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Bringing in 2024 with a smile

A quiet new year’s evening with just the two of us was inspiration to think about where I’ve been and where I hope to go.

Leanne and Michael Fournier forest therapy selfie
There are many reasons to smile as a new year unfolds.

My husband and I brought in the new year, just the two of us. This is a common theme for all the years since we moved to our cabin in the woods.

Bear with me, this story isn’t about that. I just wanted to reflect on many of the things that have brought me to this first day of 2024, where I’m filled with hope for today and the year ahead.

This particular journey actually begins a few years ago, when we’d been living in this new very tight knit community for a short time. The fact that a global pandemic occurred just after we moved didn’t help us “fitting in”. We were too new to be in anyone’s bubble. Being on the other side of closed borders from all of our family, isolation for us was on a whole new level. I turned to poetry and gardening, my hub to optimizing his repurposing goals building beautiful things, his love of the outdoors, and generally being the buffer for my struggles with mental health. I’m a very social being so loneliness and isolation at this level took their toll.

My Michael in his Happy Place.

The pandemic has apparently “passed”. Doors are once again “open”. So now what?  I’ve told part of this story before, but it’s integral to where I am today, so here goes. You can skip ahead if you wish!

Early in the pandemic in 2020, I had the opportunity to hear something that was life changing. It was during An African Canadian Response to the Pandemic and International Uprisings webinar, presented as part of author Lauren Carter’s Pandemic Response Reading Series. Lauren had started a Facebook group called WriteRamble early in the pandemic that brought writers together for short writing sprints and community. It literally saved my life.

The Reading Series expanded from this, and this particular session was shortly after George Floyd’s murder in the United States. Host, author and activist Valerie Mason John, asked the panelists, who were all people of colour, how those with white privilege could help in the anti-racism movement. Dr. Handel Kashope Wright, a professor at UBC who fulfills many roles at the university and internationally related to anti-racism, inclusivity, culture, identity and education replied with this:

“Stay the course. Follow the lead of those who are most knowledgeable about their own situation and their oppression. Be aware of who you are and how you can help others.”

He added, “We are weary. We can’t do it all on our own. We need our allies.”

Handel’s words awakened something in me. I thought about how we all can support one another in so many ways, particularly when, as he said, we are prepared to give space and follow the lead of those we are helping.

This was the first seed in a transition I would make over the next few years and brings me to today. I became chair of a local arts organization, supporting artists and helping make the arts more accessible to everyone in our community. I also signed on to help with communications and advocacy for a coalition concerned with homelessness and the underlying issues of poverty, racism, addiction, mental illness and stigma. Our little tourist town of 15,000 in the off season has over 120 people, mostly Indigenous, without stable housing who are either in the emergency shelter or sleeping rough outside on any given night.

Handel’s words gave birth to the idea of knowing who I am and how I can help.

While all of this was happening, something else occured. My eldest came out as trans non-binary. Because I wanted to learn more and to do better, I did with Everette what I always do; conducted some research and asked for an interview to find the story. Everette agreed and I’m so glad they did. My brilliant child has once again, taught me so much.

two young people on an outdoor skating rink,in skates, winter clothes, one in an Edmonton oiler jersey, both holding beverages.
There’s much joy when these two siblings – Ren and Everette – get together.

When I asked them what was least helpful, here’s what they had to say. “When you misgender someone don’t make them do more emotional labour explaining it to you. Just apologize, correct yourself, and move on.”

And least helpful?

“Telling your trans child that you are mourning the loss of your daughter or son. This just devalues them rather than celebrating the person they’ve become. They are not dead. Trans people are already experiencing abandonment and trauma. It’s sad when they lose their families because people are not willing to do the work to push past their own discomfort.”

When asked how they felt the most supported, Everette cracked me open with this, “Right now, being asked these questions, because there’s a new openness to talk about this. It’s nice to know that I have my mom, the matriarchal figure of our family, who is going to take a moment to correct people and tell them what they need to know.”

They added, “Being trans is liberating – you’re opening the floodgates for all the things you had pushed down, all the energy it took pretending, the years and years of being in defence mode.

As a parent, why wouldn’t you want that for your child—Being allowed to flourish because you no longer have to play a game of dress-up.”

This is an example of what really happened to me in the silence that has been part of our move to a new community and COVID-19.

I listened more. I heard more. I saw more. I learned more.

It’s been the pathway out of my isolation, even if it still comes with days of loneliness. 

