Just add personality

personalityforwebsmallIt’s pretty obvious, after going to countless number of book readings over the years, that it’s no longer good enough to be a great writer.

If you’re a great writer and you’re really boring then do yourself (and the audience) a favour and don’t read in public. Bask in the book sales that your story, your intellect, your unique take on the world, or your research has garnered.  In other words, let the audience read your magic but don’t inflict yourself, in person, on them. None of us can be all things to all people and it’s good to know one’s strengths.

Not only do writers have to write a great story these days but they also have to be able to tell the interesting stories behind that story, to be equally enticing a character as the characters they’ve brought to life on the page.  Are you worthy of a paragraph or two according to someone other than your mother?

But it’s not fair, you say. Writing the damn thing was hard enough. Now you want me to be Margaret Cho as well?

A friend who was a bookseller a decade or two ago told me her Farley Mowat encounter story the other day. She was in her twenties or thereabouts. She was standing with another young attractive female employee outside the bookstore at a large department store in downtown Vancouver where Mowat was going to be reading/signing books. When he showed up and  they went to the door to greet him, he said, “I won’t come in unless you kiss me.” He was in his late 40s or thereabouts then.  I’m not sure that’s personality as much as just your run-of-the-mill randy old guy (and he wasn’t that old then) but on the wake of his death it captures an aspect of his personality that, apparently, was well known. Afterwards, he went on to write a salacious little snippet in the book purchased by the other young woman.

Of course I want to hear a bit of the author’s writing when I attend a reading but mostly I want to hear the stories behind the story. Why this idea? What prompted that plot? Your struggles with writing it. Your process. The people you met while you were standing on that desolate beach trying to get a feel for the place. All the other wannabe writers hoping one day to be on that stage where the featured writer is presenting are just as eager to receive a PetSmart-styled literary treat as well.

I think back to a few of the personalities who also happen to be able to write who are/were masters at entertaining their audiences:

Tomson Highway at the Vancouver Writer’s Fest some time in the 1980s reading from The Fur Queen.

The late Peter Matthiessen on Salt Spring at ArtSpring in 2008 because of the stories he told about the on the ground research he did in writing The Snow Leopard.

The late Maeve Binchy in the first very funny 15 minutes of her intro to the reading of her book Tara Road back in 1998. At least, I think that was the book. See. I’m a little unclear about the book, but I didn’t forget her intro at the Vancouver International Writer’s Fest.

Patrick Lane at a reading at the Sechelt Writer’s Fest introducing his new book, There is a Season: A Memoir. I now can’t even recall why but the way he was, his persona, stood out for me.

Gail Anderson-Dargatz because she is really funny and once again, I’m not positive but it may have been the release of her book Recipe for Bees, but it could just as likely have been Rhinestone Button. I don’t remember. I do remember it was at Sechelt and she kept the audience in stitches leading up to her reading.

The late Frank McCourt at the Chan Centre at UBC, in his glory, centre stage, and yet he might as well have been having a chat at his local pub with the audience sitting in the next booth eavesdropping his interaction he was that elegant in the casualness of his storytelling. Damn Irish! They’ve got an advantage.

The biggest shock to this day, for me, was probably Margaret Atwood. Maybe circa 1985. UBC. A Saturday night on a cold fall evening. She was wearing a floor-length black cloak, hood up, and when she opened her mouth to read, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe the voice of the woman whose words on the printed page had kept me riveted was as monotone as white paint drying. It was almost painful/irritating to listen to her. It’s still hard for me to believe that the person I saw and heard then is the same Twitter feed personality now, and with a sense of humour. I guess she’s loosened up a bit.

You get the idea. I don’t live in New York.  I haven’t been to too many readings of the cream of the crop of glorified literati. And my choices have been limited by my ability to remember.

What about you? Any really interesting authors who are also great readers/presenters stand out for you? Do tell! Or maybe you find the whole idea of authors having to be dog and pony shows offensive. Whatever.

Honesty the Holy Grail of Memoir


After all the writing and writers, and being part of a writing community, I’m starting to feel like I’m getting a little sidetracked, mentally that is.  I’m not 25, 30, or even 40 anymore, and therefore, it’s beginning to feel like if just one more piece of information about writing comes my way through Twitter, Facebook, through web sites, at writing events or via Shelagh Rogers on CBC, then I am going to run screaming from the room and not stop running until I find the nearest pier.

