Asee N Silla Interview

Asee N Silla was born in a hillside village in Sicily and immigrated to Canada in the late fifties with her family. She was one of eight children. The death of her two young sisters left her with a deep sadness and continues to influence her life. After graduating from theatre, she formed a number of theatre companies. She has trained actors in Canada, India and New York City for over twenty years as well as successfully producing videos. She published her first book, ‘Love Beads,’ with Pegasus Publishers on November 30, 2023.

Love Beads is a soft version of The Odyssey. While The Odyssey is fraught with storms, fights, physical challenges and death in order to explore the world, relationships and one’s limits on the journey home, Love Beads is fraught with self-denial, abuse, self-doubt and chasing false hopes in order to explore the world, relationships, and one’s limits to return home with self-love.

The following is an edited transcript of an interview with Asee that covers her hopes for the book, the journey it took to getting published, healing from grief, what it means to be an artist, and more.

Congratulations on publishing your first book! How does it feel?

      It hasn’t quite hit me—I was really excited two years ago when they accepted it, but now I’m just going through the process. I think I'll really feel excited once I know how people are going to respond to it.

How do you hope that people respond to it?

      I would like it to inspire them and give them some hope. A friend of mine who had been going through a lot of difficulties read it, and she loved the book. When she got to the end, she laid down and put it on her heart and laid there for 20 minutes. When she told me that, I felt really, really happy about it.

This book deals with very vulnerable feelings of shame, guilt, and uncertainty. How did you feel writing that, and was it hard to put on the page?

      No, it wasn't hard. What happened is I wrote it in 2006 after I picked up this tiny little book while travelling called the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, who is a Persian writer. I found myself really liking the way he wrote. The first part starts:

“Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night

Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:

    And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught

The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.”

      So I found myself reading that, and then all these images came to me, and I literally wrote it in about 3 days. It just poured out of me once I discovered the rhythm and the style. 

      Like I said, this was in 2006, and I had been writing poetry all my life and kind of took it for granted, so I didn’t do anything about it. Then, about 4 years ago, a friend of mine was helping me publish–well, it’s not really publishing, but we put my poems together, and she put some images to them. So I started thinking–the reaction to Love Beads was quite strong, and I shared it with a publisher in Ottawa and they wanted to publish it, but I said no because at that time I wasn't ready for some reason.

      Then two years ago, I thought maybe I should do something about it. That's when I picked it up again, and then Pegasus took it up.

That's a long time in between. Was it just the passing time that you needed, or was there something that happened that helped you feel ready to publish it?

      I'm not sure. I was busy working in 2006. I was working full-time. I don't think I had the courage for that, and I guess it's taken me all that time. 

      Way back in 1978, I had an opportunity to be on National radio for about an hour, and it fell through, but I was glad that it didn't happen because I wasn’t ready for the attention then; now I feel ready for it. I think there's something about being ready for things when they're meant to happen. 

      There was a very popular TV series in the 70s on at 11 o’clock at night called Mary Hartman, and I had the privilege of meeting the actress who played Mary. I had lunch with her, and she said she was in her early twenties at the time and never expected the tsunami of attention she got, and she wasn't prepared for it. It was good for me to talk to her about it. Getting attention requires a certain emotional preparation, and I feel ready for it now. I wouldn't have been ready five years ago.

That makes a lot of sense. I imagine that to get that much attention, you have to be very still and centred inside to avoid getting pulled apart by other people's opinions.

      That's absolutely right. I think I've come to a point in my life where I feel very centred and very still. And very much at peace.


If you don't want to talk about this, you don't have to, but a part of what intrigued me about your author bio was that you put in the matter of the death of your two younger sisters. I figured there's a lot that you could have put in, but you chose that. So I was wondering if you could talk a bit more about how they influenced your life and your creativity.

      I was kind of like a mother to my sisters. I came from a family with eight children at the time, and their deaths influenced me a lot. It hurt me in a number of ways–one of them being that, as children, my siblings and I never really dealt with their deaths. We cried together, we had the funeral, we did all these things, but we never really talked about what our sisters meant to us. 

      One of the things that I've been thinking about is how we integrate deaths in our lives. A lot of people say to just move on, but what are we moving on from? What's become clear to me is that we have to integrate our past with our present in order to shape a future. Suppressing our past doesn't deepen our sense of ourselves and doesn't strengthen who we are.

      So, my sisters died. Every time I think about them, I do cry. They were angels. I think about them a lot. I've got five other siblings, and it would be really nice to get together to cry with them and talk about what they meant to us, but we've never done that, and at the time, there was really nobody that could help us do that. It was really hard on our parents. So we were there to support our parents, but nobody was there to support us. One of my sisters died in a car accident, and our youngest brother, who played with her all the time, when he goes past that spot, he’ll say, “This is where she died, this is where she died.” So it's still very present to us.

      I love the Jewish shiva because they take the time to mourn, and I find we treat death today like fast food. We get over it really quickly, and I think we need to take time to mourn or else it continues to stay within us.

