Horses in the Sand

a memoir by Lorrie Potvin

Print: 978-1-77133-849-3
260 Pages
May 31, 2022

Horses in the Sand, the author’s sequel to her first book, First Gear: A Motorcycle Memoir, is a collection of stories that document a queer woman’s journey from her sparse beginnings as a child to becoming a tradeswoman, teacher, and artist. With courage, humour, and frank honesty, the stories describe what it was like to grow up as a girl who was starkly different from “normal” and how “coming out” became a lifelong process of self-acceptance and changing identities. The stories also speak to the difficulties in participating in and maintaining healthy adult relationships when childhood beginnings are rooted in violence and trauma, and end with a triumphant account of fulfilling a long-time dream of buying land and building a home with her own hands. Ultimately, the memoir is a celebration of making art, telling stories, and of finding her birth father, a family of half siblings, and an Indigenous community whose presence she had always felt, but never knew she belonged to.

“Lorrie’s stories had me laughing and crying. As an Indigenous woman who has had similar feelings and experiences I found her candor and humor refreshing. Stories from our women are certainly needed in a field once dominated by men’s stories.”
—Beverly Little Thunder, Two-Spirit Lakota Elder, author of the memoir One Bead at a Time (2016)

“Here’s rare and clear-eyed insight, without self-pity, into the complex life of a woman unafraid to have non-traditional dreams and to follow them.  What a pleasure to read the story of a woman who has the courage to be all she can be, in the ways she wants to be it, with respect for the people around her and for her trade, but taking no guff.  Thank you Lorrie Potvin!”
—Kate Braid, author of Journeywoman: Swinging a Hammer in a Man’s World and Hammer & Nail: Notes of a Journeywoman
Horses in the Sand

Tradeswoman, artist, and teacher Lorrie Potvin, a queerishly two-spirited Métis, is the author of Horses in the Sand – A Memoir (spring 2022) and First Gear – A Motorcycle Memoir (2015), published under the surname Jorgensen. Potvin holds an Inter-Provincial Red Seal in Auto Body Repair and Refinishing and a diploma in Technological Education from Queen’s University. Lorrie lives on a lake north of Kingston in the area served by the High Land Waters Métis Council. https://lorriepotvin.ca/

1 review for Horses in the Sand

  1. Inanna Admin

    All My Relations: Reflections on Horses in the Sand
    Horses in the Sand: A Memoir by Lorrie Potvin
    reviewed by Rena Upitis, FRSC, Founding Director, Wintergreen Studios. Professor Emerita, Queen’s University
    February 2022

    One might wonder why Lorrie Potvin invited me to review her utterly compelling memoir, Horses in the Sand. On the surface we have little in common. I’m a tried-and-true scholarly sort, not a single tattoo on my body, and a straight-up cisgendered heterosexual white woman. I am keenly aware that I have lived a life of extraordinary privilege.

    Lorrie avoids wearing skirts because wearing them once made her fearful and identified her as female, which singled her out as “prey.” One of my favourite pre-pandemic pastimes involved driving to New York City, dressing up in a velvet gown, and attending an opera at the Met for a full-on evening of over-the-top Puccini arias. Unlike Lorrie, I have never owned a Harley, nor have I have ever wondered about the identify of my birth father. I don’t battle a chronic illness. I couldn’t imagine forging a career as a welder — my few nearly fatal brushes with a welding torch only reinforce my respect for Lorrie’s skills.

    But carpentry I get. Next to the velvet dresses in my closet are my work clothes. In the opening of the book, Lorrie writes:

    “It was the summer of 2019 when I drove in the last screw holding the bottom stair rail to its post. The rata-tat-tat of the drill echoed sharply through the acreage of trees and across the mirror-like surface of the lake. It only took a few seconds for the drill to stall, satisfied with the set of the Robertson screw… I sighed heavily when I stood, the moan coming from finishing the porch stairs as much as it did from the pain of my back and knees trying to right themselves.”

    I can picture the scene. I expect readers who have built their own homes, sheds, or workshops will feel the same. Indeed, Lorrie and I have built many things together at Wintergreen Studios, an educational retreat centre a mere 20 minutes from where she lives. We talk tools. We share tools. And we solve problems that invariably arise when building or renovating – problems as gnarly as the most complex geometric theorems. As a small woman in her early 60s, I can picture just about everything Lorrie writes about the building process, although in her case, the physical limitations come from living with MS. She tells the story of having several big pieces of glass to move, about starting with the lightest one to build confidence, moving to a heavier one next. That strategy (I know it well) is illustrative of the deliberate planning and choice-making in this kind of creative work.

