Transcript: Straddling Worlds Apart | Jul 12, 2017

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses and a black blazer over a pink shirt, as well as a silver pendant necklace.

A caption on screen reads "Straddling worlds apart. Nam Kiwanuka, @namshine, @theagenda."

Nam says FEELING AT HOME IN ONE CULTURE
AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 21ST
CENTURY IS DIFFICULT, IMAGINE
BEING AT HOME IN TWO.
AND THAT JUST SCRATCHES THE
SURFACE FOR ANTANAS SILEIKA,
AUTHOR OF SEVERAL BOOKS, HE'S
CONSIDERED SOMETHING OF A
CULTURAL ROCK STAR IN LITHUANIA.
BUT HE'S ACTUALLY BORN AND
RAISED RIGHT HERE IN CANADA,
A SON OF LITHUANIAN REFUGEES,
AND UNTIL RECENTLY HE WAS THE
DIRECTOR OF THE HUMBER SCHOOL OF
WRITERS.
HE TELLS HIS TALE OF CULTURAL
AGILITY, AND MUCH MORE IN HIS MOST RECENT BOOK
THE BAREFOOT BINGO CALLER: A MEMOIR...

A picture of the book appears briefly on screen. The cover is beige, red and green, with a picture of a toy plane.

Nam continues AND IT BRINGS HIM
TO OUR STUDIO TONIGHT.

Antanas is in his late fifties, with short, side-parted white hair and a trimmed beard. He's wearing glasses, a black suit, and a gray shirt.

Nam says WELCOME.

Antanas says HI, NICE TO BE HERE.

NAM SAYS WELL, THE TITLE OF YOUR
BOOK IS QUITE
INTERESTING... OBVIOUSLY I KNOW
WHAT IT MEANS...

Antanas says RIGHT...

Nam says BUT FOR OUR VIEWERS, GIVE US
AN IDEA OF WHAT IT REFERS TO.

Antanas says IT'S A LIFE-LONG PROBLEM, IT
RUNS THROUGH THE BOOK TO A
CERTAIN EXTENT, THERE'S
ENDLESSLY TRYING TO FIT IN AND
FINDING A PROBLEM, SO I WAS
GOING TO A BOOZE CAN...

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says BOOZE CAN... AFTER-HOURS CLUB...


The caption changes to "Antanas Sileika. Author, 'The barefoot bingo caller.'"

Antanas says BACK IN THE DAYS WHEN THE BARS
CLOSED AT ONE.
YOU HAD TO WALK BEHIND A
WAREHOUSE, THERE'D BE IN THE
DARKNESS A GUY SMOKING A
CIGARETTE, AND HE'D LOOK AT YOU.
AND WHEN HE LOOKED AT ME... I GOT
BROUGHT THERE BY SOME FRIENDS,
MUCH COOLER FRIENDS...
HE LOOKED AT ME AND HE SAID,
"SHOES, MAN."

NAM SAYS YOU HAD THE WRONG SHOES ON.

Antanas says I HAD HUSH PUPPIES.
NOW, NOTHING IS NOT HIPSTER LIKE
HUSH PUPPIES.

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says AS A MATTER OF FACT, I THINK I
LOOKED LIKE A NARC.
SO WE CAME OUT AND MY FRIEND
SAID TO ME, "LOOK, IF WE WANNA
GET INTO A CLUB YOU'VE GOTTA
LOSE THE SHOES."
NO TIME TO BUY NEW ONES, NO TIME
TO GET NEW ONES, THAT SUMMER I
TOOK THEM OFF AND I WALKED
AROUND BAREFOOT.

Nam says AND NO ONE THOUGHT THAT WAS KIND
OF OUT OF THE ORDINARY?

Antanas says WELL, YOU KNOW, KEEP IN MIND
YOU'RE IN AN AFTER-HOURS CLUB, RIGHT?
SO PEOPLE LOOK AT YOU AS I WALK
IN BAREFOOT, AND THERE WERE SOME
QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS, AND I HAD
A CRUDE TRICK THAT I USED TO
PULL IN THOSE DAYS.
BECAUSE MY FEET WERE TOUGH FROM
THE SUMMERTIME.

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says I COULD BUTT A CIGARETTE WITH MY
BARE FEET.
SO PEOPLE'D LOOK AT YOU AND I'D
JUST A SMALL QUICK CIG,
"WHY ARE MY SHOES OFF?"

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says LOOK AT THIS, YOU THROW THE
CIGARETTE DOWN, YOU BUTT IT WITH
YOUR FOOT... "ANYTHING ELSE YOU
WANT TO KNOW?"

Nam says SO YOU WERE VERY COOL.

Antanas says I WAS TRYING...

[NAM LAUGHS]

Antanas says I WAS TRYING, I COULD CARRY IT
OFF FOR MINUTES AT A TIME.

Nam says BUT YOU ALSO... IN YOUR SPARE TIME
YOU WERE A BINGO CALLER.

Antanas says WELL, A BINGO CALLER... WHAT A
GREAT GIG THAT WAS.
YOU KNOW, I CALL THE BINGO
CALLER, I DON'T KNOW, THE
LOW-LIFE TONY BENNETT, THE LAS
VEGAS... MORE LIKE ATLANTIC CITY,
BECAUSE I WAS ALWAYS IN A HALL...
WITH, OH MY GOD, SOMETIMES
1,500 PEOPLE, OF WHOM 1,450 WERE
SMOKING... ME TOO... AND YOU JUST
ROLL EVERY... EVERY RIGHT OR TEN
NUMBERS... YOU ROLL OFF A
NUMBER... [DEEPER VOICE]:
"UNDER THE B, 6," RIGHT?

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says BECAUSE IT'S A LONG NIGHT, AND
IT WAS VERY EXCITING, I WAS A
STUDENT FOR PART OF THAT TIME...
AND THE MONEY WAS GREAT, I GOT
PAID IN CASH.
SO I HAD ONE OF MY BINGO PATRONS
WON THAT NIGHT AND TOOK ME OUT
FOR A NIGHT OF WONDERMENT.

NAM SAYS A NIGHT YOU WON'T FORGET.

Antanas says RIGHT, EXACTLY.

