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Word on the Street

A most satisfactory day, and it’s not over yet. Yes, there is still a big red itchy lump on my arm thanks to my waspy friend. It’s there to remind me that even the best days have their pains.

This morning, I listened to my friend Laurel’s speech over the phone. Laurel is a former student who won the City of Boston Award for her first children’s book, “I know here,” which came out of an exercise for my class. I’m so very proud of her and the book, which is set in northern Saskatchewan and amazed everyone by winning a prestigious American prize. Next week, after the ceremony, this first-time author will be sitting on a panel with several of the best-known children’s book writers in the world. But first, she has to deliver a speech.
It’s beautifully written, thoughtful and very moving, as you’d expect from a writer of Laurel’s caliber. She just has to relax, breathe, slow down – and enjoy speaking it, enjoy being there on a stage, sharing herself with the audience. “They’ve given you the gift of the award,” I said to her, “now your gift back to them is this speech.” Easier said than done – hard for a shy writer, usually alone with thoughts and words, to stand and deliver in front of a large crowd. She’ll be wonderful.
Then, off on my bike to Word on the Street, one of my favourite Toronto events of the year – Queen’s Park packed with readers and writers, publishers and editors, magazines and booksellers and crazy people. I who am drowning in more reading material I can get through in this lifetime brought home a backpack loaded with more – Canadian literary magazines Brick, the New Quarterly and Prism, several children’s books for my nephew, Toronto bicycle magazine Dandyhorse, “Grammar to Go: a portable A-Zed guide to Canadian usage,” by Rob Colter, for my students, a magnificent blank notebook, two pairs of reading glasses (for $5) and several paperbacks. Not to mention a stack of flyers and bookmarks. I listened to Linda McQuaig speak about her new book on Canada’s billionaires, I went to say hello to Wayson just before his talk on memoir, though I didn’t stay as I think I know it all by heart, I ran into several old friends including former students Pearl and Irene, and Catherine, a children’s book publisher. (“I don’t need to ask what you’re doing these days,” said Pearl. “I follow your blog.”) I brought home information on how to get a writer’s grant from the Canada Council, how to join the Periodical Writer’s Association of Canada, and other stuff that was thrust at me from Buddhists, Mensa etc. Happily swamped in words.
Home with a heavy load, to spend a busy literary hour cooking while listening to Eleanor Wachtel on her “Writers and Company” interview a Norwegian novelist. Now there’s some grilled chicken, a pot of ratatouille and a big potato salad in the fridge, and this jotted note from the program: “When you make art, always move towards the pain. That’s what makes art meaningful.”
That’s what I tell my students, though they look at me as if I’m trying to torture them when I ask for their pieces to go deeper. That’s what I have to learn myself, in my own work. How brave it is, to be involved in this business which demands so much and pays so little. I salute every one of the hundreds working there today, including lawyer Clayton Ruby, volunteering in the PEN booth. Though he’s the sensible one, with a day job.
Later: To cap this fine day, the 22nd season of “The Simpsons” was launched tonight with a show about the importance of the arts – Lisa going to Performing Arts Camp and meeting those two wacky Kiwi guitarist guys, who end up singing, “Artists are the most useless people on earth; don’t become an artist.” Only it was funny when they did it. And after that, a program on Bravo about the importance of the arts – Robert Lepage performing with his troupe in Moscow, where they were the toast of the town. The only sour note was when Lepage said that he felt a powerful bond between the nations of Quebec and Russia.
Nyet, Robert. Quebec is not a nation.
And then I read the article in “New York” magazine with “The decade of Jon Stewart” on the cover, and plunged into my new grammar book, finally learning the right name for “dangling modifiers.” Does life get better than this?
My arm itches.

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One response to “Word on the Street”

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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