Wayson Choy challenges audience to inspire
By Darren Lum
April 19, 2016
An enraptured audience hung on Wayson Choy’s every word, seeing the world through his eyes.
The celebrated Canadian author, who had two near-death experiences, spoke with an inspiring honesty about love, death and life to a sold out crowd at the Lunch and Learn, organized by the Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library this past Wednesday, April 13 at the Community Room in Haliburton, located on Hwy. 118.
Nothing was taboo or off limits for Choy, who didn’t mince words in delivering his philosophies on ghosts, writing and doing what you love for yourself, but, more importantly, for those who love you.
Most people swear with a certain anger. When the 77-year-old author, who was quick to smile did it, he delivered the expletives in a way that disarms, exhibiting an honesty of self and openness not usually expressed in public forums.
Choy, who has written the Jade Peony, All That Matters and Paper Shadows, challenged the audience to take chances and be free to express.
If you catch yourself, he said, living a boring life and feel nothing more can happen then be honest with others.
“Try saying something truthful and see what happens,” he said. “Try and behave in a way you thought, without harming anybody because you never intended such harm, but you were afraid to say, ‘This is who I am.’ I’ve often thought, boy, such freedom opens up before you.”
Life is more interesting when people don’t live “behind masks.”
You’ll discover who really loves you when you’re honest, he adds.
Let go of the restraints to do what you love, he said. Don’t listen to the naysayers.
“[Maybe] a teacher from way back when said, ‘You don’t do that.’ And you were doodling and you always wanted to paint and draw or dance and sing I would say go right ahead, screw them. Make sure they know they are being screwed because half the fun is making them go, ‘Oh, my God’,” he said.
“Such a joy because maybe they get inspired or least you’re inspired enough to have your life.”
When you age, talents don’t disappear or leave you, he said.
“They just sit there waiting for you to try it out. Go to a drawing class. Go to a dance class. Do something that says to you: this week something’s going to be different. I’m going to try this. I don’t care if they laugh at me. I don’t care if I’m Dumbo the elephant when I do ballet. Dumbo is dancing, watch out, world! In that sense you set an example for the young people in your life who say, ‘Look what’s Grandma is doing. Look what Mum’s doing. Look what Dad’s doing. Look what Grandpa’s doing.
My turn now,” he said. “How wonderful to let them see you live and give them the chance they should have the right to live their lives.”
Even if you try and try and you still don’t succeed, don’t give up.
“Try another way,” he said.
He admits a love for all books, particularly “dirty books.”
“When you’re 77 it’s purely academic,” he said, receiving raucus response of laughter.
With a predominantly older audience of people with greying hair, he reminded them about their role as grandparents for the next generation.
“The truth of it all is to realize when you’re a writer or a storyteller, as many of you are, simply because you’re grandparents, that’s part of your job, part of your duty is we’re making connections from the past to the present, but not only the past as we know it, but the past that comes to you as you start telling something and I have this particular theme that I’m haunted by. There are ghosts everywhere, but I don’t believe in them,” he said.
He admits this last statement about ghosts is a paradox.
“I don’t see them, but they’re with me,” he said.
Loved ones are never gone if they are remembered, he said referring to the commonly held belief about the metaphysical connection we have with loved ones.
Choy still hears his late mother telling him to wear his scarf on a cold day.
He remembers telling college students that even legendary writers don’t just sit down and write their books. Great writing comes from a lot of work.
In the opening of one his books, he remembers, he wrote it 18 times before it was finished.
“I find in my case the real writing comes in the rewriting,” he said.
He acknowledges in short stories is where strong writing can come in one sitting.
It’s in the rewrites where the writer goes to get deeper into the psyche and deeper into the craft of writing.
To start writing, you must write, but do it for yourself first.
“Have you told the story you never told anyone before? Tell it to yourself first,” he said.
Writing things that you wouldn’t consciously tell yourself based on fear that you want to tell yourself.
“It becomes an objective process by which you take very complicated feelings and frightening ideas about yourself and the overrated ideas about yourself and you test them right in front of your eyes in writing. Then rewrite, edit and show what you’re willing in this manuscript, which you will call your first draft, but you might have rewritten it 18 times before you did that,” he said.
His sincerity and clarity of thought connected with the audience in way that is rare.
It’s something he truly appreciates when he meets people that feel this way about his work rather than the sales associated with them.
“That’s meaningful to me. It’s not the number you sell. It’s the kinds of people that read your book and say, ‘hello.’ I’ve been very lucky with that,” he said.
His presentation at the Community Room came about because of Choy’s frequent visits to the area to see friends. The FOHCPL took him up on his offer to share his time, president Mary Trepanier said in an earlier Echo article.
Upon learning about Choy’s impending birthday the next week, the audience started the event by singing him happy birthday. So, it was fitting with the generous and sentimental nature of Choy that he ended the event with a heartfelt thank you.
“I’m really appreciative to a community that can get together and realize that words matter, books matter,” he said.