thoughts of silence
Jackie Kai Ellis
The Power of a Cookie
Cocolico. The word rolls off your tongue like a velvety mouthful of rich chocolate.
From Troubled Child to Artist and Entrepreneur
As Alison Pick was writing Far to Go, an historical fiction novel about a Jewish family who lived during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, she was also “making a separate set of notes about what [she] was going through personally” as she learned about Judaism and Jewish history. These notes would later evolve into her recently published memoir Between Gods.
Pick didn’t know she was Jewish. Her grandparents had escaped to Canada from the Czech Republic during WWII. They gave up their Jewish identity, let go of their Jewish traditions, and re-identified themselves as Christians. They didn’t really have a choice. Pick
too grew up in a Christian household – her father had also been denied the truth of his religious history until his twenties and, when he started his own family, he decided to continue keeping the secret. Pick found out anyway in her teens.
In her memoir she observes that “if you weren’t Jewish, Jewish history did not apply to you. If you weren’t Jewish, there was
nothing to mourn” [excerpt]. Many members of her family died in the Holocaust. The amount to mourn by re-identifying as Jewish was immense. Pick wanted to convert anyway.
“It’s certainly a version of my own path from Christianity to Judaism, but I really think it’s a book that anybody who has gone through any kind of change would be able to relate to (including even the small kinds of changes that are maybe not so dramatic or visible to the outer eye). It’s really a book about being in transition; about belonging.”
In the beginning of the memoir, we meet up with Pick at her therapist’s office. “Here was a girl used to silence,” she says. “Here was a girl used to hiding what was in her mind” [excerpt from Between Gods].
Why is it important to share your inner life?
What’s the payoff of putting yourself in such a vulnerable position?
Pick’s grandmother wanted to be seen, but “if she had access to her inner life, she certainly wasn’t sharing it with anybody else,” says Pick. That’s probably because sharing your thoughts and feelings, both the good and the bad, is incredibly scary. It opens you up to judgement.
When writing fiction, Pick wonders if writers use their characters as shields. “A writer digs up the contents of her unconscious mind, and then attributes it to someone else... a char-acter” she says in Between Gods. In a memoir, there are no fictional characters to hide behind.
I was surprised by the amount of themes and events which were
repeated in both Far to Go and Between Gods. Events certainly take on a different tone when you realize that they actually happened to someone real. The reader can’t hide either.
Pick shares that the two processes, that of writing the memoir and that of writing her fiction, were surprisingly similar.
“In both memoir and fiction” she says, “you’re creating
narrative tension, you’re making decisions about what to leave out, and what to leave in.”
As she prepared to write the book, Pick drew inspiration from the memoirs that she personally loved. The ones that resonated with her the most were the ones where an “emotional truth” was shared. Although inspired by decisions she really made and events that really took place, Pick explains that “the nature of the genre is that you’re often writing about things that happened a long time ago, so you’re just getting as close as you can to the essence.”
The memoir may read like a novel – the tension she creates is intense– but the story itself is deeply personal. “The more honest you can be, the more the reader will relate” says Pick. “We all have very different stories, but we all also have
vulnerability and a desire to belong.”
Pick may have started the book as a woman who was afraid to speak up but, as the book progresses, we watch her begin to find her voice and embrace her inner life in a way that’s both hopeful and incredibly inspiring.
Maybe that’s the value of sharing your story? Sharing the less Facebook worthy parts of ourselves
could give someone else, a stranger even, the strength to share a little more of themselves too.
Any advice for writers? I asked her. “Do it in anyway that is easiest for you,” Pick responded. “Get a draft down first, don’t worry about whether it’s well written or whether it coheres... all that comes later.”
Jackie Kai Ellis
The Power of a Cookie
by Jax Smith
Never underestimate the power of a cookie. A cookie, is how I met my husband. A small gesture of kindness was all that was needed for fate or random events, whatever you choose to believe to be set in motion. A small gesture of kindness that had I hesitated on, would have changed the course of my life and all those influenced by our relationship forever.
Taking the idea used in chaos theory, that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world might ultimately cause a hurricane in another - it is possible that an act of kindness in any form, whether for ourselves or others, benefits the world.
I believe this. I believe in acts of kindness.
I’ve often held the image of my life as a ship in water, moving forward at a good pace and
causing a wake in it’s path. I think of myself as the boat and the nature of the waves that ‘V’ out after me are in my control. Whether they are kind or hateful is up to me. Off they’ll go, reaching out and hitting other boats that pass by, becoming parts of stormy seas or calm waters - and I’ll never know their full impact.
