For the second installment in my What are Women Reading series, I met up with my good pal Tamie Dolny. I met Tamie a few years ago when we were both doing our Masters in English at the University of Toronto. A Toronto native, Tamie went straight to UofT’s law school after her Masters and recently passed the bar exam earlier this year. Tamie now works as an articling student in the heart of Toronto’s financial district for the firm Miller Thompson LLP where she focuses on commercial litigation.
I’m always impressed by Tamie’s intelligence, ambition and, as this conversation demonstrates, eloquent speaking. I remember turning to a friend of mine after listening to one of her presentations in graduate school and saying, ‘Well I’m pretty sure we all just saw exactly why Tamie’s becoming a lawyer.’ Great at making an argument, she’s also just a warm, thoughtful, down to earth friend who has been so supportive of me and this project.
I met Tamie on a rainy day a couple of weeks ago for some pastries and quality book chats. I’d asked Tamie to bring a book she would recommend to other women if she could and that she thought offered up some valuable takeaways.
Here’s what we talked about:
Erin: So what did you end up going with?
Tamie: I was really debating. And you know how long I was excited about this project with you and everything.
I wanted to pick 1) A poetry collection 2) An author who was female and 3) A Canadian rising author or rising Canadian poet. What I chose was a poetry collection. It’s called Violet Energy Ingots and it’s written by Hoa Nguyen. It was shortlisted for the Griffin [a prestigious Canadian poetry prize] and what it deals with is- well, I’ve been really inspired recently by Beat Poetry. I feel like we’ve had this conversation-
Erin: Yes, yes. I love Beat Poetry.
Tamie: I was rereading Howl and it stirs up so many emotions in you. I think there’s poetry that’s incredibly passionate and rebellious, poetry almost as revolution, and then, almost a subset of that is this idea of poetry as hallucination. Poetry as nightmare. Poetry as dreams. And what’s so cool about this collection is she really focuses on the intersection of modern, boring, mundane life as a mother, as a wife, in a very suburban setting, contrasted with this dream state full of haunting imagery. As someone who is a ‘working woman,’ I think it’s really cool when female authors intersect their life with underlying passions that they might have kept hidden.
Erin: That’s really interesting. I feel also, especially with social media, it’s all about representing these heightened experiences. But the reality of everyday life- it is boring a lot of times.
Tamie: Yes, exactly. I also really wanted to give you an example of a poet or a woman who was exhibiting that internal conflict between her working world and her creative side, which I think this perfectly does. There’s something that’s very dark about this collection. It’s very dark. There are moments where she deals with the idea of her father who she’s never known, but she contrasts that with this image of birds flying over the Leslie Spit. What I also think is cool is that she references some Toronto landscapes-
Erin: I was just going to say, it’s always fun when you read books that relate to your own experiences. For both of us, who are from Toronto, it’s always interesting to see how these places that we’ve been to are represented by somebody else.
Tamie: Yes. One of my favourite authors and poets, who is Canadian, is Michael Ondaatje. He does that all the time. Anything that can tie me into my roots, I’m always interested in exploring. As well, what’s interesting about Nguyen’s collection is she very much stems from that whole- well I say everything comes from the Beat Generation-
Erin: A lot of postmodern does, I think.
Tamie: Her work is very postmodern. It’s very fractured. And when you read it, it’s very difficult. I think as a poetry collection for a woman who is grappling with ideas of identity, feminism, what it means to be working in the twenty-first century while balancing a creative side, the fractures she shows in her poetry really remind me of myself.
Erin: Well, and represents that maybe- all the various components of your own identity. It’s not always cohesive. There are a lot of different parts playing around with each other.
Tamie: Exactly. I love authors who play with the idea of gender or maybe sexuality or the idea of race and who are subversive. I’d say Nguyen is an interesting poet because she isn’t outright- she doesn’t scream in your face. But instead there is this darkness on top of her poetry. You read her work- there’s something that’s so unsettling about it.
Erin: I think it’s valuable because- well, I guess it goes back to Heart of Darkness or something.
Tamie: I love Heart of Darkness.
Erin: There always is a layer of darkness under the surface in everyone but it’s something a lot of the time we don’t want to talk about, or women don’t want to talk about. It’s that idea of performing this perfect identity all the time. And the reality is it’s just not possible.
Tamie: It’s not possible. I think that’s so on point. It’s one of the things I struggle with in my own professional life. How do you stay true to your creative side? We both did our Masters in English- how do you stay true to wanting to create while still balancing your full-time professional occupation?
Erin: I think it can be very confining. Putting you into this set schedule, this identity. You have this face you need to put on for it.
Tamie: Yes. And how do you, creatively, make anything worthwhile when you say I have thirty minutes to do this at the end of the day? She deals with these issues. I think it’s so fascinating.
Erin: Do you think it changed your perspective at all- reading this collection? Or made you see things differently?
Tamie: I think in a way every book you read changes you.
Tamie: You maybe don’t know at the time. But I think what I’d like to draw from this is making sure to maintain my hobbies as a young, working female.
Erin: Yes, and not let everything get cast aside for your career which, I think, is easy to do.
Tamie: Yes. I think she emphasizes the contrast between the dream state with the working mundane. It really speaks to me.
Erin: It maybe also shows you can create a space for both. You don’t have to choose one over the other.
Tamie: Yes, and just because you’re a working female it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be investing in your creative side or your intuitive side.
Erin: I think that’s what keeps you happy at the end of the day. If you have an outlet for your creativity or are doing something for you. Not just for your company or your boss.
Tamie: Exactly. I think basically what I got from this poetry collection was its important to maintain a sense of your identity both in the working world and in your personal side. I think the most successful women do that. It’s incredibly difficult to do and it doesn’t mean you’re going to be perfect at doing it.
Erin: But there’s something really worthwhile about at least trying and contemplating doing it.
*This interview was condensed for posting purposes. Thanks again to Tamie Dolny for being a part of this project.