Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations

Barry Lopez: Surviving What’s Coming

Episode Summary

Barry Lopez discusses Horizon, his most personal and expansive work to date. Moving through the author’s travels across six regions of the world from Western Oregon to the High Arctic; the Galapagos to the Kenyan desert; from Botany Bay to ice shelves of Antarctica. In this revelatory journey that searches for meaning and purpose in a broken world, Lopez voices concern, frustration along with humanity, hope and love, and forces readers to see the world differently. Barry Lopez is the author of two collections of essays, several story collections, Arctic Dreams, for which he received the National Book Award, Of Wolves and Men, a National Book Award finalist, and Crow and Weasel, a novella-length fable. He contributes regularly to both American and foreign journals and has traveled to more than 70 countries to conduct research. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim, Lannan, and National Science Foundations and has been honored by a number of institutions for his literary, humanitarian, and environmental work. Alissa York is the internationally acclaimed author of Mercy, Effigy (short-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize), Fauna and, most recently, The Naturalist (winner of the Canadian Authors’ Association Fiction Award). York is also the author of the short fiction collection, Any Given Power, stories from which have won the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award. Her essays and articles have appeared in The Guardian, Brick magazine, Canadian Geographic and elsewhere.

Episode Notes

*Note: given the current temporary closure of TPL due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made our best efforts to offer suggestions below for materials which are part our online collections, and available at home to anyone with a current Toronto Public Library card.

Why are wait time for ebooks or audiobooks sometimes so long?Learn more about limits on the number of eBook copies and the length of time they can be borrowed.

Book by Barry Lopez


Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape

About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory

Outside: Six Short Stories

Of Wolves and Men

Crow and Weasel



Books by Alissa York

The Naturalist





If you like Barry Lopez…

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder

The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West by John David Unruh

Dersu Uzala by Vladimir Arsenyev

The Ice: A Journey to Antarctica by Stephen J. Pyne

Fisherman's Blues: A West African Community at Sea by Anna Badkhen


Other Related Materials

How Climate Change has Influenced Travel Writing (article from The Atlantic)

Why the World Needs Barry Lopez (article from Outside Online)


Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations features curated discussions and interviews with some of today’s best-known and yet-to-be-known writers, thinkers and artists, recorded on stage at one of Toronto Public Library’s 100 branches. 

Episodes are produced by Natalie Kertes, Jorge Amigo, and Gregory McCormick. Technical support by Michelle De Marco and George Panayotou. AV support by Jennifer Kasper and Mesfin Bayssassew. Marketing support by Tanya Oleksuik.

Music is by The Worst Pop Band Ever.

Episode Transcription

Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations
Barry Lopez: Surviving What’s Coming


Gregory: Welcome to Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations, our regular Toronto Public Library podcast series featuring curated discussions and interviews with some of today’s best-known and yet-to-be-known writers, thinkers and artists, recorded on stage at one of Toronto Public Library’s 100 branches.


[music & clapping]

Alissa York (AY): It took a few years, no, this particularly book?

Barry Lopez (BL): It did.

AY: How many years?

BL: Well, it depends on how you look at it.

AY: Give me the most dramatic rendering.


BL: 74 years.


AY: There is hope.



BL: No, I... The first thing I wanna say is that, it's an accident of appearing in public with a book like this, that it's difficult to get around the fact that it's not about me, and it most especially is not about me as a lone figure. I've had good teachers all of my life, many of them Indigenous people, and I couldn't start talking here with you without recognizing that the advantage I have had by being informed by people way smarter than I am. So, that said, probably five years. I knew when I signed a contract for the book that it was way in the future and I was thinking about it for a long time, and deliberately doing some things that I intuited will become important, were things to do. But once I sat down at the typewriter... Does everybody know what that is?


BL: You do it without electricity, and you don't push a button to change anything, so...

AY: You use a manual typewriter?

BL: I do, I've used a manual typewriter since I was able to move my fingers in a coordinated way, although I don't type. I really... When I'm really going I use all three fingers.


AY: Yeah.

BL: But most of the time I use two.

AY: Oh, so you must have very strong grip?

BL: You know, I'm... Got a little bit of trouble with arthritis. But interestingly enough...

AY: Yeah.

BL: After all of that typing, my hands are great, though, I don't [chuckle] have any arthritis.


AY: Well, you're exercising them all the time.

BL: Every day. So it took about five years from the day I sat down to begin the manuscript and then take it through a couple of drafts.

