Let Me Tell You How The Wind Was Born

“Have you ever seen how all the crows     congregate in Burnaby every evening around dusk?” my partner asked me one night. “It’s a bit sinister, but pretty majestic to see all these black shapes gathering towards the same spot.”

“It’s an old game,” I told her, “one that the crows have been playing since the beginning of imagination.”

“Is that so?” Indulgent as always, and recognising the twinkle in my eyes and the tone of my voice, she put down her teacup and settled her head into my lap to listen to the story.


“The crows have been doing that for as long as anyone can remember. Long before Burnaby was Burnaby and when it was simply impenetrable forest and mountain and wildness. Have you noticed the way they look at you as they perch on telephone wires and the sides of roads? They remember the loss of the forests, and they’re still suspicious of concrete and metal and the electrical wires that strangle the air.”

My partner, who does not have much patience for anthropomorphism, raised an eyebrow.

“You can tell by their voices,” I insisted, “they used to have voices like silk and honey.”

“What happened?”

“The trouble started with the stories.”


“Let me back up. As I mentioned, the crows have been meeting in that spot every day for centuries. The very first time they met there, back before wind moved across the world, it was for a kind of game, a competition to see who could come up with a way to capture all the forces of imagination. That’s what magic is made of, and they wanted to harness it so they had all that power at their disposal.
They still meet there, trying to catch hold of the forces of imagination, hoping to work some magic to return some wildness to the corners of the world that need it most. But, I digress.

“The first time they did this,” I continued, “the crows did all kinds of curious magical things. They turned themselves inside out, they threw off all of their feathers and paraded around naked, they worked together to create huge formations in the sky, they sang songs with their honey voices, and they brought shiny things from the farthest reaches of the world to create giant glittering sculptures. This conference went on for days and days. Finally, after all the other crows had done their bit, they realised that there was still one crow who had not spoken.
‘What about you?’ they asked, peering at the last crow intently, ‘don’t you have anything to contribute? Don’t you have any tricks for capturing imagination?’

And then the last crow opened her mouth and told a story.”

“That’s it?” my listener asked, “all that hype for just a story?”

“Not just any story – the most thrilling story you’ve ever heard. It twisted and turned, stretched to the farthest limits of understanding and swooped back around in a way that made all the other crows second-guess the beaks on their faces.
By the time the crow had finished telling her story, the others were silent for the first time in days.

They decided unanimously that she had won the competition. No sooner had they said so, that they felt a shimmering in the air, a kind of rushing and whistling.”

“The wind?”

“Ah, so you were paying attention.”

“I always pay attention!”

“Yes, of course. This all happened, as I said before, in the time before the wind. And now, all of a sudden, a breeze sprang up, and started to ruffle the birds’ glossy feathers.
‘That’s it,’ they said, ‘you win. But maybe now you could take it back? We’re not sure we like what you’ve unleashed, we don’t know what —‘
But their words were snatched away by the wind. Some of the crows lifted themselves up into the sky, but they were buffeted by the air that had, until that point, always been calm and still.
They shouted and cried through the shifting currents of air, begging the last crow to take her story back, to get rid of all this wind. They shouted so much that their voices became hoarse and raspy, and lost forever their silk and honey tones.”

“But what about the story? Did the crow undo what she had done and make the wind calm down?” my partner wanted to know.

“Of course not. Don’t you know? Once a story is loose in the world, it cannot be taken back. It’s there for good.

And that’s how the wind was born.”



Crows are one of my favourite subjects: they are tricksters and magic-makers, and just unpredictable enough to keep you guessing. I am a storyteller at heart, and this kind of creative work is just what I like to do. There’s something special about weaving a story as you tell it – I like to leave a little bit up to improvisation, and let my words be affected by the reception I get from my audience. That way, the story changes a little with each telling, shifting to suit a particular audience, while still retaining its essence.

The interesting thing, though, is to take a story that has only ever been heard aloud and change it into a written form. I tried my best not to let the story alter when I wrote it down, but inevitably it did. There’s no way to account for the multi-dimensional quality of oral storytelling – tone, body language, gesture, and expression – so the words themselves must take on a new responsibility when they are written. It feels strange to let these words go out into the world without being able to control the way they are received – ultimately, it’s up to the reader to shape the way they sound in their head.

