Cover by Eveline Kolijn.
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.
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.
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.
There’s a theory that we’re connected to every single person in the world through six degrees of separation. That is, we all have someone in common everywhere and anywhere we go: a friend of a friend of friend of a friend… It’s a small world after all as I rediscovered during a recent trip to see a client in Burlington, Ont.
My client has a German background and we’ve been working on her stories about living in Hamburg and growing up during the Second World War. She came to Canada with her husband for work years later and her three children were born and raised in Burlington. I met my client through her daughter, who is a good friend of mine. We met in Vernon, B.C.
I went to Ontario two weeks ago to finish my client’s story. We were looking for photos to add to her memoirs and I was flipping through the pages of an old album when a picture caught my eye. I thought I recognised the people in it: a friend and her family. It was them.
I’m from Nova Scotia and met my friend playing floor hockey in Grade Six. We were opponents and my friend high-sticked me in the mouth. And I had braces. There was some blood shed on the Port Williams Elementary School gym floor and despite this, we became friends and stayed friends. I visited her in Montreal and Germany and went to her wedding in the States. She came to my wedding a few years ago. So what ties me, my friend and my client together?
Burlington. It’s the common denominator. My friend is of German background and when her parents lived in Burlington, they made friends with my client. When I went to Burlington, I saw the photos. It was a random discovery but a cool one. It certainly made the world feel a lot smaller.
Do you have a six degrees of separation story? Tell me about it.
Aug. 22, 2015. Chester Lake trail – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park – Kananaskis Country.
It’s still August but that doesn’t mean it won’t snow in Alberta. Here’s proof that the dog days of summer in the mountains can be white and cold. At least the sun is shining and the lake hasn’t frozen over…yet.
Whatever the weather, it’s not time to reminisce about another season passing. It’s not time to move on to making autumn memories. No. The calendar says summer and darn it, I’m going to enjoy every last drop of it. Even if those drops come in a frozen form usually found in winter. Summer snow makes a cool story anyway for those of you sweltering in the heat.
Capital Ideas Calgary asked businesses: “How does your business give back to the community?”
Here’s my answer published in the Calgary Herald on July 23, 2015: http://bit.ly/1MaJcig
How does your business give back to the community?
Everyone has a story but not everyone has the chance to share his or her stories. This especially true of people living on the streets or dealing with addictions. As the owner of a writing business, I’ve been giving back to the community by teaching memoir writing workshops at homeless shelters and detox centres.
I’ve been volunteering through a Calgary organization called This is My City (TMC) for a few years. TMC brings art and people together no matter what their social status. In my workshop, Write YOUR Story, participants learn to tell their tales in their own words. They can write happy stories or sad stories or scary stories or inspirational stories. Positive or negative, these anecdotes give a voice to people whose words might never be heard.
Stuart McLean was telling stories about singing songs yesterday. The Vinyl Cafe was all about using your voice to carry a tune and carry a tale. Something many of my friends can do. Not me.
I like music. I was in band in school. I was in choir too and I also took piano lessons for many years. Now a days I listen to songs on the internet or through my mobile. I almost never hum along. I don’t like singing. Except, I just remembered, around a campfire.
I was a Brownie and a Girl Guide and a Pathfinder and a Ranger. Camping is a big part of the Guiding movement and I went every summer to live outdoors for a week. After sun soaked days of hiking or sailing or jumping off the dock into the lake, we sat in a circle singing campfire songs. Songs written years before we were born. Songs that wove stories of tragedy like the Titanic into melodies. We sung the words without sadness. Because we were young and the worst thing to happen that day was a wasp sting.
My favourite song to sing around the flames is Barges. It’s a simple composition with lyrics about ocean-going vessels bringing treasures from one part of the world to the other. There are even pirates fighting in the midst of the score. Barges is a song that harmonizes music with a good story. Any voice can carry this tune and every imagination can take to the seas when singing this story under a starry night.
Listen to Barges: http://bit.ly/1LaqVCt
I instruct writing workshops and one thing I teach is a story has to have a beginning, middle and end. An easy way to accomplish this in a piece is to remember to use the three o’s: objective, obstacle and outcome.
To get the point across I split a class into groups of three. Then I have everyone write an objective (beginning) and pass their paper on to the next person. That person then has to add the tale and write the obstacle (middle) of the first person’s story. After he or she is finished, they pass the story on to the next person, who concludes the story with the outcome.
The end result is usually a pretty cool story: even though it’s been written by three people. But the point is not to write a masterpiece but to show how easy it is to craft a story when there’s structure. Some amazing tales have come out of this exercise. Here is one:
Oct. 23 2013
It was supposed to be a nice day and he hoped the sun would keep shining. He had a ring in his pocket and a proposal on his mind. He loved his girl and it was time to make her his wife.
The only problem was she lived in Toronto and he lived in Calgary. Neither of them had enough money to visit each other in person, even though we were able to converse over e-mail. The man had heard that sometimes web dating didn’t work out because a lovely woman could turn out to be a burly guy. But in his heart, he knew his situation was different.
“That’s it!” he said to himself. “I have to get to Toronto. Nothing will stand in my way.”
He took the ring and pawned it. With the money from the trade he bought a ticket to Toronto. If she loves him as much as he loves her, she won’t care that he don’t have the bling.
How do I use technology for my business’ advantage?
Find out here: http://bit.ly/1F9WR2E.