AY: That is kind of amazing, because the scope of this book is absolutely staggering. You... Let me just say, if you haven't read the book, so you cover a life, you say it's not about you. And unlike a lot of memoirs it is much more sort of outward focused, but you cover a life, you cover a fair chunk of the planet, you observe the world in close up, you take a wider glance, you turn your attention to the bottom of the ocean, outer space, you look back in time to the beginning of the origins of humankind and beyond.

BL: Right, right.

AY: You look... You have a weather eye on the future.

BL: Right.

AY: And somehow you create this integrated hole that is so intimate, you keep the reader right here. Can you tell us maybe a little bit about the original vision and how the book took shape?

BL: Well, let's see, everybody goes about this in a different way, but...

AY: You do it your way.


BL: No, I'm thinking about a Uruguayan writer who's passed away now, Eduardo Galeano, who defined the writer as the servant of memory. And I asked him once, does that mean that the writer is the servant of her own memory or is the servant of the memory of her people? And he said, "Both." So that's been a guide for me and I think I've been schooled in the responsibility to ethic and the social responsibility of the writer by Indigenous people, to the extent that that's really in some way how I understand the world that the writer lives in. What I knew I wanted to do was address darkness of every sort and global climate change and whatnot, but also in the West disintegrating democracy and what's happening now in Brazil and Hungary, and frankly in the United States with this mania for Nationalism. And what I kept seeing was that we are predisposed in the West to be done in by these challenges, because we wanna do things our own way, it's the way we feel comfortable, it's the way we feel is the route to success. But the only route to success now is to listen to people different from yourself.

AY: Yeah.

BL: And to understand that all cultures have an intellectual tradition or an ability to maneuver easily in a metaphorical world that at this time is indispensable. So instead of having a group of people come together, all of whom grew up in more or less the same cultural environment, you bring people who grew up in very different environments and you deal with people who are grown-ups, people who, as a man said to me once, no longer need to be supervised, they can be trusted to take into consideration everybody's needs and put their own needs last.

BL: To do that you need to have intimate contact with other peoples. And that's pretty terrifying, because you're kind of naked in those situations and very vulnerable if you're not vulnerable, but why are you at the table? So the way I began to think about it makes a confined space of the need to do something bigger. So everywhere I went I was trying to push, push, push, open, open, open. That's why the narrator was me, of course, but is always looking up into the sky and always behind his binoculars and sitting through cycles of day and night. It's just to make the space bigger. My responsibility is not to develop policy or answers to anything I want women and men who are really good at that to have a big stage to work on. And that's one reason that the book ends in Antarctica. Every time I was there, there's no human history really to speak of in Antarctica.

BL: It's a kind of a... there's physics and chemistry and virtually no biology except at the periphery of the continent. And in summer is the only time you can really work well in the interior is light all the time. And I thought, well, with maybe something like this, the reader would be thinking about a tabula rasa. So you've been through the Canadian high arctic you've been to the Galapagos you've been to Northern Kenya you've been to Australia. And now these ideas can stimulate a reader or I hope that they do to imagine what they think would be...what would the path look like from here to the horizon, how would they imagine that?

AY: I'm glad that you brought up imagining because it's such an important part of the book, you circle back to the necessity of the imagination.

BL: Yes.

AY: And throughout the book. It's a pattern that arises and there's this idea of... people can think of imagination as something that's a bit of a frill but in your book, you point out how necessary it is to our survival.

BL: Yes.

AY: Imagination and story.

BL: Yes.

AY: The role of a story...

BL: I have a very dear friend, this sounds horribly like name dropping, but he and I have known each other for 40 years, and the American composer John Luther Adams who won the Pulitzer in music in the States two years ago. And part of our discourse over the past 40 years has been trying to understand how the pattern of arrangement of tonal values in music and the arrangement of words on a page. Where is the crossover? And we one day we found that we had very similar ideas about landscape painting and how that art-evoked place and how it failed, sometimes to the evoke place and was just two dimensional and pretty... So I think as a sculptor, or choreographer, or painter, photographer, you're trying, your search is for a pattern that will help.

BL: So you're not the person who's telling us what to think God forbid, but you're making a pattern in which it's possible for people to use the power of an imagination to clarify what they most sincerely wish to do. I'm not talking about a job, I'm talking about the way in which you take care of your children, the way in which you serve your community. So for me, the power of imagination is stimulated by art and some people who have really remarkable imaginations can apply them in their own field of expertise and come up with things that we need to come up with. We're on a really short rope. I think global climate change if you, if you've never been really far up north, in Canada. If you go you'll just stand there silent with your jaw dropping. The changes that have occurred up there since I was working there writing Arctic Dreams are... I don't even know how to begin to explain it. It's staggering.

