From Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson:
“Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the text? The photographer frames the shot; writers frame their world. Mrs. Winterson [the author's adoptive mother] objected to what I had put in, but it seemed to me that what I had left out was the story’s silent twin. There are so many things that we can’t say, because they are too painful. We hope that the things we can say will soothe the rest, or appease it in some way. Stories are compensatory. The world is unfair, unjust, unknowable, out of control. When we tell a story we exercise control, but in such a way as to leave a gap, an opening. It is a version, but never the final one. And perhaps we hope that the silences will be heard by someone else, and the story can continue, can be retold. When we write we offer the silence as much as the story. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken. Mrs. Winterson would have preferred it if I had been silent.
Do you remember the story of Philomel who is raped and then has her tongue ripped out by the rapist so that she can never tell? I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words. I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.”
Your Pages …
1. Jot down the titles of books or poems you’ve read that allowed you to “get your language back through the language of others.”
2. Who is your “Mrs. Winterson”? (Or perhaps you have several, living or not, real or not.) How will you write what you are compelled to, despite what you perceive to be another’s desire for you to remain silent? Write a never-to-be-sent letter to that person, expressing your feelings.
3. What “silence” would you want readers to hear, and understand, in one of the many stories of your life? Write that story now.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
CATHERINE GRAHAM is the author of four critically acclaimed poetry collections: The Watch, and the poetry trilogy Pupa, The Red Element, and Winterkill. Her work has appeared in The Malahat Review, Descant Magazine, Poetry Ireland Review, The New Quarterly, Joyland, Literary Review of Canada, and The Fiddlehead. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Lancaster University (U.K.) and in addition to mentoring privately she teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and the Haliburton School of the Arts. Catherine was judge for the 2012 Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest and will mentor the winners. Her next collection will appear in fall 2013 with Wolsak & Wynn. Visit www.catherinegraham.com
Seven Treasures from my life:
Thursday, October 4th, 2012
You’ll find links to previous guest posts in this series here.
MEGHAN LATTA studied art at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she pursues writing and illustration in her spare time.
I buy interview clothes and wear them all day as I walk across Dublin, the cobbles of Temple Bar slowing my step. After dropping off resumés and wandering the streets looking for Help Wanted signs, I sit in coffee shops for hours. I sit and draw faces over and over, thinking about love and distance.
I go to the gallery and think about being deliberate, about choosing one thing over all others, committed enough that the bare bulbs above your head don’t matter. I see the artist’s studio meticulously reconstructed and glassed off like a zoo habitat. An exotic animal.
As I walk back to the flat, the rain starts suddenly, and then all the air is grey with it and everyone moves faster on the sidewalks, or crowds under overhangs, looking, turning, hands in pockets.
From my window later I watch the birds wheeling and wheeling over the city rooftops. The window mostly looks out at a wall and the low cigarette-and water-filled rooftop of another flat. Then I lie in bed and look through the small gap in the curtains hoping to see anything else. I would like the flowers (the tiny red roses and green leaves) to leak from my shirt and cover the land.
The shirt finally becomes unwearable many months later; in a hotel bathroom in France I hear it rip for the second time. I take it off, and hover over the garbage holding it, looking at the rose pattern that was a strange kind of comfort in the cold and colourlessness of Dublin.
I don’t keep much; on this trip especially I have gotten good at throwing things to the wind. I tear the fabric more, separating off a small square that I pack away in the bottom of my bag.
I have many sweaters to ward off the constant cold of Ireland. One of them I wear because it reflects my mood. The rearing red animals. In a row, mouths open, front legs flailing. Roaring on the deep blue wool background. A heart is like a cricket trapped in a sweater (I’ve said this before).
I talk to friends on Skype and they keep asking, “Why don’t you just leave?” And I explain again about my stolen passport, my wish to find a job, in spite of the warning of the border guard when I entered this country — less a warning than a puzzled laugh — “You want work … here?”
In the meantime I have chewed all my fingernails off.
He was reading Margaret Atwood in one of the coffee shops I spent far too much time in, and later, while we were walking, he asked me what I would do to the Millennium Spire — that needle to the sky in the middle of Dublin. I said, “Put a giant disco ball on the tip and shine a laser at it.”
I told myself, I will not pull on the threads of your sweater. I will not tie you to me.
The cowardly lion stutters, C-c-courage.
I was only going to draw his mouth, and the rest of the face followed. The lines have their own logic. To draw someone is to follow the curve of their lips and the angle of their nose, and this closeness is a dangerous thing. If you draw them you are doomed. You are doomed anyway. If you have no photographs, you find proxies.
I want to tell him about Canada: the jesus ducks, the ice coating the inside of the bus window, the way flax looks like a sky. The blithe white butterflies, the exorcism in falling rain in her backyard, the deer twitching in the twilight fields, their tails a bright flag. His sweater reveals the thinness of his arms; we could be a white-on-white painting.
The red of my hair out-brights my shirt. I feel a flashpoint, the animals on my sweater too loud.
I hold up the eye, a pendant without a chain.
Dublin seems like a bad dream, the wasted nights spent unrestful, running many miles to nowhere in sleep, and now, sitting on a terrace, the ocean just there, everything made of the same pale stone. The green light of the beer bottle spills across the page.
The only real souvenir I buy is from Malta, in a shop at the end of a line of white stone leading from the seaside temples to the Blue Grotto. The Grotto is a cleft in the Maltese shore where the beating water has formed an underwater cave, and the tourists go there now in boats and stare up at a cathedral of hollowed stone. Disappearing into blue. The myth of paradise.
