Tag Archives: New Releases

Breathe, Baby, Breathe!: The Delivery

Every year in the United States, 12% of all births are preterm births, 5% of all babies need help to breathe at birth, and 3% of neonates are born with at least one severe malformation. Many of these babies are hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit. Annie Janvier and her husband, Keith Barrington, are both pediatricians who specialize in the care of these sick babies and are internationally known for their research in this area. In 2005, when their daughter Violette was born extremely prematurely, 4 months before her due date, they faced the situation “from the other side,” as parents. Despite knowing the scientific facts, they knew nothing about the experience itself.

Breathe, Baby, Breathe! is the emotional and personal story written by Annie Janvier, that tells the story of their daughter Violette, alongside the stories of other fragile babies and their families with different journeys and different outcomes. In this post, we share an excerpt from the book.


Excerpt from Breathe, Baby, Breathe!

Part 2: The Delivery and the First Days

The Delivery

Violette was born at 5:21 a.m. in Operating Room 1 at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. A room that looks like so many operating rooms: too cold, highly impersonal, brightly lit. In some places, they call this an operating theatre, with the OR fluorescent blue light pointing to the main actor and to the precise spot where all the action was focused: my tsouin-tsouin. Whether there was to be a caesarean section or not, all the sick babies were delivered in that room, as the resuscitation room was adjacent to it. The “resusc” room was overheated so that babies didn’t drop their temperature. Dropping temperature is a big concern when tiny babies come out. Their little bodies are wrapped in a plastic bag or under plastic wrap in order to keep their temperature stable.

I remembered three months back, when I was 12 weeks pregnant, nauseated and on call, that I had been urgently woken up at 3 a.m. because a 25-week baby was about to be born. After driving madly through red lights and arriving on time, I felt sick. The mother who was delivering had fulminant chorioamnionitis (a uterine infection) and the smell in the OR was not pretty. I took the baby to the resusc room. The baby stank, a tiny stink bomb, the whole resusc sauna room stank of old diapers and septic tanks. Her heart rate was not coming up with only the bag and mask. I needed to intubate her (place a tube down her throat into her windpipe). I was gagging while I was intubating this poor little girl, but managed to intubate her quickly. Thankfully I had a mask on. The junior resident asked what he could do, with both his eyebrows raised. I hadn’t worked with him before. He was still showing me what the heart rate of the baby was, and his finger was going up and down, but I guess he did not know the protocol for dealing with barfing staff, which list to check, how to assist. When the baby was stable, I asked the resident for some ice. As the main assistant for the resuscitation, he ran out to get some. I am sure he did not know why we needed ice, since we were supposed to keep the baby warm. When he returned, I asked him to place some of the ice in a plastic bag on my head. I felt like I would pass out. This baby did well, though. She was still on the unit weeks later, learning to feed, while I was pushing.

Why was I remembering this baby while I myself was giving birth? I have often tried to understand why over the years. Maybe because I thought my situation was slightly better: I did not stink, plus my physician was not about to puke on my baby. Or maybe because I wanted to vomit with despair. Or maybe because I wanted to remind myself I was not only a failing vessel, a broken belly, the owner of an “incompetent cervix”; I was a strong physician who could intubate a tiny baby in under thirty seconds while puking in her mask. Or maybe because I wanted to think about this pretty little girl who was doing well, in our hospital, with the same care Violette would have, her little preemie-roommate.

