Updated: Nov 21, 2022
Sharing your work with the world can be terrifying for a creative person. Whether it's a theatre performance, music, visual art or writing your first book, a certain amount of vulnerability comes with exposing the deepest part of yourself to the world.
It's a strength that comes with facing the fear that your work could land on either side of the coin, celebration or rejection, whatever side it lands on. Trust me when I say taking the risk is worth it.
This episode of Cara Jones Speaks begins with me standing in front of a crowd of people and begins to welcome guests at the book launch for Nicole Spence’s memoir, Somewhere North of Where I Was.
“This is an amazing turnout, and I'm going to try not to get teary-eyed because I'm so damn proud. Nicole, I've known Nicole, gosh, I don't even know how many years now.
I was speaking at an NSCC and she approached me and she was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and full of passion and all kinds of things she wanted to do with her life. And I just fell in love with her inspired way of living.
And she asked me last minute if I'd like to come with her to Parrsboro, and I just moved home from Alberta, so I was like, “Heck, yes.” We don't get a lot of ocean up there so I was really excited.
So today we're going to have Nicole do a little bit of reading, and she can ask or answer any questions. And then afterwards, she's more than happy to sign more books and to sell more books for you. So, thank you for supporting this, and I'm going to hand it over to Ms. Nicole Spence.”
(The crowd applauds, and Nicole takes centre stage, glowing with a warm welcome.)
My friend Nicole Spence asked me to introduce her at her book launch for her first book, Somewhere North of Where I Was, in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. It's a very special moment and I am totally thrilled to be there experiencing it with her.
I had recently moved home from Grand Prairie, Alberta, when Nicole was ready to tour her book. Usually, her partner Alain would be there supporting her, but unfortunately, he had to work this day and I was so pumped when she asked me to come with her.
When you're gone for five years, oh my God you miss your friends. There is something that you listeners need to know about Nova Scotia, and maybe it's the same in other places as well, but when you live in a small town, your community doesn't really celebrate your success until you've gone away and come back.
It's really weird. Nicole's first book launch in the community where she lives was sparsely attended. I mean, it was attended, but it could have been better. I wasn't totally surprised by this because I too had had a book launch year ago and barely anyone came. But when I launched it in Toronto, there were no seats left in the bookstore. It was weird as we drove to her hometown of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. I wondered if Nicole was worried how the day would turn out.
I ask Nicole to tell me about how she is feeling as we sit in her car outside the book launch location.
Cara: “Nicole, tell me a little bit about where we are right now?”
Nicole: “We’re in my hometown Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. I guess you could say this is the place I grew up. I was here through all of my teenage years. I went to high school here. I don't know. Hated it here. Loved it here. I don't know. It's the place when you talk about your hometown, when I say I'm going home, my default place as Parrsboro.”
Nicole chokes up a bit, “Sorry, I get emotional.”
Cara: “Girl, you feel the emotion, you own that shit.”
Nicole: “Twenty-eight years ago, I left. I graduated from high school and I was in a really bad place. At the time I was full of resentment and young anger and all of that stuff. And when I left I, I swore I'd never come back and twenty-eight years later… Let's backtrack a little bit. I wanted to make something of myself, and I always felt when I left, I had to prove myself. I had to prove myself because I thought I believed, you know, at 18-years-old, having grown up in this small town where everybody knows everybody and people like me didn't fit in. I believed that everybody wanted to see me fail, and I always felt like I had to prove something.
When I left and I was the first person in my family to go to university, I think I was like the second person in my family to graduate high school, and I wanted to prove myself, but I wanted to prove myself out there.
Never come back here. And anyways, there's a lot of anger and a lot of resentment around it. But, twenty-eight years later, I'm sitting outside a brew pub and a bakery and about to launch my book, my memoir, and to a whole bunch of people who are welcoming me back. And who you know, I'm glad to say, proved me wrong and wanted to see me succeed. And, are really not the people I thought they were.”
Cara: “Why do you think your younger self thought they didn't want you to succeed? What do you think it was that made you feel that way?”
Nicole: “It was me. It was just where I was. It was just where I was, it was where I was in my life. I had had a really difficult childhood and all of my anger, all of my resentment, wasn't because of them, even though at the time, I blamed them.
It was because I had such a low self-esteem and, yeah, that made me feel that way. “I” made me feel that way.”
