There is a gap between…

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Apparently, Marshall McLuhan would always turn to page 69 of a book and read that page to decide whether or not the book was worth reading in its entirety. Today, I finally decided to give the “page 69 test” a try. The book: Nuala O’Faolain’s Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman. (It’s actually one I read several years ago). The page:

I loved reading Nuala’s book but what I found on page 69 made me pause. Those who know me even a little know of my love for John Berger. The infatuation began when I was art history student. One moment I was numbly memorizing the Western canon, the next moment I was sneaking off to watch episodes of Ways of Seeing. What can I say? Berger was my moonshine, my contraband cigarette. His entire worldview carried a waft of the illicit. With his piercing stare and tousled hair, he opened my eyes to what a story (or an artwork) could be—i.e. the thing happening off to the side of the tale other writers/artists were telling. Call it the “sideview” or “underview” or whatever you wish. I have been lost in my own version of (what Nuala O’Faolain describes as) “hero worship” ever since.

So Nuala and John. There is So Much Implied on page 69 (and page 68!) but let’s forget the salacious, and perhaps questionable, overtones and focus instead on the gulf O’Faolain describes existing between the coal miners and the villagers they filmed. This idea of the “gap between” strikes me as one of the most perfectly observed portraits of empathy and its limits that I have ever come across. “There is a gap between what you can see and feel and what you can imagine….between the life aboveground and life underground.”

If we’re very lucky, if we find the right book, or the right circumstance, I suppose that’s where fiction can take us—to that place in-between. Imperfectly, and maybe in a compensatory way, our stories have the power to get us a bit closer to seeing and feeling other worlds.

(For those lucky enough to live on the west coast, a portrait of Nuala O’Faolain is currently screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival.)

Upcoming Events

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October 11, 2012
WordFest
9:30AM. “First Calgary Financial Book Rapport (Gr.1-3).”
Children’s event with Mélanie Watt.
(John Dutton Theatre, Calgary Public Library.)

October 11, 2012
WordFest
1:00PM. Visit to Douglasdale School.

October 12, 2012
WordFest
9:00AM. Visit to East Grey Elementary.

October 13, 2012
WordFest

11:00AM. “Family Reading Circle.”
Children’s event with Jeremy Tankard.
(Fish Creek Library, Calgary.)

October 13, 2012
WordFest

3:30PM. “Exile and Exodus.”
Reading and discussion with Vaddey Ratner and Kim Scott.
(Vertigo Theatre Centre, Studio, Calgary.)

October 14, 2012
WordFest

11:00AM. “The Ties that Bind.”
Reading and discussion with Shree Ghatage, Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Vincent Lam, and J. Jill Robinson.
(The Banff Centre, The Kinnear Centre -KC 203, Banff.)

October 15, 2012
Vancouver International Writers Festival

6PM. Annual Literati Gala.
(Fairmont Waterfront.)

October 16, 2012
Vancouver International Writers Festival

8:00PM. “Grand Openings: The Alma Lee Opening Night Event.”
Reading with Rawi Hage, Marie Darrieussecq, Junot Díaz, Nuruddin Farah, Simonetta Agnello Hornby and Gail Jones.
(Performance Works, 1218 Cartwright Street.)

October 18, 2012
Vancouver International Writers Festival

10:00PM. “High and Low and All Around.”
Children’s event with Sheree Fitch.
(Improv Centre, Vancouver.)

October 27, 2012
International Festival of Authors

2:00PM. Reading with Bill Gaston, Rawi Hage, and Tanis Rideout
(Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront.)

October 28, 2012
International Festival of Authors

2:00PM. Roundtable (Reading Like a Writer) with James Clarke, Christine Pountney and Susan Swan. Antanas Sileika hosts and moderates.
(Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront.)

November 8, 2012
Brampton Public Library and the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA).

7:00 PM. Public talk.

November 16-18, 2012.
Salon du Livre de Montréal.

More details to come.

February 7, 2013.
The Eighth Annual Book Lover’s Ball.

(The Fairmont Royal York, Toronto.)

March 19, 2013
Heliconian Club Literary Lecture Series.

7:30PM. Public talk.
(Toronto Heliconian Club, 35 Hazelton Avenue.)

March 27, 2013
The Kama Reading Series.
(Fundraiser for World Literacy Canada.)
6:30PM. Reading with Safia Fazlul, Eva Stachniak, and Richard B. Wright.
(The Park Hyatt Toronto.)

Listening to John Cage

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I’ve had a few Cage moments this year—riding the subway in New York City, standing at a busy Toronto intersection, staying on a beach in Halfmoon Bay. In each case, I’ve been swept up by aural happenstance. Strange music in the urban unquiet, accidental symphonies in the wild open air. From bicycle bells to persistent cicadas, I was suddenly hearing all the things I don’t hear because I’m too busy.

The other day I saw a friend who works in the social services sector. “All my life I’ve felt that I need to talk and dole out advice,” she said. “This summer I decided to do something different. I decided to just stop and listen.”

What does it take to listen without conducting or interfering? The writer in me often wants to speak her piece. But lately I’ve also been heeding the counter-voice that says “Shhhh.” You know, the wise voice that says: “Listen. Receive. Don’t be so quick to declare, to offer, to prefer, to make, to fix, to do. Let go of your small mind.” (Yeah, that voice.)

All of which to say: What better way to celebrate John Cage‘s 100th birthday today than in silence, for four minutes, thirty-three seconds?

What better way to remember than to be part of that Cage-ian gesture of listening, stretching across time, holding a space for other living and breathing (and coughing and snorting) beings? As the anarchic genius himself once advised: “Why do you not do as I do? Letting go of your thoughts as though they were the cold ashes of a long dead fire.”

(Photo: David Tudor and John Cage in Japan, 1962. Photographer unknown.)