Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Patrick Finn

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Patrick Finn

Considering the fact that Patrick Finn's newest book — Critical Condition: Replacing Critical Thinking with Creatiity (Wilfrid Laurier University Press) — focuses on creative thinking, it's no surprise he has taken a creative approach to our At the Desk series, which normally looks into a writer's workspace in order to talk about the process behind a new book.

Just as Critical Condition questions our traditional acceptance of the superiority of "critical thinking", Patrick dismantles the idea of a writer's workspace, questioning the assumptions we have about who is given space to work, where, and how.

Patrick uses experiences from his own life to describe how his thinking about writing, gender and privilege expanded by empathizing with others in situations different than his own.

This is a fantastic outside-the-box addition to the At the Desk series in which Patrick challenges us to look at our own assumptions — don't miss this one!

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I want to explain my writing area with a story. It might not seem related at first, but I think it will become clear if you will bear with me.

This past year, just before my book came out, I was invited to apply for a volunteer position on the board of Calgary Arts Development (CADA). They are the arms-length civic body that grants money to artists and arts groups in our city. They do great work and have a history of recruiting talented people to work with them. I went through the application process and an interview and was offered a spot.

The first meeting I was to attend was on a dark winter night at CADA’s downtown office. I took the C-Train and got off on the other side of downtown to walk and collect myself. I headed down the main street with my head down, lost in thought.

As I walked, I was riddled with feelings of inadequacy. What if I wasn’t smart enough and made a mess of things? The work is too important not to be done well, and I was nervous I would let everyone down. These thoughts consumed me as I walked block after block through the cold, dark streets.

Once I started to get close to the offices, I thought I had better try and pull myself out of this spiral, so I started trying to think positively. I worked at taking deeper breaths and trying to buck myself up.

And then it hit me:

It is an incredible privilege to walk around worrying if you are good enough.

As a six foot three, 220lb bald, white guy, I can wander anywhere I want, at any time of day or night, and fret about whether I am good enough. Not once did I worry if I was going to be physically assaulted, stopped by the police, or sexually harassed. No one was going to yell uninvited comments at me about my heritage, nature of my physical or mental abilities, my beliefs, or sexual orientation.

I have the privilege of public neurosis. May each of you be so free and may none of us rest until we all are.

The reason I share this story is that it goes to answering the question, “where do I write or create?” You see, I like to move around when I work. I love to be in libraries, but on an ideal workday I will spend time in the library, time at my home desk, time at my office and time in public places. One of my favourite places to write and study is in the food courts of shopping malls. There is something wonderful about being with all those people. It’s a very special energy.

Years ago, Virginia Woolf talked about the need for a “room of one’s own,” if women writers were to be able to compete with their male counterparts. There is a great deal of freedom in having your own writing space, but how much more free are we when we can carry that room on our backs wherever we go?

I like to write everywhere, but can do so only because I am afforded that freedom. That freedom is not something that is available to everyone, and I think it is important to acknowledge that fact.


Patrick Finn is an associate professor in The School for Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Calgary. His research and teaching focus on performance and technology, where technology can be anything from vocal technique and alphabets to complex computer algorithms. He is an active artist and founding artistic director of The Theatre Lab Performance Institute in Calgary, Alberta.

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