The salve on this wound are the communities I’ve found and the ones I’m working to build. Here in our little neighbourhood off the beaten path, we shovelled snow off the river ice to make a skating rink that has brought in the other families from around us. Our ice hut on the river is also a welcoming gathering spot for those who come our way. I joined a new group of women entrepreneurs and the connections have started, so that’s promising too. Then there’s my online writing communities – The Story Republic, Isolation Journals and WriteRamble. SR, in particular, is a welcoming, generous and safe community that provides real time feedback on much of my writing, but it goes way beyond that in terms of the friendships and connections that have grown through our weekly ZOOM live storytelling sessions. Who knew you could connect this deeply with people across a screen? I was open to it, so it happened.

As far as my new hometown goes, I see continuing to be present for the community through my activism but also making more of an effort to show up where I might find my people and recognizing that not everyone is at the same place as me or even cares about the same things.

It’s more work than I had thought it would be, but I guess my deepest, most meaningful relationships all were at one point and it was worth the effort.

So back to our New Year’s Eve, with just the two of us. My partner Mike is my everything – guess he has to be when I don’t have anyone else around most of the time right?

Since we didn’t have a lot of plans, I was interested when I heard about the Virtual Bhangra Dance Session Gurdeep Pandher was planning to host on New Year’s Eve. Gurdeep, who lives in the Yukon, has taken his message of love and joy across Canada, doing a stopover in Kenora. His glee in life is infectious. It was the medicine I needed, so I signed the hub and I up. Sorry no photos of us as our hands and feet were fully immersed in this traditional Punjabi folk dance. It was hilarious!

Our ears were attuned to Gurdeep’s gentle voice, repeatedly telling us to “Smile” “Have Joy” “Be Happy!” It was music to my ears and exactly what the doctor ordered. We had some movement, some fun, a ton of laughs and reminders that joy is always here, even if it is just us.

This shouldn’t have been surprising. In early 2023, well aware of the impact isolation was having on my well-being, I had made a commitment to look for joy in my every day life.

I found it – in the sparkling river that beckons me from my window, in my greenhouse/my happy place where I watched early seedlings spring to life, in my garden where I would stand in the absolute splendor and satisfaction of a bountiful harvest, along the lush riverfront forest trail where we walk/run our dogs, in the weekly live sharing sessions with my Story Republic friends, during my workouts led by my good-hearted buddy Kelli, in moments like the one I described earlier where our neighbourhood comes together in community, and on days when I’ve sat in the company of some of our town’s most vulnerable and watched hope and belonging emerge because of the safety I and others have been able to create.

Large christmas tree with lights laying on the ground.
Kenora’s 2023 Christmas tree met a sad, premature ending.

I admit, I might be niaive. The fact that someone cut down the town’s beloved giant Christmas tree on New Year’s Eve could be deemed a bad omen.

The reality of still have having a high number of vulnerable people with no place to call home could make one feel hopeless. But I choose hope instead. I choose Gurdeep’s way – to “find peace, joy, and light” in my heart, and share this with the world. The rest will have to sort itself out, and I will continue to do what I can to help. These are not small things but big hearts and minds are continuing to work tirelessly on finding a better way.

I am thankful for that.

Thanks for sticking with me.

I needed to take some time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going to realize just how much I already have.

I wish the best for you and yours on your journey into the new year. Be well, be joyful…and smile!

And…this is a work in progress but speaks to much of what brought me here today. I am working on a poetry collection exploring the themes of home and belonging for release in 2024. Stay tuned!

This Time

This time I will not apologize
for my empathy
it tires me to chastise
myself yet again
for the amount
of time I spend
on less enterprising tasks.

This time I will accept
shedding tears
writing words against
injustice, inequities
shitty behaviour
fills me when I would
otherwise be empty.

This time I will step
outside the shadows
stop hiding
those judgements
I thought would come
never did
maybe I’m not
important enough
for anyone to care
what I do.

This time I’ll do more
not just elicit words
written in the twilight
of those who
are not afraid
to be seen
but do what must
be done
be visible.

This time I will raise my shoulders
bolstered by the strong
beating brave heart
I never gave myself
credit for
I may speak too loudly
forgive me
I’ve just found
my voice.

By Leanne

Leanne is MightyWrite’s lead writer. She believes in the power of stories that focus on our humanity and how what we bring to the world and each other is what really matters.

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