Paddling For Feminism


Aurora Darwin’s photo.

So, I’m doing an abbreviated version of my SSHRC thesis for my final Indigenous studies paper, and it is going to be so helpful when I finally start my thesis (book) again.
I’d never thought of myself as the kind of writer who needed to do research, since I’m such a navel-gazer storyteller, but damn. People have thought about and written about so many useful things! I’m thankful to this whole scholarship application process for helping me put into words the ideas about the Peel Watershed trip that emotion (and frankly, trauma) have made difficult to express.

I’ve been struggling with so much around the canoe trip, and blaming myself for ways I didn’t step “out of my comfort zone” or “up to the challenge” and part of it had to do with the way gender issues were perceived on the trip. There was a fundamental incommensurability in the way different kinds of feminists framed social justice issues–what was heroic and strong behaviour. Because I didn’t meet the expectations–honestly, I often gave the expectations the finger–I felt like a loser. But today  I read this:

“…I have often revelled in seeing women being strong and confident out on the trail, occurrences that were in line with the stated curriculum of “empowerment” that these trips were designed around. Yet, in a Euro-Canadian context, where white women take up space as trippers in this historically masculine sphere, we are, in a sense struggling against gender norms only to participate in the cultural work of sustaining the hegemonic mythology of the canoe and Canadian [colonial] wilderness. This is a kind of frontier feminism in which our “liberation” also signifies our deepening implication in colonial relations. …a curriculum of feminist empowerment overshadowed the complexity of the place and the other issues at hand” Liz Newbery.

Every time I was politely pushed toward “empowering” myself on the trip and I refused, believing I had other shit to deal with, I was told I would regret it later. I never have. I regret not honouring my own position enough to ignore the delicate shaming that surrounded my own process of self-revelation. A process that was far more concerned with battling my inability to connect to the land than battling white gender norms. I regret defaulting to anger and shame at the time, though I realize it was because my ignorance made it impossible to put into a proper argument what I was feeling.

I’m not saying I was oppressed by white feminism, I am far too privileged to make that claim. But to be able to unpack my emotions about this now, and move towards forgiving myself for having different goals on the trip than others, is really helping me heal.

One of my Peel poems is about this, though I feel like I should rewrite it now that I’m feeling less like a failure. Anyway, here it is:

Paddling For Feminism

This northern backyard is foreign in every way
so we’re looking for relatives in the canyon walls,
a lineage spelled out between contour lines on a
map. And there are so many maps. Curve of a breast

lost under layers of wool, inked triangles
mark the places we might camp for the night
but all I see is river. Where am I in you?
There’s no connectivity. The river is electric,

the river dictates time: time to get up,
time to eat breakfast, time to brush your teeth,
time to take a shit, time to pack up the canoes,
time to paddle, time for lunch, time for dinner,

time for bed. This won’t make me popular,
but I don’t want to sit in the stern and navigate
like the guys do. I just want to paddle from the bow.
To do what I’m told. Paddle hard when I’m told.

New work in Matrix Mag.


I have not been keeping up with my Carleigh news. School is quite intense, and taking a lot of my time! I’ll try to catch up a little over Christmas, but in the meantime, here’s a pic of me & the short fiction issue of Matrix! My story, Read These Postcards in a Gonzo Journalist Voice is (very loosely) based on a 4 month trip to Thailand I took a few years ago. I said loose. So don’t ask who Julio was. Many thanks to Matrix, and I really recommend picking this one up, because it also has this year’s LitPOP winners!


Grad School

I’m starting my MFA at the University of British Columbia this fall, but I’ll still be writing reviews fairly frequently. I’m working on four of them right now in fact, so expect to see a lot of my opinions this fall. Also on deck is a piece on Katherena Vermette for the Literary Review of Canada, new fiction in Matrix and subTerrain, and the launch of my first book, Bad Endings, in spring 2017.

In creative writing your Master’s thesis is your book, which is a very practical use of time. My constantly evolving project about the Peel River trip will be the subject, natch. I figured I needed a committee for this one. In addition to my writing course load I’m taking classes in Indigenous representation, and even though class hasn’t started yet, I’ve already benefitted from the reading lists!

This is going to be great.

L.O.R. New Fiction By Jocelyn Tennant On Joyland

Though the setting will feel familiar to local readers, I kept imagining Jocelyn Tennant’s L.O.R. playing out at the resort from Dirty Dancing– all the shit going down in the background while those rich bitches navigated their coming of age. Somebody’s got to strip the beds. Wash the champagne flutes.

This writing is honest, clean, and economical. It catches hold of a moment, gives you something to chew on, and takes its leave before you’ve even swallowed. L.O.R. is proof that we could use 1000% more stories by female authors about the intricacies of female relationships, not for some kind of affirmative action head count, but because we do it better. Jocelyn certainly nails it here.

Read L.O.R. on Joyland Vancouver

Best Canadian Essays 2016


A very exciting week. Dinner With The Vittrekwas was selected for Best Canadian Essays 2016. The essay was originally published in PRISM 54:1 under the guidance of Christopher Evans, and also benefitted significantly from the editing expertise of Gary Ross. It was nominated by PRISM for a National Magazine Award for personal journalism. Many thanks to all, and to Tightrope Books, publisher of Best Canadian Essays, and editors Joseph Kertes and Christopher Doda.

Most of all, thanks to Margaret, Alice and Ernest Vittrekwa, and the people of Fort McPherson.


Journey Prize Anthology #28

AAAAj prize

What a tremendous honour to be selected as a contributor to this year’s Journey Prize Anthology. The story, Chins and Elbows, was nominated by subTerrain Magazine, and originally appeared in issue 70 (May 2015). Many thanks to Brian and Karen!

Chins and Elbows started off as a poem nearly five years ago, and has been swimming upstream ever since. I’m very proud of it, and thankful to the Writer’s Trust and McClelland & Stewart.

It’s usually my style to be sassy and irreverent at times like this, when I’m feeling all the feels, but I’ve got nothing but love today.

Cover art

book art back

New cover art by Katie Green for Bad Endings (That’s a link to Chapters, but I highly recommend pre-ordering through your friendly neighbourhood bookseller), my short story collection. Katie is so talented, and she was one of my co-travellers on the Peel Watershed trip! I’m lucky to know her, and so happy that she agreed to do the art for my first book. Forthcoming, spring 2017.