This is Alexandra Hindson from Enlightened Learning here in Acapulco Mexico with Yolanda Norris Clarke a BC native who lived in Fredericton New Brunswick. I was so delighted to hear that she was here that I could interview her because I am also from Fredericton New Brunswick! She so kindly and generously gave me some of her time to interview her here in the Glorious Acapulco with this magnificent view over the bay.
Thank you for coming and joining me and great to have you here.
So we’re going to talk about writing today so I’m just going to get Yolanda to introduce herself and her experience of learning in University, and her process of learning about writing, and her writing experience right now. So we will move slowly through this. Welcome Yolande, please introduce yourself.
Hi Alexandra, thank you so much. I don’t know if you mentioned when we spoke yesterday that you are actually from Fredericton! Giggle. Yeah, I’m a writer and actually, that’s how I describe myself primarily, although my writing has taken me into lots of interesting areas. So I’m a writer and my focus in my writing is on birth and health sovereignty, and kind of breaking the spell that we have as a culture around dependencies around various institutions, especially the medical institution. But first and foremost a writer, and I think I’ve always considered myself to be a writer as I’ve always written. I wrote a novel actually I think it was in grade 2 to about the adventures of Santa Claus and it was very well received. So I have kind of occupied a bit of a funny space or a funny relationship to formal education and various ways of learning outside of the system. I can’t really say I’ve particularly enjoyed school but I I did very well at school and I found ways to navigate that experience.
I finished high school a year early and then I enrolled at University and I had a very mixed experience in higher education as well, in some ways I thrived and other ways I really couldn’t handle just the institutional structure. So at this point I have a, I am three credits away from a master’s degree that I will never finish. I’m at peace with that but written numerous courses and I have a, I’ve had various blogs over the years and the way that I express my message in the world is certainly through writing. I think that you first encountered me through my videos which were basically essays that I wrote and then performed.
Yes so I just want to say a little bit about that in my own experience with Yolanda was I was first introduced to you through your online videos or video blogs and you were videotaping them out of your home in Fredericton. Then suddenly Yolanda moved to the tropics and she was videotaping from there but I was so moved. I’ve listened to many podcasters and I was quite taken, very impressed by the way that you express yourself because it’s, how I would describe it as being very much to the point, almost shock value using the English language. So that’s why I was drawn to you, the essay format, because I would see you reading it but it would still come across naturally. How long would it take you to write, an estimate to write one of those?
You know I have to say that outrage and anger have always been major sources of inspiration when there’s something I’m really upset about the other words just know which is a little bit perverse I know but I think I I felt compelled actually to speak on the these issues that were emerging in the world especially in early 2020 and in some cases those essays were written in minutes, just like whole cloth they just came from the ether and came into existence very quickly.
There was some other in some of the cases it took more work but there is definitely something about the word and the voice that go together for me. So whenever I’m working on any kind of writing project whether it feels like I have to drag it out of myself or whether it flows easily speaking the words out loud is always a really important. I have to work not necessarily in silence, I like to sometimes you know work in public places were I’m also not going to be disturbed but I have to create a kind of it has to be a very protected space because I’m always reading my words out loud and not have to happen so there’s something about the Rhythm and Cadence and I studied poetry at University and then poetry remains a covert passion and I’m also a musician actually I I was a Pianist I taught piano I study piano into a very high-level I feel like all of that fits together because you’re something very musical for me about how I put words together.
There is a technique used if somebody is highly emotional at the moment that the best way to communicate is through singing so to calm the nervous system. I think this is perfect for anybody who has challenges writing that what you’re saying is that you could either speak your words in a poetic fashion, you could even potentially sing the words and I have people I have clients who are in fact doing that. It gets beyond the blockage of having some kind of concept of what a writer is. Like historically we have all these great writers like Hemingway you know who’s got a cult following and is mythic in his reputation. He was known for his also for his incredible alcoholic tendencies and his mistreatment of his wives and uncontrollable temper that he could have used this strategy too. There is this myth of the writer that I wonder if this sometimes that gets in the way for other writers to express themselves.
Well, I will say that sometimes writing definitely feels excruciating. I’m working on a big project right now, I’m working on my first book which has been both terrible and exhilarating because it really hasn’t been easy. You know my field of expertise and primary interest is birth and oh my goodness writing a book is much more challenging than giving birth. I’d have a million babies before, I could never recommend this to anyone it’s terrible.
I think I also, I do think it takes a particular, so that whole idea of romanticized notion of what it is to be a writer, I think I maybe get it more now though because it does require intense, just to kind of intense excruciating focus and I do have to give up a lot, I do have to sacrifice time with my family and time that I might prefer to spend doing other things. It is a long-term kind of endeavour and it’s a very different thing. I mean I’ve worked as a journalist, and I’ve done academic writing, worked blogging, and I’ve written curriculums, and I worked as an academic Administration, I’ve done technical writing, I think each genre of writing has its own very different kind of energy that’s required I think to write a blog post or an article for a newspaper, as opposed to a larger project like a book. There’s a lot to it, it’s a very emotional thing!
