Friday, July 8, 2011

Men We Admire: Hubert O'Hearn

When I met Hubert O'Hearn, I was just a pup coming up in the arts sector in Thunder Bay. Hubert had the role of antagonist in a cheesy melodrama production I had the dubious honour of directing music for. One thing about a man who knows his craft; whether as an actor or as a writer; is he knows when the upstart who "outranks" him in production needs a subtle nudge in the right direction, and when to stand back and let the upstart's training speak for itself. When a master ends up working for a student, the master's strength shows in his ability to let the student work confidently.

Of course, being a writer, Hubert's interview took on a prose of its own. So I left it. The answers are all here.

Name: Hubert O’Hearn
Age: 53
Occupation: Writer
Relationship status: Engaged/Common-Law Spouse to Kimberly McInnis
For how long?: 6 years
Kids: Two Step-children: Amanda age 22 and Bradley age 15
Pets: Stella Belle - 2 year old border collie (some Labrador was involved with a grandparent, but that’s a family scandal we don’t discuss much in public)
Car(s): Are fine things. I prefer cycling for exercise, or buses as it is much easier to read while riding rather than driving. Grateful pedestrians endorse this decision.
Gadgets: I’m getting less gadget-y ever since I awoke to people’s bizarre obsession with smartphones. My cell phone died last week and I’m seriously thinking of NOT replacing it. Two reasons: One, I’m not a big fan of brain tumors and the warnings about cell phones in 2011 remind me of cigarette warnings from 1948. Everybody laughs them off now.... Second reason: I hate phone conversations at the best of times, with the exception of friends who live in distant places. And with them even, it makes more sense to arrange a mutually convenient time.
Stats: 6’2” 173 lbs., eyes blue, hair hanging (and I do mean hanging, we’re getting to WWE length) in there nicely
Favourite instruments: I sing with words, baby.
Sports: The aforementioned bicycling. When I finally get time to do nothing, I’ll define nothing as golf and fishing.

