“What happens in a TWC workshop? Magic is the word we often hear, as words from those who are surprised by the depth of their creativity seem to spring from an unknown source. Poets are discovered, buried voices, long without vitality, return to life, dreams are conceived and often lost individuals connect, deeply. Perspectives shift as the barrier of difference is broken. We recognize the common humanity that bonds us all. Each workshop is profound in its way, as writers, often coming from harsh lived histories, experience the power of seeing and being seen by others. It is this source, once discovered, acknowledged, and possessed that creates the positive transformation we see again and again. It is writing together and so much more. There is great empowerment when one unlocks that reservoir of inspiration and strength. A pen and paper is the simple key.
Week after week in the Toronto Writers Collective’s creative writing workshops, I have the privilege to see and hear writers who were once invisible and silenced tell their incredible personal stories. I see the human connection and experience the celebration of value and dignity for all of our writers, and the sheer life changing magic of writing… the simplicity and power of voice. I witness the profound healing of words touching the most sensitive and wounded places and reaching the most exalted places too, bridging differences, seeing hope and not despair. All of this happens within our forum, not once, but dependably, week after week.”
What do we hear when we hear the wind
The door closed, the world left outside
then came the wind.
For twenty two days the only sound
was the wind.
Snow piled to the eve’s of the cabin
carried by the wind.
The windows rattled with every breath
taken by the wind.
The dogs ears perked at every howl
of the wind.
The wood stove glowed and roared by consuming the
bellows of the wind.
The tree’s rattled on the cabin walls
pushed by the wind.
On the twenty third day – it was calm
The wind had grown tired,
the wind had grown old.
The wind died down
leaving nothing but cold.
What did this north wind say
in those twenty two days.
More secrets to life,
then one’s willing to say.
Good night, good wind,
thank you, for the conversations.
In the solitude of the day
you took my breath away.
For now. I wait to hear
what next, you have to say.
Each time we pick up our pens, we begin a process, familiar yet so full of possibilities. With 10 minutes to write and a shared piece of inspiration or prompt, we begin, never really knowing where our written words will take us.
As a facilitator, the experience of sharing is truly an honour I get to live, every single week. As an “open site”, several of our writers are not residents of Fred Victor Housing. Our group is dynamic and we have found as the weeks pass, a sense of trust and comfort continues to grow.
Our room offers each individual an opportunity to be heard without negative judgment or even worse, feeling ignored. Written words shared only provide positive feedback that values voice and pain and hope and caring. Sharing and respect, a sense of someone listening, is repeated with sincerity when each writer reads.
I have been a TWC facilitator for two years and have found that each week brings all who participate a unique sense of belonging. The sense of calm, of warmth and memory stay with us as we find ourselves looking forward to our next TWC session.
This story is a reflection of me on a small part of my healing journey. A simple Anishnawbe/Irish kwe (woman) that has had a long battle with mental health issues and how chi (big) changes are needed in order to be reborn. I reflect back on a teaching of an eagle and the changes it has to go through in order to survive. How it has had an impact on how I look at the changes within my journey.
My life like many anishnawbe kwe’s has been filled with chaos, trauma, and self sabotage. I had to make a choice to move from a place of unhealthy behaviors to a place of comfort and acceptance of myself. Two years ago I hit rock bottom and became homeless. I ended up in a native women’s shelter where I currently reside. I felt very alone and helpless when I first arrived. I didn’t know how I got myself in such a bad position. I was living a lifestyle that questions ones morals on a daily basis. The time had come to an end for me and nomatter how hard I tried I kept falling down. My previous survival skills were not working besides I was aging and no longer a young woman in an industry that caters to the youthful pretty girls. I was an exotic entertainer in a strip club. There is a teaching about an eagle and that without some painful changes it cannot survive past forty years old. When an eagle reaches this age she can no longer fend for herself.
She is unable to catch pry, feed herself or fly well. Her talons are no longer sharp she is unable to catch prey. Her beak is bent so she is unable to rip her food apart to eat, and her feathers become thick and dense making it difficult to fly. If she is to continue like this it won’t be long before she dies. Or if she goes through a very painful and time consuming process she can continue to live.The eagle will fly to its nest atop a cliff or mountain rock. She then beats her beak off the rocks until it breaks off and waits for it to grow back. Once this happens, she then pulls out all her talons and dense feathers also waiting for them to grow back. Once the talons and feathers grow back is able to survive another 30 years.