The first time I met Nicole, I was a speaker at the Nova Scotia Community College. She came up to me after my presentation and was so excited to meet someone who thought like her. I gave her my phone number and I told her to reach out to me any time.
One day, a few weeks after I met her, I got a phone call and on the other side was Nicole's soft sobbing voice. And she immediately apologized and told me that she wasn't sure why she was calling me and that she was so embarrassed. But when she told me what was going on, I offered to meet her. And I have to tell you that of all of the people I have met in my life, I have never seen anyone change as much as Nicole. From that first meeting to today.
Nicole: “Now, I was in a really interesting relationship at the time when I met you. I think it was a month later. Yeah, it was a month later and he broke up with me and that was the most devastating breakup I ever experienced. Even bigger than my than my marriage. At least my marriage, I had warning that it was going to end, you know, and I was ready for it to end. But this, it pulled the rug completely out from underneath me, and I don't know why I called, but I called you.”
Cara: “You know, when you called me, you said, I have absolutely no idea why I'm calling you. And I thought that was the best. I was like, “Well, obviously you were meant to call me.” I loved how transparent you were in saying that “This is the oddest thing I've done in a long time. And I mean, that was ten years ago.”
Nicole: “Yeah. Well, you gave me your phone number, and I don't. I thought she's just being polite or something like that. Like I said, I was still working on my self-confidence. In 2006, I graduated from the educational support program at the NSCC and at the time, I was a new single mother and devoted all of my spare hours to finishing the programing and doing well in the program. I really connected with one of my teachers, Nancy Reagan. And she kind of took me under her wing.
I hadn't heard from her in quite a while. I received an email from her saying that there was going to be this motivational speaker at the college and it's something I might be interested in. I thought, OK, it was a weekend that I didn't have my kids.
My kids were with their dad, so I did. I did a little reading on the write up that she sent me and I thought, “Oh, this is really cool!” So, I went and I was sitting there and I was listening to you talk and listening to you talk about the connections between things.
And at that point, I still wasn't 100% confident myself, and I didn't approach new people. I, you know, pretty much isolated myself. I had been isolated for about two years because that's how long I'd lived in Antigonish, but I knew I had to approach you.
And I saw all of these people talking to you and you were talking to people and you look so confident. And I swallowed my fear and I walked down and I introduced myself and yeah, you didn't turn me away.” (Nicole laughs)
I had such compassion for Nicole and how she struggled with confidence and fear of rejection. She shared with me that it's the residual aspects of the trauma she endured growing up in the foster care system. Her book, Somewhere North of Where I Was, is written from the perspective of her child-self and captures the unspeakable abuse and hardship she experienced, as well as the unbreakable bond between her and her siblings. That bond was especially strong between her and her two siblings, Alita and Edwin, who remained a trio in each foster home until they were finally adopted by her father's wife, Pauline, who they call mom.
As her confidence over the years grew. Nicole was committed to finishing her memoir and determined to heal past wounds. She completed her memoir when, unfortunately, another unexpected tragedy sent her life reeling.
Nicole: “My mom died June 30th. And it's interesting because June 30th was the original launch date of the release of my book, but because of multiple delays, it didn't happen.”
Cara: “Tell me about that experience you had when you felt like you wanted to record your mom.”
Nicole: “Mum had gotten it into her head that she would do mother daughter dates individually with each of her daughters. It started the previous summer with my sisters. I have a sister in Toronto. They went out, they did a spa day. Mum treated her to dinner and she wanted to make those connections with each of her daughters.
I had a lot going on during my weekends and I wasn't available, but I contacted mom and I said, “Look, mom, I'm available this weekend in June. Come hell or high water we are doing our mother daughter day.”
So, we made plans and I drove up to Amherst and I told her because she wanted to take me out to dinner I said, “Well, get a bottle of wine. I want to go through all of your photographs” because mom was a hoarder, never threw anything away.
So, she dug up all of her boxes of photographs and albums and letters and everything and put them on her living room floor. We started going through them and we started drinking wine and before the night was through, we each drank a bottle of wine.
But around midnight, the wine wasn't gone. We were both ready for bed, but mom started talking about her life and I saw my phone on the table and I picked it up and I just did the record feature and I hit record and I put it down in front of her and I left it.
