No Masterpiece: On Finding One Drum

Here’s the essay i wrote for Edmonton Arts Council’s 2015 Annual Report (pg. 11).

Lots of other good stuff in this issue, too.

But as for my piece, it took a while to know what to write. After all, it turns out (a little to my surprise) that my practice could be accurately described as Community Arts. I’ve run an Aboriginal theatre company (Big Sky, 1998-2001), a Writers’ Circle for adult literacy students (The Learning Centre, 2009-14), and various workshops, collaborative multi-disciplinary projects, and so on. My main project as Edmonton Poet Laureate (2011-13) was a Public Art Installation  The PoemCatcher

All those adventures, all the successes and failures, highs and lows; times i wondered what the hell i’d gotten into, choosing an artist’s life. Big Sky was a huge teacher. I’d just come home from BC, working three jobs there – for the En’owkin Centre, Kweensq’n Rainbow Productions, and the Penticton Indian Band School. I was tired.  But i wanted to produce a little show i’d drafted while in BC, that didn’t fit with all the work i was doing there. So, i let a pal talk me into writing a grant to start a company.

Three years of mad adventures later, my elder sister became terminally ill, and i took her home to the country to die. The company died, too, and i didn’t mourn it then. Didn’t want to work arts anymore at that point, despite having a show in production for Fringe Theatre Adventures school touring program. Thankfully, i was only the writer, not vital to their process once they had a script and songs in hand.

I cast about for something useful to do. Saw a job as a ‘Community Animator,’ and thought, why not me? So, i spent a year and a bit facilitating little health promotion projects – Tai Chi Dance for moms, community garden plots, Literacy classes for Dinka folks newly arrived from the Sudanese wars – and found what i was looking for, a way to contextualize my loss and grief, through witnessing the resilience and struggle of others.

Eventually, i was ready for Arts work, and it found me. The Edmonton Arts Council recruited me to their Board of Directors, opening doors to still more adventures. We went to Korea, and while that didn’t pan out as well as i’d hoped, in terms of establishing an inter-city partnership, it’s still a possibility; and i was personally invited, when the Koreans next visited, to do a residency at their Toji Centre, then freshly endowed.

Guess i’ll open that door again, when the time comes. The time wasn’t then – i had a little kid, and family life and stability were the priority. Yes, stability. I have heard where artists are meant to eschew that, but myself, I believe that’s what we all want; we just want it in a deep, soulful way. We seek the simplest, rock-steady truths, and that’s what guided my thinking when i finally chose my essay material. In all my years, i never saw it better put than in David Thiaw’s drum lesson.

We all seek the One Drum.


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