Why add to a tsunami of words?

Last evening, we attended a reading at McNally Robinson Booksellers. It was the launch of Home Place 3, a Prairie Fire publication featuring Manitoba writers living outside Winnipeg. We enjoyed hearing samples of work, quite varied, including lovely “wilderness” poems by my friend Fran Bennett, poems by J.L. Bond whose work also appeared in the MB Herald some years ago and by well-known poet/professor Di Brandt; fiction by accomplished short story writer Lois Braun and by Paul Krahn, who once taught our sons at MBCI (his was a delightful excerpt about shopping at an MCC Thrift Store); and much more.

All well and good it was indeed, but there’s something about being at McNally’s, that amazing emporium of words, that pulls me two ways. As a reader, it’s heaven — I mean of the kid-in-the-candy-store variety: all this, available for me? As a writer, it’s overwhelming too but with a little anxiety to boot. So many hundreds of books seeking readers, mine on a shelf among them, one voice in a massive chorus of them all bleating, “pick me, pick me!”

In the latter frame of mind (I imagine the question hits most writers some days: why am I doing this, why do I persist?), I found two of the pieces posted at today’s Arts and Letters Daily encouraging. Alix Christie asks why, in light of the odds, in the midst of “this tsunami of freshly published words,” anyone would bother writing a novel. She sets the angst up well, quotes Mario Vargas Llosa that “fiction is an art of societies in which faith is undergoing some sort of crisis,” suggests it’s about courage, “an act of faith.” She provides something of a pep talk.

Then, an interview with South African writer Nadine Gordimer offers additional reasons to write. “For me, all writing is a process of discovery… the process of what it means to be a human being.” She makes a helpful distinction when she says it wasn’t the “problems” of her country that set her to writing (such writing would be propaganda) but rather, “it was learning to write that sent me falling, falling through the surface” of South African life. Great image that, and true: writing can send one “falling, falling” through the surface of things.

Last night, surrounded by books, we heard from established and beginning writers. Many of them will persist, as I will, in spite of the odds. I don’t generally like to talk about the discouragements of those odds. (Everyone, after all, no matter what they work at, has their challenges, and if there’s grousing to be done, it’s best done with colleagues in the same business. Enough to admit one has such moments.) Today I’m grateful for these two pieces of writing at Arts and Letters, for yesterday’s showcase of writers, and for the readers each of us finds for the words we add to the flood.

The launch

The weather in Winnipeg has been wonderfully fine and everything feels green and alive again, and in the midst of it all, yesterday evening, the occasion of launching “This Hidden Thing.” My longest-time friend Eunice came from Edmonton for the event (and some good conversation, as always) and many other local friends and family came too. I think we all — CMU Press and McNally Robinsons Bookstore and those of us who participated in one way or another — thought it had gone exceedingly well. I feel so grateful and blessed for the support and interest of others.

I can’t say I wasn’t a bit nervous, but once I got into reading the texts I’d selected for my small sampling, I felt completely at home again, and inside those words (using launch as a nautical image, rather than explosion as in sending off a rocket!) the book slipped off into its journey as a book. Felt at home, I say, but it’s curious, and I’m sure other writers know what I mean, there’s a kind of detachment too. The book sails away, and I’m on shore.  It’s where I want to be.

Signing books. (Both photos: Eunice Sloan)