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Sheds and the art of motherhood

Writer Tracy Aisenstat dedicated to stories, the arts and her kids

By: Viola Pruss

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 18, 2013 06:00 am

BUSY LADY – Tracy Aisenstat is a writer, mother and active force in the local arts community.
BUSY LADY – Tracy Aisenstat is a writer, mother and active force in the local arts community.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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Tracy Aisenstat, Q&A

What is your favourite book?
“The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It's a French book originally and I love it because it's about this pilot – his plane crashes – and he runs into the Little Prince who is from another planet.
And it's all about the kid talking about why adults are so obsessed with matters of consequence when all that really matters to him is that he has a rose on his planet that is dying. The whole thing has just been really my philosophy of life.”

If you could fly to Mars, would you go?
“I would take the trip but I would let my husband go because that would be his penultimate dream. I wouldn't take the one-way ticket. I couldn't leave my kids and all my stuff. Unless I could take them but then they wouldn't be able to have a normal life.”

Where would you like to go?
“I really want to go to Iceland because that's probably the only real trace to my heritage. My grandmother is a hundred per cent Icelandic and then the rest is just so mixed. I would love to go just to see if I have any kind of connection.
Being Canadian, it's kind of hard to feel connected to anything. Which is maybe why art is so important to me.”

If you could be a piece of art, what would you be?
“I would be a sculpture. One of the four statues on the river by St. Albert Place. The engagement with the public is just so great. And they are smooth and beautiful and they look great. They look great in the winter and in the summer. I wish I could do that.”

Two summers ago, Tracy Aisenstat decided home and work don't mix, so she built herself a shed.

The wooden building in her backyard now has windows and a door, is drywalled and insulated, and only needs paint, flooring and some furniture before it can be christened a writer's hideaway.

"It was a journey into what I can accomplish," she says. "It's the first thing I built."

While she's a writer at heart, Aisenstat wears many hats.

Foremost, she wears the large top hat of motherhood. But there are many others that have been groomed throughout her life. Most of them are connected to her passion, the arts.

Aisenstat is a mom, a writer, a poet, and a constant presence at many theatre and arts festivals around the city.

"And then I have another job where I record exams for students with disabilities for NAIT," she laughs, and drops her voice a tone lower. "That's when I put on my recording voice."

She's also the person who may pick up on a phrase you say at the pharmacy or hair salon, and use it for a play or a book. She observes the people around her, she says, for inspiration.

Despite what seems a busy lifestyle, Aisenstat values a slower way of life.

She listens to old radio plays and often thinks the times were easier then. Based on the commercials from the '50s, all you needed to do was cook a good pot of coffee when you wanted to be a great person, she laughs.

She also cares deeply about family values and creating a tight bond between all members of the household. That's why she and her husband Kelly decided that one of them would stay home with the kids, she says.

As a youth, she thought she'd be a veterinarian, but her teachers and friends encouraged her to go into storytelling or communications. So she went to theatre school at the University of British Columbia and fell in love with playwriting.

"I always wrote as a kid, a lot. In junior high I wrote and wrote and wrote – poems and stories," she says. "And I still have it all. It's not very good but there's a lot."

She also met Kelly, an actor, at university.

They decided to have a family but discovered that buying a house was more expensive than they could afford. So he started law school while she worked recording the on-hold messages you listen to on the phone for automotive companies.

They planned to have children after Kelly finished his schooling but Tracy got pregnant with their son the weekend he started, she laughs. In 1999, the family moved to St. Albert, where she gave birth to a daughter. Another daughter followed a few years later.

"I always really wanted to stay home with the kids," she says. "We struggled but we made it work."

Today, Kelly works with the St. Albert Theatre Troupe, while their children perform with the St. Albert Children's Theatre. She also made sure the kids play musical instruments – mostly piano – not to push them into a career but to have an outlet for their emotions, she says.

"When you watch reruns of Family Guy I don't think you have a lot of emotion," she says. "Not to say that I don't do it."

She admits to being lazy sometimes, "because she's a mom." But once the shed is finished, she'll have no more excuses to put off writing the many stories in her head, she says.

"That's scary too," she laughs.

Aisenstat does find time to write her own poetry and plays between organizing events and driving everyone to theatre practice. Some of her plays have been performed across the Prairies, while she submits her poetry to local festivals. This fall she also started a blog called Stage Mom, which appears on the St. Albert Gazette website.

Aisenstat wishes that more people would find the courage to get involved with their artistic side and not be too embarrassed by reactions, she says. If there were only more studies that showed the health benefits of doing that, she laughs.

"I like being the playwright in the audience when people are laughing," she says. "I love it even more when I can make them cry, because then I know I've done something to make them feel."


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