Author lets flow a few goosefeathers of emotion

Naomi Steinberg, performer and storyteller. | Photo by Diane Smithers Photography

As part of the Pick Your Poison: Writers’ Reading Series, author Naomi Steinberg, along with guests, will be reading from her Goosefeather manuscript at The Generative Nest on April 22, May 6, May 20 and June 3.

Steinberg, a well-traveled storyteller from Vancouver, took off on an adventure in December of 2014 and never looked back. Fascinated with the war-torn history of her grandparents during the Second World War, Steinberg interviewed her grandfather. She said he is a terse man, obsessed with the metric system, and she used his interest in measurement to relate to him and open the doors of communication. Though a man of few words, with some pushing her grandfather had an amazing story to tell. While helping with the harvest in Roussillion, France, he successfully hid his new Jewish bride from the Nazi regime. What began as an interview about his work and hobbies, opened the door to his war-filled past. Exhausted but inspired, Steinberg set out to share their story.

“If we allow ourselves to not know and be in experience, there is space for grace and curiosity. Allow ourself to be in this great soup of not knowing,” says Steinberg.

The kindness of strangers

With a background in oral tradition, Steinbrg was resistant to dive into the literary world. Goosefeather, which started as a performance piece, became a memoir – or travel log – of Steinberg’s experience of bringing her performance around the planet. She had 365 days of no airplanes, paying only for accommodation and relying on the kindness and generosity of strangers.

“I’m attempting to universalize my personal experience and make it of use or benefit to humanity, all while trying to figure out what allowed my grandfather to be a hero.”

Steinberg notes that she can’t take for granted all that she has and all that went into getting her here.

“Part of that legacy for me, is my commitment to social service and acknowledging my privilege – all that hard work that led to me being born.”

At times, those feelings have led Steinberg to question whether or not the work should be released.

“How selfish am I to be using my time to talk about myself, doing this incredible adventure, which I could only do because I’m hyper privileged? Good education, given a lot of love in my life, belief in myself… how lucky am I? Is it ok to put this work out?” Steinberg asks.

Sense of adventure

Through the conversations with her grandfather and three women from Roussillion who knew her grandfather, Steinberg was able to patch together a narrative that would later become Goosefeather, the performance. The inspiration for the title came from the three women who used to purchase “one or two goose feathers’ full” of water from the local well. This lined up with Steinberg’s grandfather’s obsession with measurement. As the performance began to piece itself together, the idea of the goose became the vehicle for her storytelling.

“This notion of measuring water… water is the realm of the emotions; my grandfather was unable to express his emotions, which later affected the rest of my family. So if I have a wish personally, it would be that I be strong enough to allow two goosefeathers’ worth of water to come through me. The flow of emotion, learning,” says Steinberg.

The performance, built from historic context and Steinberg’s own experience with her grandfather and interviewees, became an experience like no other.

That bold and fearless sense of adventure is what Steinberg wants her readers to take away from Goosefeather.

“Go for it! People should be more willing to go for it. Want an adventure? Go for it.”

Steinberg, who struggled with self-censorship, hopes her readers won’t do the same. An older mentor bolstered her confidence and helped her to believe in her story.

“Storytelling demands presence,” she says.

The third revision, which Steinberg has just recently finished, is now eagerly awaiting an editor. Goosefeather, a working title, will hit the shelves in early 2019.

For more information on the Pick Your Poison: Writers’ Reading Series and Steinberg’s work, please visit www.goosefeather.ca.

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