, shunning a return to the couple’s native United States, she chooses to dance in Vancouver, where she “can dream again.”
The Robinsons’ stay in Halifax was not without rewards. Jeanne grins, remembering how Nova Dance Theatre progressed in a city hardly known for its indigenous dance. “For our first shows we had two nights at the Dunn Theatre and nobody came. Eventually we had five nights, packed, with matinees.”
But Halifax, a city that typifies Canada’s disregard for its artists, has not celebrated the Robinsons’ contributions, although others have.
As well as the individual grants and critical acclaim received by Jeanne for her dance works, the couple received the international science fiction Hugo and Nebula awards for the novel Stardance, published in 1978, which they wrote together. Along with other awards for his numerous books, Spider has also received two individual Hugos.
Wrote Spider in Leaving Home: “How could anyone miss this cold, grey town, which starves its artists and then imports its art from points west . . . I am one of the rare, fortunate artists who can earn a living here – because my art can be put in an envelope and mailed elsewhere . . .
“So it does not cripple me to live where culture, recreation and fitness are administered by a single, underfunded department. . . . I’ve been published in nine languages, so it was only an annoyance to be told by a rack jobber that no, he would not stock my books in the airport because you may like that guy Robinson, but he just doesn’t sell in Atlantic Canada. He’s from here.”
Nevertheless, “I’ve been comfortable here,” Spider says in an interview. “I know where to find stuff. It will hurt to leave the lovely places behind and even more to leave the people.
“But Halifax had one of the world’s best choreographers and dancers here, for 10 years, and it let her slip through its fingers. And I am not going to make the same mistake. On to Vancouver.”
In Vancouver, which they hope to reach within three weeks after a cross-Canada drive, Spider is committed to write, in just one year (he usually takes at least two), his next novel, a collection of short stories set in a brothel and modelled as a sequel to Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon.
Jeanne, in return for Spider’s devoting three months to the move and in order to restore her psychic energy, plans to help him just by being there and doing the everyday chores, and contributing research.
In time, she says, she’ll explore her own artistic options, which may start with teaching dance.
And what about Nova Scotia, the province in which they met while living a hippie lifestyle in the Annapolis Valley? The Robinsons still own several acres in the valley, and say, before they realize it’s slipped out, they may just return here to retire.
Originally published by The Globe and Mail, June 24, 1987
Copyright © 1987 Deborah Jones
References and further reading:
Spider Robinson’s web site