David Maxwell Memorial Reading Challenge

David Maxwell Memorial Reading Challenge

David Maxwell Memorial Reading Challenge

Created by Tiffany Sostar

In joyful memory of their dad, David Maxwell:
lover, collector, and sharer of books

January 12, 1953 – November 30, 2019

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Welcome to the David Maxwell Memorial Reading Challenge!

Make yourself a cup of David-style coffee: not too strong, with a generous-leaning-to-excessive helping of sugar or maple syrup, and more milk swirled in than seems reasonable.

Settle in and read your way to memories and connection.

This reading challenge has been created by me, Tiffany Sostar, David’s oldest child, in honour of dad and as a way to invite friends, family, and community to reflect on memories shared with David and to create new memories and experiences connected to David.

This reading challenge has a bias. It reflects my story with my dad, and it highlights the parts of dad’s story that were most impactful in my own life. It’s a gift from me to him, and to you.

There are other stories of dad’s life, and perhaps there are categories of reading missing that would help reflect the nuance and complexity of David Maxwell’s personhood and experience.

If there is a category you wish were here, please let me know.

I will be collecting stories and titles shared by reading challenge participants and will be creating an updated reading challenge next year, along with a book of stories.

I would love for that second iteration to include a broader view of my dad.

But for now, this is what I have to offer, from my own perspective, from my own heart.

If you would like to get in touch with me, you can find me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com, or online at tiffanysostar.com. I work as a narrative therapist, a community organizer, a writer, and an editor. The love of stories that dad and I shared has extended into every part of my life and is present in every aspect of my work.

A reading challenge is a bit like a literary treasure hunt.

Each category is a clue, and you must go searching for the book that will check that category off.

Both books and treasure hunts were cherished parts of my relationship with dad, and almost every treasure hunt that he created for me (each Christmas for 3 decades of my life!) included clues hidden in books, book titles as clues, gifts hidden behind books, books as the gift at the end of the hunt – books and treasure hunts, treasure hunts and books.

At a time when I miss my dad so much, and when I am overcome by the loss and the grief over pages left unturned in our relationship, and the sudden ending of our story together in this life, it has been a balm to create this reading challenge. This treasure hunt.

Dad left many legacies that continue in my life. Books, stories, and the determined pursuit of clues and threads of connection are among the shiniest.

How to participate

This document is part invitation and part remembrance. You can participate in either or both.

To participate in the invitation, you can join the treasure hunt by reading a book in each category and, if you would like, sharing your completed list back with me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com.

I will be keeping track of the books read in each category and will send out a list of all the shared titles at the end of 2020. I hope that this will be one way to maintain a connection to David and to create new memories and experiences that connect us in our memories of him.

The reading challenge invitation is open to anyone, whether they knew dad or not.

I love the idea of stories and inspiration connected to dad travelling beyond his circle. If you didn’t know dad and you participate in the challenge, I’d love to hear what books you read, what these books made possible in your life, and how the stories of my dad’s life moved you, if they did.

For those who knew dad, you can also participate in the remembrance by reading the stories (there could have been pages and pages more) and by sharing your own stories!

I would love to hear the stories that these categories remind you of, and to hear about the books that dad recommended to you, and to know what from him and his life has stayed with you.

These stories and memories will also be collected, with the hope of creating a story book of David’s life and his influence in others’ lives. You do not need to be limited to the categories listed here for your stories – share anything that sparkles in your memory!

You’ll find the categories listed first, with stories and suggested titles after.

Simple pleasures

If you’d like some guidance from dad, here is a list that he shared with me last summer of some of his favourite things. Perhaps these will spark memories for you, invite you to consider things that you cherish in your own life, or guide you to titles that excite and engage you.

(I included the parts of the list that mention specific people, because I think dad’s love for Glenda, for his siblings, and for my sister and I are worth recognizing. I know these specific items, unlike the more general pleasures he lists, might not lead you directly to books, but they are a balm for my heart, and perhaps they will lead you to memories and stories of cherished people in your own life.)

