Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Read Ontario, with Julie Macfie Sobol

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Julie Macfie Sobol

Ontario boasts a wealth of fantastic writers and amazing stories, and this fall the Organization of Book Publishers of Ontario is highlighting a selection of the province's finest writing from great Ontario publishers. There's no better time to “Read Ontario”!

Today we speak with Julie Macfie Sobol, the author of Love and Forgetting (Second Story Press). She talks to Open Book about a dining room office, the link between physics and photography and a view of canoes.

Visit a participating Read Ontario independent bookstore to get a copy of Love and Forgetting and click here for details on how you can enter to win 42 exciting Read Ontario books!
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Read Ontario: Julie Macfie Sobol — Where Do You Write in Ontario?

Last October I gave up the high-ceilinged apartment I had shared with my husband to move into a multi-generational household in the same West End Toronto neighbourhood. I had benefited from the two-year interim to mourn his death in privacy, but was ready for the sound of other people near me. When my daughter and her husband offered up their dining room for use as my office, I accepted and the arrangement has worked well: we eat our communal meals in the large, sunny kitchen, and for most of the day, until my two young granddaughters burst into the room in late afternoon to throw down their books and relate competing, jumbled stories of their school day, I have peace and quiet in which to work.

This particular rainy morning I have been reviewing my I-photos in search of one of me taken by the Mac which serves as camera, typewriter, printer, archive, encyclopedia and bossy fourth grade spelling teacher. The “I” in the photo in question is both my physical self and the generated image on the screen — a duality which brings to mind the way (according to modern physics but against all logic) a ray of light can be two things at once, can exist simultaneously as both a particle and a wave. My modern computer table, acquired from our upstairs neighbours at the old place, carries out this multiple-function theme; its cleverly-designed thirty-two-inch width includes a small but sufficient writing space complete with wide drawer for current projects, a deep well where I store paper files, a high shelf for the printer and crannies of various size and shape which hold pens and pencils, favourite CDs, snail mail envelopes, an ancient stapler which predates my first home computer, a stash of downloaded recipes for dishes like Crispy, sticky Chicken Thighs with Squashed new Potatoes and other detritus of this techie age. Downsizing has meant space is at a premium; aside from the ingenious computer table, the room holds a comfortable wing chair, a guitar on its stand, a music cabinet, a pullout sofa and a large parlour table on which old black and white family photos taken in places like Africa, Scotland and Russia vie for attention with the children’s latest school photos. Above the table hangs a nautical map of Lake Erie leftover from an earlier book project and a painting of the handyman’s special in rural (deeply rural) Ontario where Ken and I once lived — another one of our twenty or so former residences over nearly fifty years of marriage. Underneath, boxes of papers and more photographs are stacked; the adjacent bookcases run to history, poetry, art, photography, health, travel and the ecology of Ontario.

The one window in the west-facing room offers a welcome break if my eyes need a rest from the glowing computer screen. At the back of the deep yard, beyond a small deck and a prefab storage shed, lie two blue-painted canoes, now turned upside down against the coming winter. Over them stands a grove of tall serviceberry trees whose fruit this year was grabbed off by the birds before we even noticed they were ripe. As I look out, my imagination carries me beyond my adopted city of Toronto into wider worlds: Ontario, Canada, the entire Great Lakes Basin, the continent of North America, the Solar System. (Do kids still scribble lists like this on their notebooks? Probably.) But though in good weather I often take my morning coffee outside, I seldom use the yard for writing. Nature is good for restorative purposes and for reflection, but I need four walls around me for the discipline of putting words on paper.

The latest addition to my library is Love and Forgetting: A Husband and Wife’s Journey Through Dementia. (The title says it all.) Ken and I had started work on this book's opening chapters shortly after he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in 2008. When his rapidly increasing symptoms made it impossible for him to continue, I kept going and after his death completed the book, published this fall by Second Story Press. In the Yin and Yang of daily existence — mind/body, male/female, rural/urban, youth/age, joy/grief, art/science, now/then, life/death — writing helps pull all these dualities together. My office is where that happens.

Julie Macfie Sobol and Ken Sobol moved with their three children from the US to Canada in 1973. Julie, a musician and painter, has works displayed in homes in Canada, the U.S., and England. As Ken’s neurological illness worsened, the couple was forced to find new ways to live and write together. Ken died in 2010. Julie, now a grandmother of six, continues to make her home in Toronto.

For more information about Love and Forgetting please visit the Second Story Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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