Campie in Three Easy Parts — guest blog by Barbara Stewart

What it was like:

The card­board box sat on the floor be­side the kit­chen table for four years. I walked around it, passed food over it and oc­ca­sion­ally shoved it around with the Dirt Devil.

Inside the box, the guts and soul of a book: a length of house­hold string; a pack­age of matches; a 2003 Telus cal­en­dar; a BC Interior road map; the Fall 2002 is­sue of GUSHER; hand­writ­ten pages torn from a Mead note­book; the first typed chapter of Campie. I’d star­ted writ­ing with­in days of leav­ing the oil­rig camp in January 2003, open­ing with the de­clar­at­ive: “The job star­ted with a fraud and ended with a lie.” (I loved that sentence.)

Oh, and one more thing was in the box: from the Saturday Post, April 19, 2003, an es­say by Don Gillmore titled, “On Saturday Nights, I Dreamt of Saturday Nights.” Gillmore had writ­ten about his ex­per­i­ence as a rough­neck on an oil­rig. I tucked it into the box to pun­ish my­self for not fin­ish­ing the book.

What happened:

When I turned 50, I made a de­cision to stop feel­ing bad about my past. This meant re­tir­ing an aging in­ner blues trio called The Ambitions, Hopes and Dreams. “Sorry gals,” I said, “You gotta go. Momma needs a new tune … some­thing like ‘Goodbye Alibi.’”

Six years later, I gradu­ated from the University of Victoria with a BA and a book con­tract with Heritage House Publishers for Campie. The prot­ag­on­ist had be­come a Barbara per­sona dis­tanced by a nar­rat­ive arc in chapters.

I wasn’t me. Campie didn’t be­come a real book and my private story wasn’t pub­lic un­til I pressed SEND to the pub­lish­er. Not many nights later, I woke up in a sweat to a comeback chor­al per­form­ance of that sen­ti­ment­al oldie “Who’s Sorry Now?”

What it’s like now: 

I came to real­ize that it wasn’t pub­lic ex­pos­ure I feared at all. My motive for writ­ing Campie was to tell a story about fail­ure and hope. The un­der­belly served a pur­pose. Although it took a few deep breaths to own the in­tro­duc­tion, “a sober cel­ib­ate bank­rupt ve­get­ari­an …”

No, it was the re­ac­tion of fam­ily and friends — those per­son­ally im­pacted by what I had written­ — whose love mattered the most. Unconditional ac­cept­ance by and for strangers was an easy grace.

When my sis­ter said the book was so won­der­ful she couldn’t put it down, when my moth­er said she loved it and we talked about where it made her cry, when my daugh­ter or­gan­ized my first read­ing and in­vited her closest friends, when my son sup­por­ted me for three months while I wrote and thanked me for all that I’d gone through, that’s when I knew I had pro­jec­ted judg­ments only with­in myself.

These Bessie Smith lyr­ics said it so well:

Now all the crazy things I had to try, Well I tried them all and then some, But if you’re lucky one day you find out, Where it is you’re really com­ing from.”

Campie gave that luck to me.

Paula’s note: Barbara Stewart’s Campie, a new re­lease by Heritage House Publishing, is the best book I’ve read in a long time. It’s funny, scary and brave. The writ­ing is fresh and ori­gin­al; there’s no ar­ti­fice or fancy man­euv­er­ing, just a great story told straight from the heart.