If I have a favourite kind of personal essay, this sharp, beautifully composed, heartfelt piece exemplifies it. Thanks to Rene Denfeld for the rec. “The Man in the Mirror” by Alison Kinney comes highly recommended. So glad I read it.
sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, March, 2018, mixed media, 9×12, paper
Pharting around at sketching today, late today because I had an ultrasound at the hospital–yay! stand down on cancer scare! When I arrive at the atelier (which, here, is upstairs at the Lion’s Club), the model is usually doing one and two-minute poses, and my hand warms up, drops its daily concerns, finding its lines, remembering how to draw into the body, remembering how to make lines occupy space. Today I was only there for two long poses (long poses are usually 20 minutes). Since I started with this group in Jan, I’ve done something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now–I’ve let myself play.
A long time ago, I started sketching in Bali. I was a photographer and couldn’t (from overseas) find a model, and so I signed up in Ubud for a day-long sketching session. I was really pleasantly surprised at what came out of my pencil, and I kept drawing. I’d drawn as a kid, a lot, and had been put into art classes which bored me to tears (perspective! it still bores me! I would fall down dead if I had to draw architecture!), but then I was told to do a self-portrait, which I did in front of my mother’s makeup mirror, above the mascara cake she always spit in, its little brush, her foundation and rouge, her pair of yellow earrings. I contorted my expression, and finally settled on horrified. I drew myself like The Scream, and I was really proud. I’d only ever been proud of horse drawings before that. But people were uniformly horrified. My mother, aghast. My teacher revolted.
So I quit. I must have been in grade six, so eleven, and I quit drawing for forty years. I was terrified of it, in fact. Any time someone said, “Pictionary?” I froze.
Until Ubud. From Ubud, I started taking night classes, some with James Picard. I started going to the Vancouver atelier which had just then moved to Main Street–what was cool about it was that it had sessions every day. What was uncool was that I was too disabled to park far from it and walk carrying a portfolio (not really a portfolio, just drawing supplies, which are heavy), so I had to stop. I kept taking classes, classes with Emily Carr, classes with artists I met through the atelier, and a shit-ton of classes with Justin Ogilvie. I liked Justin; I loved his work. One day, though, he said something very unkind–something like Well, you’ll produce something worth looking at in six years. On the spot, I quit for six years.
When I got over myself again, I started a certificate program at Emily Carr. But I kept having heart surgeries and not getting to class. And then I kept coming up against the fact that Emily Carr wanted me to have a broad education–which is to say, take that perspectives class again and a class on running a business, and these I had and have utterly no interest again. I want to draw figures, and I want those figures to be women or non-binary or trans. I have no interest in drawing cis men. When you are as sick and disabled as I am, you get particular. I started teaching myself at home instead, which made sense because I was mostly relegated, then, to a chair with my feet up against heart failure, and I could hold small drawing paper on my lap. I spent some time living in a friend’s apartment in Paris, and I found I was too disabled to use the transit system, so I was house-bound, and I gesso’d paper and painted on that, nothing too large to carry home in a suitcase (I was too disabled to get to the PO). I found some double sided tape and taped these (bright) paintings to the walls of the apartment, ceiling to floor. I only went out for two reasons: food, with a little cart/bag that I pulled, or art galleries, where I could borrow wheelchairs. I spent that time intensely engaged in writing and art/art history.
I’ve been seeking something in my fingers. It’s been inchoate–I guessed it was a “breakthrough,” but I don’t actually draw or paint often enough to have one of those. Still, suddenly, it seems far closer to me.
