Archive for the ‘Margaret Atwood’ Tag

More Thoughts on Mentoring: Paul Thompson   2 comments

Sorry it's not the greatest photo. The funny thing, in my mind he has always looked like this. Ageless!

Sorry it’s not the greatest photo. The funny thing, in my mind he has always looked like this. Ageless!

I’ve written a few pieces on here about mentors of mine. Here’s the story of an unlikely mentor who came to mind after a serendipitous meeting in Calgary the other evening. It harkens back to events of my life almost thirty years ago.

I was (as usual) minding my own business the other evening, having a beer at Ric’s Grill on 15th Avenue, when I looked up I couldn’t believe my eyes. There as large as life was Canadian theatre icon Paul Thompson walking in. It had been a long time since we’d seen each other and so we did some catching up.

Paul mentored me almost in accidental fashion in Toronto almost 30 years ago. Damn, that’s how long I’m been doing the theatre thing. More than 30 years ago! Where the hell did the time go?!

He mentored me in such a fashion to make me examine the word itself and the nature of the activity. We usually think of it as something sustained, the master passing down the wisdom of the ages and the secrets of the craft to the apprentice over time. Often enough this is the case.

But in other circumstances, it may be that the more experienced person comes along and through some act, or something he or she says, maybe even accidentally,  confers some honour on the neophyte, providing a boost of confidence that allows the recipient of this largess to carry on.

You know, the art thing is lonely and we artists are often beset with insecurities and self-doubt. Sometimes a very simple, even random, act of kindness can lift us up and keep us going.  That’s what Paul did for me. I have never forgotten. Here’s how it went down . . .

After graduating from the MFA Program in Theatre at York University way back when in 1984, some of my fellow grads and I put together a small, alternative, experimental, avant garde, like-nothing-you’ve-ever-seen-before-anywhere-ever theatre company called ACT IV. (We said is like the letters, not the number.) My partners in crime were actors Anthony Dunn and Sally Singal and the late and beautiful Larry Lewis, our director.

We formed the company around a  small, alternative, experimental, avant garde, like-nothing-you’ve-ever-seen-before-anywhere-ever script of mine called The Family, which we produced at the back space at Theatre Passe Muraille.

One could argue about the merits of that script or the real artistic value of that production, but what fun we had putting it on! It was the magical time one can only dream of. Of course the first night all of our friends and classmates and family came and the place was full and everyone loved it and we thought to ourselves, “This isn’t so hard after all.”

The second night, 4 people. And we plumbed the depths of despair. And on through the run. What the hell? It’s the show we cut our teeth on. All good.

After the show had closed, months after, I received a phone call from Paul Thompson, which in Toronto at the time, if you were an aspiring theatre artist like myself, was rather like receiving a phone call from God.  He had seen the play at Passe Muraille (a theatre which he helped to found, in the same way I suppose that I was helping to found ACT IV) and we had chatted after one of the performances  and talked about getting together . . .  but I never in my wildest dreams thought he would actually call me.

But he did. He invited me to go to a movie with him. “Sure, Paul,” I replied, nonchalantly, “I think I can make that.”

Of course, I had no money, but I did have a fat little leather wallet full of change, mostly quarters and dimes, for the laundry. I figured it would be enough to get me into the movie and so on the big day I shoved it into my pocket and went off to meet Paul at the University Theatre.

I did not decline his offer to buy the tickets. I don’t remember much about the movie other than constantly thinking to myself, “Why would a famous guy like Paul Thompson want to take me to a movie? Maybe he has me confused with someone else?!?!”

When the movie ended Paul suggested we go for a beer. I explained the situation with the little change purse and he said “Don’t worry it’s on me,” and so we were on our way for a beer together when he saw a man and woman he knew and said to me, “I just have to say hi to these people. Give me a minute.”

So I stood there while he talked to them, and then after a bit they looked over at me and Paul said, “Let me introduce you to Eugene Stickland. He’s a great young writer. Did you see his play at Passe Muraille? No?  You missed it? Too bad. It was great. You’re going to be hearing a lot about this guy.”

And so these two people were lucky enough to be introduced to the great young writer.

And who were they? They were a couple of writers, too, as it turned out: Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood. And they were both so gracious.

I believe that my sense of my own identity, of seeing myself as a writer, and in believing that I could actually do it, came from that precise moment.

And so you can see why I have rather fond feelings for Paul Thompson. And you see what I mean about mentorship. There’s no finer example that I can think of.

The challenge, my friends, is to find such opportunities to make a difference in the lives and careers of the next generation.

As Paul did for me.

Thanks for reading.

By the way. I’ve been back on the ginkgo biloba the last month or so – not the drug store shit, you have to go to Chinatown and get the vials! – and I magically remembered that the movie we saw back in early 1985 was Ornette: Made in America. Here’s the trailer . . .