There are saints by all the doors. My shadow lies over the ocean and the worn stone pier. Spirit eyes stare from the ships in the harbour, vivid against the water. If I had a god, I would find it here; if I had a lover, I would take him to this place; if I had an army, we would rest here and let our horses drink.
I am like a scarf loosed on the wind. Oporto, Portugal. Finally I have found the warm sun. Walking the surf’s edge, my feet in the cold water, I feel the sun burning my chest, the wind tangling my hair. I smell the saltfish and burning sugar, gaze out at blue on blue, then down at my own white flesh on the sand, thinking of the white-on-white painting we never made.
The nuns blown onto the shore like seabirds. The old men playing cards with stones to weigh them down. My feet follow the tide line, in and out of the water, stepping over jellyfish fragments. The eye around my neck stares out at the ocean, as it is meant to, its eyelids ridged with diamonds; it knows not to blink. The ocean stares back and cannot blink either.
I take one white stone from the beach and put it in my pocket.
In a restaurant in Florence, Italy, the cook and I watch Mr. Bean on the television. He looks up often from the pasta carbonara he is preparing to watch. The comedy needs no words, and the cook and I have very few words between us.
A man behind me, maybe the owner, asks me if I am English, which I take to mean English speaking, and I say, “Yes, how did you know?”
“Your shoes, they are very English.”
I laugh and say I bought them in Ireland, so yes, they are “English,” and how well he knows shoes.
Ireland is still cold and wet when I return after four and a half months travelling. Though it is not true that there are no trees in Dublin — as someone once told me — their leaves are small and faint.
Once again clouds hang over the city. I collect my suitcase, stored at the home of a distant friend of a friend, and take the bus back from a neighbourhood filled with children, big brick houses and stained glass. As I look back, the god rays are shooting out over the top of the cloud. In the distance, veiled and almost erased, are the two small-breasted mountains. Beside the road the sandpipers peck and bob along the tide flats.
I don’t have many clothes here, I tossed most of them along the way, and so I buy a light seasonal cardigan. I like the stripes; they are coloured like America, blue and white shot through with bands of red.
I have written him an email saying I am only in town for a few days and then I am returning to Canada. I walk into the restaurant of a fancy hotel downtown and he walks in too, and he could not see my face because of the umbrella pulled down so low against the torrents of rain, but he says that in the lobby he recognized my shoes.
We sit together wrapped in my coat that smells of fire. He says something about finding a loose thread on my cardigan and pulling until it was gone. Sometimes things do happen this way, from the page to his mouth.
The Dublin terminal looks like science fiction. The tiles shiny and sparkling, the shoes of the guards as they pass just as polished, moving black. He makes a few jokes so I won’t cry, and we sit shoulder to shoulder, waiting.
I run the gauntlet, buy chocolate bars we don’t have in Canada from the vending machines, drop my passport and don’t notice until a stranger hands it to me, and then stare out the airport window at the field of roads leading to no place, hearing my own accent for what feels like the first time out of the mouths of others.
When I make myself look back at the gate, he is gone, and a nun’s head glares at me over a low wall.
I get on a plane.
I can’t tell how much time has passed, now that I am moving back through it from the future, following the sun circuit over the earth. In the plane the electronic map shows us where we are, and how cold the air is.
Note from Allyson: Meghan is my niece and also the artist who created the painting from which I chose the detail in my website banner — of a little girl in a garden. The little girl is me, and Meghan’s painting is of a photograph she liked that was taken years ago in the backyard of my childhood home. Hanging now in my dining room, her painting is one of my treasures.
Next in the series: watch for author Diane Schoemperlen’s “Seven Treasures.”
Thursday, August 9th, 2012
Guest post by Kyo Maclear
I thought … last night, something very profound about the synthesis of my being: how only writing composes it: how nothing makes a whole unless I am writing …
In 1941, on this day, March 28, Virginia Woolf put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, and walked into the River Ouse near her home and drowned herself. The rest is history.
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
Guest post by Robin Hemley
“Immersion writing engages the writer in the here and now in a journalistic sense, shaping and creating a story happening in the present while unabashedly lugging along all that baggage that makes up the writer’s personality: his or her memories, culture, and opinions.” — from A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel
I’ve published several different types of nonfiction over my career: travel writing, investigative journalism, and a memoir about the life of my sister Nola, a diagnosed schizophrenic. But in 2006, I had the idea to write a more active kind of memoir, with a storyline that hinged not only on the past but also on the present.
Saturday, March 24th, 2012
Announcement by Arleigh Fanning
Kory Shillam has always been a writer. Daughter of William Albert Tutte, the front page editor of the Vancouver Sun during the Second World War, she came by her love of the written word honestly. As one of her six daughters, I have many memories of my mum taking courses and sitting at her desk writing stories.
In addition to crafting wonderful tales for children, and poetry and articles for magazines, she wrote two books on our family history based on twenty years of research. People Like Us Are We, a history of my father’s family, goes all the way back to the 1600s. I remember searching for her one day while she was at work on one of these histories, calling to her and hearing from the depths of the basement, “I’m down here with the dead!” — followed by laughter. Our family has been blessed with the legacy of these two books. I hug myself every time I pick one of them up to read a date, a name or an event about which I wouldn’t otherwise have known.
Monday, February 13th, 2012