STARFest 2020 is kicking off Tuesday night with an author who not only has an incredible life story to share but whose book about it also reveals the vast power of memoir.
From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way is more than simple memoir: it's author Jesse Thistle's travelogue through the darkness of his life. A lot of the chapters are taken straight from his own journaling, he said, the writing activity that started with the 12 steps he learned in Alcoholics Anonymous.
He credits AA for giving him not only the tools to rehabilitate and stay out of trouble and on the clean path of healing. It also helped him develop his habit of getting his thoughts and feelings and more down on paper for his own reference and for others to read too.
"Memoir writing is like personal archaeology put to ink and then shared. You're sharing the artifacts of your life with the world," he said. "(Readers) can make of it what they will but they're on display," he explained, adding journaling is an ongoing effort just as much as healing is a lifelong process.
"I'm very much a project under maintenance. I'm still trying to figure out my amends, still remembering things I need to fix and people I need to stay away from or people I need to go say sorry to. All those kind of things that are ongoing and it'll be like that for the rest of my life."
From the Ashes recounts his life as a high school dropout in Saskatchewan to becoming an important Indigenous scholar who now teaches Humanities courses at York University. He experienced addictions and homelessness, and was arrested multiple times for stealing. In 2006, he turned himself in to police and began his journey of healing, with journaling being one of the keys to his personal success.
That journaling has a double importance, as it allows him to be able to share his story with a broader population, hopefully helping whoever needs to hear of his lessons along the same path. From the Ashes has won him much praise for his honesty and strength.
He has heard from many readers who are thankful for knowing that they aren't alone in their own struggles.
"A lot of them tell me that they have similar stories and they relate to a lot of what's in there. It creates fellowship to share yourself and what you've been through ... you can see that you're not alone. It creates solidarity and fellowship with people," he continued.
"It makes me feel good, because my life has purpose. In some way, I'm helping other people come to terms with their addictions and things that happened to them. That's a very hopeful, great thing."
Thistle will be hosted by Celina Loyer, aboriginal programmer from the Musée Héritage Museum. The free online event starts at 6:30 p.m. on YouTube and Facebook but pre-registration is encouraged. Visit starfest.ca for more details.