When co-founders Eufemia Fantetti and Kathy Friedman tell people the idea behind InkWell Workshops, the reaction is often (unintentionally) anticlimactic:
“You mean that isn’t a thing already?”
Starting in February 2016, InkWell Workshops will host creative writing classes for people with mental health challenges. I sat down with Eufemia to find out more about InkWell. Their first official event is a Halloween dance party fundraiser this Saturday, October 31, at The Steady Cafe and Bar in Toronto, MCd by Terri Favro. You’re invited to come dressed as a literary figure, zombified. Kathy’s going as a Gregor Samsa zombie. “Kathy is the cool one,” explains Eufemia. “She’s the reason we got Chandler Levack as our DJ.”
“The whole point of InkWell Workshops is to offer free creative writing classes for people with mental health issues, taught by instructors with lived experience of mental health issues,” Eufemia tells me over coffee. In 2010 she met Kathy Friedman when they were both MFA creative writing students at the University of Guelph. Eufemia had just moved to Toronto from the west coast: “In less than a year, I moved, my cat died and I lost five people in six months. Here I was in a new city with few friends and no work. I talked to Kathy at school one day and she was so kind to me. And I really needed her kindness at that moment.”
Eufemia, an English instructor at Humber College, has written about her family’s struggles with serious mental illness. “Writing is how I’ve been able to deal with it,” she says. She and Kathy became friends and eventually collaborators on InkWell Workshops. “We just thought, wouldn’t it be great to provide a respectful and safe space for people who know the words are in them — even if things get so tough they find they can barely read,” Eufemia told me. “There’s so much stigma still associated with mental illness. I see these workshops as a slap in the face to stigma, a chance for people who haven’t had a voice or been empowered, to be encouraged and supported that way.”
InkWell’s first community partner is the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in Toronto. Eufemia, who has worked there in an administrative capacity, says she and Kathy have had great support from the CMHA’s Amy Wakelin, Manager of Peer Initiatives. The first InkWell classes will be held in the national organization’s new Toronto digs, in their social resource centre. As well as Kathy and Eufemia, other instructors are poet Jeff Latosik, writer and graphic designer Kilby Smith-McGregor, and novelist Andrea Thompson. Workshop participants will be people who access CMHA services.
For those of you who have ever attended a writing class where the teacher humiliated a participant (maybe you? you never forget that, do you?) you know first-hand how debilitating that can be. InkWell Workshops instructors are inspired and guided by the principles of the Amherst Writing Method, where kindness and insight trump ego and power-tripping. Instructors will focus on a learning environment that, according to Eufemia, minimizes stress and empowers participants: “It’s important to us to build a sense of safety in the room.”
InkWell’s mission is to run writing workshops for people with mental-health and addictions issues led by professional artists with lived experience of mental illness. We envision a vibrant community of writers and readers in which all live free from stigma. We are guided by values of Respect, Empowerment, Equity, Access, and Diversity. ~ inkwellworkshops.com
If, while you’re reading this blog, you or someone you know is struggling with depression (BTW, 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the CMHA), we hope no one, not even the well-meaning, tries any of this on you. I prefer Rilke’s, “Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Not cheery, but not annoying either (a highly underrated quality, n’est-ce pas?).
Operating as a collective for now, Eufemia tells me that she and Kathy are working towards making InkWell Workshops a non-profit. The big dream is to get it up and running in communities across Canada, but for now their energies are directed to securing grants and getting the word out.
You can show your support by buying a ticket to their Halloween party fundraiser. Come as your favourite literary zombie or just stuff wads of discarded story drafts into your pockets and come as you are, as we all are: a work in progress.
Even if you can’t attend, you could show your support and buy a ticket anyway. Check out this list of prizes — you can bid on these, online, before Saturday. And, ssh, I’ve heard there will also be a little something-something from the Lemon Bucket Orkestra and Paul Vermeersch.
When: Saturday, October 31, 2015, 7:30 pm
Where: The Steady Cafe and Bar 1051 Bloor Street West (twixt Ossington and Dufferin)
Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door
Facebook event page here.
The always charming and witty Terri Favro, author of The Proxy Bride, will MC the event. After a few short readings, the dancing starts.
If “the moment of change is the only poem” (Adrienne Rich), then this is the moment and Inkwell Workshops is now a thing.