I flew home from Winnipeg recently, and sat beside an older gentleman who was making careful notes in a red spiral notebook. It’s the same kind of notebook I had in my knapsack at that very moment, where I keep notes for the MFA chapter I’m working on. Because I’m nosey, and I thought maybe he was a writer, I asked him.
He hold me he was actually sketching out plans for an upcoming sailing trip he was taking from Florida, a very long list of things to check and double-check before he sets sail for the Bahamas. But, as it turns out, he was a writer too. He told me about the short story collection of incredible but true stories he had independently published recently. He asked what I did for a living, and I told him that I too was a writer. He replied that he had thought this when I first sat down. I was inwardly pleased, thinking maybe I exuded a hip writer vibe after all, that my cat eye glasses and careless bohemian chic (crumpled look) offset those long moments of being tangled in my own jacket, backpack and purse as I removed items from my carry-on bag so I could finally jam it into the overhead compartment above our row. But no. It was because of the Casey and Finnigan illustration that I bought from the gift shop at the Human Rights Museum which I was carrying with me in the clear plastic bag now resting at my feet, along with my overflow items. He had assumed they were the pictures from the children’s book I’m not writing. I told him what kind of a writer I really am and we talked for the entire flight home.
He shared his discouragement at the difficulties of finding agents and publishers. I suggested he join a writer’s group for support and encouragement. He recounted the scene from “Midnight in Paris” when Ernest Hemingway tells Owen Wilson to avoid other writers because they are so competitive. I handed him the “Humans Write” pen I had also bought at the Human Rights gift shop (no, I did not purchase a single item that had anything to do with the theme of the museum, just silly stuff) and told him I wanted him to have it. When I returned from the teeny tiny washroom at the back of the plane he had dug out his favourite pen to give to me. And so we departed, row mates and fellow writers, just a little bit encouraged, each of us with a new pen.