It is February 1st, 2023, and I am now one-month out of my one-year role as Writer in Residence for the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries. I served libraries in Fort Saskatchewan, Sherwood Park, and St. Albert, though in truth worked with writers from across Alberta and even one person in Texas, who’d previously lived in Edmonton for many years. I could offer stats — approximately one hundred and twenty one-on-one consultations, 13 writing workshops, 12 writers interviewed for both the library and my podcast, and 7 new poems / essays accepted for publication in journals. Further, many unexpected teaching and performance gigs came my way because of, I assume, a direct result of my position. I went into the role intending to complete a fun dystopian novel-in-progress and then my mom’s cancer became an undertow, and I could only write about grief. And then my mother died, and I could only write about grief. Some experts say to write from the scab not the wound, yet, the wound it became, and still is. So, the dystopian novel is on the shelf for now, as I write through this moment.
Being writer in residence was a gift. My JOB was to write. And this allowed me a place to go within the grieving process. I am thankful. And I’m thankful to for other writers, folks like rob mclennan who offered patience and understanding as deadlines passed and promised material from me did not surface. And now, I’m here, one-month out of my gig, reflecting on everything it meant to me. Being a Writer in Residence is, in some ways, an exercise in celebrating tenacity. It takes stamina to consider writing a book. Most of the people I spoke with had no MFA or network to support their goal. I became the support person. The responsibility of that is powerful. Both in terms of the personal, and emotional investment in another writer’s work. This is not a job we clock off from. Even with half my time being over Zoom, I took their stories with me to dinner, to the gym. I dreamt about ways I could offer the right support needed for each person. I became invested in their life and career. My experience was deeply satisfying, even as it was deeply challenging. Finding ways to offer critique or suggesting a story may not be as ready as some writers hoped was demanding. Certain new writers simply needed someone to hear them. I was happy to listen, though it became clear to me early on that I had to set boundaries. As WIR, I created a series of standardized replies to help get conversations started after initial emails. Occasionally people hoped for full manuscript evaluations or long-term one-on-one mentorships. To protect myself from my desire to help everyone in all ways, it was imperative I learned how to say no.
I began most appointments with a conversation around critiquing and how a suggestion was never personal — only an examination of the work. This seemed to put most people at ease. In workshops I explained at the outset that we were only reaching into things rather than having expectations of perfection. I walk away from this WIR gig rooted in community. I remain hopeful that a few of the writers I spoke with found those roots as well. I hope, equally, that a few found merit in the gift of patience. The WIR gig did not get old — I worked with people from age 6 to 90 and the stories shared were fascinating, enlightening, heartbreaking and silly. Some people were looking for a nudge, others for someone to tell them their voice was worth listening to. Some had intricate and complex needs around character and story scaffolding. I’m terribly excited for those writers who are well on their way to finding publication.
As I work through writing this new collection, I keep thinking about the advice I so often offered — to sit with patience and interruption. The interruption of perfection is a wonderful tool in a writer’s toolbox and perhaps this became another unexpected gift. As I continue my grieving and writing, I understand that writing the wound is imperfect. For me that is what makes the impulse to continue so convincing.
Rayanne Haines (she/her) is an author, educator, and cultural producer. She was the 2022 Writer in Residence for the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries, and is the author of three poetry collections, and a four-part commercial market urban fantasy series. She hosts the literary podcast Crow Reads, is the VP for the League of Canadian Poets, and teaches with MacEwan University. Her collection Tell the Birds Your Body Is Not A Gun won the 2022 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for the ReLit Award and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Award.