It's been said that a life well lived is an exercise in pain management. When we move from a community, it causes pain. When the people we love move away or die, it causes pain. When a goal is met or a hope falls short, it causes pain. When encounter confrontation or abuse or insensitivity from others, it causes pain.
The perspective we keep on these inevitabilities is what leads to a happy life. For example, a positive view in the face of our wounds is why the blues is a form of music. It's why comedians and clowns exist as entertainers. And it is why Sarah de Leeuw wrote her new book.
Where It Hurts is a northern perspective on the pains and shocks of living in this region of the world. It's easy to find those geographic emotions for places bigger in the popular consciousness - To Live And Die In L.A., Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Dubliners, John And The Missus, The Glace Bay Miners' Museum - and this is one of the first rips of the band-aid for the British Columbia north.
"It's a collection of creative or literary nonfiction essays that, broadly speaking, focus on marginalized people and places - things that are overlooked, going missing, get lost, heartbreak," said de Leeuw.
"(Literary magazine) Quill & Quire said there was a dark humour that under-grids it all, and I think there is, and I think it is the kind of humour that will resonate in northern B.C. It's a self-deprecation that I think most of Canada has a least a bit of, a survival mechanism in some ways and I got it from northern B.C. so I hope it's recognized there, even though not all the stories are focused on northern B.C. A lot of it is, though. I believe we need to write ourselves back into the presence of the province and the country where they are so quick to overlook us and disregard us. I think we are actually lost ourselves as a region in that national and provincial conversation."
It isn't a conscious effort, she believes. It is a passive ignoring of the north, and looks a lot like the passive racism that confronts aboriginal people, the passive ignorance of the inequalities towards women, a willful blindness to the sufferings and lackings of entire demographics of people when one is not part of that group and isn't inclined to go looking for empathy.
"We tend to exist somewhat in myopic universes, echo chambers of our own familiar existences," said de Leeuw.
She points at another book in which she is recently published, the anthology entitled Summer Stories by Mother Tongue Publishing. It brings together 24 highly acclaimed B.C. writers to form this set of uplifting stories themed on the warmest of seasons. de Leeuw and Vanderhoof's Carla Funk are the only names that jump out as being northern. This, de Leeuw believes, was not a conspiracy against the north, just a consequence of that "work with the people you know" subliminal habit we all have.
"Most publishing houses, most literary cafes, most writers' communities have a certain force by virtue of sheer mass, and it is very difficult to turn outward from that," she said. "It takes being deliberate about it. Most people in that circle - centred in Vancouver and Victoria - do not live in or do not think about things beyond north of 52 (roughly all points north of Kamloops), so it is up to us to put our own stories on the record."
The antidote, she said, was not to pout, but to write; not to complain, but to create. Compelling stories, catchy songs, evocative paintings and sculptures let loose out into the world would do the job better than any preaching and speeching.
"I dearly love these people and places, and I love to write about it. It's not fist-pounding to write about that; it is natural and it is a pleasure," she said.
She also blasted off a list of others who are doing it as well, and have been for a long time out of Prince George: Barry McKinnon, Gillian Wigmore, Sharon Thesen, Derrick Denholm, Brian Fawcett, and many others. Regionally the names she machine-gunned were Eden Robinson of the Haisla First Nation, Wade Davis in the Stikine Valley, George Stanley in Terrace, the proprietors of Creekstone Press in Smithers, Kayla Czaga from Kitimat, and more besides.
No matter where these writers may live or travel or do their work, their northernality will waft out from their creations, because they write from where it hurts. All that's different for de Leeuw's new book is she named it so. She was born on Haida Gwaii, grew up in the Skeena region, has lived a lot of her adulthood in Prince George where she still splits her time reluctantly with Kelowna.
She introduces Where It Hurts to her Prince George home audience on May 17 at Books & Company at 7:30 p.m. The evening will include an author's talk, a reading from the book, special literary guests Stephen Collis (visiting) and Betsy Trumpener (resident), all hosted by CNC's English department veteran Peter Maides.