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st. vladimir!

April 6, 2013

it’s been a pretty wonderful and busy few months. on thursday night, olena decock and i facilitated a discussion at st. vladimir institute – well, olena did most of the fantastic facilitating. she screened her thesis film – tracing shadows – which was great to see again – she interviewed self-identified ukrainian-canadians, including myself, and it’s always weird to see oneself on a big screen, chatting about diaspora and otherness. after the screening, and after she discussed her thesis and her research (and you can read her entire thesis online here), she invited me up to the podium to read some of my own ukrainian writing – as a different perspective and a different voice. the two of us decided on one poem – about malanka and the feeling of periphery that most certainly occurs THERE – and i read for the first time in over a year to a room full of ukrainians. then the two of us sat down and talked about how we write about periphery and what inspires us, and of course i mentioned timothy findley because when DON’T i mention tiffy? and also mccarthy. and faulkner. and then i may have fainted from nerves. also interesting to note: both olena and i wore black dresses and korali (red coral necklaces from the black sea, a ukrainian woman’s staple). and we didn’t plan that ahead of time. fantastic.

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anyway, the talk at st. vlad’s was super important for me because while i don’t often consciously think about my place in the ukrainian strata, or the ukrainian canadian strata, and i don’t solely identify as ukrainian (there is that other scottish and irish and british side to remember, too!) i do write about being ukrainian, as seen here. and here. and here. it’s a theme that comes up a lot in my writing, but in strange jags. there’s no denying it’s important to me. but it’s easy to write harsh or controversial words about something if you never have to face it head on. so reading to a room of ukrainian people who chose to come to this talk – it was something that i needed to do. i thought “buck up, maxymiw.” if you can’t write something and stand by it and read it to the audience that might hate it most or protest it the most, then maybe a re-evaluation is needed. i’m not saying it wasn’t scary. it was terrifying. but the discussion that followed was lively and kind, and talking to audience members after the fact reassured me that i had made the right choice. (and the poem didn’t have any slurs. or swears. like some of my other ukrainian writing. !!)

it was completely powerful (more than empowering) to be able to stand up and read, and in doing so stand up for my writing, and then be able to sit with olena and discuss my half-na-piw status in front of a room full of people – without fear, without too much self-consciousness. i’d use the word “healing”, but that’s not right – my thoughts on being ukrainian and on the periphery of being ukrainian aren’t fully-formed yet, and the healing isn’t complete. but while i knew that writing helped the process, as it often does, it seems that talking about writing about being a uke also helps the process. so kudos to st. vladimir institute for putting us crazy half-na-piws up and letting two young women command the floor.

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and so here we are. aye yi yi. now begins the slow down from what has been a very busy period of my life! i worked far too many jobs and then realised that i wasn’t writing anything, and now that there is grant money involved, i had to re-think that. it’s honestly quite a weird and heady feeling to say “stop working so much and write.” i think writers with stronger constitutions than i have might be able to do that – be able to stop the world and write, be able to block people out and do research and do editing. it’s all very glamorous, isn’t it? more on the editing process in the next post – i have recently acquired some new editors (and by that i mean friends who are willing to read and make comments on my scrambled writing) and it’s all very fulfilling. mostly.

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