September 27, 2014

Who Am I Now?

By Jeannette Bodnar
I was drawn to Wednesday night’s Mainstage, not only for the line-up of writers--Alexis, Lau, Robertson, Baillie, and Bergen--but also for its theme: Who Am I Now?
As I sat in my seat waiting for the evening to begin I looked around me and pondered the question at hand. I began blogging for Thin Air three years ago, and since then had experienced many revelations, awakenings, insights and changes, but had I grown? Can the essence of self every really change?
I looked around me. I noticed a fellow blogger two seats over from me. I knew she was a blogger because she sat ready, pen in hand, miniature notebook cupped in palm, also waiting for the events to begin. As I peered at my comrade I also noticed glaring similarities. We both had Samsung phones, both sported identical plastic hair clips parting our hair to the right, both shared an appreciation for the classic black cardigan. I was peering at a younger version of myself I wondered what her story was and what similarities she might have with the me of three years past.
After an insightful introduction by host Charlene Diehl, during which she explained, “our experience of self is often fluid and shifting,” the night began strong with a reading from André Alexis from his book Pastoral. Alexis’ voice has a James Earl Jones quality to it. I will never be able to read his books without hearing his voice. This is one of the beautiful nuances of hearing authors read their own work. It adds a dimension that is otherwise unseen, like ghost lines in a painting that are only revealed when the light hits it just the right way.
Doretta Lau was next. Her short story, “God Damn How Real is This?” from How Does A Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?, features a world in which people can receive text messages from their future selves.
I can’t count the number of times I wish I could have the opportunity to communicate with my younger self.
However, as Lau demonstrates, communicative time travel may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Her protagonist Franny Siu, who regularly receives messages concerning her health from her future self, receives a diagnosis of “dormant Munchausen by proxy.” The story continues to follow Franny as she and her friends comically negotiate the reality of maintaining relationships with their future selves. Lau had me questioning my own quirks and neuroticisms, and realizing the horror of what it would be like to be in a relationship with myself, future or past.
The night shifted to a more serious note with David A. Robertson’s Evolution of Alice in which he read an excerpt that highlighted what is to be haunted by your past and what it takes to leave it behind and move forward.
Like Lau, Martha Baillie also plays with time travel in her novel The Search for Heinrich Schlögel. Her reading captured the dreamlike essence of the world she creates in her book.
The night ended with David Bergen reading from Leaving Tomorrow. The passage he chose highlights what it is to be young and out of place, misunderstood and struggling to find your way. I think a passage about facing fears, even when they seem insurmountable, is a perfect closing to night entitled Who Am I Now. We learn who we are not so much through our victories, but through the times we risked failing because staying where we were proved more painful than moving forward.
Every year that I share in this festival I learn a little bit more about who I am and about the parts of me I want to keep and the parts I want to leave behind. The festival stands as a way to reconnect to the essence of myself.
‘Who am I now?’ is the unanswerable question because in asking it of yourself you’ve already changed. The best we can wish for is to learn from the past, have hopes for the future, and most importantly, savour the present for all that it is.
Diehl, Lau, Alexis and Robertson

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