Disappearing into Thin Air

It was late at night, around this time last year, downtown Winnipeg. Just past eight o’clock, I stepped off the 62 bus and out onto Broadway Street.

I was lost and I was late. I broke into a sprint; the Shaw Performing Arts Centre, I thought hurriedly. I know it’s in the Forks. . . I just don’t know where exactly.

The streetlamps flickered as I dashed past. Portage Avenue was empty, the heels of my shoes clapped as I rushed across the street. Who uses crosswalks these days, anyway? I rationalized quickly.

Once I reached the heart of the Forks, I shifted down to a quick walk. Everything looks different at night time; so unwelcoming when you don’t know where you are going, walking seems to take so much time when you are in a rush and your lungs are bleeding. I squinted at the buildings as I passed them by.

Apparently, the festival organizers had prepared for lightheaded arts students like me. When my panicked brain slowed down, I noticed all of the signs. Every few meters, there was a sign exclaiming “THIN AIR WRITING FESTIVAL! FOLLOW ME!”

At quarter after eight, I slipped quietly into the back of the venue, just as the crowd was ushering in its first performer. A woman in a tinfoil dress took the stage. The lights dimmed, she opened her mouth and began to sing. I sat back, closed my eyes and relaxed. Her musical words passed over my brain and I felt all of the tightly wound tension fall away, like a spool of yarn collapsing.

One year later, the Thin Air Writing Festival is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. More than five hundred writers, artists and musicians will be gathering at dozens of different locations across the province. The main stage, located at the elusive Shaw Performing Arts Centre, will be featuring both new and familiar writers. Writers will be popping up at The University of Manitoba, Red River College, the University of Winnipeg, the Millennium Library, and the McNally Robinson bookstore. Following the late night series, the After Words Jazz club finishes the evening with music on Sept.23 and Sept. 24.

Writers will read, poets will perform, musicians will play and the readers will come together to enjoy the show. Thin air pulls us all out of the woodwork of everyday life.

Thin Air runs from September 18-24. So pick up a free program, find a night that you can spare. Hurry off of a bus, dash across our downtown streets and sneak into the back of a darkened auditorium. Listen to the work of some of the best writers around. To borrow the words of Thin Air director, Charlene Diehl, “curl up in our floating chair, dig into a book, disappear into THIN AIR.”