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Yukonbooks.com > Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation


July 15, 1999

I'll bet you think this is easy.  I bet you even think that this is fun, sitting here chronicling my desperate life, giggling and snarkling as I do.  And they pay you?! I hear you say. Nice work if you can get it!

And occasionally it is and I do sit to my craft, canoodling and sniggering.  But more often, it's plain hard work and besides, even after 25 years at it, for me, this columnizing is a funny kind of business.  Seems that the more there is to write about, the less able I am to write it.  Call it what you will: angst, laziness, procras- tination, a surfeit of sensation, whatever it is, I'm guilty.

Take my mother's 90th birthday party, for instance, 'way back in January.  There was a column, handed to me on a platter complete with all the family anecdotes, and friends and neighbours front and center, new shapes and figures, as New Year's resolutions kicked in or kicked out, new partners, same old wool skirt and smashing brand-spanking fresh outfits, all just primed and crying to be written up.

Ma, herself, was in great form, dishing the dirt with her cronies and playing the Grande Dame to the hilt, even clambering up on a chair, at one point, to deliver her very nice Thank You's.  Brother Aksel and his wife, Lorene, arrived from Vancouver Island, right in the middle of the whole shebang, for a huge surprise about which Ma later commented, "Puh, it was no big deal, I knew that they would come!"  Ninety years of intuition cannot be gainsaid!

Of course, just having Ax and Lorene here should have been grounds for a terrific column.  We didn't do too much, the weather being mostly cold and windy and I was bunged up with the first few weeks of this hundred day flu that is now into its 15th week - l02 days, to be precise, but their mere presence should have triggered a creative convulsion.  Should have, but did not.  

While they were here, I hauled them off to McBride Museum one night to hear Greg Hare's delightful lecture on 8,000 Years Of Pre-history at Annie Lake.  Halfway into it, so enthralled was I by his discourse that I forgot to swallow and a dry tickle turned into a full-blown coughing, retching attack.  Naturally, I was smack dab in the middle of a row and by the time I mananged to stumble to the end, I was near to gasping my last and all those I'd stepped or spit on were praying for a quick end to my misery.

As I staggered out into the hall, one of the Museum staff neatly hip-checked me into the ladies' washroom and patted me on the back while I gasped and slobbered and tried to regain both breath and composure.  Kind of reminded me of the old saying, "It ain't the cough that carries you off, it's the coffin they carry you off in."  

After the disruptive scene I had created a few minutes earlier, had they brought in the old pine box, there would have been plenty of disgruntled volunteers to pack me away, with Greg Hare exhorting them on to greater effort. 

As it was, several minutes into the hacking and choking in the bathroom, the door opened a crack and a thoughtful male hand snaked through, offering a mug that I might have a drink of water, thereby quelling the cough. I felt so nurtured I nearly choked up all over again.  But not so much that I rushed home to write it up, as we say in the trade.

I would suppose, as well, that many of you are wondering why, after all this time, I still have not written about one of the most major events in my life: the appointment as Yukon's first Writer in Residence. Now that should have been prime grist for my literary mill but when I sat to it, the words just refused to come and the columns died a-borning. 

It was the first time in my life that I had ever been paid for what I knew, rather than what I did.  A novel experience, you should pardon the expression.  When it was over, I kicked and screamed and planted my considerable avoirdupois firmly behind the big desk but it didn't matter: they turfed me out anyway.

"... And don't brother trying to sneak in through Delivery, either,"  Mary Raines warned coolly, as she bolted the door behind me.  "Security has been alerted and we'll be watching for you!"  Sobbing, I picked up my pitiful little bundle of belongings and stumbled away. 

How soon they forget, I thought bleakly, as I left. Could it have been only two months ago that Mary had welcomed me into my new position, helping me to remove the lumber and old shelving from the store room that was to be my office, handing me the keys to that entire wing of the YTG building and, when I demurred my worthiness at so great a symbol of trust, had murmured a warm, "Take them. Humour me."

Oh yes, I remembered, I'd been the cat's pyjamas back then alright, me with my power suits and new tapestry briefcase, and my mandate to cover the territory, searching out incipient best-sellers.

One could rightly assume that there should have been reams of material as I confabulated with Kate Arkley and the gang at Faro, maundered on with Margaret Gardiner at Watson Lake, gossiped with the guys in Teslin, and cackled and carried on in Carmacks and Carcross.  And there were, interesting and funny and enthralling bit and pieces.  And too much to record; my columnular program went into overload!

And so it is that I sit here today with all that good stuff behind me and nothing on my plate for this week.  And you are lounging on your rump-sprung recliner, post-prandial coffee at your elbow and disgust on your face, saying to yourself, "For pity gracious, after ploughing through a thousand words of drivel, there's still no story!"

You think that's bad?  Just imagine what's gonna hit the old fan when Steve Robertson finds out that someone's actually PAYING me for this!!

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