Finding a Voice

Saturday, February 24, 2007

if this were Christmas ...

... the weather would be nice.
Fortunately, yesterday's snow fell gently and didn't blow too hard,
but there sure was a lot of it.
Really, how much snow can one region handle?
And where's it all going to go when it melts?
I need to get some rubber boots for the 3 block commute to work!
posted by Colleen McCubbin at 9:15 AM 0 comments


On Thursday night Mom and Dawn Mundell and I were the entertainment for a banquet at the Shellbrook Pentecostal Church. A delightful audience -- very attentive, singing enthusiastically whenever they knew the tunes. Pastor Dave and Marlene Bodverson were supreme hosts for us.

We'll be back at the Shellbrook PC on the evening of March11th for a mini-jambouree -- just 2 songs each in a line-up of about 14 people.

March 16-18 is Spiritwood's spring edition of the Grand Ol' Opry and we're singing during the gospel event on Sunday morning.

Oh, and Mom and I made front page news (picture and all!) in the Spiritwood paper for our Valentine's Day gig. I'll scan the picture ASAP.

posted by Colleen McCubbin at 9:03 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

carpentry of grammar

My dad is doing major renovations on the convent.
I'm doing major renovations on oral history narratives.

These talks were tape-recorded, and in editing Spiritual Quests I worked from the transcripts of the tapes. All oral material needs a certain amount of tidying for print; the ear makes leaps that the eye won't tolerate. The carpentry of grammar has to be hammered into place, and casually mentioned matters of historical record--names, places, titles, dates--have to be nailed down. The hard covers of a book [or thesis] confer permanence, as editors of informal talks have to keep reminding themselves.
But I haven't tried to turn the talks into prose. My aim was to preserve the voice, the rhythms and the vitality of the speakers. Listen, therefore, as you read.

-- William Zinnser in the "Introduction" to
Spiritual Quests: The Art and Craft of Religious Writing.


posted by Colleen McCubbin at 1:00 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

thesis progress

I'm working on the last of four personal narratives. I carried it around with a red pen this morning, editing phrases and paragraphs between delivering singing telegrams.

I have really struggled with knowing how to edit the interview transcripts, especially regarding the question of voice and authenticity. My goal is to create documents that can be accessible to anybody who's interested in Briercrest history, so I'll write a little introductory paragraph for each narrative. But how to convey the stories in a way that honours the narrators? Then I discovered an extremely helpful article -- a lifesaver, really. Here's a key paragraph:

"The dilemma for the writer of a published text is to what degree is it appropriate to edit the words of the narrator? ... While faithfully reproducing the spoken word in a textual form may be desirable in the transcribing phase, and appropriate for certain oral histories that are not published or are aimed at an academic audience or a particular cultural group, I argue that this is inappropriate for interviews or extracts that are published for general readership. When publishing for a general audience, extensive editing is necessary to create a document that is not only readable and accessible, but also conveys th flavor of the experiences." (Rebecca Jones, "Blended Voices: Crafting Narrative from Oral History Interviews" in The Oral History Review, vol. 31, no. 1, p. 25-26).

This fourth narrative is based on an interview with two women together, which makes voicing especially tricky because their stories are so intertwined that it's hard to separate them. I'm not sure I should separate their voices, but then the question is how to differentiate when necessary. Should I maintain some (or much) of the dialogue from the interview, or integrate it for a more seamless story? I am reticent to use third person, at least not too much; perhaps for "connective tissue." The key right now is to spend time with the event, reading, re-reading, becoming familiar with the themes, editing little bit by little bit, rearranging material, and gradually letting a coherent and faithful story emerge. This is a valid and important process, as demonstrated on page 41 of a U of S thesis.

So now -- to that very process ...
posted by Colleen McCubbin at 9:28 PM 0 comments

singing telegrams

My mom and I spent the morning delivering singing telegrams as a Valentine's Day fundraiser for the seniors' lodge where my grandmother lives. Starting at 8:30, we drove around town -- and even out of town -- to deliver a different telegram every 15 minutes, sometimes not exactly sure where we were going. What a panic! There were five of us for the first round: Yvette, the lodge Activities Coordinator; Linda, a nurse at the lodge; Nora, a senior lady from the community; Mom; and me. That group popped in and out of Yvette's van until 1:30, and I got to see places in Spiritwood that I otherwise may never have seen: the Spiritwood Stockyards, the Beaulac Funeral Home, and Fast Genetics, as well as other offices, restaurants, and various homes. Some people wanted to hide, some people cried, and some just laughed. Additionally, I'm getting a real education in old standard tunes, which is very good for the repertoire. Favorites today included:

- Can't Help Falling in Love
- Love Me Tender
- Down in the Valley
- Let Me Call You Sweetheart
- Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?
- Let the Sun Shine In
- Side by Side ("We ain't got a barrel of money ...")

