Transforming Lives: Learners at AU is a testimonial series, written by AU students and alum, who want to acknowledge the people in their lives who have helped to mold and transform their AU experience and achieve their greatest successes. Their gratitude toward these integral individuals is worth shouting from the rooftops! We, too, thank these most important people for allowing the AU authors to achieve their educational goals. Read the other Transforming Lives: Learners at AU testimonials.
I’ve always been a devoted learner. When I’m not in school in some capacity or other, I feel like something’s missing. I think I’m addicted to education. I love the rush that comes with finishing a good book or the pride of making a truly inspired point in an essay. But, I’m especially addicted to how it feels to write a personal story, a discovery I made as a direct result of my experiences at Athabasca University.
Looking back, I have my mom to thank for my love of learning. She returned to school when I was six years old, completing most of a university degree by distance (think cassette tapes and handwritten assignments) before switching to accounting at the local college. She did this as a single mom in a small rural city far from where she grew up, somehow managing to complete her schoolwork around swimming lessons and trips to the park. She was a regular volunteer in my elementary school classrooms and she taught me to read by paying me a penny for every word I learned. When I was in eighth grade, I remember her asking me for help with her college math, acting as if she couldn’t do it without me (she graduated college with an overall average of 98%). She left Jane Eyre on my bed when I was 11 years old and after I read it all night under my blankets with a flashlight, she let me miss school the next day.
Mom always told me to follow my dreams. She says that when you do, life works itself out. But, for a long time I didn’t listen. I studied subjects I wasn’t that interested in because I was trying to be responsible and get a job that would pay the bills. This seemed especially important when I also became a single parent with two little girls to raise alone. So, I pursued business studies. After completing my college diploma in Business at Georgian College, I transferred to York University and started a Business Administration degree. But not long after, the call of poetry and prose became too powerful to ignore and I switched programs, eventually graduating with a BA in English Literature. This combination of skills — business and writing — landed me my first professional job in marketing-communications. I’m now a Director of Marketing-Communications for a high tech company in Waterloo, Ontario.
Writing & New Media
After applying to AU, I focused on business again, pursuing a Master of Arts-Integrated Studies (MAIS) degree with a focus on Work, Organization and Leadership. At first, I puttered through my coursework while simultaneously building my career as a marketing professional, but the siren song of writing and literature again called to me and finally I switched to a double-major in Writing and New Media and Literary Studies.
Once I focused on what really made me happy, everything changed. I met teachers at AU that seemed like kindred spirits, I wrote stories from my heart filled with personal meaning and healing, and finally, I discovered that what I really wanted to do was help other people feel healthier through writing. This year, I’ve started a PhD in Career Writing at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, a direct result of the support and faith of MAIS professor, Reinekke Lengelle. Reinekke was my AU professor for two courses, “Writing the Self” and “Narrative Possibilities.” She is also the faculty advisor for the AU Journal of Integrated Studies, where I am Co-Editor, and now, she is part of my PhD supervisory team, along with Frans Meijers and Rob Poell. (Thank you, Reinekke!)
But, I’ve also taken another leap of faith. On December 29th, 2017, just two weeks after I handed in my final MAIS project (an interdisciplinary study about my grandma’s life and death) I launched Dreamers Creative Writing, a website for new and emerging Canadian writers. Inspired by my AU studies in therapeutic writing, this website is dedicated to creative writing that is from the heart. My goal is to help people find their way as writers through writing that is personally meaningful, while also identifying CanLit resources that will help people live a writing life.
Learning from experience
I believe we can learn a lot from sharing our lived experiences with each other. Throughout human history, storytelling has been the thread that binds what is good about humanity together. But, when I look at contemporary life and culture, I can’t help but think that we’ve lost our way — we’ve dropped the threads of our story. We need to find methods for encouraging understanding and empathy across borders, cultures, environments and genders to reestablish the emotional connection that makes us who we are. Because if what is happening now is a true reflection of our species, then what kind of future are we facing? We need to dream, write, speak and live a better story.
I named my business Dreamers Creative Writing after a lecture published in 1908 called “Creative Writers and Daydreaming” where Freud applied the practice of dream interpretation to art. Freud writes, “A piece of creative writing, like a daydream, is a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood.” He goes on to say that “myths, legends and fairy tales” are the “wishful fantasies of whole nations, the secular dreams of youthful humanity”.
My business name also has personal meaning for me. When I was a teenager, my dad owned Dreamers Gallery, a small art gallery based in Lion’s Head, Ontario. This was his dream, and one that ultimately didn’t work out, but it remains a cherished experience of my childhood. Some of my fondest memories are of reading alone in the quiet peace of the gallery, surrounded by the beautiful dreams of others. Thus, naming my business Dreamers was a gift to my dad, a continuation in a small way, of the dreams he had.
And then of course, there’s my mom, and her quiet assurance that we should always follow our heart, because otherwise, what kind of life are we living? So, Dreamers Creative Writing is ultimately named for that feeling of hope and pride you get when you follow your dreams. I think a quote by Rumi says it best: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.”
You can check out my site, subscribe to hear more, or submit your own heartfelt stories here.
Kat McNichol is the Editor-in-Chief of Dreamers Creative Writing and the Co-Editor for the Journal of Integrated Studies. She is also a Director of Marketing-Communications in Waterloo and has spent the past 15 years writing marketing copy for the high-tech industry. She holds a B.A. in English Literature, and an MAIS in Writing and New Media, and Literary Studies, and she is working on a PhD in Career Writing at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands.