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the naked Mountie and other stories

So much to say about the Creative Non-fiction Collective’s conference, but I’ll keep it brief. It all started from the plane, flying over the Rockies which, though shrouded in mist and cloud, were still visible in all their zebra-striped magnificence. And then suddenly they’re gone and it’s the dusty flat grey-gold prairie, and there, in the middle, a metropolis where people wear strange hats. So many wearing big white cowboy hats in the airport, where you really need to keep the dust and sun out of your eyes.

The Banff Centre for the Arts, as I’ve said many times before, is a miracle, a huge institution in the mountains dedicated to creativity and innovation. And for the weekend, not just a group of non-fiction writers from around the country, but another group having their own conference called Bodyssey: the Canadian Association of Face and Body Painters. Yes. It was impossible for us writers to take ourselves too seriously because we were surrounded, all weekend, by people made up as monsters and skeletons and reptiles – and, unforgettably, as a Mountie wearing only a tiny bit of underwear and otherwise completely naked beneath a painted uniform.

As soon as I arrived, there were new friends to be made, as I sat eating – yes – an elkburger at the MacLab bistro, chatting with a fascinating crowd. Next day, getting ready for my Master Class and then delivering it, from 1.30 to 4. I wasn’t sure it’d work since I hadn’t done this before – working with strangers, getting them to stand up and read – but by all reports, it went well. We then listened to a keynote speech by Quebecois writer Deni Bechard, who is full of idealism and has done marvellous work around the world, but who irritated the hell out of me on several occasions, as when, in his keynote, he spoke about how “the stodgy voices of my writing teachers” had damaged his work. He often sounded judgemental, cynical and arrogant, and later spoke so viciously about Toronto that I almost stood up shouting. But that’s what a good conference is about – getting the conversation started. So all is appreciated, all in a good cause.

We heard several inspiring speakers, including Wade Davis, as I’ve written, and also an amazing encounter between longtime Gzowski producer Hal Wake and a woman called Elly Danica, who was interviewed by Peter in November 1988 about the book she’d published detailing the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her father and his friends. I wrote a piece in the Globe about Gzowski and especially about this interview, when I had to sit down and listen, barely able to comprehend what I was hearing, it was so powerful. Hal interviewed her skilfully about what the publication of her memoir has meant in her life, and she responded with honesty and humour; she told us, for example, that after the publication, her father wanted a share of the profits because it was his story too. Hard to believe, but true. Which could be the title of many works of non-fiction. A meaningful encounter for us all.

Camilla Gibb spoke with Susan Olding about her memoir, James Fell about social media, tons of other stuff was going on without a break. All of this organized by a volunteer board spread around the country, some of whom had never met before coming together at Banff. Bravo to them all, it was hugely appreciated and valuable. At some point soon, I will transcribe some of the great things I noted and share them with you.

As you know, I spent yesterday on the Icefields Highway with Jane. The weather has been pretty bad, chilly and wet, but with moments of clear sky, even sun. One of those was this morning, so I climbed Tunnel Mountain behind Banff, something I’ve done each time I come here. It’s a good climb, not even 2 k. but straight uphill. I didn’t quite finish, as it started to drizzle when I was 3/4 of the way there and I turned around. But it’s spectacular.

That’s the Banff Centre in the centre-left, and further down, beautiful downtown Banff.

Today, working in my room, lunch with Alisa Gordaneer, the indomitable president of our Collective and organizer of the event, and John Barton, poet and editor of the Malahat Review, who wrote a sonnet yesterday based on a conversation about drugs we’d had over a glass of wine and sent it to me. A new BFF.

It was a great experience. I sold all the books I brought – six only, but still, all of them gone and I could have sold more. And it surprised me, the many connections I had with the people here. Hal Wake, for example, hailed me immediately, not from radio or the theatre but from the drama club at Carleton University in 1968, a connection I’d completely forgotten. A woman told me she’d read all my Globe articles through the years and was thrilled to meet me in person. Oh, the footprint of a long life. It’s good to be this old.

Right now, I am not having dinner with my colleagues but sheltered in my room with a sore throat, fearful of catching a cold as I head home to take up the threads of my life. It has been a phenomenal five week trip. Thank you for coming along. See you soon, back – like it or not, Deni Bechard – in the centre of the universe.

Jane sent this – a picture of Lake Louise, where she stayed last night, with the top of the mountains showing:

And here’s a shot to warm the heart of every theatre person everywhere – Obama at the Globe in London, celebrating Shakespeare. Incredible.



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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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