One leg at a time

At the beginning of February I went down to Elmvale to see my family. My sister Carla and my brother’s two boys, William and Cian (Kee-an) and I visited the Ontario Science Centre. What a great day! We could have spent three days there easily.

One of the things Cian and I took in was the papermaking demonstration. It was packed – more than two dozen people, both kids and adults, crowded around a U-shaped counter. The young woman doing the demo was knowledgeable, articulate and engaging, the perfect combination or the job, and she made papermaking seem so easy and manageable that I was quite inspired. I’ve wanted for years to do it and never got up the nerve to try.

There was a mother there with two young boys, the younger of whom was full of talk – questions and observations, all relevant to what was going on. His mother kept shushing him, embarrassed by his outspokenness, but I don’t think anyone else was bothered at all. After the demo I stayed behind to thank the papermaker. The mother with the two boys was also still there.

“I’ve always wanted to do a book from scratch,” I said. “I want to make the paper, write the story, do the illustrations and bind the book. You’ve just given me the last skill I needed, so thank you!”

“I don’t believe that,” said the younger boy.

“Ssh!” his mother said, “You don’t say things like that!”

“No,” I told her, “it’s all right.” Then I asked the boy, “What don’t you believe?” I expected that he’d have trouble with the concept of making a book from scratch. I know when I was that young, I never thought about where books came from (except the library or bookstore) and I certainly never thought about the possibility of making a real book by hand.

“I don’t believe that you could write a book,” he said. I had to laugh out loud. Then I told him that I’d already written many, many stories, and that two of them had been made into books, real books that you could find in a bookstore or a library.

What I love about this whole thing is the anomaly of a many-times-published author being told quite candidly that she doesn’t seem like someone who could write a whole book. It makes me smile every time I recall it.

We live in a culture that celebrates some people simply for being famous. You know the ones – you see their faces on the magazines at the checkout counter. What have they ever actually done? Nothing that the rest of us don’t do – get married, have babies, and put their boxer shorts or designer French lace panties on one leg at a time.

In the meantime, writing is a competitive business, and anyone who manages to get a book published really has accomplished something that most people will never do. But, guess what? We don’t necessarily look like people who could do that! We have a blessed anonymity that lets us walk unnoticed anywhere, which is such a gift because we can observe and be unobserved. It helps us in our work.

“I don’t believe you could write a book,” is an observation I’ll treasure. That young man may have embarrassed his mom, but he delighted me.

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