This is my first residency, so in preparing for it I did what I know how to do — began researching what others had done before me to get an idea of how things are done. I spent some time looking through the archives of the other writers who have shared their words and thoughts as Open Book’s Writer in Residence and learned a lot of things along the way. If you’re here, and reading this, it’s likely that you are familiar with past Writers in Residence, and know what a rich tapestry of thought and practice there is to draw from by looking back through the archives. If you’re here for the first time, and are curious about what a diverse group of accomplished writers have to say about the practice of writing, the way reading feeds into this practice, and what it feels like to be a writer embedded in worldly processes, then I highly recommend a journey into the archives! It really has been such a gift to me as an emerging writer to have access to all these reflections and bits of word cloth to work with in weaving what I have to say. I extend my gratitude to Open Book for inviting me to be part of this conversation, and to past Writers in Residence for the words they have shared that I’ve been privileged to read.
I had a few ideas about how I would organize this residency sequentially into something coherent, as Christene A. Browne did in her February 2021 contribution to the Open Book conversation, taking us through her writing process in creating a short story. The thought that kept emerging for me was a thought around land and place, because unlike most of the past Writers in Residence, I live far-removed from any kind of urban centre or literary community. My life revolves mostly around land and the communities that inhabit this place. For the last eight years, my writing has emerged from my movements through this place, from the impressions and communications of the human and more-than-human worlds around me. I am also trained as an anthropologist, rather than writer, so my attunement to the human world is one of ethnographic inquiry intertwined with creative practice. I think a lot about enmeshments between humans and the worlds they shape and are shaped by in the making of story.
I wondered in accepting this residency if I had anything to contribute to this space that would be of interest to other writers since unlike so many of the other contributors I do not have rich analytic language to use in relation to writing, but I write, and think about writing, and have other analytic and experiential practices to draw on, so I’ll write from what I know.
My original thought was to create an unfolding structure for this residency to have a clear direction to unfold this reflective time into — a draft image of what I might be weaving before I thread the weft, for those of you familiar with weaving. But then, the sense that kept emerging was that in order to write about my writing practice as embedded in land and place, the work has to be emergent, unknown ahead of time, because the practice of walking is a practice of interrelation with aspects of a communicative world that I cannot guess at until I show up and put myself in relation.
And then different relations emerge. And then different stories about being human in place might emerge.
Sometimes I am attuned to what is around me, feeling my way through lichen and mycelium, learning about the interstitial place between all living things, and these learnings make their way into my stories, into my characters’ lives. They transform the work.
Sometimes I am there but not there, my head caught in mind loops of human networks that have such devastating impacts on the living, breathing world — something so many of us can keenly sense in this moment as the forests in the western parts of what we call Canada and the United States are burning, as we live our lives in constant shift to the infectious actions of a virus that has reorganized so much of our human doing. As my Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en neighbours occupy their territories to blockade the cutting of ancient trees and the building of pipelines that will further damage a suffering earth. As we hold our smartphones in our hands made brilliant by rare earth minerals extracted by the hands of dispossessed peoples, whose labour makes wealth for far-removed investors to feed into our longing for connections that fizzle in and then evade us, leaving us always longing for more.
I understand the irony of this online forum for sharing this work with you, but still, I invite you to pause, and take a breath, look out a window or away from your screen at something living, and then walk with me to the place at the river where the ancient cedar grows, to walk down there and walk back again over the course of September — the month in which fungal bodies fruit above ground, leaves fall away from birch, poplar, thimbleberry, ossier, and hazel brush, opening up the forest floor — and feeling through the impressions that come as they relate to a writing practice that seeks to embed itself in land even as I also live a life wended to a capitalist/colonialist/white/Western/patriarchal/exploitative human world as mother, partner, labourer, friend, sister, daughter, auntie, neighbour, settler/uneasily identifying Indigenous person severed from ancestral connections.
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Understand that this is a purposeful practice of relating differently with land. Before you walk with me in place, I must place myself, so you get a sense of who you are walking with, understanding that if you were to walk here with someone else, placed differently, you would be reading other ways of knowing. I walk and write as a person of mixed settler and not exactly know Indigenous ancestry living on unceded Gitxsan territory in Northwestern British Columbia in a valley known to settlers as the Kispiox Valley, along the banks of the Xsan, River of Mists, named Skeena River in the colonists’ language. Understand that there is both violence and love in my walking and writing, that I walk here because of ongoing colonial violence that has partitioned the piece of land I live on into a piece where I am legally sanctioned to walk because I pay rent to live here, even though I am an uninvited “guest” on these territories. That I write in a language inherited from the dominant culture imposed on the land I grew up in (Ktunaxa Territory), and not from my ancestors. That I walk with a body able to ascend and descend slopes that has grow and birthed two babies, mostly known sexual intimacy with male bodies, and a mind trained in anthropological theory. Always I walk also with my ancestors, even if I don’t know they are, and with traces of walking learned in my body from my mother who shaped my earliest knowings, who speaks openly with crows.
I walk, read, and reflect through my own severed histories and everything that is missing from what I know about the places my ancestors’ walked and were at home with land. The languages they knew the world by. I walk and write as an interloper who yearns for, and is generously gifted interconnection by land and language, remaining interloper, though my nervous system also knows it is beloved.
I walk with my histories, learning to know differently than all the previous ways I learned to be human. As we walk I will share with you some of my learnings from the books I am reading that seep into my heart and mind to open into new forms, emergent understandings gleaned from plants, mosses, lichens, fungi, moving critters I am in relationship to, the human people I share interbeing with, and bits of the stories that come as we walk to the river.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Angélique Lalonde was the recipient of the 2019 Journey Prize, has been nominated for a National Magazine Award, and was awarded an Emerging Writer’s residency at the Banff Centre. Her work has been published in numerous journals and magazines. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Victoria. Lalonde is the second-eldest of four daughters. She dwells on Gitxsan Territory in Northern British Columbia with her partner, two small children, and many non-human beings.