For What it’s Worth


I wanted to start this piece by saying “What CanLit doesn’t need right now is…” but I’m not sure how to finish that sentence. Another voice? Maybe. Or maybe it does. Perpetuation of an argument? I don’t think it is an argument. I am under no illusion that anyone actually cares what I think. However.

I am going to say this. As a teacher/mentor I think a lot about my role. And yes, I teach teenagers, not adults. So I need to watch what I say, and how I say it. I can’t go Harper/Trump bashing, can I? I can’t rant out my left-wing-love-everyone views, can I? I have known parents who have complained about teachers who spout their political views. Or their views on feminism. Or socialism. Or the Big Blue Ring on Deerfoot Trail. I would be appalled if my children came home saying their teacher said Trump was the best thing to happen to the world, so how can I justify an all-out left-wing-feminist-agenda love-in in my own classroom? (And when my daughter did come home from school rolling her eyes at the Big Blue Ring, I said, hey, for a different point of view, read Aritha van Herk’s beautiful take on it. (Read it – it’s really pretty great.)

I feel that “telling” is not my role. Guiding is. Teaching. All I can do is live and model and lead in a way that inspires. All I can do is challenge my students to think of the other side, and respect others’ opinions. To realize that what we see is only our perspective, to question it all, and to find sources that tell the truth.

My students are vulnerable. They are young. They are open. They are sitting in front of me, forced to hear what I am saying. Or, in the case of mentorships, have paid to hear what I’m saying. I am responsible to them.

And I can speak as a student, too. As a student of writing, I am vulnerable in ways very few other students are. I am writing my vulnerabilities, and I am vulnerable in my writing. I am soft, a shell-less mollusc, my insides throbbing where anyone can poke and prod them. Fellow classmates. Professors.

We choose programs and professors we hope we can be skinless with – just fascia holding the bits together. We lay our work on the table to be dissected for meaning, for intent, for craft. This is the part of Sonnet L’Abbé’s poem that struck me. Every writing student has lived that  moment where the professor says “Don’t talk, don’t explain. Your intent should be clear in the words on the page.”

And so we learners gather our bloody bits and go back to our writing rooms and try again. And again. And again.

I teach my writing students that the magic happens in revision. That if you didn’t say it well, or right, the first time, try again. I teach them this because that is what I was taught. Taught, in fact, by some of those people on that list.

So to see those names dig in so hard after hearing over and over “Your intent was not clear” is painful. I’ve made myself so vulnerable to more than one person on that list – something I now question. Those people were the ones who taught me to read closely, to read for “intent.”

So for me, while I have friends on both “sides” (what sides? FFS, NO ONE was well-served! EVERYONE is hurting,) all I can do, is what I’ve done from the day the letter first came from UBC. Take it personally. It’s my program. Those are my profs. People I’ve worked with at PRISM. People I’ve read with at festivals. People I workshop with. My friends.

So what do I know? I know that at one time, I would have sought out programs based on admiration of a writer’s work. But that list will help me decide who I am willing to share my writing with. I know that my TBR pile will be getting a shuffle. I know I will continue to attend to this as a teacher and a student, but cannot, at this point, even look at what it means as a survivor, because it would break me.

I have no issue with people standing up for their friend. For a fellow professor, or instructor. Everyone needs advocates. But there are consequences to the choices we make, all along. And really, I think it’s disingenuous to say you care about losing friends or readers because of that choice. A lot of people have taken a stand. I wish it were a stand for a better process for all parties.

I want to say that I had professors at UBC that made me a better writer, yes, but maybe even more important to me, a better instructor. I’ve had mentors that have allowed me to walk into workshop and plunk a big old side of bleeding Kim on the (sometimes virtual) table. They were not always gentle, not always easy, but I trusted them. I didn’t always agree with them, but I knew they came from a place that honoured my experiences and the writing I put before them. If you don’t have that trust, that ability to be vulnerable, sharing can be doubly painful.

Writing stories and poems and creative non-fiction and plays is not writing “The Effect of Bloom’s Taxonomy on Questioning in the Modern Educational System.” It’s not “Surgical Efforts in the Third World.”

There’s a higher standard there. If we as writing students cannot feel safe, we cannot put forth our vulnerabilities. And if we can’t do that, we can’t write. It’s something to think about when so firmly standing behind the decision to not include the students in the letter to UBC.

I think it’s strange that one can’t see a disconnect between seeing their name as having enough “pull” or “cachet” to sway UBC, and seeing that their name has the same weight with readers and students. It’s odd to me that one would think they can have it only one way, and not the other, too.
The process IS the problem. For everyone.


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