Thursday, September 25, 2008

20 minute survival plan

You can survive anything for 20 minutes (except holding your breath underwater).

This is one of the many things Miriam Toews’ characters shared with the audience yesterday afternoon, over lunch. Reading from her new book The Flying Troutmans we learned that the best way to cope with life is to pretend everyone is stoned; there is a difference between graffiti by bored kinds wandering around vs. hate crime; there is nothing quite like a high quality pen museum; and when in doubt, follow the 20 minutes survival plan.

(My list of) things you can survive for 20 minutes:
uncomfortable conversations
anxiously awaiting a phone call from your partner when you know you have to have a ‘talk’ (you know the kind I mean)
standing at the bus stop in the middle of a Winnipeg winter day
your best friend being mad at you
listening to your mom cry at your dad’s funeral
your dad’s funeral
dental work
20 minutes, and then you need to switch. You can come back to it in a while. Because you know you can do it for another 20 minutes if you have to. And usually you do.

Ms. Toews
seems to be able to capture unsettlingly honest experiences, in words that are light and humorous enough to speak truth, without preaching it. It makes it so that these truths - like the unbearable moments that feel endless but can and are survived - for at least 20 minutes at a time-reach a space in you that connects without resistance.

And to hear her read her own work brought a whole new level of life to her characters. I could have listened to her read forever.

There is a pelican on the cover of her latest book. When asked why she chose the pelican, she explained (after mentioning that once the publisher rejected her working title “Who Do You Have?” she suggested the title be “Pelican”, which was also rejected), that when a pelican’s young are starving, the pelican will actually peck its own chest until it bleeds, and then feed the young its own blood.

You can survive anything for 20 minutes.

* * *

Courtney Slobogian likes to sit quietly memorizing all of the reasons she is in love with this city. She graduated from University of Winnipeg in 2007 with her BA in Women’s and Gender studies. Her honours thesis was entitled “mother[loss]: An exploration of our silences in grief and longing.”

She is putting that degree to use mostly by insisting that there is a need for theory in everything. Along with writing academic papers for fun, she finds herself constantly playing with poetry (where it is desire, and not theory, that she finds most useful).

By day she busies herself with women’s reproductive health issues, by night she rides her bike.

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