I’ve been hooked on King’s writing ever since I read The Inconvenient Indian and a few other works. The Truth About Stories was no different. One of the marvellous thing about King’s work is his conversational style; it feels like you’re really in the room with him. Somehow he manages to convey a certain level of eye-twinkling and sardonic humour that is rarely found in written text.
I couldn’t stop reading the book at the end of the first chapter – King’s words are simply too delicious to part with, and it felt disingenuous to put it down when we were in the middle of a conversation.



Works Cited:

Donaldson, Emily. “The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account Of Native People In North America.” Quill & Quire. n.d. Web. 29 May 2014.

King, Thomas. “The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative” Toronto: House of Anansi P., 2003. Print.

Lazaruk, Susan. “Murder Mystery: The Reason Why 6,000 Crows Flock To Burnaby Every Night.” The Province. (Vancouver) 30 Oct, 2013. Web. 28 May 2014.



1:2 – Language and Story: “A Place Where Things Happen That Don’t”

Question 3: Words

In his inspiring book If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? Finding Common Ground, J. Edward Chamberlin grapples with the universal practice and ceremony of storytelling, and seeks to “find common ground” between cultures as a way of breaking down and complicating our understanding of “Them and Us” in order to establish universal acceptance and respect for all peoples across culture, language, and tradition (8).

Chamberlin spends a great deal of time dissecting the use of words and language, recognising that humans have a tendency to draw a dividing line between “Us and Them,” between savagery and civility, between culture and anarchy, based on use of language. Language is often the dividing line between peoples, and when we are unable to understand another’s language, customs, and practices,they begin to seem more like “babblers and doodlers” than respectable human beings. “The categories of the barbaric and the civilised first take place along the lines of language with the dismissal of a different language as either barbaric or so basic that it could not possibly accommodate civilized thoughts and feelings,” and this conception of barbarism lends credence to the idea that those who speak differently are inferior (Chamberlin 13). If we characterise the ‘other’ as subhuman, incapable of ‘usefulness’ or productivity (as we understand it), and ill-suited to governance of themselves or of land, it becomes very easy to justify their subjugation. This is especially the case when they inhabit or possess things that we ourselves desire – land, for instance, or natural resources like gold or lumber. Greed or desire for resources skews perception in such a way that it is easier for us to think of the other as barbaric, and to justify the theft of homelands.

Chamberlin turns to story to help complicate this dualistic understanding of Us and Them. Communities from around the world all have in common the fact that they tell stories. The tales themselves differ, of course, but the ceremony of storytelling and the practice of believing in metaphor is universal. The very heart of language, as Chamberlin argues, relies on us learning to be comfortable with the paradox of believing and not believing at the same time. When we teach children to read, we teach them to recognise that “C-A-T” is at once a cat and also not a cat. Children take very easily to the world of metaphor and symbolism, they learn very quickly to believe and not believe at the same time, and this liminal space of acceptance/dismissal is essential for understanding stories as well.

Chamberlin writes that “often it is when we are most conscious of  their artifice that we surrender most completely to stories,” and this makes me think of the work of the German playwright and theorist Bertolt Brecht, who wrote a great deal about the dangers of believing too completely in the realism of the story presented on stage. To combat this, he created what he called Verfremdungseffekt, also known as the “V-Effect” or the “Alienation Effect”. He would intentionally disrupt the suspension of disbelief that traditional theatrical conventions require by doing things like exposing the back wall of the theatre, adding musical elements that clashed with the events on stage, and informing the audience of the plot in advance. He hoped that this would prevent them from becoming swept up in the emotional journey of the story and that they would be more able to consider the political implications of the piece. It’s a balancing act between making the audience care enough to think deeply about the issues, but distancing them just enough that they avoid leaving the story behind in the world of imagination without considering its political implications. Ultimately, Brecht was playing with the audience’s understanding of realism and artificiality, putting pressure on dis/belief.


Bertolt Brecht, looking very serious.

Cultures around the world draw on the ideas of riddles and charms to teach lessons, tell stories, entertain, enchant, and instruct. Chamberlin understands riddles and charms as devices that drive a wedge between reality and imagination. They create a situation that requires the disintegration of language itself, or of our conception of the way the world works. Under the pressure of understanding charms and riddles, either we must radically rewire our understanding of the world, or our sense of language itself must dissolve.

