Those voices in the night

Pictou Advocate sports

You may know of Lesley Choyce. He’s a very good writer in my opinion, an author of many books, a publisher, who lives on a hill overlooking Lawrencetown Beach a few kilometres outside Dartmouth. It’s a perfect location because he’s also a guy who loves surfing, and there’s no better place to surf in Nova Scotia.

He has also been writing frequently for The Chronicle Herald. You may have seen his byline many Mondays in the paper’s tabloid, The Nova Scotian. Oh yes, he’s also a professor at Dalhousie University. A busy man, for sure.

I mention him because, last week, he wrote about a matter that I’m often asked about by readers: Where do I get all the ideas to write columns, week after week, year after year?

I usually shrug, then reply that subjects just come to me.

I understand why people ask the question. I keep an index of my columns and, since 1998, I have written 679 columns for The Chronicle Herald, 418 for The Evening News, 114 news columns for the Advocate, and this is my 678th sports column in the Advocate. That’s 1,889 columns, representing almost two million words.

I guess it shows I have always liked statistics ever since a teacher took me aside and taught me speed math.

Well, it looks like Lesley may have hit the nail squarely on the head – or on his computer keys. At least he has me thinking along lines that I’ve wondered about for a long time.

His article appeared under the heading, “Motivation may live in subconscious state.” A subhead added :”Finding inspiration from the inside.”

Is that why I sometimes talk to myself?

Choyce wrote: “Many of us writers of novels, poetry and creative non-fiction are asked where we get our ideas.”

I’m listening, Lesley.

His followup comment said: “Many of us just listen to the voices in our heads. Yes, there are voices. And sometimes there are visions.”

Sound weird? I don’t think so.

I often listen to voices, especially when I’m lying in bed in the middle of the night, sleepless and having a lot of difficulty drifting off in the darkness.

My wife passed away two and a half years ago. In the first months of being alone, I often wondered what I could do in her memory.

One night I went to bed, the subject not even on my mind. The next morning, I awoke and the plans were laid out in my head. I knew what I was going to do.

During the night, something convinced me to write a book, a book of memoirs of my newspaper career. I would dedicate the book to my wife and donate the proceeds to Woodlawn United Church in her memory.

That day, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

I mentioned it to a couple family members, I talked about it with a friend or two, I discussed it with a former colleague at the Herald, and I checked with two authors I know well. Every one of them thought it was a wonderful idea.

I admitted to myself, for the first time, that I really had been paying attention to voices like the ones Lesley Choyce wrote about.

Fifteen months later, I had self-published my book, I’ve Lived My Dream, had gotten it printed by a firm in Quebec, and it all became a reality.

That’s not all.

Even when book sales did better than expected, I had no thoughts whatsoever of publishing a second book. Why would I? My memoirs were already in print.

Then, back in February, I was having another of those sleepless nights. My two dogs at the foot of the bed were sound, one of them uttering a few low snores. But I was once again lying there, wide awake, watching the minutes click by on my bedside radio while soft music from Seaside FM flowed through my brain.

I began to drift off, and an unplanned vision began to unfold. Now I realize it may have been the voices Lesley Choyce wrote about. When I got up in the morning, I couldn’t wait to tell folks I was going to write another book, this one about my memories of my Pictou County hometown. It was already in my mind how I would go about it.

For a month now, I’ve been producing the early chapters, as I indicated in my column earlier this month.

Obviously, those inspirational voices weren’t falling on deaf ears.

Right now, I have a confession: Having such ideas bouncing around in my head in the middle of the night isn’t something new. I’ve often gotten column subjects that way.

Something else. I’ve often derived ideas while talking to myself. I’ve admitted – only to myself – that I have those dialogues from time to time. No more talking to myself, though. I now talk to my little furry friends instead.

There’s another interesting point in Lesley’s article.

“You may prefer to think of your subconscious mind as your imagination,” he wrote. “I think of imagination as part of the deeper well of the subconscious. Maybe when you were a child you were accused of having ‘too much imagination’ and so you toned it down. You said goodbye to imaginary playmates, stopped seeing ghosts and witches.

“And then you grew up and got a proper job and set your imagination aside as something childish and impractical. Maybe it is time to bring it back into play. And ‘play’ is certainly the operative word for it.”

After reading Lesley’s comments, I read them a second time. I think he has something there. Maybe, if I were younger, I’d be anxious to attend his lectures at Dal.

Meantime, I’ll keep listening to the voices in the night and hope more column ideas are forthcoming.

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Hugh Townsend
A New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for more than 60 years.