Like the time I bought a coffee for a man reading a book on depression, who looked as if it took great bravery to be outside that day. I will never know how that affected him because I left before I could see him receive it. Or the times I’ve helped elderly men and women cross the street or opened doors for them. I don’t know how that’s made a difference (or not) to their days but it’s made a difference to mine.
Then there are the times I do know. Like the time I decided to be kind to myself and wear the dress I really wanted to wear to that event instead of the one I thought I ‘should’ wear. It resulted in a lovely girl complimenting me, which in turn lead to me introducing her to my friend who is now her fiancé.
No matter what, our micro-decisions impact us, all those we love and strangers we may never meet. I’d like to send out waves of kindness if I can help it and I’m happy to let you know that I’ve found a wonderful spot, right here in Vancouver where they believe the same thing - right down to the power of a cookie.
Jackie Kai Ellis, owner of Beaucoup Bakery believes in spreading kindness as far as she can and she’s backed this up with The Acts of Kindness Initiative. A points program that’s a little different, in that, customers are able to pay their points forward.
‘We believe it’s important to leave the world a happier place, even if it’s through something as simple as a cookie.’
Their loyalty program allows members to use accumulated points in three ways:
1. Be kind to yourself
Treat yourself to something special and use points for a coffee
2. Pay it forward
Use points to help get a young girl off the streets of Liberia and into school by buying two weeks of school lunches in partnership with the More Than Me Foundation
3. Pass it on
Use points towards a sweet gift for a friend to enjoy
“I wanted to find an easy way for my customers to give back to the global community without really sacrificing very much,” Jackie tells me. “I have been touched and inspired myself with the act of giving and I wanted to encourage others to experience it in a small way.”
Jackie says her customers seem proud to partake in the program, “… since many of them are
regulars, they’ve seemed happy that something as simple as a daily coffee can go towards
helping someone who really needs it.”
I asked Jackie what drew her to the More than Me Foundation?
“I scoured the internet in search of an organization that felt right to me,” she says. “I wanted to find something that could make an impact with a tangible gesture, something related to food and I have a soft spot for supporting children, in particular young women. I also wanted an organization that was actively empowering individuals as opposed to creating reliance on the support.”
The More than Me Foundation works with community leaders to identify the girls who are at the highest risk of being sexually exploited to ensure that education and opportunity, not exploitation and poverty, defines their lives.
Out of the three options she tells me, “Most do treat themselves to that free coffee. I don’t discourage that, I think that being kind to oneself is just as important as being generous to others. It starts there and we often forget that.”
I agree. Kindness to ourselves helps others in ways we can’t know. Buying organic to nourish our bodies, contributes to a global movement towards better food and health. Taking a relaxing bath in the evening means we are less stressed when that email comes in from work and better able to resolve a problem to the benefit of all involved. Treating ourselves to that coffee might make us more likely to hold the door open for that stranger who really needs the gesture that day - and so it continues throughout the community.
“I think the greatest act of kindness anyone can show is grace and understanding,” Jackie says.
“To understand that everyone is fighting a hard battle, that everyone is just doing their best with the tools they have, and to give them the grace to live. It touches me to remember each time someone has given me that kindness.”
What could be a better gift than that.
Speaking of gifts, one the greatest gifts of my life was as a result of ‘passing it on’. I saw a young man looking sad in a cafe and I bought him a cookie. He invited me to see a band with his friends and one of those friends became my Husband.
I believe in random acts of kindness.
Never underestimate the power of a cookie.
Cocolico. The word rolls off your tongue like a velvety mouthful of rich chocolate.
Cocolico. The word rolls off your tongue like a velvety mouthful of rich chocolate. When Wendy Boys was a child studying French Immersion, her favourite word to say was “coquelicot,” which is the French word for poppy. This catchy French word became the inspiration for the name of her specialty chocolate company, Cocolico. She had originally labelled her products as “Wendy Boys Chocolates,” but there was always a lot of confusion surrounding her last name. “People don’t really understand that it’s a last name, and so I kind of got tired of explaining it to every single person who bought chocolates from me. I thought as this business grows I need to choose a better name.” She was looking for a nonsense word, and remembered the funny French word that she loved when she was a girl. She changed some of the letters to anglicize and “chocolicize” it, and Cocolico was born.
