It’s stops being about what’s broken

­In November of 1998, I had what I would consider to be “the moment”, that pivotal time in my life when I had to make “the choice”. My options were (*if I can call them that) to let things happen in my life or to be involved and engaged in all aspects of my life. I was so scared, I was so lost and very much alone. I sat in our big tour van (which was our only mode of transportation at that time) for almost two hours crying when a very simple thing happened, my sons face come to my mind and so powerful was that single moment that I knew my only choice was to engage or keep passing down that fear of my own potential. I stepped out of that van and have since walked as best as I can my path.

I started with two lists, a list of things I can change and a list of things I can not change, I set about changing the ones that I can (although I have not yet learned how to swim or to dance in public) and I have walked away from the things I can not change and released myself from the guilt often associated with perceived failure.

I want to write about perceived failures first before I move on to the lists, below are three examples what were some of my own perceived failures:

1.  I am not a natural learner, I loved school but I had to work very, very hard to retain certain     things, I thought I was an idiot.

2.  My inner artist or dreamer was not nurtured, I grew up basically institutionalized whether that be by the education system or the church,  neither environment encouraged “free thinking” or exploring, if anything, it was discouraged to the point of a fear so deep that at the age of 46, I can not dance without some guilt and so I thought I was a failed artist for the first years of my  “career”.

3.    I had no “tools” to work with in terms of “engaging” in the early part of my   new career, I did not even have the words to use to ask the questions, I    thought of myself as undeserving of my new life.

Back to my two lists, to write my two lists I went to the places in myself where I felt weak or afraid and than I would identify this as an area or weakness and ask myself can I change this? For example, I truly thought I was an idiot and so I asked myself did I learn anything in school and the more I thought about this the more I knew I had learned a lot which told me that I could learn more, that I was capable of learning, that I am in control of my “idiotness”, so I put this on the list of things I can change and I set about changing this, taking control of this part of my life. I have now in my heart that knows I am not an idiot, I am in control of what I am capable of, no one else, my learning and capacity to learn is entirely in my hands which also gave me control over my life.

A consequence of this choice,  of choosing to be a better learner also gradually empowered me to be less afraid of taking certain risks in my creative career, as much as my childhood did not allow for “dreaming”, something survived and it was this something that has carried me through the “I am an idiot” stages and has brought me to a place where my love for my career is stronger than my lack of self confidence to the point where its not so much about self confidence and more about taking on a challenge.

On this journey from self loathing to self confidence, I have also realized that what our previous generation has never had is the opportunity to develop this “tool box”, they went from one way of living to another way of living without so much as a guide to help them with the transition. I have come to realize that our experiences and what we learn from these experiences are the “tool box”, we must choose to learn, to take on the burden of this change, to expand our knowledge so that the next generation has more tools to work with, more words to use to draw from, this is what I saw so clearly in that image of my son those many years ago. I chose to stop being afraid, to stop being angry and resentful and to take control, this was my burden not my sons.

Slowly, my focus has shifted from what was broken to what has survived and how to keep strengthening this area, this is my challenge, not my sons.

© Dr. Susan Aglukark, O.C.

 

The Tool Box

The Tool Box

Written by: Dr. Susan Aglukark, O.C.

What is the tool box? The tool box is my collection of tools or memories from between my childhood days up to now, memories of times that evoke a knowing that I have had a safe emotional place before and that I can recreate that safe emotional place to use as an anchor for the days that are too rough. I share these memories as a way to help you on your personal journey to your safe emotional place because sometimes just knowing you have that place is enough to get you through the tough times.

I begin with a recollection of a favorite childhood memory, a time in my life when I felt truly untouchable (in a good way), a memory of a place and time so strong that it makes me feel safe even to this day.

The Diane River (outside of Rankin Inlet, NU)

As a young child, around 7 or 8 years old, I recall going to a fishing camp outside of Rankin Inlet, a place called the Diane River. We’d get there either by boat (mostly by boat) occasionally by Honda. I remember the nights were so cold it would hurt to the bones but the days were absolutely wonderful and I couldn’t wait to get up and get out. I remember one late spring, it was Sunday and so we could not fish, it was one of those days that was exceptionally quiet and peaceful, all you could hear was the powe of the river flowing, the breeze and the birds in the sky and the occasional fishers chatting along the river. I was sitting on the top of the rocks, looking down at the river and that single moment felt incredible, a moment of absolute peace.

