September 27, 2013

Good Things Come in Threes

By Jeannette Bodnar

Elisabeth de Mariaffi, Jim Lynch and Charlene Diehl at Thursday's "Afternoon Book Chat".

I arrived at Thursday’s "Afternoon Book Chat" an hour-and-a-half before my shift as a volunteer. I’m a chronic procrastinator and I misread my schedule while eating a bowl of chowder and rushing my in-laws to catch their plane back to Vancouver. Anyway, I arrived early, much to the confusion of the McNally staff, who informed me that even the event co-ordinator wouldn’t be there for over an hour. They suggested that maybe I could read a book. The nice guy at the counter even tried to hide the “hey crazy lady, eager for human contact much” look behind a smile. So I did my best to cover my embarrassment behind some mumblings of schedule mix-up and scurried to the graphic novel section.

I spent the next hour-plus sauntering through the store, section by section, and before I knew it, it was time to set up for the afternoon event. I was helping out as an usher, and my experienced colleague Shirley showed me the ropes.

Not long before the event was supposed to begin, Charlene arrived appearing collected as always. However, after welcoming us and thanking us for helping out, she explained that this was the day, “all the wheels were falling off the bus.” Now, if you read my last entry, I might have written something about Charlene never losing her cool and the possibility of her being a cyborg, or something to that effect. And instead of asking her how I can help out, I say, “Don’t worry, things can get worse.”

At that moment, Shirley pipes in and basically says the same thing, but more eloquently. Anyway, in true Charlene form, she smiles and proceeds to welcome nearly every single person in the atrium graciously (still composed, still no sweat).

Then the event begins.

Jim Lynch.

Charlene takes her seat at the front of the room and with her are Jim Lynch and Elisabeth de Mariaffi. It turns out that Ian Williams (who was originally scheduled) missed his flight, and the flight he did catch was delayed. No worries, Charlene jumps right into things with a brief explanation and then a reading by Jim.

I loved the way Jim set up his reading. As someone who loves to write, I’m often as interested in the creative process as I am the material itself. Jim explained that the inspiration for the opening scene of Truth Like The Sun was a pair champagne flutes that were being sold in a consignment shop under the premise of being drunk from the night before the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Though it’s hard to grasp the essence of a book in the time constraints of a short reading, Lynch’s opening scene captures the pace and essence of the party atmosphere perfectly. He explained that he loves to write from the perspective of “an aggressive observer”. In reference to his character Miles O’Malley from The Highest Tide, he says, “Most of us go through life so oblivious that a boy who is paying attention could come across as a genius or a prophet.” When you hear/read Jim’s work, you recognize that he is an astute observer. One could argue that all writers are, but I think the writing craft draws from different strengths and Jim’s happens to be that he delivers details of a moment in a way that not only captures the picture, but also the time, beautifully.

Elisabeth was the next to read. Her book, How to GetAlong With Women, is a collection of short stories and one of the festival books that I’m most eager to read. She explained that her collection is about power dynamics, imbalances in power, and examining your role as a witness to these imbalances. Her stories are about “realizing that the power struggle is not what we thought it was.” For me, this was one of the most powerful statements of the afternoon. It’s just one of those phrases that can carry you through life, one of those powerful messages that can apply whether you’re looking at your own life or someone else’s. It was also the perfect introduction to the poetry of Ian Williams who, by now, had joined the panel.

Ian Williams and Elisabeth de Mariaffi.

Williams’s Personals is a collection of poetry that in his words, “comments on contemporary relationships.” He first read “Nutrition Facts,” an exploration of mature love well beyond the honeymoon phase. The poem delivers hard truths like, “your husband smells like Old Spice and then he will smell like Bengay.” Ian seems like a guy who enjoys working in the world of hard truths. In regards to the collection, he explained how “the nature of relationships have become superficial” due to the fact that modern connections are “mediated through technology”. Perhaps the most interesting, or rather provocative thing that was said by Williams was something to the effect of being tired of success, to which Lynch responded jokingly, “I can’t wait to be tired of my own success.” Williams followed the statement by explaining that we work in a society that has written a sort of prescription for success that promises that if you follow the steps/take the pill, you’ll arrive at happiness. His argument is that this predictable path to success is “dissatisfying at the end of the day.”

As someone who is on the tail end of her latest mid-life crisis, I can appreciate Williams’s view, and am intrigued to read the collection. Williams’s statement emphasized Lynch’s point about the importance of being an engaged observer and de Mariaffi’s statement on power struggles not being what we think they are. Life, like writing, should be about the journey, but many of us are so obsessed with the destination - finishing a book, buying a bigger house, getting a better job - that we forget to observe what’s happening along the way. Sometimes the mistakes, the detours, and the catastrophes we experience help us slow down and re-evaluate the struggle, then work for something other than the piece of cheese at the end of the maze. And what starts off as “wheels falling off the bus,” has the potential to turn into the equivalent of a Master’s class on the creative process.

I guess what it comes down to is: bad things happen in threes?

But in my experience, so do good things.

No comments:

Post a Comment