  • Reading and Collecting books
  • Collecting an eclectic selection of Christmas ornaments
  • Setting up the upside-down Christmas tree
  • Stepping off the plane in Italy
  • Eating Italian food as prepared in Cinque Terre, Puglia and Rome
  • Eating authentic Gelato
  • Working hard to provide a service to avid readers
  • Swimming
  • Spending time with my amazing partner – Glenda
  • Gardening with Glenda
  • Talking to two people of whom I am so proud – Tiffany and Domini
  • Talking and staying connected with friends around the world
  • Watching my brother succeed so admirably at saving Prairie from financial ruin and rebuilding its heart
  • Watching my sister do her job so well around the world, especially in Asia
  • Drinking good wine
  • Making an awesome BLT
  • Cooking a thick, juicy steak with eggs over easy
  • Ethiopian food and coffee
  • Laying under a warm tropical sun
  • Listening to Mozart, Telemann, Holinger, Chopin, Haydn, Salieri, Boccherini, Bach
  • Praying to my Heavenly Father
  • Driving

Travel with David:

Each of these categories is based on a location where David either spent time or planned to.

  • A book set in Nigeria, or written by a Nigerian author
  • A book about backpacking through Europe (consider focusing on the Cinque Terre)
  • A book set in, or written about, the mid-Western USA
  • A book set in, or written about, rural Alberta
  • A book set in, or written about, Calgary
  • A book set in Italy, or written by an Italian author
  • A book set in Croatia, or written by a Croatian author
  • A book set in Costa Rica, or written by a Costa Rican author
  • A book that includes walking the Camino

Imagine with David

Each of these categories reflects a speculative genre or type of book that David particularly enjoyed.

  • A book of hard science fiction
  • A book of high fantasy
  • A book of historical fiction
  • A retelling of a myth or fairytale
  • A pop-up book

Take a stand with David

Each of these categories represent an action David took to either take a stand in solidarity with a targeted community, or to take a stand for his own beliefs and values.

  • A book about education or pedagogy
  • A book of Christian theology
  • A book about Islam or a book by a Middle Eastern author sharing their lived experience
  • A book about LGBTQ2+ community
  • A book about healing after abuse or trauma

Read along with David

Each of these books have specific cherished memories attached to them, and are books that dad particularly enjoyed and frequently shared with others.

  • The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  • The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • The Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner (any version!)
  • Anam Cara by John O’Donohue
  • Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
  • A Tintin comic
  • An Asterix comic

Memories

This section includes why I chose each category, along with a few brief stories and remembrances, and some suggested titles. This section will be significantly expanded in the second iteration of this reading challenge, hopefully with titles and stories from you!

Travel with David

Each of these categories is based on a location where David either spent time or planned to.

A book set in Nigeria, or written by a Nigerian author

Dad was born in Jos, Nigeria on January 12, 1953. He loved Nigeria and had endless stories of his time there. One of his favourite stories to tell was of rock climbing with a school friend and reaching up over the top of the climb to find a massive snake sunning itself at the summit!

Consider:

One Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi. This book is set in Nigeria during the Biafran war from 1967-1970. After I read this book, Dad and I had some really meaningful conversations about his memories of this time, and about his parents’ actions during this war.

A book about backpacking through Europe (consider focusing on the Cinque Terre)

Dad backpacked through Europe by himself as a teenager. This is when he first encountered and fell in love with the Cinque Terre in Italy.

Consider:

Rick Steves’ Pocket Cinque Terre. This little guidebook didn’t exist when dad backpacked the Cinque Terre as a youth, but dad was a huge fan of Rick Steves’ books!

A book set in, or written about, the mid-Western USA

Dad’s years in the States, including the years he spent in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were formative for him. During this time, he taught dance and danced professionally, and he also did a lot of work to support vulnerable communities. It was during these years that he worked on a suicide prevention hotline, and with survivors of rape and abuse.

Consider:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. Set in the Midwest, this contemplation on the seasons in that part of the world is lovely, and Annie Dillard was an author dad often had on the shelves at Logos.