Nam says WELL, LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR LIFE
AND THIS IDEA OF THE LONGING IN CANADA.
YOU NAME IS ANTANAS, BUT THAT'S
NOT THE NAME YOU GREW UP WITH...
OF COURSE NOT... GROWING UP IN WESTERN ONTARIO.

Antanas says OH NO.

Nam says WHAT NAME DID YOU GROW UP WITH?

The caption changes to "Before multiculturalism."

Antanas says WELL, WE HAD INDOOR NAMES AND
OUTDOOR NAMES.
SO INDOORS WE WERE CALLED ONE
THING... MY BROTHERS AND I...
BUT OUTSIDE THEY WERE ANDY AND
JOE... MY YOUNGER BROTHERS... AND I
WAS TONY.
AND I WAS TONY FOR THE LONGEST
TIME UNTIL ABOUT THE FIRST YEAR
OF UNIVERSITY I HAD THIS... I WAS
SMILING, I HAD THIS KIND OF AN
INSIGHT, AND THE INSIGHT WAS I
WAS CHRISTENED ANTANAS AND I
WILL NEVER ANSWER TO TONY AGAIN.
I WAS TERRIBLE.
FRIENDS SAY, "HEY TONY!"
"THERE IS NO TONY."

NAM laughs and says THERE'S ONLY ANTANAS!

ANTANAS laughs and says RIGHT.
TO THIS DAY IF I HEAR A CALL OF
THAT, IT'S SOMEONE I KNEW IN
HIGH SCHOOL.

Nam says SO DID YOU, LIKE GROWING
UP, WAS THERE LIKE A CULTURAL
SPLIT, THE WAY YOU WERE AT HOME
AND OUTSIDE OF THE HOME?

Antanas says HUGE!
HUGE, HUGE... AT HOME WE DIDN'T
SPEAK ENGLISH.
BUT I WAS A BIG FAN, I GUESS I
WAS AN ANGLOPHILE.
I LOVED EVERYTHING BRITISH.
I LOVED THE BIG MAP... WE NO
LONGER HAD THE BRITISH EMPIRE,
BUT WE HAD THE COMMONWEALTH.
I THOUGHT THE COMMONWEALTH
BELONGED TO ME.
I THOUGHT I WAS ENGLISH.
I WANTED TO BE SHERLOCK HOLMES.
BUT I'M MISTAKEN IN THAT,
BECAUSE I HAD A PAL... VAUGHN
KURGAN... WHEN I THINK ABOUT IT
THE NAME IS ACTUALLY IRISH,
KURGAN... BUT I THOUGHT, HE'S SO
ENGLISH I'D HANG WITH HIM.
AND HIS GRANDMOTHER CAME TO
VISIT, AND I WAS INTRODUCED TO
HER, AND SHE SAID, "PRETTY BOY,
PITY THAT HE'S A FOREIGNER."
AND I WAS LIKE, "AH!"
THERE'S A CLUB... YOU THINK YOU'RE
A MEMBER...
BUT YOU CAN'T BE A MEMBER.

Nam says DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY SHAME
GROWING UP BEING LITHUANIAN?

Antanas says SHAME?
I LIVED IN SHAME... ARE YOU KIDDING?
WE CAME FROM LITHUANIA...
ALONG WITH A LOT OF OTHER
COUNTRIES LIKE THAT, ESTONIA,
LATVIA, LITHUANIA, UKRAINE IS
KIND OF TRUE UP AS WELL.
THEY NO LONGER EXISTED ON THE MAP.
SO, IT WAS TERRIBLE, NOBODY KNEW
WHERE THESE PLACES WHERE.

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Antanas says THEY'D SAY, "WHERE ARE YOU FROM?"
I'D SAY, "LITHUANIA."
AND THEY'D SAY, "WHAT,
LUTHER-ANIA, IS THAT A
RELIGION?"
SO, AND ON TOP OF EVERYTHING...
...THERE'S ALWAYS COMIC MOMENT,
SO IT'S A LITTLE BIT SAD BUT
ALWAYS A LITTLE BIT FUNNY TOO.
SO THEY HAD A BASKETBALL... I
GUESS, A SERIES OF TEAMS THAT
PLAYED EVERY SUNDAY AFTERNOON
AFTER CHURCH, AND I USED TO CALL
IT THE VANISHED NATIONS LEAGUE, RIGHT?

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says ESTONIA, LATVIA, LITHUANIA, AND
UKRAINE... SO YOU'RE FROM NOWHERE.
SO I DESPERATELY WANTED TO BE
SOMEWHERE.
ALTHOUGH I WAS DISAPPOINTED NOT
TO BE BRITISH, IT WASN'T
WOUNDING PARTICULARLY.
IT WAS LIKE, "AH, I CAN'T WIN
PLAYING THIS GAME,
HOW CAN I WIN?"

Nam says BUT AT HOME I'M GUESSING THAT
YOUR PARENTS TRIED TO FOSTER AN
IDENTITY FOR YOU.

Antanas says TO SAY THE VERY LEAST.
FOSTER AN IDENTITY, IT WAS LIKE
A PRISON OF ETHNICITY,
BECAUSE... I'M BORN IN THE '50S
BUT I GREW UP IN THE '60S.
SO IT'S A TIME OF GRANNY
GLASSES, IT'S A TIME... IT'S THE
SUMMER OF LOVE, AND MEANWHILE MY
MOTHER WAS A CHEMIST FOR THE
FEDS, SHE USED TO ANALYZE STREET DRUGS.
SHE TALKED WITH COPS, SHE KNEW
WHAT WAS GOING OUT IN THE STREETS.
SO SHE WAS WATCHING ME, WATCHING
ME FOR LIKE DILATED PUPILS AND SO ON.
ALWAYS... SO IT'S VERY EXCITING
OUTSIDE...
IN THOSE '60S.
I'M A LITTLE YOUNG FOR THEM BUT
STILL I WANT TO BE PART OF IT
BUT I CAN'T BECAUSE I HAVE TO
WEAR A FOLK DANCE COSTUME AND
DANCE LITHUANIAN FOLK DANCES.
WHICH... BY THE WAY... YOU GOT TO
HOLD THE GIRLS A LOT, THAT WAS A
GOOD THING.

