Falling into Flight: A Memoir of Life and Dance
By Kaija Pepper. Signature Editions, 168 pp, softcover
Often, memoirs skip along the surface of the author’s life even when they provide juicy insights into past events. This is especially so with books written by retired politicians, business leaders, or film stars.
It’s far rarer to come across a memoir that delves deeply into the author’s feelings, both in the past and in the present, while maintaining compassionate insights about others who may have caused them pain. And that, along with terrific storytelling, is what makes Dance International editor Kaija Pepper’s new book, Falling into Flight, so utterly compelling.
The Vancouver dance historian bares all about her five years in therapy. Pepper reveals her bumpy relationships with men. She shares how she felt, as a Concordia University student, when noted film professor and Jesuit priest Marc Gervais kissed her unexpectedly after a day of cross-country skiing. There are tales of hitchhiking and nearly being raped. And her vivid descriptions of her parents, including their deaths, will make any reader revisit their own upbringing.
There’s something eerily voyeuristic about reading this book. It’s so damn intimate.
There’s similar candour about why Pepper was so attracted to writing about dance. She bluntly states that dance doesn’t receive nearly as much respect from other artists as other areas of creative endeavour. Again, more honesty.
Then there are stark revelations from her family history, which are at the core of the memoir. Her father immigrated from Finland as a child; her mother immigrated from Siberia via China.
This isn’t Mommie Dearest—Pepper has too much empathy for others to simply trash her mother. But there are moments in Falling into Flight when her mom’s lack of consideration helps explain how Pepper’s life unfolded. Through therapy, she learns that family dynamics of a mother and daughter competing for a father’s attention contributed to her lifelong eagerness to seek approval.
“I would never be free of my parents’ influence,” she writes. “Our relationship remained a source of psychic energy I couldn’t seem to mature beyond, the need to please was too deeply embedded: not just in my interactions with other people, but also in the creative drive I began for the first time to question. My work as a writer was apparently no more than a way to gain approval, a stupidly onerous way.”
In the acknowledgements, Pepper praises Vancouver writer Evelyn Lau for providing a second professional edit, noting that “her poet’s expertise in looking deeply into language, structure and the human spirit were humbling”. For readers who relish Lau’s courage in dissecting her life in books, magazine pieces, and poems, they’ll find a fellow traveller in Pepper.
Falling into Flight certainly enhances one’s literacy about dance. But even more importantly, it opens one’s mind to the freedom that comes from true self-awareness. Pepper demonstrates how this can be achieved through deep introspection while maintaining a tremendous capacity to identify with others. Bravo!