Credit: Sasiistock

Axel had been born by Caesarean section, but Violette used the good old “natural route” at a highly unnatural time. So many people were around, but at that moment there could have been a TV crew, a clown, a deep-sea diver, cows, whatever, and I don’t think I would have reacted. I wasn’t supposed to be there. Why not another day, week, hour?? Why had I turned around in bed a week before, when my waters broke? That was a huge mistake. This is all a mistake, I wanted to scream. This is not happening. This cannot be my life. This is my husband next to me, with so much love in his eyes, so much despair, and so much hope. I realized it was really happening. When Axel was born, I couldn’t successfully push him out of me. I thought this would be easier. How can a 700g baby be tough to push out? Well, it was not easy. I think I pushed hard, but my OB seemed not to think so. The whole team was counting, encouraging, telling me this was serious. Maybe I was not pushing because I did not want her to come out. This was NOT a happy moment; this was one of the worse moments of my life. This was failure. A big maternal blaaaaaaaaaaah in broad florescent light for everybody to see. I felt her coming out, heard a little cry and closed my eyes. I saw Gene right there, our great colleague who was a neonatal fellow at the time. I knew Violette was well taken care of. He took her into the resuscitation room. Keith and I both knew what was happening out there. At least Gene was not vomiting and asking for ice. He intubated her when she was stable, gave her surfactant to open up her lungs and took her to the NICU. She needed only room air to breathe, 21 per cent oxygen, what healthy human beings need. I did not want to see her. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be alone.

Keith went to collect Axel from my mom’s place, and I was taken to the prenatal ward. I was so grateful to go there. I had been in the team recommending that all mothers of very sick babies be admitted there after birth, so they did not have to be exposed to the bright balloons, the damned joy and happiness of the other mothers, the first meconiums, the crying fullterm
monsters, and the chattering, smiling, noisy relatives. I was with the waiting ones and the sick ones. It was silent. I went to sleep.

May 22nd. This is the day I learned the definition of emptiness. I did not feel pain, sad emotions. I felt nothing – such a big black hole, a void. I was empty; nothing had any meaning. I learned the definition of nothing, of meaninglessness, the meaning of meaninglessness.

A mother who is really a mother is never free.

Honoré de Balzac


To find out more about Breathe, Baby, Breathe!, click here.

Annie Janvier is a professor of Paediatrics and Clinical Ethics at the University of Montreal, and a Neonatologist, clinical ethicist and researcher at CHU Sainte-Justine.

Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott won the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for their translation of Descent into Night by Edem Awumey.

Communication and the Human Experience

Due for release this February, Introducing Communication is a new textbook featuring discussions on issues and challenges associated with mass globalization and new technologies. This smart and sophisticated text encourages students to reflect on how these consequences and implications come to bear on how we live and communicate. Author Amardo Rodriguez explains why his new textbook can be used in any introductory communication course.


By Amardo Rodriguez

Every fall, I teach the introductory communication course at Syracuse University. It is a large lecture course and a core requirement for our majors and minors. In preparing to teach this course a few years ago, I read every introductory communication textbook I could track down, both in print and out of print. What I found was simply striking. Nearly all the textbooks focused on only one perspective of communication – viewing communication in terms of messages. The reason for this is most likely because this is how the National Communication Association defines communication.

However, there are many other ways to define communication that are much more amenable to a world where divergence is increasingly more valued than convergence. We can, for instance, view communication in terms of problem-solving, as in helping us navigate and appreciate our diversity and complexity. From this view, communication becomes a problem-solving activity.

Suffice it to say, I never had any intention or ambition to write an introductory communication textbook. Initially, I was only seeking to develop a textbook for my introductory communication class, as I could find none – either in print or out of print – that could do what I believe any introductory textbook should ultimately do, which is to give new students a rigorous and comprehensive survey of the diversity of perspectives, heritages, and concepts that define a discipline.

Over the last five years I have committed myself to creating a textbook that my students will find both challenging and enlightening, meaning one that is intellectually rigorous and culturally fascinating. What has ultimately come from all of this writing and rewriting is an introductory communication textbook that I am confident many instructors and students across the US, Canada, and the world will find just as intellectually rigorous and culturally fascinating.

Introducing Communication covers eight different perspectives and introduces an array of concepts from around the world. It discusses why the study of communication is important in terms of deepening our understanding of the human condition, enlarging how we frame and resolve human problems and struggles, and appreciating the different perspectives that communication brings to the study of the human experience.

This introductory communication textbook also highlights the consequences and implications that come with different ways of defining, understanding, and studying communication, and it presents a robust and rigorous examination of these different consequences and implications. The book is ideally suited for persons who teach any kind of introductory communication course and are looking for a text that is theoretically rigorous, intellectually expansive, and pedagogically elegant.

