Monday, March 30, 2020

On Writing #171 : Claire Lacey

On Writing
Claire Lacey

I have been delaying this piece for well over a year now (sorry rob!). What do I want to say about writing? For me, it’s a fraught process, unlinear, and currently, physically painful. I have arthritis (maybe it’s gout, I am waiting on blood results as I write this) developing in my left hand, and ongoing issues working on screens from multiple concussions. I often feel I am doing writing wrong: I don’t have a daily practice, I have bursts of productivity and long slumps where I do nothing. I publish inconsistently. I have so many projects in the wings. Sometimes deadlines help me generate work, and sometimes they paralyze me. I feel lazy. I joke that I am a professional crastinator. Sometimes I feel okay that I move at my own speed, that this is just how I work and I am more a slow drip coffee than an espresso. Yes, it’s time for another cup of coffee.

Writing is how I think. It is how I work out problems. My first book was written as a kind of ethical dilemma, a book that was by necessity problematic, as I, a white Canadian woman, a teacher and scholar, tried to unpack the language politics of Papua New Guinea, a place I had never been. That project was a response to the linguistic textbooks and case studies I had been reading, which discussed the pidgin spoken in Papua New Guinea in dismissive terms. At the time, I was also an English language teacher, and I had trouble with the amount of authority I was often given by my students, most of whom were older and more experienced than I was. I wanted to work through the ethical problems I was encountering, and I wanted to show and share that process. In some ways, I think of it as the same as showing the work in mathematics. I do it so that errors can be found, argued, addressed. For me, writing is not about being right, but rather, a way of thinking-through and engaging with broader conversations around particular topics. What I write is always interconnected with what I am reading, seeing, learning, doing and feeling.

Recently, I wrote on Twitter about an anti-abortion billboard. I had a kind of internal debate over whether I was bringing additional publicity to something meant to shame women and skew the ongoing debate about decriminalizing abortion in New Zealand—the billboard included a misleading image showing a much later term pregnancy than the 20 weeks currently under discussion. It coopted the language of Black Lives Matter. Almost immediately after I had done this public writing, I had my email address attached to a fake dating site profile and was flooded with notifications. Fairly innocuous as doxing goes, but a reminder that it is important that I continue to use my platforms to write. The complaints I lodged with the Advertising Standards Association were dismissed, as the billboards apparently are opinion and so the inaccuracies break no rules. How much more necessary, then, to publicly rebut the shaming of people who have had or will have abortion procedures.

My current project is about my experience with brain injury. I am writing a creative/critical PhD where I use poetry to represent that experience, and to explore the current scientific knowledge around brain injury. I love using poetry to navigate the space between medical literature, meant for medical practitioners, and first-person narratives. What does brain injury feel like? How does sensory disturbance alter a sense of selfhood? How does the way we represent brain injury influence care paradigms? Again I use writing as a way of navigating a complex interdisciplinary space, a space where public and personal collide. Sometimes I think this is important work that could potentially help other people with brain injury feel seen and understood. Sometimes I think it is a self-indulgent practice. Probably it is both.

The hard part of writing is that it can take time before there is a response. It can feel like shouting at the ocean. The orca don’t really mind, but they aren’t interested either. Then out of the blue, a reader gets in touch. Or perhaps another writer or translator engages with your work. It lives. Whatever the response, the conversation has happened. And that’s the real magic.

Claire Lacey is a Canadian writer and global meanderer. Her first book, Twin Tongues, won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Her most recent book is Selkie, a graphic novel collaboration with illustrator Sachie Ogawa. Claire is currently pursuing a creative/critical PhD on brain injury and poetry at the University of Otago in New Zealand. She can be found online at

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