Life Writing and Literary Métissage as an Ethos for Our Times, A Reader Response by Alyssa Doucet

Life Writing and Literary Métissage as an Ethos for Our Times, A Reader Response by Alyssa Doucet

When I read Erika Hasebe-Ludt, Cynthia Chambers, and Carl Leggo’s Life Writing and Literary Métissage as an Ethos for Our Times, I was immediately inspired. I read the author’s stories and their connections, and I wanted my own stories, my own connections, and my own words on paper to scrutinize, reflect and transform. I wanted to “locate [myself] in a rapidly growing network of contexts, including family, neighbourhood, community, profession, school and society…” (2009, p.4). I wanted to see how my life connected to my environment, my friends, my family, to students, other teachers, to co-workers, to acquaintances and complete strangers passing by me on the street. So, I wrote. My first reaction was to write everything, every little thing I could remember. But, of course, this task is near impossible in a short time period. So, I decided to focus on one element of my life and write about the experiences, the memories, and the moments of influence. I wrote about my relationship with education, my experiences both in and out of school, memories of friends, family, and even strangers. In the end, I found myself walking a similar journey described by the authors, making connections to people and places, reflecting on my experiences and using them to transform my present life.

I chose to write about education for many reasons. First of all, as a Masters student in Education, I found it an appropriate subject since many of my experiences in education have been brought forward throughout my studies. Second, as I read Hasebe-Ludt, Chambers, and Leggo’s words, I found myself continuously asking myself: What does this mean to me as a teacher? What could this mean to my future students? The authors argue the importance of autobiographical writing in classroom, stating the impossibility of truly connecting with students without knowing their stories, without weaving your thread with their thread (2009, p. 204). Most current teaching theories focus on knowing your students and relating to their lives in order to be a good teacher. In practice, this often translates to teaching math by counting goals scored in a hockey game, or reading a vampire book as a novel study. Is this enough? Does sharing a love of hockey or vampire novels mean a teacher truly knows and can connect to his/her students? A few weeks ago, I might have said yes; but, after experimenting with métissage, a weaving of stories, people, and places, my view has changed. I no longer feel that a shared sport or favourite book is enough to connect one person to another. Although a good start, these surface commonalities carry little emotion and represent a superficial connection, a connection lost once the sport or book is removed. In my life, connections which I thought important and lasting at the time, never came to mind as I was writing about my experiences because they were not lasting. In the final thread of my narrative, I comment upon the connection shared with the global cohort during my year in the teacher education program. In revisiting the memory of a summer meeting with some classmates from the cohort, I realized that our conversations were not merely reminisces about the good times shared during the past year, like many conversations with old high school classmates, or old neighbours, but new conversations and new memories. We held onto a connection beyond the superficial mutual liking for a TV show or clothing brand. This connection is not often found in an educational setting, but needs to be found in order to truly reach the students, to make an indent in their personal métissage. These connections make a difference, and, as discussed by Hasebe-Ludt, Chambers, and Leggo, these connections form a “dynamic dialogue” with ourselves, our peers, and our environment (2009, p. 179). These are the connections we need, not only in the classroom, but with the world around us.

Of course, these connections are not easy to make. They require effort and time, and often it becomes easier to forget about these connections. As Hasebe-Ludt, Chambers and Leggo admit:

We know that when we invite people to write about their lives, we invite them to write about the death of loved ones, the loss of love, the brokenness of homes, the abuse and  loneliness and despair that characterize many lives, young and old. We know that when  we invite people to write about their lives, we invite hot tears and overwhelming hurt and unsettling questions, but we are convinced that whatever there is of hope and wisdom and goodness in our world is known as we write our lives truly. ( p. 178)

Many people want to hide these memories, push them into a closet and never take them out because it becomes too hard, too emotional, and too time-consuming to think about. In writing my métissage, I expected to write tiny sentences, snippets of experiences, mostly facts, about my past. But, soon I determined the impossibility of separating autobiographical writing and emotions as I began to open up pockets of emotions usually kept guarded. I let myself delve into feelings, past feelings of hurt and loneliness, current feelings of fear and sadness, and weave them into my story. In due time, these feelings, braided with one another and began to form a complete story. They brought new understandings and changed the way I saw myself and others. For example, having worked in education his whole life, I knew that my grandpére had a major impact on my decision to become a teacher. Yet, not until I began writing did I realize the intense emotional impact of this relationship on my life. I began to feel my admiration of my grandpére, my desire to make him proud, and my fear of losing him. And, although these feelings evoked powerful emotions, both good and bad, they also made me realize the “transformational potential of stories to create new worlds and to re-imagine old ones” (2009, p. 203). Without these stories, without feeling the hurt from one experience and the fear from another, I never would have found the joy in beginning a new understanding of myself as a teacher, an individual, and a member of the human race.

Although my narrative lacked the complexity of intertwining the personal writings of three individuals into one story, my métissage still brought in many other narratives, making it complex in itself. I did not need the extra people to realize my connectedness with others and with the world. My memories were enough to confirm that an individual’s life story cannot stand alone; there is not one story which cannot be interwoven with the story of another human being. As I continued to write, I began to visually see my story being woven, forming its own braid similar to the one on the front cover of Life Writing and Literary Metissage as an Ethos for Our Times. I could see the different affective colours, their narrative threads connecting, weaving in and out, sometimes forming knots difficult to undo, sometimes forming knots which are still knotted, and sometimes weaving smoothly to the bottom. I see the frayed threads at the bottom, waiting to be picked up again, to be woven with new threads. My métissage is by no means a chronological, concise, or complete autobiography of my educational experiences, but hopefully the fragments form some sense of togetherness, some sense of understanding, while maintaining the sense of continuation in the future. As Carl Leggo notes, “the past is always present, always a part of my life…It is still being lived, or it is still alive, or it is still living” (2009, p. 60). Hopefully, I can add to my métissage, continue on my story, and continue to connect old stories to new stories and make connections. Hopefully, I can pass this knowledge on to my future students, can encourage them to write their own stories, their own métissage, and to make their own connections, to overcome the difficulties and deal with their past, relate to their past to create and relate to a better future.

Bibliography

Hasebe-Ludt, E., Chambers, C., & Leggo, C. (2009). Life writing and literary metissage as an             ethos for our times. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.