BL: And I'm seeing those changes on my own landscape in Oregon. Now, I'm watching a huge change take place in the woods where I live. It's all due to global climate change, so I want to help people understand. Look, time is really short and we're really in bloody trouble and we need to do something that requires an enormous imaginative approach. We should be asking ourselves today, what comes after capitalism. And what comes after this nation-state thing from the 19th century. Neither one of these things is taking care of us; they're helping us destroy ourselves. So what are the alternatives.

AY: What are the alternatives? I don't offer this really early in the book, the closing line of the prologue, you have this jumping off point into the book and it's like a wish and a warning. “I want everyone here to survive what is coming.” And to me there's so much in that line. I mean, in some ways it's a terrifying line and you don't pull your punches on that. And why would you? But it's also to me, there's a lot of love in that line. It's a very... And in fact, all throughout the book, there's a lot of love.

BL: Yes.

AY: It seems to me that in this book, but also in everything I've ever read by you, there's this continual act of keen observation and paying attention. That feels to me like one of the most important types of loving that we can do in the world, does that ring true for you?

BL: Yes, yes, it does, and I don't... It's possible to end up being somebody that if somebody points it out to you, that it comes as kind of a shock. But then you immediately say... But I don't know any other way to do it. I tell a little story that I found amusing. My prep-school class had a 50th anniversary, and we all got together in New York and a fellow that I didn't know very well from the class, but who was one of a group of 15 of us that went to Europe right after we graduated in 1962 and we had a beautiful little Fiat bus and we went to all the iconic places we started in Portugal and spent ten weeks before we ended up in Western Ireland. And so this guy says to me, "I remember you on that trip, you would always sit in the first seat. So you could look out the window, and then you'd always rank down the mileage and you just kept writing things down, and so I guess that's what you went on and did.”


AY: Yeah. Begin as you mean to go on.

BL: So I don't know, I don't have a picture of what it is that I do, I know that I could use the word ferocious. I have ferocious attention to detail and to other people's lives, obviously I have spent a lot of time traveling with Indian people and Eskimos and Aboriginal people, but you know I'm also a creature of my own culture, and my wife and I are talking about, I'll be in New York next week, and she called me last night and said there's a new Moreau exhibit, at MoMA. And so we're both talking about how excited we are to see that. I love my own people, I want them to do well, but I also want everybody to get through what is coming.

AY: And that everybody extends beyond humanity.

BL: Absolutely.

AY: And always has in all of your writing.

BL: Absolutely.

AY: It's everybody who's here with us.

BL: Yeah. Every living thing. If you don't create a society that includes animals in the same moral universe that you occupy, sooner or later it's going to collapse because it has no integrity.

AY: Right. Well said. Somebody take that down, please. So you've mentioned spending time with different Indigenous peoples in your travels, there's just a lovely moment in the book that I wanted to mention. There's a group of Inuit hunters who gave you a nickname, which I'm not going to attempt to pronounce. Can you pronounce it?

BL: Neveratsak.

AY: Neveratsak. Okay, I did attempt it.


AY: This is a certain kind of bird, can you tell us about that bird?

BL: It's an ivory gull. It's a white gull. And I think at first glance, for white people, they would say, "Oh well, they called him that because he's the white person in the group. But, it's something way more subtle and interesting and that is when I'm traveling with people, I'm doing the things that everybody's doing. I'm part of the group that's moving across a landscape but I'm also kind of taking little notes and things like that, not very often, a lot of people, especially when you're hunting don't like somebody taking notes 'cause they know they'll pay for it later possibly. So if you see gulls on, I don't know how people will feel about this term, gulls on a gut pile, so you've butchered a whale and there is a gut pile on the ice, big gulls, glaucous gulls and black back gulls the larger of the gull family, will be in there on top of it, shouldering each other, out of the way like this and then the ivory gull which is also a small gull will stand at the edge of the chaos and wait for an opening and then boom, boom like that.


BL: So that's why they gave me that name because he seems to be fully participating in every way. But then he just backs out. So that's they saw that I was in my own way, making room for stepping back and seeing the whole scene and then I'd be in it and then I'd step back and watch the whole scene.

AY: So they got it right.

BL: I would say they got it right. And part of the sweetness, I think of traveling with people who are not like you, is that understanding that you're a major source of laughter.