When I get to the end of the last slat on that pier, I’m going to hurtle myself off it doing the biggest cannon ball ever.

In short, just one more reference to writing and I think I’m going to puke.

I realize that, for me, there is only one person I really need to listen to; really need to try and hear as loudly and clearly as possible in order to get the thing done and that’s myself. Writing, like therapy, might be the most difficult thing any of us can ever do in life. And the most difficult part of all of it is being honest with yourself – really honest about your human experience. More honest than you’ve ever been to anyone.

If you have done everything humanly possible to make whatever it is you are working on complete, then after that, whether it reaches the world or not, you’ve done the first part of the job only if you get keep going and finish the thing. Submit it to the journal. Send it to the publishing house. Find an agent. And let it go.

One of my most challenging things to live with as a writer is to keep believing in what I’m doing, to push aside my monkey mind and my negative self-talk that suggests I’ve dropped into some black hole of delusion.

I have to keep finding a way to believe that it makes sense to keep writing regardless of the fact that I am making next to no money to feed myself. I have to push aside every bit of advice about these being my top earning years with that voice screaming back every bit as loudly. I have to remind myself that getting to the end of life with a pile of money as one’s primary goal in life is an empty goal that has been blown way out of proportion.

The thing about writing is that if you have a compulsion to do it and do it daily, then you are a writer. A lot of people in our fame-crazed world don’t get that. You, as a creative person, have to find a way to come to terms with being able to stay strong in your rationale to yourself; a rationale about how you want to live and a definition of success that has very little to do with money because you must give your head a shake if you think that money’s current prominence as the only meaningful yardstick of everything makes sense.

You have to be willing to fail. And then get back up again.

All that matters is the writing that you are working on at the moment. All that matters is the story you are trying to get down and get right with right being your right, like your moral compass right. You have to be sure that the writing is first and foremost meaningful to you  because by accomplishing that first highly personal goal, you are doing what you  can to hope a few others might find it worth reading later.

In all those hours when you are alone and in your head, it’s hard not to get bogged down, to think that you have completely lost your mind and every once in a while you find yourself typing “Cheap rentals on deserted  islands” into Google because you just want to escape.

When I see myself acting the way I am lately, yet the word count continues to add up and the rhythm of the piece is beginning to sing and the story feels like the reader will embark on a journey, I sense that it’s even more important to keep going.

I have to believe it’s that same inner voice; the one that I’m trying to access to write, to get to the purity of what I’m trying to convey, that’s suggesting, as well, that I must be getting close.

PS: If you’re feeling the way I am, don’t read this.

Are you a cultural entrepreneur, an artist, or both?

paintpeelingabstract“Too often creative people do not recognize that by allowing themselves to be exploited they are contributing to the exploitation of their fellow artists and writers, as well as aspiring artists and writers, and by allowing exploitation of themselves, they are inadvertently helping to shape an economy of exploitation on a societal scale.” – Kate Oakley, PhD.

I heard this the other day at a talk at SFU given by Kate Oakley, a professor from Leeds, who participated in SFU’s Dream Colloquiam on Entrepreneurship.  

When she made the above statement, I thought it was so true for so many, except for, perhaps, the most accomplished.

And then I wondered. Does Douglas Coupland ever feel exploited, monetarily that is? I know you’re probably thinking, of course not, he’s wildly successful. But, I really wonder if people ever nickel and dime him asking if he could just give them the art for less? If the exhibit could be paid for at that price but could they have it for a few extra months?

Are the people at the very top of the creative pool whose work is coveted commercially, the only ones who should expect to be paid adequately while the majority should expect to scramble for whatever meagre dollars they can be paid even if others are making money because of their content?  Think about whether that’s true for any other industry.

Did you know that the so called Creative Class is more male, white, and more middle class than in any other industry and it’s getting worse according to Oakley. This is certainly true for newspapers (which may explain their continuing demise).

What are the differences between artists and entrepreneurs?  Oakley said one difference is in how they approach work. Artists typically do not like to do the same thing twice. Entrepreneurs won’t walk away from something if it’s commercially successful even if they have to make a million widgets.

Why is it that it’s okay for some to make a decent living from your contribution to their newspaper, their magazine, their art gallery, their publishing company and yet so many writers and artists are mere weeks away from introducing Friskies Cat Food into their daily diet?

