Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: memoir workshop (page 2 of 6)

The Maritime homing beacon

Scott's Bay, Nova Scotia.

Me being silly at Scott’s Bay, Nova Scotia. (the bay is actually the Minas Basin but it’s still salt water.)

“What is it with you Maritimers?” asked a friend born and raised in Calgary. “You always want to go home.”

Home.

Home, to Maritimers, can be Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island. Three provinces with proud distinctions on their own, but together, together they are a tight-knit community unfurled on the Atlantic ocean. When we were born, somehow, a bit of that ocean must have leaked into our veins. Made us salt brothers and sisters with the sea: a life-long bond.

Today I live in Calgary. The city has grown on me like a callous forming on the palms of my hands after hard work. Life is fast-paced and the way of the West comes with cowboy boots and big trucks. I love how the land lies flat before rising into gargantuan mountains. The Rockies are a spiked forest, an insurmountable ridge that wraps its protective arms around the Calgary.

The Rockies are brown in the summer. In the fall, while leaves are changing colour, I can see the tips of the mountains slowly turn white. It’s still winter up there today while the city gets a peek at warm weather.

Other than summer and winter, the mountains never seem to change. Unlike the ocean. Which changes with our every breath and sigh. Oh to be on the water on a calm, clear morning. Flat, motionless and still. Look down and what might you see? Fish perhaps. Seaweed for sure. And you. Your reflection staring back from the depths.

When the wind finally stirs the Atlantic in the afternoon, it will smear your image on the waves. The water will bounce you on its knee and send messages to lap up against your boat. It will also rock you to sleep if you let it.

Mount Yamnuska.

View from Mount Yamnuska.

Sometimes the waves thrash instead of dance and the sea boils and froths into a fierce monster. That’s when the ocean makes you forget that it loves you. It makes you frightened and scared and fearful. Because this sea has great power — tremendous power. Enough force to take you prisoner and smother you with its affection. You are angry and it is angry and you’d better leave it alone lest you get caught up in the bitter blue. Just for now. You can return later.

Alberta is being rocked right now by tough economic times. Maritimers know all about this. That’s why we headed west in the first place, when Calgary was the land of opportunity. A lot of us are still here today despite the change in fortune. We’re staying and mucking in while the goings aren’t so good. My Maritime roots will always be tugging me eastward, towards the ocean. But for now, my home is Alberta.

Festival Time

It’s April and the month full of festival events for This is My City Calgary (TMC). TMC has music, theatre, visual arts and stories for you to experience.

TMC is a volunteer-run, non-profit society that brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status. The festival is made up of different events taking place around the city. It’s a great opportunity for Calgarians to take a look and have listen at some of the projects from citizens we usually don’t hear or see. Click on the image below for the schedule. Come join us! This is our city.

2016_home_page_festival_marquee

A Heart for Kristy

Leaf in shape of heart.When meeting Kristy Thackeray, the first thing you’ll notice is her big smile. The second thing is how friendly she is to everyone: she really cares about people. Kristy was a participant in one of my Chinook Learning Services memoir writing classes last fall and she went out of her way to comfort those who got teary-eyed while sharing their life stories. It was only when she began to share her own writing that I realized how much this woman has been through. It is truly unbelievable what Kristy has experienced and yet she still manages to be a positive and empathetic person. She is putting her life story into a book, which I have the honour of editing. Here is Kristy in her own words introducing her memoir.

My book chronicles my journey of requiring a heart transplant. May 25, 1996 I was granted a wish from the Children’s wish foundation – to meet country superstar Reba McEntire. My family and I arrive in Texas and the unthinkable happens: A heart has been found. My family and I need to get back to Edmonton, AB – NOW!

While I am receiving a life-saving heart transplant, another family is dealing with the loss of a loved one: a daughter, sister, cousin, niece and friend. I received Dawn Marie Tremblay’s heart on May 26, 1996 (Dawn’s birthday). It would take some years for our families to meet. But meet we did, five years later when I became pregnant with twins at 19 (Dawn talked about having twins!)

It was a miracle and I was the first heart transplant patient to deliver twins. Two years after the Miracle Twins were born, one of my girls developed symptoms that were concerning. Tests confirmed my worst fear – my daughter had the same rare heart disease and required a heart transplant. Twelve years later, my daughter is doing amazing! I think about her donor family every day and I wish so badly I could meet them.

In my book, I share my discouragements and small victories along with insight into a world that is filled with medical tests, terms and equipment. When my memoir is available for purchase, I hope you will get yourself a copy. This book is for anyone who wants to laugh and cry as I share my journey of having a heart transplant; because that is truly when my life began.

Amazingly my donor family has also contributed to the book and shared their experiences of losing their daughter and the process of organ donation.

If you would like more information about my book please visit my Facebook page. Also share with your friends.

Some of the proceeds from my book will be used to develop a support program for Donor families. Something that is really needed in Alberta!

