July 1 marks Canada Day. At the WCC, we’re celebrating the rich and multitudinous identities of our volunteers serving writers across Canada.
This month, we invited WCC volunteer facilitators Shirin Tobie-Paul, Maria Habanikova, and Rana Khan to share with us their experiences as newcomer Canadians, writers, and deep listeners. Read highlights from the inspiring Q&A below.
Q: How has your writing practice with WCC contributed to forming your sense of identity – or your sense of Canadian identity?
SHIRIN: When I was a little girl, I heard regularly that it took a village to raise a child. Allow me to add that it takes the correct village to raise a child. It’s amazing that I would move to a country whose name means village.
This village completed what emerged from the last village. Thank you Canada. I moved from one part of the world to another and from the cusp of my healing to the courageous world of doing the work.
Writing with the Writers Collective of Canada is a unique experience. This process reminded me of the poor little girl who, upon finding words, fell in love and knew true love for the first time.
The safe space of the WCC provided me the cushion to heal deep wounds while hiding behind meandering letters coming together to create a beautiful mosaic. There is a call on my life and this writing process has taken that call from a whisper to a trumpet’s blast. My healing is for helping others and I now accept my role.
Every time I share the parts of me that I was happy to hide for so long, people come up to me or write to me that my stepping out of the dark has helped them to embark on their journeys of healing and growth. I cherish the gentle ode to service.
MARIA: Writing has always been an integral part of my life and the primary means of my creative expression, be it in my native language – Slovak, or English. However, I was reluctant to call myself a writer until I discovered the Writers Collective of Canada three years ago and regularized my writing practice, resulting in several publications and most recently self-publishing of my first children’s book.
I feel more confident in my craft, I have an encouraging network of other writers I am a part of and can call on to share new ideas and first, second, … twentieth and final drafts with.
I am grateful and honoured to have the opportunity and space to contribute to the diverse mosaic of stories that make up Canada and I consider WCC a catalyst for the creative part of myself. Writing not only enhances my sense of self but also strengthens my sense of belonging to the wider Canadian and global community.
RANA: My writing practice with WCC has cemented my belief in identity being rooted in self, not countries or passports.
Originally from India, I had lived almost twenty years in the Middle East before immigrating to Canada, and the stereotyping of immigrants by well-meaning people here did trouble me quite a bit. One is vulnerable as an immigrant, and the outsider tag hurts.
I volunteer with many organizations, but my time with WCC has been particularly satisfying. Being in a community with fellow writers makes me aware that this identity also transcends the many boxes and labels that we are prone to apply on each other. Even in writing there are these labels (South Asian writer for instance), and while it’s true that our experiences inform our writing, I’m confident that at WCC, both as facilitator and writer, my peers see me as a writer who calls Canada home.
Our differences are accepted and respected at WCC workshops, and because we celebrate the act of writing itself, it doesn’t really matter where we come from!
Q: What does deep listening mean to you? How do you see deep listening manifest in your workshops?
SHIRIN: Deep listening means listening for the layers in a piece of writing. When we write in community and share our words, we get similar resonance and sometimes a new perspective on life itself. Sometimes it’s a call to lofty thoughts and a pull to action and excitement and at other times, it’s a return to simplicity, solace and silence.
Answers to troubling circumstances arise and other writers can enjoy the smooth ride on a river of words while escaping a busy day.
Fellow writers seem to leave our writing space with just what they need at that moment and a sense of gratitude.
MARIA: I perceive listening as a layered activity.
The outer layer represents superficial listening that results in receiving information, and in some instances remembering and repeating it at a later time. Attentive listening is the middle layer whereby information is received with greater interest in learning about the subject matter and its usefulness to the receiver. The third layer that follows is active listening which is listening with the goal of responding, reflecting, and retaining information.
Deep listening then is an enhanced form of active listening I only discovered in WCC workshops. For me, it is listening with emotion and intent to understand the writer’s authentic truth and unique message.
In WCC workshops this manifests in beautiful honest exchanges amongst the writers as they together explore the deeper meaning behind their written words and provide positive encouraging feedback for one another.
RANA: Deep listening means respect.
It means attention, and it means love. In my workshops, the participants are incredibly aware of this essential practice, and it results in rich and insightful feedback from peers after a reading.
Sometimes, we have had the writer say that they hadn’t thought of a particular perspective that a fellow writer commented upon, and there’s this sense of new discovery in our writing when we are listened to with compassion and acuity.
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