This afternoon, photographer Monique Dykstra and I did our third writing and photography workshop at La Rue des Femmes, a Montreal center that provides support to women who are homeless.
Our work here is part of a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called Before & After. The women's texts and photos will be included in a book that will be published in time for this year's Blue Metropolis Literary Festival.
My feelings about homelessness have changed a lot since we began working on this project in September. I have to admit that in the past, when I saw homeless people, I looked away. Having lunch in the community room at La Rue des Femmes, and working with some of the women on their writing has made me realize that these women are not all that different from me -- or my friend Monique. One difference, however, between us is that when I experienced my own hard times, I had family and friends to help me through. Most of the women at La Rue des Femmes are alone; many have lost everything.
I will never forget some of the poems and stories these women have produced. Two weeks ago, a woman wrote a poem about her pink sunglasses and how they protect her from "je ne sais quoi" (that's French for "I don't know what"). I can't get her poem out of my head -- which I think is proof of how powerful a writer she is.
This afternoon, a woman in our group wrote about what it's like to have nothing. I'm going to include a little of her poem here. When you read this excerpt, I think you will understand why I feel so privileged to be working on this project.
“My god, I don’t have anything.
But I don’t want to start accumulating things.
I lost so much already,
I’m afraid I’m going to lose it all again.”
I think some readers may find this excerpt a little depressing. Perhaps it will help you to know that the woman who wrote it is working hard to rebuild her life. That she is courageous and smart. And that she was really proud of her poem.