The saga of intellectual revolutionaries



Many recent mornings my name has jolted me awake, stamped there on top of an obituary in the Globe & Mail.

Coffee, first, but always on the way back from the kitchen I pop out out to the front porch, still before daylight, and pick up the paper and that’s when I remember that I’m in it. My work, my words, the end result of living inside the life of my subject.

This morning it was the storytelling I did about Roxana Ng, the rich details of her political work, the struggles she faced in confronting challenges in the hierarchy of the academy; what I believe was great satisfaction she got from allying herself with the right cause, the left cause, in every way.

I have a new editor. When I filed the article with him yesterday afternoon he wrote back with one correction.

“You ID’d Gramsci as a scholar, but he’s much more an intellectual revolutionary, so I changed that a bit.

Intellectual revolutionary…in the pages of the Globe and Mail!

I smiled, thinking that Roxana Ng would appreciate that.

Then I remembered that it was she who inspired it.

When I picked up the paper this morning and read the headline I had another pleasure jolt when I read the headline to this article on Dr. Ng’s life:

“Roxana Ng: An activist who fought racism and sexism.”

But here’s the rub: she no longer lives.

There is, perhaps, no reason to celebrate but rather to mourn.

I want to describe now how difficult that often is for me, and why it is difficult.

Because when I research and write these articles the subjects are very much alive to me and I fully absorb myself with the details of their experiences, the ways in which they mattered.

This woman, this academic cum activist roaming the halls at OISE, University of Toronto,  is there today (that’s how it seems), urging Tai Chi on willing colleagues; carting her trolly laden with tea, flowers, reams of paper, pens, and a busy Iphone on vibration.

After the obituary was published I sent a pdf to her friends, people who helped gather anecdotes, like fishers with nets gliding on top of the waves.

Ripples led to more ripples, soapy foam silently splashed on sand.

I was there to absorb the stories and wished to show my appreciation for these helpmates.

“Thank you for the excellent obituary of Roxana,” one of her friends wrote, after receiving the pdf.

 “We miss her terribly every day. What a friend she was.”

Here is my response to this woman.

“I am so sorry about the tremendous pain you must all be feeling.

When I write about people they always seem so alive to me. I grow excited about their work and achievements and quirky ways.

“It’s not right that I forget, for a small time, the loss her friends and family feel every moment.

“Thank you for the reminder.”


About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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