September 21, 2011

Tuesday Mainstage: finding ourselves in unlikely places

It's both exhilarating and terrifying--the vast spectrum of interpretation any piece of literature (and most expressions of art) can elicit in its audience.

As I grow as a writer and reader, I’m learning to focus less on ‘what it’s supposed to mean,’ and more on experiencing the emotional reactions evoked by wonderful writing.

When it’s a theme as profound and potentially broad as that of Tuesday’s Thin Air Mainstage show (an exploration of ‘who we are’ based on where we come from and where we are headed), these experiences are not hard to find.

There was Manitoba short story writer Sheila McClarty’s heart-wrenching description of an elephant handler leading his animal to her death, and Lebanon-born writer Dimitri Nasrallah’s raw and haunting account of an amnesiac rejoicing at [what may be] his first child’s birth, while dealing with the stillborn death of her unexpected twin brother.

Then there was WD Valgardson’s tale of the trolls whose presence brings hardship to an already struggling Icelandic community and one woman’s difficult choice to escape to faraway New Iceland, Manitoba’s own Interlake region.

There were poems by Ron Charach illustrating childhood memories of a blonde, green-eyed Jewish boy searching for his identity, and excerpts from a musical by Marty Chan about a father leaving his son behind to search out prosperity for his family in an unknown land.

These stories span continents, genres, decades and a breadth of human emotion, yet they can all speak to how identity is delicately entwined with our past, present and future. Some thoughts inspired by last night’s reading, no doubt not an exhaustive list of what 'we are':

We are what we remember, whether real or imagined.

We are the things we haven’t done, our fears, regrets. We are what we’ve lost.

We are the suffering and heart-wrenching choices of our ancestors. We are the stories and superstitions our communities were built upon. We are the people and places we’ve left behind, and the expectations we have of the places we're going.

We are our parents and our children. We are the pieces of ourselves we send out into the world. We are the people we have touched and who have touched us.

We are reflections of ourselves glimpsed on unlikely surfaces.

-- Sandy Klowak

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