Writing was a hobby for me, a nice little earner, a side order of chips to whatever the catch of the day happened to be. I’d first realized I was potentially reasonably good at it all the way back in elementary school. We had these ‘Spellers’ - skinny hard-covered textbooks where each week there was a list of 20 words running down the left-side column of the left-hand page. I’m pretty sure we had these from Grade Two through Grade Seven, possibly Grade Eight. There was always the weekly assignment of writing a short essay using as many of these ‘new words’ as possible within it.
They weren’t new words to me. Our family home had a small library in it, plus bookshelves holding up the walls in the living room and all the bedrooms. I liked to dip in and no one, least of all my mother, ever told me a book was ‘too old’ for me. (That, by the way, was a lesson I brought with me when I directed Children’s Theatre for 4 years in the 1990s and a one year comeback in 2006 - the people who most under-sell children’s abilities to learn great things in huge gulps are their parents.) Anyway, I’d been through mist of Dickens, Hemingway and - in a mighty feat one summer - The Brothers Karamazov by the age of 11. So to find the words ‘suspense’ or ‘indigo’ halfway down the Speller list was no purple-shaded mystery at all.
The challenge was to make these essays interesting. So I turned them ino little one-person plays: mimicking in dialogue Jimmy Cagney, Dean Martin, Humphrey Bogart (I still do an absolute killer Bogart) and whomever else was starring on The Tonight Show that week. The other kids in the class would clamour for me to read these essays and the teachers at St. Mary’s School (since turned into a classroom for hair designers) learned to hold me back for last, or near to last as they must have worried that my ego would burst out of proper Catholic confinement like a baby peacock kicking out of its shell.
So I was good and I knew it. High school was the triumph of style over research. I freely admit this; as the statute of limitations has to have run out by now and regardless I ain’t giving back my Grade 13 diploma. I recall a Grade 12 English class where we were to analyze a Canadian poet - except for Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen at that time in the mid-70s this was the literary equivalent of a Soviet hard labour camp - and I wrote, and got away with, a very nice essay examining the literary merits of Muhammad Ali, who I falsely claimed had been born on a train outside of Oshawa which gave the great heavyweight dual citizenship. 
Did I say high school was the triumph of style? Sorry, I meant bullshit.
Writing though remained a hobby for 25 years. I didn’t want to ‘be a writer’. Or I did and I didn’t. My father had been a  newspaper columnist for 30 years and Dad was a terminal Irish alcoholic. I did NOT want to look in the mirror one day and see his face smiling back. Granted, he was brilliant, but I was fearful of his weaving path.
I stumbled into ‘proper writing’ when I was close to 40. I’d been doing theatre in Thunder Bay - first with Cambrian Players and then with my own Actors Repertory Theatre (ART) when Cambrian and I had a mutual hissy fit. The Chronicle-Journal needed an arts reviewer and I waved my hand and got the freelance gig.
Now at heart, I’ve always said that I am a sportswriter. Sports lays open the whole gamut of passion, adventure, drama, humour and fantasy. When i was assigned to write the weekly golf column around 2000, I had an absolute hoot with it. From there, the C-J asked me to write a weekly TV column and the rest is history - from that end of it. 
But, as to the present, two things changed my world. First, on February 7, 2010 my darling fiancee Kimberly fell to the kitchen floor before my eyes with a burst brain aneurysm. As of this writing, her physical health is pretty good - however she has no short-term memory. None. You could tell her God’s middle name in one second and she will absolutely know it, until a butterfly flaps its wings and then the memory is gone.
I’d started reviewing books for the C-J at the prompting of Elle Andra-Warner just a month or two previously. Through endless weeks, first in Toronto then in Thunder Bay, I quite literally had no other recreation than reading books on teh streetcar or bus, then writing up the reviews on a $300 used laptop I’d picked up on Queen Street East. That started my habit of reading three books a week and writing up the two best. (Except in the rarest of circumstances - when a fraud is being foisted on the public - I won’t do a negative review. Why waste people’s time?)
But then, in February of this year, a true angel appeared in my life. Make no mistake, I adore Kimberly and she is the love of my life and the joy of my heart. But my recent run of success - I am not going to call it luck; I’ve worked way too hard for this - I owe it all to Lydia Cornell.
Lydia starred on Too Close for Comfort in the 80s. While Twittering one day I ran across a tweet of her that had been retweeted and I thought she’d be an interesting interview subject. Well, several hundred emails later, she has become my closest friend and confidant, my inspiration, the person who pulled me out of a depression that I didn’t even know I was in until I came out the other side and looked back. 
Lydia taught - or reminded me - to believe in myself, to act with love, and to always give. The story is way too long to encapsulate here - I could do a book on Lydia and if she doesn’t get hers out on the market soon, I may have to. But the long and the short is that I learnt to let go of fear.
So where am I now? Just since STARTING TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS, my marketplace has expanded from Hooterville (pardon me, I mean Dogpatch, er, Thunder Bay - I hate Thunder Bay with a passion, in case you couldn’t tell. That too may be a book, but Sibclair lewis already wrote Main Street, so the material is covered there) to San Francisco, Sacramento, Denver, Winnipeg, an on-line literary review and another large US market about to be announced.
I am planning the Sheer Boredom Tour of Western Canada and the Western US for winter 2012, plus I have received in the last week an invitation to guest lecture at the University of Wolverhampton a year from this fall. From nowhere to everywhere in the space of a month. can’t all be for me. First it is for Kimberly - when/if...let’s say when...she recovers she has quite a life ahead of her. But even more important, thanks to Lydia and her personal example of giving to others first, I want whatever influence I have to be for good. My plan is for the Tour to be in support of libraries. When interviewers start to ask me what I think of things other than hot new novels, I want to urge a message of peace and dialogue. I want to ‘get people over’ who are great writers not yet noticed.
And I intend to have one Hell of a good time doing it.

Visit Hubert O'Hearn's Blog


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