Her Story: Reflections on being the inaugural writer-in-residence for YWCA Halifax & the APMA
What is it to be a writer-in-residence? For me, it means to work with a particular group or organization and use writing to engage with that group’s clientele, or with the public.
The purpose can be to generally promote the role of literary arts in the community, or, it can have a more specific focus of producing works as well as offering mentorship to others.
Often, the role is a combination of all of these. As the very first HerStory writer-in-residence, I am excited and honoured. This is my first writing residency as well, so this role and I are firsts for each other.
When I think of my path as a young and emerging writer, I always have to go to those who inspired and encouraged me. Even though the desire to write was a seed planted from a young age, which I began to explore on my own, it still helped tremendously to be watered with exposure to other writers and literary events, encouragement and guidance.
Whether it was seeing local poets on stage, or being encouraged by a community member to submit poems for a contest or for publication, these waterings affirmed my desire to write and become better at the craft.
As writer-in-residence for YWCA Halifax and the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association (APMA), I am delighted to be in a position where I can be the one who waters others, young or older. I may not be working with aspiring writers per se; some people may even groan at the idea of having to take part in a writing workshop, but I do believe that everyone in those workshops has a story to tell.
And I believe those stories will do some good for the teller and the receiver. I hope that the telling of their stories will bring awareness to societal issues, create community and offer a sense of freedom, accomplishment and self-awareness for those to whom these stories belong. Of course, the participants whom I will lead in workshops will have their own reasons to participate and so that is where we will begin!
I will be working with the YWCA Halifax and its program leaders to offer workshops for participants in various programs to both find their stories and decide how they want to share them—in an essay format? In a poem? Creative non-fiction? So far, I have been able to offer a workshop to the YWCA Halifax staff. We had around 12 people brave enough to participate and shared some fun, funny and insightful moments.
I have also been working with the APMA learning about the development of an author database, which will help profile Atlantic authors and make it easier for readers and other audiences to learn about these authors and connect with them. I also get the chance to learn more about the publishing industry and contribute to Atlantic Books Todaymagazine.
Personally, I love that this is also an opportunity to do more of my own writing. In these coming months, I will be making space for the ideas and thoughts that have been pushing to be brought to life. With some financial support and mentorship, this residency will help me to do that.
I was imagining what the outcome of this project might be like and I pictured it like this: all of us involved finding what our stories are, and taking them off like extra skin that was sticking to us. Once we can hold that skin away from ourselves, we emerge with new skin. But we don’t have to leave that old skin by the roadside, we can make something with it—a handbag or shoes.
We will hold them out as shoes that we might wear occasionally and that we lend out to help someone else get to where they are going.
Bless the Helpers
A mother once told her son
that in times of disaster,
he should look for the helpers.
In fires and the ashes, the bleeding and gashes
there are always those who offer help.
Some of you sought so persistently
that you became helpers yourselves.
You washers of wounds,
You quilters of blankets.
You planners and planters.
You builders of bridges.
Bless the ones who make it their mission
To offer shelter;
To cover and protect these gems,
Trafficked, abused, brand new, in transition,
In need of recovery.
Re-cover them with love and guidance
So they rediscover themselves.
Bless the hands that pick up the phone
at 9pm and again at 10
to answer the question:
“When can I get the apartment”
“Will I have a ride to the session?”
“Am I still eligible for this service or that one?”
Bless the voice that gives reassurance
then says “that’s all for tonight”
I will call you by Friday. Til then, sit tight.”
Bless the ones that are learning to protect themselves
Their time and energy so they can be well
To continue to offer assistance.
Bless the ears that listen to understand what it’s like
To appear put together but struggle inside.
To have degrees and three kids
And find yourself here
Unexpectedly homeless, but
Maintaining your pride.
Bless the minds the strategize from 9-5
and some hours in between
Because now the statistics have faces,
And they’re all you can see.
Bless the tongues that speak up for policy reform
So that parents have childcare they can afford.
Bless the fingers that spend hours typing out proposals
And the eyes that spend hours looking them over
And the feet that trek from food banks to shelters
to clinics, and colleges and community centres.
Bless the empaths and organizers,
The cleaners and the accountants,
The big picture holders and
the on the ground soldiers.
How much time did it take?
How many uncomfortable conversations?
How much mileage and traffic?
How many affirmations above your desk?
How many thoughts of looking forward to your next vacation?
How many sweat stained shirts from fatigue and frustration?
How many zoom calls to make connections while in isolation?
How much “tired and over this today but
Following through anyway”
How much reflection and consultation?
How much humility does it take
to re-strategize and pivot you’ve moved the wrong way
After all, you’re still learning.
How many edits and rewrites to summarize all this effort into…words
Into newsletters and reports and concise sentences.
How much conviction does it take to do all this,
fueled by the question, “What can we give?”
Bless the ones who have the mission
To repolish the gems
Bless the hands that pick the calls
Again and again.
–Written for YWCA Halifax AGM, June 23rd, 2021