And this is one of those places/memories when a feeling of absolute peace and safety is evoked, this feeling of peace and safety is engrained in my heart so deep that nothing in my life that followed could ever remove it or replace it, this is one of those memories that kept me grounded, it is these kinds of emotional safe places that would become anchors through times of storm and turmoil.

I draw this from my “emotional” tool box when I’m feeling a little lost or scattered and it brings me back to my reality feeling a little more capable to take on what ever needs taking on.

The lesson for me in this memory was twofold;

1)    I had/have wonderful, powerful childhood memories.

2)    I had/have many a safe place in my childhood that I did/can draw from when I need to.

In other words, my past is not all broken, I can choose the good memories and work with them and allow them to guide my path. This was the start of an almost daily process but one that would eventually draw out the person I wanted to be, not the person who was becoming a consequence of a not too happy past.

My Heart Soars

My Heart Soars (most of the time).

CORRECTION, my last statement in my last post in the very last sentence which reads as follows:

“My heart is finally engaged in my life and the thing that makes my heart sore is that I am Inuk and I chose the path that brought me to this place”.

I meant to type, my heart soars, not my heart sore, oopsy. J

Ironically, for the first time in my creative life, I feel truly free to be creative.  This part of the journey began in 1994 when I signed that record deal with EMI, jumping into a creative relationship long before I was fully engaged in that part of my life or any part of my life really. I needed to heal enough in stages, each stage allowing me enough self empowerment until I reached the point where it became my life. I don’t mean that my life is always about needing to heal, at some point in my life I had to choose to heal, to let the past go, to move on in the other areas where I had control, what I mean is that to get to that place of control, I had to heal enough which at the end of the day just simply meant that I had to mentally and in my heart make the decision that I am whole (enough), the irony of it all is that it took signing that record deal, forcing me to make certain life choices that revealed to me my own personal areas that I needed to change.

In making the decision to sign a record deal, I also made the choice to begin to trust myself again, this was the very important step for me, remember, upto this point I coasted, I did what needed doing because that was all I could cope with, now I make the choices that are good and healthy for me, not always the easiest or the path of least resistance, I am no longer controlled by the fear of the Unknown, this is what I mean by my heart soars.

I guess the choice really was that as I became stronger, more self empowered, it was no longer enough for me to just coast, to let things happen, things around me were slowly becoming clearer until I am not at this place where I am choosing to see things for what they are and confronting them at my terms, again, this is huge for me.  I am no longer afraid of not having the tools to live my life, I am part of  the process of identifying what those tools are and working them til they become a part of my life.

Informed how and by whom???

So I guess the question is who informs our decisions and how, how do we chose what informs us? For me, it was my two lists. When I made the decision to engage fully  in my life it meant making some changes and to make those changes truly meaningful I had to self identify the “missing tools”, ie. the areas my parents did not know to help in. This is the meat of the PCST, by not allowing a healthy transition period or a bridge between old and new, what cross-cultural appropriate tools were my parents generation denied, would allowing a certain amount of transition time have given that (transitional) generation more tools to work with and a better chance to engage healthier in the times to come?

 

My generation of Inuit did not carry that great burden of change, our parents did, I can only imagine what my parents generation must have felt when they had to leave the land and that way of life and go into the communities with no “transitional tools”, who guided their change? The church(es)  “guided” their spiritual transitional journey and education was provided but again, education modelled after a different world altogether and again, imposed rather than transitioned, these we have adapted to but who guided a transitional  change in their every day “new” lives? Who knew what questions to ask? They forged ahead, they did what needed doing, we now have the task (and pleasure I might add) of educating ourselves so that we are in a better position to inform ourselves, we begin to take control of our future by understanding the very recent past, by understanding what didn’t work in the past and why it didn’t work and how we can be a part of the change, we can be the bridge.