My textbook is different to other introductory communication textbooks in three important ways:

I. It introduces students to a diversity of perspectives that I am yet to find in any other introductory communication textbook. I highlight how these different perspectives fundamentally expand and deepen our understanding of communication.

II. It highlights communication issues and challenges that are impacting peoples from around the world as our spaces and distances collapse and implode. For instance, I discuss how the proliferation of new kinds of technology is contributing to the demise of the world’s linguistic diversity.

III. It introduces students to communication concepts from all corners of the world and showcases the contributions of different cultures and peoples to our understanding of communication. I discuss concepts from African cultures, Middle Eastern cultures, Asian cultures, and Indigenous cultures. The book functions as a global introductory communication textbook by moving beyond the Western bias that permeates every introductory communication textbook and still fundamentally defines our understanding of communication knowledge.

This textbook could be used in any corner of the world without the instructor having to worry about promoting or propagating Western biases. In fact, the book looks critically at the Western hegemon that shapes how we define communication knowledge. It would therefore be ideal for any instructor looking for a textbook that introduces students to a global view of communication.

I have been using early versions of this textbook in my own large lecture class for the past five years and obsessively revising and polishing the text based on student feedback. The feedback has always been positive in terms of the book being accessible and interesting. The unsolicited comments from students have also been encouraging. Here is one humbling example:

Dear Professor Rodriguez, I want to start by thanking you for writing this textbook. I usually do not do the reading for any of the classes I take, but when the time came to read your textbook, I learned something new about myself. . . . I have learned that if something seems so out of the ordinary for me, it may make total sense to someone else. . . . If someone were to ask me for help to define communication, I would just hand them the textbook and tell them to read it. There are so many perspectives I learned that I didn’t even know existed. Thank you, Professor Rodriguez, for enlightening me. Keep on doing what you’re doing because not only have you enlightened me, you have enlightened many others.”

In addition to the book itself, I believe professors will find the Instructor’s Manual to be quite valuable. It has many supplementary readings from The New York Times that will help students appreciate how the concepts and perspectives found in the book expand and deepen our understanding of current events around the world. It also has relevant TED Talks, classroom discussion questions, and suggested essay questions. The accompanying Test Bank includes multiple-choice questions that reinforce key concepts and ideas. Like the book, I wrote these instructors’ materials with my students in mind, and I hope they will be useful to you and your students as well.

Mavis Gallant: Fighting the Get-It-All-In Syndrome

In this week’s blog post, Marta Dvořák, author of the newly released Mavis Gallant: The Eye and the Ear, discusses the making of her book, grounded in her friendship with Gallant (Paris-based master of the short story), and a common interest in visual and sound culture.


By Marta Dvořák

Mavis Gallant (left) and author Marta Dvořák (right) share a mutual birthday celebration at the Café Vaudeville. 11 Aug, 2005. Photo credit: Marta Dvořák

When I first met Mavis Gallant at a reading she gave at the Village Voice bookshop in Paris, I never dreamed that I would be reading to her two decades later, when poor health and failing eyesight confined her to her Left Bank apartment. Or that, along with her other close friends, I would take her to her final resting-place, the Montparnasse Cemetery, to be surrounded by the artists the young Mavis had crossed an ocean for. At our first meeting, the writer was delighted when I told her my favourite Gallant story was a quirky fantasy I’d just discovered in a magazine I’d been asked to review. It turned out to be her favourite too, and we found ourselves allied against The New Yorker, which had rejected the story for stomping all over plausibility. When Gallant realised we had the same birthday, August 11, she dubbed us the Leo twins, and our professional relations morphed into a strong friendship to which the very private (and famously prickly) writer granted a fierce loyalty. And triggered in me an equally strong loyalty. So naturally when my Gallant book project began to take shape, it blended essay and not-quite biography. I wanted to offer readers material drawn from private conversations and letters which would give insights into the woman in her whole habitat. Oh, not what she had for breakfast, of course. Rather her backstage views on life and art, what she read, who she saw, the pictures she liked, the films she watched, the music she listened to: questions of inclination, taste, perception, influences, and experience, all connected to writing itself.