Those magazines, newspapers, art galleries depend on creative content to make the decent living they have become accustomed to, and yet, somehow, historically, they refuse to adequately pay for it from the people who make it possible.

Our society loves creative work in general it would seem. It enriches our lives. Do we want to pay for it? Yet we pay millions for hockey.

Creativity for creativity sake. Take the commercial out of it. Is that the answer? Is the answer to change expectations. Is the answer to refuse to be exploited, refuse to participate in being paid less than?

  • When I learn that a community newspaper in the Yukon owned by Black Press is essentially paying only slightly better than the starting wage for reporters 20 years ago, it makes me shake my head.
  • When I learn that a magazine in Victoria is paying less now for  freelance than just a few years ago when the rates were already crappy, it makes me angry.
  • When I learn that a national real estate magazine is paying $30 cents a word which would be $300 for 1,000 words, I have a problem with that.  Shouldn’t I?
  • I want to know whether AdBusters is actually paying writers when they put out a call for submissions to one of their themed issues or does AdBusters need to be busted for their hypocrisy in how they might be treating some of the people who provide their content.

It makes me think about Mona Fertig’s project on Unheralded Artist of BC. (Video)

Were the Beatles both cultural entrepreneurs and artists? What about Mick Jagger?

How have you reconciled your desire to participate in creative work and your need to to be able to support yourself and balance the two?

A few links about Creative Entrepreneurship, which, I know is different from art, or is it?

Porcupine Meatballs and The Artist’s Way


A friend of mine has been reading and doing The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Point me in the direction of acting like an artist. Show me the way. That’s not the book’s premise but it kind of sounds like it might be.


Another artist friend who lived on Salt Spring gave me the book in 2010. At the time, I flipped through it and never looked at it again.  But I did keep it.

A few weeks ago when I learned of my other friend’s diligence (she’s on week 12), something in me was motivated as well.

I was reading Week 3 – Recovering a Sense of Power, and a small part refers to shaming in childhood and how that can affect our expression of creativity, especially when it comes to finishing things, in adulthood.

“Many artists begin a piece of work, get well along in it and then find, as they near completion, that the work seems mysteriously drained of merit. It’s no longer worth the trouble. To therapists, this surge of sudden disinterest (‘It doesn’t matter’) is a routine coping device employed to deny pain and ward off vulnerability.”

“If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing himself or herself talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art (and this means art in the broadest terms) will be fraught with internal shaming.”

There was enough resonance in that statement for me that it got me off the couch in search of a yellow marker.

One of the tasks at the end of Week 3 is to dredge up some childhood memories. Favourite foods for example. For me I thought of Porcupine meatballs and Chocolate birthday cake with pennies wrapped up inside. Not combined. I recalled the joy of having one of those gumballs that come out of those machines where you slot in a quarter and out rolls a shiny pink molar-breaking tasteless piece of perfection. (Indeed, you are correct, it’s not a member of a food group). I also thought about tuna fish casserole with mushrooms and rice with melted cheese and chips on top that my grandmother used to make. (Sounds disgusting now but I loved it then). Baked potatoes with sour cream and bacon bits and grated cheddar cheese. Num. Num.

Favourite games? Snakes and Ladders. Chinese checkers. Checkers.  Candyland. 52 Pick-Up Stix. An imaginary “quicksand” game we played in Darryl McGuffey’s basement, the one that meant you had to leap from one piece of random furniture to the other because the floor was QUICKSAND!

Now I don’t know what it was about favourite foods but when I thought about my mother’s Porcupine Meatballs, my eyes got all teary and I stopped reading. They call them porcupine, I think, because rice gets poked into them and the rice can look a little like the quills on porcupines.  I hadn’t thought of those juicy round morsels of meat for ages and I got all choked up. The feeling came so quickly.

What the heck was  going on?  It’s Sunday morning and thinking about my mother’s homemade Porcupine meatballs led to tears running down my face. Oh god. That can only mean two things. Life has become extremely dull, Weight Watchers is getting to me, and I’m in more emotional danger than I imagine. Okay, that’s three.

I knew to really lean into the feeling, to let it happen. Then I thought about it, came up with two theories that made total sense, and eventually felt better.  No, I’m not going to tell you what it was about the Porcupine meatballs that induced emotion strong enough to make me cry. That’s for me to know and you to laugh about.