Cocolico is a Vancouver-based company dedicated to creating beautifully hand-crafted chocolates and dessert sauces. One of their best-selling products is the Salted Butter Caramel Sauce. “I always have a jar of it open in my fridge,” says Wendy, “it’s certainly the one that I use the most.” As we spoke, Wendy and her sous-chef were busy dipping sponge toffee in chocolate. Although Wendy has trouble choosing just one of her products as her personal favourite, she does love for the old-fashioned sponge toffee wrapped in dark Valhorna chocolate. A favourite among her customers is the Vanilla Salt Caramel with Peanut Butter & Milk Chocolate Crunch. It was Cocolico’s debut product and remains one of the most sought-after confections in their collection. Vancouver Magazine named it as one of the “101 Things to Taste Before You Die.”
Wendy has worked hard to turn her company into the thriving business that it is today. In return, her business gives her a sense of freedom that makes it all worthwhile. She likes being her own boss, running her own company, choosing who to work with and what ingredients to work with, and having the final say. She also acknowledges that running a business isn’t an easy endeavor. “Owning your own chocolate company doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be making chocolate all day. There are a lot of business things that aren’t necessarily the fun part.” She offers practical advice for those aspiring to be successful in her field. “If people are looking at this as a career, I want them to look at it with eyes wide open and make an educated decision, without killing their dreams.”
Now in her fifth year running Cocolico, Wendy receives numerous questions from people wanting to start a business or take their business to the next level. She helps artisans understand the manufacturing wholesale end of things, and directs them to the right resources. It’s her way of giving back, after having many mentors of her own in her journey to become a chocolatier, pastry artist, and business-owner. One mentor who stands out for Wendy is Pam Williams from Ecole du Grand Chocolat in Valhorna, who taught her to “feed the business through the passion.”
Although her business is certainly an impressive achievement, she feels that her greatest accomplishment so far in her life is her daughter. Having a child has changed her perspective on life in general and altered her priorities. “Giving back to my family has been the most important shift,” Wendy explains, “I prioritize them, whereas in years past, during the holiday season in particular, we get so busy that I would think only of the chocolate factory and only of Cocolico.” Now that she is a mother, her family is never far from her thoughts. She makes sure to carve out family time in the midst of her hectic work schedule. Every Sunday, Wendy and her husband take their baby and their dog for a walk at their favourite park. That quality time with her family is essential to her now, but fortunately, Cocolico has not suffered due to Wendy’s shift in priorities. In fact, the change has had a positive impact on her business practices. “It’s made our business more effective because we’ve just prioritized things and streamlined things and become more efficient.”
The future of Cocolico looks to be bright one. Wendy plans on developing new ideas and innovations so she can increase her output while maintaining the quality and integrity of her products. That’s good news, because it means we’ll be seeing much more of Cocolico’s exceptional chocolates yet to come. Thanks to Wendy’s passion and dedication to her craft, life can only get sweeter from here.
Now That I’m 30
Good for me for 'getting by.'
I support myself financially. I’m mentally stable. I have several friends for whom I would do anything, and who would do the same. I'm going at life full-out, and experiencing it all without numbing it or dumbing it down. Every day. That makes me proud.
No job will be perfect.
No one job will meet all of my needs or have me express all my gifts. I used to put an enormous amount of pressure on myself trying to figure out what to ‘do with my life.’ But a job won't create meaning for me; I create my own meaning. We are now likely to change careers seven times. I'm not failing because I haven't found the perfect job: the perfect job doesn't exist. This is life. This is what I'm doing with it.
I want more role models.
I’ve learned truly important things by observing firsthand: watching someone give a boss good feedback, run an effective, productive family meeting, or have a healthy conflict with a partner. I want more role models, more mentors. I don't just want to grow up: I want to become wise.
I know how I feel loved.
Dating helps me see what works for me and what doesn't. To see who I am in relation to others. To discover my patterns, both useful and destructive. I feel loved when I am listened to, complimented, and physically held. I believe that owning this makes it more likely that I will feel loved in a relationship.
Spiritual growth feels like dying.
I've screamed until my throat was raw. I've cried until I couldn't breathe. Sometimes it felt like I wouldn’t make it. Sometimes it felt like I didn’t want to. Sometimes it felt like the end. Spiritual growth is one of the most difficult and wrenching things I've ever done, and continue to do. Worth it, but wrenching.
I’m sensitive. So what?
I feel and know intuitively. I am incredibly empathetic, which makes me an outstanding teacher and coach. It also makes me extra sensitive in a relationship. I used to be ashamed of this. I should be different. I should have a thicker skin. I should be stronger. Now I feel neutral. Yeah, I'm sensitive. And? Instead of spending time trying to change, I figure out how to work with it. This is what’s so.
