Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

"You shall go through it all."

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I wish that I could say that I’ve spent the month reading and re-reading Virginia Woolf novels, but I haven’t. It’s been a month to make you reel, and I’ve been reeling through it, through work, construction next door, apartment evacuations, teething, so much teething. Instead of reading Virginia Woolf, I’ve been re-reading my favourite kids’ books to get ready for the next stage of bedtime stories with my son. It’s been really nice, really nostalgic, but also kind of sad. These books have been bringing back so many memories. Childhood can be rough at times, and my little guy is still so new - he’ll have to go through it all. I wish I could prepare him. I wish I could prepare myself for watching it all happen to him.

I started by reading The Witches by Roald Dahl.

I first encountered this book in either grade one or grade two. I went to a French immersion school, and this was our first English class. My teacher was a lovely, gentle person named Claire, I think, and she turned off the lights and read it with all different voices. I loved it. I remember looking forward to going to school to sit in that dark room and listen.

Then I read the Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and the BFG by Roald Daul, and I found a copy of Le Petit Nicholas by René Goscinny.

Reading these books has been bringing back all sorts of memories, not just related to the novels. Like the stuffed bear that I lost. I felt I was too old to mourn a stuffed animal, so I pretended to be brave, waited until the lights were out to cry. My parents found the bear and put it on the pillow next to me. I pretended to be asleep until the door shut and then I hugged the bear until I fell asleep. I haven’t thought about that in decades. I remembered the bear, of course, particularly in getting ready for having a baby, but I didn’t remember the attachment, how much I loved it – I didn’t feel it again until I read those books.

I tracked down a copy of Who is Frances Rain? by Margaret Buffie and the Root Cellar by Janet Lunn.

I’ve been remembering so many things, like the friend who moved to Italy in grade three, the month long game of capture the flag we all played at recess, the time I said something mean and made another (lovely, wonderful, kind) girl cry, the weeks and weeks spent regretting absolutely everything and not wanting to go out for recess anymore.

I re-read Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

We would sometimes sneak to the edge of the schoolyard and would try to roll old, bruised apples under passing cars. Someone once threw a juice-box and it exploded with an enormous pop, and we all cheered and screamed, and we talked about that juice-box for days after. I used to worry about how to fit in, what I wore, how I acted, how I talked, what others said to me. I used to worry about getting invited to things. I agonized over who to invite. I loved school but got frustrated, forgot to bring homework assignments home.

I found Jean Lowry Nixon books

At a sleepover, we played Soft as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, and then had a séance, and I spent the whole night watching the streetlight on the ceiling, and was so relieved to see the sun come up.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird, and found Jean Little books

Once, on the day before a parent-teacher night, I forgot to do my homework, and I was convinced I was going to get killed. I was stressed out for ages because I didn’t understand the cedille. And then I did. I loved Math but couldn’t ever remember the stupid times tables. I was in a play one year, and got to stay inside during recess in the middle of winter, and that was the best thing. I got in an argument with a friend about how hard you should press when you’re writing, and that was the worst. I used to talk for hours on the phone while twirling my fingers through the phone cord or doodling on a notebook with a wonderful friend who’s gone now. I used to stay up at night and watch the ceiling, and worry, or be excited, or be happy, or be sad. Could it be that I don’t feel things as deeply anymore?

It’s so strange because I haven’t thought about any of these things in so long. I guess I thought it was all over, all in the past and forgotten, but reading these books again has brought it all back in such an immediate way. I don’t know whether it’s the lack of sleep, but I’ve been getting emotional remembering all those emotions from so long ago. It’s bittersweet in a way that I didn’t expect either. Even when they make me sad, I’m still very grateful that the memories there. I’m grateful that I went through it. I’m grateful that all of that is all over now. Everything is so much more measured as a grownup.

Today, at Word on the Street, my son found a rock garden in the kids’ area and started taking it all apart. (I put the rocks back – I promise). An impossibly old boy (of five or six) came to watch. My little guy picked up one of the biggest rocks and turned the present it to him, but then the boy turned and walked away. My son asked to be picked up. I held him, and rocked him, kissed his little head, and I just kept thinking, “You shall have to go through it all.”**


**Thanks to my friend Kerry Clare, whose character in her upcoming novel Mitzi Bytes quoted the line from To the Lighthouse that serves as the title of this post. I can't stop thinking about the line, about To The Lighthouse, and about Mitzi Bytes.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Alexis von Konigslow

Alexis von Konigslow has degrees in mathematics from Queen's and creative writing from Guelph. Her debut novel, The Capacity for Infinite Happiness, was recently called Arcadia for the connected age. She lives in Toronto.

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