[NAM LAUGHS]

Nam says BUT, LIKE, I GUESS LOOKING BACK
IN A WAY... WELL, EVEN JUST
READING YOUR BOOK, YOU KEPT
SAYING THAT YOU WANTED TO ESCAPE.
AS I'M READING IT, FOR ME IT
FELT IDYLLIC, LIKE YOU HAD AN
IDYLLIC HOME LIFE BUT YOU WANTED
TO ESCAPE IT.

Antanas says WELL, YOU KNOW, IDYLLIC IN
RETROSPECT, BUT THERE WERE
CERTAINLY THINGS... I GREW UP IN
WESTERN ONTARIO...
...WHICH IS A LITTLE TOWN ON THE
EDGE OF TORONTO THAT GOT
SWALLOWED, AND IT WAS THE LAND
OF SPORTS AND...

NAM SAYS AND HOCKEY!

Antanas says HOCKEY.
AND I'M THE ONLY KID...
...I PLAYED FOR THE SCHOOL TEAM
FOR FOUR YEARS.
I SCORED ONE GOAL AND IT WAS
DISALLOWED FOR SOME REASON.

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says I THINK I'M THE ONLY ONE WHO'S
NOT A GOALIE WHO GOT A CAREER
SHUTOUT, YOU KNOW?
I MEAN, SO I WAS USELESS AT IT.
SO AT FIRST I'M TRYING TO BECOME
BRITISH, THEN I'M IN THIS
IDYLLIC SUBURB WHERE I'M
PREVENTED FROM JOINING THE
MAINSTREAM...

NAM SAYS FROM BEING CANADIAN.

FROM BEING CANADIAN...
RIGHT?
AND BEING HELD BACK IN VARIOUS,
VARIOUS KINDS OF WAYS, I NEED TO
BREAKOUT IN SOME FASHION.
I NEED TO FIND A PLACE FOR ME.

Nam says YOU WENT TO CATHOLIC SCHOOL.

ANTANAS SAYS I SURE DID.

Nam says AND YOU HAVE RETAINED FOND
MEMORIES OF YOUR CATHOLIC EDUCATION.

Antanas says DO I EVER HAVE FOND MEMORIES.

Nam says WHICH IS SOMETHING OTHER PEOPLE
MIGHT NOT SAY.

Antanas says NO... OF COURSE NOT!

Nam says WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?

Antanas says I LOVE... WELL, IN RETROSPECT I
LOVE THE CEREMONIES.
I RECALL THINGS LIKE... SOME
RELIGIOUS CEREMONY... AND WE'D BE
CARRYING, I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO
CALL IT, A LITTER OF SOME KIND,
WITH A BIT STATUE OF THE VIRGIN
MARY AND THE FOUR BOYS CARRYING
IT AROUND THE HALLS ON THEIR
SHOULDERS.
WE HAD TO GO TO MASS EVERY FIRST
FRIDAY, AND A FRIEND OF MINE AND
I ROLLED DICE ON THE PEWS
BETWEEN US, WE STARTED GAMBLING
DURING MASS.

Nam says IN CHURCH!

ANTANAS SAYS YOU BET.
WELL, IT WAS A NICE
FLAT SPOT THERE, RIGHT?
AND THE NUNS COULDN'T SEE US.
AND THERE ARE ALL KINDS OF FUNNY
THINGS, THINGS LIKE GOING DOWN
TO A STADIUM WHERE THEY HAD A
MASS READING OF THE ROSARY.
AND IT'S A SUNDAY AFTERNOON,
WE'VE ALREADY BEEN TO CHURCH,
IT'S 150 DEGREES... CENTIGRADE...!
...OUTSIDE, AND WE'RE ALL SAYING
THE ROSARY... WHAT WAS THAT FOR?
SO I DISLIKED... I FELT
CONSTRAINED BY THAT TOO IN MY
YOUTH.
BUT NOW, WHERE I AM NOW, I THINK
IT WAS GREAT...

NAM SAYS WHY?

Antanas says I LOVE IT.

Nam says WHY?

ANTANAS SAYS FOR ME, FIRST OF
ALL... [CHUCKLES]... IT WAS
PRIMARILY BOREDOM WHEN YOU'RE
YOUNG.
IN THE OLD DAYS THERE WAS A HIGH
MASS AND A LOW MASS, AND EVEN AS
A KID BEFORE I COULD READ I'D
WALK IN AND SEE SMALL CANDLES
GOOD, BIG CANDLES BAD.
BIG CANDLES MEANT HIGH MASS,
MEANT LONG MASS.
IT WAS FANTASTICALLY BORING TO
ME, BUT NOW... AT THE AGE I'VE
ACHIEVED...

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says SUCH AS IT IS, I OCCASIONALLY
GO TO FUNERALS, NOT MANY OF THEM
LIKE THIS ANY MORE...
...CATHOLIC FUNERALS WHERE
THEY'LL SAY THE ROSARY, AND THE
ROSARY IS REALLY A FORM OF
MEDITATION, SO THE THING THAT
BORED ME TO TEARS IN MY YOUTH
HAS NOW BECOME SOMETHING THAT
PROVOKES A REFLECTIVE MOMENT.
AND THEN FURTHERMORE, YOU KNOW,
ON THE ISSUE OF
RELIGION... COMPLICATED SUBJECT...
BUT, YOU KNOW, I LOOKED UPON
RELIGION AS BEING NDP, IN OTHER
WORDS, SWEET, GOOD, REDISTRIBUTE
OF WEALTH FOR EVERYBODY, BUT AT
THIS POINT I LOOK UPON RELIGION
AS MYSTERIOUS, LIKE STRING
THEORY OR SOMETHING... SOMETHING
YOU CAN'T QUITE FIGURE OUT.
WHO SAYS RELIGION'S GOTTA BE
NICE, MAYBE IT'S NOT.

Nam says WELL YOU WRITE, "EVERYBODY NEEDS
TO ESCAPE THE BOX THAT WE'RE
BORN INTO."
WHAT WERE YOU ESCAPING FROM?

The caption changes to "Escaping the box."