Marta Dvořák interviews Mavis Gallant for the Journal of Commonwealth Literature at the renowned Le Dôme Café in Paris. 21 May, 2008. Photo credit: Agnès Vérè. See DOI: 10.1177/0021989409342146

Getting the French habitat we shared into my manuscript implied reintroducing Gallant as a late modernist in the context of her times. What she liked to read, look at, and listen to was often what the early modernists clustered in Paris did, namely Flaubert, Chekhov, Picasso, The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Stravinsky, Louis Armstrong, and Proust. Just what made Joseph Roth one of Gallant’s favourite writers? What game-playing did she enjoy in Ulysses, and what did she dismiss as “linguistic taradiddles”? Such adventures in sampling invited me to place Gallant in time and space, within North American and continental modernisms and postmodernisms. Reaching both forward and back, just what were her affinities and specificities with regard to other writers on the Canadian and international scenes? How could Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant be said to exemplify two different strands or senses of realism? My investigation might explain why Carol Shields in private referred to “the divine Mavis, the divine Alice” — both short story giants and the only two members in her “divinity division.”

Well, I had barely started on the Paris connection when I tripped over the book I’d just co-edited, Translocated Modernisms, which addressed certain late modernist Canadian visual artists and writers through the transnational and interdisciplinary exchanges they’d experienced in Paris. I realised that when Mavis moved to Paris in 1950, the city wasn’t just the place where the Big Four (Mansfield, Joyce, Eliot, and Woolf) had invented high modernism. It was still the planetary hot spot where visual artists, musicians, performing artists, and writers from all parts of the globe rubbed shoulders and borrowed and stole each other’s finds. I remembered that Mavis, never happier than in an artist’s studio, loved pictures and music, and I wanted to light up the representational techniques she shared with these fields. I also recalled that Mavis and the moving pictures had grown up together. She told me how she’d reeled with pleasurable shock at the huge silent black-and-white images she’d been taken to see — images which would catalyse her creative imagination.

Oh boy, so now I’d also need to plug my book into visual and sound culture. I set out to identify areas of convergence between the aesthetics of breakage of, say, Cubism, jazz, and (post)modernist literature like Gallant’s, whose sleights-of-hand and tonal shifts had puzzled general readers and dazzled scholars and writers. I finally distilled things down to the disruptive notions of syncopation and dissonance. This was a stunning breakthrough. Not just because it had never been done before, but also because it gave me a new angle from which I could do what I’d wanted to do most — show how Gallant’s work works. I saw that a stress on image and rhythm — the eye and the ear — could be the ideal basis for hands-on micro-analyses. I wanted these adventures in in-depth readings from a wide range of her stories and recently-reissued novels to light up what happens on her pages and how. I wanted to identify the writer’s unique thumb-print.

When I took stock of all my material and all my intentions, the manuscript looked like a python which had swallowed too many meals. I was still struggling with the challenge of mixing the personal and the impersonal. But the real trouble was with the book’s double approach — reading Gallant through her adopted Paris and down a winding twentieth century that neo-modernist scholars had begun to rediscover. I finally sent off a full proposal to UTP, pointing out that there was a bifurcation in the material which would allow me to split the book into two should that be preferable (published successively or concurrently with another interested publisher). My acquisitions editor wrote back that the manuscript was teeming with ideas but yes, a tad unwieldy. He invited me to concentrate on Gallant’s relations with art, film, and music, and was especially enthusiastic about the chapter devoted to the satirical techniques Gallant shares with visual caricaturists. You guessed it. What he wanted was the part I hadn’t written yet.


Learn more about Mavis Gallant: The Eye and the Ear

Marta Dvořák was born in Budapest, raised in Canada, and went on to become professor of Canadian and World Literatures at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she became a close friend of Mavis Gallant.

From the Archives to the Bookstore: Writing the History of the American Canoe Association Encampments

Canoe and Canvasoffers a detailed portrait of the summer encampments of the American Canoe Association between 1880 and 1910, and is particularly concerned with how gender, class, and race shaped these annual events. In this post, author Jessica Dunkin discusses why the canoe is such a fascinating subject to her and why her research led her to some fascinating insights into canoeing and the colonial histories behind it.


