In 2016, this artist learned that we can re-write our own endings

When Chase Joynt published his first book, You Only Live Twice, it taught him more than he expected about personal and familial healing.

When Chase Joynt published his first book, it taught him more than he expected about healing

(David Hawe)

This is part of a series of personal essays in which CBC Arts asked Canadian artists to reflect back on the year that was. This essay is by filmmaker and writer Chase Joynt.

I have long wondered how authors of non-fiction stories remain accountable to those depicted in their writing. As an avid reader of the form, I remain acutely aware of the impact and potential consequence of someone else's public self-summary. Accordingly, I often find myself studying the acknowledgements sections of books as roadmaps for my future reading. Who are the people charged with holding up the manuscript, and what can I learn about the author from each dedication? Lives — at least those most often captured through memoir — are never lived in isolation.

This year, my first book You Only Live Twice was published by Coach House Books. The project began as a private correspondence with my friend Mike Hoolboom, a prolific experimental filmmaker. For years, we exchanged stories about transitions: mine from female to male and Mike's from near-dead to alive. For us, the project was never a task of linear, exhaustive truth-telling but rather an aesthetic engagement with the limits and potentials of personal memory. We built our project foundations by asking similar questions: What might it mean to mobilize first-person address beyond the singular, toward the collaborative and the collective? How can life-writing reflect politics and patterns beyond people?

Chase Joynt and Mike Hoolboom's collaborative memoir You Only Live Twice. (Coach House Books)

In the days that followed our book contract signing, I started to furiously delete sections of my writing. Potential public scrutiny prompted much personal hesitation. Even with my best efforts, I knew that there were people who could not be protected by obscured detail. For example, stories about my parents will always be linked to my parents directly. Sending an early draft of the book to them for permission was both humbling and terrifying. What might they make of my creative meanderings? And how might they make sense of our conflicted yet shared family history? It was important to me to have their consent before we went to press, and I was fully prepared to make huge, late-stage, book-reorienting changes.

Lives — at least those most often captured through memoir — are never lived in isolation.- Chase Joynt

Prior to publication, I went to visit my dad out in the country. We spent the afternoon watching golf on TV, a skill we honed together in the late '80s when Greg Norman and Nick Faldo reigned supreme. My dad and I were golf champions — father/daughter tournament champions, to be precise. But seeing us in the living room that day, one might assume that we'd always approached the sport together with matching beards.

Chase Joynt and his father. (Chase Joynt)

Transition is a tricky thing. 

As we settled in, I waited for the moment when he might turn to me and say, "Thanks for writing a book about times when I was an asshole" — a partial truth of the past, but certainly not a current reality. Instead, unprompted, he turned and said, "I love your book, and you never have to be sorry." My dad's ability to sit in the complexity of our shared history continues to teach me endlessly about forgiveness, and about the power of telling stories as personal and familial healing. Recently, he called to tell me that he keeps my book on his nightstand — a necessary reminder that conclusions can be ours for the re-making.

Chase Joynt is a filmmaker and writer. His latest two films Genderize and Between You and Me are now streaming live online with CBC Short Docs. His first book You Only Live Twice (co-authored with Mike Hoolboom) was published by Coach House Books and just named one of the Best Books of 2016 by The Globe and Mail and CBC. His second book The Case of Agnes (co-authored with Kristen Schilt) is forthcoming from Duke University Press.​


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