Antanas says WELL, A FEW THINGS.
FIRST THE SMALL TOWN...
...THE ETHNIC BACKGROUND THAT I
HAD, THE SPORTS INABILITIES... I
NEEDED SOMEHOW TO EXIST... AND
THIS INVISIBILITY THAT I LIVED
UNDER, THAT I'VE MENTIONED, MADE
ME FEEL AS IF I DIDN'T EXIST.
I NEEDED SOMEHOW TO PROVE MY
EXISTENCE, AND IN THE EARLY DAYS
OF WRITING IT WAS BY SEEING MY
NAME IN PRINT...
SUDDENLY I'M THERE.

Nam says SO IS THAT WERE YOU FELT LIKE
YOU WOULD BELONG?

Antanas says WELL, THAT I AM... MORE THAN
BELONG...
BE, RIGHT?
I HAVE TO BE SOMEHOW.
THAT ALL OF THOSE THINGS THAT I
ESCAPED FROM IN MY YOUTH
SUDDENLY BECOME DIFFERENT WITH
AGE.
SO THE SOUND OF A LAWNMOWER ON A
SATURDAY MORNING IS A SWEET
SOUND TO ME...
HE SMELL OF CUT GRASS IS A
SWEET SOUND, GOING TO MASS IS NO
PROBLEM... I KIND OF LIKE IT NOW,
RIGHT?
SPORTS, NOT SO MUCH.

Nam says WHEN DID YOU FIGURE OUT THAT
WRITING WAS YOUR REFUGE?

Antanas says WRITING WAS AN OUTGROWTH OF A
NATURAL STORYTELLING TENDENCY WE
HAVE IN OUR FAMILY.
EVERYBODY TOLD STORIES... MY
MOTHER, MY FATHER, WHEN I WAS A
KID WE USED TO DRIVE TO THE
COTTAGE.
MY FATHER WAS CHEAP, SO NO RADIO
IN THE CAR.
WE'D SAY, "WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU
DURING THE WAR?"
AND HE'D TELL THESE STORIES OF
BOMBS, AND THE HORSE PULLING
THEIR WAGON DYING, AND MY MOTHER
DIVING INTO A DITCH AS THEY'RE
BEING STRAFED.
IT'S LIKE, WOW, YOU KNOW, SUCH
BORING PEOPLE, SUCH GOOD STORIES.
BECAUSE PARENTS WERE ALWAYS
BORING, RIGHT?
MY MOTHER HAD A GOOD SENSE OF
HUMOUR AS WELL.
SO ALL OF US WERE STORYTELLERS,
AND EVENTUALLY IT WAS JUST
MOVING THOSE STORIES ONTO THE
PAGE.

Nam says I DON'T WANNA JUMP TOO AHEAD OF
OUR CONVERSATION, BUT LATER ON
YOU FIND OUT... I FOUND IT
INTERESTING THAT THROUGHOUT THE
NOVEL YOU ARE TALKING
ABOUT... YOU'RE LOOKING FOR
STORIES TO TELL, YOU WANT TO
TELL STORIES, AND THEN LATER ON
YOU FIND OUT THAT WITHIN YOUR
OWN FAMILY THERE WERE ALL THESE
STORIES.

Antanas says WELL, RIGHT, THERE'S LIKE
SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET, RIGHT?
SO THERE'S ALL KINDS OF THINGS
ONE DISCOVERS, ESPECIALLY KEEP
IN MIND... THERE'S A WONDERFUL
BOOK BY TIMOTHY SNYDER CALLED
BLOODLANDS,
AND BLOODLANDS THE
LANDS THAT ARE OCCUPIED BY BOTH
THE NAZIS AND THE SOVIETS, SO
THAT'S A VERY DRAMATIC AND VERY
TRAGIC PLACE, IT'S WHERE MOST OF
THE HOLOCAUST HAPPENED.
SO, AS I GO BACK... BECAUSE I DO
MY RESEARCH IN THAT AREA,
PRIMARILY IN LITHUANIA... I
UNCOVER MORE AND MORE STORIES,
MORE AND MORE THINGS THAT NEED
TO BE OPENED UP AND LOOKED AT,
BUT THERE ARE SKELETONS.
SO I DISCOVER, FOR EXAMPLE, IN A
MAGAZINE ARTICLE, MY
FATHER'S... MY DECEASED
FATHER'S... PRISON PHOTO.
I WAS LIKE, "WHAT, PRISON
PHOTO?"
WELL, HE WAS AGITATING AGAINST
THE GOVERNMENT AND HE HAD BEEN
CAUGHT...
...AND IT WAS NOT A DEMOCRATIC
GOVERNMENT, SO HE WAS WITH THE
WRONG PARTY AND HE'S THROWN IN
JAIL.
ON THE FLIP-SIDE ON THAT,
ANOTHER ONE OF MY UNCLES WAS
HIDING...
...A FEW BOYS, JEWISH BOYS, IN
HIS HOUSE.
AND THERE'S ACTUALLY A TERRIBLE
STORY, MY FATHER HAD A TERRIBLE
SENSE OF HUMOUR, AND DURING THE
WAR HE KNOCKED ON MY UNCLE'S
HOUSE WHO WAS HIDING A JEWISH
BOY, AND MY UNCLE CALLED OUT,
"WHO'S AT THE DOOR?"
AND MY FATHER... BIG JOKER... SAYS,
"GESTAPO."
NOT FUNNY, RIGHT?
NOT FUNNY AT ALL.
SO THERE ARE VARIOUS THINGS THAT
ARE BURIED THERE.
I'M NOT SURE I FINISHED THAT
ARCHAEOLOGY YET.

The caption changes to "Living off words and other nourishment."

Nam says AT WHAT POINT DID YOU DECIDE, OR
DID YOU REALIZE, THAT YOU COULD
MAKE A LIVING FROM WRITING NOVELS?

Antanas says WELL, I STILL CAN'T MAKE A
LIVING...

[NAM LAUGHS]

Antanas says WRITING NOVELS, RIGHT?
IT'S LIKE JAZZ MUSIC, RIGHT?
DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB.
SO I STARTED OUT... I WAS A
TEACHER...
...I STARTED OUT AS AN ENGLISH AS
A SECOND LANGUAGE TEACHER, WITH
BRILLIANT LINES TO MY CLASS,
SUCH AS, "IT IS A BOOK, EVERYONE
REPEAT... IT IS A PENCIL, EVERYONE
REPEAT."
SO I WENT FROM THERE AND I
EVOLVED INTO A LITERATURE
TEACHER, AND THEN A CREATIVE
WRITING TEACHER, AND I RAN THE
CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAM.
SO IT TOOK ME A WHILE TO FIND MY
PLACE, BUT I WAS ALWAYS
WRITING... MAGAZINE STORIES, SHORT
STORIES, AND THEN EVENTUALLY
BOOKS TOO.