 

It took me some time to come to this place where I lived an unfettered life, no matter where I was or am. The near institutionalization of my life had me so bound up that everything about my career was at constant odds with my previous life, I did not truly know what is was to live an artists life until I literally granted myself permission to stop being that non transitioned inuk and just be, in releasing myself from the responsibility of having to be someone or something (ie an Inuit role model) I have allowed myself the freedom to just be an Inuit woman with certain responsibilities, I have made a choice about what I am pursuing as opposed to waiting for someone to lay out my options and giving me the perception of choosing. My heart is finally engaged in my life and the thing that makes my heart sore is that I am Inuk and I chose the path that brought me to this place.

 

PCST

I just did a presentation in St. Catherines the other day and this was the first time that I got up the courage to read a page of my Post Colonization Syndrome Theory or PCST. The PCST is the theory of the psychological affects of the non transition of the Inuit or how not giving us an adequate transition period has affected us and the area that have been affected. The Theory began taking form back in late 1998 when I hit that life changing cross roads, the moment in my life where I had to make “the decision”, do I continue down the path I was on which at the time was a daily grind of “song writing” and doing the odd corporate show and the occasional tour, never really feeling fulfilled, always coping, just hanging in there emotionally. I was so post partum depressed that I was in a grey haze, just being, never really there but there just enough to get by. And than I hit a wall, I got to a place where I was no longer content with just getting by, I wanted to feel, I wanted to live, I wanted to be but how do I get to this place from where I was? I had to ask myself the very basic question, what do I want? I wanted to be in control of my life again. I had given up control when I started writing and recording the Arctic Rose album, I knew at that time that I was in over my head and not having really made any “decisions” about my artistic future, I had become content to coast but this “coasting” could only go for so long. I gave up control to get through those first few years, I was very fortunate to have good people around me but even they lost site of “the person” for the sake of each’s “career” and when I realized that everyone had decided to stake their respective futures on my “career” without ever really giving me an informed choice I had to make a choice and part of the process meant I needed to get back control, it is in this area of my life where I began to see parallels between that stage of my life and career and the stage of “transition” Inuit were placed in in the early days. “The colonizers” had a responsibility to inform us of the consequences of being colonized, the pros and cons, the goods and the bads, instead, we were told what was going to happen and consequently set us on a path of not having to make any meaningful choices. I was at that critical place in my life in 1998. Do I keep coasting or do I begin to take control and with this control what would be the consequences of my choices, I chose to take control, to “engage”. Making this choice meant figuring out how to “transition” myself from where I had grown up to where I was at, what tools were missing in my life that would have or that I can apply, what cultural transitioning didn’t happen and in it not happening (I call this the grey area in my mind, a place where I often feel lost and floating, helpless and afraid) denied me the opportunities to better “transition” in life in Southern Canada, any life I chose, not just this public life of a celebrity. These questions are now the basis of the Post Colonization Syndrome Theory, a work in progress but the writing of it has allowed me to organize my thoughts, my process, and to a degree helps me to make informed decisions and to not be so afraid of choices.

Healed Enough

As in all journeys (I’m learning) the most important thing to realize when setting on a path is that with each new discovery, with each accomplished or met goal, we change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse but we change. I remember the year I went to Regina for school. I had dropped out the previous year from grade 10 after explaining to my father that if I returned to that high school I would come back home at the end of my grade 10 year a drug addict because drugs were so easily accesible and all around me, my father and mother in their wisdom allowed me to drop out and later I was given an opportunity to attend a private Christian school in Regina, Saskatchewan called the Maranatha Christian Academy. The change for me in this particular instance happened on the bus ride from Winnipeg to Regina, for the first time since the abuse had taken place I was overwhelmed with the new sensation,  no one knew me and therefore no one was watching or looking at me and although the bus ride was only 7 hours long, those 7 hours gave me back (even for a brief moment) a sense of security that had been taken from me, that feeling that I was in control. The point I am making here is that I left that bus ride knowing I could be free (enough) again, I could regain enough control of my future I could be free enough again to believe again, that I could have a real life. The year that followed was a wonderful year for me, I lived with a wonderful family who took me in and made me part of their lives, Len, Josie, Anita and Mark, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

