I was honoured last week to be asked to read at Grand Mamas: Artists and Activists Talk About Their Grandmothers, Mothers, Daughters and Chosen Family, an event raising money for W.O.W., Warriors Organizing Women, the group at Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre who organizes the Women’s Memorial March, which will happen for the 25th time today. The Heartwood Café was packed; in fact many were turned away. The space was bright and bustling, with staff bringing bowls of tofu, greens and rice—at least that’s what it looked like. Yummy!—to audience members where they sat.
When the time came, I was invited to open the event. I read selections from my sister’s journals, lines never shared in public before, all of them written in the year before she disappeared. Here’s one:
People need people to live, and if you build a wall that is so goddamn high that nobody can contact you, you might as well be in jail.
I find that I get so scared and nervous that I push people who care about me away. I try to get them upset with me or start false accusations to make them hate me. I can’t let anybody in. I try to be so tough and strong, but inside I just fall apart and cry like a little baby.
My heart aches for my mother to come and hold me to her bosom and rock me back and forth soothing the hurt and rejection, making my self-pity fade like the morning that turns to night. I wrap my scarred arms around my thin body.
Sarah de Vries, 1997
After reading, I settled in to listen to everyone else. I’m sad to say I was not familiar with any of the other presenters except for host, Amber Dawn. Clearly, I don’t get out much! Every single reading was brilliant. Some made me weep. Others made my face sore from laughing, while I squirmed with delighted horror. I’ve included a list of the presenters below.
Toward the end of the evening, Amber invited Fay Blaney to the stage. I had not met Fay officially before. She is part of W.O.W., in her fifties just like me, and a tireless activist for Aboriginal women. She and I spoke to one another briefly at the event, and the next day I read some of her writing online. She is eloquent on the subject of rampant violence against Aboriginal women and girls, the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada, and the need for Aboriginal women themselves to be heard.
It was an important evening. Thank you, Amber and Jen!
Other performers: Jillian Christmas , Ashley Aron, Anna Soole, Ben Keane-O’Hara, mia susan amir, Jessica Giang, and Jen Sung, the co-host.