A book set in, or written about, rural Alberta

Dad lived in Three Hills for quite a few years, but his roots in rural Alberta are generations-deep. His grandfather founded Prairie Bible Institute (now Prairie Bible College), which dad attended. He also ran the Coffee Break in Three Hills for a time. I still remember the ham and cheese sandwiches, and the picture of a red soccer ball on his office wall!

We also camped most years in Kananaskis Country, and I have so many cherished memories of our camping trips.

Consider:

Maxwell’s Passion and Power by Harold Fuller. This book is about dad’s grandfather, L.E. Maxwell, and about Prairie Bible College, which he founded in Three Hills, Alberta.

First Spring Grass Fire by Rae Spoon. This is a book about growing up queer in rural and religious Alberta, and close to my own heart. Dad and I had many conversations about queerness within religious spaces.

A book set in, or written about, Calgary

Dad lived in Calgary for a long time. He managed Logos Bookstore for almost 30 years, and although he never loved the climate here, I know that he loved his community. He gardened here, enjoyed the restaurants here, and grew deep roots within the bookstore and in the communities that he served – especially the community of teachers and educators, and the various religious groups that brought him in for booktables (many, many days spent at the FCJ centre!).

Consider:

Since John Gilchrist is no longer publishing the My Favourite Eats series (which dad loved, and which guided us to many fine meals – dad and I shared a love of fancy food!), try Gail Norton’s Calgary Eats, with a foreword by Julie van Rosendaal (who has taken on John Gilchrist’s mantle as CBC food reviewer). And if you cook from the book, consider adding a fried egg to the recipe for Modern Steak’s steak with peppercorn sauce – a good steak with a fried egg was one of dad’s favourite meals.

A book set in Italy, or written by an Italian author

Dad loved Italy, and he lived there for a couple years. And even when he wasn’t living there, that’s where his heart longed to be. He loved the food, he loved the architecture, and he loved the people.

Consider:

Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King.

How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael Gelb. This book isn’t technically about Italy, but it’s one of the books I read when I was 18, when I designed and undertook my first self-guided “transformative year” project, which dad supported by guiding me to books like this!

A book set in Croatia, or written by a Croatian author

Dad lived in Croatia for a couple years and treasured Dubrovnik and his friends there. When I visited him, he took me for a walk through the wooded area down to the ocean. It was gorgeous.

A book set in Costa Rica, or written by a Costa Rican author

Dad also lived in Costa Rica!

A book that includes walking the Camino

Although dad did not have the opportunity to walk the Camino, it was one of his cherished dreams. I’ve included it in this section because although his feet never carried him on the pilgrimage, I know that his heart did.

Imagine with David

Each of these categories reflects a speculative genre or type of book that David particularly enjoyed.

A book of hard science fiction

I have so many memories of hard science fiction and my dad! Not only books but also movies and tv shows. Dad had a deep appreciation for science fiction, and our house was filled with science fiction novels.

A book of high fantasy

In his last week of life, dad was talking about the difference between a fantasy story and a fantastical story. This is such a sharp memory for me, and dad and I did not come to a clear conclusion in this discussion of what makes a story a fantasy story and what makes it a story with fantastical elements. This interest in fantasy, what constitutes fantasy, and what fantasy writing makes possible in our lives is one that threaded through my life with dad. He loved fantasy novels, and he had a particular appreciation for how fantasy writing allows us to explore complex issues of values, morals, and relationships.

A book of historical fiction

Some of my favourite recommendations from dad were historical fiction – Pauline Gedge’s Egypt books, Sandra Gulland’s Josephine Bonaparte trilogy, Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.

A retelling of myth or fairytale

I was in grade 6 when Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose was released as part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale series, and this retelling of the sleeping beauty story, set in a Nazi concentration camp, was profoundly moving. I cried, and talked with dad, and this story has stayed with me in the decades since. And it is not the only fairytale retelling that dad introduced me to. He loved William J. Brook’s Untold Tales and read the funniest passages out loud to whoever was in the room, and he also introduced me to Sheri S. Tepper’s Beauty, which bridges fairytale and science fiction.

