Ethics versus life

Carol Off reading at Blue Heron Books & Brunch event, Nov. 12, 2017.

Last Sunday morning, I watched a seasoned journalist get uncharacteristically emotional. Previously a foreign correspondent, a reporter who’d covered hostilities in the Middle East and a long-time current affairs radio host, Carol Off’s eyes welled up. She recalled, in 2002, convincing Asad Aryubwal, an Afghan father of five, to go on-camera to expose the warlords the U.S. military was courting to overthrow the Taliban.

“Asad’s courage in speaking out was rewarded only with the calamity when, in response to (my) documentary,” Off told Zoomer magazine, “Afghanistan’s most powerful warlord sent a death squad to kill him.”

Harbinger of fall

Shelley Macbeth at her Blue Heron Bookstore

Some of the last few nights, when I took the dog for a walk, I noticed that I had to wear a sweater. On other walks up our street, it became pretty obvious that the trees were starting to turn. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Shelley Macbeth’s email arrived.

“Just confirming that you’re all ready for Books and Authors,” she wrote.

That’s when I realized the season had changed. If it’s time for Blue Heron Books’ Books and Authors night, it’s truly the beginning of fall. For those of you who have lived here and have followed Uxbridge’s incredibly lively arts scene over the past 30 years or so, it’s no surprise.

Customer Service 101

Stormy weather on the customer service front.

Remember those threatening storm clouds that rolled over town last Saturday morning. They popped off some lightning bolts, rumbled with thunder and then, just as Canadian Tire was full of folks doing last-minute Father’s Day shopping, inside the store there was a momentary blackout.

Simultaneously there was an audible sigh as everybody in the store realized what it meant. The store’s entire electrical system – from lighting, to security alarms to cash registers – would have to reboot before things got back to normal. What was worse, with everything at a standstill, the line-up at the checkouts was growing fast.

Almost as quickly, with the temperature among impatient customers (and the store itself because the air conditioning also had to reboot), a guy in a blue Canadian Tire shirt slipped past the queue, grabbed an armful of bottled water and began handing out the bottles for free.

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” Kevin the store manager said. “We should have things back to normal in a couple of minutes.”

A writer life

Kayla Czaga at a poetry reading.
Kayla Czaga at a poetry reading.

Her name is Kayla Czaga. She’s a young Canadian poet. And last Saturday night during a gala, I attended in Winnipeg, her peers announced she’d won the annual Gerald Lampert Award… Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never heard of her or the prize. It was awarded by the League of Canadian Poets at the first ever joint conference of the LCP and its new sister association, The Writers’ Union of Canada, of which I’m a member. In fact, she commented on the new relationship between the LCP and TWUC.

“I want to thank this big, new, strange family,” she said. And the 200 or so writers present – poets, novelists, short story writers and non-fiction writers – all laughed and applauded in appreciation.

The plastic brain

Dr. Norman Doidge
Dr. Norman Doidge

At Centennial College where I work in Toronto, this past week, I faced new students, people with different destinations than my students last fall. As I asked them about their aspirations for the course I was about to teach, one asked about what I do. In passing, I mentioned I’d be interviewing a doctor who believes the human brain can change, adapt, and even heal itself. Curious, I asked the class if anyone had ever had a traumatic brain experience.

“When I was young, I had a stroke,” one student said. “It took away my speech. I couldn’t talk.”

I nodded that her current speech suggested a full recovery. “What happened? How did your speech come back?”

“They taught me Italian,” she said. “I didn’t know a word of it. But in learning the Italian I got my English speech back.”

More than bookworms

TWUC authors (l-r) Greg Hollingshead and Susan Swan as well as library rep Michael Smith hold high the books they treasure at the reference library demo on Sunday.

Towards the end of last Sunday’s Books ‘n’ Brunch event, staged by Shelley Macbeth and her Blue Heron Books staff, I turned to the audience. I had been interviewing successful crime writer, Giles Blunt, author of six books featuring fictitious Canadian detective John Cardinal. Having asked all my questions, I invited some from the audience. One of the first questions came from a librarian from Sandford. The second came from a former librarian in town. It occurred to me that in a room of about hundred avid readers, a goodly number of those in attendance had served in the libraries of local schools and branches of our public library.

When author Blunt later commented on the quality of the audience’s questions, I pointed out how arts focused and well read this community is.

“We’ve got something like 25 or 30 book clubs here,” I told him. “And it’s probably no surprise that at the heart of those clubs are current or former librarians.”