In Praise of Generous Enthusiasm

You know how sometimes people with expertise aren't particularly generous about sharing it? How someone on the "inside" of a group or profession tries to stay a little removed from those on the "outside," who have less experience or success?

You know it happens. Those of us who despaired of being cool in high school (are writers ever cool in high school?) would like to imagine that the real world is different...but deep down, we know that the attitude is out there. We all see it from time to time.

Recently, I had the opposite experience. I had the good fortune to spend a few hours, over a couple of days, with Michael Van Rooy, a Canadian (Winnipeg, specifically) writer.

As you can see from his website, Michael not only wrote books--he also connected with nearly every writing organization in the region, including Thunder Bay's own Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW) (of which I'm currently secretary).

NOWW recently launched its electronic Writer in Residence (eWIR) program, which is in many respects a typical program in that the writer critiques manuscripts and teaches workshops. However, this eWIR program uses technology to help connect writers over the (beautiful) miles and miles of (breathtakingly gorgeous) miles and miles that northwestern Ontario is famous for.

It's brand new, and it's ambitious.* NOWW has never tried anything like this before. To pull it off, we needed a writer with the right combination of flexibility, experience, teaching ability, charisma, and courage.

Michael Van Rooy agreed to be that writer, and his positive approach and enthusiasm gave us all the sense that this program will work. Last weekend he closed the launch events by saying, "Please let me read your writing."

He passed away Thursday, at the age of 42.

Of course he will be remembered for his books.** In Monty Haaviko, the protagonist of his three novels, Van Rooy created a charming criminal who desperately wants to go straight. Haaviko is a complex, likeable character; it's no wonder Van Rooy's books have won so many awards.

But we in northwestern Ontario will also remember him for his enthusiasm and support. After ten years of actively studying writing and publishing, Michael Van Rooy was excited to share his perspective with us. I regret that we were just getting started.

Excitement. Enthusiasm. Generosity. So much better than cool.

* Funded in part by the Thunder Bay Community Foundation, the eWIR program also relies on a partnership with the Kuhkenah service, a broadband connection colloquially known as K-net.

One workshop in the eWIR program is designated to be held with the students in the Internet High School that reaches into more than 13 First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario. Two other workshops will be open to writers of any age who have phone lines (and an internet connection to look at common documents, if they want to). Groups of writers in a community can congregate and "attend" together, but writers who want to nurture their (in)famous solitary natures can join in from home.

**An Ordinary Decent Criminal, Your Friendly Neighbourhood Criminal, and A Criminal to Remember, all published by Turnstone Press.