Consider:

Book Riot has a list of 100 best fairytale retellings to invite you into one of dad’s favourite expansive genres. I would point you particularly to the Terri Windling anthology, the Neil Gaiman books, and Terry Pratchett.

A pop-up book

We were listening to CBC interview the man with the largest privately owned pop-up book collection in Canada. We raced downstairs and started counting. Yep… dad had over 100 more pop-ups in his collection than the collector being interviewed! Dad had a particular love of Robert Sabuda’s paper engineering, though he added any new feat of paper craft to his collection.

Take a stand with David

Each of these categories represent an action David took to either take a stand in solidarity with a targeted community, or to take a stand for his own beliefs and values.

A book about education or pedagogy

When Chapters moved in across the street, dad had to think quickly to keep Logos in business. He decided to move the bookstore strongly towards education, and his choice kept the store afloat during a decade that saw so many of Calgary’s independents close. In the many years of Logos focusing on education, dad built strong connections within the school boards in Calgary and was a yearly presence at the Calgary Teacher’s Convention. He also supplied educational books to book clubs and schools throughout the year. Even if education isn’t your field, there are gems in this category for any reader.

Consider:

Turning to One Another by Margaret Wheatley. Although this book was first published in 2002 and the world is significantly different now, Margaret Wheatley was one of dad’s favourite educational writers, and this book’s message of listening and finding common ground is one that dad appreciated.

The Politics of Education by Paulo Freire. Less well-known than Pedagogy of the Oppressed (which is brilliant and also worth reading!), The Politics of Education can be a bit more accessible for readers who aren’t already engaged in issues of pedagogy.

A book of Christian theology

Dad’s Christian faith was important to him, and he thought deeply about what he believed, and why he believed it. He read a diverse range of theological texts and pulled threads of insight from a wide range of traditions. I remember many conversations with him about thinkers as diverse as Catholic theologians Thomas Merton, Peter Kreeft, and Franciscan Richard Rohr, Evangelical theologians Dietrich Bonhoeffer and CS Lewis, as well as mystics like Hildegard von Bingen and Julian of Norwich.

Consider:

Dogspell by Mary Ashcroft. I cherish this small book, which dad brought into the store specifically for me and then kept on the shelves for many years. If there is a vision of faith that appeals to me and rings true in my heart, this is very close to it.

A book about Islam or a book by a Middle Eastern author about their lived experience

After 9/11, dad saw that Islamophobia was rising and he took an active stand against it in the bookstore. He brought in books on the topic of Islam, with a particular focus on books that highlighted points of connection and shared humanity.

Consider:

A History of God by Karen Armstrong. This is one book that was frequently on the shelf at Logos and looked at views of God through each of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. As conflict with Iran escalates and we see another rise in Islamophobia across North America, there is even more reason to return to this book about growing up in Tehran after the American-backed Islamic Revolution. Dad introduced me to this book.

A book about LGBTQ2+ community

“Oh, I think I got your genders wrong! This they/them stuff is tough for an old man like me, but that’s not the important thing.”

My dad said that to me in his last week of life, after using the wrong gendered terminology to refer to me (I am non-binary, and do not identify as a woman). My dad knew, accepted, and supported both my non-binary gender and my bisexual orientation. I hold this close to my heart.

But even beyond this theme in my own life, I remember when dad helped a long-time customer undertake a personal research project on the topic. This customer was clergy in a non-affirming denomination, and one of his congregants had come out to him as gay. His choices were either to break with his church in order to fully accept his congregant, or align with the church’s stance that homosexual behaviour was a sin. Over many months and many books and many conversations with dad, he decided to break with his church in order to stand with his gay congregant. Dad kept some of the titles on the shelf, despite pushback. This was a powerful experience for me, a queer youth who had not yet come out even to myself. I knew that my dad would support me, and when I did finally come out years later, he did.

Consider:

Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity by Elizabeth Edman.

Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner. This book was hugely influential in my undergrad work, and dad and I had meaningful conversations about what I was trying to do in my work, informed by Eisner’s book. My “undergrad work” included two honours theses, and the creation of Possibilities: Bi+ Community Group, which has now been running for over ten years. In 2018, dad and Glenda attended my Bisexual Visibility Day event, which was just one of the ways he supported this work.

