Since I don’t see the reporters lining up by the dozen to interview me at the end of the year, I decided to do it myself. And ask myself the questions reporters never ask me.
1. What are you most thankful for as the year draws to a close? The mute button on the TV remote.
2. What are some things you would like to see less of? Green bean casserole with mushroom soup, raccoon eyes on young girls, wrinkled cleavage on old women, low-rider pants on young men and comb-overs on middle-aged. And, oh yes, lengthy election campaigns. I’d like the election to be next week.
3. What fuels you? Gas fuels my car but stimulating conversation or a good book or lecture keeps my inner being primed.
4. What nurtures your spirit? I am strengthened by listening to a well-thought out pastoral prayer, in which the prayer-giver gathers the entire congregation present and absent, in his or her arms, in well-chosen words of praise, petition, and thanksgiving. When I have been in the presence of God Almighty, I don’t need a sermon.
5. Do you have secret fears? I have never lost of my fear of fire, so I rarely burn a candle, any kind, and am tempted togo around blowing out candles in other homes when I am visiting. It stems back to my childhood when I witnessed the burning of an entire block of business buildings, several large grain elevators, some houses, and a lumber yard behind our house at a time when everything was built of wood, and yet had to be heated night and day because of the extreme cold in northern Saskatchewan. As children we were warned about fire constantly and Mother had us place our shoes, side by side, on the rug by our bed ready to jump into in case of fire and we had to jump out the window onto the snow below.
6. What is most surprising to you as you rush towards ninety? Some days I feel amazingly young, and I’m back in my youth, ready to skate with the boys and gossip with the girls. Other days, I am quite ready to start pushing the daisies with my friends who I bury with surprising regularity. I read obituaries always and check ages – how many older than I am, how many younger. With every new twinge, I know I will be gone in a week. With every spurt of energy I am ready to aim for a hundred. Like Woody Allen said, “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
7. What are you most proud of having accomplished last year? I think it was getting a lengthy account of my aunt Aganeta Janzen Block, who spent her entire life in the former Soviet Union and Russia, enduring intense suffering as she and her four children were shipped here and there as political pawns of an unfeeling regime. She suffered 11 years as a slave of the state, always concerned first of all about food for her children. I gave her a legacy. The response has been great. As my niece Nancy wrote, her story puts things in perspective when one is tempted to whine and moan about modern hardships.
8. What is one wish you have for the New Year? To write a perfect sentence, and know it is perfect, and not be tempted to write and rewrite until I end up with something that closely resembles cold mashed potatoes.
9. How did you get started reviewing books? I started reviewing books in 1961-2 when the man assigned to do this task for a denominational organ ran out of time. He brought me a box of books and said, “The job is yours.” Reviewing books forces me to remain a disciplined reader, not just someone who flits through a book and says, “I have read this book.” I read a book for the first time, usually quickly, making notes about key observations and impressions. Then I go over it again, especially sections I have marked. Then I start compiling my thoughts. Then I write, and savor the writing process as I gather thoughts and comments.
10. Who is one writer who influenced you? I would have to mention William Barclay, the devotional writer popular decades ago. I read once that after he had written something he read it to his unschooled servant. If he couldn’t understand the theological jargon, Barclay went back to his desk to rewrite. That has always been my goal – to write in such a way that I will be understood but also that I will have said something significant in an interesting way.