In the case of riddles, “it is the language that gives” under this pressure: our understanding of the way language works cannot exist alongside the rules of the world, so the trick and the delight of the riddle is in showing us the artifice of words and metaphor, and, indeed, it is language that solves the problem in the end (Chamberlin 161).

It works the other way with charms. Ceremonies, national anthems, well-known prayers, and creation stories all manage to work some magic on our experience of the world. The logic of language is pitted against that of the world, and “in a charm, it is the world that changes – if only for that moment” wherein we truly believe in an ideology or community that we may otherwise dismiss (Chamberlin 239).

“Riddles highlight the categories of language and life; charms collapse them. Neither does away with them” (Chamberlin 239). This, I think, is what Brecht was trying to achieve as well, trying to drive a wedge between realism and artificiality so that we may explore the liminal space of our instinct to categorise. Words “make us feel closer to the world we live in” because we inhabit a world of contradictions, and language requires us to become comfortable in the practice of believing and not believing at the same time (Chamberlin 1). It is only by achieving this balancing act of embracing contradiction that we are able to move forward into finding common ground.


Works Cited:

Chamberlin, J. Edward. If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? Finding Common Ground. Toronto: Vintage Canada 2004. Print.

National Theatre Discover. “An Introduction to Brechtian Theatre.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 26 July 2012. Web. 22 May 2014.

Thury, Eva. “Brecht on Alienation (the A-effect, or, from the German Verfremdung, V-effect), an Essential Element of Modern Drama.” Web. 23 May 2014.

Assignment 1:1 – Welcome!

Welcome! My name is Jess Borthwick (you may also encounter me as Jess Marlow, which is the name I use for social networking and creative work). I’m a fourth-year student at UBC, double-majoring in Theatre and English Literature. I’m a settler on this land, and I consider it a great privilege to live and study on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam Nation.

I’m a feminist, an actor, a clown, a storyteller, a student of yoga, an activist, and a lover of fine tea.

ENGL 470A is a course that considers the intersections between European and Indigenous traditions of literature and orature, and the importance of storytelling as a tool for cultural exchange, growth, and resurgence. Not only will we encounter stories in literature, but we will also consider the stories we tell about literature: the course provides a platform from which to analyze which narratives gain a place in the literary canon, and which are excluded. It is entirely conducted online, and one of the exciting features of its format is that it requires a high level of engagement with social media, blogging, and other online tools in order to create a community of learners working together to further discussion about the future of Canadian literature. Speaking as one who grew up reading books and climbing trees, I must admit that I’m feeling a little trepidatious about the technical side of things, but I’m keen to embrace it as part of the learning process.

The story of Turtle Island is an Anishinaabe/Ojibway creation story

A great deal of my studies both in and outside of school have been concerned with Indigenous peoples and cultures on Turtle Island, and, in particular, the practices and traditions of storytelling. It all began when I encountered Tomson Highway‘s intense play Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing in a Theatre class in my first year, which sparked a passion for learning about Indigenous stories and creating space for Indigenous voices on stages across Canada and the world. I have taken several different Canadian Literature classes since, including a fantastic course on Indigenous feminism and literature (ENGL 476, taught by the wonderful Dory Nason), and I keep finding myself coming back for more. As an actor and performer, stories are the most important part of my craft; as an ally and supporter of Indigenous resurgence, I recognise storytelling to be an essential part of cultural reclamation and celebration.

I hope that this course (while nudging me towards 21st Century technological skills) teaches me more about the canonization of literature, and that it will help to further my understanding of how Indigenous and European narratives intersect, informing my artwork and strengthening my own voice as it calls out for positive change.

I believe that, through listening to one another’s stories, we may help to foster a culture of mutual respect and community accountability, working together to heal the trauma of colonialism and creating a society that celebrates our various histories, cultures, traditions, and wisdoms.

Works Cited:

“Dory Nason” First Nations Studies Program. U of B.C., n.d. Web. 15 May 2014.

Musqueam: A Living Culture. Musqueam Indian Band, 2011. 15 May 2014. Web. http://www.musqueam.bc.ca/

Paterson, Erika. ENGL 470A: Canadian Studies: Canadian Literary Genres. University of British Columbia, 2014. Web. 15 May 2014.

Tomson Highway. n.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2014.

“What is Turtle Island?” Turtle Island Indigenous Education Corporation. 2013. Web. 15 May 2014.

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