Nam says AT SOME POINT YOU GO TO PARIS?

Antanas says AH YES.

Nam says HOPING FOR WHAT?

Antanas says WELL, THE GIRL...

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says... PARIS IS ALWAYS ABOUT A GIRL.
SO WHAT HAPPENED WAS THIS, I HAD
NO INTENTION OF GOING TO PARIS,
I HAD THE INTENTION OF GOING TO
AUSTRALIA.
SO UPON GRADUATING FROM
UNIVERSITY I NEEDED TO GET SOME
MONEY, AND I GOT A JOB IN A
PARKING LOT SHACK, TO THE
MORTIFICATION OF MY FATHER WHO
SAID TO HIS FRIENDS, "MY SON
WORKS IN THE ADMIN AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO."
MEANWHILE I'M IN THE PARKING SHACK.

Nam says WELL, YOU ARE IN THE UNIVERSITY.

[LAUGHS]

Antanas says I WAS WORKING... KIND OF.
AND A FRIEND'S SISTER USED TO
WALK BY IN FRONT OF THE SHACK...
...AND I FELL FOR HER AND I FELL
HARD, AND SHE WAS GOING TO PARIS
TO STUDY ART.
AND ONE THING LED TO ANOTHER AND
I FOLLOWED HER, AND YOU KNOW,
ALMOST 40 YEARS LATER I STILL AM.

Nam says AND YOU GOT MARRIED WHILE YOU
WERE THERE?

Antanas says TO THE AMUSEMENT OF OUR FRIENDS...
RIGHT?
BECAUSE IT'S SLIGHTLY BOHO, YOU
KNOW, FROM THAT CROWD IN THEIR
20S IN PARIS, SO AMONG OUR... NOT
SO MUCH THE AMERICANS WHO WERE
THERE... BUT AMONG THE PARISIAN
FRIENDS, WE SAID WE'RE GETTING
MARRIED, AND THEY SAID, "YOU'RE
GETTING MARRIED?"
"IS SHE PREGNANT?"

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says I SAID, "WELL, NO, SHE'S NOT
PREGNANT."
"THEN WHY ARE YOU... " BECAUSE IT
SEEMED OUTRAGEOUS THAT ANYONE...
WOULD WANNA GET MARRIED... IT WAS A BOURGEOIS THING TO DO.

NAM SAYS WHY DID YOU GET MARRIED?

Antanas says WHY NOT?

NAM laughs.

Antanas says WHY NOT... WELL...
NO, NO... LET ME A BIT MORE
SPECIFIC.
SNAIGE... MY WIFE SNAIGE, WHO'S
THE GIRL THAT I CHASED...
...VERY PRETTY, VERY ATTRACTIVE
TO A LOT OF PEOPLE, BY GOD I'VE
GOTTA GET A HOLD OF HER BEFORE
SOMEBODY ELSE DOES.

[NAM LAUGHS]

Antanas says AND MARRIAGE SEEMED A BIT MORE
SECURE, YOU CAN STILL GET OUT OF
THAT...
BUT, YOU KNOW, IT'S A BIT MORE
SECURE.

Nam says SO YOU GOT A BIT OF PUSH BACK
FROM YOUR FRIENDS, BUT WAS THERE
A CONFLICT BETWEEN THINKING OF
YOURSELF AS A WRITER AND BEING A
MARRIED MAN?

Antanas says YOU KNOW, STRANGELY IT
DIDN'T... THERE WAS NO CONFLICT
FOR ME.
PARIS IS WHERE I LEARNED HOW TO
WRITE.
WE WERE AT SHAKESPEARE AND
COMPANY.
WE RAN A LITERARY JOURNAL THERE,
UPSTAIRS, AND WE WERE READING
MANUSCRIPTS, SO THERE WAS AN
APPRENTICESHIP THAT HAPPENED, A
LITERARY APPRENTICESHIP, IN A
BOOKSTORE... LEARNING TO READ,
LEARNING TO TALK ABOUT
LITERATURE.
AND I HAD KIND OF A DRAMATIC
MOMENT THERE, THERE WAS A
JOURNALIST AT THE TIME, BOYD
NEIL, WHO WANTED TO DO AN
ARTICLE ABOUT CANADIAN WRITERS
IN PARIS, 50 YEARS AFTER MORLEY
CALLAGHAN HAD BEEN THERE, AND HE
COULDN'T FIND ANY,
SO HE FOUND ME.
I'D PUBLISHED ONE STORY.
I THOUGHT, "OH MY GOD, ONE
STORY..."

NAM SAYS I MADE IT.

Antanas says YEAH, I MADE IT.

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says JOURNALISTS WANT TO TALK TO ME
ALREADY.
AND THEN HE SAID TO ME, "WHO ARE
YOUR FAVOURITE CANADIAN
WRITERS?"
I'D STUDIED ENGLISH LIT, NOT
CANADIAN LIT.
I BARELY KNEW WHAT TO SAY BEYOND
MARGARET ATWOOD, AND I WAS SO
EMBARRASSED.
SO WHEN I RETURNED TO CANADA
FROM PARIS, THERE USED TO BE A
BOOKSTORE CALLED LONGHOUSE BOOKS
ON YONGE STREET... CANADIAN BOOKS
ONLY.
I BOUGHT 50 CANADIAN LITERARY
JOURNALS.
WE HAD 750 dollars, I SPENT A THIRD OF
THAT ON LITERARY JOURNALS, AND
SPENT ABOUT... OH, I DON'T
KNOW... SIX, EIGHT WEEKS READING
THEM ALL.
BECAUSE I FELT I STILL NEEDED TO
LEARN.
I HAD TO LEARN NOT ONLY HOW TO
WRITE BUT TO LEARN HOW TO WRITE
AND BE IN CANADA.