A book about healing after abuse or trauma

Dad had a heart for those who were suffering and had been hurt. This was a thread throughout his life in many of his dealings with strangers and friends who came to him for help.

Consider:

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

Read along with David

Each of these books have specific cherished memories attached to them, and are books that dad particularly enjoyed and frequently shared with others.

The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Pay attention for the moment when the dragon pushes its head up above the forest canopy and shouts, “EAT YOUR GREENS!” Imagine dad hooting with laughter, and reading this line out loud from his beloved glider in the living room of the house on 35th Ave.

The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. Consider racing us through this book. Dad finished in three days! It took me an extra half day. How long will it take you?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The book. The movie(s). The BBC mini-series.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Dad loved this series, and we both read it multiple times. Stop at the Ender books, if you’d like my recommendation!

The Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner (any version!). This was one of the most special things that dad and I shared. We watched a live broadcast of the opera when I was in elementary school, and then we shared this story in many formats over the years – the music, the sheet music, the graphic novel adaptations (both P. Craig Russell’s, and Roy Thomas and Gil Kane’s), the limited edition translated and annotated hard cover of The Ring of the Nibelung, The Rhinegold, and The Valkyrie with illustrations by Arthur Rackham, The Ring of Power Jungian analysis of The Ring Cycle by Jean Bolen… Despite Wagner’s abhorrent politics, this piece of music and writing remains close to my heart.

Anam Cara by John O’Donohue. Dad took the title of the Logos Bookstore newsletter from this book, and took much comfort from the contents.

Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. Another beloved book, which he recommended frequently.

A Tintin comic.

An Asterix comic.


This memorial reading challenge was created for and first shared at my dad’s celebration of life on January 12, 2020.

You can download the full PDF here.

You can download a checklist PDF to track your progress through the reading challenge here. (This PDF does not include any additional text – just the categories.)

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day 2019

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day 2019

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This is a topic that impacts so many different people, including trans and non-binary folks who experience gender erasure and harm in both medical contexts and support spaces around this loss; Black, Indigenous, and brown people who experience racism in medical contexts and support spaces; disabled folks; neurodivergent and mad folks; so many people who go through this experience (which can take so many different forms, and can be felt in so many different ways) undersupported, underserved, dismissed.

The You Are Not Alone project was first conceived in 2017 as a response to loss resources that are highly gendered, and that implicitly assume their readers are straight, white, and cisgender. It was also created to try and provide something free and easily accessible.

This resource is freely downloadable and shareable. You can find the 70-page PDF here.

From the Introduction

This is the third edition of You Are Not Alone, and we hope to reissue this document yearly with more and better information and resources. In 2019, we have added Aditi Loveridge’s personal story, and expanded the section on handling racism in medical contexts with Aditi’s help. We have also expanded the resources section to include information about Aditi’s Calgary and online-based charity, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre.

Although this resource attempts to be intentionally inclusive and anti-oppressive, the two primary collaborators – Tiffany Sostar and Flora – are both English-speaking white settler Canadians, with stable housing and strong social supports. Our privilege means that we are missing nuance, and we do not see what we’re not seeing. We are open to being corrected, and to hearing from people who do not see themselves represented in this document. You can reach Tiffany at sostarselfcare@gmail.com.

This document is designed to be a grief and loss resource, and we have included abortion stories and resources. However, we recognize that not every abortion is experienced as a loss or followed by grief. (This is true for miscarriages, too!) We also recognize that it is possible to feel grief without feeling regret, and this is true for any pregnancy loss, whether it’s abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or adoption.

We are so thankful to the individuals who contributed to this document. Our call for contributors was met with courage and generosity by people who shared their stories despite the pain that telling the story brought up for them.

We are also thankful to Andi Johnson and Randi van Wiltenburg, both full-spectrum doulas in Calgary, Alberta, who contributed not only their personal stories but also a wealth of knowledge and information. Their professional contact information is listed in the resources section.

