Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Sports and Writing

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Author at Finish Line, Canadian Ski Marathon, February 2013

Years ago, when applying to MFA Programs, I was asked for a personal essay about my writing and writing influences. Without a shred of irony I stated that my earliest literary influences were televangelists and sportscasters. This is entirely true. Their narratives and bombast were the staples of my childhood home.

Over time, thankfully, other influences came along. The televangelists – or variations on them – have appeared in my fiction, but less so the sportscasters or, for that matter, sports.

I get asked every now and then when I’m going to write a story about sports. The question makes sense; I’ve spent a lot of time hacking about in various sports, and I’ve spent much of my life around athletes, yet athletics don’t appear in my work. I’ve been a rower, paddler, runner, cyclist, sailor, skier, snowboarder, kiteboarder and golfer but, as a writer, I’m always working in other areas. (With one exception, a non-fiction story published in the Ottawa Citizen in 1997, “At the Gates of Hell,” which chronicled a crazy athletic contest I witnessed in Taiwan. You can read it here)

It’s not that I don’t want to write about sports, or a story grounded in sport. It’s that sports don’t often emerge when I start scribbling.

Sports, for me, exercise the same mental/emotional space as writing. I get the same satisfaction from sport as I get from writing. One does not replace the other, but they work the same personal turf, and perhaps that is why both have lingered in my life long after other interests came and went. This may also be the reason why the two have not yet been mixed.

I have twice completed the Canadian Ski Marathon (2013 and 2014) in the category that requires covering the entire 162 km cross country ski course in two days from Lachute to Buckingham Quebec (effectively, skiing from a suburb of Montreal to a suburb of Ottawa/Gatineau).

I will make no claims about this making sense, there are far easier ways to travel. The two days of skiing are long and February-cold, with sometimes sketchy trail conditions and ever present risk of injury. The day starts before sunrise and often goes until dusk, with exhaustion looming overhead like a menacing cloud as the days wear on, but it’s also a beautiful event.

The two times I finished the entire course, I’ve noticed something that happens towards the end of the final stage: I am at peace. I am awed by nature, motion, and sound. I have infinite time to speak with the people I meet on the trail. The tunes that I hum instinctively in this stripped down exhaustion are full of love. I am full of love.

The best comparison I know is the peace that comes from a good day of writing. There is excitement, there is confusion, there is struggle of some sort, and doubt and exhaustion are always waiting around the corner. Driven to exhaustion, the effect is liberating, energizing, renewing.

So, to write about sports? One day, maybe.
Maybe one day.

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.

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Ken Murray

Ken Murray lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. He teaches creative writing at Haliburton School of the Arts and at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. His fiction and non-fiction have been published in journals, newspapers and magazines in both Canada and the United States. An avid athletic amateur, he likes kiteboarding, skiing, snowboarding, running and cycling. He is a volunteer broadcaster in community radio and dabbles in several sports. Eulogy is his first novel.

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