Further to the regina mom‘s Notes from #CNFC2013 Part 1 here is part 2, detailing the session, “Ownership: Stories and Lies,” with Kate Braid and Tyler Trafford, moderated by Myrna Kostash at the 2013 Creative NonFiction Collective’s annual conference in Banff.
trm knew of Kate Braid’s work as a poet, having been introduced to her Georgia O’Keefe poems at the Sage Hill Writing Experience more than a decade ago. She did not know that Kate Braid was also a nonfiction writer and so listened intently during the presentation about her latest nonfiction work, Journeywoman: Swinging a Hammer in a Man’s World. trm knows women who work in trades and technologies. In fact, when she first became active in the women’s movement, she met many women involved in Saskatchewan Women In Trades and Technologies (SaskWITT), women who, like her, were part of the women’s coalition that came about during the end of the Devine years.
But back to Braid, who said that memoir writing is not the same as autobiography. Rather, it tells part of a life. She said she struggled with finding the stories that mattered and added to it as she went along. Wisely, she had kept a detailed journal and was able to reference her notes. Her first draft took more than 25 years to write and was over 1,200 pages! Eventually, it was carved to a book, thanks to her editor who was able to see the narrative.
She said her intent was to be emotionally honest about her experience in the construction trade, about that time in her life, and found that the tense she chose to use, present tense, afforded her the best means of doing so. The past tense tended to pull her away from the story. She also said that a memoir’s success depends on the author showing what s/he has learned and referenced Myrna’s opening remarks about memory being like a computer. “Memory is a backseat driver who wants control,” she said. Truthtellers, of both emotional and literal truth, she added, are essential to credibility.
Her advice, which comes from Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, is what the regina mom tries to do, that is to “write as though no one is ever going to read this.” Easier said than done, but doable. Still, Braid knew people would read her book and so she changed some people’s names to protect them. She asked herself if names were essential to the story and, in instances where they were, she sent out chapters to those named and sought their feedback. trm is thinking she may well have to do that with her Sask women’s movement essay, presuming it ever gets written, that is.
Braid spoke about her fear and how it stopped her from writing over and over again. At one point she was paralyzed for years and it got even worse after she submitted the manuscript to her publisher! But once she was able to figure out who she was writing the book for, the tradeswomen who went through what she went through, it was easier. She decided she was providing a baseline of what it was like to be a woman working in the trades. She knew the book wanted to be written, knew it had to be written. She wrote various versions of it — scholarly, lighthearted, for example — and finally got it written.
trm can’t help but wonder about the women who, when she worked at the YWCA, were apprenticing in the trades and remodeling various locations in the building. How many of them faced ridicule and insult once they completed their training? How many even completed the training? Certainly, working as part of an all-women crew would be very different from working as the only woman on a construction crew! And trm bets they’d love to hear Braid read from her book, so she’s going to do what she can to get Kate Braid to Saskatchewan for a reading in the near future.