By Jessica Dunkin

I became a historian in the basement of Bata Library at Trent University. I was enrolled in a third-year course on Canadian women’s history for which Professor Janet Miron had assigned a research paper based on primary sources. I found my way to the Trent University Archives (TUA), where Bernadine Dodge and Jodi Aoki shepherded me through the process of identifying and working with archival sources. The focus for that paper was early girls’ summer camps in Ontario – TUA is home to the records of the Ontario Camping Association – which remained a topic of interest for me as a Master’s student and which ultimately directed me towards the canoe as a subject of study for my doctoral dissertation.

Adirondack Museum (now the Adirondack Experience), 2009. Image by Jess Dunkin

The canoe is, of course, a massive topic. I had proposed to study the history of women and canoeing to the Graduate Committee in the Department of History at Carleton University. It was in the archive, specifically the Adirondack Museum Archives (now the Adirondack Experience) in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, that I came up against the impossibility of this project, but was also gifted a more manageable topic.

The Adirondack Museum, at that time, had bound copies of Forest and Stream magazine, which during the late nineteenth century enthusiastically supported and documented the activities of the American Canoe Association (ACA), a voluntary society founded in 1880 to bring together canoeing enthusiasts from across the continent; in spite of its name, it had a sizeable Canadian membership in the early years. As I turned the periodical’s large yellowed pages, I had my first glimpse of the organization’s summer encampments.

Beginning in 1880, the ACA hosted an annual gathering at out of the way, if not entirely wild places on both sides of the Canada-US border. For two to three weeks in August, canoeing enthusiasts from Toronto, Philadelphia, Montreal, Boston, and many places in between came together to sleep in tents, socialize, and sail and paddle canoes. I soon realized that these events, which usually featured a multi-day regatta, excursions, campfires, spectacles, and more, offered an opportunity to consider the social worlds that grew up around canoes and by extension the politics of sport and leisure.

From the archives in Blue Mountain Lake, I found my way to Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, and the New York State Historical Association (now the Fenimore Museum) in Cooperstown, New York, both of which boast sizeable collections of ACA records and ephemera; the archives at Mystic Seaport have 43 boxes and 8 volumes dating from 1881 to 1987, while the Research Library at the Fenimore Museum has 5.5 cubic feet and six oversize folders of materials covering 1879–2009. These collections, which are primarily composed of official records like meeting minutes, annual reports, and correspondence, provided the scaffolding for the project. The texture of the meets came from a thorough search of newspapers local to the event sites (the ACA set up camp in 15 different locations between 1880 and 1902 before establishing a permanent encampment on Sugar Island in the Thousand Islands in 1903).

While it was a pleasure to visit small repositories on both sides of the border to look through old newspapers, you can imagine my joy when I stumbled upon New York State Historic Newspapers, a free, searchable, full-text database of upwards of 400 newspapers, dating from 1795–2014. This website, which currently has more than 9.5 million periodical pages, enabled me to cast a much wider net (sixteen of the pre-1903 meets were held in the Empire State and even when the encampment was elsewhere, New York State newspapers from communities large and small reported on the event), which in turn allowed for a more nuanced understanding of the encampments. Consider, for instance, this excerpt from an 1896 issue of the Syracuse Evening Herald: “The events in which the ladies participated excited more than usual interest. The contests though short were watched from start to finish by an eager throng, who with craning necks and shouts of encouragement for the various favorites, cheered the contestants on.” Whereas a regatta programme indicates the existence of women’s races, periodical accounts tell us something about the meaning and significance of those races.

