Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


In the Dark

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When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark. Now that I have kids of my own, I know this is a pretty common anxiety. I also know that it’s impossible to banish the demons. Turning on the lights, checking under the bed—our efforts to reassure our kids are more of an expression of solidarity than an effective rewrite of the problem. In a way, the best we can do is stand beside them as they develop the strength to withstand their fear.

I’m not a particularly fearful adult, but I admit to feeling a clutch in my belly when I discovered that I would be reading in Edmonton alongside a woman who has written a book about Robert William Pickton, the notorious serial killer whose pig farm has held our horrified attention for much of the past decade. The writer, Stevie Cameron, is one of Canada’s most respected journalists, and I have read and admired her work for years. But I literally shuddered: I am afraid of this story.

It was wonderful to meet Stevie in person. She is direct, probing, and fiercely intelligent; she is also gracious and warm. When she stood at the podium and said that writing On the Farm has been one of the best experiences of her writing life, I was stunned. How could it be?

Then she began to speak about the six women whose deaths were finally laid on Pickton’s shoulders, and the twenty others whose cases were not deemed strong enough to withstand the legal wrangling, and the two dozen more who are probable or confirmed victims. She told us about tracking down their families and friends, and not resting until she found out something about each one of them. “This is about love,” she said.

That comment turned me around. I am still afraid of the story, but I am reading it. I understand that Stevie’s courage gives me an opportunity to bear witness to 49 socially marginalized women who were victims of a horrendous crime. If I stand in solidarity with them, they are not eclipsed by the darkness of this awful story.

One of the other writers at this non-fiction festival observed that all writers, no matter what genre, are basically embedded journalists, reporting from the front lines of their lives, their dreams, their fears. I’m going to make the leap and suggest that this is true of all the arts, from the wildest experiments to the most realistic representations. A painter and a dancer and a photographer and a musician are all calling in their reports from the front lines, giving us an opportunity to share their experience of the world around us.

Some of what’s out there is truly frightening. The demons are under the bed, and no amount of denying it means they’re gone. But if we can connect with one another when we call in our reports, if we can find a way to say “this is about love,” at least the lights are on and we are steadied by having some company.

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