Michael Chabon Visits the University of Calgary

Yesterday, exhausted and grumpy, I waited around at school for Michael Chabon’s speech. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to go, but I also wanted to go home and crawl into bed. I had to attend the event, however, and boy am I glad for that. So I walked in sluggishly and found a seat with some friends and waited rather impatiently for the event to begin. Well… what had been a somewhat dreaded two hour event brought me more delight than I’ve felt in a while. I left with bounds of energy, inspired, feeling that sense of limitlessness more often felt by children than by adults. I could not stop smiling on my walk home. I noticed everything. I felt mesmerized by the world and grateful to be alive. As soon as I got home, I threw some blankets and pillows on the floor, made myself a kind of “writer’s nest” and dove into editing my manuscript. Sitting in the candlelight, warm and inspired, I worked for several hours.

I hadn’t read any of Chabon’s work, except a New Yorker piece I found for the sake of acquainting myself with his style. I enjoyed the piece immensely and plan to read more of his work (I now have an autographed copy of Telegraph Avenue and cannot wait to read it!) Often, I feel somewhat guilty for attending  readings or talks if I haven’t read the author’s work but despite having never read anything by Chabon, the moment he opened his mouth I knew the speech would be good. His voice lured me and I felt myself attentively following his every word. He began my talking about something I agreed and resonated with. He spoke about his childhood skepticism towards God.

“But what about the carnivores?” he said, detailing his childhood thoughts on Noah and the Great Deluge, “if you have two foxes and two chickens won’t you need more than two chickens to keep the foxes alive for forty days?”

I had to try my very best to suppress my laughter. Chabon, it turns out, is as funny as he is wise and this is what made his speech so wonderful.

If I had to pick a word to describe the theme of Chabon’s speech I’d perhaps pick “connections.” He delved into the importance of connections in the physical world as well as in the world of story. He began by hilariously recounting his childhood love of Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, a book he’d make his mother renew time and time again. His mother, inevitably, attempted to redirect Chabon’s interests, having read the picture book every night for months on end. Then, one day, he found a book about a boy named Mike who also loved Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. In this book, the boy’s mother also lamented having to read the same book every single night. At this point, Chabon explains the sense of realization that swept over him. Could a book be written about me? He asked. Could I be a part of a larger story? His questions provided the framework for his entire talk. How we connect to stories and how we connect to one another go hand in hand. Stories work their way into our life and we work our way into stories. What’s funny, is how disconnected I felt walking into that event. As I said, I was exhausted and wanted to go home and sleep. Two hours later I felt deeply connected to myself and to the world.

Near the end of his speech, Chabon described the bi-monthly “librarian runs,” he and his father made. Having grown up in an era where fathers and their children perhaps spent less “quality time” together, Chabon relished these evenings. Three hours to spend with his father, just the two of them, talking about books and life and anything that interested them. These are moments Chabon looks back on with pleasure. In sum, he claimed that human connections with loved ones are the truest existing connections. They are special and to be cherished. I have to say that I agree. While I do believe that such connections can be made apparent in literature, the importance of human relationships is enormous.

So to conclude, if you ever get a chance to hear Michael Chabon speak, GO! You won’t regret it. I haven’t even read his work yet and I’m already taken by his views, amazed by his ability to expressive thoughts with such wit and clarity.


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