by Janelle Curry
The theme of the night, “Who Am I Now?”, was captured through a variety of texts, by several talented authors. André Alexis, Doretta Lau, David Alexander Robertson, Martha Baillie, and David Bergen each read excerpts from their books that reflected this theme in different ways.
Alexis’ excerpt from Pastoral featured a pastor who had quite the shock seeing a man walk on water and speak in tongues.
Lau’s short story was entitled “God Damn, How Real is This?”, and flowed from the premise of the future selves of people texting their present selves, often with warnings that didn’t quite yet make sense.
Robertson’s reading from The Evolution of Alice followed a woman, Alice, who was grieving for her deceased daughter Grace, seeing her child in every part of her home.
Baillie read from her novel The Search for Heinrich Schlögel, which is narrated by an archivist who is attempting to piece together Heinrich’s life history.
Bergen read an excerpt from his novel Leaving Tomorrow, which followed a romantic, Arthur, stuck in a brawling country town in Alberta.
All very different, each of these authors brought a new perspective and a new style of writing to the theme. Between authors Charlene Diehl, director of Thin Air, mused about the Self. She remarked that we often have a tendency to consider others as fixed entities, even while we recognize ourselves as constantly changing beings. Even the question, “who am I now?”, suggests that we know we can change, and do so quite often, but we still seek to identify and title ourselves at every turning point. It’s often seen as a bad thing to think of yourself too much, but really we all do it and it’s part of our nature. Attempts at self-definition motivate us and do a lot of good, in the end. But as a room filled with people who appreciate literature, I’m sure we could all relate to the desire to overcome this habit by connecting with others in meaningful ways, even when they’re just characters from a book.
Stories provide a window into the mind of another; not just the characters portrayed, but even the author can be discernible between the lines. Seeing these very talented authors speak their words on stage added a layer of intimacy to the readings, similar to the experience you have when meeting a close friend’s parents or family for the first time. The author creates the character, nurtures her, shapes her, and can even be surprised by her. Readers connect with these characters to different degrees, in different ways, and can often even see things that the author did not intend. These mysterious elements of a character that spring up in a line of dialogue or during a description, but only to those who are primed to see it, are what make a character so real: even their parents don’t fully know who they are.
Each of the readings tonight reflected a different role or perspective that affects self-definition. Redefining oneself after the death of a child, or after contact with your future self has made you wonder if you’re secretly a misogynist. Interpreting a man walking on plastic cylinders in a pond as satanic, or being mistaken for many different people by many different strangers. Believing you’re surrounded by idiots because all they want to do is fight, while you prefer to read.
These all suggest how dependent our identity is on our relationships with other people. It’s kind of a beautiful irony, that we’re so self-centered and yet define ourselves by our interactions with others.
Well, might as well interact with one (or all) of the books that were read from tonight, to take your mind off of yourself for once. Geez.