Tracey Lindberg: How I wrote Birdie

It may be Tracey Lindberg's first time as an author in CBC's annual battle of the books, but she's no stranger to a good debate. The Birdie author is also a successful lawyer and professor, and was the first indigenous woman in Canada to complete a graduate law degree at Harvard University.

In her own words, Lindberg shares pieces of memory that contributed to writing Birdie, which will be defended in this year's Canada Reads by Bruce Poon Tip.

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PIECE-FULL WRITING

For many years, writing was resistance. I was sitting in the bar exam preparation course and people were rabidly taking notes from the instructors, but I was writing stories. Little pieces ended up in a drawer - and when you're a mobile person it ends up in a box. So I had this box of fragments and pieces and there was a point where I was sitting there one day and thinking, "This is the same person. These stories are all part of the same life." In my head, I was assembling the scrapbook of Bernice [Birdie's main character] and her family.


DEEP ROOTS

There's a piece I can date exactly to 1994 - the piece of the book about how a crow will always smell like death. I picked it up from someone I met while I was going to Harvard University. There was a beautiful, beautiful person there, who liked sparkly things and sparkly people, and there was just an undercurrent of something unhealthy in her. I wanted to capture that. Within the context of that piece, it's not a very kind telling of it, but at the time I was trying to work through the feelings of how you could live in and amongst people, the good stuff they bring and the bad stuff they bring.

The part about Jesse and Pat John, that of course is something that comes from lots of us during an era where he truly was the only indigenous man that we saw on TV. I always knew what he was going to be informative in something that I did, but I just thought I'd meet him. Bernice is really attracted to the idea of health and she's really attracted to the idea of someone who is working. He really is an upstanding citizen and that was exceptionally attractive.


THE THREE-TIMES RULE

Somebody, as a beautiful gift, said to me, "This is one of the first stories of sexual assault where I don't actually get triggered. I don't know how you did that." What's even more surprising about it is that I myself was triggered over and over again as a sexual assault survivor as I was writing it.

My ritual became this: I would write until it got hard to breathe, and when it got hard to breathe, I would sit and I would do something else. I would read something or write something or listen to music and then I would try again. I would give myself three tries and by the third try, if I couldn't get to it, I would give myself the opportunity to walk away. The triggering of it was so intense that I still can't read certain portions of the book now.

Tracey Lindberg's comments have been edited and condensed.

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