Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On fear

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I want to post a literary party and bookseller feature today. I really do. I want to pretend that only good things are happening right now, but I’ve been reading the news and blog posts and my Facebook feed. People are reacting and responding to the Connecticut tragedy. People are preparing for the release of the BC Missing Women Commission Inquiry report released today. Everywhere I turn there is grief and moral outrage. I see fingers being pointed, I see hands pressed together in prayer, I see the comment streams grow longer and longer.

I certainly don’t have a solution to any of it. All I have right now is an overwhelming fear that is pulsing through every part of my body that isn’t numb with tension. I can barely even identify where it comes from.

I wrote my first book in response to the response I witnessed in Vancouver of Robert Pickton’s 2002 arrest. He has since been convicted of the murders of Marnie Lee Frey, Georgina Faith Papin, Brenda Ann Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury, Sereena Abostway and Mona Lee Wilson, with twenty other charges stayed. Thirty-nine women are still on the Vancouver missing women list. Project E-PANA is investigating thirteen murdered and eight missing women from the Highway of Tears in BC. In Manitoba, Project Devote is investigating twenty murdered and eight missing women. Across the country, more than six hundred Aboriginal women have been missing or have gone murdered. Apparently, Canadians don’t even need free and easy access to firearms to create a culture in which deadly violence is permissible.

Am I missing the point? Maybe. It’s this just that this fear thing that is coursing through my body, and America feels very far away. Canada feels much closer, and I don’t feel safe.

I think fundamentally we all want to feel safe. I know I do. My body and brain believe that I am fundamentally not-safe a lot of the time. There were many reckless years in which I would seek out unsafe people and places and situations. I preferred the feeling that I might die before the night was over and I stumbled, drunk and high, as close to death as I could. I didn’t need a crazed gunman.

Now, on any given day you might see me in my car or with my dog at the park or in a mall at Christmas tapping myself on the head and face and neck, whispering Even though I have this fear, I deeply love and accept myself. You might find me sitting in a coffee shop talking a friend through fear, encouraging her to walk straight up to it with love, and walk right through it. I work every day to try to cultivate this sense of safety in my life, to bring the antidote to fear to every situation: faith. Faith that everything will be okay, despite my conviction that it will not be so.

My friends and I, we have this luxury of working through fear. Our demons are in the past and we are fundamentally safe now.  

My father was a fan of action movies, particularly ones in which many bad guys were gunned down in order for justice to be served – and whose bad guys were identified by the capriciousness with which they gunned others down. As a child, to deal with my fear of being gunned down in a crowd, of being used as a human shield to facilitate a bad guy’s escape, I rationalized that it wouldn’t happen because people just didn’t have guns. I rationalized away my terror and understood that in action movies, people die in service of the audience’s moral outrage that is satisfied when the bad guy dies.

In my experience, moral outrage is not the solution. Robert Pickton is in prison, and women are still being murdered. A man walked into an elementary school and started shooting children. The cure for rage cannot be rage. Anger is a good start – it tells us that something is very wrong. And behind the anger, fear. And out of fear? In my experience, only love, faith and compassionate action are the ways out of fear. Slapping cuffs on bad guys only works if there are credits to roll afterwards.

So, instead of a literary holiday party or a feature of a local bookseller, today I have an intention to offer. May we all be free of suffering, and may I do everything I can today to bring love to every person I meet. May I cultivate in my day faith in my fundamental goodness, and yours. May we do everything we can to bring our goodness to light.


The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Sachiko Murakami

Sachiko Murakami is the author of the poetry collections The Invisibility Exhibit (Talonbooks, 2008), a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and Rebuild (Talonbooks, 2011). She lives in Toronto.

Go to Sachiko Murakami’s Author Page