Nam says YOU MENTIONED YOU WERE A TEACHER.

Antanas says YEAH.

Nam says AND I WAS LAUGHING OUT LOUD
WHILE I READ THAT PASSAGE ABOUT
A STUDENT'S LIKE CLIPPING THEIR
TOENAILS IN YOUR CLASS.
SO THAT BECAME A RULE, LIKE, NO
CLIPPING YOUR TOENAILS IN CLASS.
WHAT OTHER RULES DID YOU HAVE IN
YOUR CLASSROOM?

Antanas says I WAS, YOU KNOW... [CHUCKLING]... AS
THINGS BECAME MORE AND MORE
PERMISSIVE...
THE STUDENTS HAD A SENSE THAT,
UNLESS SOMETHING IS EXPLICITLY
FORBIDDEN IT IS PERMITTED.

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says AND THEY WERE ACTUALLY PERMITTED
TO EAT IN CLASS BY THIS POINT.
BUT I... THESE SALADS THEY GOT,
AND THEY'D TALK OFF THE... CRUNCH,
CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH... OF SARAN
WRAP, SOMEONE ONCE SQUEEZED THE
PACK OF DRESSING, SHOT IT ACROSS
THE ROOM, SO I FORBADE EATING IN
MY CLASS UNLESS YOU'RE
HYPOGLYCAEMIC, OR WORSE, RIGHT?
IN MY CLASS YOU WERE PERMITTED
TO DRINK COFFEE, SPILL IT ON
SOMEONE'S NOTES YOU PAY.

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says YOU CAN EAT A CANDY BUT YOU
CAN'T EAT A LOLLIPOP, BECAUSE
THE STICK GOING UP AND DOWN IN
YOUR MOUTH IS SO DISTRACTING TO
ME.
SO I KEPT ON ADDING RULES...
...BUT ONLY RULES FOR THINGS THAT
HAD ACTUALLY HAPPENED.
SO I NEVER EXPECTED TO HAVE A
RULE "NO TOENAIL CLIPPING IN MY
CLASS," BUT ONE DAY I'M STANDING
THERE AT THE BOARD AND I LOOK,
AND THESE FUNNY LITTLE COLOURED
ARC IS FLYING ACROSS, AND I GO,
"WHAT THE..."
I LOOK DOWN AND A YOUNG WOMAN IN
THE FRONT ROW IS CLIPPING HER
COLOURED... PAINTED... TOENAILS.

[NAM LAUGHS]

Antanas says SO I ADDED TO THE LIST, "NO
CLIPPING OF TOENAILS EITHER."

Nam says WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT TEACHING?

Antanas says IT WAS A LOT OF FUN... THE KIDS,
THEY'RE KIDS AND AS YOU GET
PROGRESSIVELY OLDER...
...SO THE MORE DISTANCE YOU COME
FROM THAT AGE GROUP... THEY TENDED
TO BE BETWEEN 18, 21, 22,
23... FIRST OF ALL, THEY'RE DEMANDING.
I WAS A GRAMMAR TEACHER, I HAD
TO TEACH ABOUT, YOU KNOW,
CLAUSES AND COMMAS...
...AS A MATTER OF FACT, I SAID I
MADE A LIVING ON KNOWING TWO
THINGS, COMMAS AND APOSTROPHES.

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says THAT'S IT, PEOPLE ARE CONFUSED
ABOUT THEM ALWAYS.
BUT THE KIDS WOULD ALWAYS PUSH BACK.
SO YOU'VE GOT TO... SO HOW AM I
GONNA SPEND THREE HOURS WITH 35
20-YEAR-OLDS TALKING ABOUT
COMMAS AND APOSTROPHES?
I'D TELL A STORY, I'D ASK THEM
TO TELL ME A STORY.
WE HAD TO AMUSE ONE ANOTHER, IN
ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
AND IT MADE ME STRETCH... I LIKED
IT, I LIKED IT A LOT.

Nam says MANY OF YOUR STORIES IN YOUR
MEMOIR... [CHUCKLING]... IN ONE WAY
OR ANOTHER INVOLVE FOOD...

Antanas says OH YES.

Nam says DRINK AND CIGARETTES.

Antanas says COMPLETELY.

Nam says NOT IN THAT ORDER
[CHUCKLES]
IS IT YOUR EASTERN EUROPEAN
BACKGROUND THAT'S RESPONSIBLE
FOR YOUR LOVE OF FOOD, DRINK,
AND...

Antanas says YOU KNOW, I'VE BEEN
WONDERING... ...CIGARETTES.
WELL, CIGARETTES, THAT'S ONE... NO
MORE.

[NAM LAUGHS]

Antanas says I STILL LOVE CIGARETTES, BY THE
WAY...

NAM SAYS YEAH...

Antanas says I WALK BEHIND PEOPLE WHO ARE
SMOKING ON THE STREET, I LOVE
THE SMELL OF SECOND-HAND SMOKE.

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Antanas says I WOULD SMOKE IF I COULD BUT,
ALAS, AFTER 35 YEARS OF
CIGARETTE SMOKING, THAT'S ALL
YOUR BODY CAN TAKE, PROBABLY
LESS THAN THAT.
I'VE BEEN WONDERING ABOUT THIS,
FOOD HAS ALWAYS PLAYED A BIG ROLE.
MY MOTHER WOULD CALL ME UP AND
SAY, "HAVE YOU EVER DONE A
FRENCH ICING?"
I SAID, "DO YOU MEAN THE BOILED
ICING, THE EMULSION?"
SHE SAID, "I'M A CHEMIST, I KNOW
WHAT AN EMULSION IS, DON'T
EXPLAIN TO ME."

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Antanas says "HAVE YOU EVER MADE ONE?"
AND I'D SAY, "NO."
"SO COME OVER WE'LL MAKE A
COUPLE OF ICINGS."
SO WE'RE A FOODIE KIND OF
FAMILY, BUT I THINK LIKE A LOT
OF THAT GENERATION... MY PARENTS'
GENERATION... WHICH HAD SUFFERED
LACK OF FOOD DURING THE WAR,
FOOD PLAYED A BIG ROLE FOR THEM.
MY MOTHER ALSO WORKED ALL DAY,
SO ALL THREE SONS WERE EXPECTED
TO COOK DINNER EVERY DAY.
AND WE GOT INTO IT.
I'M INTO IT EVEN NOW.
I MEAN, I READ THE
LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE
TOTALLY, FROM
BEGINNING TO END, BECAUSE IT'S
VERY AMUSING.
IT'S A BIT OF BEING A BON
VIVANT, THERE'S SO MANY GOOD
THINGS IN LIFE, AND FOOD AND
DRINK... ALL WITHIN REASON... ARE
PARTS OF THAT WONDERFUL LIFE.

