Lost Nation Road
Letter from Stephen Jenkinson about the Film
I’ve been on the receiving end of the documentation process before. It took me a while, a good while, to make my peace with what was there and what wasn’t. It became a precious lesson which, like so many of the good ones, wasn’t welcome at the time. I realized that I’d no business superintending how I seemed to be, what I seemed to mean. Instead, I wrote something, I said something, and those somethings went out into the world and rose and fell by their merits, by the styles of the times, by the thousand other mechanics of reconciliation that beset our labours. Either you trust almost no one, and micromanage every nuance, and tell people what it all means, as much as you can cipher, or you trust someone, or something, and you wish your meanings well on their sojourn towards consequence and towards the lives of others, and you count on a little mercy attending their way.
It was something like an enormous stretch to segue a few years back from a one man act to an undeclared, inchoate partnership with a singer I didn’t know, Gregory Hoskins. Something was born then that I didn’t know was possible, or would ever be compelling to anyone else. It was doubly enormous to entrust that little enterprise to the ministrations, instincts and chops of a band of musicians. It was one of the few irreducibly wise things I’ve done, and the enterprise has been honoured and lifted by Adam Hay and Adam Bowman and Colleen Hodgson and Lisa Hodgson, by the profession of their souls and the soul of their profession.
And then I asked them to imagine that this delicate, righteous enterprise we called Nights of Grief and Mystery might survive, even be favoured by, being documented. If they didn’t think it was a good idea, they didn’t let on. They let a jangle of camera/sound people into the Grief and Mystery kitchen, the womb of the thing, and risked the weft of it all in doing so. Ian Mackenzie directed the blizzard of details. He is a friend of Orphan Wisdom, a film making storyteller who has translated me more than once for his jittery generation. This is his honourable take on the conjuring that we do not command.
Years ago in early spring I was driving the back roads of the Wilno Hills in the Ottawa Valley. Threre was that grey light of dusk, the first buds’ shimmer of lime back in the bush. I was thinking about my working life, what it had begun to be: the unlikely appearance of a shy person before hundreds of vaguely interested or remotely hostile audiences all over the world, being troubled aloud, making a case for heartbreak, for the unauthorized history of this ragged fantasy called North America. I was thinking about the emails coming in, the testaments to mortality and to amazement, thinking about the strange business of being let into the lives of strangers just at that time of undoing and awful power rising.
I came up over a rise a little too fast and felt the tires argue with the gravel, and drifted slightly sideways. Unless you do that a lot – I don’t – it’s unnerving, good practice for seeing your whole life pixilated before you.
I came to rest in the dust, and sat in the truck by the side of the road, and thought about how easy, how quickly things can go sideways. I remembered again what I’d in my busyness and the inelegance of haste forgotten: how lucky I was to still be alive, still be upright and at it, even in this troubled time – especially in this troubled time. There was a government issue white on green road sign maybe one hundred feet away. With unarguable authority and calm the sign said: LOST NATION ROAD. And I knew that that’s where I was, and that’s where I was headed, and that was why I had the gig I did. That road sign located me. Gave me my marching orders. Still does. Always will.
And that’s where Ian got the name for his film, from that story, that moment. Lost Nation Road is a true story of people brailing their mysteries. And it really happened.
~ Stephen Jenkinson
About Lost Nation Road
Lost Nation Road is a glimpse behind-the-scenes of a soulful mystery train, an ode to wonder, and a love letter for the willingness to know endings featuring Stephen Jenkinson and Gregory Hoskins.
For years, Stephen Jenkinson led the palliative care department at a major Canadian hospital. Sitting at the deathbeds of over 1000 people, he discovered again and again “a wretched anxiety” around death. He recognized this death phobia it is not a personal issue, but a symptom of a larger cultural absence, including the loss of elders. Soon after Stephen and his wife Nathalie opened the Orphan Wisdom School – a learning house for “elders-in-training.” This fall, he’s heading on the road one more time, alongside veteran Canadian musician Gregory Hoskins for the ‘Nights of Grief and Mystery’ tour. LOST NATION ROAD weaves a compelling case for what happened to elders in this culture, the consequence on youth today, and what can be done for the generations to come.
Watch: Interview with Director Ian MacKenzie
Listen: Q&A with Stephen Jenkinson and Ian MacKenzie
Watch: Interview with Lisa Hodgson