No matter who we are, we all want the same things. We all want to be sheltered from the heat and cold, have food to fill our stomachs, and to be loved. In the book, Voices in the Wind, you’ll see this as a common thread. Pick it up and follow it to your heart because some of the people found on the pages lack the basic necessities of life.
The authors of the stories and the creators of the illustrations are Calgarians who participated in workshops with This is My City (TMC). TMC is a non-profit organization that puts artist-mentors together with marginalized people. The contributors to this book come from places like the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, Alpha House, the Women’s Centre of Calgary and Inn From the Cold.
Voices in the Wind is an ebook and free. It’s best downloaded on an iPad, however, you can preview pages by clicking on the preview link at http://bit.ly/1NMC4vH.
Read it the stories. Look at the art. Hear the people as they tell us in their own voices, “it doesn’t matter who we are, or where we are, once we get down to the heart of the matter, we’re all the same.”
STARS celebrated its 30th anniversary recently. I was lucky enough to write a piece on the history of volunteers with the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society. Read the story by clicking on the image to the left or go to the STARS Horizons – 30th anniversary edition, page 16.
He has done it again. Graham Clews released his second book of 2015. The Westlock, AB author is a writing machine and just launched A Slightly Tainted Hero. I’ve started to read this humorous yet philosophical look at an accountant’s late-in-life romp with marriage, money and his 15 minutes of fame. Check it out:
Dave Lockwood is an accountant. He just turned sixty and he’s feeling old–mainly in body rather than mind. Then there’s his office manager, Irene Blanchard. She’s about twenty years younger, about the age Dave’s mind seems to think it is as it valiantly labours to adjust to his ‘maturing’ body. Which is why he unwisely confronts a mugger while escorting Irene to an underground parking lot in downtown Edmonton. Oh and the mugger is armed.
Blind panic follows as shots ring out and somehow Dave becomes an overnight hero. In fact, he’s shocked to find that he’s now a successful, wounded, nationally known hero. But instant fame has its drawbacks as Dave’s past sins slowly emerge from behind a long closed door. Louise, his wife of thirty-six years, is not pleased. Neither, it seems, is anyone else as the fallout spreads: his partners at work, the police, the mugger’s family, and even Dave himself.
This novel takes an often humorous, sometimes thoughtful look at the bittersweet irony when the good things in life turn out, as they often do, to be ‘Slightly Tainted’. Or, as Dave likes to put it: “Every silver lining has a cloud!”
Graham now has seven novels to his name, covering many different subjects and genres. From historical fiction to stories for young adults to political humour, the characters keep forming and jumping from his mind to the page.
HMCS Calgary: Canadian Flower class corvette that was in service in the Second World War. Credit: Museum of Alberta
I’m wary of writing about my memoir writing participants from the Drop-In Centre because they are like you and me. Except these people have been hit a little harder by life and need a helping hand. I’m writing about them now because my writers last week wrote about Remembrance Day and I wanted to share their outlook on the day.
One woman wrote about how Remembrance Day was the only holiday that didn’t need gifts or a large meal, just remembering. She added how glad she is that the poem In Flanders Fields was written by a Canadian, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. She said the sombre yet powerful words can be shared with our U.S. neighbours, not not claimed by them.
Another writer in my class wrote a story about soldiers marching off to war and never coming home. He wrote about how the sacrifice of those in the First World War, Second World War, Korean War and subsequent peacekeeping missions, have made it possible for him to live in a free Canada today.
I looked around at where we were. Our desk was a bulletin board laid on top of a big blue garbage can. It was a makeshift office in a half kitchen, half storage room that smelled of chocolate and disinfectant. The hum of the fridge smoothed out some of the edges cutting in from the DI seniors’ centre: laughing and coughing and blaring TV ads. Despite the invading commotion, there was a peacefulness in our little writing space. Here, we all shared something in common: remembering our veterans.
Note: My memoir writing workshops are organized through This is My City (TMC). TMC brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status. I have been volunteering with TMC for a few years and facilitate four-week, life writing workshops at the Calgary Drop-In Centre and Alpha House.
What do you see sitting in the chair? It’s a ghost writer.
Halloween means it’s time for apparitions to swirl outside or join us in our living rooms. This Victorian ghost writer is hanging out where all the action happens. (In the library of course.)
The author apparition is actually a novelist and biographer from the U.K. Her name is Mrs. Gaskall and she wrote The Old Nurse’s Story, a frightening tale about phantoms and a little girl. Mrs. Gaskall, or Elizabeth, also wrote a biography about Charlotte Brontë. Elizabeth and Charlotte were friends and when Charlotte died, her father asked Elizabeth to write his daughter’s story. The Life of CharlotteBrontë was the first biography of Charlotte and published in 1857.
Elizabeth had other literary friends like Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle. Dickens admired Elizabeth’s novels and had her write stories for his magazine Household Words. Elizabeth championed women in her books and shocked many a Brit with her unconventional ideas about the social mores of the period. She was a humanitarian and saw the rich only getting richer and the poor spiraling further in poverty. Now that’s a real scary story.
By the way, I believe in ghost writers…because I am one. If you have an idea for a book and don’t have time to write it, get in touch with me. I’ll make sure your vision becomes something real.
For an hour a week I write with a man who has Alzheimer’s disease. We write about the yellow leaves that fall on his front lawn. We write about eating Thanksgiving turkey and Brussels sprouts. We write about going for walks with a dog name Bo. We don’t write stories about the man as a young boy or raising his family or his career days. Those memories are locked away in a place where only Alzheimer’s has the key.
From the time we’re born, we start building memories and telling stories from them. When our memories are gone, what happens to us? Are we our memories?
Who am I without my recollection of a life lived? What’s my personality without the anecdotes of where I was born or when I went fishing with my dad and he fell asleep and pushed me into the creek? What would I be like if I didn’t have stories to share with family and friends and strangers? Who would I be?
In the end, I don’t think memory loss diminishes the person. A person is still him or herself despite a lack of reminiscing about the past. They still create moments of joy every day.
I’m sitting in Skoki Lodge reading a book. The lodge itself must hold many, many stories as the log building is over 80 years old. The story I’m reading I found on the Skoki bookshelf and it’s called Every trail has a story: Heritage Travel in Canada by Bob Henderson. One chapter is about women who bucked their traditional roles in the early 1900s and took to the trails. Mary T. S. Schäffer is one of them and she explored the Skoki area as well as other remote Alberta regions.
Mary, a Philadelphia Quaker woman, took on the Rockies on horseback. She photographed and painted the people she met in what remains today, isolated and hard places to get. Some of the art she produced and treasures she bought along the trail are found at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff.
Another hard-core adventurer was Lillian Ailling. Lillian was a Russian woman who came to North America. She didn’t like it here and started walking home to Russia. She hiked from New York to the Yukon in 1927 trying to get home. Once in Dawson, Lillian worked as a server until the spring. That’s when she took a boat she repaired and headed down the Yukon River and out to the Bering Sea. Did she land in Russia? Maybe. One story says she arrived in the fall of 1930. Another says something different.
Australian author Cassandra Pybus tried to trace Lillian’s story to Russia but hit a wall. She later got
help through a man who had once met Lillian. He got in touch with Cassandra and told her Lillian got married and settled in Dawson.
Which ending do you like best?
It thanks to authors like Henderson and Pybus that I even know there was a story, and thus have an ending to choose. Just think of all the people who have done amazing things and we’ll never know about them.