In memory of
J. Michael Fay
December 18, 1945 – June 7, 2020
Early Monday morning, I heard from a friend in Minden that Michael Fay had died the previous day. I knew he had not been well for quite some time, but still … it was a jolt, and I was very sad. So I decided to turn on the most relaxing and soothing programme I know – Bob Chelmick’s The Road Home online at his website. (I’ve written about Bob and this show previously.) It was an entire programme dedicated to the poetry of Rumi, most of which was read by Coleman Barks. Almost immediately after I’d tuned in, Barks began reading the following poem that I had never heard nor read before … and yet it felt as though Michael was speaking to me.
No Room for Form
On the night when you cross the street
From your shop and your house
To the cemetery
You’ll hear me hailing you from inside
The open grave, and you’ll realize
How we’ve always been together.
I am the clear consciousness-core
Of your being, the same in
Ecstasy as in self-hating fatigue.
That night, when you escape your fear of snakebite
And all irritations with the ants, you’ll hear
My familiar voice, see the candle being lit,
Smell the incense, the surprise meal fixed
By the lover inside all your other lovers.
This heart tumult is my signal
to you igniting in the tomb.
So don’t fuss with the shroud
And the graveyard dust.
Those get ripped open and washed away
In the music of our final meeting.
And don’t look for me in human shape,
I am inside your looking. No room
For form with love this strong.
Well, maybe not the “love” part, but certainly “high regard” and mutual understanding and appreciation of written words and publishing … Normally, with anyone else, I would have put this experience of hearing that particular poem at that exact moment down to coincidence. But this was Michael Fay! A man I did not know at all before we met through Facebook in around 2011-12 and who I didn’t meet in person until about a year later. And yet we had many friends in common, plus our paths in life had criss-crossed several times – we discovered we had both lived in Calgary, Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood, and Minden at different periods in our lives, but never at the same time. We became fast friends! Neither our original meeting online nor this poem being read at the moment I needed to hear it were ever mere coincidence!
I met Michael when I was exploring ePublishing as an option for my own writing, and Michael and I began sharing articles about eBooks being considered the perfect platform for longform stories. Michael told me he was reviewing and rewriting a number of stories he’d first written in Banff in the 70s and at other writing conferences, and asked what I thought about publishing them. Thus was born the imprint IslandShorts, and I have Michael to thank for being my inspiration, counselor, sounding board, and critic of everything we did to put this series of eBooks together. (Here’s a more in-depth explanation of the imprint.) I truly could not have accomplished this without Michael Fay!
Michael was also always very quick with the “atta-girl!”s for my own writing. He provided me with a brilliant blurb for the back cover of the first print edition of my novel, Island in the Clouds. He wrote and posted reviews of all my books, provided me with photos of my novel in-and-around Minden, and wrote about me, my connection to Minden and the IslandShorts imprint for the local newspaper, The Minden Times. (See below.) He also heartily supported the three other authors I published through IslandCatEditions: Timothy L. Phillips, Bruce Hunter, and Betty Jane Hegerat.
And, if that were not already enough, Michael and his wife, Fay Martin, always provided me with a bed, plenty of coffee in the morning, and two cats to pat, whenever I visited Minden. Plus, they loved my crazy notion to start up Literary Salons once again by opening their home and inviting friends to a reading and launch of our eBooks we had just published. A truly generous gesture!
So, while Michael Fay may have now left this mortal coil, he will never be forgotten, as he lives on for me through his generosity, kindness, sense of humour, thoughtfulness, and friendship he shared with me, and so many others, throughout his life. And he will be remembered through his fine writing in the number of publications it was my great privilege to help him bring to the attention of readers worldwide! Michael Fay was the first author I promoted in the series Authors-Readers International for good reason … He had entrusted me with his own writing, but he also gave back to me just as much by supporting my own writing and publishing endeavours – and for that I could never have thanked him enough! So I will pay tribute to Michael Fay for the rest of my life, and will continue to promote the man and his work.
And words from a few of Michael’s friends and fellow writers …
Shirley Black (blurb for Michael’s print book, Tenderness and Other Stories): It all started with a small ad in the community newsletter: Writing Lessons, contact Michael Fay, and that is why eight of us were gathered around a large wooden table. We were there to learn W.O. Mitchell’s Freefall method as modified by Michael. Put your pen to paper and write, he told us, don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure or paragraphing – just write. And so we did, memories poured forth, the smell of freshly washed laundry, the sound of a train whistle on a cold winter night. For six days we wrote and on the seventh we rested while Michael studied every single word we had written and picked out the best phrase, sentence or paragraph that he read back in class. With Michael’s gentle encouragement we gained confidence, reality turned into fiction, short stories emerged and we were on our way to becoming writers.
Bruce Hunter: On Sept. 29, 2013, I had the pleasure of reading with Susan Toy and Michael Fay. It was a sunny afternoon at a literary salon hosted by Michael and Fay at their home with their friends from Minden. Although, I’d not known him long, Michael’s grace and generosity of spirit and intellect made every visit special. He was a remarkable and talented gentleman. He is missed by many.
Timothy Phillips: I was very sorry to hear of Michael Fay’s passing. Fay, you wrote “his gift to writing was probably the writers he supported …” Yes, that is true and I was one of those writers he supported. He read my memoir, reviewed it with a true understanding of my journey and endorsed it on the back of my book. As a new writer, he helped give me credibility.
However, he was no slouch when it came to his own writing and I particularly liked his story, Passion, of being called to enter a seminary when quite young and his journey there.
I only met Michael and Fay once at their house in Minden. I drove up from Toronto for the day because they had organised a reading for authors. It sort of reminded me of how the French Salons might have started in 17th and 18th century Paris – an invite to elegance and sophistication and a chance for an author to be heard.
Thank you Michael for all that you have contributed to encourage us all to take risks and put pen to paper. You are missed.
Chad Ingram wrote this about Michael Fay for The Minden Times.
And I was thrilled beyond belief when Michael wrote this article about me and my connection to the town of Minden! My family owned a cottage on a neighbouring lake from the year I was born (1953) until just after Dad died and we decided to sell in 1996.
One last bit to add to this tribute, and that’s a song I know Michael – the political activist part of Michael, that is – would have loved to hear again during these current troubling times …
And to leave you a more positive note, I know Michael would have approved
of this song as well …