Brand building through storytelling

The glamorous life of an author on the road

Here in Toronto my gardening friends complain that spring has been teasing them. Up north in Sudbury, where a gray crust of snow still covers the frozen earth, people know better than to rush the seasons. So I’ve just learned on my first visit to the Nickel City, where I was speaking and signing copies of My Mother’s Daughter at the annual Celebrate Women fundraiser (all proceeds to scholarships for female students). I asked Carol, the genial volunteer on chauffeur duty when spring comes to Sudbury.”We’ll see flowers in April,” Carol said, “but there’ll be snow under the trees at the bottom of my garden until the end of June.”

In Sudbury it’s a big deal when an author comes to town. I emerged from my speech on leadership to find scores of women lined up at my signing table, some with multiple copies of my book. One woman told me she’d come from the Soo to meet me. Another was playing hooky from her writing group. In any city with pretensions to cultural clout, the readers play it cool unless you’re Bill Clinton or Margaret Atwood. And they wouldn’t dream of thanking you for visiting their city. You’re damn lucky to be there, the thinking seems to be—especially in Vancouver, where they like to lord it over those of us who have neither mountains nor an ocean. In Sudbury woman after woman exclaimed, “We’re so delighted you’ve come!”

I’ve never been treated to a warmer welcome. After signing books until my hand ached (we sold around 150 copies), I was asked if I’d like company for breakfast. How could I refuse? Next question: did I like blueberry pancakes? I could practically taste them, fluffy and hot from the griddle. That settled it. Nancy, the second volunteer in my retinue, announced that we’d be going to Pat’s Place.

I was picturing a down-home cafe with gingham curtains, wise-cracking waitresses and a sign on the wall that says, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.” Lo and behold, I was whisked to the dining room table of Nancy’s friend Pat, who’d just whipped up a batch of blueberry muffins and was ready to start on the pancakes. We ate them drizzled with maple syrup from Nancy’s property on Manitoulin Island. I missed Pat’s blueberry pancakes this morning before my dance class, but thanks to Nancy, I did have a souvenir bottle of Manitoulin syrup for my yogurt and muesli.

That’s not all Nancy gave me. She also shared a story about leadership, as I’d done at the podium the night before. My point was that women underestimate their power to lead, when in fact we show leadership every day as mothers, friends, community builders and teachers. If you’ve ever inspired another person to change her life, then make no mistake: you are a leader. Which brings me to Nancy’s story, from her teaching days at a local college.

Nancy taught a number of women with abusive husbands or boyfriends. Once she was about to give an exam when a flustered student told her she wouldn’t be able to write it. “I couldn’t study,” the young woman explained. “My boyfriend hid my notes.”

Nancy looked her in the eye and demanded, “Are you going to let the bugger win?”

“You swore!” said the student.

Damn right she had, said Nancy—or words to that effect. She reminded her student, “You’re smart. You’re capable. You’re ready to take this exam.”

The student aced her exam, no surprise to Nancy. So what became of her, I asked. Said Nancy, “I have no idea.”

Well, I have a pretty good notion. I’m betting Nancy’s student is telling that story today, passing on the gift of leadership.

 

Posted by Rona

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