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  • Writer's pictureGail Bowen

Being Writer-in-Residence at Memorial Park Library - Part II

As some of you who read this blog regularly know, I am a believer in synchronicity. Today I received a note from my friend, Clare, telling me that Zoe at Quill and Quire was planning an article on what it’s like to be a Writer in Residence, and that Zoe was looking for input. Well input I had aplenty. In May and June of 2009, I was WIR at the Toronto Reference Library. From September 1st to November 30th of 2010, I was WIR at Memorial Park Library in Calgary.

On November 28th, I wrote a summing up blog about my experiences at Memorial Park. Optimistically, I designated that entry as Part I, a heading that did seem to suggest there would be a Part II. Well today, thanks to Clare and Zoe and my own driven Virgo nature, here is Part II.

In Part I, I focused on how my professional obligations as WIR had flowered into personal joys. I learned from and respected the writers who came to talk to me about the work we jointly do; I was grateful for the chances I had to read alone or with other writers at the branches of Calgary’s stretched-to-the-limits-but-coping- nobly library system; and although I was a reluctant blogger, I enjoyed the chance to ponder and write about my relationship with libraries in general and with the CPL in particular. Briefly put, the professional part of the WIR experience was immensely satisfying, but the personal rewards were even greater.

Before last September, Ted and I had been to Calgary perhaps ten times—always on book business—and that meant we saw libraries and bookstores, traffic and the inside of more than one nice restaurant, but we had never really seen much of the city itself.

The WIR experience changed all that. For three months we were Calgarians, and it was a great experience. We chose our condo on-line. We didn’t know the city but on the city map 17th Street SW just off 17th Avenue looked close enough to downtown to work for us. In fact, it was perfect. We lived in a very hilly area called Bankview and from the top of our street we had a breathtaking view of the city. We lived within walking distance of Boyd’s, a justifiably revered fish store where everything was splendid but the bag of frozen chowder fish (recipe included) was the best. We also lived near a Russian deli, a great bread store and Priape, a store whose male window mannequins wore black masks, thigh high boots and very nice black underwear. We were close to the great shops of Mission and to the seriously good bars and restaurants of the Red Mile (not a place to show your Rider Pride on the day of a Stamps/Riders game.) We worshipped at Christ Church, a beautiful and affluent church that seemed committed to social activism. We read the Calgary Herald every day and watched the Calgary news at night. We arrived in the middle of a civic election, so we learned about issues and about the candidates. We were in Vancouver on election day, but Ted checked the Internet and announced with a grin that our candidate, Naheed Nenshi was the winner.

In our three months in Calgary, Ted and I didn’t see or do everything we wanted to see and do, but we covered a lot of ground. We went with our grandkids to the special Dinosaur exhibit at the amazing Calgary Zoo, and then we hung around with them while they strode through the real zoo. We went with them to Bragg Creek and the beautiful Kanasksis Country. We walked by Elbow River on a crisp fall day and spent a happy Sunday afternoon strolling the paths of Prince’s Island Park and Eau Claire Market.

The Glenbow Museum had an exhibit of the work of Columbian artist Fernando Botero while we were in Calgary. We tagged along within earshot of a tour, but still on our own. The violence; the humour; the beauty and the colour of Botero’s work is overwhelming and the Glenbow presented the huge paintings and sculptures in generous spaces that gave Botero’s work room to breathe. It was a great show.

So was The 39 Steps at Calgary’s intimate and innovative Vertigo Theatre. Vertigo’s production of The 39 Steps used four actors to present every scene of Hitchcock’s film adaptation of Buchan’s novel, and it was great theatre – funny and inventive and wildly theatrical. Full disclosure. Vertigo’s productions are all mysteries and in 2011 I’ll be working on a play for them. I am happy about this not just professionally but personally.

I love our lives here in Regina. Ted and I believe that the best thing we’ve ever done is become parents and grandparents. We missed the kids and grand-kids a lot during our three months away. That said, we found it very difficult to leave Calgary. It’s a great city. One of our new friends in Calgary said “I feel as if I’ve known you forever.” Ted and I felt that way about so many of the people who welcomed us into their homes and their lives—especially Marje Wing, the librarian with whom I worked most closely.

It’s impossible not to look back at the year just past on New Year’s Eve. On this new year’s eve, I know that Ted and I will count our three months in Calgary with Marje and the CPL as among our greatest blessings. Ted and I love being Mum and Dad and Mimi and Grand-dad, but for three months it was kind of fun to be Ted and Gail again, discovering a new and shining city together. Thank you, Marje and thank you, Calgary.

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