Events, Performances, Reflections

On bearing life through words


Marie Ellenrieder: “Mary Writing the Magnificat” 1833 oil on canvas 

“The feminine is that which receives inspiration, grace, life, holds it within the body, and gives it existence. Woman is the receiver through whom God transmits the life-giving signal of His love into the world. The mediatrix. The medium in His will made manifest…She is child-bearer, certainly, but also the bearer of artistic works, political hopes, new ideas, healing knowledge, community histories, loves and remembrances treasured in the heart.”
Melinda Selmys, Mysteries You Learned Disguised

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” John 1:1-3

From the beginning, the Word had me. Words had me. That Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst me and my loved ones, pouring Himself out through the hands of my mother and father, their daily acts of sacrifice writing the first love story I learned.

It wasn’t long before I too, wrote stories, took words and made them flesh, let them ring out in song, or move and have their being onstage, or messily wrestle with eternity on pages that ended up in the pockets of friends and family. Worlds born from the womb of my mind and heart spun into others’ orbits, depositing seeds and debris, to my delight and dismay, respectively.

Without knowing it, I was imitating the life of Mary, the first word-bearer, the Woman whose “Yes” undid Eve’s “No”.

To say yes to the love story of God, to carry Him – and thus, others, as He is always in the least of these – is to open oneself to the life abundant, replete with both joy and suffering. Maddeningly, the two are often intertwined. Your children will drive you insane, yet are the ones who make you laugh the most. The works you sweat over will twist your hands with arthritis, roughen your fingers, fatigue your muscles, wear your joints, and break your heart.

As both a subject and co-author in the love story of my life, I have noticed that there is really no getting away from such labour pains. I can prepare well, rest adequately, put a thousand plans of prevention in place, but there will always be interruptions, demands from others, my own character faults and the pesky fact that I am not God, and so I cannot see all I wish I could. The narrative I would love to run with gets resisted by reality and of course, I then rail against the unfairness of it all. And yet, if I direct my work towards the good, true and the beautiful, it becomes the means through which the Potter moulds me into a work of art.

At least, I hope so. This is the story I have learned to tell myself because my CV doesn’t tell the story I wished it did. When I was younger, I dreamed of Broadway, of being a working singer, of continuing to be a favourite amongst the powers that be. (It never occurred to me that some of those whom I hoped to please would not necessarily be like the teachers I had who had championed me, but more like the highschool peers whose cliques were closed to those who failed popularity contests, based on ever elusive criteria.) I never cared much about riches so living simply was never a great shock or burden, but the one story that didn’t exist in my mind was one of my life ending up, well, average, or one where career success wasn’t primary.

Over time, I’ve adjusted. I quietly said goodbye to Broadway in my heart, to being any kind of name, and simply focused on artistic and personal integrity: that is a story I can always trust myself to tell, or, at least it is what I attempt to return to when lost. Every once in awhile, I’m permitted a glimpse of the fruit of those efforts, investments in things which seem to call to me. Those things never seem particularly business savvy or something destined to move me up any known ladder of success…but they always seem urgent and necessary.

Such a glimpse came this past Sunday evening, on Mother’s Day, at the year end showcase for the inaugural Canadian Musical Theatre Writers’ Collective Montreal Writers’ Workshop. A year and a half ago, I had approached Landon Braverman during the CMTWC Blame Canada Montreal concert, asking him how many people I would need to run the writers’ workshop in Montreal. He told me 12, and so I set about hustling on FB groups, and bothering any friends I knew who had ever written anything in the hopes that the class could go forward.

While there was initially a good deal of self interest in my endeavour – I long had been looking for formal collaborations with composers and this seemed to be an ideal set up – I also had an inkling that there were writing voices in our unique province within Canada that were waiting to be heard.

I was right.

Those voices came forward and formed a lovely class, masterfully mentored by Jonathan Monro, that met bi-weekly from Oct to April, collaborating on various song forms within the musical theatre genre, and culminating in the writing of a 10 minute musical in pairs. Sunday evening featured a selection from our work throughout the year, performed with aplomb by Michael Daniel Murphy, Justin Eddy, Katee Julien, Sara Wunsch, yours truly, and Marie-Pierre de Brienne. My special thanks to Marie-Pierre for singing my song here below, written with Cynthia Chalifour.

Marie Pierre de Brienne sounding amazing.

The work was varied and interesting – we sang about umbrellas, demons, kittens, tea, and avocados, just to name a few subjects – and the atmosphere in the room was attentive and joyous.

Our 2019 year end showcase program

As creators, it was rewarding to see our work brought to life in front of an audience – an audience that filled the Arts Lounge at the Segal Centre, I might add – and the audience seemed to respond to this newness.

As I watched and participated in the congratulatory buzz following the performance, feeling immense pride in my classmates’ talent and work, it occurred to me that it made perfect sense for me personally to have this event be part of Mother’s Day: I had carried a dream to term, helped push it into the world, and now it was breathing on its own.


“…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” Luke 1:45-48

Me singing You Didn’t Know the Cost, lyrics by myself & music by Graham Isaak

2 Comments on “On bearing life through words

  1. Absolutely beautiful article, Alisha. The gift of such a mother’s day for you is a gift even for me in that it helps me to see a truth I didn’t see as clearly before. And that image of Mary and Eve – did you compose that? Amazing. Thank you for following you path with such awareness and attentiveness.

    1. Thank you Dave! No, the picture is not mine – something I came across online. That makes me realize I should find out the artist’s name and credit them!

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