Yes, it does. There’s an idea that really stuck with me from a Dr. Lois Tonkin that goes something like ‘grief doesn't get smaller, but your life grows around it.’ And there’s this beautiful image that goes with it where people expect grief to get smaller and smaller, but it doesn’t. So instead your life grows, and as you add more to it, grief gets smaller in proportion to the rest of your life, but there's this core of scar tissue and love that never changes.


Out of everything you've done, and it doesn't have to be work related, what are you most proud of?

      I think that my greatest creations are my sons. Yeah, yeah, they were. It took me a while to understand that. I was trying to prove myself as an artist and so on, then one year I brought them to Cuba with me, and I just realised this, this is the greatest creation. Good solid human beings with integrity. It's key. It's really what it's all about. 

      My sons have gone out into the world. One of them is going to France and doing trampwall with Disney and at the same time working on a PhD thesis on the impact of drugs on the brain, and another son set up his own company to deal with dogs. So I–knock on wood–just hope they continue to have integrity and contribute to themselves and to others. One of the things I said to them when they were venturing off is, “Your biggest adventure is to find something that'll give you energy and joy every day. That's the only thing worth having.”


How do you select your projects?

      Well, I did a T.V. series on the media, and that series came about because I was dealing with very small cultural groups that were having a hard time getting in touch with the mainstream media to have their stories heard. And I knew people in mainstream media who were saying they don't know who to contact in various minority groups. So I created a project that came out of that need. So to answer your question, my projects come out of a need. I don't think of a project–the need is first, and I respond to it. It's something that I see and feel in the community.

      I've never been motivated by money. It's more… yeah, I just wanted to do things because I needed to do it. I was fulfilling something. But you have to create a situation where you can earn money for yourself. I always think about Anton Chekhov. He was a doctor, and he wrote these wonderful plays, but he wasn’t dependent on them for his livelihood. I feel really lucky that I was able to teach and hone my skills and understanding of theatre and teaching, and when I left it, I have all of this time now, and I don't have to depend on my writing or my artwork to get money.

      I explained this to a friend of mine who’s a writer. She really wants to be recognised, and she wants to make money out of it, and I said to her, “If you have someone coming to your home, and they're doing repairs, would you want someone who's doing it just for the money, or would you want someone who really loved what they're doing?” 

      And she said, “The person who really loved it would go that extra mile.” 

      And I said, “Yeah, not only would they go that extra mile, you’ll want them again, and they’ll profit because people are willing to pay for them because they love what they're doing and do a really good job. And I would say the same thing applies to art. You do it because you love it, not because you're going to get money from it or because you're going to be recognised. That’ll happen in time, and if it doesn't happen, that's okay, too.”

      I used to teach theatre classes in New York, and I had to admire these people. They wanted so badly to be actors that they'd be waiting tables and all these other things, yet they'd be there in the morning, taking these classes. Because that's what they loved, and that was truly amazing. One gal was a lawyer in Montreal, and she would go back to Montreal every weekend to do her cases and to fulfil whatever it was that she was fulfilling, and then she'd be back in class on Monday. 

I’m glad we’re talking about this because I imagine a lot of people who are reading this are trying to pursue creative careers, so it’s good to hear how others start becoming actors and artists.

      When I was dealing with Pegasus, one of the first things they asked was what kind of blurb I wanted to write on the back cover. They were initially going to lay out the plot of the story, and I said no, it's a soft version of the Odyssey. When I first thought about it, I thought this was really arrogant, but then I thought about it a bit more, and the most difficult war we have is the war within ourselves, and we never really talk about it. The character is going through this internal war, wanting something but wanting something outside of herself, and it's not until she kind of realises that that's not what's going to give her what she wants that she can then settle down. I was participating in a conference last week, talking to artists, and I was listening to this one man who was very creative, and he was saying he only started to express his art when he started to call himself an artist.

      And I thought, we don't need to give ourselves the permission to call ourselves an artist. We are just creative, expressive beings, and we just have to give ourselves permission to do that all the time. If we just give ourselves the chance to experiment and be creative, not necessarily in art or music but even just being creative when planting or being creative when cooking or being creative when arranging our homes. These are all expressions of our creativity; we just have to own it moment by moment by finding the beauty in everything we do.


Do you have any closing remarks?

      Everything's an experiment, and there’s no right or wrong as long as you’re not harming anyone. Just experience things as fully as possible, and be true to yourself, and…yeah, we just have one life really. Go do the best that you can with it.

      And thank you for taking the time to interview me. I really appreciate it.

Asee N Silla

Asee N Silla was born in a hillside village in Sicily and immigrated to Canada in the late fifties with her family. She was one of eight children. The death of her two young sisters left her with a deep sadness and continues to influence her life. After graduating from theatre, she formed a number of theatre companies after she graduated. She has trained actors in Canada, India and New York City for over twenty years as well as successfully producing videos. She published her first book, ‘Love Beads,’ with Pegasus Publishers on November 30, 2023.