This teaching has given me reason to appreciate change. Although it may be painful and unbearable at times it takes patience. There is a rebirth of one’s self, confidence to move forward in life and be better equipped to face challenges in a new way. The changes that I had to make were learning to love myself in spite of the abuse, trauma and shame that I carried within myself for far too long. I had to put my life on pause to deal with these unhealthy ways. I had to relearn new coping strategies to deal with mental health issues. Most importantly to be self-loving, and believe that I do matter in the web of life and creation. Turning to my community for help and support I was able to heal and have a new perspective on life. Now, like the eagle that has done its work ready to soar off that rock and regain its survival skills back. I too am ready for new adventures and opportunities that await me.
None of this would have happened if I didn’t take the time to look deep within myself and change the old habits that were no longer beneficial to me. My greatest challenge is also my greatest teaching. For, had I not experienced losing everything becoming homeless. I would not have seen the need for change. I wouldn’t be the self- loving confident Anishnawbe kwe I am today.
“Of course I’ll wait for you, my dear-I would wait a thousand years for you,” were the last comforting words that I heard from my birth mother whom I located on “Facebook”. I actually became reunited with my real mother back in 2008, when I was incarcerated in the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario. Yes, I met my biological mother in the correctional system after a separation of at least 15 years. Once I had reconnected with my estranged mother via internet, I heeded her advice to come to Toronto by her invitation to “have a fresh start” with mom. Well since my 2 year romantic relationship had just faced its bitter end, I thought I could use a loving shoulder to cry on.
I arrived downtown Toronto one snowy day in early March 2010 at the Coach Canada Bus Terminal where we agreed to meet each other. I looked about and sadly, but she was nowhere to be found. I managed a phone call at a payphone and she picked up yet hung up the first time. I gave it another try and she reluctantly scribbled a map down verbally as she hung up the phone. Coming from a small town like Niagara Falls, I had no experience travelling through Toronto alone. It was a miracle I found my way to her apartment. Upstairs beer bottles lay scattered around the
somewhat neat but empty apartment. I gathered the courage to ask her: “hey mom, do you smoke crack?”
The first month on began to seriously destroy and cripple my moral fabric as a young adult; by this
time I was developing a horrible daily drinking problem and an even worst crack and other drug problem. I had paid my mother 100 dollars one month to stay with her but we got into so many arguments about who would get the last toke, beer and so on. Finally one night she kicked me out. Another time she locked me out; so nights like these r would sleep in the stairwell. Eventually she blatantly ordered me: “You can’t stay here anymore-get out! I don’t care if you paid rent, prove itl”
In the beginning I began trusting men who “were different because they cared” that is until they got bored or just wanted me out like my mother. I had been raped countless times, and a few times I had been beaten nearly to death and even strangled a couple times. And it wasn’t so much the city itself that as my mother put it”chewed me up and spat me out,” but the chaotic emotional abuse I endured from my mom in the first year or so, and the prostitution and drugs for rent which never seemed enough for her. Eventually I decided to give up on staying with my mom while feeding her endless appetite for crack.
Sometime through all of this chaos the early memories from childhood which r thought had to be just bad dreams began to surface and haunt me further. Out the fog came familiar situations while in mom’s care as a young child. One morning I sat looking up at what I realize now as a drunk sitting at a table, as the morning sunlight crept in the window. The man picked me up and put me on his knee. I remember looking at all thenearly empty bottles which he began feeding me with. It got really foggy when he took me downstairs into the basement while the man rubbed himself on top of me slobbering his gross tongue down my throat. Another suppressed memory that made me ill to the very pit of me was of a drunken man’s winey voice: ”why you wanna say no, when you know it makes you feel so good?” Emphasizing the last three words persuasively.
All these years have passed since my father had rescued me from my birth mother’s custody, but now sadly I realize that I had just came running back into the arms of my worst nightmare. I thought my dad was just kidding when he said my mother was a prostitute and severe drug addict. I was secure in my life prior to Toronto, now I had nothing, no one, and felt terribly confused and used by someone who was supposed to love me. I believe I was homeless although I lived with my mother–especially as a child, because ‘ have never heard of a home like this.