Student Spotlight: Writing Life into Life Writing
By: Prof. Sarah Sinclair
LITT27733GD is a literature-focused breadth elective that introduces students to the evolving genre of Life Writing in general and memoirs in particular. As part of the course requirements, students have the opportunity to create their own memoir, applying ideas and techniques that they have read about throughout the course. During the Winter 2019 academic semester, students explored issues ranging from first loves to final farewells, from incredible triumphs and heartbreaking traumas. The short memoirs showcased the power, resilience and determination of Sheridan students to preserve and learn in all situations.
Students in two different sections of the class, led by Profs. Chisoula Benak and Sarah Sinclair, submitted some exceptional work for the course’s Memoir and Analysis assignment this semester. According to Chrisoula, “this assignment asks a student to consider a particularly vivid memory, to capture that memory and to analyze their use of dialogue, sensory and figurative language and point of view.” At the urging of their proud professors, selected students have been gracious enough to share the memoir section of this assignment.
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Sam Batterbury’s memoir, “Pockets of Time,” is an example of how memory is fluid, changing and influenced by emotions and feelings. It is dense and highly descriptive and figurative:
Pockets of Time
By: Sam J. Batterbury
It was an early morning in Spring 2016 when I first learned what love was, in an abstract way. A memory; a pocket of time I carry with me every day to remind me not to stray away from in fear of tarnishing this precious moment. One thing love has taught me is that life is less a broad string of time; rather critical moments that reveal themselves intermittently.
I roll over to the right side of my bed at about seven in the morning to see her with her back towards me, still fast asleep. The golden hour is here; sunrise approaches onwards, and the room is painted bronze with morning light. The alarm hasn’t gotten to her yet, despite it being closer to her than myself. I chuckle lightly to myself at how fast asleep she is. I gently wake her by caressing her hair behind her ear as she softly opens her eyes. She slowly turns over to to me.
That’s when it hits.
Her normally dark brown eyes are now the most mesmerizing caramel as the sunrise reflects off of them. The light bounces off her cheeks, giving the most breathtaking glow I could ever imagine. The noise of the fan is overshadowed by birds chirping in a nest suited outside the window. We stare at one another for a straight thirty seconds before she softly coos “Good morning.”
With an instant I see years into the future with the strongest clarity that I’m yet to return to. Years of depression and insecurity are replaced with a future with meaning; meaning becomes the Way, guided by love and longevity. I see a wedding through her eyes, a family. The cynicism of having children is melted away with the revelation of one’s most powerful responsibility; raising up a child so that they may be slain by the world, and brought back anew. I see victories upon victories, personal and career alike. However, I also see failures, tears and tragedies. The realization that the flood is incoming, and will hit hard. Family will pass, close ones will fall ill, there will be financial insecurity and dangers of all varieties. You never see the flood coming, but it is always approaching. However, in this moment, I see the strength to overcome all of that for the sake of us. Nothing about this is naïve or unthoughtful. It’s a hardened love. It’s put up with arms. It understands the dark possibilities of tying two lives together, and works to aim upwards on all dimensions. All of these feelings wash through within less of a second, a moment.
I say good morning back, and she replies with a warm smile.
This moment has shaped my relationship for the years that have followed it up until the present. When I see a sunrise, I think of her. I’m of the lucky few that get to relive this moment every day, morning glow and all. Granted, without the initial clarity of the first time, I’ve learned plenty since then. I’ve had to act out a lot of what I’ve discovered. Small tragedies have hit since then, and the opportunity to follow through on what we believe has risen. We’ve pushed past those trials with what we know, which is to always aim up. We’ve made progress. We’re on our way to something great. The greatness is not calculated by our personal success or money, rather the solace and home we find in one another.
I’ve experienced at least a dozen of these moments that appear in different times, contexts or states of mind. They’re unique and idiosyncratic, but they all lead to the same meaning; the promised land isn’t far from where we are now. It’s an idea that gets you out of bed in the morning, and on your worst days, lets you lose less sleep than usual. The flood becomes less scary.
It could be considered both beautiful and tragic that memory is arguably the most individualist concept conceivable. As much as it can distort wrongdoings into some semblance of morality, it can see idiosyncratic beauty in something no one else can understand.
