I was welcomed back to Penn Kemp’s house shortly after our first visit. It was an individual session with just her and myself on a Sunday afternoon. I wanted to get my individual work with her completed early as I had a very busy semester ahead of me – she appreciated this. We spent several hours filling out grant applications for Ontario Arts Council Writers’ Reserve recommendations for a novel about Teresa Harris. Penn noted that my “organizational skills, attention to all the details and determination to complete the work were admirable and extraordinary.” I never realized how dependent writers were on grants – I guess I just assumed they lived off the money they made through publications. I realize now this was naïve. Grant applications are tedious and require meticulous work. Penn says that they are so competitive that they look for even the smallest mistakes to dismiss the applications. I felt a lot of pressure – but also very honoured – that she would trust me with such an important task. I have always been a perfectionist and put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed – I want to make sure things are done right and am used to asking people to check my work before finalizing. Penn did not see this necessary. She trusted my final say, even had me seal the envelopes myself. Two afternoons together and she had already filled me with a confidence in myself and the work I am doing. After these first few sessions I can easily say that Penn Kemp has become more than just a community partner to me. Her kindness and gentle spirit made me feel more than welcome in her home, with art and stories plastered all over the walls. She has become an inspiration to me: living proof that success is not always measured by the amount of money you make – or how you make it. If spending an afternoon writing countless grant applications that are not guaranteed for an uncertain amount of money is how your dreams become realized then at least the effort is there. If I have learned one thing from Penn, it is this: do not be passive in life. Nothing will get done if you just sit back and wait for things to happen for you. You have to pick yourself up and work towards the things you want out of life – only then will you truly succeed. This project has become more focused on learning about myself, defining my own goals and simple, raw inspiration than anything else, and I think that might be the point of CEL. It is not just so that we can help out some partners in our community, learn about local literature and write a report at the end of it all. It is about inspiration and guidance from real life experience. It is about connecting with other people, learning their stories and telling ours. It is about collaboration and community.
A Reflection by Charlotte