Writer exploring mental health issues in bi-racial women, and more.
Welcome to this week’s edition of Sifting, shifting, and lifting . . . a (mostly) weekly column in which I ask clever, curious, compassionate people my three favourite questions. (It is a 5 minute read. I hope you enjoy it.)
Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the incredible writer Hollay Ghadery.
Hollay Ghadery is a writer living in small-town Ontario, Canada. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and reviews have been published in various literary journals, including The Malahat Review, Room, Grain, CAROUSEL, and The Fiddlehead. Her personal essays have also appeared on CBC Parents and LadyLatitudes.
I am going to share our conversation with you in just a moment. First, I wanted to tell you a little bit about her debut memoir Fuse, which was published by Guernica Editions (MiroLand) in Spring 2021.
Drawing on her own experiences as a woman of Iranian and British Isle descent, writer Hollay Ghadery dives into conflicts and uncertainty surrounding the bi-racial female body and identity, especially as it butts up against the disparate expectations of each culture. Painfully and at times, reluctantly, Fuse probes and explores the documented prevalence of mental health issues in bi-racial women.
Diane Schoemperlen (Governor General Award winner and author of This is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications) praises the book’s “savage clarity, gorgeous language, and remarkable depth of insight.” And, Nila Gupta, author of The Sherpa and Other Fictions, which was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (2009), calls it a “searing account of the impact of toxic masculinity on a vulnerable young girl's psyche.”
What is engaging your head, heart, and hands? Why?
Climate change is right up there for me. It plays into my [obsessive compulsive disorder]. I have a specific form called existential OCD. Surprisingly, even though climate change is engaging my head, I am not writing much about it.
What I am writing is a collection of flash fiction, called Widow Fantasies, about the use of fantasies, sexual and otherwise, to escape the subjugation we experience, as women, in our everyday lives. Awhile ago, my therapist recommended an article about how it is normal for women who have been married a long time to dream that they are widows. I read it and realized there are so many women, like me, who are in perfectly good marriages but have these restless fantasies.
The stories are a lot of fun to write. I am looking at the same thing from 70 different perspectives. Every time I think I am tapped out I find another way in. I think a lot about how we are using our time here. Are we ever capable of being happy with one life? (These are the kinds of thoughts that take up time in my brain. It could be the existential OCD.)
As a lesbian in a good marriage, I think this would resonate with women who aren’t heterosexual as well.
Yes! I want the collection to be inclusive. Because I am biracial, I include a lot of biracial characters. And all the stories take place in rural settings because I live in a rural community, in an old schoolhouse.
I have a lesbian character in one of the stories. I am trying to approach it sideways. I am a firm believer in not writing from perspectives that aren’t mine. The story I’m writing isn’t going well. It is about an 80-year-old woman who watches TikTok for the first time and gets attracted to hot lesbian TikTok videos. I’ve had two octogenarians tell me to drop it.
There is a tension between being inclusive and not appropriating others’ voices.
What other feedback have you received from early readers?
My readers think Widow Fantasies is gothic.
This seems like a good segue into the next question.
What artists or works of art have had a profound impact on the way you see the world and your place in it?
One of the most defining writers for me was Daphne Du Maurier. She wrote really dark romances. The Birds, which I’ve never read. Rebecca, which I read and loved as a teenager. I also love Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. That story never ends but feels complete. I find it reassuring that something can be complete but remain unanswered.
I remember seeing Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss. It looks like the man is in control but then you see that the man’s toes are curled under and the woman is really relaxed. The balance of power is reversed.
Oh, and there’s Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady. In the first part of the poetry collection, he writes from the perspective of the imaginary Black man created by Susan Smith as the abductor and murderer of her two young sons (when, in fact, she drowned them in a lake in 1994). It’s completely mind blowing. A gorgeous read.
I noticed the first three books are all gothic.
Ha! That’s why when someone says to me “Your writing is really gothic,” my first thought is “Really?” Byt then, I think, “Of course.” It all gets a little bit dark. There is always the hint of threat. I live with that threat. It is the nature of living with a mental illness.
There are so many good people working to transform themselves and our world. Who would you like to lift up?
As an Iranian woman, I want to amplify the work of Yara Leadership Society.
Yara Leadership Society* is committed to identifying Iranian-Canadian success stories and is passionate about celebrating and promoting women leaders who will serve as role models and provide inspiration and leadership guidance to the Iranian-Canadian community. By showcasing these leaders, Yara also aims to highlight the contribution of the Iranian-Canadian community nationally and globally. Yara engages both women and men in the pursuit of its vision: lead together, strong together.
Locally, I also want to lift up Ontario Shores Foundation for Mental Health Sciences, which is working to address stigma and making rehabilitation and mental health care more accessible. I was shocked recently. I was talking to someone who wanted to get a family member into rehab, and it was so difficult for them. Intervention is so critical and it should not cost $20k to get support for your family when they need it.
Founded in 2009, Ontario Shores Foundation for Mental Health was created to raise funds, and support for Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores). Our goal is to help bring awareness to, and reduce the stigma, surrounding mental illness, and to create hope, for those struggling, through the combined efforts of our team, and the generous support of our donors and community.
Thanks for reading
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