BL: And you can... you come from the dominant culture and you've suppressed people, who you're traveling with culturally you've done that, not you but your people. And it... When those moments come, I remember one time I was with a group of Kamba men in Northern Kenya. They aren't from the Northern Kenya, but they were working in Northern Kenya. For Richard Leakey, we were looking for hominid fossils and in our camp, there were these five Kamba men and myself and a young Turkana man, who was a local man who cooked for us and kept camp while we were out bush. And we would get up every day at 6 o'clock, because between 6:00 and 6:15 is when the flies were waking up. So, breakfast would be ready at 6:00 promptly and if you didn't wanna eat flies for breakfast, you made sure you had breakfast before these flies came out of the stupor of the night and began to kick.

AY: Yield and...

BL: Yeah, they're looking for moisture in your mouth so...


BL: If you didn't wanna be doing that while you were trying to eat your breakfast, you got up at 6:00 and then we were gone. But because the sun was brutal every morning when I got up and got my gear together, I'd always... The last thing I do is, put on sunscreen. So one morning, this man Wambua who's always a little bit taciturn, that was his way, and he deliberately stood as though he were exasperated by what I was doing, and he'd do this.


BL: He didn't have a watch on but he'd just go like this and then make a gesture like this.


BL: So, the morning that he did it, we all just cracked up, we all doubled over in laughter. The moment is sweet, because you know, we're in this together, and I understand that I'm white and you're not. And actually, that's pretty funny [chuckle] because then you can go on with a sense of equal standing in the world. I remember another time an aboriginal man, I was trying to learn the...

[foreign language]

BL: Words for certain plants. And I would ask him, and he thought this was hilarious, because my pronunciation was worse than abysmal, and so he began on his own to go to plants and give me the name and then he just watched me try to say it.


AY: That was the best part of his day.

BL: The best part of his day. And also, in some ways, the best part of my day. There's no feeling like being loved for who you are. And in so many of these situations, I don't know, I don't wanna start to cry about it, but I've been in some difficult situations, really bad weather, really, really dangerous sometimes situations. And you get through it and you come out on the other side, and you embrace, and when you embrace, it has to do only with the celebration of the fact that you are alive, and that you care for each other's fate.

AY: Yeah, it brings it down to those basics.

[overlapping conversation]

BL: And it can happen in a split second. I took a trip once from Perth... Or from Sydney to Perth on the Indian Pacific. Train takes three-and-a-half days to get across Australia. And being me, I asked the porter if it was possible for me to ride in the locomotive. I wasn't interested in sitting in my room at... So he said, "Oh no, no, you can't do that." And so, I pressed him a little and he just backed off and he said, "Well, you can ask the engineers." So I got off the train in Sydney and ran up to the locomotive, and asked them, "Can I go with you?" And they said, "Yeah sure we're gonna stop about 15 miles out of town, take on a lot of water, just step out on the platform like you're having a cigarette, or something and just casually walk up to the locomotive and come on up here with us." So most of the way across Australia I was up there in the locomotive with them and it was difficult to interview people over the sound of the engine.

BL: But we just touch each other like this in a moment, we didn't know, we hardly were just on a first name basis because nobody bothered with the surname. And we were enthusiastic about life and somebody who was a total stranger was respecting what they were doing with their lives, running this train. And you could feel yourself expanded into the fullness of yourself and you were encouraging the others to expand into the fullness of yourself, your own passions and desires, and the ideas. So one day, we ran into a rainstorm, a horrific flood of water came out of the sky and the windshield wipers like this on the train were going like this, and it was just solid water, and they've never cleared off the glass. And the storm was short-lived, but I noticed when you looked out the side, you didn't see that much water, you saw the impact of somebody moving at 70 miles an hour, whatever it was.

BL: So the sky cleared, double rainbow came out. And then about a 100 kangaroos came racing alongside the train pounding, pounding, pounding, pounding and all of this light glittering and what was left of little pieces of water and this heartbeat of the rainbows. And we all looked at each other and we had the same emotion, whatever it is we are in the middle of it now. And the involuntary gesture everybody made was to shake hands.


BL: Like we created it but the exchange with other people who... Who have aspirations and have families and worry and become exuberant about some things in their lives, you share that with other people.

AY: And the kangaroos, are such a beautiful part of that scene. I feel like I almost floated.


AY: When that scene came along, I just almost floated up out of my chair.

BL: Me too.