My partner playfully teases me about the way I speak or interpret certain ideas or emotions. She’ll occasionally tease me by doing an (incredibly inaccurate) impression of my voice while throwing random adjectives or rambling about Love Languages. I’m self aware of my vernacular, and I recognize it could be interpreted as reading too deep into basic things. However, I stand my ground when I say that I think if we all looked deep into what are often seen as dismissible moments, we’d walk away with tangibly more. I see the intense value in at least a semblance of relativism, which I understand can be met with criticism in the world of ‘Fake News.’ The idea of valuing one’s own perspective can be ostracized; I understand this concern. That said, when a moment like this comes along and shapes your whole worldview, I would posit that it becomes a spark in a singular narrative in one’s life. A narrative held together by a series of smaller narratives; the aforementioned pockets of time; moments.
This moment was likely just another morning for my partner, and I have no quarrel with that. I find solace in knowing she has her own special moments she values just as much, and those belong to her. There is nothing unauthentic in a moment that reevaluates your entire worldview for better or worse, in this case both. The hardened truth that accompanies love has revealed itself in our own individual moments, there’s a certain whimsicality to that. The idea that her and I are both living the same narrative through difference “scenes” is nothing short of magical to me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I value time to reflect on these moments. I was also reminded of the unbearably hot room, or the birds that wouldn’t shut up for our entire vacation. Perhaps important memories make you value even life’s annoyances. I’d give anything to go back to that room, just to walk around and soak it in. I wasn’t in the place I am now where I could have appreciated it more at the time. Perhaps there is little utility in thinking that way. I try to stray away from nostalgia as a general rule, at least in relation to my partner. I find it distracts me from our goal of aiming upwards, and looking back down won’t do me any good unless it’s used as a reference point for the climb up. I’m a very visual person by nature, so I found myself taking many pauses while writing to close my eyes and think, to picture it exactly how I remember it. I found myself smiling like a goof at several points. I felt at home even though she wasn’t next to me to right it. I find that’s a large reason why I hold these memories close; she stays with me even when she’s not physically around me. The home is found in the time I’ve had and continue to have, and the value becomes more measurable with time.
I knew I loved her before this moment, but afterwards, I understood why, granted it wasn’t just about that. It was about the discovery of the meaning found in why I love her, and what we could mutually bring forth in one another. I carry this piece of time with my always, through good and bad days alike, as a constant reminder of our destination. Above all else, I hold one thing dearest: the Way is guided by faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is Love.
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Anthony MacPherson’s memoir, “The Dress,” tells us of his experience in the form of several memories, offered in a much more structured, chronological, yet reflective format. His use of dialogue and exchanges encapsulates this particular experience.
By: Anthony MacPherson
Dad wasn’t around much growing up. Even before he and Mom divorced, he spent a lot of time away working. He most often came home on weekends, but even then, that was never guaranteed. The few times he did decide to come home, he made his presence known and it was usually by commenting on my effeminacy.
Before I was in grade school, I waited everyday for my brother Jay and our friends Julie and Mike to come home from school. Mom did childcare out of our home, so I always had friends to play with. Our playground was the basement. In the left-hand corner as soon as you entered the “rec room” across from the rotary phone and ships bell there was a closet. The closet, very appropriately, was my paradise. And in that closet paradise, we had endless amounts of dress-up clothes.
With the closet you could be anything you dreamed of being and most often for me that was a girl. Even now as a professional actor with over ten years of industry experience, I would argue that both my recurring roles as Princess Leia and Pocahontas were some of my finest work to date. Daily, when playtime came, I would rummage through all the boy costumes like lions’ manes made of yarn, knight armour and Ninja Turtle backpacks to find the dress. A black, sleeveless, floor length number that had a cream ruffled trim with black and brown stripes running horizontally through it. There was a slight tear where the trim met the seam of the dress. Regardless of this flaw I wore that dress with pride and no one around me seemed to care. Mom let me wear it to the dinner table, my brother never ridiculed me, and Julie often encouraged I dress it up with heels and jewellery. Everyone in our home had become so comfortable with the dress that me wearing it became expected. There was one person who had yet to see me in it though: Dad.
One Friday afternoon Dad was returning from his week away. As I saw the tires of his white work truck pull into the driveway through the half windows that kissed the ceiling of the basement, I kicked off my heels and ran upstairs to greet him. Now an extension of myself I never thought about taking the dress off too. “Daddy!” I exclaimed and ran towards him for a hug. Mom stepped in from the kitchen behind me, tea towel slung over her shoulder to greet Dad as well. As I clung to Dad’s well-worn work jeans which smelled of stale cigarettes and oil expecting a hug in return, he was frozen in his tracks, starring at Mom. With his eyes locked on his wife and unable to hug me back the first and only words he uttered were, “I better never come home to him in that dress again.”