I’ve always previously been preoccupied with an accuracy I could never obtain, which kept my style stiff, and I have thrown that concern the hell out the window now. For a few years, mostly outside ateliers, classes and degrees, I’ve taught myself to draw lines. Over and over again, drawing without looking at the page, drawing without lifting the pen, drawing without lifting the pen while not looking at the page. Over and over, practicing lines, which is to say, rather than doing a figure with chicken-scratch, a thousand teeny tiny lines to get from armpit to waist, as is my natural wont, I’ve forsaken that for long lines in ink or paint and no chance to re-do. Committed, as you will. I’ve also tried to take poses to the fewest lines I could manage (a la Picasso’s animals). This was a very useful home-study. Now I’m just sitting in the atelier each week with my body screaming in pain (from the setup, from my auto immune disorder, from carrying in supplies), having fun. Not second-guessing my impulses, not thinking–in paper, in media, in line–just scribbling like a kid, making happy and occasionally felicitous mistakes. I don’t care what mediums I’m combining–I’ve put acrylic with charcoal with conte with pastels with watercolour blocks and back again. I just want my representation of a person to breathe on the page–and care nothing at all if the model is represented. (Partly I just don’t see well enough to do that sort of drawing any longer.)
All the while, I’m working beside actual artists who are honing their considerable skills. I watch with awe. And awe again at my luck in being able to be near people so talented. When I get over my shyness, I’ll ask if I can sit beside them to learn.
So, here is Marianne from today, hot off the presses, and some other sketches from other weeks from the 1-5 min bunches:
In Canada, a woman other than Queen Elizabeth II is finally on our currency in a $10 bill that will go into circulation later this year. Not quite certain of why we can’t replace all the men all at once and for as long as women have been excluded, but I guess it’s a first step. Read all about Viola Desmond, the Black Nova Scotian jailed for sitting in the white section of a movie theatre years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, here:
For decades, I read the Globe and Mail daily, and when I turned to the obit section, I would see that in Canada only white heterosexual men ever died, and I’d always breathe a sigh of relief. If they kept on being the only Canadians succumbing, well then, the rest of us might live long enough to see equality. Hope the Globe sees fit to do exactly what the Times is doing:
At the NY Times, obits have been dominated by white men–as selectors, as subjects. Today, they unveil a new column, Overlooked, to redress the problem. I’ve reprinted the introduction here. Follow the links as the stories are fascinating and well worth your investment of time.
Obituary writing is more about life than death: the last word, a testament to a human contribution.
Yet who gets remembered — and how — inherently involves judgment. To look back at the obituary archives can, therefore, be a stark lesson in how society valued various achievements and achievers.
Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female.
Charlotte Brontë wrote “Jane Eyre”; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.
Below you’ll find obituaries for these and others who left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked. We’ll be adding to this collection each week, as Overlooked becomes a regular feature in the obituaries section, and expanding our lens beyond women.
Happy International Womxn’s Day, people! So glad to cogitate and vesicate and tesselate and ungulate and agitate and fecundate and germinate and rider-rate and activate and depricate and actuate and exudate and arbitrate, interpenetrate and multi-mate and hypenate and permutate and ruminate and inundate and menstruate and fasciculate and tussiculate and fourth estate and and tête-a-tate and fiercely hate and stay awake and mitigate and oscillate and ecaudate and holi-date and epilate and execrate and and estivate and vacate-akate and rage-acate and rage-at-fate and exhalate and masturbate and irritate and celebrate and go-on-dates and generate and fornicate and levigate and bombilate and meditate and not-go-straight and medicate and desquamate and propagate and running-mate and damn-let’s-mate and replicate and deviate and make mistakes and multiplicate and catenulate and change the fucking world with y’all.
There are more and more initiatives with high school students demanding a more inclusive literature. All the support to them!
In her own words:
“When I was in high school, my group of friends developed our own language, Narg. A kind of Pig Latin, it added ?arg? to every word, leaving meaning to context, inflection, and how well we knew each other. ?Arg do narg tharg I warg to garg swimarg todarg.? is, ?I do not think I want to go swimming today.? As unintelligible as it sounds, we understood it perfectly.”
Just the facts:
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The über cool festival on every social justice tongue is of course The Fold, which takes place in Brampton, ON, every May. I’ll be joining such exciting talents as Lisa Charleyboy, Kyo Maclear, Fartumo Kusow, Catherine Hernandex, Tanya Talaga, Michele Kadarusman, Kim Thúy, and Rabindranath Maharaj. It is my great honour. Thank you to Jael Richardson for inviting me!
