For five years the clear plastic tub with white rectangular lid has sat on a shelf, in a cupboard, under a pile, moved from space to space like a box of old love letters. Once or twice a year under the safety and permission of academic florescence I have reached into five hundred pages and pulled an anecdote to share with students as a writing sample. Secretly, such opportunities allowed a self-conscious romantic to celebrate a great love, now lost to time and space.
How can this box of memory be so every-day and yet so powerful that I am now writing this paragraph to procrastinate the unsheathing of the pages from their clear plastic tub? What am I afraid of? Will the pages condemn? Overwhelm? Expose? Embarrass? Trivialize? Oppress? Marginalize?
I bring the tub unceremoniously to my workstation and place it on a rectangular table across from my three-year-old daughter. She colours on outdated computer paper, the kind with tear-off-holes along the edges. I turn on praise and worship music to distract my daughter who is now digging into my computer desk drawers.
“Everywhere I go I know you’re not far away, you’re right here, you’re right here, yeh ah.” I type the words. The tub is more than the sum of its parts. Something spiritual. Something to fear. To embrace.
My daughter has left, but I am not alone. I turn off the music. I turn to the pages.
Three hours ago I removed colouring sheets from my work table, then retrieved pages 1-19, 20-27, and the remaining 28-560 from the tub and placed them in three piles.
The first represents re-reading from the first day of Christmas Holiday at the farm. I asked questions in the margins, commented and generally talked back to six-years-ago me. I wrote “Blue Eyes on my Knee” in reflection to this first sitting and imagined that the re-entry into this text wasn’t going to be as difficult as I’d feared; however, I couldn’t leave the warmth of Christmas family and relaxation to enter this unknown past, hence the second pile: the pile I should have read, over Christmas, but haven’t.
The third is unsifted, unread but for glimpses at titles or sentences or paragraphs, which caught my eye as I checked to see that all the pages are there. It’s as though a word here or a thought there is really an unmapped landscape. If I were to enter, truly re-enter, I would become disoriented and lost.
In the last three hours I have written a query letter, taken a shower, snacked on broccoli, stared at the piles, inspected my children and husband’s housecleaning, and dressed to work a bingo tonight (I wonder what other things I have done which I cannot list here because they would weaken my perception of desired respectability from my reader). I now have fifteen minutes to consider a strategy that would allow me to enter and exit, re-enter and re-exit this memory work given the restrictions of my life as mother, wife, and teacher. How can I discover an entry point, identify landmarks and find my way home?
These are my questions, straightforward and in my face.
- What are the re-emerging themes as I (a white woman English teacher) remember my on-reserve experience?
- How can I use poetics and memory work to layer my off-reserve learnings toward anti-racist pedagogy?
Tomorrow morning, after walking the dogs and eating breakfast, I will skip down the stairs to my office and allow my fingers to run and slide through the white pages of the third pile, as though they were hills covered in snow. I will allow a mound or knoll to arrest my playfulness and I will let my blue eyes remember.