HPR Hero BONNIE NISH, Vancouver, Canada
“I can feel it beating up against the walls of my body, skin keeping it in place as though if I were to burn it all off I would dissolve to water. I am water. Fluid, transparent, flowing a timeless source waiting to be tapped if you look underneath. I am words captured on paper.
Folded into a bird escaping into a world I hope will be kind. But my heart remains still, while there is movement through these dark clouds, your words heavy as lightning cover panels of lost frescos now revealed, cracking found beauty under ancient mud. Always in a hurry to find the next door out back to the river, I try to stop, to capture the essence of this dream before it escapes. To find a reflection in a mirror not held hostage by the breath of you beating me into tears, to find a soulmate in my own eyes knowing if I search deep enough I will find love.” - 'River Flows Through Me' by Bonnie Nish.
Bonnie Nish's story is a testament to the healing power of art. Bonnie is a poet, educator, and community activist with a creative, generous nature. Like many strong people, she comes by her powerful character through times of challenge and struggle.
Bonnie was raised in Toronto by her parents and eleven members of her extended family. Her childhood home was a controlling, highly traditional environment. Due to her own mental health issues, her mother was verbally abusive, hurling insults at her children daily. "There was an expectation that I would not go to university, that I would grow up and get married to a nice Jewish doctor or lawyer," she says.
Bonnie admits her family home was a difficult place to grow up, but she refused to let her surroundings curb her independence. From the age of thirteen, she spent the majority of her time with the families of her more tolerant friends. She moved out five years later and, against her mother's wishes, enrolled at the University of Toronto. She supported herself with grants, loans, and part-time work, graduating with a degree in English Literature.
Education, marriage and three children later, life seemed to finally bless her. Unfortunately, this period of harmony would not last. In the aftermath of 9/11, her husband's job market collapsed. Multiple challenges took its toll on him mentally and their marriage fell apart.
“There must be beauty buried in all of this pain it is the smell of dirt after the first spring rain, the crocuses that open under my window pane and the sound of a voice learning to sing again. It is the first big storm cracking open the sky and the touch of new love that makes you want to die, it is the feel of a hand on unprotected skin it is the love of a friend from beginning to end. It is a child’s smile when they look in your eyes it is the sound of the stars shooting across the sky, it is the knowledge that we have come this far it is surviving the turmoil to discover who we are. There must be beauty buried in all of this pain it is the rise of the self and of finding you again.” – ‘Beauty’, Lines by Bonnie Nish.
Bonnie became the sole provider for her three small children, even though she had not worked outside of the home in years. Bonnie worked sixty hours a week and kept pursuing education and her community volunteer work. One day, Bonnie was minding a group of children on a playground when she was struck on the side of the head. She sustained a massive concussion and, for a while, her life ground to a halt. After a year of exhausting recuperation, she was finally ready to go back to work. On her first day back at her new job, a basketball struck her head in the same spot, completely reversing her process of recovery.
While her two concussions were a harrowing experience, Bonnie said positivity came out of the injuries. Bonnie put together a manuscript, telling stories of others who have suffered from debilitating concussions, providing immense help to others to fight out of their physical suffering.
“My writing comes from my heart and my life stories. My poems come from my history, my sorrow and my joy. I have been writing poetry since I was 13. Poetry has always been a way in which I could express myself especially at times when I felt I had no voice.” Today, she provides academic support in a high school class for disabled students.
“I have come to realize through the various workshops I have conducted over the years just how powerful a tool poetry can be. It gives us strength as well as brings us joy, allows us to find beauty where we couldn’t see any before and moves us past those places where we are often trapped.” Bonnie promises to keep using poetry to continue to help people to heal.
"One thing that came from growing up with a mother that had such mental health issues was that it gave me compassion for other people's circumstances," she says.
In many areas of her life, Bonnie has brought these passions together. "I go into drug rehab centres, into the children's eating disorder clinic, and do writing workshops."
For the last five years, Bonnie has been meeting weekly with a group of high school students interested in writing where kids can come in and read their work. A scholarship is also offered to one participating student. The scholarship pays for its winner to take part in the yearly summer book camp at the Vancouver Public Library.
Her initiative is dedicated to promoting literacy and self-expression in the community. With the ambitious mandate ‘Promoting the Arts That Inspire the World to Take Notice of Itself’, Bonnie strives to provide a safe and inspiring environment for writers of all ages.
“I am working hard to promote the literary arts as a healthy tool for self-expression and act as a valuable resource for writers and readers in my city.” Her hope is to motivate individuals into embracing literacy while at the same time help them to build their sense of community and self-esteem.
Bonnie is now actively promoting poetry workshops and programs within classrooms, hospitals, transition houses, rehabilitation centres, and other venues to increase literacy and present poetry as a communication tool promoting self-expression and self-esteem. “I want to raise personal, social, and global awareness through the creation of poetry and the arts, collaborating and working together.” Bonnie’s efforts are now raising money for literary scholarships and programs, working closely with adults going through drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres as well as with children and teens at inner city schools. Bonnie’s workshops have inspired hundreds of children and adults of all ages to reach for their pens and capture their experiences with words in an age where writing and expressions are slowly dying under the weight of smartphones and tablets.
"People ask me, why do you do everything you do?" Bonnie says. "And I answer: because I can."
'She discards her shoes when she plays, feet tucked on either side of the cello vibrations move up her body until the rhythm carries her beyond heaven, where all signs of intelligent life become visceral' - From Bonnie’s ‘Transformation.’
Thank you Bonnie, for weaving together happiness and hope through your beautiful words!
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