On October 16th and 17th, in downtown Toronto and Oakville, I took part in two fund-raisers organized by a Toronto book club and sponsored by Random House Canada. Early in the summer I dithered about getting involved in these events because I thought I would be in Greece until the end of October, but then my mother got sick and I knew we’d be coming home early, so I accepted wholeheartedly.
Because my mother has been diagnosed with (esophogeal) cancer, it made all the more sense for me to join forces with the West Side Stories Book Club (a.k.a. Read for the Cure: seewww.readforthecure.ca) and Random House Canada. Together with writers CS Richardson (The End of the Alphabet), Anne Laurel Carter (lots of children’s book and the fabulous anthology My Wedding Dress) and Joy Fielding (the very prolific suspense/crime/women’s lives writer, most recently author of Heartstopper), we made well over $10,000 for donation to the Cancer Research Society, which funds new research into cancer treatment. Both events were hosted by Carolyn Weaver (of Fine Print and other TV programs.)
Both evenings were fun, intellectually engaging, and deeply inspiring. They involved book club members from all over GTA buying tickets to an evening of talks and a panel by three authors. Included in the cost ($60 or so) of the evenings was a copy of each author’s latest book.
At the first evening, talking about Burma, compassion, and the work of writing The Lizard Cage, I very unexpectedly lost it. At first, I thought, it’s all right, just a little throat tightening, I’ll be able to manage this. . . But somehow I couldn’t. I started speaking more and more slowly, hoping to quell the rising tide of tears, but it made no difference. I started crying on stage.
I think this happened because, as Carolyn Weaver pointed out, the audience, though large, was extremely intimate and warm. Anne Laurel Carter had spoken before me, and, as she is a member of West Side Stories, she was talking to many of her friends out there in the audience, so the distance between reader and writer was closed somehow. It felt like . . . a big book club meeting. I was talking about something I care about very deeply, and Stephen Harper still hadn’t made any public comment about supporting the Burmese people’s struggle for democratic change—I was upset about that, and said so. But I didn’t realize, uh, how upset I was. I got my voice back (more or less) and continued my talk, and finished it, with tears streaming down my face.
Luckily, I hadn’t worn mascara. One of the benefits of doing one’s makeup in the taxi . . .
Then poor Scott Richardson had to go on after me, the weeper. Tough act to follow, he said, but he did so with great ease and charm.
The next night in Oakville, I was fine, much less emotional. (Ah! Too bad!) Joy Fielding spoke before I did and she was simply great—smart and extremely funny and fun to listen to. There is often a good deal of chill, for all kinds of reasons, between “commercial writers” like Joy and “literary writers” like CS and I (because we are jealous of how much money they make? because they can’t bear our adjectives? the condescension of literati? but wait, I’m a “literary” writer and I, too, cannot bear the condescension of the literati . . .)
Anyway, though the hall we spoke in was glacial, the writers were very warm, both with the audience and each other. The three of us had an excellent onstage discussion as we answered questions from the audience.
I love it when an event surprises me out of my professional self. Sometimes what I’d thought of as “work”—and all that comes before performing work (going through outfits that I can’t stand, throwing a dozen things on the closet/bathroom floor, wishing I had time to shop, but bristling at the very thought of wasting time shopping, putting on something black AGAIN, rushing out of the house, knowing the baby will howl for my husband at bedtime, fretting about that as I rush down the street, etc) is not really work at all. It becomes . . . nurturing. The people in the audience, mostly women, were avid, passionate, dedicated readers, and they were there because they were also willing to commit some money and energy to an important cause. And both nights, there was such a sense of camaraderie and joy in the audience. How lucky I am, as a writer, to feel that.
One of the themes of my talk was how acts of compassion surprise us, that such acts are “labours paid for with unexpected gifts.”
I’m sure that Read for the Cure has found a very successful formula for their fund-raising efforts and I wish them all the best in the future. It certainly worked for me!