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On December 6, 1989, I was a newlywed, taking a couple of classes, on my way out of organizing on campus for the U of R Women’s Centre and moving into organizing provincially as a Board member for the Sask Action Committee Status of Women. I had attended a few national students’ and women’s conferences and remember feeling energized by the good work we were doing.
What I remember from that day in 1989 is standing on the ugly brown carpet in the living room of our beautiful suite in the Modern Apartment building, holding the handle of our beige rotary dial phone to my head, talking to someone at the campus Women’s Centre on the other end, and inviting the Collective over to talk. Some did, though I’m sorry I don’t remember who. Maybe Angela? Nancy? Heather?
Two years later, my infant daughter had been in my arms for a few months. She’d nursed during Cabinet and Opposition lobby sessions and more than a couple of meetings of feminists. She’d been in my arms as I spoke on behalf of SACSW at news conferences and various events. That year I remember an ache of mother-fear, something I’d never experienced in quite the same way before that day. It crept through me as I wondered what she might face when she attended university.
By 2014 that baby was a young woman studying at uOttawa. Mother-fear again arose in in horrific way during the crisis on Parliament Hill. A lone gunman ran through security. Media reports were sketchy. All I heard was that a gunman was on the loose in Ottawa. Never was I ever so happy to receive her text message informing me that the university was also locked down and she was safe in the library. But we worried about the safety of our friends who worked on the Hill, where she had worked during her first year at university.
This spring, as I mentioned in a previous post, we visited our daughter in Japan. With her and our son, my husband and I travelled to Hiroshima, the city the US bombed on August 6, 1945. When we stood before the A-Bomb Dome, a shell of the building that had once stood there, I literally shook with the horror of what had been done. Later, inside the Peace Memorial Museum I wept quietly as I looked at the many items on exhibit. A child’s partially burnt-out garment ended my time there. I collapsed onto a bench, shaking but trying not to, until I got myself together enough to leave that room for something, anything, else.
Last month the world witnessed the brutality of a militarized police force against a large peaceful gathering of Indigenous people at Standing Rock in North Dakota. That gathering took place because the women of the Sioux Nation, following in the spiritual paths of their ancestors, heard the call to protect the Sacred, to stop the pipeline that risked doing great harm to the water supply for their reservation and millions of others downstream. And, they took a stand. They would protect the water, as they had been taught. Others heard their call, hundreds and thousands more around the globe heard. And responded. Eventually, the Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit the Dakota Access PipeLine required to dig under the river.
I don’t think I have felt the pain of remembering December 6, 1989 so deeply as I did when my daughter was an infant. Until this year, that is. It’s been a shaking, weepy day. It must be a core wounding, I’ve decided, one that will need nurturing for a long time to come. It’s a wounding to the psyche of women in this country, to Canada.
Still, in this moment, feeling as forlorn and grief-stricken as I do, I cannot fathom the great pain and intergenerational trauma experienced by the people of Japan and of Indigenous people of Canada. How can North America live with itself? How can I, knowing what I know, feeling what I feel, live with this?
Thus far, I’ve been able to mourn and cry, write and organize, heal and love. And remember. And tonight I will gather with friends and we will together mourn and remember
Oh, I had a great #summerofwriting! I wrote some, edited a bit, and gardened a lot. Now, the golden-orange, red glory of autumn is here. And, I joined a book club!
The Saskatchewan Writers Guild, in partnership with Knox Metropolitan United Church (Knox Met) in Regina and Turning the Tide Books in Saskatoon, started Unsettling Ideas: A book club. From the Facebook link:
Unsettling Ideas is a book club aimed at creating discourse, generating ideas and raising awareness to the 94 Calls to Action … from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
My kind of club! I hear the Calls to Action (pdf) from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and need to respond and to do so in community. Lasting change happens when more than one person takes it on. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has (attributed to Margaret Mead). Unsettling Ideas is that group. We’ll meet monthly from September to June to discuss a book by an Indigenous writer and hear from a guest speaker who will help the group engage with the work itself, the particular call to action, and broader themes of decolonization and reconciliation.
