April 29th, I was out with two very special women, who’ve been at my side and had my back since I was 10 years old.
How fitting that they were the ones to take me to Chapters South Edmonton for a post-dinner rummage around the literary offerings there. Mark Messier’s memoir was prominently displayed in various locales, as were a host of the latest and greatest award-winners, and best-sellers from the top Canadian and US presses.
Eventually, I gave in, and while A was off purchasing a find, I set off with H to see if we could find Humane on the shelves anymore.
Stonehouse, my publisher, is an extremely small, extremely Indie Canadian literary publisher. I am an unagented, extremely Indie author. Humane is my first novel. My stock in trade has long been poetry, along with multimedia, performance based, community engaged projects – as much cross-cultural education as creative writing. Not the sort of work that puts you in the Best Seller Zone.
So, when we found a copy of Humane, there among the general Literature offerings, I got a little misty, remembering H through the years, her firm little voice at my shoulder saying ‘I believe in you,’ a refrain that can change anyone’s life if we listen to it.
So, there. I was a mite be-puffed, to be able to show proof that her faith in me was not entirely misplaced.
And then as we walked back to the front, we found the Top Canadian Book Picks table. Mark Messier’s memoir, of course, along with Jody Wilson-Raybould’s, and several offerings from the usual suspects. And Humane!
Sure, I posed for a goofy photo. It’s Ham Over Tears.
I grew up on a tiny subsistence farm, daughter of peasants and Indians. My Polish maternal grandma never went to school, and lived 101 years as an illiterate peasant. She never learned English – too busy working to feed 9 children, and also, in that isolated time and place, nobody thought it important to teach her. She could make herself understood if she absolutely had to, but she lived a life whose compass fills me with both awe and sorrow. Her husband had been tutored for 3 years in a rural version of the Flying University My mother shared how she helped him as he laboured through English-language newspapers, teaching himself to read. Mom tutored various kids in their one-room schoolhouse. She went to high school as a boarder at a Catholic Girls’ School, then to business college.
My dad dropped out of Grade 8. Not because he lacked love of learning. He was an Ojibwe kid whose Mi’gmaq dad died young, who bounced between the Catholic and Protestant Day Schools on the Reserve, as his mother bounced between being counted as an Ojibwe or a Non-Status Indian, depending on to whom she was married after Grandpa died.
For Dad, going further in school would have meant going to a Residential School. The same in theory as my mom’s experience, but a world away in terms of intent and outcomes. Instead, my dad walked into the bush with his dog at the age of 12, found his uncles’ logging camp, and hired on. When the truant officers came looking, the uncles sent them packing.
My older sister was the first Indigenous graduate from our high school. I may have been the second one, two years later, though I can’t swear to it – but the point is, nearly all the Indigenous kids in our community dropped out, including the brother between us.
The road from there to here is long and winding.
I publish this post with a bit of reluctance, because I’m not sure my point will be clear. Yes, I’m proud of myself. Yes, I’m proud of my publisher. Yes, it matters to say that I came up a long, challenging road. And to add that I’m still on that journey, with a long long way to go.
But here’s my point:
What I’ve learned is that the world is full of stories, and of people struggling to live those stories through to good ends. What makes the difference is the voice at your shoulder saying ‘I believe in you,’ reminding you that you are born for a purpose. What matters is to remember to be that voice in your turn, every chance you get.
I’m looking forward to reading Mark Messier’s memoir. I’m going to guess it will be full of thanks given to everyone who built his road with that voice. And Jody Wilson-Raybould? I don’t have to guess, I know, she is a servant-leader in the traditions of her chiefly family, and those traditions survive because of the power of that voice. It is a voice that is personal, inter-personal, and also connected to the Divine.
I believe in you, says God (by whatever name you call deity), and we come to life. And we spend our lives declaring in word and deed what we believe in, too. It’s beyond astonishing how wondrous is our world. Within that, being an author is a pretty small part to play; but for all the friends and family who have lifted their voice to me over the long years, to say they believe I am that, I am happy to play that part. I hope that it serves, in some small way, to give back that same voice.
I believe in you. I believe in life. I believe it’s all sacred. I believe I want more coffee now. Don’t get me started writing out the wonders that unfold when we meditate upon the gift and glory of that humble and prosperous bean! Homage will be paid in a cup.
All my relations.