February seems like one of those transitional months. The craziness of Christmas slips out of our memories as we prepare to awaken ourselves from our winter slumber. February has been accented with just enough assignments to drive me crazy, and just enough valuable lessons to keep me sane. As I crawled my way out of my first semester at university, I decided to step confidently into the second. Already, one month has peeled by.
One of the most exciting moments over the last few weeks has been embarking on a search for a place to live for the next school year. I had a tower of bookmarked rental websites that I would carefully examine in between classes. My twin sister arranged viewings like it was her full-time job, and I got to explore streets of Ottawa I had only seen through the bus window on my way to the Rideau Centre.
I contemplated the idea of monthly payments, and of simply being able to say, “come over to my place.” Mostly, I imagined waking up, walking to the kitchen in my bare feet and making myself my own breakfast. Of course, Carleton’s cafeteria is remarkable, but the romantic image of carefully following my new cookbooks to make myself a morning meal made me giddy with excitement. I even started getting excited about being able to truly clean a kitchen again (or was that just the mid-term hysteria setting in?)
As the search for a place to live continued, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Carleton’s 32nd annual Munro Beattie Lecture. This event was established in 1985 to honor the first Chair of the English Department. On a crisp Thursday night, after a long Sociology lecture, I slid into Azrieli Theatre next to one of my new, university friends. The speaker was Fifteen Dogs author and Giller-prize winner, André Alexis.
I learned through Alexis’ obsession with storytelling, that he discovered personal experience doesn’t always translate into a great story. The art of storytelling is influenced by real life – but with the help of the imagination. He described this as “dream-like,” the ability to pleasure and provoke the reader through story. I realized that authenticity is only one part of it, the imaginative is what a great story is wrapped up in.
Alexis spoke of a Fifteen Dogs character who happened to be a poetry-writing canine. During a question and answer period he explained that this dog didn’t just write poetry, he represented the arts, the social sciences, the imagination. Alexis explained that the arts can transform the horrifying into the bearable, possibly even into the loveable. This is the value of the human imagination, and what we all hope to press into pages as writers.
I had seen Jane Urquhart speak about her book A Number of Things (a creative account of Canada’s history through objects) earlier this year. Once again, I was not disappointed by the experience of hearing an author read his/her work and respond to the questions of their readers. When prompted, Alexis explained his greatest piece of advice for aspiring writers. He told us just to write. He said that after all, no one cares if you write or if you stop, the only person holding you back is yourself. The essential part of being a writer is simply writing.
This is what motivated me to finish this blog post. Of course, I was inspired by seeing another month fly by, and by having the amazing opportunity to contribute to Carleton, but Alexis helped me realize writing takes inspiration, imagination, and simply, just writing.