Jessika Hepburn explores the role that language plays in community care at With/Out Pretend’s upcoming digital storytelling event

This Thursday, With/Out Pretend is hosting On Distance: a digital storytelling event. The night will explore how the collective pandemic experience has made us think differently about distance—from an emotional, physical, geographical, and social perspective.  
 
In anticipation, we’ve connected with a few of the speakers that are lined up, starting with Jessika Hepburn, co-owner of The Biscuit Eater Cafe & Books, a rural cafe and bookstore in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.
 
A beloved East Coast gem, The Biscuit Eater Cafe & Books has always prioritized community care, but in recent months it became a central hub of activity and support, providing a lifeline for social connection, as well as helping neighbours in numerous ways, including offering no and low cost food to those in need.
 
When asked to share about Distance, what first came to your mind?
 
The distance, and closeness, that words can create between us. Like measuring the distance between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. How can whole lifetimes and generations of meaning exist between words? One word can wound, hold histories spanning continents, a legacy of hurt and violence, unimaginable distance, such rage. What words are needed now to bring us closer together so that we can bridge those distances between us and use words to heal instead of harm? 
 
How do you think social distance, or living in isolation, has changed you?
 
We own a cafe and bookstore with a mandate of community care in rural Nova Scotia so instead of isolation, we ended up working almost 13 weeks without a day off while parenting full time through a pandemic and Canada’s largest mass shooting. The days were busy feeding people, coordinating housing, advocating for vulnerable neighbours and better policy throughout the lock down. As an incredibly social person who has dedicated my life to community and service this was an opportunity to explore new ways of safely offering connection and care to help people from feeling isolated and bring us together while being apart. There is a big difference between physical distancing and social isolation! 

What helped you move through these past few months? And what was it about that activity that provided you comfort?
 
I hosted weekly take out or delivery dinner parties with a set menu and book or film suggestions during lockdown. Each week we went somewhere new so we could travel together, learn, and share a meal in community. It was beautiful! We travelled to Chinatown in East Vancouver to learn about gentrification and eat a pile of dim sum, there was a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy themed take out tea party complete with Don’t Panicotta because pandemics are better with puns, we also learned about my Black family’s culinary history with a Southern Comfort dinner of fried chicken with all the fixings. Folks who could pay did, folks who couldn’t were fed. Caring for and mothering others with comfort food always comforts me, we need each other so badly.

What subject did you become more interested in?
 
Helping Lunenburg, Nova Scotia the town we’ve raised our kids in reckon with racism and a colonial past by researching and sharing it’s Black and Mi’kmaq history including how Edward Cornwallis ordered the destruction of the Mi’kmaq and Acadian village that existed here for over 120 years helping erase knowledge of E’se’katik and how Sylvia of Lunenburg was a Black woman enslaved by a man named Creighton who became famous for her heroicdeeds during an American raid. As a test to see how receptive our town was to these conversations I started a petition to change a couple street signs and have found the response suuuuuuuper interesting.
 
What have you been dreaming of lately?
 
I dream of radical rest, the kind of rest we can have when all of us are permitted the luxury of staying home, with someplace to come home to, food in our bellies, security in our communities and the utter abolition of racism, white supremacy, and oppression in every form. A world where we can all simply be, and breathe, and garden, and eat, and dream together. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
 
What five words would you choose to sum up the past 5 months for you?
 
“Without community, there is no liberation” ~Audre Lorde
 
We’re certain Thursday’s event will be a nourishing one. Reserve your spot now, and follow Jessica on Instagram at @jessikahepburn. 
 

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