I’m sitting in a Grade 9 classroom at my local high school, facing about fifteen teens. My job is to talk about writing. On one level, I don’t know what to say. But there are other levels.
What are the dreams of these young people? What are their passions? Maybe I can say something that will open their eyes to their heart, whether that’s about writing or playing piano or acting in Mary Poppins.
Let’s see what I have to say:
I was at Hugh’s Room on Sunday night awaiting my hero. What I didn’t know was whether he was awaiting me. Gordon Lightfoot’s music has moved me since the 1960’s, when I hung out at a coffee house in Yorkville in Toronto.
This was a tribute concert for Gord. At the table, my server winked at me when I asked if he was coming tonight. Oh my God! I knew it wasn’t a “come hither” look. Gordon was really going to grace us with his presence.
No sign of the man up to intermission. Maybe six singers gave us their cool interpretations of Lightfoot songs, such as Did She Mention My Name?
Did she mention my name just in passing?
And when the talk ran high, did the look in her eyes seem far away?
I was moved, and at the same time felt the need to visit a certain room downstairs. As I stood at the urinal, I told my neighbour how I had all my fingers crossed that Lightfoot would show up.
“He’s sitting at a back table, on the right, having dinner with his friends.”
I threw myself up the stairs and casually slowed past the back right tables in the hall. There was a fellow with his back to me, hair flowing well below his shoulders. I moved past him and then snuck a glance backward. The man himself, looking awfully ordinary, not the stuff of legend.
I was sitting across the room from Lightfoot, and as the performers continued to interpret his words in the second half, I often looked back at him. Sometimes he was alone with his friends. Sometimes the paparazzi crowded around, seeking photos, handshakes, contact. C’mon, folks – leave him alone. Let him eat in peace.
Then there were the moments when Lightfoot seemed to be feeling into his songs, as voiced by far younger musicians. One of my favourite pieces is Song For A Winter’s Night:
The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon the page
The words of love you sent me
If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you
When Laura Spink settled into the first phrases of the song, Gord lowered his head to his arms. As she toned the delicate words of love, he remained still on the table. At the final chord, he raised himself and applauded. What was the dear man thinking as she sang? Was it a lover long gone? Was it sadness? Was it peace? To be watching him as the story unfolded was a blessing.
Lightfoot is an ordinary human being and an extraordinary poet. We are the richer for him being with us.
Back to the teens. I was only partway through my post as the bell came close. I was happy … so happy. I had talked to them as I typed away, sharing the decisions I was making on the fly. I told them that my biggest word in writing is “trust”. I know that good words will come from my fingers. It may take time, but they’ll be there. What I write needs to “sing” to me, or there’s no sense in creating it. Other fine words are “real” and “natural”. Nothing forced. Sitting back at times and letting what wants to emerge bubble out.
I encouraged these young folks to listen inside for their passion. For some of them, it’s clear already, not so for others. And be willing to let that passion morph into something else if it wants to. Write or sing or dance or play or build what pleases you and intend that your creations contribute to human beings.
I know that I’m on the planet to love people and make them laugh. May all of us see why we’re here.