The best response Sandra Perron received about her Canada Reads longlisted memoir
Becoming the first female infantry officer in Canada's history was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream for Sandra Perron. But being in the military wasn't what she expected. Penned 20 years after she left the Armed Forces, Perron's memoir Out Standing in the Field chronicles her complicated relationship with the military — one of institutional sexism and harassment, but also of pride in service. Out Standing in the Field won the 2017 Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction and is currently on the Canada Reads 2018 longlist.
Below, Perron answers eight questions from eight fellow writers for the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Tomson Highway asks, "What keeps you going — first as a writer, and second as a human being?"
As a writer, I get energized when I feel my words are making a positive difference — especially for women in the workplace, which is pretty much everywhere. My mother has always told her four daughters that any of "life's mountains" can be scaled with the right attitude. As a human being, I am constantly driven to seek out new mountains that will challenge me.
2. Jonathan Auxier asks, "What book in your home library holds the greatest sentimental value?"
Anam Cara by John O'Donohue. It was given to me by an Irish friend while I was studying at University College Dublin and it is my go-to book when I need to re-boot my life, a new sense of direction or simply to ground myself. "...if you can come to see aging not as the demise of your body, but as the harvest of your soul, you will learn that aging can be a time of great strength, poise, and confidence." As well, O'Donohue challenges us to get past what is familiar so that we may grow: "Behind the facade of the familiar, strange things await us." It makes me crave the discomfort of being in new places, new situations, perhaps with new people from different cultures.
3. Eden Robinson asks, "What is your first childhood memory?"
My mother used to line up chairs one behind the other in the kitchen and have her four daughters, aged 2-6 sit on the "choo-choo train" while she washed the floor, all the while inventing stories about where the train was travelling. If we were well behaved and stayed sitting in the "moving train," she'd give us a treat. It was a fantastic adventure!
4. Susan Juby asks, "What gets you through the inevitable hard parts of writing a book?"
I learned that '"there cannot be peace in the world when people have anger and hatred in their hearts" when I participated in a 10-day silent meditation retreat, Vipassana, where we observed "Noble Silence." Learning the importance and value of compassion and kindness made it possible to write my memoir.
5. Riel Nason asks, "Do you have pets? Do they keep you company while you write?"
I had a beautiful Siberian Husky named "Jasper-the-Wonder-Dog" who kept me company during my darkest hours before I could find the courage to write this book. Sadly, he passed away before I started writing my memoir, but I've always believed it was his way of letting me know I was strong enough to start sharing my story.
6. Dominique Fortier asks, "What is the most beautiful word?"
7. Saleema Nawaz asks, "What's the best response you've ever had from a reader?"
I've received hundreds of beautiful letters, but my favourite is from a young female officer cadet going through infantry training who read my book and wrote: "...Major Perron, thank you for paving the road for me. I promise you, ma'am, that the sacrifices you made and the abuse you suffered will not be forgotten. I'm going to make sure that your strength and perseverance will be worth it every day of my career." I cried when I read it. A close second was when I received a letter from a former military colleague who apologized for his abusive actions towards me in my career.
8. Alison Pick asks, "How would you most like to be remembered?"
I once saw a poster on Pinterest that said "Sassy, classy, and a little badassy." As epitaphs go, that would suit me fine.