I am reading Jesse Thistle’s memoir, From the Ashes, this week, largely due to the inspiration of Lisa Corbett who proposed a March Break Reading Club on her Twitter account. I responded, then Amanda, and before we knew it, the author agreed to join us for our conversation. Lisa’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggestion on Twitter turned into a major event and even online, I can feel the buzz of energy and enthusiasm amidst the pandemic.
And this unusual blend of complex emotions hovers about me as I wrestle with reading tragically painful descriptions of his childhood hunger, the descent into drugs and homeless, I am thinking about the reading group, what we might want to discuss, how to make use of the author’s generous gift of time. It feels weighty.
M. Keats posted a link to the CBC website with an article and this sent me down the rabbit-hole of internet research and all my time was vacuumed up, my previous plan to complete some essay evalutions now abandoned and part of a looming list. I skimmed his Masters dissertation, scrolled through his website, and scraped together as much understanding about the book and author as possible. He had clearly been interviewed extensively, pressed by the press.
He said “I only chose the events that would make it understandable, relatable and interesting to the reader. Because if you read one horrific thing after another, then it’s just a series of unfortunate stories. There’s no arc to it. My publisher and editor helped me choose the stories that I needed to include — and then let the dead space in between those stories speak for themselves.”
And as a reading group, what are we doing with “the dead space in between the stories”? Are we filling it with stories of our own? I’m reminded of a key concept in Media Studies which suggests that interpreters of texts negotiate meaning through the filters of their own experiences. We figure out meaning as it relates to our understanding of the world.
On a morning walk with our dog and my husband, I talked about Jesse’s description of elementary school and graduating grade 5 functionally illiterate. I wondered about his teachers, I wondered about my own blind complicity in my career. This conversation in motion gave me the space to connect my emotional response to something informed and actionable. Our discussion with the author is one that is with educators and can be about education. In fact, we’ve been talking a great deal about “trauma-informed teaching and learning” of late, and here it is – right in front of us. The lived experience from a celebrated author and academic.
Suddenly my reading of this memoir changed and I thought about this hefty group of nearly 30 educators sharing an experience of reading and what we can collectively do to change the narratives, to work towards equity by listening and speaking the stories. Can we ever measure the weight of reading conversations?