One of the authors visiting WordFest this year, perhaps the author who has traveled the furthest, is Kim Scott. he is the award-winning author of True Country, Beneang, Kayand and Me, that Deadman, Dance and a series of bilingual picture books. His Noongar heritage from Western Australia has been a catalyst for his research and writing on Aboriginal colonization.
Today Kim is writing about his experience arriving in Calgary to take part in WordFest 2012!
As I plummeted from the sky I saw mountains thrusting above the clouds. The first hint of the rocky, solid energy of a young continent flexing itself, apparently knowing nothing of time and erosion, of how it will eventually diminish and be brought back to itself, its rivers hesitating, meandering, taking so much time in running away that they will never even meet the sea. And how the sky will grow even as the darkness and stars move closer…
It must’ve been the jet lag or a premature homesickness that got me thinking along those lines. But I put it down to the time difference, don’t you know, and this crazy rushing backwards so that despite an 18 hour flight, my feet touched the tarmac here two hours before I left way back there.
I have made a very confusing and uneven beginning, and I already appreciate your attention and patience, dear cyber-reader; all the effort you’re making just to follow the trembling, shifting pattern I set down before your eyes.
By way of apology allow me to explain that, with my skull scarcely descended from the clouds I was still a little light-headed when a very friendly and charming Santa Claus’s brother, doing overtime as a WordFest angel, met me with a smile and open arms. I was already beginning to shiver and tremble, while he was clad only in a t-shirt and clearly accustomed to the cold. He asked about my cases, and together we turned around in little circles, searching, until: Look! My baggage came bouncing out onto the carousel as if it was a puppy delighted to see me after a long absence. (I’d not usually use a simile like that, but all the baggage at Calgary airport seemed so very animated. Indeed, some sort of very large baggage animal at a nearby carousel—head up and sniffing the air—was apparently seeking to sniff out any serial baggage abuser. I guiltily dropped my eyes and skirted around it, keeping Santa’s sibling between us, and roughly tugged my own battered case a little closer. I’d already had to apologise to Santa’s brother for its broken handle, and how it toppled over when you tried to set it upright.)
Two brave travelling writers (the admirable and courageous Gail Jones, the intrepid Kim Purcell) led me to the comfort of the West-inn. I resolved not to rest, but to follow the strong example Gail and Kim seem to demonstrate in their writing and their attitude to life. I set my feet to explore and walk along the river. It did not seem so young and energetic as the mountain. But, yes, as I continued I saw how its surface rippled and how every rock and obstacle tore a long rent in its surface. It was in a rush, somewhere.
Thin leaves trembled and shook, blanched and turned sallow as I looked. Some other tree pointed upward like a many-headed arrow. Was it saying, Go away, go back to the sky and back to where you came from? But look, I told myself, that great arrowhead tree is so stable that leaf litter has settled upon the upper sides of its sloping branches. In fact, its very shape is akin to that of shelter, and is more like an upright line stabilising itself on the earth, settling in for a long time. A squirrel crossed my path in a curious rippling motion like that of a pen being warmed-up before commencing a flowing cursive script. Then it turned and sat up on its haunches to welcome me to its hometown’s writing festival.
Continuing to extend personal boundaries, I walked in snow for the very first time. At least, I think it was snow. It was very light, a sort of sparse rain with additional texture and a little painful when it struck the eye. My coat looked as if people had been spitting on me. If they were, I had felt no malice. If it was spit, and not snow, then the spitters were very half-hearted and even diffident about it.
And then in the morning: real snow, and how conspicuous and isolated I felt in all that whiteness; my footprints so obvious, my utterance dying so quickly, my self so shrinking and brittle.
Please forgive any preciousness or fussy sensitivity to rejection you may detect in what I’ve written so far. As I said, blame it on jet lag, or the unusual demands of writing for a web-site. I’m really just trying to be playful (though you might want to avoid my novels). Every one I have met in my time here for WordFest has been extremely friendly and obliging: even the custom’s officer, although she did ask for my bicycle, having heard me say that I was here for a ‘Riders Festival’.
Ah, the simple trouble of communication
The writer , Eduardo Galeano, once told me something very profound about literary communication. I hasten to say that he was not speaking to me alone, but on TV. I hadn’t met many writers at that stage of my life, perhaps because the place I call home is also claimed as the most isolated city on earth (over there and down under). And perhaps his words were not even so profound as I remember. I won’t even try to repeat them here, but only report that he riffed on an historical encounter between Indigenes and monks in South America in which the word for paper was translated as ‘the skin of God’ (it may even have been an imagined language). The monks explained that marks are made upon that membrane so that messages may be sent to friends in far away places. And that, Galeano continued, is what we writers do: we deal with the most sacred of membranes, and send messages to all our friends, most of whom we do not yet know, and embrace them in our language. Writing literature, thus explained, is among the most intimate forms of communication.
‘Only connect,’ says the drunken would-be writer channelling E M Forster in Educating Rita, that a play which offers another variation on the Pygmalion tale of language and power and intimacy, of a kind.
Se here we all are in Calgary, writers and readers with our little squares of God’s dried and crusted skin, elbows up and jostling – or so it sometimes seems – in our desire for human intimacy and to ‘connect’. It may be very different to the silent reverie of preparing, or being wrapped in, a patterned God-skin. Nevertheless, we travel from afar to meet, drawn by stories we have known closer than a whisper, and to perhaps put ourselves in the sight or voice of someone, somewhere out there in that crowd, who words we may share.
– Kim Scott