Originally written January 20, 2005

 

Mine is a story of yearning and learning, of sacrifice and settlement, of buoyancy and flight.  Mostly it’s about objectives and perspectives. Like my first story.

I wrote it when I was fifteen, about a man’s journey down a river—his challenges and oversights, but mostly his changing awareness. It’s a journey of the mind, for I had never traveled down a river, and the setting was elusive, metaphorical. I was a Thomas Hardy fan, and my story was entwined with its admittedly infant landscape. I imagine my first story showed great philosophic potential, for a fifteen-year-old girl.  But I hadn’t lived.  I couldn’t write what I knew.  Only what I imagined life to be.  And eventually, it seemed more practical to write the stories of other people.

In 1988, I received a Masters in Journalism, having learned, mainly, to write like I speak.  Words must come in forward motion, like music.  I’d also developed a curiosity about medicine and science.  Discoveries, it seems, are always modern. Practising practical career management and sound investment strategy, I used my education to work in radio and television, diligently delivering facts, and relishing opportunities to let characters tell their stories.  News journalism became a balancing act between truth and perspective. Reporting, I sense, is good practice for storytelling.

I was, however, essentially, yearning for safety, and my love affair with safety led me down a dangerous path.  I married, bore five children, and the martyrdom of motherhood gripped me.

The thing with martyrs is that usually, they are dead before they realize what they sacrificed; in my case, I was alive, thirty-eight years old, and quite aware, suddenly, that there is no safety in numbers.

During that tumultuous time, I wrote journal after journal, musing my dreams, shaping my hopes, and learning the brutal, if not physical, impact of rape. I discovered that the safest place for my hopes and dreams is in the hearts of my characters.

Suddenly, I was writing fiction—the lie that tells a truth. My characters came alive. They would tell me what they wanted to do next, or for that matter, what they didn’t want to do.  We play together, my characters and me.  We make deals, fight, discuss, argue, kiss.

I still write nonfiction.  Occasionally I sell a piece.  More often, I enjoy the process of dreaming the ideas into existence, meeting people, hearing their stories and retelling them with new purpose.

I read true crime or literary romances.  I search for the meaning of love in both.  What part of humanity allows for both love and murder?   I remember being enamored by the triumphant story of Jill Kinmount, a promising athlete who was paralyzed after a skiing accident, and who then lost her fiancé in a car crash. I am thrilled by the resilience of the human spirit and fascinated by its narcissism.  I wrote to Jill when I read her novel.  I was 12.  I told her then, I wanted to be a writer. To me, writers are courageous.

I studied the resilience of the human spirit in the stories of dozens of Canadians who were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Art Kinnis was one of them.  He kept a diary every day he was incarcerated.  Not even brutal physical and emotional depravity could crush his spirit.  I spent two summers transcribing and annotating his diary.  Human beings survive.  And when I think about why, about what makes us different from other physical beings, I conclude that it is simply the spirit.  We survive because of our narcissism, our ability to dream, create, and remember.

I’m in a romantic phase.  Nicholas Sparks has my attention for his simplicity and ease.  Elisabeth Harvor has distracted me to no end recently, when the local bookstore waved her current novel under my nose, in place of one on the reading list.  Particular turns of phrase in Harvor’s novels haunt me for hours, sometimes days, for the brilliant truths they so invisibly reveal, for the apparitions that become clear and vivid before my eyes or under my fingers, or through some other sense, and I find her recent novel an addictive elixir.

I like modern novels, but then “all times have been modern”.  I like accessible, introspective characters, and brave authors.  I like dialogue that entices me to listen, so as not to miss a beat.  I hang on descriptions that breathe life into a scene to make its meaning float.  I like the thoughtful patient voice that guides with blessed assurances.  I like movement and pace and forward motion.  I find all of these in Barbara Dowdy’s recent novel, The Romantic, and in Alice Munro’s story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”.

I make my living teaching and performing music.  But I live through writing.  Funny how one may look toward the stern and wonder what became of the wake, yet if you circle ‘round and out, you can find the ripples breaking blissfully at sea.

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