Hello Friends!! Lindsay and I recently hosted a spoiler-free Q & A in our Behind the Pages Goodreads group with Canadian author Jesse Thistle to discuss his extraordinary, powerful, inspiring memoir From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way. I am excited to share the Q & A with you all today! Jesse is a Métis-Cree-Scot Ph.D. Candidate in the History program at York University in Toronto, Ontario.
In From the Ashes Jesse shows us through his raw, honest and courageous voice his journey from his early years in Saskatchewan, being abandoned by his parents, living with his grandparents in Toronto, his self-destructive cycle of drugs, alcohol, crime and homelessness, to finding his way.
Brenda’s thoughts from her review: Jesse’s story is ugly and beautiful at the same time. His voice is quiet and hopeful but powerful with his raw, honest dark realities as he shares his story. At times it was difficult to read his heartbreaking reality not only with his life on the harsh streets but with the stereotyped words said to him. Words that I often heard when growing up that now pierced my heart to see. As painful as it is I feel these are dark realities that can’t be ignored and not seen.
Lindsay’s thoughts from her review: I am forever changed after reading this. One of the toughest, most honest and powerful memoirs I have read. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jesse Thistle for being brave enough to put his story out in the world. This is heart wrenching, yet hopeful. Upsetting yet inspiring. Heavy yet freeing. I thank Jesse for sharing his story which has opened my heart to beginning to understand how dark, deep and uncontrollable addiction can be. I have a whole new outlook after reading this. What an extremely powerful, unforgettable story that I insist you add to your reading list.
Brenda: Welcome, Jesse! Thank you so much for joining us and answering our questions about your memoir.
I read your book just before CBC Canada Reads 2020 debate battling for the one book to bring focus to Canada. I read three of the chosen finalists and out of the three, I was rooting for your book. I thought your story brought focus and gave a strong voice to indigenous people, addiction and homelessness in Canada. I thought you showed us honestly what life was like on those harsh streets of Canada and it challenged my thoughts and showed me another side to those harsh streets. It also brought awareness to those harsh stereotypes I grew up with but most of all your story brought me hope for people with addiction and hope we can understand the cycle of addiction and homelessness.
Can you tell us a little about your story and what inspired or motivated you to write a memoir?
Jesse: I wrote the book because I was asked to write it by Simon and Schuster. They’d heard about my academic awards and prior life in a Toronto Star article. When I met with S &S to discuss writing my book I sent them a collection of my AA steps and other writings about my life. That is all the book really is—a collection of short writings so I could figure out what had happened during my addiction years.
Lindsay: Thank you so much for being with us. I read your book a few months ago and it forever changed me. I find myself much more sympathetic to the disease of addiction and what the homeless face on a daily basis. I thank you for opening my eyes and helping me to begin to understand the overpowering world and hard-to-break cycle of addiction and homelessness.
I am curious about what your ultimate goal was in writing this phenomenal memoir. Was your goal to educate people and shed light on the true reality of living through addiction and homelessness? Or was writing this book more of a form of therapy and healing and for you to reflect and move forward in your life?
Jesse: I would say a little of both. I have to remember it is an educational piece and builds empathy around the issues of homelessness, addiction, colonization, trauma, criminality–so there’s that. But I also wrote it to just have people witness what happened so I could finally grieve with my family and we could move on. Scholarship on intergenerational trauma notes to truly heal their needs to be public recognition of hardships and wrongs; well, my book kind of does that, not only for me, but my family and people.
Beppie: Thank you for sharing your story with us in “From the Ashes.” I just finished it and want to offer my admiration for your tenacious battle to reclaim your life. I was wondering if you purposefully wrote your chapters as connected vignettes or “snapshots” of your life?For me it really heightened the sense of loss and abandonment which seems woven into much of your journey. As you reflect back upon your life, have you found the ability to forgive yourself as you look to the future? Much of what shaped your young adult decisions was truly beyond your control. You mention at the end of your book that you were finally able to say goodbye to your old” life. I am hopeful that you also have been able to find ongoing peace through your work and your new life. Thank you again for sharing your life with us as readers. Be well. Safe journeys to you!