The point is…what is the point? The point is that books can be in your surroundings for a long time and then one day, they become the perfect book. You need to read that book. Have you ever noticed that? You can own a book forever and when it’s the right time to read it, you will read it. When it’s not, you will stop reading it. Profound eh? You spent 3 minutes reading this for THAT! Three minutes that will never ever come again. Forgive me.

Think back to your own childhood. Does a favorite food come to mind? I ‘d be curious to know what it is for you.

Oh, and this isn’t my mother’s recipe but it is a recipe for Porcupine Meatballs. I might just have to make it and see how it holds up to the memory.

There is no such thing as writer’s block


Repeat after me. There is no such thing as writer’s block. There is no such thing as writer’s block. Apparently this is the truth in spite of the state itself – writer’s block – being referenced notoriously throughout creative history.

There is no such thing as writer’s block when it comes to most types of writing. I can agree with that bold statement.

Just write the damn thing. You have all the info. You’re not writing the next great Canadian novel, unless of course you are.  In comparison to writing a novel, journalism is like the Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Donkey game at the kind of birthday parties my mom hosted for us as kids. It’s like those old black velvet paintings, the ones with numbers in them. Just pick the colour and move the brush. You’ve done the interviews. You have what you need. Get on with it. Not that there aren’t other problems associated with it.  Sorry to any writers who don’t agree. But, if you have writer’s block and you work in journalism, or corporate communications or magazine writing, you’re probably in the wrong profession.

But, when it comes to writing a novel or a memoir, I’m going to venture being slapped by those who have gone before, persevered, and succeeded in overcoming, but I do believe there is a thing called Writer’s Block and I think I have it right now. Give me a pill. A shot. Early onset dementia. Amnesia maybe, at least that way I could forget I ever thought writing anything other than email was a good idea. Put me out of my misery.

I know what I’m supposed to do to move through it. I’m supposed to just sit my butt down, like now, in front of the computer and just start writing whatever comes to mind. Stream of consciousness, get the fingers moving,  get words on the computer screen or the page. It was a surprise to me to learn that it doesn’t matter if your first draft is crap. If you don’t think it’s crap, I hate to tell you this but it probably is crap and you just don’t know it yet. Heck, your second draft might be crap as well. Just get the ideas/words down.

Right away I can feel my resistance to that advice. I’m wondering if that type of advice may have contributed to Dick and Jane readers being published.  Not that they didn’t work to teach us, the tail end of the baby boomers, how to read.

And, one more thing. Do no editing as you’re writing that first draft. Think of writing as the good part of what you do in the bedroom. Writing is sex. Editing/re-writing is making the bed. Do not try to do both at the same time. They are distinct activities.  Or so I’m told.

I like the suggestion by Philip Pullman that you need to substitute the word writer for the word plumber and then see if you can justify something as ridiculous as Writer’s Block.  Do plumbers want to go to work every day and deal with #@#$. Of course not! They just do. Of course fixing a drain seems a little more straightforward to me than creating something from scratch that people will want to read. I mean, you don’t want plumbers getting all creative on you now do you? But there’s that resistance persisting again.

The other surprise to me, in the process of writing this thing that I’m working on (or not working on as is the case currently) is that structure is more important than just about anything else. The foundation is important. Who knew? It’s not just for carpenters.

This is a shock to someone whose modus operandi is stream of consciousness, a way of being that seems to work well for Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but not so much for the rest of us.

Structure will make the difference between helping the reader, giving them a map, comforting them, and allowing them to feel like they are a part of something or feeling, instead, like you have just led them into one of those corn mazes, they’ve been in there for hours, they’re getting frustrated, dehydrated, and bored and they can’t find their way out. Pretty soon they’re screaming or they’re wrecking the corn maze hedge. They don’t want to play. Book closed. Take it back to the library.

Readers don’t want to feel like that. I know. I’m a reader. I want to feel that I’m with my best friend and we’re having the best day of our lives, the most interesting conversations. We’re going somewhere we’ve never been before and damn it’s long overdue. Maybe we’re even learning something along the way. I want to feel like I’m on a journey. I don’t want to know all the answers up front. I want to feel a little different in some way by the time I crawl back into bed that night. I want to keep my memories that were created throughout the day, with me. I might even enjoy mulling them over again if they creep into my consciousness the next day and the day after that. That’s the experience you’re aiming to create when you write a book. Maybe not exactly, but something along those lines.

