"If I’d known fifty years ago, when I started writing, that it would take fifty years to reach this point . . . I might have stayed on the farm."
Those were my rehearsed opening words from the podium at the launch last week in Nelson, B.C., of my memoir, Leaving the Farm, after being enthusiastically introduced by my friend, the artist and writer Judy Wapp, and as I looked into the crowd of attentive faces before me, waiting to hear me read from my book. Over the sixteen years it took to complete the book (after fourteen drafts!) and see it published, I’d read many times before in public—most often from the work in hand when it was a work in progress—and had grown used to it, had graduated from abject, bowel-disturbing fear at the prospect of standing figuratively naked in front of an audience to a rather pleasant nervous excitement, but this time was very different. I was reading not from a manuscript that was far from finished, whose eventual publication seemed remote, if not impossible, but from a printed book, my book. Success! Recognition!
The experience was a little dissociating, to say the least. In other words, I had the odd feeling, like one gets when "watching" oneself about to have an accident, that I was somehow removed from the proceedings. Someone else stood in front of this audience, reading from someone else’s work. I was a bystander, or rather a spirit, floating above and a little behind the person at the podium.
At the same time, I was also astounded, flattered, humbled by all those good folks, friends and relatives, acquaintances and strangers, who’d turned out to hear me read and, in gratifying numbers, to buy my book. Nelson is certainly one of the best small communities for a writer, or any other kind of artist, to live and work in. You’re not alone here. You’re supported. You feel yourself (and especially now that you’ve finally produced a book) a member of what Margaret Laurence called "the tribe"— and of what I like to think, in my more grandiose moments, as that august company composed of all the writers who have ever lived and left written evidence of their having been here.
Of course most of what gets written, and published, disappears—winds up on remainder tables or gathers dust on somebody’s or some institution’s bookshelf or lies begging on a giveaway table at a garage sale. But what the hell. Don’t most of us strive for expression in one form or another in the face of eventual dissolution?
Sure we do, and forgive that last sentence. Reminds me of the Saturday Night Live comedian who used to do hilarious skits called "Deep Thoughts."