Reravelling Canada

I want to be part of reravelling Canada. It can be a thing. The Urban Dictionary says reravel means to put something back together that has become unravelled. Wool workers get it. We have all reravelled balls of wool that have become a jumble. It’s not easy. It takes time. But if you don’t do it the whole thing is useless and you have to throw it away. I think it’s a good time to discover ways to reravel our country.

Unravelling Canada, my travel book about our 2015 knitting road trip, was meant to be a mental revisit of the country I was struggling to come to peace with. The book looks through the lens of knitters from coast to coast and is a gentle and somewhat off-beat analysis of Canada. During the time the book was floating in the publishing never neverland waiting to find a home, Canada, and indeed the world, has become truly unravelled.

In this country it might be said that the public unravelling began with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Idle no More. Although we know the unsettling of Canada has been going on for generations, the public’s consciousness has only been sparked for the past dozen years or so. Since then Canada’s comfortable space has been rattled. The recent convergence of social justice movements has been ramping up public pressure and our country is not fairing well.

International movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too and, of course, the COVID 19 pandemic have rearranged deeply held assumptions about race, gender and our collective health. In Canada, the report on the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and the discovery of the 215 graves from the Kamloops Residential School and hundreds more across the country have “shocked” even people who haven’t been listening. Closer to home, the “In Plain Sight” report on systemic racism in BC’s healthcare system have given us details, the real stories we can’t ignore. These are lessons we can’t forget.

We are grieving the loss of old growth and worried about whether we’ll remove the fish farms in time to give wild salmon a chance of survival. We have a deep disturbing anxiety about the outcomes of continued fracking and that Site C Damn is going ahead in spite of all our collective good sense.

And, as if we haven’t been rattled enough, the recent weather disaster, the hundreds of British Columbians who died in the heat wave, the loss of the tiny village of Lytton and the surrounding First Nations communities, reminds us of the climate crisis, the existential threat to our very survival.

I don’t know about you but I am unravelled. I am also a grandmother and I know that I don’t have the luxury of remaining unravelled for too long. My narrative must change to rallying the masses and building strategies and creating hope. I’m not willing to wait until the last drop of injustice has been eradicated before I call for another narrative, not to replace the unravelling but to go side-by-side.

As we continue to unearth the real stories of our past and our present and figure out our real identity I’m thinking we can also get serious about reravelling ourselves and our country. I’m not interested in wrapping it up again into a ball with the nasties buried in the middle. I’m not talking about shutting down the ravelling…there is so so so much more to do. The pressure needs to continue. I’m saying we need a new paradigm as well and new way to become whole and well and compassionate and real.

I don’t have a tidy wrap up for this blog because we have to build the new paradigm together–the reravelling–and so far we don’t know how to do that. Perhaps we need to wait and do more unravelling first. I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure we can do both at the same time. The grandmother in me says pull ourselves together. The children need hope.

Interviews

Thank you thank you Christopher Walker/Cabinboy knits for this interview

The book is out. The interviews are coming in. Why did you take the tour? Why did you write the book? What surprised you? What do you know now that you didn’t know before? First we took went on a road trip. Then I wrote the book. And now…there’s a whole other level of reflection.

            To start…a word about the publisher; Douglas & McIntyre does a great job of promotions. I am surprised at how much interest they have gathered—how many interviews they’ve scheduled. I had never imagined that a knitting road trip book would be on the BC best sellers’ list for the first two weeks it is out.

            My next surprise? As I’ve said before, a lot of people are interested in knitting…millions of them. But I am beginning to think that everyone has someone who loves to knit—someone who they want to buy the book for. Or perhaps I am right when I facetiously say that there are only two kinds of people in the world—people who knit and people who wish they could knit.

            And then there’s the roadtrippers. The book is only partly about knitting. It’s equally or even more about the road trip. And who, especially during COVID, doesn’t wish they could go on a road trip?

             Finally a word about the interviewers. I have been interviewed many times on various topics. I always hope for the best—that the interviewer is interested and somewhat knowledgeable—that he or she has done some research on the topic. What do I know now that I didn’t know before? There are a lot of interviewers who are fascinated by the idea of a knitting road trip and if they are any indication of the general interest then it’s no wonder this book is doing much better than I had ever expected.

