RAT CREEK PRESS, March 2015, Page 13
A tale of determination: Staying the course when your goal is out of sight
By Constance Brissenden
We set new goals every New Year. This week, I'll stop smoking. This month, I'll walk more. But what if your goal takes longer? In my case, my goal took 21 years of research, 12 years of planning, and three years of hard slogging to bring to fruition.
It was worth every minute. I dove into creative depths. I faced down anxiety attacks at dawn. I challenged myself to find solutions. I found strength in teamwork. In the end, I felt beautifully-published book, Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors, written by my partner, Cree writer Larry Loyie. Wayne K. Spear (Mohawk) and I (non-Aboriginal) are co-authors. Wayne and Larry brought inside knowledge to the subject; I brought 40 years of editing skills.
I met Larry in 1993 while I was teaching a creative writing class in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He wanted to be a writer, a goal he made at 12 years old in residential school in Grouard, Alberta. Larry wanted to see libraries filled with books written by Aboriginal people.
Working with Larry gave me a sense of inner accomplishment. I directed his play about his years in residential school. I edited his award-winning children's book, As Long as the Rivers Flow, and its sequel, Goodbye Buffalo Bay, both about his school experiences. After a decade, we had six bins of research on the subject of residential schools, and had done more than 200 interviews.
Larry wanted to write an accessible history of residential schools. I was determined to work with him on it.
Back in 2003, we even had a contract. We walked away from that one. The publisher wanted us to write it their way, and not Larry's way. Secretly, I was relieved. The task of writing a national history of residential schools seemed too immense.
Three years ago, a call from our Buddhist friend Lynne got us rolling again. "If you don't write that book now, when are you going to do it?" she challenged us. "This is a book that needs to be written."
We began again. Larry was calm, but I was still afraid. How would we handle the historical material? The memories of the survivors? What images would we choose? Many Skype meetings with Wayne followed.
We put in 10-hour writing days. We found a great book designer, Dean Pickup of Canada Book Design. We wrote and paid for a 27-page sample that Dean designed. The gamble paid off. Before the sample, four publishers had rejected us. With it, we attracted two superb co-publishers. Finally, the book is published. We have accomplished the goal. Larry has added another Aboriginal book to the library shelves, and I am proud to be part of the team that made it happen.
If you have a goal that seems out of reach, maybe it's not. Strategize, be creative in your
approach, work hard, believe in your goal, find friends who may be able to help, and don't give up. Wherever it takes you, the pursuit is worth it.
For more information, see www.firstnationswriter.com. Residential Schools is available at Audreys Books at 10702 Jasper Avenue.