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writing “a magnificent story”

This is our new world – boiling hot in mid-May. It’s already muggy and feels like July. Too weird. 

Things are easing off a bit now; it’s been an overwhelming week, with Patsy’s death overshadowing everything, but also my other friend’s cancer surgery, the four-day CNFC conference with my various responsibilities, and then teaching yesterday and the start of the U of T term today. Plus the smoke alarm went off at 5 a.m. Monday morning for no apparent reason – no smoke, no smell, nothing, just the bloody thing beeping and flashing, my downstairs tenant standing outside in his dressing gown, me in my nightgown running around frantically, finally opening the front door and fanning in fresh air, which turned the thing off.

I HATE smoke alarms.

So I’ve been fried, literally, in the hot sun, and figuratively, with stress.  

Now a few days to get caught up, buy some groceries, catch my breath. Another class Thursday evening, and on Saturday, Eli’s ninth birthday party. Luckily his mother has taken care of my gifts to him – a safe bow and arrow set with one for Ben too and very snazzy sneakers coming in from somewhere, and a diary he can lock. Now that I really approve of.

Importantly it’s time to get the garden underway – have planted on the deck but not in the veg garden yet. It only started to be over 10 degrees at night on Sunday. Yet 30 during the day! Lunatic.

The conference was superb – beautifully organized and fascinating. Wonderful craft workshops: on archives, on “the rolling now” – situating the narrator in time and then rolling into flashback and flash forward – Carrie Snyder on relaxing into creativity, freeing ourselves – she had us draw a giraffe and ourselves with our eyes closed – the obligatory practical seminar on brand and platform that was terrific even so – and more. On Sunday, the AGM, and then I hosted eight writers reading from their new books, followed by profound discussion. Marvellous. 

But most of all, on Saturday night the keynote was by Harold Johnson, a writer and lawyer from northern Saskatchewan who’s Cree with Swedish blood. He’s a man of great dignity with two thin braids, and when he began to talk on Zoom, we all felt as if we were sitting at his feet. Someone wrote in the Chat she could smell the campfire smoke. His subject was “The Power of Story.” Everything is story, he said – you, me. We used to tell ourselves stories of dragons and unicorns. Now it’s ‘market forces’. The economy demands human sacrifice. 

You edit your life as you edit your writing, he said. Change the words you use to describe what happened. Tell yourself a new and better story. About the relations between Indigenous people and settlers, he said, “We adopted the Queen’s children as our cousins.” 

He finished, When you look back on your life at the end, if you can say, Every day was the best day I could make it, you’ve written a magnificent story. 

He had a bunch of us in tears. I felt especially vulnerable because Patsy had died only a few hours before. What an intense experience it all was. 

So now, I need to sit and smell the lilacs, which have never been more bountiful. 

One more point of tension – there was a fledgling robin on the ground at the back of the garden. I kept everyone away from it; it was terrified but couldn’t fly. I gather that baby robins often land on the ground and have to learn to fly. I was worried about the grey cat that invades sometimes, about whether the parents were feeding and guarding the tiny thing. Today I went back to see – and with a mad flapping of wings it flew up to the top of the fence and then off into the trees. 

Very proud of that little creature. May you make a great story of your life, little robin. 



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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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