AY: Yeah, I wish I'd been there. You mentioned scary things in the book, scary things that you're facing up to to do with where we are in the world, but also in your travels, there's curiosity all the time throughout the book and throughout all your work, the nature of curiosity. But curiosity doesn't get you too far, without courage. And do you do stuff, you do scary stuff. So you just mentioned the mob of kangaroos. There's one time when you're diving in the Galapagos and you're down about 80 feet and you roll around and you look and 30 feet above you.

BL: Sharks.

AY: You know where I'm going with this.

BL: Yeah. Hammerheads.

AY: Hammerhead, sharks, 60 or 70 hammerhead sharks.

BL: Big ones too.

AY: Big hammerhead sharks.


BL: With a lot of teeth.


AY: Like imagine you're down there 80 feet low and 30 feet above you. This is what you see, but your description of it is so beautiful. It's like you look through them to the surface and they're like, a lattice... So in that moment, are you feeling fear?

BL: No.

AY: No, because you're overwhelmed with...

BL: Because I'm overwhelmed. I remember actually being conscious of this feeling, long time ago in Alaska and Nome group of people from California got off the plane at the Nome Airport and baggy T-shirts and flops.


BL: They bring their California with them. But they were divers from a post-doc program at Moss Landing California, and they were the people who had discovered how grey whales feed on the bottom. And I knew about, read papers about that.

AY: They sort of suck up mud right?

BL: Yeah, they roll on their sides and inhale the bottom and filter it through. So, this mud plume is coming out and they're taking all bivalves, as they go along. So I was there to fly with another group of people from the Navy watching bowhead whales migrate through Bering Strait, and on the Beaufort Sea and so we were out every day dropping microphones through the floor of the plane to listen to bowheads and these big leads and whatnot. So we do that all day long, and then to come back at Nome at night, of course, there was no night it was summer and I got interested in what these guys were doing, and I said, "Can I help? Can I go out with you guys?" "Yeah, sure." So they wanted to find out how walruses feed and so I went out on the research boat with them in the evening, and I really liked them. I liked their attitude and what they were doing in the way of, a 14-year-old boy, I would say like that's really cool.


BL: So, I'd watch them do that. And we struck up a friendship and they said, "You gotta come dive with us, you've gotta come work with us”.

BL: So, I did get certified as a diver and I began diving with them and we saw really magnificent things. But they work every year in Antarctica and they said, "You've gotta come down there's a bunch of tests and a certification process you gotta go through, but come dive with us, there. It's really wild." So I did but the first time, there's a, about a meter-wide hole through two meters of ice, and there's no way out once except there when you come out, and I really was scared, but I knew this, if you do this, you will see something magnificent and then I just got over that hurdle and was staggered by what I saw, by this display of life. There were 100,000 to 150,000 organisms per square meter on the bottom and that I couldn't get enough of it, I couldn't wait to dive again the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day to see life where there's been very little research and to get out, get up on top of the ice and start to take your gear off and meet the eyes of the other person. You don't need to say a thing. Everybody gets, "Wow wasn't that something?" And let's do it again tomorrow.


BL: So I was scared then but...

AY: But it was worth it.

BL: It was worth it. And the thing I've been more afraid of, I guess, in my life than probably anything is, I never wanted to be in big water, offshore 60 foot seas and things. No thanks but...

AY: But you didn't stay on shore, you have?

BL: I did, and I had a friend who said to me that he had crossed the Drake Passage in 60 foot seas, and he said, "I saw the face of God," and I thought, sign me up.


BL: And it did happen that way. I had my oldest daughter with me and virtually everyone on the ship was deathly sea sick, for some reason I didn't get sea sick.

AY: Wow.

BL: And then in the middle of this Beaufort force 11 storm I went out on the fifth deck and we had 50 foot waves breaking over the top of the ship but he was right. And one of the most amazing things about that moment was, I got this death grip on the railing and I'm there with a friend, a famous explorer mountain climber guy and we were right up against the edge bit and we're just burning with enthusiasm for it and not further away than this first row of people were albatross and they were navigating in it. I would think, navigating and they just look at us like, "Hi".


BL: Furious winds blowing, and whatnot they're just riding in and out and watching you in your boat.


AY: Yeah, you bring me to one of my favourite moments in the book. There's a certain bird that you see, you come across in the South African Savannah and it's looking away from you and then it turns to face you. It's a bird with a very evocative name.

BL: Yeah, pale chanting goshawk.

AY:Pale chanting goshawk. And you speak about whenever you feel like you might have to give up, you think about that bird.

BL: I do.

AY: Can you tell us about that?