The response was greater than organizers anticipated, which is a great problem to have so far as problems go, anyway. While they ensured copies of the book were available, planned an event, and worked through the logistics of sharing it out to communities of interest all over the province, we read the September book, The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir (U of R Press, 2014) by Joseph Auguste Merasty, edited by David Carpenter. They chose it to pair with TRC Call to Action #59:
We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.
We met at Noni’s, a cafe in downtown Regina, with a camera feed running through Facebook Live while Jamie Lerat and Sarah Longman delivered their presentation and facilitated discussion afterward. Jamie works as the Strategic Advisor on First Nations and Metis Education at the Saskatchewan School Boards Association and regularly meets with two First Nations Elders. Sarah is an educator working to make the education system accessible and successful for Aboriginal people and she facilitates the Blanket Exercise with students, teachers, principals, and the community. They provided a gentle entry into the book and related it to their lives as Indigenous people. The points I’ve taken away are:
- Residential schools created an intergenerational trauma that’s still being felt today;
- There are historical gaps that experiences such as those described in this book begin to fill and that many people did not learn about during their schooling;
- Some parents may have difficulty with this book being in the schools but an Elder, when asked about it said, “It happened to children;”
- Generations of silence have grown up around the residential school abuses. Many did not \ can not talk about their trauma;
- There is resiliency in a people who have been brainwashed, psychologically, and sexually abused. That resiliency is key to healing.
It was a powerful presentation. And the discussion was very good, but we didn’t have time to really delve into the literary aspects of this book, so I welcome more discussion about that. I’m thinking particularly about “survivor stories” which this book definitely is, but different from Elly Danica’s, Don’t: A Woman’s Word, for example. And I’m thinking about memoir in general and how this book adds so much to that genre but also to our historical record, a much-needed addition.
Thank you, Nickita Longman, Cam Fraser, and Peter Garden, for making this book club happen. Looking forward to the next read.
In the midst of the business of living and writing came an invitation to serve on the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society‘s Writing True 12 Conference Committee. I’d attended three or four previous conferences, loved them, and was happy to help out. Smart decision; it’s been great!
Writing True 12: The Roots of Story, taking place April 21-24, 2016, will be fantastic! Deni Béchard, Elly Danica, Hal Wake, Camilla Gibb, Heather Conn, Wade Davis, James Fell, Lori A. May, Trevor Herriot, Beth Kaplan, and John Barton will all be there. As well, the ever-popular Literary Cabaret (this year with a twist), a Members’ Dinner, and the presentation of the carte blanche/CNFC Award all take place at the Saturday night gala.
Take a look at the conference schedule then go here to register today, February 14, 2016, and take advantage of the earlybird rate which ends at midnight. It is going to be a fantastic extra-long weekend at the Banff Centre in Canada’s glorious Rockies this April. You don’t wanna miss it!
I was a teenager, living on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, when I first had the urge to be a writer. That was a long time ago. The dream never faded. And here I am, a much better writer now, and I’m going back home! On October 17, I’m heading to my hometown, Earl Grey SK, to deliver a day-long workshop on writing.
What’s in a Lifetime? will be an opportunity to explore your life story. What would you like to say about yourself? What are you afraid to say? Are there tales from your past you’d like to tell? Is there something you’d like to leave behind for future generations?
I’ll share writing exercises and memories, joys and sorrows, as well as tricks and techniques for getting started, keeping going, and knowing when to stop.
No previous publication or professional writing experience required. Bring your favourite pen, a sense of humour, and a bagged lunch. For more information or to register, please contact Anne Pennylegion at 306|939|4442 or by email at an.penny[at]sasktel.net.
So much going on! Want everyone around to know about this!