Laundry. Dishes. Grocery shopping. The Artist’s Way. Morning papers. Getting enough Vitamin D. Convincing myself to find a real job. Trying to figure out how I could move back to Salt Spring. Envisioning my probable homelessness. What to do to celebrate yet another birthday whipping around again at warp speed. Wondering if I’ll ever meet a man who’s interesting to me ever again, and vice versa.  These are all consuming my creative energy to an inordinate degree.  It’s like the blank page is trying to tell me something except I need a braille translator.

Can you relate?

Here are some suggestions by 13 writers for overcoming that non existent writer’s block thing.

When the writing wins

BookAuthor Brian Payton, the writing mentor for the 2012 nonfiction writing group at the SFU Writer’s Studio, of which I was one of nine members, has just released, to wide critical acclaim, his novel, The Wind is Not a River. 

It’s an entirely different experience reading a book written by someone that you know, however superficially, than it is to read the book of an author you’ve never met.

I know the tone of Brian’s voice, the rhythm with which he speaks and his dry humour. I can hear that voice in the book. I know the most minimal details about his life (because he is such a private person) and when I read things in the story that resemble the most minor of facts that I know to be true about his life, I wondered which small details in the book might represent some aspect of his life as well – if at all.

I could feel his inner strength, the peace with which he carries himself in the world and how faith, a faith that has had prominence in his life, finds a place as well,  in the story’s telling.

At SFU, every second Tuesday, we’d sit at the end of three tables pushed together in that horribly cramped room on the second floor of SFU’s downtown campus. Ten people would squeeze in to workshop the writing of four of our classmates in the three hour, biweekly sessions.  Halfway through the session,  Brian would provide snippets of insight during short talks that focused on some aspect of craft, as well as his own wrap on each of the pieces submitted that week, after we’d each taken a turn at providing our own.

I’m thinking back to late November 2012 when we were celebrating our wrap-up party at Saskia Wolsak’s fabulous old family home just up from Jericho Beach. Brian was there that night and on the high of having just discovered that a manuscript that he’d been working on for 12 years – on and off – was being bid on by New York agents.  We were in the tiny alcove that Saskia uses as a library as he told us what was transpiring, me peppering him with questions. He’d never once mentioned this manuscript in the preceding year.

So, to finally sit down yesterday, a day when January’s monsoons pelted down horizontally, and hold,”The Wind is Not A River,” in hand, has to rank right up there as one of life’s small but soul satisfying pleasures.

Sure, you might think I’m biased. I’m willing to admit, that might be a very small part of it. But, I also know that more often than not I have trouble reading fiction. More often than not, I’m not drawn in and I don’t finish a book. I rarely sit down and after the first paragraph continue inhaling the words on a page, disappointed that I can’t stay awake any longer or that other life necessities are impinging on me getting to the end of the story unfolding in my hands. I felt that way reading, The Wind is not a River.

First of all, I’m partial to islands.  Sure, I’ve heard of the Aleutian Islands but the name is pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Then there’s the history: a historical battle of huge significance, the only one fought on American soil during World War II and yet, so little wide-spread awareness about the facts.  There’s the secrecy imposed by the U.S. government about what was taking place there. Add in the tragedy of the small population of Aleuts and the ruin to their lives.   And, if that’s not enough, there’s the love story, well, actually, not to give things away,  but there’s more than one love story. The writing is so fluid that it runs off the page in the same way a wind or a river envelops everything that gets in its path.

The journey compelled me to keep reading as fast as I could. What would become of the main character, John Easley, who had already survived the impossible? Who doesn’t love a saga of physical endurance? Add in the courage and improbability of love pushing a wife to act, as only true love can, way beyond the limits of her comfort zone, especially after the regret of words that can’t be taken back.

The tenacity it took to craft this story, the research involved, the writing and re-writing, surely must be on par with that required by the book’s main character and his fictional quest.

Finally, there’s Brian’s ability to call up feminine sensibilities as required. Our almost all-female writing group surely helped with this part. I jest.

The audience for this book is so all encompassing how can it not fly off the shelves?

Buy one. I’m not lending you mine.

Learn more about Brian Payton and his other books off his website.