“The Sneak-Box Mess: Camp of the Brooklyn Canoe Club,” 1887. Image by Seneca Ray Stoddard

I came to know the encampments in different ways through photographs. The ACA Collection at the Fenimore Museum includes more than 500 images gathered by C. Bowyer Vaux. Many of these photographs were taken by Seneca Ray Stoddard, a well-known nineteenth-century photographer who was a familiar face at the ACA meets from 1881 to 1896, but Vaux also collected images from other commercial and amateur photographers. Taken together, these photographs at once support and subvert dominant narratives about the ACA encampments. They played a particularly important role in revealing and reconstructing the labour that enabled the annual events, which is the subject of Chapter Eight in my book, and disrupting the notion of the meets as exclusively spaces of white, middle-class leisure. This Stoddard photograph, for instance, was the first one I saw documenting the presence of a Black person at the encampments. It inspired me to pay closer attention to other visual and textual sources.

A rich and eclectic library of secondary literature helped me to make sense of what I was reading and seeing in the archive. One of the joys of this project was being able to read widely about topics as disparate and related as middle-class foodways and interior design, liberalism, circuses and minstrelsy, waste management, Indigenous craft production, and boat design and amateur sport. What emerged from this entangling of past and present sources and thinking was an account of an annual event that tells us as much about the significance of sport and leisure in the late nineteenth century, both for individuals and for society, as it does about the ACA and canoeing.

I came to this project as an avid canoeist and I remain one to this day, but I understand the canoe and myself as a paddler in different ways as a result of this research. White settlers appropriated the canoe, eventually transforming it into a craft and, enabled by colonial policies of dispossession and assimilation, they paddled and sailed at their leisure. I have benefitted from these same policies, though I did not see that until I began to study the canoe. Understanding colonial histories of the canoe has not only re-shaped my approach to canoeing as a physical and ethical practice, but it has also inspired me to find ways to support the resurgence of Indigenous canoeing traditions in the place that I now call home, Denendeh.

***

Jessica Dunkin is an independent scholar based in Yellowknife, NT. To find out more about Jessica, you can visit her website.


To find out more about Canoe and Canvas, click here.

My Odd Case of Writer’s Block, Or, How I Spent Six Months Writing One Paragraph

Sharing the Past is an unprecedentedly detailed account of the intertwining discourses of Canadian history and creative literature. In this post, author of the book J.A. Weingarten discusses his own personal experience with writer’s block, and why it took him the best part of six months to complete his book.


By J.A Weingarten

By Fall 2016, I had finished nearly all of the writing for my recently released book, Sharing the Past. One thing remained: I had to complete a paragraph that I’d been agonizing over for nearly six months. It was a deceptively simple statement: I needed only to admit to my reader that I didn’t know everything. Let me explain.

The primary point of Sharing the Past is to show that creative writers – freer and typically more willing than academics to write experimental and deeply personal histories – have found the means to write histories that are (as I say in the book) both “intellectual” (based on factual events and sources) and “felt” (made emotionally powerful by the sharing of intimate, often familial, connections to those events). David Zieroth writes about his grandfather’s experience in Canadian internment camps, Louise Halfe writes about the devastation wrought by residential schools on her family, and Andrew Suknaski writes about the struggle his family faced as it joined the massive waves of Eastern European immigrants during the early twentieth century. The stories are big and small: focused on large historical events, but seen through the affective lens of a familial experience. Many readers have connected to these “big and small” histories in ways that they have not connected to the scholarship of conventional historians focused on “big picture” stories (e.g. tales of the political elite, memorable policy, large-scale events). I make that distinction with greater care and context in my book, but, for now, let that basic contrast suffice.

One thing many of the writers in my book have in common is that their personal approach to history compels them to acknowledge, in one way or another, that their histories are, by virtue of their subjectivity, open to corrections and/or expansions. “My family’s story,” these writers often seem to say, “is just one of many possible perspectives on history.” In other words, no one can really claim to know everything about the past. It is brave to write as passionately as creative writers do about history and then to acknowledge, simultaneously, one’s limited ability to write the past fully and accurately. There are, I say throughout the book, so many ways to tell a story, and each author I discuss acknowledges that plurality of approaches.

