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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I Am My Own Grandpa!

In her collection of short stories, A Bird In The House, the essential Canadian writer Margaret Laurence provides us with a figure from her childhood, much stronger than herself. Her mother's father, embodied as Grandfather Connor, the stubborn, ursine patriarch of her family, was a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, the grizzly, overbearing, self-made man, in his huge, rank, bearskin coat, is so potent that, for most of the stories in the collection, he is a catalyst for conflict, and an element of life that must be always be considered and worked around. For Laurence's protagonist, Vanessa, who is a reflection of the writer's own younger self, he is both an unavoidable part of the scenery and framework of her life, and part of the very challenges that Vanessa must act against in her struggle to grow and gain understanding of life and family.

As a writer, I have not been so lucky. There have, indeed, been strong figures in my life. Mr. Bill was an understated, self-made man, who brought himself up from lesser beginnings, and provided quiet strength and support at an important time in my early teen-aged development. My mother's long-time boyfriend, with his overgrown beard, waist-bound extra mass, and little tolerance for the excessive exuberance and unusualness of my childhood behaviour, could certainly be bear-like on occassion, at least to me, and he was definitely one of the most frequent figures from my younger years. However, he was still only a person, given to considerable generosity, and a wry sense of humour. Even though I was sometimes afraid of him, he was never a force, merely forceful.

These figures, and others, certainly had some profound effects on my upbringing, and helped to shape who I am today. I do not denigrate them in that respect. Thinking about writing, and using, as Margaret Laurence did, figures from my younger years, I had felt that there was no one that could be such a force. It seemed that I was not afforded any person of such a calibre to provide a solid core for any such stories I might write. Further introspection seemed warranted.

Then it hit me. Rather, I hit myself (by no means literally, although I have been know to deliver self-directed smacks to the forehead on occasion). There was, truly, a great force in the narrative of my life, one who refused to be denied, seemingly direct, predictably unpredictable, and unyielding, yet possessed with (and by) challenging motives and under-explored themes, and demonstrated capacity for growth and development. This singular figure could provide all the antagonism, all the energy and impetus any story could need, yet be as comprehensible in motivation as any person could be to me.

In the story of my life, I am that force.



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