A Weekend in Victoria

Ahhhh, Victoria. I adore this city. Probably because it is Sean’s hometown, where he was born and raised, and where his family still lives. And the mild weather and natural beauty sure don’t hurt. After a decade of regular visits, I now have my own history in the city, so when we drive its streets I spot my own landmarks and memories, see old versions of myself everywhere. For example, the first time Sean took me to meet his family for Christmas, he and I had lunch at Café Mexico downtown. I remember I still used a non-digital SLR and that I took a photo of the decorative bright blue shutters at the entrance of the place. But mostly I remember how sad I was that day, because I felt like I would never be a writer, that the dream had slipped away from me somehow. Perhaps, I had said to Sean as we sat there eating burritos or enchiladas, the high point of my writing career was already behind me—back in my days as a successful teen journalist. “I’m a has-been at thirty-one,” I said to him, only a little overly dramatic.

This morning, as I checked out of the snazzy Regent Hotel, where we stayed for two nights courtesy of the Victoria Writers Festival, I realized that Café Mexico was kitty corner from us. I took a moment to ponder the coincidence, and then made Sean drive by so I could take a photo and be reminded of how far I’ve come since.

I spent the weekend at the Victoria Writers Festival and it was wonderful in every possible way. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and warm, and the beautiful hotel was right on the water, offering stunning views of the city and the inner harbour and the Johnson Street Bridge. And then, of course, there was the festival. As expected from the city it was casual, informal, intimate and charming. The first night I went to see my mentor, Wayde Compton, read a brilliant excerpt from a short story collection he’s been working on. I can’t begin to explain how much it meant to me to be in the same festival with Wayde and have him in the audience the following day.

On Saturday I participated in two events. Sean’s family came to the first one, Love Familiar, and Sean wore Baby for most of it (she made the cutest sounds while I was on stage). I read with Dede Crane, Shaena Lambert and Matt Rader. They were all fantastic, and interesting, and inspiring, and the audience was engaged and asked a lot of questions. Afterwards, I signed books and spoke to a few kind readers. I also took part at “Stitch the Line”, an embroidery project by the lovely Diana Weymar, who sat at the make-shift book store and stitched participating authors’ book titles on a large banner. She also invited writers, audience members and volunteers to stitch a signature, design or text that addressed the question, “What role does memory play in reading?”

Then I rushed back to the hotel, changed, ate, fed Baby, and rushed back for the final event of the festival, Rapt. I’d been excited (and intimidated!) about taking part of this event for weeks now, because the lineup was ridiculous. Angie Abdou started with a bang, making everyone laugh with her reading from The Bone Cage; Sara Peters read beautiful, moving poems from her book 1996, Saleema Nawaz gave a wonderful reading from Bone and Bread, and Jay Ruzesky and Annabel Lyon rounded it up with more great readings from In Antarctica and The Sweet Girl, respectively. I was last, which made me all the more nervous. Despite being the new kid on the block, everyone was extremely nice and welcoming. It was great to see Angie again (we read in Vancouver together a couple of years ago) and to finally meet and spend time with the lovely Saleema. I get to see both of them again in the Vancouver Writers’ Festival. Lucky! I also met Will Johnson. In person.

Will came to a reading I did in The Real Vancouver Writers Series a couple of years ago and then slipped out without saying hello to me (he blames it on an inexplicable bout of shyness). This time, I noticed him from the stage; he was sitting on the balcony all evening being rowdy with a couple of local poets, and then I spotted his red-haired-fro as he was walking out. So I called his name and told him to get his ass over here, and that it was lame the first time he didn’t say hello and that there’s no way he’s doing it again. I’m glad I shamed him into hanging out with me. Everybody talks about how nice Will is, and of course he is, but I have to admit that sometimes the word nice makes me yawn a little, and Will is anything but yawn-inducing. He is awesome and fun and badass. The festival concluded with an after-party at the house of author John Gould (one of the organizers) and his lovely wife, Sandy, where we ate and drank and chatted about writing and books and other things too. I also got to hang out with the awesome and hilarious Anne Fleming, who is going to moderate one of my Vancouver Writers’ Festival events, and many other people, too many to count. I’m so grateful to John Gould, Sara Cassidy and Julie Paul for inviting me, and for working so hard to make this festival happen. I loved every minute of it.