The Human Library

Today I was a “book” at the Bi Arts Festival’s Human Library. The title of my book was, “Being the Elephant in the Room: My Life as a Fat Woman”. Having never done this before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The experience was unbelievable and will stay with me for a long time.

Three different people signed me out. Each was genuine in their desire to broaden their world view. One person wanted some insight to improve his relationship with a friend. One person queried about the similarities between aging and being fat in our society. One person was recovering from an eating disorder. Each conversation was honest, heartfelt and transformative – both for the participant and for me. I felt like I was present and available for each conversation in a way that I haven’t felt since I was a psychotherapist in training.

One participant asked if my title was the title of a book. “It will be”, I responded, realising in that moment that my book now had a name. I explained that I have been working on a memoir with this exact thread. Her face lit up with the type of excitement that can only come when coming across someone who really gets me. That look is what will carry me through all the times that I wonder if anyone really gives a shit about my life and my stories.

I’ll also have this to remind me that my book belongs in a library (merch on the right purchased at the Bi Arts Festival Art & Craft Fair:

What’s in a Name?

When I started reading my work at public readings, I tossed around a bunch of name ideas so that I could maintain boundaries between my lawyer/mother self and my writer self. I ended up settling on “M.K. Shaw”.

I really wanted to like it. When my first publication came out inĀ Through, Not Around, I wanted to experience the thrill of seeing my name in print.

Except that thrill wasn’t there. At least not in the way I expected it to.

And it kept happening. I would see my new abbreviated name on a poster or programme for a reading or an event and it always felt like there was something missing. My writing is intensively personal, and intentionally so. I feel called to write about things that people usually don’t talk about and in doing so, reduce shame and stigma. So much of what I write is about digging underneath the layers and shining light on things that are often shrouded in darkness. And every time, it felt like something was missing when I saw my abbreviated name next to my words.

I’ve long felt that my given name, Marlo, suited me well. it is unusual, easy to get wrong and not to everyone’s tastes. On its face, Marlo does not disclose an obvious gender or ethnic background. It is deceptively simple and it gets the job done. Just like me.

There was a brief period of time in grade 4 when I decided I didn’t like my name and wanted to go by my middle name, Karen. My teacher respected my choice however the change was short-lived when I didn’t respond to my new name being called in class.

So Marlo was back. And not just Marlo Shaw. From that point on, I was Marlo K. Shaw and sometimes when I was being especially cheeky, I was Marlo K. Shaw, Esq. I figured that I was going to be a lawyer eventually. I didn’t know then that the honourific of esquire was not used in Canada.

That is how I feel now. I tried on M.K. Shaw, and it was okay, but not the perfect fit. I am Marlo K. Shaw, mother, lawyer, writer and so much more). I can’t wait to see those words looking back at me on my next publication.