Bags of potpourri that the Littleton, Colorado, fire department made from flowers placed at Columbine High School: 3000
It was hard to drop her at school
that spring. She made me leave her
two blocks away
Low on her hip she
flicked dismissive fingers at me
in a way she hoped would be invisible
to other kids
It wasn’t just Columbine
Children were dying video gun deaths
all over the US
Other teens were being snapped in two in car accidents
breakable as bread sticks
or taken to lonely woods
and crumpled like test papers
At the swimming pool after
I watched a teen boy toss Meghann like pizza
his arms newly strong, voice
loud, sure, traveling out over the heads of toddlers
and kids in grade school
moms with infants at breast
She fought for footing on the bottom of the pool
came up sputtering
happy to be vanquished
I wanted to tell someone I loathed potpourri
“Red Ink is a quarterly series curated and hosted by Michele Filgate, hosted at powerHouse Arena. This dynamic series focuses on women writers, past and present. The name Red Ink brings to mind vitality, blood, correcting history, and making a mark on the world.
The following is an edited transcript from November’s panel, “Silence,” which featured Rene Denfeld, Alisson Wood, T Kira Madden, Gayle Brandeis, and Alexis Okeowo.”
I always admire the speakers at the Red Ink panels, which are generally excerpted for LitHub. This one is particular good. Since I write mostly about the aftermath of trauma, and am writing about it currently in a novel where a character (like one of Rene’s!) has selective mutism, I was particularly riveted. So might you be.
Every Time We Put Pen to Paper, It is an Act of Protest
Everytime a UBCA signatory or a CanLit gatekeeper pulls a piece of crap, or a GOP senator goes off, or the Congress or Supreme Toad issue nonsense, or damage, another womxn gets their brain-snakes (like angel wings but custom-made for banshee feminists).
“…The next section of the collection following the one focused on artists is “Our Terrible Good Luck,” an apt oxymoron that encompasses the devastation that populates these poems on topics not often associated that kind of horror: motherhood and children. Oh boy, was this part of the collection hard for me. They’re just shattering to read: domestic abuse, the death of children, gun violence, mass murderers, the dark sides of motherhood, the physicality and sometimes grotesqueness of child birth. For me, they were painful and difficult to read, despite their being beautifully written. When I say devastating, this is what I mean:
In the month before they find your son’s body
downstream, you wake imagining
his fist clutching the spent elastic
of his pyjama bottoms, the pair with sailboats riding them
He’s swimming past your room toward milk and Cheerios
his cowlick alive on his small head, swimming
toward cartoons and baseballs, toward his skateboard
paddling his feet like flippers. You’re surprised
by how light he is, how his lips shimmer like water
how his eyes glow green as algae
He amazes you again and again, how he breathes
through water. Every morning you almost drown
fighting the undertow, the wild summer runoff
coughing into air exhausted, but your son is happy
He’s learning the language of gills and fins
of minnows and fry. That’s what he says
when you try to pull him to safety; he says he’s a stuntman
riding the waterfall down its awful lengths
to the log jam at the bottom pool
He’s cool to the touch; his beauty has you by the throat
He’s translucent, you can see his heart under
his young boy’s ribs, beating
as it once beat under the stretched skin of your belly
blue as airlessness, primed for vertical dive
HOLY FUCK, Jane Eaton Hamilton. I don’t remember the last time I read a poem so fucking sad and heartbreaking.” -Casey Stepaniuk
Oddly, in the way life goes, I was thinking of Ursula Le Guin when the word came through on Twitter that she had died. She was a remarkable writer and thinker, an early protector of women’s rights, and the world will be smaller for her absence.
I’m sitting in the library on a sunny Tuesday in Shut Up and Write session. SUAW sessions originally formed in San Francisco before being brought to Canada by Tom Cho when he was writer-in-residence at Kogawa House in Vancouver. I kept them going after Tom moved to Toronto, and even though I later moved away from the city, they are still on-going Wednesday mornings in central Vancouver. There’s a FB page. Here we do them in person Tuesdays, but we’ve added several remote sessions most weeks, where one writes alone at home with one of us sending along the timing using FB message. Using the Pomodoro Method we write with each other for 25 quiet minutes, break for 5, and repeat three times before taking a 20-minute break. At the end of that, we do another 2 25-min sessions.