As I got older and entered grade school myself, I naturally evolved out of my dress phase. But even during those years A.D., after dress, Dad’s efforts to suppress my exploration of my femininity didn’t stop:
“Anthony, what hair are you brushing behind your ears? You don’t have long hair.”
“Oh, stop crying and be tough.”
“Boys don’t play with Barbies.”
“I won’t have those fags on my TV.”
Saturday mornings growing up were always productive mornings. Productive for everyone else in the house but me. It didn’t matter whether I was at Dad’s or Mom’s I would sleep-in (my parents were now divorced). I would sleep-in as late as two or three p.m. Everyone always questioned my sleeping habits but when you were up until five am playing GameCube or catching up on Queer as Folk that you secretly recorded on a VHS labelled Survivor – you need sleep.
One sunny Saturday spring morning in the second semester of my grade eleven year was an exception. I actually woke up early in anticipation of what was to happen. I woke up in my bed at Mom’s house which was built by my dad’s dad even though Dad didn’t live there anymore. It was a big day. I was getting to change rooms. I was finally getting to strip myself of my childhood self and enter young adulthood, officially. Though I felt grown beyond my years my exterior had yet to catch up. I was sixteen and still hadn’t hit any sort of growth spurt measuring in at an underwhelming four foot eight inches.
So, I rose up in my loft bed, which I could still easily fit under the ceiling fully sitting up in and got to work. I set aside the clothes I wanted to keep and packed into boxes things I had outgrown. I packed up any lingering stuffed animals and toys along with my Survivor/tribal themed room. I was trading that reality TV obsessed self for a simpler adult life a few doors down. My new room was getting a bed that was on the floor, a twenty-inch TV with cable, and a door that locked; it felt as though this day couldn’t get any better. Once I had organized and purged my belongings my mom and step-dad said I could head downstairs as they got on with setting up my new room. Convinced they were preparing a surprise, I, grinning ear-to-ear, excused myself to the living room.
I was watching the Saturday afternoon movie on TBS, which was Armageddon, a perfect parallel for what was about to happen to me. Disaster. The end of my world as I knew it. While watching Ben and Bruce attempt to save the world I instantly became paralyzed like a deer trapped in headlights. Glued to the couch a wave of heat rushed over me from my head to the soles of my feet as if a sun flare had erupted from the crown of my head and rapidly traveled south. There was something under my mattress. A secret. And if Mom and Daddy Paul were cleaning out my old room there is no way they didn’t see it.
I ran upstairs hoping they had yet to start packing up my terrible loft bed. Too late. When I had reached the top of the stairs the entire thing had already been deconstructed. “Looking for something?” Mom asked innocently. Unable to speak I just stood there. “We didn’t go prying,” she continued rambling without pause, “we were taking apart your bed and it fell out of a silver bag. We didn’t look inside of it. We didn’t mean to see it and as soon as it fell out Paul put it right back in its bag and it’s now under your new mattress in your new room”. She smiles. Me? I’m still speechless and excuse myself to my new room, mortified. My new adult life was off to a very grown up start.
The first person I ever came out to is my best friend, Grace. I was fifteen. For my sixteenth birthday she bought me a book from Halifax’s LGBT bookstore Venus Envy. It was titled Coming Out Everyday. It was a self-help activity book that guided its readers through the identification of their sexuality. That was what fell out of its silver bag that day. That was the book both my mom and step-dad saw. That book was the meteor threatening my world and I had no Ben Affleck or Bruce Willis to save me. All I had to save myself was my new room with a lock on the door. So, I locked myself in and didn’t come out until morning.
Coming home from Katie’s house on a cold Tuesday night in January after studying for our Grade 12 Provincial Math exam Mom and I sat parked in our driveway. I had taken on a lot in my graduating year. I was co-president of Students’ Council, I was working on two plays professionally at our regional theatre, Neptune, and I was trying to keep my overall average above 90%. Mom could sense I was stressed.
“Are you okay?” she asked, as she often did.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed and there’s a lot I don’t feel in control of right now”, I shared.
I had come out to a few friends in my final year of high school and as a result I was becoming more comfortable with accepting my newly proclaimed sexuality. In fact, that same night before Mom and I sat in the drive I had shared with Katie I was gay. Looking back, as the stresses of growing up and graduating started closing in on me, I used coming out to take control of stressful situations. Most often I also just got to a point where only sharing half of myself with the people I love felt wrong.