Parents we want to honour:

  • Those who have lost a child to miscarriage
  • Those who have lost a child to abortion
  • Those who have lost a child to stillbirth
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to medical illness
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to adoption
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to structural violence

This affects:

  • People of any gender identity
  • People of any sexual orientation
  • People of any relationship status and structure
  • People of any race or culture
  • People of any state of mental or physical health
  • People of any religious belief
  • People of any socioeconomic status

This kind of work – creating resources that help serve the margins is exactly the goal of my Patreon, and it’s why I do what I do. I am thankful to be invited into this kind of work by people in the community who recognize a gap and want help filling it, which is what happened in 2017 when this resource was first created. I will continue to do this kind of work. If you would like to support me, you can find my Patreon here.

A Small Toolkit for Taking Care

A Small Toolkit for Taking Care

The Small Self-Care Toolkit was my first effort at creating a zine, and today, years later, I finished a significant update to the content and also renamed it.

So, here you go – the 28-page Small Toolkit for Taking Care (now with a stronger focus on the role of community and relationship in our actions of care).

What are actions of care?

I used to write a lot about self-care, and I defined self-care as any choice you make that honours your needs. I talked about sustainable self-care as the result of consistently bringing awareness, compassion, and intention to your choices.

I don’t really talk about self-care as much anymore, because I think that community care, collaboration, and connection are so critical to challenging the kind of individualism that places all of the responsibility for our well-being on us as individuals, and can end up being victim-blaming and hurtful.

I still think that honouring our needs is important. And I still think that it’s easier to make these actions sustainable when we bring awareness, compassion, and intention to our choices. But now I think that it is important to name and recognize how these actions of care happen within social contexts, and how we are not just looking after ourselves when we take these actions – we are also looking after our communities. And how we can also care for ourselves by caring for each other.

Download the free 28-page PDF here.

And if you appreciate these resources, consider backing my Patreon!

Letters of Support for the Trans Community Vol 1

Letters of Support for the Trans Community Vol 1

The Letters of Support for the Trans Community project has been running since October, and now we have the first volume of the zine complete! This volume includes letters from across Canada and Australia. The project is ongoing, so if you’d like to submit a letter either in physical or digital form, please let me know.

This link is freely shareable – there is no cost to download the PDF.

If you would like a physical copy of the zine, they are available for purchase directly from me, or from Shelf Life Books in Calgary, Alberta.

If you are a trans person wanting a letter of support, the zine, along with a physical card, will be mailed out to you at no charge. Just get in touch with me!

If you would like to support this project, consider backing my Patreon! You can also make a one-time donation by getting in touch with me.

Invitation to Celebrate: a shareable resource

Invitation to Celebrate: a shareable resource

Image description: On a deep blue cosmos background. Text reads: Surviving Creating Contributing Connecting Sharing Building Healing Growing Learning Unlearning Resisting Persisting

What is this document all about?

This document is the result of a ten-day narrative therapy group project that ran from December 21 to the end of the year in 2018. The purpose of this group was to counteract the pressure of New Year’s resolutions and shift the focus onto celebrating the many actions, choices, skills, values, and hopes that we had kept close in the last year, and to connect ourselves to legacies of action in our communities.

Celebrating our values, actions, and choices may seem trivial, but we consider it part of our deep commitment to anti-oppressive work and to justice.

We hope that this project will stand against the idea that only certain kinds of “progress” or “accomplishment” are worth celebrating.

We want to invite you to join us in celebrating all of the ways in which you have stayed connected to your values, joined together with your communities, stood against injustice and harm. We want to celebrate all of the actions that you have taken in the last year that were rooted in love and justice.

Although this project was focused on the end of the calendar year, we hope that you find this helpful at any time when you are invited to compare your “progress” to other people or to some societal expectation. We think this might be particularly helpful around birthdays, anniversaries, major life transitions like graduations, relocations, retirements, gender or sexuality journeys, new experiences of diagnosis, and, of course, if you’re feeling the pressure that often comes with New Year celebrations!

This project is informed by narrative therapy practices.