First world problems aren't insignificant.
Should I get a Kindle or a Nook? Should I eat my Luna bar now or later? Who left the toilet seat up!?
I don't have children to feed or schlep up stairs. I don't have HIV/AIDS. I don't have to walk two miles twice a day to a well that has malaria in it anyway.
At the same time, the emotional growth I've done has been confronting and arduous. It's not better or worse, it's just distinct. I used to be ashamed that my problems weren’t ‘enough’ or ‘valid.’ Now I feel grateful I'm physically housed, clothed, and fed, but I also recognize that the work I'm doing in this lifetime is also legitimate.
MAJOR changes are ahead.
Climate change is real. It will cause tremendous, undeniable, irreversible change. Within my lifetime.
This takes the pressure off decisions I make now. Things much larger than me are shifting in ways no one can predict; I just happen to be on the planet for it.
It's going to be a wild ride.
I wouldn't go back in time for anything.
I don’t have a lot of external achievements to my name. I don't own a house or have a six figure salary or socialize with movie stars.
But I’ve made significant strides in my humanity. I've built a strong sense of self and learned how to connect to something higher. I've developed a backbone and cultivated a big heart. I forgive, where I once didn't. I laugh. I stand up straight. I listen.
If I died now, I'd be at peace. Because I've come a long way, and at least every few days, I remember what's important and act on it. I'm not perfect, but I'm doing the right things for the right reasons.
In other words, I'm 30, and I've earned it.
THE MONSTER THAT HAUNTS
By Christine Bissonnette
“I think there’s real peril in
spending so much time in one’s head,
in one’s own company”
H.P. Lovecraft was a peculiar and significant horror writer from the early 20th century. The Lovecraft that is usually talked about was an “embarrassing poseur” says Jacqueline Baker. When she decided to write a book about the infamous writer, that was not the version of the man she wanted to explore.
Jacqueline’s The Broken Hours is a literary ghost story set during a time when Lovecraft “was more alone than he had been in years.” The year was 1937. It was a time in his life when “he feared a nervous breakdown [and even] doubted his own sanity.” As she read through his biographies, Baker began to develop a “deep kinship” with the tortured writer. “I thought, I know you,” she says. She connected with the version of the man “who felt alone in the world. The man who was now middle-aged and wondering if he’d wasted his life at writing (he never published a book during his lifetime).” I don’t think she’s alone in connecting with this version of his story. Perhaps that’s part of what makes the novel so unsettling.
In The Broken Hours, Baker explores art, imagination and loss within the setting of a haunted house and a malevolent presence. H.P. Lovecraft was haunted throughout his life. “I think [he] was his own monster,” she says.
What are you
“I’m haunted by a lot of things.” says Baker. “I think that’s why I write. Maybe that’s why a lot of writers do. What are we haunted by? Our pasts, choices, what we didn’t do, what we did. Things done to us, things we did to others. We are haunted by our own blood, meaning what we inherit from our mothers and fathers, our grandparents. There’s a lot of weight in that.”
Baker doesn’t think Lovecraft was alone in being his own monster. She thinks many people are haunted by themselves. “There is no limit to the horrors our imaginations can create,” she says. Baker wanted to give Lovecraft a chance to come face-to-face with his own monsters in the novel, but in the process of writing his story she also ended up confronting her own.
“There are weights we carry which never lighten, I think,” says Jacqueline. But then “Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe they are what makes us human.”
When I asked her what inspired her to become a writer, she first named off some of the more generic answers I expected: “I love stories. I love reading. I wanted to write stories that I would like reading. But,” she continued, “I think there are all kinds of other, more complex answers” to that question.
Jacqueline wondered if part of her wrote in order to connect with people she had never met – people who might feel the same kinship towards her that she had felt towards Lovecraft. In some ways, she thinks that sort of “human recognition” can be deeper than “any physical acquaintance.” She didn’t stop exploring the question there: “[I write] to try to wrestle with my own past. To try to hold on to those things which slip away from us, bit by bit, every day. To gain a sense of control over those things in my life which I’ve had no control over.”
Although writers can certainly use their work to confront their deepest fears and insecurities (their monsters), being a fiction writer also has a parasitic quality for Baker.
“There’s a sense I have sometimes,” she says,
everything, even as it’s happening.... I feel I’m never fully present.”