    I get teaching, too. I taught for decades at the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University where Lorrie received her teaching credentials to become a secondary school shop teacher. And make no mistake, Lorrie is a gifted teacher. I have learned much from her (and not just about carpentry). But her subject and appearance raised eyebrows in the school system. Asked by a student if she was a real teacher, she writes:

    “When I said that I was, she looked confused and said in a voice only teenage girls who know they’re always right can muster, “Teachers don’t wear jeans and black leather biker jackets, you know.” It wouldn’t be the last time someone asked me this question. It usually came from girls who were unable to reconcile my look with what they thought a “girl teacher” should look like. I wore men’s clothes and had my hair cut short, and a couple of my tattoos were visible when I wore short sleeves. The art made some kids gasp and point…The older boys would say, “Nice ink.””

    Lorrie tells many stories about her teaching days, and those of us who have spent time in the classroom will recognize her as one of the teachers we would wish for our own children.

    There is, in this book, much darkness. The little girl who took a stick and drew horses in the sand on a gravel road was lost for many years to violence, addiction, and psychological cruelty. In her childhood years, she and her brothers were taught to “keep secrets, lie, cheat, steal, yell, scream, and beat each other up … to meet every demand, conflict, difficulty, indecision, uncertainty, and fear with anger… it was raging anger built on a bedrock of resentments. It was how we lived, and we knew it as normal.”

    Her early work as a tradeswoman only continued the injustices and cruelty where “sexual harassment, bullying, abuse, lower pay, and paternalistic and hierarchical structures” were the order of the day. Lorrie’s desire to live a better life was seeded from a life with much darkness, coupled with those impulses to make art in the gravel.

    Even before Lorrie discovered her Indigenous ancestry (and believe me, that’s a story that you will want to read for yourself), she had great reverence for the natural world. When she began the decades long process of building her home, she mused about what it is like to build in the bush, about how she learned that “when you build in the bush, the temperamental forces of Mother Earth—the wind, water, and fire, along with her plant and animal nations—immediately start taking over. Some would say they were claiming rightful ownership … by resisting our intrusion.” Here is another place where our worlds intersect. There are many small cabins in the woods at Wintergreen, and non-human guests are a constant. After railing against the unwanted inhabitants, I finally came to understand that there would always be ants and phoebes, deer mice and grey rat snakes living in the crevices, and moreover, that they had every right to be there. There is an Indigenous expression, “all my relations,” that captures this notion. Lorrie writes:

    “When I [say] all my relations, I [am] talking about our relations with self, family, friends, and people. But I [am] also talking about being in kinship with the world we live in: the four-leggeds, the swimmers, the fliers, the crawlers, Mother Earth, the water, Father Sky, the tall standing ones, the plant world, the stars, the energies of Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun, the wind, the thunderers, the rain, the snow, and all the great mysteries lived and yet to be lived. Nothing is lesser than the other and each are vital to the whole. That is all our relations.”

    You will read about how Lorrie’s immersion into Indigenous sharing circles and ceremonies led her back to that young child who drew horses in the sand, how sharing circles and ceremonies were places where she felt accepted and started to heal her “feminine spirit.” She explains that “it was important to recognize my femininity, which I had denied for most of my life, so I could heal the little girl that had been abused and cast aside. At the same time, it was essential I recognized how strongly I carried the masculine spirit and acknowledge the shame and harm I’d done to myself in trying to hide my true nature.”

    Because Lorrie’s writing about teaching and about building the house that she and Paula now call home rings so true, it makes me trust the rest – the stories about worlds that are not mine. This is what makes the work so powerful. It is not just evocative writing, full of beauty and metaphor: it is authentic writing. The details in the particulars illuminate a path which, if we follow, we just might learn to live with all our relations. I am convinced that if we are ever going to mitigate the climate crisis and heal the deep and growing divides in our country, we will only do so when we come together as a truly inclusive community. How to do that? By listening, by forming friendships, by reaching out to those who, on the surface, may not seem to have much in common with us. That is the gift of Horses in the Sand. Read it. Learn about Lorrie and her struggles and triumphs, and in the process, learn more about who you are, and what we must all do to thrive in the tender years to come. With all our relations.

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