I left the crew for a home care meeting at 1:30, but I helped sing the last two telegrams at 7:15 and 7:30. Someone had backed out at the last minute, so my poor Mom agreed to stay on until the end! She was exhausted when Dad and I met her for the delicious Valentine's Day smorg at Marion's Burger Bar.
posted by Colleen McCubbin at 9:17 PM 0 comments

Sunday, February 11, 2007

listening to the stories

"Between the oral interview and the written manuscript is a long, meandering journey in which a narrative is crafted." (Rebecca Jones, "Blended Voices: Crafting a Narrative from Oral History Interviews" in The Oral History Review, Vol 31, No. 1, pages 23-42.)

I am on this same journey:
the genre is autobiography,
the voicing is first person (of course),
how to organize and provide connective tissue
is rather mystifying ...

On the side, I'm loading CDs onto my computer
to form a soundtrack background for my thesis
and to remind me that many stories I am finding
will make their way into songs.

I just finished loading Cate Friesen's Wayward.
Two songs are essential in the soundtrack to my project:

First, "Peggy Carpenter":
"Her name is Peggy Carpenter and I write to remember ..."
Me, too. Their names are Jean and Esther and Selma and Irene and and Myrtle Lillian (with husband Gordon) .. and I write to remember.

Next, "She Walks Lightly" is a cheerful little tune
about an elderly woman who
"walks lightly on this good earth
tends her garden well
saves her pennies up for tulip bulbs and roses
she's got stories to tell if you listen."
Listening to the stories of octagenarian women;
this is my oral history project.
Personally, I like this bit,
wondering if I'll have a similar eccentric tale to tell:
"Walls of photographs, faces faded
her friend Grace and the trip they chanced
she went to Egypt once, she had lovers, too
nobody visits now, nobody knows how she danced
all night, the jitterbug
now she walks slowly but lightly
talks to the daisies, the neighbours think she's crazy
she don't care, she's got stories."

Of course, my story's not done yet,
God's the "Good Storyline"
and it's a pretty good one so far!

As well as her own music and writing,
she hosts Cate Friesen's Roots Report on CBC radio,
interviewing other Canadian musicians.
Funny thing about the show's archives:
apparently you can search them all the way through 2008.
Time travel. Whoa.

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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 9:17 PM 1 comments

Sunday, February 04, 2007

who are the sisters?

I realized today that an earlier post, "unity week," is not entirely self-explanatory.

To understand it, you need to know that I live with my parents in a 9000-sq-ft former convent, built in 1953. It is down the street from Spiritwood's Catholic Church and across the street from Rivier School, a Catholic school named for Sister Marie Rivier, founder of The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary. A few months ago, Mom and Dad heard that Spiritwood's resident nuns had sold their house and were hoping to stay in town if they could find a place. My parents have a lovely apartment downstairs, where my grandfather lived until May. After prayer and deliberation, my parentes decided to offer the apartment to the Sisters, and on January 23rd they moved in.

The convent was also a boarding school for many years for children who lived further north in Saskatchewan. It sits on land that used to belong to the Searle grain company, for which my grandfather was a buyer. Grandpa was involved in the transactions with the Catholic Church to buy this land. As a child, my mother took piano lessons in a little room that is now the apartment office, and sometimes she would join the boarders for study hall, which room is now divided between the apartment and my dad's carpentry workshop.

When Srs. Therese and Bernadette joined the Presentation of Mary, their vocational choices were two: cook or teacher. Sr. Bernadette thought she would like to be a cook, but her superiors steered her towards teaching. Sr. Therese was also a teacher, a profession they both loved, particularly their four years each in Spiritwood. Each of them has had a teaching career of more than 30 years. But profession was not as important to them as devoting themselves completely to God. Now their work is parish ministry with seniors, especially visitation and taking the Eucharist to shut-ins.

For Sister Therese this move was a kind of homecoming. A teacher at Rivier School in the early 1950s, she was among the first nuns to live in this building when it was built in 1953. It's good to have them home.

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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 7:52 PM 2 comments