Alhamdu lillah, this is the second week of the Artist in the Library residency. I’m feeling a little better about the refugee situation.

As soon as possible, we’re going to be donating to some refugee camps in Jordan. We’re budgeting for about $500. (I wasn’t going to say the amount but hey, if it encourages anyone else to donate, why not? right?)

Our masjid is sponsoring some Syrian families and the donations are good alhamdu lillah!

I have contacts who know trustworthy people there who can distribute funds. They are saying the situation is dire, many refugees are starving and since the Ontario government and even the stingy conservative government has finally opened up to accepting refugees coming here (thank God!!!) then I try to see where the need is the greatest.

I’m so fortunate to get this grant! For three months I’ll be doing writing and public speaking programs and opening myself up to the community that is served by Downsview Public Library. It’s quite different from Fairview library that I did last year. This area seems a little less affluent.

It was a busy week of the residency and although the numbers have been small (compared to Fairview) the impact has been interesting.

On Wednesday afternoon a mother dragged her daughter into one of my writing sessions.

I was in the midst of teaching two little six year olds some writing skills. We were talking about stories, and how they need to have a problem and I was doing my ‘magic mitten’ exercise. Every once in a while I glanced over at the older girl and I could see her eyes were shiny.

“Are you all right?” I asked. And she nodded hastily.

I continued working with the two children, and I tried to keep it light and funny, and as we worked, the older girl unfolded her legs from the chair she was sitting on and let them touch the floor.

She was here for the public speaking workshop.

So at 4:00 the only other kid who’d registered arrived.

Both of the older children couldn’t have been more different! The boy was outspoken, I had to actually reign him in to be a better speaker and the girl was very quiet.

I doubted I’d be able to get her to open up enough to tell a story. When I said I wanted to just mash the boy and the girl together so I’d have a perfect public speaker, I saw the girl smile.

At the end she did tell a story. She spoke quietly, but distinctly, and showed that she was quite knowledgeable.

When her mother picked her up, she asked me about other public speaking sessions her daughter could attend and I told her about the Saturday session but then I told her also about the writing session. The girl spoke up, she wanted to attend both of them! And her mother gave her an ‘I told you so’ look.

She attended both sessions on Saturday. I have hopes she’ll open up more by the end of the program.

One thing that has been surprising to me is how popular the seniors’ program “The Essence of Memoir” has been. I had eight people registered and the stories these seniors have to tell are amazing!

We have a diverse group, from different ethnicities and backgrounds.

The seniors are very enthusiastic about writing!

And in fact one of the ladies wrote a piece that was so poetic, I told her there was nothing I could do to improve it! It didn’t need to be turned into found poetry!

I spent part of the session illustrating how I wanted them to turn their pieces into found poetry.

At the end of the session, one of the ladies had questions and stayed behind to discuss them with me.

Her memory was from something her mother had told her, and I helped her transcribe it into a found poem that was quite remarkable in the power of its imagery. I was particularly happy when she said that she didn’t like the way I’d transcribed one of her statements. She thought it should be written in a different way, and I thought to myself, “Good! She’s taking creative control of this herself!”

The experience of dealing with these seniors was very rewarding for me as an artist. Writing often includes sketching different types of characters and these were people I’d never come across before.

I learned a lot from them and I look forward to learning more.

The residency is such an intense experience! I work so hard, but alhamdu lillah, it gives me a lot to ponder over as well.