Yann Martel on Stillness

Author Yann Martel. photo: guardian.co.uk

Yann Martel, author of the brilliant novel Life of Pi, has a very interesting and extraordinary project on the go. It’s called What is Stephen Harper Reading? Every two weeks, for as long as Harper is prime minister, Martel will send him a new book to read, accompanied by a letter. (I’m extremely jealous!) He’s sent 74 books so far and had about six responses, not one of them from the prime minister himself.

You really should check out this site. It’s simultaneously humorous and not at all funny. You’ll see what I mean. It’s quite thought-provoking, in fact.

I’m thinking this would be a very cool project to take on myself, actually—to read the books Harper’s been sent and Martel’s letters with them, and then actually respond. (I feel all these gratis books (what an ideal gift, yes?) are wasted on Harper, unfortunately, but who knows: maybe he secretly reads them before bed and in between sessions and waits with bated breath for the next package?)

My main point for this post, however late I’m getting to it, is this. I just read the About page, and it made me think of the post I wrote only last night. While it is a very interesting and provoking About page, and the entire script made me feel somewhat perturbed (ironically: it’s about being still but I felt moved to do something, though I don’t know what), here is the paragraph that spoke to me most at this particular time.

On March 28th, 2007, at 3 pm, I was sitting in the Visitors’ Gallery of the House of Commons, I and forty-nine other artists from across Canada, fifty in all, and I got to thinking about stillness. To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by.

Be still and think about that for a while.

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2 Responses

  1. Therese Neelands 12 February, 2010 / 10:33 am

    Oh, that paragraph!! Excellent and true.
    Lately I’ve been having difficulty drawing anything any good, and I’ve realized it’s because I just can’t get still.

    The thought of Harper secretly reading the books before bed, and waiting with bated breath until until his next package is truly hilarious.

    P.S. How good-looking is Yann Martel??

  2. Steph 12 February, 2010 / 5:05 pm

    I think that’s why I haven’t been able to write stories anymore. I can’t get still. I’m too busy, busy, busy. Some of that is my fault, but I admit to feeling resentful because some of it is not. I kind of HAVE to be busy for financial reasons. BLAH.

    I see myself one day writing again, though. P’raps when Biblio is up and running and I’ve got staff and I can take a day off and sit without worry and be quiet so I can hear the characters.

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