After my review of Meg Tilly’s work, entitled “A Spirituality of Courage and Hope,” she graciously responded to some questions that I hadn’t seen others pursue. Herein is the interview, along with a review of Porcupine written by my son, Dominic, who is 11 years old, and a powerful sample of prose/memory from Meg that she’s lent us from her blog site (www.officialmegtilly.com).
Porcupine – Review by Dominic Jersak (11)
Porcupine is a book about a 12 year old girl and her siblings. Their father was killed by ‘friendly fire’ in a war. Their mother eventually drove her family to the other side of Canada to live with her grandmother. There are many small events in this book that tie it together to make it a great book.
The morals and some strong themes of Porcupine were courage, being helpful, and forgiveness.
One of my favourite scenes was the scene where Jacqueline killed the rattle snake and then they had it for dinner in front of her mom because she showed courage, and realized that she could stand up to authority and still be doing the right thing.
I'd like everyone to read this book because it has adventurous scenes like an action book, humour that would appeal to most, and morals that most would find unforced and you'd have to find it. When you do find it you might think it is quite clever where she placed it.
I think it would be cool if the author, Meg Tilly, were to come to our school to do a reading from her book because lots of us would enjoy it. She could probably give us more ideas why we should read her book.
Interview with Brad Jersak
Brad: You have this capacity to fill a room with contagious hope (i.e. the "hope room" in your heart is big enough to welcome in others). Given your journey, how do you account for this hope that we see in you?
Meg: I don't know why I have so much hope and optimism in my heart. I just know that I am very grateful for it. In the darkest bleakest times, I remind myself to look back at the other challenging times that I have gone through and I tell myself, "This too will pass."
Also, when I look back over my life and what blessings and beauty has arisen out of the muck of the deepest sorrows then I know that out of this challenge will come a new direction, a new way of seeing the world.
So, you see Brad, no matter how dark things are, there are always, lying right beside that darkness, pockets of heart-stopping beauty. We just have to give ourselves permission to see it.
Brad: When you consider times in your life when God has shown himself to you, how would you answer this question: What is God really like? Would you share an example with us? Could you also say something about what God is NOT like [I'm thinking about some of the toxic versions of God that torment people].
Meg: God means something different to everybody. For me, God has always been present for me, but it is not something that I have found at religious organizations or in a group setting. It is a very personal, private thing. It is the voice inside that guides my path, my actions. That comforts and soothes when I feel emptied out and helpless and like there is nothing left.
I find God present in the myriad of details that make up the natural world, in a child's face, in the world after a rain. I could go on forever but I won't.
Brad: When you need to access peace in your heart, how do you do it? Where do you go? What does your Meg-world look like / feel like?
Meg: I take in the simple details and blessings in my life. I sit in gratitude and thanks for all my blessings. I don't think a day passes where I am not in awe of how lucky I have been, and how blessed. I truly feel sometimes that I have had an angel watching over me, helping and guiding.
Brad: Sometimes, the child parts of people we work with peek out at me and say, "You can see me, can't you?" They also respond well to the voices of Anna and Gemma in your novels... Do you have suggestions on how we might respond to them? What do they need to hear most?
Meg: I feel much of my training was to take care of other people. To address their needs first. Growing up in an abusive childhood, one becomes very good at that. Being "good" and selfless so the belt or fist won't find your back.
However, as I entered my 40's a change happened, and I realized that in taking care of everyone else's need at the expense of my own, I was continuing the abuse cycle that I had been raised into. Only this time I had taken over for the abusers.
What really helped me with this was an exercise I did, where I was to remember me as a 4 year old girl. Once I had the image, I was to hold that image in my heart. And then at least three times a day, I did something for her, in a gentle, kind way. Be it tying the laces of my shoes. Discovering that I was thirsty and pouring me a drink, with the love, compassion and tenderness that every 4 year old child deserves.
It was very difficult to ask or expect anything at first. From me, or from anyone else. But I made a vow to that little girl inside that I was big now. And from now on I would take care of her and protect her. So now, when something is asked, or demanded of me that is at odds with what is best for the vulnerable scared child inside, I say no.
Brad: I attend a church (Fresh Wind Fellowship) whose core attendees include people with disabilities, frolicking children, people in recovery and those struggling with poverty. It's real and raw and we have a no shush policy. It's messy but joyful. If you found yourself "preaching" some good news to them, what would it be?
Meg: Listen to the truth inside and it will help and guide you.
Brad: Did you really pet an actual porcupine? My friend Brita and I were talking about what petting the porcupine represents in the book. Would you unpack the Porcupine image for us?
Meg: I did indeed pet a porcupine. It happened in the exact same way it happened for Jack and her little brother in my novel Porcupine. However it was me and my little sister Becky. It was in the same house and only a few months after I took that picture of my little sister that I used for the cover of Singing Songs. What I love about that picture is that we were going through enormously difficult times as you can tell by the picture and yet, look at the hope that I captured in my sister's eyes.
Brad: Could you share anything with our readers about "Lucky?" [the book Meg is writing now]
Meg: Lucky is about how the structure, discipline and beauty of studying classical ballet helps a 15 year old girl find balance and a way out of a very destructive and challenging home life.
Brad: Finally, do you have a poem or prose for our readers?
Swimsuit by Meg Tilly
Zoanne had a new swimsuit. A shiny blue two piece with little red fish, happy smiles on their faces and a ruffle around her bottom.
It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. She'd gotten it new, brand new at J.C. Penny's, and I wanted one. Could think of nothing else all through dinner, the clean up. And that night as I lay on my mattress up in the attic with my sisters, instead of Susan making up a story like she usually did at bedtime, I got to tell about my visit to Zoanne's house.