My porcelain (20 years) publishing anniversary

It all started with my best friend, Diane Harris

I started writing stories 21 years ago. I was a natural story-teller and an inquisitive listener—I loved that part of being an oral historian—but I was not a writer.

My vocabulary consisted of a handful of words and the collection of strange phrases my father used like heebie jeebie, oddie moddie and sixty-fifty. He was a worldly-illiterate Bible reader (almost the only book in our home). But I always loved his wonderfully creative, if unsophisticated, way of communicating. I attended university during the 1990s so I was marginally more literate than him, but when I tried to write I couldn’t find words to fit my ideas. Stringing one sentence after the other, after the other, after the other made my head literally hurt to touch. Worse yet, making sense out of pages of sentences was excruciating.

The only reason I was writing stories 21 years ago was because in 1992 Diane, my sister-in-law, had interviewed more than 70 former students of Kuper Island Residential School. I had gone along to write the notes. She promised the people that we would share their stories—that other people would finally know what went on at Kuper. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. No one did in 1992. What we heard was horrifying. 

But Diane would not let it go until we had fulfilled her promise. She pestered me to write the stories into a book. “I can’t,” I would tell her. “I can write notes. But I can’t write a book. Especially not this book.” Can you even imagine? How could I put such profoundly disturbing and, up until then, almost entirely unwritten stories, onto the page using my pathetic vocabulary and almost non-existent writing skills? From my Bible background I called up the feelings expressed by Moses who also felt inadequate, “Please, Lord, send someone else”.

Fast forward to the late 90s. A group of us decided to write residential school stories for our local school using Diane’s interviews and others we had collected. A long story truncated. I drew the short straw. The writing was left up to me. Difficult does not begin to describe the process. I found an editor to help. A publisher found my stories and offered to publish. I said no. Diane continued to pester me. She had made the promise. This was her way to fulfil it. Finally I conceded. No Time to Say Goodbye: Children’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential School was published in 2001. Twenty years ago.

I had never imagined becoming an author. Being published was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact I found the very idea of people reading my writing terrifying.

Being an author was an odd thing. My name (along with Rita Morris and Ann Sam, who worked on the project) were on the front of the book but they did not, in any way, reflect the crowd of people who made the story. I’ve always been uncomfortable with that. I was a tiny piece of an unimaginably complex and distressing puzzle but I didn’t know where my piece fit. Amazingly, the book is still in print. It has sold many thousands of copies and in 2018 it was put on the BC schools’ curriculum list.

Awful as that experience was I was hooked on writing and I soon began what I call “Stories from my kitchen window”. From where I lived in Tsartlip First Nation I watched my kids and the neighbours’ kids making sense out of their world. The view from my kitchen window was a cross cultural landscape where people got along, where they didn’t get along, where who you were was determined by the colour of your skin and where you were defined by your parentage. As you can imagine my whiteness coloured everything.

My stories were wispy glimpses of kids getting up in the morning and facing the day in the sort of world that I lived in. I crossed cultures. Of course I did. I lived in an adopted home. One where I was never entirely comfortable nor entirely welcome. But I was a mother and it was my kids’ home so it was my home as well and it provided the window from which I observed the world.

I didn’t just write kids’ books and young adult novels, although at that time they were my favourite stories. I dabbled in social commentary, history and personal essays—18 books altogether by 2020.

Twenty years after my first book was published, books number 19 and 20 are finished and will go to press in the spring of 2021—at least that’s the plan. In April, Douglas & McIntyre will publish Unravelling Canada my first travel book. You might have guessed that it’s travel through a knitting lens. In May, Orca Books will publish Growing up Elizabeth May, my first biography (for middle school age kids). COVID might mess with the publication dates so I’ll write more about these books later.

I am celebrating this anniversary in an unusual space for me. I don’t have a book on the go. Don’t worry. I have a textbook to start and an interactive ebook to write, so I’m not out of the business. But I am enjoying a very short calm. For once I am not struggling to find words. Or bewailing the ones I have found. I am riding out 2020 in this empty space. Perhaps not an entirely empty space, you might see more blogs than ever before because, as you can tell, I’m a bit of a writing addict.