Watch this six minute interview with Brian on Global Toronto:   http://globalnews.ca/video/1078230/author-brian-payton

Song of a Stranger

It was as if he was sent with metaphors chosen especially for meeting me, even though, of course, he couldn’t know when he left his place that morning who he might meet, if anyone.

I was sitting at a Starbucks down the street from my place, outside on the patio. It was a beautiful day. A cold snap, rare for Vancouver. Watercolour indigo a steady swath above. Sunshine and the overhead heaters warmed my face. The heat off the red brick wall helped conjure up tropical destinations. White Sand. Black Sand. Playa del Carmen. The Big Island.

He walked by me coffee in hand.  Black sunglasses, plastic Aviator style. Shiny black ankle- high, square-toed boots. I’m not always friendly in the city. I stopped greeting strangers as a matter of course within six months of returning from Salt Spring.  As he walked by, I looked up and said it quietly.


He responded in kind.


I wasn’t acting on any instinct about him. Just being polite. He sat down to my right and a sideways glance offered me a closer look.  Not sure why I looked. Maybe because he and I were the only ones out there braving the cold which wasn’t actually that cold.

The first words? Might have been about the weather. That’s how these things always begin don’t they? Nothing big. Just an intro, willingness.

“Nice out eh?” I said.

He looked over at me. “You’ve got a small window,” he said. “Between now and 2pm. After that it gets really cold.”

He put his hand against the brick. I did too and he was right. Campfires. Barbecues. The kind of straight-on heat that burns but in a good way. He had an accent. Eastern European? His words seeped out rhythmically as if he were talking a jazz tune.

I couldn’t tell how old he was. Maybe sixties. Barely there stubble on his chin and cheeks; kinda sexy. He didn’t bother to take off his sunglasses. He was drinking a venté-sized coffee. At least I’m guessing it was coffee, lots of milk, bit of sugar perhaps. He didn’t seem the kind to order a special drink.

A song from the sixties –Downtown – was piping out of the sound system.  That song took me back to the dining room of the house I grew up in. I can’t hear that song and not recall my sisters’ love of that song – the Petula Clark version. I imagined them buying the vinyl 45 in downtown Vancouver. They’d drag out that blue and white record player and plug it in. They’d remove the shiny black plastic disc from its sleeve, place it carefully onto the raised platform and then lift the needle encased in its white plastic arm and place it flatly over the thin silver totem that spun wobbly in the middle.

“Must have been  the late 60s?” he asked. “Motown?” “Detroit?” “Detroit a model city back then,” he said.  “Motor city.”

I didn’t think I’d ever met anyone who’d been to Detroit. I asked him why he had.

“My extended family lived just outside of Chicago,” he said. “Went through there all the time. The music. The cars dealerships.  Jimmy Hoffa.”

“Did you know it just went bankrupt?” I asked.  “Not sure what that means exactly.”

“Officially, you mean? Officially bankrupt?”

“Yeah, officially,” I said.

“It means services gone. Pensions cut.  Everybody leaving. Everybody who can that is.”

Then he changed the topic.

“I worked in shelters for a long time,” he said.  “The other week. I came across this homeless lady on the street. Outside the pharmacy down there. Guess they called the cops. It’s like when two parallel universes collide. When realities are so far apart that one thinks they’re helping the other but the other, the one who seems to need help, doesn’t understand, doesn’t know why someone’s bothering with them.  The police officer can’t really comprehend what might have transpired for the person to get them there and first thing this police officer says to the woman,  “I’ll take you to a shelter. “‘

“And the homeless woman, she’s staring at the cop wondering why this cop is bothering her. She doesn’t want to go to a shelter. Why would she?  Why can’t she just stay, just live her life.  It’s still a free country isn’t it? They are so far removed from each other’s realities that they have nothing to offer each other. Sometimes it’s like living in a parallel universe. Writing can be like that as well,” he said.

I hadn’t told him that I was a writer.

“Are you a writer?” I asked him.

“I used to write,”he said. “I used to have an urgency. Not so much anymore.”

“Only a writer would ever say something like that,” I said. “Nobody else would even think about that kind of thing or have that kind of experience.”

“I used to urgently scribble everything down,” he said. “Now, I  just don’t have the ambition. I like the ideas. I like the thoughts that arise. That’s the beauty more than the writing. Imagination: using it.”

“That’s what life’s like when you’re on a journey. You can be on a journey or you can be comfortable,”he said.  “You can’t be both.”