That bus ride changed me enough so that I could draw from that moment some strength to keep taking the steps necessary in what would become my career, ironically, a very public career. The down moments over the course of my singing/songwriting career were frequent and even with all the friends around me, I was very much alone in this journey. I could not explain the depth of fear I was in throughout the early part of my career and that feeling I had found during that bus ride from Winnipeg to Regina became like a lighthouse for me, I would go back to that feeling and let me take me to the next day, the next show, the next photo shoot or video shoot. Each moment healed me a little at a time, enough each time so that I could take the next step and the next until I finally reached a point in my life where the want for my new life, my new me is stronger the fear of learning new things, meeting new people. I am healed enough…

My Inner Inuk

The thought or place or question I find myself coming back to time and again is “who am I”? Who am I today? Considering and factoring that who I am today is shaped by my yesterdays, who was I yesterday? The broader question being who were we? Where did we come from? Why did we leave the place we left? What were we searching for? There is a scene in my music video searching where we asked the elders to go and do what felt normal to do and they immediately set out single file towards the sunset, this struck me to my core as I had watched the movie 7 Years in Tibet and there is an almost exact scene in that movie and I realized than that I had to make a connection, a decision if you will about where we might have come from, I needed a context and Tibet has become that. In further re viewing and researching Tibet and the different images and groups of people I am more and more certain that we are descendants of that part of the world and that our departure had more to do with a deeper yearning and search than anything else.

Having a context gave me place to start, a kind of a foundation from which to work, the work being simply to ground myself in something. Inuit (Canadian) culture as strong as it is, stable in it’s constant development still needs an identity, who are we in this new world? Not to change our name, our history, our experiences, this is what make/made us who we are but to give us new life, like a new born baby, a new name, a new beginning, a new life born from the past…so I go to the inner Inuk.

I go there because I realize in spite of my past and the anger and disappointment and resentment that still lingers, the best part of who I am today is that I am Inuk from Nunavut. I had decided (in Nov of 1999) to separate my personal anger from my culture, they are connected but only in that a small portion of time (Residential School era) affected and continues to affect many generations of us, this period is where I direct my anger, not to the time before and not to the time now when we are all working towards a healthy and healed (enough) culture, the new Inuk.

To begin to (effectively) heal, I had to ask myself the hard question, who do I want to be? How can I answer this when I don’t know who I am? I decided to “know who I am” by tracing my lineage, accepting a theory as a way to ground myself and than begin to “rebuild myself” around it. Rebuilding as it turned out involved confronting my demons, changing what I can and not being controlled by the things I can’t change, one step at a time.

My Inner Inuk prevails even after over 20 years away from home which tells me that our culture is based on a solid foundation of personal spiritual connectedness and despite what we have been through, maybe because of what we have been through these past 50-60 years. My favorite passage from a favorite author is the following:

“There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for”.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D

Being myself vs. being Inuk.

When I moved away from small town Nunavut in late 1991, I was very disillusioned and very angry having just spent over a year in the court system. I was offered a job with Indian and Northern Affairs and jumped at the chance to get away for awhile, I had every intention of returning home after the one year term was up, it’s been 21 years.

I settled into my life in Ottawa fairly quickly, working my day job, starting night school to get my pilots license and volunteering with the Inuit Friendship Center, woman’s volleyball on Tuesday nights and baseball on Thursday nights. About 6 months into my job with Indian and Northern Affairs, we began dialogue about a brief documentary we were going to develop based on a poem I had written in High School called Searching; Qiniqpunga (attached). The poem is about living between two worlds for a grade 12 diploma. The “documentary” evolved into a music video and this is how my singing career began. The video project was a 71/2 minute video that got on the Much Music channel (thanks to Denise Donlon) and this is how my “career” was launched.

I have scattered and vague memories of the first 4 years of my career, from the Arctic Rose and Christmas album to the EMI recording deal and the release of our debut album This Child, it was all a blur, a really fun blur mind you. As a way to cope with how fast things were going, I began to write in my journal, it was the only way I could keep things in my head clear, at least enough to cope with how fast things were going.