She wonders if this tendency is true for a lot of writers. “At its worst, I suppose there’s a kind of mercenary sense about it... At the very least, it can sometimes make me feel terribly detached from things.” She suspects that this was also true for Lovecraft. She doubts that he was ever truly “invested in the moment” or in the lives of other people. “I believe he claimed this himself. Certainly his ex-wife said as much.”
For all the ways that Baker felt a connection to Lovecraft, she differentiates herself here: “For me, as opposed to Lovecraft, more often than not I feel deeply invested in and moved by people’s feelings, and their suffering.” Maybe “turning pain into art” can act as “a kind of coping mechanism,” she wonders.
From Troubled Child to Artist and Entrepreneur
Melynda Kalyn, by Kristi Yorks
“Things have not always been easy but I really wouldn’t change anything. With every step came the decision to take another. I will always push forward with my trade/art because it is the biggest part of who I truly am. Copper is not just in my body... it is in my heart and soul.”
I thought Melynda Kalyn would talk at length about the difficulties she faced working in, what I considered to be, a male-dominated industry. In retrospect, that was probably a reflection of my own prejudices and limitations. What surfaced instead was belief. While she (naturally, I think) experienced fear, apprehension and uncertainty, she never stopped believing that she was worthy of doing what she loved. I quickly realized that Melynda wasn't the type to wallow in rejection; she was the type of person who fought for her dreams.
In grade school, Kalyn's teachers considered her a troubled child. “You give me a book, goes in one ear and out the other. You hand me a test and a pencil and put me in a desk, and panic ensues.” We all have our own versions of that same story. For Kalyn, working creatively with her hands came naturally. She identified, early on, as a hands-on learner; a kinesthetic learner. “You show me once what you want me to create, and I can build anything,” she modestly brags.
Frustrated, Kalyn decided to leave high school and started working in construction. She started at the very bottom; sweeping floors and taking out the trash while she thought about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Eventually she started looking into welding and fabrication shops. She wanted to observe other tradespeople at work, but getting hired was harder than she anticipated. “Having a pretty young girl in a shop with a lot of boys seemed like a bad move to most employers,” she says.
“It was [also] daunting to me... to be this person with all this drive, all this determination, all this potential skill and a want to work in this industry, and [to] have really nothing to back it up.” Kalyn did not have her high school diploma and, despite her passion, she thought her lack of experience put her at a disadvantage. “[I had] no real skill other than shop class in high school, my mother’s wacky art projects, and a couple years cleaning up after dry wallers and tapers.”
A year passed with no significant changes or progress. Then, through a friend, Melynda met a Coopersmith from England. He had his own full metal working shop in Calgary, but when Kalyn first approached him for a job he was resistant. He'd had a bad experience with a previous student and he wasn't interested in taking the time to teach, what he thought would be, another disappointment. That didn't stop Melynda. She was determined. Despite his initial rejection of her, she continued to show up at his shop, helped with little projects and politely observed him as he worked. “Finally one day, he handed me a piece of copper and a chicken scratch of a drawing and said 'Here. Go make this.'” The next day Melynda started full time.
She continued to learn and grow from him over the next few years. Then, in 2005, she opened her own functional art studio: Cumblerland Blues Art House Inc.
“If you want people to know who you are and what you can offer, you have to put yourself out there,” she says. She started getting comfortable handing out business cards and enthusiastically sharing how “cool, and original and awesome” her metalwork was with potential buyers. From copper bikinis (“no one saw that coming!”) to beautifully hand crafted jewelry, her copper creations are authentically, well, her. “I love the organic nature of copper; it is in everything we do and [in] who we are.”
That's not the end of Kalyn's story. In addition to running her business, she still works a full time job in construction. She recognizes that turning Cumberland Blues into a successful business will take time, dedication, perseverance, and lots of love. So everyday, after a full day of hard labour, she dedicates her “off” hours toward herself and her passion. “If I don't it will never grow; I will never grow,” she says.
“Looking back on my life and this journey, everything I did, [every] person I met, [every] job I passed up or followed through on, has lead me here.” Perhaps she's not where she'd hoped to be at this point in her career, but that doesn't seem to matter to her anymore. “[Maybe] if I had known then what I do now... I wouldn't be on this amazing adventure.”
I'm glad my initial prediction was wrong. I remember a quote that I read by Chelsea Handler several years ago: “You can do whatever you want to do - you can create a job that never existed, you can create nonsense or create genius. But as long as you're paying attention you'll grab something that's a little different and a little newer.” I think it's accurate to say that Melynda Kalyn was paying attention.
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