“Also, I think I might be gay” I blurted. Think? I knew I was. Would ‘think’ soften the blow? Would Mom be less disappointed if I led with uncertainty. Would ‘think’ give Mom an opportunity to continue the conversation? Ask more questions? Convince me otherwise? My head was spinning, my heart was pounding, and my eyes were watering.
“I know” she reassured me reaching for my hand, “your Uncle Ross is gay”.
We talked about my fears about being gay and in turn she shared with me hers. We cried. We laughed. And we hugged for a really long time. All Mom really cared about was that I was happy and safe. Yes, safe physically but more importantly: sexually. I wasn’t even ready to think about sex, but she took the opportunity to share “exactly what I would tell Jay and Margaret” (my brother and sister) about safe sex, which gay or straight is always an awkward conversation to have with your parents. Then to my surprise and after I had calmed down from telling her, Mom invited me inside. “There’s something I need to show you” she said.
We stepped quietly into the house and she led me to her bedroom. At the foot of Mom’s bed was always this chest. I remember it always being in her room but never understanding its significance. She opened the chest and in it I could see baby albums and I quickly spotted my blankey. As Mom searched through the contents of the chest, she pointed out my sister’s christening gown and the Nova Scotian tartan suit my brother wore as ring bearer for an Aunt and Uncle’s wedding. Then unexpectedly she pulled out my dress and said, “I always knew, and I’ll always love you”.
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Hayad Odawa is enrolled in the Bachelor of Interaction Design degree and chose to embrace the multifaceted nature of the genre and published her memoir as an image-based, vlog:
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In her short story “Till Death Do Us Part,” Maryam Shah, a 3rd-year student in the Early Childhood Leadership degree, explores the power of friendship and definition of family:
Till Death Do Us Part
By: Maryam Shah
He was my best friend, my protector, my safe place. The only one I could completely trust with any and everything. He gave me a sort of happiness I have never felt. This is the story of when I lost him, when he left me forever and everything changed.
June 19, 2014. I’m 16 and everything is perfect, besides hitting puberty and being an emotional mess as a high school student. It’s the most stressful time for a teenager; exam season! I follow my everyday routine and wake up at 7:00am to go to St. Joseph Catholic Secondary school. I studied all night the night before, so I am ready to crush my French exam (and I did!). Walking back home, it’s a 5-minute walk from the school to my house. The sun is out, wind is just right, the sky is that perfect shade of blue with clouds shaped like the Eiffel tower and a mermaid. I open the big white door of my house very slowly, so it doesn’t make a sound, just so I could surprise him. But he knew. He always knew. It’s like he sensed that I was home. I smile the biggest smile and give him the tightest hug, the face I would long to see all day. He smelled like grass, like the warm summer day. A hug from him could melt my heart, make all my troubles go away. The stress of exams fades as I take in his scent.
I let go, knowing that I have to go eat something before I start studying for tomorrow’s exam. 12:30pm and I am ready for lunch. I go into my kitchen and open my fridge. I grab the first thing I see, the chicken my mother made last night. I put it in the microwave and sit on the kitchen table, telling him about my day as I wait. I finish eating and I know that I must start studying for my English exam tomorrow but, as usual I will procrastinate and wait till last minute. “Come on, lets go watch T.V”. I turn on my television and change the channel to Disney on Demand. I watch Wizards of Waverly Place, the show with teenage Selena Gomez in it! One of my favorite shows, well any show from Old Disney! He lays beside me and we cuddle as we fall asleep on the black leather couch. The coolness of the leather against my skin making me drowsy.
I wake up and its 4pm, he’s still sound asleep. I know that if I get up, he will too, so I choose to just stay there for a moment longer. I watch him rest his face on my arm, his big brown eyes open as I blow air on his face. I laugh because I know that I disturbed his precious sleep. I get up and set up my notes to start studying for my exam in the formal dining room. It’s the room where no one goes so no one will disturb me! The table is also huge, so I could set up my fifty some handouts and notes. I start studying and I know the exam will be in essay format and I have to brush up on themes in Othello by the infamous Shakespeare. Two hours into studying my mom tells me she is going grocery shopping with Omar, my little brother. It’s just him, myself and my sister-in-law at home. I say “alright, I’ll see you soon”.