More Thoughts on Journaling (With a Little Help from my Friends)   5 comments

A few of my journals.

Those who know me either through this blog and my other writings, or from real life (whatever that is – I hear it’s overrated!) will know that I am an inveterate diarist.  One of my favourite and habitual activities is writing in my journal, an activity I carry out in various coffee shops around the world, most often in Calgary’s Caffe Beano off of 17th Avenue South West.

I have been doing this since the mid 1970’s and now I think of my journals and diaries as one huge amorphous oeuvre, comprised of, by conservative estimate, two to three million words.

After perhaps a million or so of these words had been recorded in my various notebooks, I had managed to achieve a sufficient amount of fame or notoriety to warrant the creation of my archival collection at the University of Regina. This collection, which I believe anyone is welcome to view in the library of the U of R, contains, for now at least, early drafts of some of my plays along with letters and laundry lists and other pieces of paper from the day-to-day of my ever so fascinating life.

But coming down the road, that long dusty road that plies its way through the prairies of my home province, is this flood of words and the books they are written in, destined to end up with all my other writings in the archival collection.  (This is a horrible metaphor, as if a flood would travel on a road. Perhaps it’s more of a caravan or convoy. Or maybe there is no road. But you get the picture, muddled as it may be!)

The point remains, the journals are destined to repose of the shelves of the library of the University of Regina as part of my archival collection.

Here’s the thing: how does the fact that one knows that one’s journals will be open for public scrutiny some day alter the writing? Can one continue to be as honest with one’s innermost thoughts that are, essentially, private in nature but that obviously find their way onto the page, when one is aware that someday in the future (near or distant, who can know?) others will be able to read them?

I’m forever telling people whom I get involved with on many levels, from business to romance, (though there hasn’t been much of either, lately, alas) that they will be written about and the books they are written in will be around for some time to come. And that I don’t pull my punches. And that little bit of information should make a few people reading this at least slightly nervous.

My thinking on this is that by the time they hit the shelves, I’ll be dead and people and events I write about will be insubstantial shadows, so what will it really matter, anyway? Well, it might still matter to you, dear reader, so I suggest you govern yourself accordingly. (You know who you are, even if I don’t, exactly . . .)

The other alternative I suppose would be to do as many writers do and burn the journals before I shuffle off to sing with the choir invisible. Or if I’m too feeble and deranged at the end to do it myself,  leave instructions for someone else to do it should my passing be sudden and unexpected, which I am sorely hoping it will be. But burn those two or three million words? It doesn’t seem to me to be an option.  In many ways, I think of this gigantic sprawling work as the greatest artistic statement I cam capable of making. Burn it? It just seems too self-negating, and those who know me will know self-negation is not something I’m exactly known for.

The trick is to remain honest and true, not censoring your thoughts or opinions, yet being mindful that at some point in the distant reaches of time, someone will surely read those words, and in your absence, and they will be all they have, really, from which to form an opinion of you and the people and events of your life. I find that prospect both scary and exciting at the same time.

Now, this was all meant to serve as a prologue for a lovely letter (via Facebook) I received a while back from my friend, who for now I shall call R,  which you will discover as you read was prompted by other of my musings (or ramblings) about journal writing.

It’s seldom that we take the time anymore to write a well-reasoned letter, and I was so touched by this one that I decided to share it here.

It’s a good reminder that a well thought-out letter, written with care and attention, may be rare these days, but it is perhaps more than ever a worth-while endeavor.  In fact, it’s downright precious Here it is . . . .


Hi Eugene,
I read your note about your journals yesterday morning. For some reason it stuck with me and I kept thinking about it all day, a day, when for some reason, and no reason in particular, I was feeling generally sad and out of sorts. Then, on the c-train, I read this and felt maybe I was meant to share it with you. Not sure what it means, if it means anything…but I am compelled to share it here, so here it is, quoted by Margaret Atwood in Negotiating with the Dead, from Hjalmar Soderberg’s Doctor Glas:

Now I sit at my open window, writing – for whom? Not for any friend or mistress. Scarcely for myself, even. I do not read today what I wrote yesterday; nor shall I read this tomorrow. I write simply so my hand can move, my thoughts move of their own accord. I write to kill a sleepless hour.

And this, also quoted in the Atwood, from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four:

For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder, was he writing this diary? For the future, for the unborn…For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him. How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him: or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.

Then, she says:

For whom was Samuel Pepys writing? Or Saint-Simon? Or Anne Frank? There is something magical about such real-life documents. The fact that they have survived, have reached our hands, seems like the delivery of an unexpected treasure; or else like a resurrection…The older one gets, the more relevant Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape comes to be.

Happy Day to you :o)

And happy day to you, dear reader. Thanks for the visit . . . .

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