Narrative therapy holds a core belief that people are not problems, problems are problems, and solutions are rarely individual. This means that although we experience problems, the problems are not internal to us. We are not bad or broken people; we are people existing in challenging and sometimes actively hostile contexts. We recognize capitalism, ableism, racism, transantagonism, classism, heterosexism, and other systems of harm and injustice, and we locate problems in these and other contexts. We recognize that people are always resisting the hardships in their lives. This project is meant to invite stories of resistance and stories of celebration.

Narrative therapy also holds a core belief that lives are multi-storied. What this means is that even when capitalism, white supremacy, and other systems of oppression are present in a person’s life, that life also has many other stories which are equally true. A person’s story is never just one thing; never just the struggle, never just the problems. This project hopes to invite a multi-storied telling of the year – one that honours hardship and resistance but recognizes that there are also stories of joy, companionship, connection, and play. We know that you are more than your problems.

When we are reflecting on our past year, shame and a sense of personal failing can be invited in – we might feel like we haven’t done enough, and that our reasons for this “not enoughness” are internal. This project hopes to stand against these hurtful ideas, and instead offer an invitation to tell the stories of your year in ways that are complex and compassionate.

Perfectionism and comparison can show up at the New Year, at birthdays, at anniversaries and graduations. But you are already skilled in responding to and resisting hardships. We know that you can respond to any hurtful narratives that show up and try to push you around. We are standing with you as you find the storylines in your year that are worth celebrating.

We know that it is a radical act of resistance to celebrate your life when the culture around you says you are not worth celebrating. If you are fat, poor, queer, Black, brown, Indigenous, trans, disabled, neurodivergent, a sex worker, homeless, living with addiction, or in any other way pushed to the margins and rarely celebrated, this project is especially for you. Your life is worth celebrating.

David Denborough and the Dulwich Centre have outlined a Narrative Justice Charter of Storytelling Rights and this charter guides this project.

My hope is that each of you feels able to tell your stories in ways that feel strong. I hope that you each feel like you have storytelling rights in your own life.

Here is the charter (link is to the Dulwich Centre post):

Article 1 – Everyone has the right to define their experiences and problems in their own words and terms.

Article 2 – Everyone has the right for their life to be understood in the context of what they have been through and in the context of their relationships with others.

Article 3 – Everyone has the right to invite others who are important to them to be involved in the process of reclaiming their life from the effects of trauma.

Article 4 – Everyone has the right to be free from having problems caused by trauma and injustice located inside them, internally, as if there is some deficit in them. The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.

Article 5 – Everyone has the right for their responses to trauma to be acknowledged. No one is a passive recipient of trauma. People always respond. People always protest injustice.

Article 6 – Everyone has the right to have their skills and knowledges of survival respected, honoured and acknowledged.

Article 7 – Everyone has the right to know and experience that what they have learnt through hardship can make a contribution to others in similar situations.

However you end up using this resource, we would love to hear about it.

You can send your responses to Tiffany at sostarselfcare@gmail.com, and Tiffany will forward these responses on as appropriate.

Access the full 58-page PDF here.

Holiday Care Resource 2018

Holiday Care Resource 2018

Image description: A screenshot of the front cover of the PDF. Orange text reads “GETTING THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS: PLANNING, COPING, RECOVERING, AND GRIEF” Smaller text reads “An updated-for-2018 version of the document generated following the December 2017 Possibilities Calgary Bi+ Discussion Group. This document is meant to extend the conversations that we have at Possibilities, and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.” There is a decorative red line down the right side of the image.

“What Holidays Are We Talking About?

All of them!

This conversation happened around the Winter Holidays – that stretch of time that includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Yule, Midwinter, Christmas, New Year’s, and Chinese New Year. But these strategies, suggestions, and situations are relevant to any holiday that includes social pressure to perform joyfulness, to spend time with extended social networks, and to perform a certain type of gender, orientation, or other identity. These pressures can be exacerbated by trauma, grief, or identity shifts. Other holidays that can be challenging in this way are birthdays, Valentine’s Day, the Spring Holidays, and any personally meaningful anniversary.