BL: Yeah, we were camped somewhere and I was walking and we were out there like the end of the auditorium, I saw this bird and it was a stillness against the sky that had the shape that would draw your eye immediately to it. So I put my binoculars on and I knew it was a pale chanting goshawk and it was just sitting there on the tip of this tree and I knew it was hunting and I felt admiration for it and appreciated the uniqueness of its way of life and then I hoped to not... It had its back turn to me and I hoped not to disturb it but to get closer and I got to a certain distance and it turned around and looked at me then it turned back to what it was doing and its left eye had been torn out, had been raked out of its head and it's a bird that needs depth perception in order to hunt and to make its living and for me in that moment it was regal and indifferent but it didn't care about me, I was just something coming along on the ground toward it, it didn't panic, it went back to what was important to it.

BL: And I think part of what happens when you become involved in the non-human world is that it's so metaphorically rich, a bird with no depth of field still hunting with this matted bloody feathers on the side of its face and no eye, it's so metaphorically rich that if you enter that world you automatically think... And how is what I've seen telling me something about myself? And I think traditional people do that without language, without talking about it, just noticing things that are exemplary and represent various kinds of integration in the world.

AY: Not having the compartments in the first place.

BL: Yeah, no silos, yeah, that's a good way to think about it. So there would come moments of despair in my life where I just thought I was too stupid, too tired, too full of despair about the Salon, White House in the States and I would think of that bird and it was like the bird was saying to me, "And, what's your excuse?"


BL: So it really helps me understand why traditional people are always, always watching out there. I was staying in a village one time on St. Lawrence Island with a man and whenever we talked about something we always sat in two chairs at a table next to a window, he was always sitting next to a window always looking, always watching what was happening out there, you're carrying on a conversation but it's always with reference to what is not in your world that the conversation resonates, there's us and then there's all this other stuff. [chuckle]

AY: But, that's the amazing thing about this book is that somehow you write about all this other stuff. [chuckle] I don't know when I've read a book that covers everything so well and this active empathy, imagination, love that you circle back to through the book from so many different directions. The most wonderful thing is that the book is practicing what it preaches throughout so I really... I would just tell everyone, you have to get a copy for everyone you know because it really does show us a world that is worth saving.

BL: It's also a world I think worth living in.

AY: Worth living in.

BL: If you walk down the street here anyone you meet can tell you a story that'll break your heart and you can see the loneliness in people's faces and when I see that loneliness in someone's face, I'm not a doctor but I do have that feeling that right at the beginning of the book, I want everybody to be okay. I don't want anybody to be like me or believe like me or do what I do, who needs that, who needs one more of me but I want them to find what it is that elevates their heart and create an environment in which they can thrive. You know what, in eastern Canadian Arctic the language is called Inuktitut and the word for a storyteller is Isumataq and it means the person who creates the atmosphere in which wisdom reveals itself. So it moves completely away from the importance of the storyteller and settles quietly and strongly on the idea that it's the story and if you can tell a story that helps people understand what they mean by their lives, what they hope to accomplish not a job or something.

BL: I watched a man who was an old classmate of mine two nights ago when I arrived in Toronto, we were gonna have dinner and he said, "Would you mind if I asked my daughter to join us?" And I said, "No, no," and she talked about her... She's an artist and she talked about her work and she got up to use the ladies room at one point and I turned to him and I said, you are not able to understand how happy I am to see what a good dad you are. And that the way an adult takes care of a younger person in so many subtle ways, that's the stuff with which you build not your own ideas and your own program for everybody.

AY: Back to love.

BL: Yeah, it is, that's such an abused word of...

AY: We'll take it back.

BL: But it's the key to everything. It is a declaration of reciprocity as the force that is holding everything together. I love you and coming back reciprocally I love you and this is how I show it or this is why I am having trouble showing it.




Gregory: On the Live Mic episode page,, you will find biographies of featured writers, guests and hosts, as well as links to TPL’s collections or other episode-related materials. For all of TPL’s podcast series go to

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Gregory: Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations is produced by the Toronto Public Library. Episodes are produced by Natalie Kertes. Jorge Amigo, and me, Gregory McCormick. Technical support by Michelle De Marco and George Panayotou. AV support by Jennifer Kasper and Mesfin Bayssassew. And marketing support by Tanya Oleksuik.

Music is by Worst Pop Band Ever also known as WPBE.

I’m Gregory McCormick, Manager of Cultural and Special Event Programming at Toronto Public Library. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for another episode of Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations.