Who is We: Voices Across the Divides
How can writing transform a life? Of the writer, of the listener? How are we rescued by a new voice, finding within us a purpose we’ve never experienced before? Whose voices matter?
Who Is We is a question asked by a single voice in pursuit of community, about questioning our notions of “Us and Them”. The past couple of years have made it abundantly clear that whatever each of us may have assumed our We to have been – whether sentimentally rooted in family, practically framed by politics, or idealistically the human race on a ship of togetherness – the time has come to acknowledge that questions need to be asked.
Writers Collective of Canada and Art of Time Ensemble explore the transformative powers of writing in Who Is We: Voices Across the Divides, in videos of a multi-disciplinary concert of question and hope. Directed by Daniel MacIvor, with music by Jonathan Goldsmith. Who Is We showcases honest and personal works written and performed by WCC writers appearing for the first time on stage: Kan Cheung, Paul Eng, Dee Hope, Marta McIlroy, Ellise Ramos, Wrecks Ricardus, Ahana Sarkar, Roberta Taylor, Shirin Tobie-Paul, Rooth Vimalanathan, Luxshie Vimaleswaran, and Christina Walsh.
Reflection: On Being a Chinese Psychic
Kan Cheung is an immigrant from Hong Kong who loves words and considers books to be teachers and mentors. He’s a registered nurse and social worker by day and chooses to spend his evenings with the pen writing in his overstuffed downtown Toronto condo. Only starting to write more seriously in the past year, his goal is being able to find his own authentic voice amidst the stereotypes that society has placed upon him. Being able to accept his “otherness” and celebrate it has been a challenge that he continues to face but draws upon these experiences to colour everything he writes.
Ahana Das Sarkar
Born in Kolkata, India – the city of Joy – Ahana Das Sarkar‘s mother-tongue is Bengali but her thoughts now mostly speak to her in English. It started at age ten, when her family immigrated to Toronto, Canada. Watching her immigrant parents sacrifice to build a new life in an unknown land has shaped her in ways she is still discovering. Professionally, she is grateful to be able to work to improve the healthcare system. After the passing of her beloved mother, Maa, in 2018, she re-discovered creative writing as a way to express her experiences and tell her story.
The Fentanyl Release
Born Gary Wesley in Toronto, sister Lillian Pong (never met). Chinese father died before I was born, Cree Ojibway mother gave us up for adoption. I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, got expelled when I was 16, left for Toronto and got a job selling magazine subscriptions, straight commission, knocked on about 100 doors a day, very calloused knuckles. Wore a suit and tie. Later got a job as a bellboy and moved in with a French salesgirl. Went to Vancouver January 1, 1970, wanted to get a job on a boat but it was sealed by union rules, hitched back across Canada from Vancouver to Thunder Bay, minus 40 or more near Winnipeg. I had 11 cents in my pocket after the phone call in Vancouver to my girlfriend who told me not to come back to Windsor. At Thunder Bay, called my dad for a ticket from Thunder Bay to Toronto and hitched that night to Windsor, mail truck gave me a ride to my car factory town.
Went to St. Clair College, Comm. Arts, 1 year, Fanshawe College, photography, 1 year, 2 years University of Windsor, went to Alberta and got a job as a dishwasher in the Syncrude Project, 1975, left for London, England, Paris, Amsterdam, Tangiers, Essaouria, Marrakesch, Ceuta and back to Europe, did not make it to the Octoberfest, met a German girl, stayed 13 years, have
2 daughters in Saarbrücken. Also spent 7 months in Mazatlan, twice to Greece, twice to Thailand. Yes, I like Rimbaud, Neruda, Spender, Rilke etc. Also got to Fort Lauder-dale three times, once when I was 17.
– Paul Eng
Who Am I
Proud to be born to second-generation Bajan parents, Dee Hope is one of the original writers in the Writers Collective of Canada’s first workshops at the Friendship Centre at Dundas and Sherbourne. Dee’s experience in community service spans over twenty years working with marginalized populations in Toronto’s downtown core. She is currently a frontline Community Worker at Sound Times Support Services focusing on clients with mental health and challenges in the justice system. Dee is also a WCC Workshop Facilitator, single mother, radio host and a programmer with radio regent. The WCC gave her voice, in a community of writers whose support and inclusion empowers all to tell their unique stories and to become a writer: the truest form of freedom.
Tribe of the Small Hands
My family — and any family history — seemed to have few claims to any geographical community, beyond Toronto — though I’m the first generation born here. Some-times, looking around, and thinking of my own experience, I might be tempted to say that I grew up in a community of abuse — the abused, the abusive — but basically that’s no community.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve been a lone soul much of my life — relying on my imagination for company. Perhaps that’s why writing suits me.
I always wrote. We were that kind of family, books were the most important things and reading was a religion. But writing for an audience was never in my head. I wrote things down for me — not an audience.
Maybe I had enough horror growing up, so I don’t fear much about being an adult. I have grand plans, so many ideas I want to put down and I’m very curious to see what I write.
Hope can lead to a dream and the dreams seem so small and quiet — peace near water — an opportunity to spend time writing. And reading, always. And sharing the writing feels like being part of a community, in so many ways.
— Marta McIlroy
Ellise Ramos is a Torontonian living in a box where she drowns in books and cat hair. She volunteers facilitating writing workshops at an organization that houses and helps people with mental health issues integrate back into society after hospitalization. Her collection of poetry, Ruptures, is about survival, loss, trauma and addiction. After being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and PTSD in 2015, Ellise has lived her life on the constant brink of chaos and euphoria. Her poetry is contemporary, insanity, addiction, escape, and trauma. Ellise’s poetry has been published in numerous online magazines and can be found on her website at elliseramos.com. She hopes that her poetry will find its place in your heart.
Stop a Moment
There was a time when I could have been considered a loving father, a faithful spouse, a diligent employee, and an active member of the community. Alas, all that changed when I was rudely confronted with the reality of mental health. Trauma defined my life choices and equally destroyed any proper social response, leaving me with a grab bag of things that I refer to artistically as Wrecks Ricardus.
Today, life could not possibly get any better. Every day seems better than the last and I am still willing to hang around, just in case I am wrong. Sometimes as I muddle along I find myself dazzled by the beauty of it all.
King Richard translated to Latin is Rex Ricardus, a tainted nobleman living an incarcerated existence with unreasonable expectations. Well then, when I broke out into the freedom of joy in the moment, I wrecked any possibility of royal urgings. So artistically I will just continue being happy as Wrecks Ricardus. Scribbling a thought or two just for the beauty of it all.
— Wrecks Ricardus
Inside the Rooms of Holiness, Where I am From, Nothing Fits, Perfection, The Broken World
Roberta Taylor was born in Winnipeg and spent her early childhood in foster care. After being adopted at age 7, she went to theatre school and studied classical music. She also spent time on a farm. She has been writing poetry since she was small. Her art includes photography, painting, and sculpting and is informed by her foster care experience, trauma, and episodes of near homelessness. Today, Roberta sells art and photography and is working on publishing an anthology of her lifetime of poetry. Despite physical challenges, Roberta feels she is now at her most creative.
Shirin Tobie-Paul is an author and workshop facilitator for the Writers Collective of Canada. With an interest in education, she was one of the presenters for the TDSB’s 2019 Parents As Partners Conference and sat on the School Council as Chair and Co-Chair. Shirin is engaged in a myriad of community initiatives including being the emcee for the St. Lucia Toronto Association’s annual Independence Gala and Flag Raising Ceremony and wearing many hats for the Waterfront Magazine’s International Peace Festival (Awards and Gala and Film For Peace.) Her greatest role thus far is mother.
Suvaasa, We are the key, I am
Rooth Vimalanathan is a Scarborough resident who enjoys meeting new people with different stories and perspectives. Inspired by the natural world and fantasy books, she often includes her struggles as a second-generation Canadian and the Tamil community’s experiences in her works. Her enthusiasm for trying new things and speaking different languages fuels her desire to travel. Fearing she doesn’t do enough for her communities, Rooth tries to bring representation to the different art forms she explores. Recently, she tried out photography and her works can be found in PS Scarborough (Next Generation Arts) and the Intersections Exhibition (XVXY Photo).
When I Say I Have Not Written in Three Years
Luxshie Vimaleswaran is an emerging multi-disciplinary artist from Toronto, Ontario. As a second-generation immigrant, she strives to create a cultural context out of her racial individuality through her writing, exploring what it means to be an emerging artist in the Tamil diaspora. Luxshie uses writing in all forms to investigate parts of herself and her place in the multicultural heartland of Toronto.
Family – The F Word
Christina Walsh was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Despite a very difficult family life, she has known from an early age that she had “newfound” creativity brewing inside her. Her creativity has helped her overcome risky self-harming behavior. Christina has been writing with the Writers Collective of Canada for seven years. She has been published in several anthologies and participated in numerous spoken word and fundraising events with WCC and is proud of the various writing awards she has won. Christina hopes to continue facilitating trauma-informed writing and art groups in her community and becoming a peer worker.
Art of Time Ensemble
Renowned concert pianist Andrew Burashko formed Art of Time Ensemble in 1998 by inviting a group of like-minded musicians and prominent figures in dance, theatre and other art forms to perform one-off concerts in Toronto. The company has gone on to become a leader in Toronto’s vibrant performing arts scene, through its subscription season at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, regular appearances at Koerner Hall, album releases, performances with leading Canadian orchestras, and the tours of its unique offerings to dozens of cities throughout Canada and the United States. Exploring the relationship between classical music in its many forms and other genres such as jazz, pop, electronica, rock, folk, electroacoustic, gospel and others, Art of Time seeks to reveal the qualities that lie at the heart of all great music.
Writers Collective of Canada
Who Is We: Voices Across The Divides builds on the Writers Collective of Canada’s mission to celebrate innate creative genius in every person through exploratory writing in community. WCC workshops and programs offer space to under-represented voices, giving them opportunity to explore and share magnificent and courageous writing. Writing together, we change the world.