This week I looked back along the challenging, always exhilarating path this blog has been for me in 2016. Because it is carried as a column in the Similkameen Spotlight and the Keremeos Review, I have invariably been conscious of the looming deadline. At times I’ve begun the week in a state of near bewilderment as to what I would write. Wanting to give the reader something of substance, I have at times looked up and put in a special request for wisdom.
Many of the columns have been based on conversations Linda and I have had with individuals, usually people living in the Similkameen Valley. I prefer to think in terms of conversations, rather than interviews, because they have been intimate. We have wanted to delve into values, ideas and concerns. Often I have asked “what has surprised you along the way?”
Having Linda with me has been a bonus and a delight. Sometimes she comes away with insights that eluded me. We work together on editing and she can be radical. On one occasion she suggested moving the last paragraph to the beginning of the column. At one time, editor/ publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight, Andrea DeMeer, asked if she could borrow her. I declined to share this secret to my success.
Initially when I began asking individuals to engage in a conversation for publication purposes, I didn’t expect a high rate of consent. Frequently these people didn’t know me. Why would they trust someone to write about them in a newspaper? I’m still astonished and gratified that very few have turned down my request. If someone says, “I’ll think about it,” I’ve learned it probably won’t happen. If I know the individual well and really want their story, I may (gently) harass them for a short time, although so far with little success.
Often the accounts are inspiring and really deserve a wider audience. John Merriman of Keremeos, at age 97, was still driving people to medical and other appointments. Rhianfa Riel shared her formula for combating depression. Harvey Donohue and Derek Lilly talked about their Metis heritage. On a chilly morning last winter our neighbour Barry Hildebrandt invited Linda and me to come and bid farewell to his much loved dog, Silk. If we had not had a conversation with John Terbasket of the LSIB two weeks before he passed on, some intriguing aspects of his life might never have been recorded. Often the stories reveal something of significance about the character, values, priorities and memories of the person.
Possibly many people are willing to engage with Linda and me because, as Richard Paul Evans says in ‘The Walk’, “in each of us there is something that, for better or for worse, wants the world to know we existed.” Certainly most of us hope our children and grandchildren will at times think of us once we’re gone.
Sometimes I ask myself, “Why do I write the column?” It does consume time I’d like to devote to other activities. Why, in fact, does anyone write? A thoughtful response came recently from a Syrian writer in a radio interview. “The point of writing,” he said, “is not to change the world. It is to keep truth alive.”
One truth I have sought to keep alive is that a single individual can make a difference. Anita Reddick, founder of The Body Shop said, “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.” If an issue we’re concerned about requires the power of numbers, we can join with others on SumOfUs or Change.org.
There are times when I experience an overwhelming reluctance to ask one more person to talk about their life, or when I just don’t want to write one more column. On such occasions I remind myself of the words of David Usher in ‘Let the Elephants Run’. He said, “the ability to dedicate yourself to the work part of creativity is what will differentiate you from most of your peers.”
I’ve been honoured to have people tell me their life stories in 2016. Also to have the opportunity to address some disquieting issues in our nation. I’m sure that in 2017 one major challenge will again be to squeeze some of the significant elements of a life history, or a societal issue, into a column of approximately 730 words.
Linda and I wish each reader an abundance of health and positive adventures in the new year.