• Eugene Stickland

A Writing Exercise

After a break, I was back with the Stardale girls last night for another writing session for our 2020 performance project, The Road. As we hadn't worked together for a while, I had prepared a rather safe plan, a descriptive writing exercise to gather some more imagery about the road, or path, or city streets the girls find themselves on.

But as I sat listening to Helen and the girls talking in their circle, I had time to reflect on the past week, during which time four people in my life passed away. It's a tough reality about getting older, more and more people will die, but four in a week seems a little excessive. And then that made me wonder just how much death these young girls had experienced in their brief lives.

What we are setting out to explore is the effect of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's Commission's findings on our girls' lives. I was thinking how, sadly, we can get used to that language - Missing and Murdered - and not feel the full impact of the sorrow and hurt that goes along with that. I understand that in a political sense there is justifiably outrage as well, but in working with these girls I can only ask that they share their personal experiences and hardly expect them to speak to a broader societal perspective.

And so, death - the preferred field for writers of all ages and cultures to dig their shovels into. While still in the circle we spoke of loss, of how it feels to lose a friend who suddenly moves away, or how we feel when a loved one actually dies. I spoke of my own experience last week, how it made me feel, and then asked them to share their own thoughts and experiences on paper.

It's a tough thing to ask of these girls, and so as always I told them that if they didn't have any such experience or just didn't feel like going there to draw a picture or listen to music of whatever they felt like doing. It's never my desire to traumatize anyone.

And so off they went to their various tables in the space we meet at, and wasn't I pleasantly surprised to see most of them actually writing, filling in some cases card after card with their brightly-coloured markers? I had mentioned that when we lose someone, when we are grieving, and maybe don't really have anyone we can talk to, that writing can often be very therapeutic and comforting. I think we saw some of that last night.

When the girls came back to the circle, one brave soul read out what she had written. The first part of it was about losing her grandfather who had had Alzheimer's at the end of his life. Young as she was, she still wrestled with the fact that there was no closure for her, he was simply lost to her. When she finished, there were tears and many hugs. And it hit home not just to me but to all of us how terrible for someone to go missing and not to have the chance to say good bye, clear the air, make up from a fight, say "I love you" or whatever the case may be.

It's hard work. It's deep and it's emotional. But come the spring, these girls will stand on a stage somewhere with a powerful and eloquent message to deliver.

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