Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

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Chance Encounters and Butterfly Wings

Early in my career, I wrote and produced a television documentary that got some mail. While most of the viewers were seeking additional information or requesting addresses of people in the film, one letter really caught my attention. It stated, “Your film changed my life.” Apparently, the viewer had been so inspired by the main character’s story that she had finally summoned the courage to leave a deadbeat, abusive husband and reclaim her life. She credited the film with giving her that courage.


The following was partly inspired by a research paper that I presented in Berlin last year on the topic of 21st century aesthetics:

Ah, Beauty, who thinks of you now? Forlorn and forgotten, you lie like Ozymandias, abandoned in the desert of antediluvian dreams. No longer the font of truth, you’ve become the lackey of branding and celebrity, simultaneously the sad embodiment of dumbed down consumer culture and old guard sexism. Yet still, I long for you, even if, like Orpheus, my wistful gaze should prove fatal to us both.

The Web of Critique

Once, long ago, in a distant galaxy, my Grade 2 teacher singled me out for critique. She had asked the class to draw a baseball game, and given that I had limited interest in sports and knew little or nothing about baseball, I made a half-hearted attempt to imagine and then sketch out a baseball diamond, some players and a stadium filled with onlookers. It was only after my teacher explained to the class that I had grasped the basics of perspective that I noticed a sea of stick men drawn across flat horizons. Suddenly, I was special—I was “the artist.”

On Being Naive

Years ago, there was a joke circulating that went something like this:

A great spiritual leader (insert your sage of choice) visits Los Angeles and is met by city officials. Hoping to entertain the wise one, these bureaucrats suggest a visit to Universal Studios. The spiritual leader politely declines. Nonplussed, they suggest Disneyland but this, too, is quietly declined. One by one, all of their suggestions are turned down until they find themselves out of ideas. Fearing they may have offended the great leader, they nervously inquire: Then, what would you like to do? Without hesitation, the leader replies enthusiastically, “Well, I always wanted to direct..!”

The Point of Purchase

Okay, I admit it. I’m in a grumpy mood today.

Perhaps it is just from looking in the bathroom mirror too early in the morning or nearly stepping in that raccoon mess in the garden. Whatever the reason, grumpy is not a good state to be in, especially when I have a book to flog (okay, I just did).


Last evening I watched a wonderful Korean film call “Poetry.” It is the story of Mija (played by Yun Jung-hee), an older woman struggling to write a single poem, a challenge that I am certain many Open Book readers and contributors can relate to. Fittingly, its writer/director, Lee Chang-dong, is a former novelist. Poetry also won Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2011, indicating that Lee Chang-dong, also a former Minister of Culture, clearly discovered a more rewarding profession.

Poetry is a meditation on human frailty and the transformative power of nature. It is a simple story, difficult and painful to watch at times, like a train wreck about to happen. Yet, it is also an inspiration, as its profound themes linger long after the closing credits.

The Silver Lining

The day is rapidly approaching when hard drives and backup discs, CDs and DVDs will become relics of a quaint age when we still relied on the tangible storage of words and images. In a sense, these devices are a last link to the mechanical past when things were actual, like paper-based books. In these transitioning times, print, memory sticks and Blu-rays continue to mark our place, in the same way as films, tapes and vinyl records once did.

A Summer Place

The late poet Dorothy Livesay once lamented to me that the era of the cottage was dying. At the time—1980—Dorothy had a cottage on Lake Winnipeg and was saddened to see her neighbours trying to turn their cottages into city places. In contrast, her charming little cottage had neither electricity nor running water. As she hauled a bucket of water up from a nearby well, she said that she was trying to preserve a little bit of the past to keep memories of her parents alive.

The Store of no Returns

During the course of a recent few days away to take in some Stratford productions, my wife and I made the rounds of local shops in the region. While antiques have largely fallen out of fashion in large urban centres like Toronto, they remain the life blood in rural Ontario. Here, in addition to truly rare and valuable antiques, stacks of inexpensive old books and memorabilia abound.

One store I came across appeared to be run by a certifiable hoarder, so vast and congested was his collection. A veritable Noah’s Arc of Ontario past, the store extended back endlessly, room upon room, ten foot ceilings crammed to the rafters with possessions of lives past. Here, all manner of popular books, magazines and bric-a-brac lay entombed, waiting for their deliverance.


Like many people, I have a love/hate relationship with new technology. Once upon a time, I was actually an early adopter. After buying my first modem, I recall typing in the word “Photography” and calling up only six sites, all featuring a few stamp-sized images. I took prehistoric PC, DOS and Mac courses, bought graphic-starved CD-ROMs and even studied early HTML. But keeping up with the digital Jones’s eventually began to wear me down. Today, I consider myself only slightly ahead of a Luddite, resistant to many of the new-fangled devices because, too often, rather than saving me time, they eat it up. For me, updates have become the equivalent of 1950s tail fins.

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