It was that same voice that told me to call you. And so, for an hour and a half I recorded her life story, stuff that I didn't know about. Some of the stories I had heard before, but most of this stuff was about her childhood.
So, the next day we both got up. We were extremely hung over and she made me a coffee and made me some toast and was trying to make sure I felt okay before I had to leave.
We talked about regrets. We talked about wishes, desires and. Mum said, “I just want to know that my life meant something. I want to know that I mattered.”
At that point I had this idea for my next book that was going through my head.
It's a novel based on my relationship with my three mothers. I said, “Mum, you don't know this, but when you were telling me your life story last night, I hit record on my phone and I'm going to incorporate your life story into my next book, and your life is going to be preserved in this character.”
She reached over the table and she put her hand on my arm. She said, “Thank you so much, Nicole!” And then eight days later, I got a call from my sister, Megan. She said, “Call mom she’s really sick! She's not doing good.”
I drove up to Moncton. She had a fever and bacterial meningitis. Mom had a hole in her eardrum and she had an ear infection, and it got into her brain from the hole in her eardrum.
We thought, “Mom's a fighter, she's going to make it. She's going to pull through this!” That night, around 11:00 p.m. the nurse asked us to leave. Megan and I decided to stay the night and we'd take turns sitting at her bedside and the nurse asked us to leave so they could get her ready. They were going to put her into a coma. So around 11:00 p.m. Megan and I were sitting in the waiting room and the TV that was in there went out and the lights dimmed and then they went up and sequentially between her and I, we had the chills going up all through our body and we looked at each other and said, “What the fuck was that?”
We realized then that was mom leaving her body and she wasn't coming back. We weren't giving up, mind you and it was a week after that she passed away.”
As Nicole and I entered the brewery where her boo launch was taking place, I laughed as I watched her jaw drop when she witnessed the space and the amount of people in attendance. It was standing room only.
As Nicole and I begin to make our way into the pub where her book launch is taking place, I can watch the expression on her face change from nervous to shocked. The pub was packed. As Nicole runs around, attempting to keep her cool, I briefly check in with her before I prepare to offical welcome the crowd.
Cara: “So. what do you think so far about this turn out girl?”
Nicole: “I should have brought more books; I should have brought two boxes. What did you say? What do you think of this? I'm really freaking.”
Nicole’s high school friends engage with her in excitement.
Friend: “It's the talk of our town.”
Friend: “We've been waiting for you to be famous since high school. You wanted to be famous and here you are!"
Nicole’s aunt Judi, her mother’s sister, walks in and they embrace in a long hug. I approached her afterward and asked her how she felt seeing Nicole achieve this dream.
Cara: “When I met Nicole, she was this kind of bright eyed, energy person that had many goals. But I really was inspired by her passion of “I'm going to do this, and no one is going to get in my fucking way,” attitude.”
Judi laughs shaking her head in agreement.
Cara: “When you walked in here today, I saw that amazing emotion that just makes Nicole who she is and I would love to touch base with you to find out how it felt for you to see her achieve something so great as her first book?”
Judi: "Just super, super proud of her. She’s always been a woman that was driven and I’m just so very, very proud. And also, a little bit sad because Pauline, my sister, her mom, isn't here to share it with her. But I know that Pauline read it and was so super proud of Nicole as well. And we're all just blown away by her."
As the crowd begins to leave and Nicole gives a few more hugs, we begin to gather our things for the ride. I was excited to get Nicole’s reaction after such and incredible afternoon, one I know she did not expect.
Cara: “So, holy crap, you sold out, you were so nervous, the place was packed to the brim, people couldn't even get in the door.
Nicole: I know, right? I'm a little bit speechless. But wow, that was not what I expected. I know I said I didn't expect anything and I didn't, but I didn't expect that!
Cara: “It's just amazing as writers to see how much being a writer is so beyond the paper.
Nicole: “You know it really is. But our connections are our stories.
You know, it's really a soul connection like that. Like, I've always believed in the power of the written word. I've been writing since I was young and I've been writing since I was 13, and I just always felt connected with words. I just alone was amazing. It really was. Just to know that I've been able to connect with people on that level, like even people who don't read on a regularly basis or haven't read a book in thirty years. Just to know that they were able to pick up my book and read it, it meant something, you know. It means that everything. That everything I went through, everything my brothers and sisters went through, everything that happened, it wasn't for nothing."
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