Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Third Page

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Of the countless memories of elementary school that surface and punctuate my life as an adult, one remains crystal clear: the first, crisp page of an unused exercise book, the promise of starting anew. I can picture the wooden desks, a picture that dates itself because of one particular detail: the small hole in the desk corner that was a vacant home to an inkwell. Inkwells were no longer in fashion by the time I took my seat at Coronation School in Montreal in the1960s and early 70s. But I have no doubt the pleasures and potential of a new notebook were a constant.

Inevitably, I made a silent vow: this book would be different. This book would be filled with neat, clean handwriting. This book would have none of the marginal scribbles and doodles and private graffiti that had defined all previous notebooks. In essence, the first blank page of a new exercise book triggered a newly-hatched commitment that was akin to a new year’s resolution: this book (this year) will be different. I will change my ways. I will raise the bar. I will turn a new page.

On the first page, I was true to my word (I was all of nine or ten). On the second page, I was still standing firm: no marginal markings, a commitment to living up to new standards. By the third page, it began. The rust of old habits. Capital letters, standing so proudly on the opposite page, began to slouch. Margins were no longer unblemished. A promising start dissolved into familiar patterns.

Despite the odds, despite all evidence to the contrary, every new notebook offered the potential to reinvent myself, page by page. And yet I knew that by the third page I’d be back to my old ways.

And so it is with a new year. We make resolutions we may likely break. We make silent vows that may soon sputter. We promise ourselves this year will be different even when we know the third page isn’t that far off.

And yet.

Maybe this notebook will be different. Perhaps I’ll get as far as page five or ten or five pages short of the end before lapsing into predictable patterns. Perhaps this is the book (the year) I will redefine myself. Perhaps I’ll forgive myself the occasional lapse in penmanship, the odd detour into the notebook’s margins, and make it from the first page to the last.

Here’s to a healthy, peaceful and creative new year to all. Here’s to the promise of that first blank page.

3 comments

Hi back Emil,

I have often considered the related questions that you pose in your reply back to me. For me, the answers lie in the fact that we are not one self, but a multitude of selves, all of which are real and true.

I still adore the poetry of Philip Larkin, even after his letters were published and revealed him to be a racist scoundrel. I think, however, I wouldn't have cared much for the man.

Karen

HI Emil!

Glad I've passed the WIR hat to a wonderful playwright. It will be interesting to get to know you better this month! May the muses be kind to you.

Karen

Hi, Karen,

Thanks for your generous thoughts, and for raising an intriguing issue: to what extent can we get to know a writer through her or his work? True, the words we choose, the stories we tell (through poetry, prose, plays...)reflect who we are. But how much of it is a self-portrait? Specifically, I'm thinking of the work that an author offers publicly, and a private life that might be at odds with our perception and understanding of who that author is. It's like discovering a male author known for insightful, sensitive portrayals of women is revealed to be abusive toward his own partner. Does that affect our feelings toward the author's body of work? Should it? A question that has been debated before but that I offer to chew on in the early days of a new year.

All the best with all the creative fires you're stoking.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Emil Sher

Emil Sher’s works include stage plays, screenplays and radio dramas. His published works include Making Waves, Mourning Dove and Hana’s Suitcase on Stage.

Go to Emil Sher’s Author Page