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The Song That Changed Your Life

Meet the reader: Jane Silcott

Jane Silcott is an essayist, a teacher, and the writer of "odd" poems and "odder" storiesShe is also one of two readers who read all of the submissions to our "The Song That Changed Your Life" writing challenge and helped select the finalists. 

Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write? 
I live in Vancouver with my family. I write personal essays mostly, the odd prose poem, and the even odder story.

What's your day job? 
I do some freelance editing, and I teach for the UBC Writing Centre and for SFU’s Southbank Writing Program.

You write mostly creative nonfiction. What drew you to the genre? 
I think because it lets me put my mind on the page, in all its weirdness, with whatever little bauble has drawn my attention. It allows me to explore those baubles, to throw them up in the air and see how the light catches them. It’s just fun. There are so many options when you can weave narrative, dialogue, observations and facts and other people’s insights through experience. 

Does music inspire your writing? If so, in what way? 
I’m not sure there’s a direct link, but when I need to shake myself up a bit, I turn the music up loud and dance, and that helps me find myself again when I’ve been too long in my own head. Or sometimes a song or a voice just hits me right in the heart reminding me to open up, to be vulnerable, to stop pretending I know anything at all. 

Can you describe a couple of the stories that struck you as standouts?  
There were so many really heart-rending stories. Many people wrote about songs that spoke for them in the midst of a terrible loss or that pulled them back from the edge of death, of losing themselves completely. One story that has stayed with me is about a young woman whose mother died when she was sixteen. She says the song from that time now sounds like a “lullaby from her mom.” That just gets me every time I think of it. Another story that’s about the writer’s father dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease ends with “I don’t really care about winning the prize. I’m just glad to have you listen to my story.” That felt like the heart of the whole thing right there - one person telling a story, another listening. 

Were you surprised at any of the songs or musical styles that people wrote about? 
Engelbert Humperdinck was a surprise.  

Is there a song or piece of music that changed your life? Tell us about it. 
"Helpless," by Neil Young. I used to spend a lot of time in the summers at a friend’s cottage north of Toronto. It wasn’t north Ontario, but it was a bit north, and the lake was a “blue blue window,” and there were boys and boats and the excitement and terror of emerging from the cocoon of childhood. Young’s plaintive “There is a town in north Ontario” is thrilling because it feels like he’s naming the territory of my childhood,  and his “all my changes were there” aches with everything there is in adolescence: glory and wonder and grief. 

Jane Silcott's first book, a collection of personal essays called Everything Rustles, will be published this spring with Anvil Press. Jane has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Coulmbia, and she teaches at the UBC Writing Centre and SFU's Southbank Writing Program. 

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