The biggest struggle for me was trying to maintain my being an inuk while finding the artist, freeing myself enough to write from a place that spoke truths as I understood or lived them while being true to my culture, the challenge was my “inner inuk” was very confused. I was still so angry at my community for not standing up for the child I had been and tried to defend, it didn’t matter to me if it was the church that came to my aid or the traditional inuk justice system, any kind of support or defence would have made a difference but no one came and so I was left with no choice but to leave. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have “a dream” that propelled me forward or out, I just knew I had to leave.

This “internal confusion” became a source for thoughts and ideas, are we so focused on defending and maintaing culture that we lose sight of every day life and living? I decided to ask myself these questions and set about answering them as a way to deal with another area that I struggled with, english being a second language. With this new focus in mind, I set about writing and (re) searching answers that would help me cope with my new career, help me hold on to some kind of sanity while it was all “moving along”, ironically, it was this career that re-engaged my love for my home land and my culture, I decided I had to find the “new inuk” write and create from that place.

My first page to write and submit publicly is a page called “The Fear of the Unknown”, a writing exercise more for myself but this has evolved into a theory I call the Post Colonization Syndrome Theory.

Attached to this page are the poem  “Searching”  and the document “Fear of the Unknown”.

 

Happening vs. Engaging

I did not fully understand or comprehend the difference between letting things happen around me (and to me) and truly engaging in my life until I hit what would be my first “artist” cross roads. I was 27 years old, I had done an album (Arctic Rose) and the Christmas Album, two more than I ever dreamed I’d do. I had toured with a full band and crew, seen most parts of the North than I ever thought I’d see not to mention parts of Canada I hadn’t even dreamed existed. I found myself awakening in a part of me that hadn’t dared to fully awaken for fear of being rejected, for fear of failing, for fear of not quite meeting my need and there was the crux, did I need this more than want it? And was I being honest with myself if I decided to engage out of need? Am I truly an artist if the need was greater than the want?

It is easier to let things happen because than I am not really responsible, I don’t really fail if I’m not making the choices, I can’t really be rejected if I don’t really put myself out there can I? Than I realized, I wrote songs, I got on that stage and sang the songs I wrote, I did that!!! I was already “out there” and it felt great!!! I took a risk and I had survived it, I had put what I was feeling onto paper, into song and onto the stage in front of an audience I did not know and I was still (mostly) emotionally intact. I was already engaging but by taking steps that I had subconsciously predetermined were manageable to me. I set the terms by writing the very personal songs I’d written in the Arctic Rose album. I wrote about my personal anger and grief, loss and disillusionment not knowing that I had inadvertently set myself on a path of healing and in a way that would be the best possible way for me to heal, writing. I did not really know what would happen next, how could I when I had not consciously decide to heal or had I subconsciously decided to? Either way, the next step was whatever choice I made at the cross roads, it was like taking a step on a path that only become clear or apparent when I took action so the choice in it’s vagueness was clear to me, engage, art, heal. Set myself on a path of personal discovery, accept the friendships being offered and trust them, accept the love being given and return it even it if is rejected, accept the mentoring. I started singing lessons, I took some movement lessons, mostly, I just began to earnestly write.

My next challenge was to re discover who I was as an Inuk.

 

Learning is the journey…

Learning as I went, I have to say that the most important thing I have learned to date is that I am only as good as I decide to be…we don’t always have a choice in personal circumstance or situation, often things happen beyond our control but we can decide not to be emotionally controlled by them. It took me a long to time to realize that I had nothing to do with being sexually abused, I had to un-learn the notion of me being the problem versus him being the sick man. And yet we go through every possible reason why we let it happen, that we are the weak ones. I was in my early thirty’s when I decided I was okay, it wasn’t me, that I wanted to move on, I decided then to fight for my life. Part of what brought me to this place was deciding I was/am an artist, I write, I sing, I create with my hands, I am an artist and for the first time in my life I was starting to feel like I belonged, the irony of it all was I had also never been so alone, not lonely but alone. I think I knew that I had to go it alone for the first little while, I had to find myself before I could let anyone else “help me”. Continue reading