Auntie told me to paddle down the river to Chi’Niibish. When I get to the lake, she said to turn west and paddle along the shore until I see the mist of Niagara Falls. As soon as I can see the mist, that’s the spot to lean into the lake and cross. She said that’s how those old Mississauga Nishnaabeg Ashkiwiwininiwag did it, hypnotic hard paddling, drowning out the screams of tired arms and aching shoulders, keeping the mist in sight, in the corner of their right eyes.
Now I’m sitting on the shore of the lake, thinking about you, at the spot where I’m supposed to be turning and crossing. I always forget how big the lake is. I always forget how blue the lake is, the clean wind picking up drops so I can breathe them in. I’m imagining you’re here and we’re talking about you and me and us, and things that matter. How we got here. Where we’re going. What’s to be done. My impulse is to push the conversation to somewhere it shouldn’t go, somewhere it doesn’t need to go, and I catch myself. I stay centred. I need to have just one more conversation with you so I can write this. I just need to see your movements, your face, your response to the tiny moments of life most never even notice. I need to feel your beautiful boy-spirit rise as you lie down on the cedar boughs, lean in towards the fire and listen to your Kokum’s quiet singing on Zhaawanoog land.
It can’t just be lists of battles, speeches, failed marriages, and betrayals. (“Leaning In”)
Nishnaabeg storyteller and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s latest collection of stories and songs is This Accident of Being Lost (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2017), a collection of intimate pieces that resist genre, writing out love, labour and loss, in a series of pieces that “continually rebirths a decolonizing reality, one that circles in and out of time and resists dominant narratives or comfortable categorization.” This Accident of Being Lost is a book of resistance, acknowledging the weight and damage of colonialism, but refusing to be overcome by it, writing out prose, poems and lyrics with characters simply trying to exist as best as possible, even while in constant struggle. As she writes of the ongoing loss and disconnect that colonialism has created in the story “Doing The Right Thing”: “My territory is zero minutes from the sliding glass patio door hellhole I’m trapped in.”
Topic 11: Being a Writer Sucks
Writing actually sucks. Like you’re alone in your head for days on end, just wondering if you actually can die of loneliness, just wondering how healthy it is to make all this shit up, and just wondering if you did actually make this shit up, or if you just copied down your life or worse someone else’s life, or maybe you’re just feeding your delusions and neuroses and then advertising it to whoever reads your drivel. (“22.5 Minutes”)
There is both such a lightness and weight to her writing, often occurring in the same breath. Despite, and even through such difficulties, hers are passionate and intimate stories that hold to a foundation of hope and possibility, composed as much as a means of survival as one of optimism, writing out stories of love, human connection and disconnect against a backdrop of cultural oppression reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez or Milan Kundera.