Saturday, May 7, 2016

it works

First, it's impossible to complain about anything these days, when Fort McMurray is first in our thoughts, the photos of the horrendous destruction growing more apocalyptic by the hour. How to rebuild an entire city and all its lives? I salute Alberta's socialist premier Rachel Notley, who inherited a nightmare - an oil-rich province reeling and broke from the drop in oil prices - and is growing stronger as the nightmare gets worse. She's spectacular. 

On the plus side, London has just elected Sadiq Khan, the Muslim son of a bus driver, as its mayor. I try to imagine my British grandparents, Percy and Marion Leadbeater, who lived in London, reading in the Times about Sadiq Khan. For them, my Jewish father from New York was the furthest reaches of exotic and difficult to understand and accept. But that was a long time ago. Thanks - yet again - to a non-Muslim man called Barack Obama, who certainly helped clear the way for this revolutionary election.

I've just had an amazing and exhausting day. On Thursday I asked my home students for volunteers; I wanted to read this memoir draft out loud, which I’ve never done before but thought it would be valuable, and wanted another pair of ears. My old friend and now student Curtis Barlow, once the Canadian cultural ambassador to England and head of various Canadian arts institutions, a supremely knowledgeable and sophisticated man, offered to come listen. When he arrived, I was breathless with terror. Today, from 11.45 till 5.15, he sat patiently listening to me read in my hoarse, barely getting over the flu voice. I only got halfway, but it was a fantastic experience; he had great insights about what he heard, and I heard, too, bits that I thought were weak or not. 

But mostly - he loved it. He loved the writing and the story and wants to hear the rest, he wants to know what happened to that young woman. Of course, he’s an artsy guy and a dear friend who knows many of the people in the tale, not the average Canadian reader - but then, I’m not writing for her, I guess. Perhaps all my writing is for people like Curtis Barlow.

Anyway, now my throat hurts and I need to not think for awhile. But it was thrilling, absorbing, reading intimate details of my past life aloud to a friend and fellow writer whom I respect, like and trust. Many more pages, the other half of the book to go - we're going to try to find time. But if not, I've already had a huge boost. And now have a long list of things to fix and rewrite. It ain't over yet, not by a long shot. But today, I know it's real and it works.

At least, for friends.


  1. I sometimes think the best way to hear something ourselves is to read it to someone else, a willing and congenial listener. How it echoes (or reverberates) in that context is a kind of editorial alchemy!

  2. Editorial alchemy - what a great way to put it. Yes, it brought a whole new level of listening to the rhythm and meaning of the words. But exhausting! And for those of us without a writer spouse, there's the necessity of finding some kind person willing to sit there that long.

  3. Even a writing spouse isn't always the best listener!

  4. Maybe I can rent out my friend Curtis. A wonderful listener! Maybe being able to walk away and go home helps...