The group of women sitting around the table can’t stop leafing through a colourful little book. They’ve seen it before – in fact, they’ve helped write it and their names are on the inside cover – but they still flip through. Each flip of a page brings another chattering of stories, ideas and memories.
The book is Like a Diamond, Like Me is a new collection of written works by the Ynklude women’s writing group. Many of the artists have intellectual and/or physical disabilities.
There are also contributions from mothers, sisters and good friends of people with disabilities.
The women who are chatting and laughing around the table will officially celebrate their new book with a launch on Thursday.
Like a Diamond is the first written work by Ynklude, a group you may know better from its stage performances.
The book launch will include readings from Like a Diamond, Like Me and performances of new and older works from the group’s theatre projects. The evening will include a set from a recent trip to Whistler where Ynklude performed for the national conference of the Canadian Association for Community Living.
(Memories of the trip, gleaned from the excited talk around the table, include standing ovations, swimming and rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals.)
Ynklude performed live for the first time five years ago. “We asked ourselves, what ways can we engage the community and explore some of the issues around disability?” says Julie Robinson, Inclusion Coordinator with the Yukon Association for Community Living, which coordinates the artists’ group.
A wheelchair-based version of the can-can was the idea they developed five years ago for Rendezvous. That soon developed into a stage show with singing and dancing. The group is on a long-term journey of looking for new and innovative ways to discuss disability and ability.
The performance caught people’s attention right away, says Robinson. “We’re exploring issues, but we get to have fun doing it. We sing about it, talk about it and perform it. It’s energizing and positive.”
Michael Vi Adar, a performer and contributor to the book, said performances are more effective than talking. Performances are an immediate, visual and real-time way to communicate about the barriers faced by people with disabilities while challenging assumptions at the same time.
“People get tired of having their conscience pricked,” she remarks. “Performance is more powerful.”
With a book of their collected works, members of Ynklude now have one more way to tell their stories and challenge the assumptions around them.
The stories often touch on themes everyone experiences – issues around intimacy, relationships, sexuality, friendship and family.
But the pressures and barriers faced by women with intellectual and physical disabilities make the stories especially poignant.
One of Carrie Rudolph’s poems is a touching recollection of her friend Coco. “Coco was my imaginary friend that I had when I first moved to the Yukon from Nova Scotia,” she explains.
Anyone can imagine a little girl moving to a faraway new town might need a friend. But as a little girl in a wheelchair, the young Rudolph may have needed a friend even more. In the poem, Coco tells a 16-year-old Carrie she is too old to hang around anymore.
The need for having an imaginary friend well out of childhood likely speaks to a feeling of isolation that can come with a physical disability. The poem expresses the pain of separation clearly but gently.
The book explores the issues that are closest to the writers’ hearts, says Robinson. “They’re heavy-duty issues, but we wrote about it from our own personal perspective.”
Vi Adar explains that because they explored serious issues, including abuse, it was important the group of writers was a women’s group. “There was safety and intimacy in a women’s group,” she said.
For Vi Adar, moving back to Whitehorse in 2006 brought her back to dark memories, and the group was a place to process some of that. “This [writing group] was really nice. It was a really safe place to explore.”
Vi Adar is so proud of the book, she walked down the street holding it so everybody could see the cover. And she sent copies to her parents.
Another story runs through Like a Diamond, too. Bright, colourful art appears throughout the entire book. It’s lively and busy – imagine no white space at all. The poems and stories are usually short, which allows room for the art to be enjoyed.
Images for the book’s cover, and several inside pages, were created by painting bed sheets with hands, wheelchair wheels and even the tip of the cane of one blind member. The women then hung up the painted sheets in the park and danced behind them, forming shadows.
Other images are from art books created by individual women.
Back at the table, ideas for new performance pieces are flowing. The confidence level of the group members has grown incredibly over the years, Robinson remarks as she listens in.
Before, people wanted to be directed, but now everyone contributes and generates ideas. And everyone has a voice.
The launch for Like a Diamond, Like Me is Thursday, November 25, 7:00 pm at the Yukon Association for Community Living (across the street from McDonald’s). The book sells for $15.