Some days I have to think about what I'm doing with writing. I love it, of course, but then all these other considerations come into play. What book to write next? YA, adult, Mystery, Crime, Literature? Genre? Tone? Depth? And they all end in why. Why do this at all?
Then I remember my trip to the Humber School for Writers. I remember driving from Ottawa to Toronto for the week long program. I remember being tired and nervous and maybe I cut some guy off by mistake and he made weird gestures at me on the highway. Maybe I was too young when I went and didn't get all I could have out of this amazing program. Or maybe it was the perfect time.
It was a bizarre week; the culmination of everything I'd been wanting to do. Writing. Editing. Reading. Talking with writers, being around people like Timothy Findley who I briefly worked with, Wayson Choy, and, Paul Quarrington.
It's hard to say how much my time at Humber changed me and my writing. But, most of all, how much I learned from Paul.
I won't get into how amazing a writer he was. Or how great a human being either. (though one antidote, I remember walking past the 'author's table' of books and saying to Paul 'There are a lot of your books left but it seems like all of Wayson Choy's books are sold.' He laughed and said, 'thanks a lot' I felt like an idiot. I mean, I still stick my foot in my mouth all the time. It's like a disease. But this was the first day at the school and I was trying to make a good impression. Paul was kind in response, though, and made it into a joke soon enough.) What I really want to talk about was what Paul said to me on the last day.
For some reason he had us all come to him in the cafeteria where he'd set himself up behind a table. It was like a weird interview. I think he got a bang out of having us march up to him for his 'final assessment of our abilities'. I'm not sure what he said to the other students, but I will always remember what he said to me. He handed me my work and said, "I have no doubts about your becoming a name in Canadian literature. As long as you keep working hard at it."
That's what sticks in my mind on the days where the words won't come. Where I start looking at everyone else's writing and finding it way better than mine. On the days when I'd rather sit and play video games or watch a movie. Writing is not easy. It's hard work. But this man believed in my abilities then, and I have to keep believing in them no matter what I actually think day to day. This is extremely difficult for a writer.
It seems to me that one of an artist's most difficult tasks is to stay one step ahead of self-doubt.
Anyway, Paul Quarrington was a force in literature, film, and music, and we lost him far too early. I read the other day that an arena in downtown Toronto is going to be named after him. This seems a fitting tribute.