On Being a Writer
Most of the time, I just write, and I don’t think about what it is to be a writer. I’m too busy writing, to “be a writer” whatever that is. But once in a while, I’m asked to go do something where I have to pose as a writer, so to speak. This past weekend I was at Windsor’s BookFest, and it was lovely, very little posing.
On the plane, I read Jan Wong’s Apron Strings: Navigating Food and Family in France, Italy, and China. I later heard someone describe it as Eat, Pray, Love without the sex. Which is funny and sort of true, but there’s so much going on in Apron Strings, about family, motherhood, the mother-son relationship. It’s intense and wholehearted, and thickly written, and fearlessly written – not afraid to tell it like it is. Also, it will make you hungry. All good things. So, it was kind of strange, to delightedly read this book on the plane for a few hours, and then get off the plane, and meet the well-known author, and carpool with her to the hotel we were staying at. I knew I would like her immediately by the way she talked to our volunteer driver, Frank. She was interested, you know? Which didn’t surprise me, really, after reading her book, which is both curious and fearless, detailed and deeply interested.
I was surrounded by decent humans all weekend, all of whom were women, which might have been coincidental, who knows. I’m not being self-deprecating when I say that I was one of the lesser known authors. It’s just the truth. But I noticed that the women I hung out with, there were all these subtle things they did to make sure there was no hierarchy imposed. I noticed they did small things to lift those around them up. It’s a way of being human, really, rather than having anything to do with being a writer. I noticed it in the way they listened, interested, in what I and others said. And here’s maybe a good small story, an example. I was on stage with Randy Boyagoda and Jan Wong, and I’m the third reader/speaker, and the mic wasn’t working. Jan abandons hers, and uses Randy’s, and then at my turn mine also fails, so there’s Jan helping me out on stage, and making sure I’m looked after, and when I fumble she leaps up and pins it on me, etc. And when I say something about how one of the pieces in my book has evolved over 25 years from a 3 stanza poem I wrote in my undergrad to a piece that has been boiled down over the years to a one line essay, she immediately says, you should read it, and then covers for me while I find it. And then exclaims after I read it. So none of that is a big deal, except, actually it is. The whole thing was kind, and professional, and interested and no big fuss.
But it left me thinking, wow, that’s how to be.
Hazel Millar, esteemed publisher of Book*hug, was the same. Attentive to leaving room, making space, lifting one up.
And I have to give shout-outs to Carol Rose Daniels, author of Hiraeth, and Klara du Plessis, author of Ekke, and Sandra Gulland, author of the Josephine B. Trilogy and The Game of Hope, and to my own publisher, Aimée at Palimpsest. There was this collective vibe of respect. Which should be a given, but we all know it isn’t always this way.
So all that got me to thinking about the writer-women I know who do this sort of thing all the time, in a no big deal kind of way on social media. Mentioning the work of others, drawing others into conversation, making space, sharing, retweeting. And they make this type of generosity look easy, and natural, which it is, but it’s also time consuming. It takes a small deliberate effort. And I’m grateful for that. For them.
Side note: the notebooks, diary, and bowl in the photos are from KiFuNe, a lovely store selling Japanese goods in Edmonton. If you go, you’ll want to buy everything, jsyk.