Anne Wheeler is perhaps best known as an Albertan documentarian and filmmaker.
In the narrow sense this book is a chronicle of several life events in the 1970’s that shaped her into the filmmaker that she is. However in a more expansive sense it a universal story about certain events in our life that shape who we are today and I think it appropriate to say we all have these moments. I know what mine are but do not know what other transformative events in the future await me.
A “muse” can be defined as a “guiding genius” and Wheeler chronicles events that helped shape her career. And as these stories unfold it is clear her life has been guided by several muses.
One of her muses was Canadian author Margaret Laurence. Wheeler had adapted one of her short stories “To Set Our House in Order” and it was only after the film was made that Laurence called Wheeler and advised her she had to find her own truth, words that truly inspired Wheeler.
She notes that without a strong sense of purpose she became lost and it was only when destiny intervened that her journey of self-discovery truly began. She hopes her stories will stir her readers curiosity about themselves and the lives they are living. She certainly rang a bell with me. After reading the book I can better categorize the events that made me what I am today and we share some similar experiences especially travel opening up the mind and spiritualism giving a better perspective on life. If it can do the same for you if you want to give some thought of the life events that shaped you into what you are today this book is for you.
Let’s glean some nuggets of wisdom from her collection of stories.
In “South of Mombasa” she makes a connection to a different culture through similarities in the cultures.” What I tell them now about my country seems as exciting and strange to me as it does to them.” In explaining her life to these African villagers, she realizes how strange and wonderful Canada is.
In “Downside Up” she takes a perilous ride in a airplane strapped in by men’s belts showing us her courage, ability to improvise and adaptability. It inspired her decision to withdraw from her MA and devote her life to filmmaking.
Wheeler says “But my passion was repeatedly stirred by unexpected challenges, by people who saw me more clearly than I saw myself. There were times when my muse was invisibly at work, provoking me, setting up obstacles, surprising me, triggering some magic, seducing me with the possibility that I could live with purpose, doing something I loved.”
In the “Woman That Didn’t Exist” she is profoundly affected by a resident in a long term facility who gives her a diary she wrote on the condition she promised to make a film about Prairie women who lived an unnoticed life. She says to Wheeler, “Ours is a different kind of history, but it is just as real. My story is your story now, and if you don’t do something with it will be lost. Do you understand that? Lost.”. Yes life can present us with unlimited potential through chance.
My favourite story is “The Devil and the Divine” which is dizzying story of her time spent in an ashram in India where she encounters guru Rajneesh and realized she had lost track of her purpose “I’ve become more competitive and less forgiving. While trying to prove myself I think I have lost my sense of purpose. I have so caught up in being as good as “the boys” that I lost my love of making films.” In the ashram she is given the name Ma Deva Mugdha translated as madly in love with the devil and the divine! Wheeler admits she may have been lost in her life journey. Here she loses her mind in a spiritual sense and deals with some of the tragedies and sorrows her life including being raped as a teenager. She finds healing in self compassion and mediation. In Western terms she has discovered mindfulness and radical acceptance and its healing powers and she finally feels ready to go on. She also discovers the death of a friend at the ashram that sent her reeling yet finding a new balance and finally saying good-bye to her dead father as she was denied the opportunity to say good-bye. “Life feels fresh and free. My burden of self doubt and guilt has been lifted. I walk away from the ashram, with an easy swing in my step, calmness in my being. I will try to live up to my new name – Ma Deva Mugda- in love with the Devil and Divine” and remind myself to do everything with awareness.” My father died when I was nine yet I never had the chance to say good-bye. 40 years later like Anne I accepted the death of my father through meditation and self compassion and forgiveness,
The last story in “Sheet on the Wall” where she films the life of a half Cree woman Augusta Evans. Augusta tells her to tell her own stories by starting with herself. Tell the stories that no one else can she tells Wheeler.
Feel free to take Wheeler’s book as a good fun read or perhaps something more seriously being taking stock of how you got to where you are now and being aware of who you are.
Or like me enjoy the stories and realize how your life has shaped you.
Published by NeWest Press and it sells for $20.95 Canadian and $16.95 USD. You can order the book at www.annewheeler.com
Wheeler has received the Order of Canada and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Director’s Guild of Canada.
If you are outside Canada best to order through Amazon, Indigo or Barnes and Noble.