Monday, July 8, 2013

Breakfast With A Writer
By Michael

Kevin and me in our yellow dinghy.
“We’re ten minutes early,” Windy said.
I’d hurried them all morning to be sure we weren’t late and now she and the girls sat calmly on the park bench while I paced back and forth, killing time.

I didn’t know Kevin Patterson from Adam when he sent me an email almost two years ago. He wrote that he enjoyed my blog and that we were absolutely doing the right thing by our kids. He added that he’d done some sailing and written a book about it.
“Hey, thanks for the email, I’ll look up your book.” I clicked Send.

The Water In Between is among best travel writing I’ve read. I’ve studied it since, rereading and marking it up, wondering whether somehow, if I keep working at it, I’ll someday put my thoughts into words with the same mastery.
I emailed him last month; we agreed to meet for breakfast at the Tree House Café near his home on Saltspring Island.

I grew anxious during my ten minutes of pacing. I fear small talk and awkward silences. I’m not good at thinking on my feet, coming up with interesting questions to spur conversation. I often say the wrong thing. I’m much worse if the person’s books are reviewed by the New York Times.
I hoped we wouldn’t see Kevin that morning. In the perfect world I was constructing in my head, we’d get a table at the restaurant and wait 30 minutes before declaring him a no-show and ordering. Our food would come and we’d eat, pay, and leave. Later I’d get an email. “My God, I overslept. Please accept my apology.”

Frances showing off her caterpillar
rings on Galiano Island.
I’d feign disappointment in my response, chiding him that he probably didn’t oversleep for Terry Gross. “By the way,” I’d add, just to be clear that everything was cool, “I really enjoyed that radio interview, fascinating.”
Perhaps to assure me that oversleeping was regrettable, Kevin would offer a behind-the-scenes anecdote. “You know, I wasn’t late, but Terry was. Her staff apologized and one of the interns pulled me aside and explained that Terry’s always late, always hung over. She’s a mean drunk too, they stay out of her way.”

“Really? She seems so sensible and together.”
“Nah, that’s magic in the editing room. She has a team that feeds her interview questions. Terry’s simply a reader with the gift of a soothing voice that sounds sincerely curious.” 

And so our email conversation would go. Before long, we’d form a tight writers’ friendship via correspondence, spared the expense of that awkward first meet and small talk.
But it didn’t go down that way. He was there at the café when we arrived, drinking coffee and reading the paper at a table for two. We shook hands and made introductions while the server cobbled together a couple more tables.

Kevin’s a medical doctor who spends part of each year in the Canadian north, serving an Inuit population. He’s also opened up the bodies of Afghan fighters and South Pacific Islanders. He’s known for his insight regarding the effects of the encroaching Western diet and lifestyle on the health of previously isolated cultures.
This is what we do every
time we weigh anchor: hose
the mud and shells off the
chain. It can take quite a
while sometimes.
After everyone ordered, I announced I was self-conscious about the plate of huevos rancheros I was about to eat in front of the doctor who had indicted our Western diet. It was a quip I came up with the night before, the perfect ice-breaker. But it sounded lame when I said it. Uncomfortable, Kevin assured me he eats like Homer Simpson. He ordered a small fruit and yogurt plate.

Kevin asked a question about our lives. I nodded blankly and blurted out the first of a dozen writing questions that boiled over in my head. I would turn our conversation into an interrogation.
Listening to him answer, I began focusing on the key words that were the difference between us. What word would I have used there? I grew more self-conscious, editing my own vocabulary and sentences in real time, as the air rushed past my vocal cords and my words were made and released. The result was a jumbled, stilted reproduction of my own thoughts.

At some point I told him I was working on a book; he asked about my progress. Something I read in a magazine interview the night before started to spill out, and it sounded good. “Oh, it comes and goes, Kevin, long periods of procrastination and slow going, and then bursts of unanticipated productivity.” He nodded and it dawned on me that I’d just paraphrased his answer to the same question.
Finally, the meal was over and I was eager to separate, eager to return to the boat and be free of my social anxiety, to process the writing perspectives I’d gained.

“Do you want to come out and see Del Viento?” Windy asked. For a split second, I thought it was possible, hoped it was possible, she was talking to me.
“I’d love to,” Kevin answered.

So we found these guys, a grandfather an his grandson, adrift in
their dinghy off Galiano Island. Their outboard conked
out and the current took them miles from their
mother ship and neither appeared to know how to row.
Grandpa was stressed and fatigued. We towed them
back--they refused our invitation to come aboard.

Eleanor doing her Houdini imitation in this strange, hollow boulder
she found on Wallace Island.

Found object on a hike. Wallace Island is too small for cars,
a mystery why this is here.


  1. Hmm. I don't remember you being socially awkward when we first met but maybe it was because I was a lowly intern. And we'd both been drinking. You are doing right by your children. No doubt.

  2. Wow, I can't believe the part about Terry Gross but then again it's kind of nice to know that she's human and also has a dark side.

    1. Hi Florencia, thanks for commenting. Please DON'T believe the part about Terry Gross. That part of my post was just humor; I've no reason to think she's anything but the sensible, sharp, and down-to-Earth personality that comes across on the radio. Take care, Michael


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