Nam says YOU WRITE, "SOMETHING ABOUT THE
ROCKY CANADIAN SHIELD BROUGHT
OUT THE CANADIAN IN ME."
IT WASN'T TORONTO WITH ITS
DIVERSITY, IT WASN'T THE
LITERARY SCENE, BUT IT WAS THE
CANADIAN SHIELD.

ANTANAS SAYS YEAH.

Nam says HOW COME?

Antanas says WELL, I'D NEVER BEEN UP
IN... NORTHERN ONTARIO, OF COURSE,
IS THE CANADIAN SHIELD, VERY
ROCKY, AND I DIDN'T SEE IT UNTIL
I WAS ABOUT 15 OR 16 IN SUMMER
CAMP, AND I WAS ASTONISHED, IT'S
LIKE THE FIRST TIME YOU SEE
MOUNTAINS IF YOU HAVEN'T GROWN
UP WITH THEM.
I WAS AMAZED BY THE MASSIVENESS
OF THEM.
AND THEN MY WIFE'S RELATIVES ALL
HAD COTTAGES ON THE CANADIAN
SHIELD, AND I HAD ENVISIONED
MYSELF AS MAYBE A PARISIAN
BOULEVARDIER OR SOMETHING, YOU KNOW.

[NAM CHUCKLES]

The caption changes to "Connect with us: @theagenda, TVO.org, Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, Instagram."

Antanas says I SAID TO MY WIFE, "HOLIDAYS
WILL BE A HOTEL LOBBY,
NEWSPAPERS, ASHTRAYS, BARS."

NAM SAYS SOUNDS PERFECT.

[CHUCKLES]

Antanas says RIGHT, AND SHE SAID, "THE
PERFECT HOLIDAY WILL BE HIKING,
CANOEING, TENTS AND HAVING SEX."

[NAM LAUGHS]

Antanas says BUT SHE WON, AS SHE SO OFTEN
DID... RIGHTLY SO, I GUESS.

Nam says AND YOU GREW TO LOVE IT.

Antanas says GREW IS NOT THE WORD FOR IT.

NAM SAYS OK.

Antanas says THERE'S A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF
PEACE THAT COMES DOWN IN NATURE
IF YOU HAVE THAT THING IN YOU.
AND I CERTAINLY DO, WHERE
SUDDENLY YOU'RE OUT PADDLING AND
EVERYTHING CALMS DOWN,
EVERYTHING SETTLES AND IT'S A
MEDITATIVE KIND OF TRANCE THAT
ONE GOES INTO UP THERE.
WELL, YOU WRITE THAT YOU "WERE
NOT ENTIRELY COMFORTABLE IN THE
COUNTRY OF MY BIRTH." WHICH IS CANADA.

ANTANAS SAYS RIGHT.

Nam says WHAT WAS MISSING?

Antanas says WELL, WHAT WAS MISSING, I GUESS
MY PARENTS' TRAUMA CARRIED OVER
TO MY GENERATION.
SO I LOOK UPON CANADA AS A KIND
OF... I WAS GOING TO SAY DESERT
ISLAND... BUT I GUESS, IDYLLIC
ISLAND, AND THERE ARE SHIPWRECKS
ALL AROUND THE WORLD... ALL THESE
SHIPWRECKS AND ALL THESE PEOPLE
HAVE BEEN WASHED ASHORE... THANK
GOD THEY'RE HERE, IT'S PARADISE.
IT'S PARADISE...
...BUT SOMETHING'S BEEN LOST.
SO BECAUSE MY PARENTS FLED AS
REFUGEES, THEY ALWAYS INSISTED
THAT THIS WAS... WONDERFUL THOUGH
IT MAY BE... THIS IS NOT THE LIFE
WE WERE INTENDED FOR.
BUT THEN THE CHILDREN, THE
GRANDCHILDREN COME, AND THEIR
FIXED HERE.
IN SOME PEOPLE, I THINK I MUST
BE ONE OF THEM, THAT SENSE OF
LOSS LASTS FOR A VERY LONG TIME.
I BEGAN TO TRAVEL TO LITHUANIA
BECAUSE IT'S A DRAMATIC PLACE.
I HAVE ACCESS TO THE HISTORY
THROUGH... BECAUSE I HAVE THE
LANGUAGE... AND I FOUND A STRONG
POOL THERE, AGAIN, THAT
BLOODLANDS TERRITORY, SO MUCH
TRAGEDY IN SORT OF A GROTESQUE
KIND OF HUMOUR, I MEAN, A GUY
TOLD ME A STORY ABOUT HOW HIS
FATHER WAS DEPORTED TO SIBERIA
WITH THE BICYCLE HE WAS
RIDING... THEY LET HIM TAKE HIS
BICYCLE TO SIBERIA.
IT'S VERY STRANGE AND COMPLICATED.
SO THERE'S ALWAYS BEEN A PULL... I
WAS BORN HERE.
THIS SHOULD BE MY NATURAL PLACE,
AND YET THERE'S AN UNEASINESS
THAT MAKES ME MOVE OVER THERE
TOO, AND OF COURSE MY SONS HAVE
SPLIT ME, ONE'S HERE AND ONE'S
THERE NOW.

Nam says WELL, AT SOME POINT AROUND THE
LATE '80S AND '90S YOU BECAME
INVOLVED IN HELPING LITHUANIA'S
LEADERS HOPING FOR
INDEPENDENCE...

Antanas says AH YES.

Nam says TO GAIN HEARINGS IN OTTAWA.
WHAT PUSHED YOU TO EMBRACE YOUR HOMELAND?

The caption changes to "Canada's Mister Lithuania."