When and Why We Need Holiday Care

There can be shame attached to needing care around the holidays. It can be particularly difficult to manage the work of care networks around the holidays, when everyone seems over-extended and when there is significant pressure to look after ourselves so that our “issues” don’t “burden” the people around us. Inviting community care can be difficult. It can be difficult to ask for help, and to look for collaborative responses to challenging situations. The holidays are “supposed” to be cheerful times, where we connect with our families and communities, give and receive gifts and support, remind ourselves of the goodness of humanity, feel loved and loving.

There is so much pressure to conform to these ideas of appropriate holiday cheer, and although we might understand that the holidays can be challenging, it’s often difficult to extend compassion to ourselves when we are struggling. It’s sometimes hard to ask other people to understand when we’re struggling, because they may be invested in having a “good holiday” that doesn’t have space for our struggle.

Depression spikes at the holidays, and we do not have robust “practices of anti-depression” (to borrow a term from Daria Kutuzova, whose work is linked in the resources section). These practices include things like mindfulness, self-care and community care, compassion, creating and encouraging unique outcomes (meaning, outcomes that counter our internal expectation of despair and the external expectation of a certain performance of joy – unique outcomes are outcomes that allow us strong, hopeful, and resilient stories without denying our struggle, pain, trauma, and fear). Other practices of anti-depression include creating inclusive spaces and a sense of belonging, and encouraging pleasure, fun, hope, anticipation, and resilience without pasting on a smile that hides our true feelings. This path is much more complicated and challenging, but also much more rewarding.

Contents

When and Why We Need Holiday Care. 3

Planning for Holiday Care. 6

Coping Strategies. 8

If Your Family Invalidates Your Identity. 9

If You Can Get Away. 10

If You Can’t Get Away. 10

If You Start to Dissociate. 10

If You Feel Suicidal. 11

Recovery Strategies 13

If You’re Grieving. 14

Exercises and Printables. 18

The Reflection of the Year (exercise used with permission from Daria Kutuzova). 18

Documents of Authority. 18

Ally-Gathering Scripts and Card. 20

Letters of Support for the Trans Community. 22

Letter from Rosie. 22

Letter from Freya. 23

Collective Letter from the Possibilities Community, written at the November 20, 2018 Trans Day of Remembrance and Resilience event. 24

Resources. 31″

Read the rest of the resource in the PDF.

The monthly Possibilities discussions are full of rich insights, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration from within our bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans-inclusive community.

One of my goals is to create resources that grow out of these generous and creative conversations, so that the work we do in those moments can extend out to join larger conversations about queerness and community care, collaboration, and collective action. One reason for this is because when we are struggling, we have valuable insider knowledge that can help other people who are also struggling – it’s not true that the only people with answers are the “experts” or the ones who have it all figured out. To the contrary – it is often those of us who are actively grappling with an issue who have more direct insight and knowledge to share. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for experts or guides, but part of what I hope to accomplish with my work is consistently and intentionally centering the voices of marginalized individuals and communities, and creating resources that honour hard-won knowledge and skills.

In an effort to share these moments of community-generated wisdom from the Possibilities discussions, I’ll be creating a resource most months that documents and shares our collective insights. Anonymity, or naming, is at each participant’s discretion, and at the beginning of the discussion we talk about why I’m taking notes, what I’m planning to do with them, and how people can access the document before it goes public. Any participants who want to look over the document before it’s made public have that opportunity, and there’s a second check-in at the end of the discussion to make sure everyone is aware of what might be shared and has a chance to opt in or out. Confidentiality within supportive community spaces is so critical, and these documents will not contain identifying details (unless participants want to be named or identified).

This document is meant to extend the conversation and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.

This document was created following our December 19, 2017 meeting, and has been updated in December 2018 to include some expansion, some new language, and, most notable, the Letters of Support for the Trans Community project. It is meant to be a resource for the queer community that validates the challenges of holiday care as a queer person. There are a ton of coping strategies, resources, validations, and suggestions in here, and I hope they can help you.

Please feel free to share this resource widely.