by Kim Kelly

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
JO

Our latest and most lovely Reflector is the wonderful person who, in her sharp-brained and super-enthusiastic way, said to me one day a few years ago, ‘Kim, I think you should have a blog.’ I told her I wasn’t so sure about that – what on earth would I talk about on a blog? Rather a lot, as it has turned out, hm?

So, now you know who to blame for my mad rambling here. But apart from that, Jo McClelland is a bookseller and a beautiful writer herself, with plenty to say for that self as well. And through our shared love of words, she’s someone who has become a treasured friend.

A brave one, too – answering our Big Seven questions on life and love right here…

Who are you and where were you born?

I was born in a place that no longer exists; North York was swallowed up by Toronto some years ago so that my passport confuses border people. But that is still an easier question than “who am I?”

The problem is it’s easy enough to answer “what am I?” I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife and a friend. I am a writer and a storyteller. I’m a shop girl and a wonderer, a seeker and climber. I listen well in French and communicate best through email, and if the weather is right, I can sing. I prefer to read outside and eat on the floor. I once swam with stingrays on purpose and the most magical place I’ve ever been is a village in Nice. I have a mountain soul and I sometimes believe six impossible things before breakfast.

But who am I not in regards to you or any other person; not related to what I do or where I am or even what I read?

I’m someone looking for the answer to that question.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

One summer, I decided to create Panda Bear Magazine. I was reporter and illustrator as well as managing editor. I called aunties and asked questions about their families, and wrote articles; included interviews and I think even a family recipe. My mother said that I taught myself to read by writing that magazine.

I distinctly remember asking her to tell me how to spell ‘remember.’ When I write that word I actually can smell what she was cooking in the kitchen. I can feel the chair and table under me. I can see the whole room as it was even though I have to work to remember that house. And I feel my hand writing the word on an envelope even when I’m typing it.  

The first issue of Panda Bear Magazine came out at the end of August, but there was never a second issue, due to the start of school.

What does home mean for you?

Since I was small I have had the ability to make myself at home anywhere. I arranged any new space to feel at home even with minimal belongings and drawings or writings. I’ve always felt transient and never let a space control me. There are some places that I choose to frequent but home is a place inside my head. The closest I’ve ever gotten in the real world is a bookshop in the Lithgow valley, with huge windows, soft chairs, a mountain view and a coffee shop next door.

What makes you smile?

Those wonderful mornings, when I walk out my front door, look up into the mountains and think, “I love living here.” My husband’s way with words and also his kisses on my neck. Like most people, I love getting mail; especially packages and fresh flowers; or saying “hello” to a friend whom I haven’t seen in a while; or curling up in a patch of sunlight with a really, really good book. My baby’s infectious giggles are super contagious and I can’t help but laugh at my dad’s jokes. And nothing gives me more joy than when two people I love share a smile and a cuddle.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

I had a bad case of the “know-it-alls” when I was nineteen. Ten years later I had to face myself in the mirror and accept that sometimes life just doesn’t turn out like you planned, no matter how hard you try to hold onto it. I had to forgive myself, let go of my teenaged-ideals and start from scratch. The result, I hope, is I’m a little wiser, a little kinder, and less judgmental of others who have taken a left turn in life. I have also discovered that thirty isn’t too old to start living the life you want and people who have been hurt are some of the most caring, tolerant, and understanding of those who have lost it all.

Who or what is the love of your life?

A year ago, my answer would have been so different. This year I have fallen in love with a little person who loves music, dogs, books, and Jatz. She’s the delight of my every day and a super warm cuddle buddy when it’s cold. I didn’t realize I could love someone as much as I do my daughter. When she wakes me up in the middle of the night for a cuddle, her warmth lulls me back to sleep. When I see her smiling face in the morning, I don’t mind getting out of bed.  The best smell in the world is the freshly shampooed head of a baby girl. She roars like a scary dragon, chirps like a cricket, and claps for more. I feel like the reason my body hasn’t returned to my pre-pregnancy size is because my heart swelled when she was born.

What do your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

My father came to Canada on a boat from Northern Ireland and my mother’s mother was French Canadienne and could trace her family back generations. Theses cultures, traditions, and languages have enchanted me since I was young, like I was descendant from two magical groups of people here on Earth as much as if my ancestors were Tolkien’s elves.

Even more than the people who lived and led to me, are the readers in my family tree, like my mother, who named me for Jo March in Little Women, by Louise May Alcott. At my most disconnected – A.K.A. my teenaged years – I still felt connected to that book through Alcott’s character. Even on days I hated my own name, I loved that I was named Jo.

Jo was on the lookout for something extraordinary. She longed for Europe and New York and all those place that are “so good for writers”. Through my name, I feel as though I have not only inherited Little Women, but also every book, library and bookstore. These are the homes of my ancestors and each one holds a story from my histories.

My husband and I wanted to pass all this onto our daughter, giving her a name that was both French and Irish in origin, and was fresh from the pages of a book by Joanne Harris. Vianne is a free spirit, following the North wind with a love of chocolate and an imaginary kangaroo. All this felt, to me, like a good starting place to not only share the history I grew up with, but to, also, give my daughter a history all her own.

Isn’t that one of the most beautiful gifts for a child ever? Thank you for sharing that, Jo, and for your sparkling prose.

One thing Jo hasn’t mentioned is the fabulous bookshop she and her husband Paul own in Lithgow – A Reader’s Heaven – and you can find out more about their trove of wonder here.

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