Jesse: I work on forgiving myself every day. I am trying really hard to understand why I was the way I was, and some of it makes sense. But there are other parts that I cannot comprehend, amendments I still have to make, and somethings will never be made right. I try to find forgiveness from Creator or God or whatever you want to call it,, but I always live with the past, and I am always working of bringing light into the world instead of darkness. Sure, there are times when my heart fools me into thinking I don’t deserve a second chance, times when I believe naysayers. That’s a dangerous places to live – in the opinions and judgements of others. But I fight against those feelings by doing things to help others like giving a talk, donating my times, answering questions from readers, and working on policy and scholarship that will address issues around homelessness and addiction.
Brenda: How did you go about writing your journey? How did you piece together your personal story, thoughts and engage in your memories?
Jesse: I’d been collecting fragments of my life in writing since my time in rehab in 2008-09. Whatever I could remember about my life I wrote down in an effort to do my amends list so I could go back and make things right, or forgive myself. I went back and talked with all kinds of people who knew me at my worst–my PO, old friends, my brothers, uncles, school and court records. I even went to the RCMP and got my full record and wrote much of the middle of the book from it. So, a strange thing. To go back and collect you life from people, but that’s what I did
Brenda: Your memoir has been called a love story and you showed us some of that love and support you received. Why would you call it a love story?
Jesse: It is called a love story because early in the book I am with my Metis-Cree family on the road allowance and we are happy in our Saskatchewan lands and I am connected to our teachings and kinship structures. That abruptly ended when me and my brothers were taken into Children’s Aid and then placed in Toronto. I was only three and half and lost my mother’s and nuclear family’s love. I spent the rest of my life trying to believe I could be loved, a personal failing that dragged me through hell, until finally in rehab I came to love myself and those around and then met my wife who showed me what real love is. That is why it is a love story–love on many levels, not just eros or romantic love
Brenda: You narrated the audiobook. How did it feel for you to narrate your personal story compared to writing it? Did you experience any emotions differently?
Jesse: It was brutal. To voice my traumas as well as my joys and everything in between torn my heart out over and over. I had to sage pretty good after that. I also had to do it over 3 gruelling days to get through it. If it went any longer I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Brenda: What were some challenges/struggles you had writing your memoir?
Jesse: Some of the challenges of writing my memoir was around confidence: confidence of my memory accuracy and also confidence of whether I even had a story worth telling. The funny thing about writing a memoir is you enter it knowing you’re going to piss off family and you’re also going to get things wrong. Some people remember things completely differently than you. I had this inner dialogue within the whole time I wrote, “Is this right, am I right, how will they feel, do I have a right to share my family’s story?”
Brenda: You also wrote about your family in your memoir. Did they have any involvement in your writing process? When did they read it and what was their reaction to your memoir?
Jesse: I did talk with my brothers while writing and I read them their parts and checked in for accuracy. Other family members were also consulted for clarity, while others were not. Most in my family loved the book as far as I know. There was only two who got upset, but hey, that’s what memoirs do–they piss of those you love sometimes. At least that’s what I’ve heard from most other memoirists
Lindsay: How long did it take you to write this book?
Jesse: It only took me about three months. I started in August 2018 and had it completed by mid November. Mind you, I did have much of the fragments and memories already collected in small scribbles in my AA program. But the actual writing went lightening quick.
Brenda: What would you like readers to get out of reading your memoir?
Jesse: I would say I want them to have a better understanding of Indigenous homelessness and the drivers unique to what I and other Indigenous people went through. I am a scholar primarily and I wrote something called the Definition of Indigenous Homelessness. All the dimensions of Indigenous Homelessness appear in my book I am just not explicit in explaining them as they appear. My hope is that people read this document alongside my book. https://www.homelesshub.ca/Indigenous…
Brenda: I set this Q & A up with your wife Lucie. Can you tell us a little bit about your wife and the work you do together?
Jesse: Lucie is my everything, my rock, my heart. I am super cheese-ass about her because the gal saved me in so many ways. She also runs our business – contract negotiations, logistics, bookings, finance, everything. i am just the creative arm of our company–I show up and talk, write stuff, and lecture. So I am the creative arm. We work well together professionally as she knows what is good for us and she’s a bulldog in business. I am more a softy and people used to pull the wool over my eyes back before she took the steering wheel. So, yeah, she is the captain, I am the first mate. LOL
Lindsay: Do you have any future writing plans? Will we see any other books from you?
Jesse: Yup a couple. I can’t really discuss publicly yet. But keep your eye out