Tell us about yourself.
I love making things, and exploring. I lived in Malawi for six months last year where I worked at a radio station and a newspaper conglomerate—the women’s section of the weekend features paper. I write poems, prose, songs, and journalistic stories. I also facilitate community media and writing groups. I’ve written for OpenFile.ca, Carousel, Herizons, and the Toronto Star’s “Africa Without Maps” blog. I also produce podcasts, currently for Shameless Magazine’s site, as their web producer. I love reading BOOKS, and the place that I get them from almost exclusively is the library, where I go usually about twice a week. I have travelled to over 20 countries on 5ish continents. This winter I’ve been wearing a lot of sweater vests and baking up a storm of alternative desserts!
Tell us about the piece you’ve decided to share.
My mother grew up in the Maritimes, and I spent most of my summers as a child and teen in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. When I was 23, and long out of the habit of migrating east, I started to feel this intense draw back. Something inside of me yelled “Newfoundland! Newfoundland! St. John’s!”—where I’d never been. The feeling was more than magnetic. It tugged me there that summer—which was the happiest time of my life, and then pulled me back after I graduated from university in Toronto, by way of a French program in Trois Pistoles, Quebec. I travelled through the Northern part of the Maritimes in a car with someone I’d never spoken English to, and got onto a plane from Halifax, to finally arrive in the St. John’s airport, where the boy I’d fallen in love with the year before was waiting for me. He drove me to his shared house—a place where there was spray paint all over the walls, and the backdoor was literally never locked. I stayed for a few weeks until we decided to formalize the arrangement, then things got stirred up and we moved somewhere new together.
Our house was owned by a wonderful woman I had befriended at an event put on by the very small St. John’s Jewish community. She’s American and at the time, needed to return to the States for a few months. So she invited me to be the one responsible for turning on her taps and heaters every so often and to make sure her home didn’t fall into ruins over the winter. My partner and I lived there mostly happily, until I decided to return to Toronto, where I missed my world, which is filled with so many people and opportunities that drive me creatively that I just couldn’t make peace with settling so far away from it. He and I are not together anymore, and I’m glad for that now. My poem House-sitting/In Joy Hecht’s Bed is about the texture of our shared life, which felt so special.
For most of the time I lived in St. John’s I was 25. I think that a big slice of what brought me there is that I’d grown up in urban Toronto and needed to know a part of myself that felt unexplored—to learn what it is like to belong to a small community and live in a place with clean air and forests you could walk into from town, in addition to having so many spots to be private with the ocean. I’ve also included a poem about the other Saint John—located in New Brunswick, where my mother grew up. It’s about family and saying goodbye.
When and why did you realize you had a passion for writing?
I’ve always been writing, all my life, every day. Before I knew the alphabet I had my mother staple together sheets of loose leaf paper, called it a notebook, and brought it around with me all the time scribbling fake letters on every line of every page. I filled up ‘Math,’ ‘French,’ ‘Social Studies,’ and ‘Science.’ The reason: to figure things out, to tell myself jokes, to keep myself company. I always found that I was able to connect to people through stories. I’m working on doing that better and better, because nothing feels as good as relating with someone genuinely, and the first step is engaging your own heart and imagination.
What piece(s) of writing/author(s) have had the greatest impact on you?
David Bezmozgis, a past Diaspora Dialogues mentor who grew up in the same neighbourhood as I did—Bathurst and Russia (or the area around Steeles and Finch for those of you who are looking for it on a Toronto map). When I read his stories in the collection Natasha, I felt so close to the world that I started out in, it shook me. Kurt Vonnegut makes me feel like myself, Douglas Coupland makes me feel so proud to be Canadian. Dave Eggers writes in a way that seems more honest than almost anyone else. Jeanette Winterson reminds me that life is as real as my imagination, and people can live in houses with no floors, and be in the future, past and present all at the same time.
There are lots of young Torontonian writers who inspire me, but I’ve already mentioned a whole bunch of them in a post I wrote for DD’s blog. Two of my favourite authors from Newfoundland are Craig Francis Power, who published his first novel Blood Relatives last year, and Sara Tilley, who wrote Skin Room. Both of these books exhibit St. John’s vibrant youth and cultural communities. They are incredible novels, definitely give them a read. Stories in the collection Open by another St. John’s author, Lisa Moore, express something intangible about feminism that I feel very close to.
What kind of writer do you aspire to be?
I like to tell stories that are whimsical, crude, kind, bloody, sexual, ferocious, authentic, and multi-media. I try to put an emphasis on accessibility, humour and artfulness. I aim to address social justice issues by speaking about the way they manifest in my everyday life.
How and when do you find time to write?
It used to be that I’d write every night in my journal when I was a kid, now I do that every morning when I wake up. For a long time, I’d write in motion almost exclusively—on city transit, buses, planes and trains, even on the treadmill. During many phases of my adult life, I’ve had the habit of waking up in the dark and writing for a few hours before my “real” day starts and everything begins moving around me and distracting me from the beautiful things. I get to concentrate when everyone else is asleep and I can imagine I am in a dream library.