Inspired by Jann Arden

Yesterday afternoon, I joined over 600 people at War Memorial Hall in Guelph for “In Conversation with Jann Arden,” one of several special events taking place as part of the 30th edition of the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival.

A beloved Canadian icon, Jann has distinguished herself in the music industry, releasing 13 albums, 19 Top 10 singles, and receiving numerous awards, among them 8 Juno Awards and 3 Prairie Music Awards. She is also the accomplished author of four books.

After a short introduction from University of Guelph president, Dr. Franco Vaccarino, and Guelph Public Library CEO, Steven Kraft, Jann read from her best-selling memoir, Feed My Mother, an entertaining and inspirational account of her experiences as primary “parent” to her mother, who is in the grip of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Jann then shared her life experiences in a talk, aptly titled: “How Good Things Come Out of Bad Things.”

While I have listened to many of her songs, I was not familiar with her extraordinary journey. Here are some highlights:

Growing up in Springback, Alberta with an alcoholic father and a mother who “gave up” was difficult. Jan’s older brother turned to alcohol and was later convicted of first-degree murder. He is currently serving a life sentence. The younger brother emerged, for the most part, unscathed. As for Jann, she retreated to the basement, determined to avoid her father at all costs.

While in the basement, Jann discovered an old guitar that had belonged to her mother. She started playing and got the bug. To his day, she still plays by ear, never having learned to read music. At age 11, she started writing songs. By age 18, she had written 300 “terrible” songs that she kept a secret from her parents. She did, however, find the courage to sing at her high school graduation.

For ten years after graduation, she joined bands and sang in bars throughout northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the B.C. interior. While she did accumulate over 600 songs on cassette, she also developed a drinking problem. She has many regrets from that dark period.

When she partnered with Dave Hart, a keyboard player who was twenty years her senior, she learned much about music and life. Dave encouraged Jann to include her original songs in the show. She also started searching for representation. Unfortunately, she met with rejection after rejection; recruiters claimed her music was too personal and too depressing.

Jann’s big break came unexpectedly.

Allan Reid, a young recruiter at A & M, initially rejected her cassette. A week later, his fiancée decided to call off the wedding. Heartbroken, Allan went for a drive and turned on the cassette player. Jann’s song, “I Just Don’t Love You Anymore,” started playing. He finally “got” her music and agreed to represent her. She’s been with A & M for over twenty years and continues to play to sold-out venues.

Jann’s personal life took a dramatic turn when her mother started losing her memory. After the diagnosis, Jan became her mother’s primary caregiver. Determined to keep her mother at home, Jann hired four full-time and four part-time workers to help provide around-the-clock care. While she was fortunate to have the financial resources, it did cost $140,000 a year for the care.

Her partner of ten years issued an ultimatum: It’s either me or your parents. The relationship crumbled.

To release pent-up emotion, Jann decided to share her experiences online. The response was mind-blogging; her first post received over one million views. Those posts and a collection of recipes became the basis for Feed My Mother.

Jann will star in a sitcom loosely based on her experiences with her mother’s Alzheimer journey. It is scheduled to be released by CTV in March 2019.

Jann’s Advice for Caregivers…

Give in. Give up. Go where they go. Surrender.

Don’t correct them.

Be brave. Be easy on yourself.

Let the world do what it’s going to do.

Insights from Jann’s Mother…

You don’t need to remember things to be happy.

You forget to be afraid.


The Art of Storytelling

Last evening, I enjoyed listening to seasoned storytellers from the Guelph Guild of Storytellers. The ninety minutes flew by as Sya Van Geest, Brian Holstein, Maryann Bailey, and visiting storyteller, Donna McCaw shared original, traditional and personal stories with us. I was impressed by the complexity and simplicity of the stories and took note of the different styles of telling.

Brian likes to start his stories with “Once upon a time” and offers twists on traditional favourites. Last night, the classic Three Little  Pigs became Three Little Wolves with the pig as the bully. He is not a fan of “happily ever after” and often changes the expected endings.

I love watching Sya’s expressive face as she describes the setting and characters in her stories. This seasoned teller likes to borrow stories from African and Aboriginal folklore. Sya also delivered a short, informative PowerPoint session on “Finding Your Story.”

When I listen to Maryann, I know there will be a universal lesson in her stories. Last night, she entertained us with a “devil” story.

Donna shared two short stories: a personal one and a variation of the big bad wolf tale. The retired teacher and author impressed all of us with her poise and soft-spoken delivery.

I now know why the guild has been described as “one of Guelph’s best kept secrets.”

A few details…

The Guelph Guild of Storytellers meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. at the Main Branch of the Guelph Public Library.

Hope to see you there.

Wellness Show

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Show Planner Lee Pryke’s mission was to bring together the people she met on her journey of making healthy choices and to share that knowledge with the Guelph community. Her positive energy was evident everywhere as I wandered through the lobby, Main Ball Room and Speakers Area. I particularly enjoyed the sessions with Joanne Johnson and Sarah Schlote.

Joanne  is part of the well-known Body Break team (Hal and Joanne Johnson). Joanne discussed the importance of knowledge and information, focusing on the health supplements offered by True Star.

In her session, Sarah shared aspects of her own life journey with us. This articulate and engaging speaker suffered through childhood trauma and bullying which resulted in years where she wore a social mask and avoided stressful situations. She presented three keys for overcoming stress: mindfulness, grounding and containment and boundaries. She ended with a guided meditation.

The Art of Storytelling

For the most part, I enjoy listening to writers read from their novels. The book comes alive as its creator breathes life into each word and punctuation mark. But sometimes, the writer’s storytelling abilities fall short and I’m left to question why his or her speaking voice is so different.

There is a definite art to storytelling.

Recently, I participated in a workshop facilitated by Sya Van Geest of the Guelph Storytellers Guild. She displayed her well-honed communication skills as she interspersed her PowerPoint presentation with folk tales. It is easy to see why she is so well received by all her listeners.

At one point, she turned the tables on us and asked us to tell the stories behind our given names.

A few of her hints…

1. Get out of yourself when you tell a story. Realize that you are only the conduit of the story.

2. Stories are meant for the ear. Do not memorize the story before telling it.

3. You can find your stories in different places. Be alert to what you see, hear and read.

4. Throw your voice.

5. Practice your story by living and feeling it. Have it in your head and go over it many times…before falling asleep, while doing chores, while driving.

6. When telling your story, build on the positive energy of attentive audience members. Ignore the one or two audience members who may be sleeping or not paying attention.

7. Trust your instincts. There is no one way to develop a personal style.

One of her suggested resources: New Tales for Old by Gail deVos and Anna Altman.

Sundays for Writers

This afternoon, I joined several other members of Guelph Write Now for our monthly meeting at Lucie’s Restaurant in south Guelph. I look forward to meeting with other writers and talking about our respective writing journeys.

Lots of discussion and advice floated around the table as we discussed the pros and cons of social media, ebook covers, our WIPs and Fifty Shades of Grey. Organizer Cindy Carroll provided us with three prompts and we wrote spontaneously. Afterward, we shared out stories and commented on the different interpretations of the prompts.

We also enjoyed the delicious coffee, tea and desserts.