It’s also interesting now in this age of AI. I’m sure you’ve heard all about Chat GPT all of these conversations that are now coming out. I actually had a moment the other day, like of God! have I missed the boat, is it too late? Is it too late for me, I better get a move on or otherwise I am going to have a computer jumping the gun. But I don’t really think its going to be a issue that we think it is and I think it’s going to present many more larger issues than we could even possibly imagine, I think it’s probably both. Anyway yeah, writing is quite a big deal and I have whined and complained publicly about how challenging I find this process to be working on this large writing project and it’s been really quite lovely to hear from other writers who have reached out to tell me that the feeling of being just more of a failure that I could ever have possibly imagined is actually very normal, and that it’s actually a good sign and that anyone that thinks what they’re writing is just fine and dandy is probably not doing it right. So I feel very encouraged by this.
It’s interesting the project that I’m working on right now I’ve actually been writing this book for 15 years. So I started to work on it 15 years ago and I kind of have let it I’ve let it drag out and it’s become this sort of symbolic life project. A few months ago I wrote the draft of what will be my second book and I wrote that entire draft of the book, I haven’t moved into the editing process yet, but the draft is there and I feel really good about it and that came into existence in the space of maybe six weeks. There’s really something to be said for what you mentioned before we officially started our conversation Alexandra about just allowing oneself to drop into a flow state and to just sort of welcome whatever comes and see what happens. So I’m actually really excited to finish this larger project in part so that I can move on to editing this other piece that really just flowed in a very different way.
What advice would you give to young writers and in various times in their life and as you said there’s as many types of writing, blogs, there is academic writing, there’s many forms of expression in terms of the written expression. What advice would you give to somebody say who is having to write something they don’t want to write about?
So that’s many students right or writing something that has a lot of structure and a lot of rules required, what would you suggest or what kind of advice might you give them?
Well, I would say first of all just stop whining and do it. And also allow the first draft to be absolutely terrible. I mean you know there’s something I think so many of us struggle with perfectionism, which is really quite cute because it’s never going to be perfect, that doesn’t even exist, but there’s something very freeing about consciously deciding to write something that’s very mediocre and just really not all that great and it can always be improved upon and edited.
I would also say that reading your work out loud for me is essential and this is advice that I give to my students because I also teach writers. Yeah reading out loud is I think a very important and I find it really interesting in my own work that I can write or edit a piece for ages, but until I read my work out loud there is always there’s always elements that I missed, errors that missed, that I actually recognize when I read out loud, so I think that’s important.
I would also say that reading is really important and I think reading, I get the impression maybe that people aren’t reading books all that much these days. It’s hard to find the time to read when you’re constantly scrolling Instagram or Facebook, so I would also advise anyone who wants to be a good writer or skilled writer to get offline. So in general discipline actually is really important; I have to remove myself from my family and eliminate all of the distractions; I have to put my phone in the other end of the room; and just got out of my own way and do it; and probably even discipline piece is maybe the most challenging for a lot of us.
Okay well thank you this is so I can do is wonderful advice and insight.
And one of them course for me is that I do a lot of reading but I think I could be reading different things. I think there is something about what to be read, in my experience from the past when I’ve read the classics or a very particular author, I was at one point trying to understand the contemporary of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and that was a profound experience because her writing is so unstructured, and what would appear to the unstructured but yet underneath it’s structured, and it didn’t make sense but I continued to pursue reading her and that helped me so much in building my writing. I think there’s a nuance like there’s a specific nuance of her writing that I could use in my own writing, as well as just her beautiful expression of words.
I love that Alexandra and I remember being made fun of actually for focusing on English literature when I was at UBC. I am glad you said that because as I tend towards maybe being overly dismissive of my academic experience, but I definitely think that studying English literature and reading amazing writers like Virginia Wolfe and James Joyce. I’m actually reading some of G.K. Chesterton right now and also revisiting the Politics of the English Language which is one of Orwell’s incredible essays. Yes, I mean there’s so much richness there and I think that everyone should at least take an introductory course in the classics if at all possible so I don’t know if you have students listening to this I think this is an amazing way of honing our ear, because it’s all about the beauty of the language really and I think there’s… I get a lot of comments on how appreciative people are of I guess my focus on format and form in my writing that I think are very important.
Well thank you Yolande it’s been a delightful to speak to you for this time and I’m just coming away with as I said some nuggets here and I hope that the audience is too, come away with anything important today I think that that basic one is that self-discipline and trying something new, stepping out of our comfort zone around using technology and actually sitting down and reading a book. Who would have thought that sitting down and reading a book would send us out of our comfort zone?
There’s one other thing I would like to add Alexandra. We’re living in such a strange political time right now and I think a lot of people are really scared to say what they actually think and to speak with candour and openness and transparency and even courage and that’s something that I think takes practice, you know it really takes practice to be willing to say things that we might be afraid that other people don’t want to hear. It is something that I enjoy in others and I think that a lot of people actually do I think there’s I think there’s an increasing thirst for honesty and openness and daringness.
And it resonates at a different tone when there is an honest behind it.
And this is something that I don’t think artificial intelligence will ever have access to what it is to actually express our experience as humans in our state of consciousness.
Thank you very much, Yolande. I just want to know again when we hear about your book, I’d like to share it with the audience. So once your book is published I will be sharing that with the audience- the work that Yolanda does is absolutely amazing and the more people that know about it the better.
Thank you so much.
So this is Alexandra from Enlightened Learning, thank you and Namaste from Acapulco.