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You Can Never Tell a Book by Its Cover

Two years ago, last October I went on a 4-city, eight day book tour to Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton. The first city was Regina. At 10:00 a.m. I spoke at Campbell Collegiate to grades 10 and 11 on my book and writing. As soon as the bell rang, I was ushered into a car for lunch with the principal and some teachers. Before I had my dessert, my lift took me to CKCK-TV for a live interview. No sooner finished, I was returned at 1:15 p.m. to Campbell Collegiate to speak to two combined classes.

All this would have been a piece of cake, except I’m 63. I was wearing a new pair of shoes, not my sneakers, and my voice and brain seemed to be going on different tracks at this point in the day. This was my second day on the tour, sleeping in a strange bed – alone, jet lag and two speaking engagements behind me. I was running out of gas.

The principal met me outside the lecture hall. There were about 300 students, I believe in the room and she wanted me to be aware that these students might not be focused on writing as the other two classes. She said to expect some interruptions such as restlessness and comings and leaving, although it had been discouraged. I entered the lion’s den, looked at my charges with tired eyes and a voice that needed liquid rejuvenation and went into my spiel.

I tell stories about children who survived the Holocaust, experienced a mystery that is hard to define and went on to make an impact in Canada. There was no sound or movement. About a third way through my presentation, a rather older boy slowly placed his head on the long desk, resting it on his cradled arm. I tensed but continued. Soon after two other boys next to this boy followed. There I stood trying to tell my stories, while glancing at the three apparently in a mode that imitated sleep. I looked to the principal and saw she too was focused on the three. I finished my presentation just as the bell rang and within seconds the room was empty except me.

While pondering what had just happened, my next appointment showed up – Cable TV. For the next hour I was interviewed. Alone at last, voice squeaking, and my eyes wanting to close, I made my way to the principal’s office to collect my coat. Outside my lift was waiting to take me to my room, to get ready for the evenings engagement. The principal asked me to sit down. “I guess you noticed the three boys with their heads on the desk,” she said. “Yes, but they weren’t disruptive.” “I followed them out into the corridor,” she said and stopped them. I asked the ringleader, “Are you tired?” “No,” he answered. “You laid your head on the desk, you and your friends,” “Yes,” he answered, “but I never took my eyes off him. He was awesome.” At which she broke out in laughter and so did I.

“Awesome” – there were times I’ve been called awful, but never awesome. I left the school feeling like I was 36.


As it appeared in The Writers’ Union of Canada Newsletter:
Summer 2000