A few minutes later I get a call on my green sliding phone that was sort of a blackberry but not quite, from my next-door neighbour who also happens to be my best friend to this day. I pick up, “hey Anmol what’s up?”. She asks me if I wanted to go on our usual walks around the block and without hesitation I say “Duh!”. Him and I both go out and she is already outside my house. The wind is perfect as it blows through my hair, chilly but not too cold, I take a deep breath to smell of the freshly cut grass, a sense of tranquility. We take a 15-minute walk around the block on Invergordon Lane and just talk about life. Now sitting outside our house on the stoney part of our entrance we discuss the many stresses of existence. I don’t know what propelled me to say this but some part of me knew that it needed to be said. I told him “I love you so much”, this not being the first time. I gave him a big hug and a kiss and went back to talking. It was 8pm and we decide to head inside. I went inside to my dim dining room, turned on the lights, the walls pink and making the room yellow and dull. I sat down to study again, and he was sitting right next to me. You would think that he would be distracting but it was calming knowing he was there.
I suddenly get out of my trance of studying by my home phone ringing in the living room. I get out of my chair and walk to my living room to pick up and it’s my brother Omar on the phone. Without even saying hello he asks, “is Coco at home?” and I say, “yeah, he was sitting right next to me, why”. I go back to the dining room and he’s not there. I walk back to the living room calling his name, my heart beating just a little faster. My brother says, “just tell me if he’s home”. I stand at the bottom of the stairs, “Coco!” and nothing. I walk around to my formal dining room and he says the words that I could never forgot. “I got a call from this woman and she said he was hit by a car”. At this point I am in my formal living room standing in front of my beige couch, and I scream “what!” falling to my knees. I remember my heart racing faster than it ever had, knots in my stomach. I get up and start running around the house like a mad woman, screaming “COCO!” and there was no response. I open my front door, and scream his name once again, hoping I would get something. Anything. I start sobbing, my face covered in tears, and my sister-in-law coming to ask questions that I can’t recall.
I hear the doorbell ring and I run to open it. I see a small woman, wearing a hat and an oversized black sweater, it got colder than before. The hairs on my body stand as the cool wind hit my skin. The first thing she asks, “are you Maryam?”. I respond with a faint “yes”, and I watch her examine my face. She says, after what felt like a century, “I’m so sorry”. I fall to the ground. I know what those words mean. Take it back! Go away! Words I hoped I never heard, an apology I didn’t ask for. I don’t remember much of what went on around me, just what I was feeling. My head pounding, the kind of headache where you just want to smash your head into something to make it feel better. She waits until she thinks it’s the right moment to talk to me, “would you like to see him?”. I gather my words a few moments later, “no”. All I could say was no. No, I don’t want to see him broken. No. I don’t want the last image of him not responding when I call his name. No! I don’t want his big brown eyes not opening ever again. NO! I don’t want his still, lifeless body to be the final memory I have of him. She hands me his small blue collar and I just sob. The metal tags on his collar crashing together and making a clinksound. I squeeze it between my fist as tight as I can, trying to ingrain his scent into my mind. Trying to be closer to him in some way. To feel that sense of tranquility that I always felt when he was with me. That’s all he was now. A memory. No more walks, no more hugs, no more kisses, no more him… All I had was the image of him in my head. Just a few hours ago, this perfect creature, was sitting next to me, and now he’s gone. I didn’t know what was going on, the woman who never introduced herself, sitting on the hard-concrete floor next to me, just watches. I get up not knowing how to react and go inside.
I walk into my house, which has never felt so empty, never felt so quiet, and everything goes dark. I wake up with my head in my sister-in-law’s lap and realize that I fainted. The tears dry on my face now and my body just limp. I get up and go to my dining room table and just sit. I stare at my notes, I see words that are so foreign, I don’t recognize anything. All I could think about is how bad my headache is. Why does it hurt so much? It feels like someone is drilling in my head, hammering nails into my brain. I don’t remember the time anymore, it just felt like the longest night of my life.
I am now in my room, I don’t remember how I got there. Its dark and I am lying down, my head still pounding, my face expressionless. I couldn’t cry anymore; my body couldn’t produce anymore tears. All I wanted in that moment was to hug him, to hold him closer one last time and tell him that I love him. If I knew that the last time I said I love you would be the last time, I would’ve held him a little longer, would’ve told him how much he means to me. How much I really need him. Suddenly I feel what could’ve been my imagination, a weight beside me on my bed, like someone had taken a seat. Like he had laid down right beside me the way he usually did, and instantly I felt a sense of calmness run through my body. Grasping his collar tightly, the metal tags cold against my palm, holding it close to my chest, I whisper “I love you”. I smiled and closed my eyes, knowing that he will be with me forever.