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For the Love of Art - From the Ashes

Sculpture by Manasiah Akpaliapik photo credit Art Gallery of Ontario

Regardless of whether it is in the form of literature, performance, painting, architecture, fashion design, or another medium entirely, art provides alternative realities to both the artist who creates it and the audience who witnesses it. Our perceptions about ourselves and our world become unsettled by art and we are freed by this disruptive experience - art opens up a space within our hearts, minds and spirits, and this space gives room for us to be both entertained and healed by our stories. Imprints. I invite your imagination to join me on a creative journey where we will consider pieces of art that relate to the topics covered in the books we are reading in Book Interrupted. Point blank: For The Love Of Art is a random blog posted intermittently when the muse visits this particular arts enthusiast :-)

How does anyone even begin to describe "From The Ashes: My Story of Being Metis, Homeless, and Finding My Way" by Jesse Thistle? It's perfection; a true piece of art that leaves the reader feeling like they were presented a gift and the special gift was the opportunity to meet this man, get to know him, and to connect intimately with him through a truly fulfilling conversation. (It seems fitting here to extend a thank you to Thistle - I am grateful for the many precious moments you shared in your book with the real, tender, deep down inside of me ‘me.’)

The author’s memoir is a harrowing depiction of broken families, socio-economical statuses and poverty, trauma in all forms, addiction, homelessness, suicide, lost connections and communities, the foster care system, the criminal justice system, racism, indigenous affairs and colonialism … did I miss anything? It's near impossible to comprehend how the author grew through what he went through. It’s more than an inspirational tale of boy meets world and makes good; this story captivates the reader and immerses him/her/they into a fractured and nuanced universe chronicling the life of the author.

The chapters are short stories unto themselves and are simultaneously connected to each other - the writing in each chapter unfolds in meaning similar to the way Alice Munroe writes her stories. The chapters and the intermittent poems, like beats of a drum calling him back to the Metis circle, build the pacing and rhythm of an emotionally hard read.

This is the story of a high school drop-out turned Indigenous scholar - it takes hold of you and plays out as a movie in the mind, showing you how Thistle overcame tremendous adversity and pain, and, ultimately, remembered the truth about who he is after a lifetime of being forgotten. And yet, he rises from the ashes to be and tell his tale of abandonment and abuse as well as how he made his way back into the circle of his Indigenous community.

The whole time I was reading this book, all I could think about in the back of my mind was: I want to make this into a play so bad. I’ve got to. I can already see it on stage …

To be fair, I am a retired thespian, so it's not unusual for me to be drawn towards seeing things as plays, but aside from that, this book hit me hard with the inspiration to get back to the theatre. I reflected quite a bit about my university years, remembering meeting the incredible Canadian playwright Judith Thompson for the first time when I was 18 years old. She was one of my professors while I was doing my bachelors degree and I'll never forget reading her plays, "The Crackwalker" and "Lion in the Streets." This evoked a heart-warming moment in me where I remembered other great Canadian plays that I had acted in, like "Angelique" by Lorena Gale and "Grace" by Michael MacLennan, which give voice to the marginalized. I have always appreciated my early exposure to the arts and how inclusive and diverse its community is. All this nostalgia over my youth! It lead me to look for more plays written by Canadian and Indigenous playwrights, and I was delighted to discover a gold mine. I was equally pleased to find even more Native and Metis forms of art, like songs, dances, sculptures, paintings and playing the fiddle. Here are the links to the highlight reel of what met me on my travels as I read Thistle's "From the Ashes."


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