“Take people out of their cars, and out of their offices, strip away their titles and their routines and the majority would be lost; wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. They wouldn’t be able to handle the hours stretched before them and yet, we look at them, those of us observing, some with envy, some with disdain, and assume that because they have some place to be, that they’ve got it all figured out. It’s good to remind ourselves that they haven’t figured out anything more than you and I. Probably not. They haven’t figured out those things that are going to be critical in old age, to that place we’re all headed.”

“My thing, what I try to do now, is just be. I try to find a way to find the contentment, regardless of where I am. Forget the past. Don’t get stuck. Let it go. It keeps you back in a different type of parallel universe that never turned out to be no matter how badly you wanted it. Don’t go to the future either. Just be right now. That’s all there is to work with really.”

“I haven’t been content for too long in my life,” he said.

“Me neither,” I said quietly.

“Sure, a few years. I lived up north. Lived in a small town up north and at first I thought, this is it. I’ve found what I’m looking for. All nature and isolation. Nice enough people I guess. And then just two years in and I began to think, What am I doing here? How  is being here helping me develop as a person? And, that’s when I knew that I had to get out of there. So I left and it took me a long time to figure out what was next. I eventually ended up working in emergency shelters.”

I didn’t wonder immediately, but later I wondered if he’d ended up living in one himself. Is that how he’d come to work there? I didn’t ask.

“Thought I might find some pearls of wisdom there,” he said. “At least more than some other places where I’d have to spend the day to get money. And I did, occasionally, but mostly I found people who didn’t want to change; islands unto themselves.

“I asked him where he was from, originally that is.

“ I usually say I’m from a place where the cathedral is over there, history up the ying, yang, Mozart and other composers as neighbors. I used to walk down the street back home and sometimes I’d sit down on a bench and think, Mozart walked here. Mozart probably sat on this bench. I think I’ll sit myself down and see if any of his inspiration might still be left here. It might seep up from that bench into me. So what if I had potato soup for breakfast as a kid. So what if there was no such thing as no fancy coffee. Where’s the inspiration in that? I can walk down to the next Starbucks, and the next, and the next  and have the same coffee there, the same experience, the same food. I can warm up but where am I? How has the experience added anything?”

“Sometimes it’s good to be in the wilderness. Sometimes climbing Mount Everest, even when you’re in the city, is going to take you where you need to be.  I used to want to climb Mount Everest. Now, I go to Hollyburn. I find a spot that feels right and I sit down and I take it all in and it doesn’t matter whether it’s Everest or Hollyburn.  I’m thinking and observing, being a part of a place, just the same way I would be if I was at Everest because, in a way, I am there – especially if I’m in the moment.”

“I went to university for a few years,” he said, changing the topic again. “I wanted to take Paleontology. I didn’t know that you had to believe in Evolution. Nobody said I had to believe in Evolution to pass a Paleontology exam. It took me about four or five years to recover from university. Now that I’m older I realize none of that stuff matters.”

“Well, what do you believe?” I asked, not picking up the obvious.

“Creation. I believe in Creation,” he said.

I didn’t say a thing. Who was this guy? Was he Jesus? Is that how it works? Does Jesus show up dressed like a regular dude? Jesus as shape-shifter?  Was I in some old episode of that TV series, Touched by an Angel? Was there a hidden camera? Imagine if it were true. Think about what it might be like if Jesus could just decide each day where he wanted to touch down. And of all the gin joints in all the world he found me, in Starbucks no less. Was he lost, too?  This ain’t Jerusalem, I’d think to myself, sarcastically.  But maybe all the same to him. They don’t call him the Holy Ghost for nothing. Now here he was, right beside me, because I was one of his blessed children and he could feel the need. “You’re on a journey, every journey important in the seeking. At least, you’re paying attention. You’re still asking questions. Is that what Jesus would tell me?

We’d spent more than 45 minutes talking. I was freezing. I needed to go home, needed to pee.

I stretched out my hand and told him my name.

“Really nice talking to you,” he said and grabbed my hand as well.

“Bystrich,” he said.  “Parents called me Bisquick when they were in a hurry.”

He laughed at the memory.

“Tell me your name again,” I said. “Can you spell it for me?”

“Bystrich. B. Y. S.T.R.I.C.H.”

He spelled it out as if he’d just hummed a song we’re all singing aren’t we?