Playing with words

Pasting words.

Patricia Lortie, a visual artist, pastes words from her negative story, into her happy story.

We all have stories in our lives that we wish we could change. A new workshop by This is My City Calgary (TMC) gives participants the chance to do that with Write /Rewrite: a do-over.

TMC is a non-profit organization that puts artist-mentors together with marginalized people. I volunteer as a memoir writer and Patricia Lortie is a visual artist volunteer. Patricia came up with the Write/Rewrite idea after reading her grandmother’s memoirs that were full of tales of woe. Instead of leaving the sentences to fester, Patricia took her grandmother’s words and rearranged them into a positive story.

This past January, Patricia and I held four sessions of the Write /Rewrite class at the CommunityWise Resource Centre. We had a group of women from all walks of life participating in the workshops. They each wrote a memoir about a sad or tough period in their lives and then took words out of the negative story, to re-write it into something positive and powerful. Non-fiction to fiction.

Next came the visual aspect. Everyone cut out words from their sad stories to be pasted into the happy stories. The negative memoirs had so many holes in them, none could be read. The positive stories were whole and could be shared with everyone.

So if you’ve ever had an experience that you wished had gone differently or think, “Why didn’t I do this or do that?” give yourself a write over.

 

Floppy disc discovery

floppy disc.

Floppy disc driving at the Calgary Public Library.

While home for the holidays in Nova Scotia, I found a treasure trove: some old, old floppy discs. Not those round ones that look like records but the hard square ones. I brought them back to Calgary and wondered how to get the data off them. Who has a computer with a floppy disc drive anymore? The Calgary Public Library.

I went to the third floor and asked for a floppy disc drive and plugged it into a port. Then I popped the first disc into the drive and it spat and whirred like an ancient engine being turned on for the first time in 100 years. The noise was loud and I was hoping no one was going to “Shhhs” me. It is a library. You’re supposed to be quiet.

I found a lot of photos I had scanned and put on disc in 2003. I also uncovered stories and homework assignments I had written at Ryerson University in 2006. The following is a piece I wrote when I lived in residence only steps away from the core of Toronto. I had a room (that I called The Coffin because it was tiny) in a four bedroom apartment. Each unit in Pitman was designed the same way. I had three roommates (women) and we lived on a co-ed floor. Here’s a vignette from 20 years ago. (Really?)

Noise. A man’s laugh is projected from one bedroom. Haunting pagan music follows from another. The sounds mix and float out of the hallway, pooling in the living room. Sarah and De sit in a circle amidst it, making their own noises.

Sarah’s arm drags across paper. Making a swishing sound as she writes. Bright purple socks sticking out of brown cords and pushed into brown boots is Sarah. De’s making clicking sounds. She’s an interior design student and she’s crouched on the floor and tediously gluing tiny, straight sticks together to make a giant octahedron. Click. She’s gluing the sticks into triangles. Click. She’s building the complex design slowly in case it collapses. De has one leg tucked under her. It’s as if she is trying to create the same symmetry in her design. Sarah walks over to help. Swish. Her cords make a rough noise like her arm on the paper. She sits the same way as De.

Pitman Hall.

Common room at Pitman Hall.

Two shadows are thrown over De and Sarah. The white wall outlines a couple. Two people in a slow dance. The shadows move together and then apart.

Swish. John comes out of the shadows. He’s carrying a plant. “Look,” he says, “it’s real.”

He gives the plant to Maura, who has also come out of the shadows. Bang. John slams the door. Maura takes a seat beside Sarah.

The room fills up with chatter. Talking, talking and talking. The conversation is light and easy. Meringue on lemon pie. Chitchat about classes and octahedrons. Nattering about New York and Chicago. Dirty dishes.

“There is no volume to it.” De mutters to her creation.

Crack. Maura’s knees break as she bends to show De pictures. Her knees sound like octahedron sticks snapping half. But De keeps going with the glue gun. “Psst,” it says. The glue gun wants to tell a secret.

“Psst, come here.”

Rustling paper. Sarah returns her focus to her writing. Maura looks out the window. Not much talk now. A few expletives from the glue gun lady. Maybe she’ll shoot someone. Psst, psst and pssssstttt!

Then smooth silence. A few strains of music escape from the room down the hall. Phone rings. Thud. Everyone jumps up. Pattering feet. Who’s it for? The circle is broken. Everyone has left and so must I.

Heart of the matter

ebook cover.

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.”

Remembering our veterans

HMCS Calgary.

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.

Common people

Family_Lines_peopleThere’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, Ontario.

Burlington, Ontario.

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.

Storrytime in Ontario

Airplane wing.One of my memoir client’s lives in Ontario and I’m going to visit her this week. We’re working on finishing her two books. She has lots of interesting and fascinating stories, photos and documents and I can’t wait to put the books together and publish them for her family.

See you when I return.

Giving back

detail-pen-photography-Favim.com-5198291Capital 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.

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