Joy Kogawa (see photo) and I are on a road trip from Vancouver to Toronto. As for me, I’m entering the final week of a month-long tour. I left Toronto on June 17 and expect to return on July 14. The first week was in the United States with Lynette Schlichting. Then I stayed in Vancouver at the World Peace Forum until July 2, when Joy and I took off through Canada, stopping at bookstores to give talks or sign books. We’re in Brandon, Manitoba now, preparing to check out of our motel.
Yesterday in Yorkton we hand-sold books at a Coles store in a mall. The high point was a conversation with a brilliant high school senior named (I think) Randy, and his smart mother. Joy had strolled away from our table in the mall to look at clothing when Randy came up and commented on the title of one of her books: Lilith. He asked me whether this was Lilith of the Kabbalah or of John Milton. I was astonished. Soon the conversation turned to my book, and he expressed wariness about the suggestive power of television. His mother soon appeared, and they assimilated our own discussion into an ongoing dispute between themselves as to whether Randy should pursue education beyond that required for his chosen profession, that of a therapeutic masseur. He thinks he can study on his own without university courses. He feels religiously called to help people and believes he can do so only on a one-to-one basis. I expressed the view that affecting one person at a time is not enough; it needs to be one-to-many, by broadcasting or disseminating benefits to whomever comes across the document or cultural product. But he pointed out, rightly, that everything depends on the reception of the product by the individual. Many people will not pay attention. True, enough, but if you reach enough people, some of them will benefit.
Joy came back to the table and was, in her turn, taken with young Randy. We talked about his intelligence and visionary commitment for a long time after we had left. He wanted our e-mail addresses and I gave him my card, but Joy said she couldn’t promise to answer him. Later she regretted that, so I said I’d hail him through my blog. Randy, come back! Joy does want to talk with you.
She also thinks that massage therapy is not good enough for Randy’s talents. I said not to worry, for he will change direction a dozen times before he’s settled. He’s the most promising young mind either of us has come across in years. But he’s sure it’s too late to save the world and he’s not an activist but a traditional (maybe even fundamentalist) Christian. The end of our civilization can no longer be avoided, he says. His mother remonstrated that he had a responsibility nonetheless to keep trying. He seemed to think that the only way of being useful is to make people feel better as they meet the doom that awaits most of us. What an outlook! He didn’t deny that there was a responsibility to keep trying, but he clearly didn’t have any faith that it would do any good.
Our trip has gone amazingly smoothly, so far. Joy is the better navigator, but I have contributed a few times by consulting the compass when both of us were turned around.
On the prairies there are amazing yellow fields of some crop we cannot identify, plus luminous puffy clouds, an occasional dead skunk, and lots of odd containers that are probably the modern version of the silo. They are metal, with cone-shaped tops and bottoms. I expected to see fields of wheat. Maybe some of these fields actually are wheat, but if so they are still short, green plants. There’s no corn, as I expected.
We are getting to know each other pretty well. Our current conversation is about the significant males in our lives. I told her about Jimmy Tomlinson, the sweet little boy I loved in the fourth grade. She told me of a grade school classmate who had remained important in her imagination long afterward. She had written poetry to him after they had grown up, in a phase of what she now calls craziness. We will go on taking turns today, telling each other about the men we have loved – both real lovers and unconsummated crushes, which evidently are more numerous for both of us and probably for most women in general.
Yesterday I had an e-mail exchange with Linda, a New Yorker who wants to exchange apartments with me in late August. I accepted with pleasure. Now I’m planning to be in Manhattan from August 25 to 30, visiting bookstores, as on this trip. It’s far from profitable, but some things are more important than money. Having a chance to talk with people about my book feels useful.
Now it’s time to check out and visit another store. Randy, you have my e-mail and I’ll give your messages to Joy, who promises to respond.