Joy Kogawa House writer-in-residence Deborah Willis wrote the following in her last workshop at PEERS before leaving Vancouver. The suggested topic was “Journey To The Centre”. PEERS closed its doors one week later due to provincial funding cuts. The Studio would like to thank Joy Kogawa House for bringing Debbie to Vancouver, Debbie for her friendship and support, and PEERS Vancouver for 10 years of immeasurable service to the community.
When I was a kid, I read a picture book that told the story of an African legend. In the legend, the earth has lost its stories, and no one has any tales to tell. A world without stories is an impoverished one, so a man decides to journey to the god of stories and he climbs a large vine into the sky. In the clouds, he sees the god sitting cross-legged, with a box of stories at his feet. I don’t remember exactly what happens next – the story has been lost from my memory, I guess – but somehow the man gets the box and brings it back to earth. The world, with all its voices, its anecdotes, its dreams and nightmares, is restored.
I’m not sure if I believed in the Jewish or Christian gods I was raised to know, but as a kid, I believed in the god of stories. Maybe I still do. Getting outside of myself in order to listen to another person’s story seems like one of the most pleasant and important things I can do. I think it comes naturally to everyone. We want to hear about each others’ lives, to gossip, to laugh and weep together. We are so curious. We are always climbing that vine.
What does this have to do with a ‘journey to the centre?’ I’m not entirely sure. But sometimes it seems like listening to each others’ stories, especially in this room at PEERS, brings me closer to the centre of something. The more I try to understand other people, the more I hope to understand myself. Thank you for letting me be here as we all journey to the centre, as we all climb into the sky.