A reason to do this

I presented a short talk about writing creative nonfiction at the Calgary Public Library this weekend. The talk involved a lot of my regular shtick which I’ve officially cannibalized enough. I realized this when, after my talk in the theatre lobby, I heard one of the audience members say: “It was good, but repetitive. I’ve heard him say almost all of that before.” I guess it is time for something new.

There was at least one idea I mentioned during my presentation that I hadn’t before. A sense of gratitude for the gifts nonfiction gives to those who write it. This occurred to me as I reviewed my journals from my last research trip to California, Arizona and Mexico. During my month in the borderlands I had the opportunity to sit with a Native American elder at her home along the border. I ‘played’ the border wall at Nogales with an avant-garde percussionist. I bought a beer for an eighty-year old bartender; she drank her Foster’s on the rocks. I met with recently deported migrants still weary from their failed journeys, and hit six Tijuana bars on a Monday night with an American expat artist.

I was able to do these things and meet these people only because I am a writer. Being a writer means being allowed into other lives. Being a writer means I am permitted to ask for conversations with people I find fascinating. Even though I am a total stranger, they are willing to share their stories with me. This is a great gift.

Dealing with editors, and deadlines, and late payments, and word-counts, and rejected pitches, and grant applications, and the collapsing book and magazine market has its stresses. But I take some solace in the fact that I get paid to listen to people’s incredible stories. And sometimes I get paid on time.