Jacob Scheier wrote his first collection of poems about the loss of his mother; he was 20. She had gotten sick when he was in high school. It was part of his shift from writing as a hobby to writing because it felt very necessary. And, ultimately, writing about his loss was an important part of the healing process.
Around the same time, he became involved with a support group for bereaved young people, training to become a facilitator of peer support groups. Scheier developed what he calls “a dual focus of writing about my own grief and facilitating discussions about loss.”
Out of this, his Grief Writing Workshop was born, which he’s brought with him to the Yukon from Toronto, where he’s been running it for years. “In Toronto I hadn’t seen anything like this, I saw a space for it, a personal writing workshop to write about and through experiences of grief and loss,” he says. “It gives people tools to articulate their own experience of grief as well as possible, to give voice to experience that is often hard to talk about. I think that’s one of the functions of literature.”
This stress on literature is what makes the course unique. Though it might be therapeutic, it’s not therapy. It’s more about transforming experiences by turning them into art. “It’s about translating one’s own experiences into something that can be felt by someone else,” says Scheier.
The goal is to help people learn to create visceral experiences, to show and not tell, to give the reader a real sense of the feelings. To create art that can reach others out of pain that is personal. “There are benefits regardless of whether it gets published.” Scheier says. “I believe in art in general as being a very rewarding, emotionally satisfying experience.”
This isn’t to say the workshop is not beginner-friendly. All you need to attend is something to write with, either pen-and-paper or a laptop, and a willingness to be vulnerable.
It’s important to Scheier to create a safe and supportive space for people to make themselves vulnerable in.
No stranger to sharing his own vulnerability, Scheier is in Dawson working on a personal essay as the Berton House Writer in Residence. With two books of poetry under his belt, his approach to the personal has shifted over the last few years towards creative non-fiction.
I can feel his willingness to share even over the phone. “I have doubt and anxiety about what I’m doing,” he tells me, talking about his project.
The Berton House residency, running three months with few commitments beyond writing every day, is the longest intensive residency Scheier has done. “It’s this funny thing as a writer, always craving all this time. Now I have it. This dream come true has its moments of being a nightmare.”
But he’s grateful for the opportunity, and he’s definitely appreciating the landscape. It’s also a new place to bring his workshop. “People in Dawson, like everywhere else, experience grief,” he says. “I think there’s a desire in people to articulate this.” Scheier’s Grief Writing Workshop is being put on through KIAC on May 27 from 6 to 9 p.m. To attend, sign up in advance on KIAC’s website or by calling 993-5005.