Antanas says IT WAS FUNNY, YOU KNOW, THERE
WAS A PIVOTAL MOMENT FOR ME,
THIS BEING 1988 I WAS AT WASAGA
BEACH, UP AT THE COTTAGE.
AND A FRIEND SAYS, "COME HERE, I
WANT TO SHOW YOU A VIDEOTAPE."
AND THE VIDEOTAPE WAS OF A
SMALL DEMONSTRATION IN
LITHUANIA, ABOUT 300 PEOPLE...
...DEMONSTRATING AGAINST THE
SOVIET OCCUPATION OF 50 YEARS EARLIER.
THAT HAD NEVER BEEN PERMITTED
BEFORE, THAT 300 PEOPLE COULD
ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING AND THEN
BE TAPED DOING IT, NO MATTER
WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM LATER.
AND I WALKED OUT ON THE STREET
AND I REALIZED I HAD A
PREMONITION, THE ENTIRE WORLD IS
NOW CHANGING.
I LOOKED AROUND ME, AND YOU HAVE
A SENSE IN LIFE THAT EVERYTHING
WILL BE THE SAME, YOU ASSUME IT
WILL BE THE SAME, BUT I KNEW
SOMETHING WAS HAPPENING.
SO I IMMEDIATELY CALLED UP, ANN
COLLINS WHO WAS AN EDITOR AT
"SOMETHING BIG IS HAPPENING IN
THE SOVIET UNION, I HAVE ACCESS
THROUGH THIS LITTLE CRACK OF
LITHUANIA, I'VE GOTTA GO THERE
WILL YOU SEND ME TO WRITE A
STORY?"
AND SHE DID, SHE HAD ANOTHER
EDITOR, GEORGE GALT, BOTH SENT
ME OFF.
AND I WALKED IN, SUDDENLY IT WAS
LIKE WALKING INTO THE
FRENCH REVOLUTION.
THERE'S AN ELECTRICITY IN THE
AIR, THERE'S THIS GIANT
REPRESSIVE STRUCTURE PRESSING,
AND THEN IN THE INSIDE THERE'S
SOMETHING BUILDING AS WELL
THAT'S GONNA EXPLODE.
AND YOU HAVE THIS SENSE OF
JUSTICE AND INJUSTICE, AND I
THREW MYSELF INTO THAT FIGHT,
NOT AS MUCH AS MANY OTHERS,
WITHIN MY CAPABILITIES,
FUNCTIONING PRIMARILY AS A
JOURNALIST, OR AS A HELPER.

NAM SAYS YOU WERE A TRANSLATOR THOUGH?

Antanas says WELL, A TRANSLATOR...

[NAM LAUGHS]

Antanas says I WAS BRIAN MULRONEY'S
TRANSLATOR TO THE LITHUANIAN
PRESIDENT.
WHICH HAD LED TO A COMIC
MOMENT... EVEN IN THE TRAGEDY,
EVEN ALL THIS FUNNY THING... NOT
FUNNY... BUT DRAMATIC THINGS GOING
ON, EVEN THEN...
THERE'S COMEDY.

Nam says WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL CANADIAN
WHEN YOU ARE IN LITHUANIA?

Antanas says THE EASE OF LIFE IN CANADA IS
QUITE SOMETHING.
WE FORGET HOW GOOD LIFE IS HERE.
PICK SOMETHING UP, BUY
SOMETHING, SELL SOMETHING,
SEE SOMEONE.
OVER IN LITHUANIA, IT'S IN
EUROPE, BUT IN THE POORER PART
OF EUROPE, THEREFORE THINGS COST
MORE, THINGS ARE HARDER TO DO,
THE AVERAGE AGE OF A CAR THERE
IS I THINK 12 OR 13 YEARS, SO
IT'S TOUGHER THERE.
SO HERE IT'S VERY, VERY EASY,
BUT IT'S NOT JUST THAT, I HAVE
TO ADMIT THAT, WHETHER IT BE THE
CANADIAN SHIELD, WHETHER IT BE A
CANOE, ALL THESE ICONIC CANADIAN
THINGS APPEAL TO ME.
ALSO, CANADIAN NEWS... I CAN'T
STAND TRAVELLING THE WORLD
WITHOUT HEARING CANADIAN NEWS.
SO ALL THOSE THINGS MAKE ME FEEL
SUPER CANADIAN.

Nam says ONE OF YOUR SONS WAS A CANADIAN
SOLDIER IN AFGHANISTAN, AND HE
NOW LIVES WITH HIS WIFE AND YOUR
GRANDSON IN LITHUANIA IS HE THE
ULTIMATE EXAMPLE OF BI-CULTURAL IDENTITY?

Antanas says I WONDER WHAT HE'S AN EXAMPLE
OF, BUT I THINK IT'S A THIRD
GENERATION THAT MOVES TO HIS
GRANDPARENTS' COUNTRY...
...AND THEN LEARNS, AND HAS HIS
WIFE LEARN, THE LANGUAGE, AND
HAS A CHILD THERE, SO THE PULL
SOMEHOW SEEMS TO BE STRONG.
CANADA'S SUCH A SAFE HAVEN, SUCH
A WONDERFUL PLACE, AND YET
THERE'S AN ATTRACTION OUTSIDE AS
WELL, AND THEREFORE THERE'S A
TENSION, A PULL THAT GOES ON
FOREVER AND EVER.
NOT FOR HIM SO MUCH.
I THINK HE'S PRETTY CERTAIN
WHERE HE IS.
YOU COULD ARGUE... SOME HAVE SAID
HE'S A ROMANTIC.
HE SAID, "MY GRANDPARENTS WERE
DRIVEN FROM THIS COUNTRY,
IF THEY DRIVE US OUT WE'LL COME BACK."

The caption changes to "Producer: Wodek Szemberg, @wodekszemberg."

Nam says IT'S BEEN SUCH A PLEASURE
SPEAKING TO YOU.
AND LIKE I SAID BEFORE WE
STARTED TAPING, STAND BY ME THE MOVIE...

Antanas says YEAH...

Nam says I SEE THIS, IN A TORONTO
SETTING.

Antanas says THANKS SO MUCH.

Nam says THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING HERE ANTANAS.

Antanas says TAKE CARE.

Watch: Straddling Worlds Apart