So here was my conundrum in Fall 2016. I was writing a scholarly history of history infused with my own feelings and beliefs, and so it became clear that I was trapping myself in a corner: I was praising authors in my study for their candid admissions that their knowledge about history has limits, but I was not sharing with my reader that same humility. The issue became more complicated as I began to write about experiences far removed from my own: I was writing about leading Canadian authors of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s like Margaret Atwood and Lorna Crozier and about Indigenous authors publishing since the 1980s like Louise Halfe and Joan Crate. The broader the reach of my book (eras, cultures, figures, et cetera), the more I felt it was necessary to say something about my own limits as a scholar. I began to feel hypocritical because of my omission. Every one of my authors happily celebrated that they could not know everything about the past … why was it so hard for me to write a paragraph that said something so obviously true of my own historical writing? Of course I don’t know everything! Of course my book is open to correction! Of course more could be said than I say! So why couldn’t I just say that?

The cover of Peter Steven’s Family Feelings & Other Poems makes an implied connection between photography and family.

It took me six months to find the words. And during those six months, I thought incessantly about my odd case of writer’s block. I gradually found some clarity … partly by rereading the poetry on which my study focuses and partly by reading eye-opening scholarship that unpacks questions about different systems of knowledge in and outside of Canada (I was especially influenced, for instance, by Deanna Reder and Linda Morra’s Learn, Teach, Challenge).

Here is what I realized by Fall 2016: as a young scholar I felt I needed, at all times, to wear a veil of certainty. Whether I put that pressure on myself or whether it was put on me by others (or both) I do not know. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist (flashback: my first day of kindergarten, trying desperately to cut a perfect circle, and looking angrily, crying and disappointed, at the splintery oval I’d cut out of construction paper). Having the answers – as many of them as possible – seemed important during my time as a student, both before and during grad school. It was my own failing that I came to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that having answers was the key to earning respect for my writing. Perhaps that was something deep-seated that had grown unchecked over the years, fed by the uncertainty, stress, and confusion of pursuing a grad degree.

The end result was, in my early 30s and finishing my first book, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of claiming expertise and then admitting, in the same breath, that I was fully capable of being wrong. That admission became something over which I obsessed. The time I shared with that one paragraph was no longer just about finishing my book; it was about taking a step forward as a writer, professor, friend, son, husband – now a father – and all-around human being.

Those six months spent writing one paragraph changed my relationship to my book. They changed my relationship to my knowledge and self. I look back at the process of writing Sharing the Past and, as proud as I am of the book, I think of it now as a learning process for me. Not a crowning achievement, but the process through which I learned (with the help of poets, novelists, and scholars) to speak more honestly about my writing and learning. That paragraph entered the text without anyone ever realizing (minus those reading this blog) how much time went into it or how significant it was for me to write it. It surreptitiously snuck in line, joining the row of paragraphs ahead and behind it, the way I used to bud into the movie theatre line as a kid. It blends in unnoticed. Just another example of many things I wrote and will write.

The paragraph, for those interested, has been reproduced below:

“When I began this book about ten years ago, it had not occurred to me – at least not with the same force it now does – that every scholar, including myself, has limits to and gaps in their knowledge. I draw attention to this point because Indigenous scholars have often outlined the danger of holding firmly onto knowledge without questioning or recognizing one’s own position. While writing this book, a colleague had advised me to emphasize my expertise over my openness to correction, but I felt then – as I do now – that such an addition would be disingenuous in a study so concerned with the value and limits of individual knowledge. Intelligence, like compassion, is not achieved through assertions, but rather by making a genuine effort to reach a deeper understanding of a time, place, or perspective. While it may be necessary in a scholarly study to assert expertise, it seems equally important to acknowledge that a persistent problem in settler-authored studies is the deployment of uncontested, imperialistic interpretations. It would be irresponsible to pretend that I, as a third-generation Canadian and as a scholar entrenched in settler traditions of language and literature, could fully step back from those personal and academic positions. Hence, my discussion here – informed by years of research, interviews, and thought – will still surely invite expansion and possibly correction. Those outcomes seem to me ideal, because my critical efforts in this chapter, and in this book, are determined encouragements of further conversations, not assertions of rigid conclusions.” (Sharing the Past, page 205)


J.A. Weingarten is a professor in the School of Language and Liberal Studies at Fanshawe College.