For someone like me who writes seven days a week, SUAW is a terrific means to cut off hours and write efficiently. Check to see if there’s a SUAW where you live, and if there isn’t, start one! Download a timer like Focus Keeper, find a location, invite folks and you’re ready to go!
We’re lucky when we get a more or less up-to-date list of what’s happening on the contest scene. Here we are for fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry:
I hear the repetitive hit of a hammer–the neighbours putting in a suite, I think. I notice motion, see a pileated woodpecker nailing the top of a countertop I have leaning against the porch railings. The woodpecker’s done a lot of damage–to the old junk countertop, but also, I see, to the porch beams, and I think how stupid it is to look for insects in new wood, the scars bright and bare. As I move closer to the doors, the woodpecker dives out of sight, makes three ovals so I can only briefly note its raised red alarmed crest. Like a cartoon, really, all wheeling motion.
I’m blue like the shortest day, the blue of indigo. I’ve been trying to keep my pecker up, as they say, and indeed here at the manse there are many other peckers up–this morning six flickers at a time, along with downy and hairy woodpeckers, and of course the big mama of them all, the huge pileateds who swoop in for leisurely meals of suet or peanuts before dashing away.
This woodpecker’s in trouble. This woodpecker, I see, on stepping outside, is entangled in the netting I use for clematis, in effect, caught just as certainly in a doll-size sea of six-pack plastic as any turtle or whale. I rue the problems with feeding birds, the list of which sweeps through me as the bird thrashes, hung by one over-extended claw … the window hits, the rodents, the birds of prey, the starlings (does one give in and just feed the things? I shout, Go murmur! as I bang the window, but they are never dissuaded), the expense, and now this.
Entirely my fault.
Whisper, I tell myself. So I go quiet and inside my head I tell her I know she’s stuck, and I’m going to go into my house and fetch something to free her, but the important part will be for her to make herself calm because when she struggles, I can’t get the netting off. When I get back with scissors the bird is wild, and wilder still as I extend an arm. I tell her, internally, I can’t help if you don’t stay still. I size up her bill, a fat three-inch needle. She heaves herself upright and lies out along the top of the counter’s edge with her snagged leg extended back toward me. Without thinking, I snip as close to her foot as I can get and before I can try a second time for the netting on her claw, she’s long gone. I watch her lift into the trees and snag herself onto pine bark.
I feel sad, though. Sad to have inadvertently caught her in a kind of leg-hold trap, as I’m sad when birds hit my windows. I’m trying two group whispers now, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, and the first is to stop the window carnage. It seems to be working here at the end of a week. Too soon to know for sure, but the rates seem down.
Is there a whisperer available to just talk to me? I haven’t been able to see my pipsqueak g-babies in weeks because of illnesses, even for tree trimming, and I am worried, tormented, filling up with more and more concerns, the personal ones, the bigger ones. There isn’t any point, is there, to struggling? I’m post-natal on (draft of) a major project. I’m agonizing about money. I’m worried for the welfare of friends, especially in the hot zones like Vancouver and the US. I’m cranked about desertification, jellification, plastics. I’m frantic about who will take in climate and political refugees, about Trudeau being so right-wing, about the Congress and omnibus bills and Mueller not being allowed to finish. I’m worried about the dreamers. I’m worried about the ACA. I’m worried about my disabled friends, because whatever problems others are having, they’re magnified for the disabled. I’m worried about the loneliness that capsizes people during the holidays.
I think about my dead parents-in-law, my dead cat, my dead marriage. I light what I call the “mama candle” for my dead mother and m-in-l, which is blue like my mood. It’s a green night tonight, small flame notwithstanding, with patches of white heavy on cedars, on today’s day that is seconds longer than yesterday’s. The dark falls like tree boughs in wind storms, and I can’t shake my depression.
I hope your holidays are the best they can be, with warmth and intimacies that cherish you. I wish you the return of light.