Lost, but not forgotten

By Courtney MacDonald

One day in 1995, Cathy Ostlere didn’t get a phone call. She didn’t hear any traumatic news, nor did she suffer or witness any sort of accident. To a stranger, her day would have seemed perfectly happy and quite insignificant — but the simple lack of a phone call was Cathy’s first indication that her brother had disappeared.

Theatre Calgary’s upcoming production of Lost: A Memoir is a one-woman performance featuring the talent of actress Jan Alexandra Smith, adapted from Cathy’s true to life novel of the same name.

Both Cathy Ostlere and her brother David struggled with the notion of a conventional life since childhood, but while David sets off for a life of adventure, Cathy settled down with a family.

“That was something I really had to work on because at any moment, if you gave me a plane ticket, I’d be gone,” she says. “Between the family and the children and keeping the household going, it completely overwhelmed me.”

On his last adventure, David and his girlfriend, Sarah Heald, set sail from Ireland in a boat called Mugwump. No one has heard from them since.

Ostlere’s desperate investigations and years of self-reflection combine to create a difficult and very intimate account of losing a sibling.

“I think any writer who writes a memoir anticipates the entire family will stop talking to you,” Ostlere says. “It took that long to actually let go and to allow myself to be vulnerable and to be exposed.”

The entire writing process took Ostlere 13 years.

“So it wasn’t as much finishing the book as letting it go.”

Now, as Ostlere re-visits the story to help co-writer and director Dennis Garnhum adapt the novel for the stage, she has more distance from the story and from Cathy, the character. Though she doesn’t pursue risks like she used to, her philosophy on how to live is still unconventional.

“I don’t believe in balance. Pretty much any magazine you look at says you need to balance your life, balance your work and your play, and your husbands and girlfriends. I think you need to be off-balance,” she says. “To me a balanced life sounds like a controlled life and I think that’s what I’m always afraid of, when everything’s working so well, I think it’s quite risky that at any moment it could all fall apart.”

Although she doesn’t enjoy anything that puts her life in danger, she breaks the mold by taking different kinds of risks. She has no hesitation accepting an invitation for lunch from strangers on her travels, she’s afraid of open water but she swims three times a week and she’s even hitched a ride in a truck where she had to hide to avoid getting caught by Chinese border patrol. “Okay, I’m not so sure I’d do that anymore,” she laughed. “But mostly I try and say yes a lot.”

Her own adventurous spirit, however is still bursting.

“I always have a ticket somewhere,” she says.

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