They wanted to know everything. What her Mama wore? Was she pretty? Did I get after an school snack? What was the house like? Did they have carpet? Was it clean? Messy? Did they have pets? Yummy food in the cupboard? Did I get to see in the fridge? We became navigators, explorers, researchers, anthropologists into the way other people, normal people spent their lives. Did her Mama wear nail polish? Did she beehive her hair? Did Zoanne have more than one pair of shoes? How many? Any of them shiny black ones you could see your face in?
And when I told them about the new swimsuit… Well that was something. That was really something. They made me describe it over and over. How it still had the store tags hanging from it. How it was a beautiful, fancy, sapphire blue. Not that any of us had ever seen a real sapphire, only read about them in books, seen pictures of them in the encyclopedias. And actually the sapphires in the encyclopedia were a darker blue. But it sounded so fancy to say "Sapphire blue." So elegant. That and "Brand new from J.C. Penny's!" We bandied these words about, worked ourselves into such a frenzy that finally we made Susan get out of bed and draw a picture of it based on my description. She had to do it three times before she got it just right. And I got to keep the final drawing, cause I was the one who saw the actual swimsuit in real life. I went to sleep with Susan's creation thumb tacked to the sloping ceiling right above my bed.
In the morning when I woke, I saw the picture and it filled my heart with such joy. I went downstairs believing in magic and miracles. And the hope too, that maybe my Mama would buy me a sapphire blue swimming suit with red smiling fish swimming around. Maybe, just maybe.
I waited until after breakfast. Mama was off by herself, out near the creek, doing a charcoal drawing of a pine tree.
I sat down on the ground by her fold up chair. The dirt, dry and thirsty with little prickle balls and sharp edged gravel crumbs poking me through my shorts.
"Hi Mama." I said suddenly shy. And she smiled at me, kind of absent minded. Her charcoal making scratching noises on her white pad of art paper. "That looks pretty Mama."
"Oh no," Mama said, real modestly, face flushed. " I'm only a beginner." But I could tell the compliment pleased her cause her strokes got more artistic, more free flowing and abstract. "Shhht…shht… shht…" with the charcoal, and then rubbing, contouring, smudging with her thumb.
And she seemed so intent, so happy that I thought, this is not the right time. So I got up to go. Didn't think she'd notice me leaving, but she did.
"What did you want sweetheart?" Mama said, head tilted in my direction, eyes still on her tree.
And even though I decided not to, it all came out. Zoanne and her new blue swimming suit from J.C. Penny's. How I need one for swimming in the fishpond. And as I was talking, looking at my dusty bare feet, I felt the hope swelling in my breast, but when I'd finished and looked in Mama's face, I knew my answer, even before she sighed and said, "Oh honey, I wish I could, but we just can't afford it."
"What about the Sally Anne?" I said, words tumbling over hers. "Maybe we can find one at...at the Sally Anne?" Trying to keep calm, but my voice was cracking slightly, giving me away.
"Honey," Mama said, looking tired, the frown line deepening between her eyes, "not even at the Sally Anne. Why don't you swim naked like you always do."
"Mama, I can't swim naked!" My eyes full of frustration cause she just didn't understand. "I'm big now! I'm almost seven! I'm too big to swim naked anymore."
"Oh Anna..." And Mama reached her arms out for me, but I ducked past them. Ran away. Hid in the barn. Didn't answer. Even though I heard her calling.
I stayed there for a long time. Vowing never to come out. But then the heat in my chest subsided, I was left with what I had done. My mother's face, as I avoided her arms, wouldn't leave me. The fact that I asked her for something I knew we could never afford.
Finally, by mid-afternoon, hunger had me creeping out like a mongrel dog. Straw in my hair, face dusty and tear streaked.
I shuffled towards the house slowly, dragging my feet, like I had a limp. Head, eyes, down. But as I got closer, I could hear laughter and a noisy commotion. And then, when I came around an old blackberry bush, I could see my sisters running around in beautiful new swimsuits. I couldn't believe my eyes. My legs started moving faster, didn't want to look like I was running, but it was hard. So excited. My eyes, my brain, trying to sort out what I was seeing. Joy was standing tall, swimsuit, half on. Mama, straddling a chair somebody had brought out from the kitchen, face up close to Joy's belly. Her glasses were off. She was hunched over and squinting. Then Mama turned Joy's body, doing something, couldn't see what, her body was blocking my view.
And then, when I came around, got close, realized, it was too late to backtrack. I was already well into the yard. And there's nothing I could do but keep my face the same. My sisters didn't have new swimsuits. Mama was drawing them on their bodies. Colored markers in her fists, on the chair, tucked up between her thighs, a few, fallen down, scattered in the grass. My sisters, they were just playing make-believe, pretending they had new swimsuits, acting all excited. Running around, giddy-drunk with joy. But they weren't real swimsuits. Just fancy designs drawn on their bodies. They were still naked, running around naked as the day they were born.
And when my Mama straightened up to stretch out her shoulders, she saw me and her face lit up. "New swimsuits!" she called gaily, waving a marker at me. "You're next!"
"Oh goody," I said, in a happy, happy voice. Throat clenched, eyes hot. "Can I have a blue one? Red and blue?" And she nodded, rolled her shoulders once, twice, then pushed back the hair from her sweaty face, returned to finishing up the curlicue black and red design that even continued on over Joy's privates, cause that's what real swimsuits do.
And after Joy, it was my turn, and I didn't run away. Wasn't gonna hurt Mama again. I took off my clothes, underwear too and Mama drew on my swimsuit while the whole family watched. Stood there in the middle of the yard. Tall dried out grass scratching my legs, a smile on my face. Stark naked, my brother, stepbrother, step-daddy laughing their guts out, slapping black flies off their faces up there on the porch. I stood there while Mama drew on my swimsuit and I pretended I liked it.