I’d had expectations for my retreat time here at St. Peter’s Abbey, the Benedictine monastery I’ve come to love deeply. I’d expected to get a lot of writing and revising done, to walk and feed the chickadees every day, and to go to Vigils often. But things don’t always happen as you’d planned.
I arrived a couple of days early because it usually takes me that long to settle in. This time was no different so by the time the others arrived on Friday, I was writing. By noon on Saturday I had three new poems in my Poetry 2015 folder — yippee! I was well on my way. And I had hand-fed the chickadees.
Then I received a phone call, well, actually a voice mail, and everything changed. I suppose one should not check one’s phone or email when on retreat. But I do. I did. And I learned that one of my best friends, the woman who stood up for me — my best woman — at our wedding 25 years ago, had lost her mother. Yes, her mother was old. Yes, she had been somewhat ill. But I’d loved and respected her since I was 16 and now, 30-some years later, it’s a significant loss. She was one of the strong women I’d attached myself to over the years. I’d crashed in her house, ate her food, read Shakespeare at her husband’s funeral.
I’d been writing some delicate stuff, going into that deep and dark place that’s often hard to face. I was feeling vulnerable — more vulnerable than usual — and to learn about this, well, it hurt. It brought tears. And it threw me off my writing game for a while. I recovered, however, and started into some revisions. I got into a rhythm and worked through about 50 pages of poetry, admiring some, tweaking some, tossing others and completely rewriting still others. By Tuesday, I had finished that task and was feeling pretty fine. I found some Cathedral Village Arts Festival (CVAF) work which proved to be a great transition into the children’s literature manuscript I also wanted to edit. Another yippee!
And then, Tuesday night, around 11 pm, I learned that a colleague, Michele Sereda, was one of five people who died in an accident on Highway #6, north of Regina. I’d heard about the accident, worried about Jane Munro and Michael Kenyon who were traveling here for a reading that took place today (Wednesday). When they arrived safely my worries turned to people from my hometown and the surrounding communities, people I’d grown up with, family, friends. I’d never expected the deaths to be those of a carful of artists, especially not Michele, with whom I’d been working since June in my role as Chair of the CVAF. I was up til the early hours of the morning, trying to deal with my own shock and grief and the social media aftermath.
Needless to say, today has been a write-off. I didn’t go to the dining hall for breakfast, but at lunchtime, as we were chatting and getting to know each other better, I spoke of my work with the CVAF. That led to the work with Michele which led to the story of the accident and to me rising from the table to run to the bathroom where I wiped my tears and recomposed myself. The tableful of writers was very forgiving when I returned. They’re typically like that. I’d forgotten.
After lunch I didn’t have a lick of interest in children’s literature so I put on my CVAF hat and wrote a media release expressing the organization’s shock and sadness at the loss of Michele, a Cathedral Village resident, and the others.
I went to Jane’s and Michael’s reading, which was fantastic. But when, at the end, Michael rose to say that he’d forgotten to mention that he wanted to dedicate this reading to that carful of artists because it seemed to him that it was a tragic loss, I burst into tears. It was tragic. It is tragic.
And I’m angry — not at anyone or anything — just that the time I’ve spent here at the Abbey, at this place where I love to write, has been a time of such loss for me. Instead of writing poetry and children’s fiction, I’m writing email messages to colleagues, Facebook posts expressing my grief and condolences, media releases on behalf of organizations, and blogposts that try to make sense of it all.
Maybe that’s the point of all this. There is no sense to be made. It is what it is and it’s not pretty. It’s not what I expected. I assumed things would go a certain way — and if you don’t know what “they say” about the word, “assume,” well, I’m not telling!
This evening was a gift, however. It was a gift of time with old and new friends gathered together, sharing stories and food, talking writing and life, and laughing. Laughing is so important. Both the women I lost this past week had great and contagious laughs. There’s a lesson in there, too, I’m sure.