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Processing through Memoir

ERS author Toni Jensen shares writing techniques from her recent memoir.

Writing can be both an informative and a contemplative process. With memoir, it is often both. Toni Jensen, author of the newly published memoir Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land, read from her book at the February 3 installment of the English Reading Series.

Carry by Toni Jensen

Carry features a blend of environmental, political, and social issues woven with fascinating structural decisions, word choice, and dictionary definitions. Jensen is a Métis woman who writes for “anyone who wants to read [her] work” and specifically to those for whom “the work might speak directly to their own lived experiences.”

At the reading, Jensen read from the first essay in Carry, “Women in the Fracklands.” The essay recounts her journalistic exploration of the human trafficking that occurs in towns surrounding fracking projects. She read, “A floorhand is responsible for the overall maintenance of a rig. A floorhand is responsible. But who is responsible for and to this woman, her safety, her body, her memory? Who is responsible to and for the language, the words that will not take their leave?” Jensen’s use of wordplay subverts assumptions and invites readers to take a closer look at how they understand and use language.

Jensen also writes from unique points of view. In “Women in the Fracklands,” she tells the story of her research on the fracklands from the second person. Instead of placing herself in the narrative, Jensen brings her audience into her harrowing experiences:

“In each place, each frackland, off each road, you wait until checkout to upload the photos of the rooms. In the year and a half of driving and talking and driving and talking, if you’ve learned nothing else, you’ve learned to wait. Because it is very, very difficult to sleep in a hotel room once you learn a woman’s gone missing from it,” Jensen read.

Jensen encouraged her audience to embrace diverse structural choices in their writing, especially when writing about nonlinear problems like social issues (since they don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end). “I think people are actually better prepared if you make it a little weird and come at it sideways,” she said. She also noted that structural choices such as fragmentation can provide comfort to readers currently processing a challenging issue because “chronology doesn’t support how long the process is.” Jensen’s writing broaches difficult topics in a way that helps her audience see and understand those topics from the perspective of those who are most affected.

Check out next week’s author at the English Reading Series website.