Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I write not because I am courageous but because I am afraid. I discover my courage in the writing, and am no longer silenced by fear." -Kerry Beth Neville

National Poetry Month: The Hole in Her Cheek

One of mine today!

National Poetry Month

Once again, spring, with the kanzen cherry blossom

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photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton kanzen cherry 2015

Labyrinth

I go outdoors into the corridors of plum and cherry blossoms, the florid wisterias with their dangling racemes, their whips you must cut back three times a season or they will eat your cat, your car, your house. Here on the street the magnolias lift their cups waiting for spring to pour itself down. I know what’s in there. I know they have crowns, Kinder egg treats, their surprises, their jesters’ hats with dangling gold bells. The air is tinted with scent of hyacinths: Carnegie, City of Harlem, China Pink, Woodstock. They grow ceraceous, stiff along their water-filled stalks, blossoms further apart or closer together depending on light conditions—in my garden with its parsimonious sunshine, they can only try hard, but they give off their kick of perfume, they string it out, they let me have it anyway. Spring is soft as cotton batten, and some moments it goes gaudy as a circus. Watch the chestnut leaf unfurl. Watch the Clematis coil around the stem. Watch the talented beak of the finch as it cracks a sunflower seed. Watch the spotted towhee peck, the variegated thrush as it hurries to hide itself. The sempiternitous sky carves its bowl of the possibilities up beyond the clouds where rockets shoot, where astronauts imagine, where Sally Ride rode her lesbianism into blue space, where Christa McAuliffe exploded when I still lived in the house with the climbing tree.

I kick off my shoes, pull at my socks. The crust of the earth is chilled under my feet, dark, but the wet flock of grass stalks, the brush-cut of green against my toes is a party, takes me into the scrum of childhood when lawns were made for kick-the-can and there was no Round-Up and the measure of a good summer was whether you got enough callouses that you could walk across sharp pebbles and how big a cannonball splash you could make. I spill my hand over a Kanzan cherry trunk, bark rigid and broken. I unwrap the perianth, the floral envelope. A whole bough is Kyoto in April, the Philosopher’s Path, the wandering maiko in their wooden shoes, pink kimonos and white faces, elaborate combs. The individual petals in my hands weigh less than air; weigh less than the eyelashes I brushed last weekend from my lover’s rose-pink cheek. The petals are translucent, pink, silky. I don’t lift my arms, but lifting my arms is what I mean, into the symphonic air.

One year, when I had greatly suffered, when my body was giving itself up, when I had lost all in the world there was to lose, except my life, and was losing that as surely as if I had a hole in my toe through which it drained, I heard a woman playing, on violin, Bach’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, and I was drawn by the threads of music like a rat behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I sank to a bench to listen, and was contrapuntally struck. Terror, relief. Pain, pleasure. Hatred, love. Sour, sweet. The labyrinth we all unwittingly walk, where everything horrible is eventually overwritten by beauty. Everything beautiful is eventually overwritten by horror.  And repeat.  I know this as a simple truth. This is ever reliable.

I was for the first time in a year of fear not trembling.

Instead of writing the composition, the way as a writer I was prone to do, or capturing the composition the way as a photographer and painter I was prone to do, somehow I became the composition indivisibly and then, just as mysteriously, I melded with air and breeze. I was still me, old and challenged and broken, and not me, too. I was as much the musician as I was her audience. The violinist drew her bow under an ornamental plum tree, white-blossomed, through which sunlight dappled and sky showed cerulean, and all of these things merged—Bach, the poise of her wrist, how hard she had worked to stand under this blossoming Vancouver tree on this too-cold spring day, the sunshine, my own sorrow and grief and sour-hearted blood mechanics—and I was saved. I had not been able to live, and now, via this merging of talent and music and blossom and chill, I could, again. Happiness filled me as if the hole in my foot had healed and instead had become a hole in my head, and the filling was as complete as the emptying. Where I had been but a shell, I plumped. My corpuscles danced. My mitochondria laughed.

A couple weeks ago, a friend hurt herself badly. Yesterday, there was a terrible home invasion, a harsh injury, on a street where I love people. Yesterday a friend wrote to say that even so people save themselves with minute beauty. I knew she was right. I have done this over and over and over again through my life, redemption (if you like, though I might call it retrieval, or restitution) through the communion wafer of nature, through the holy drink that is nature. People save themselves on buttercups under chins to say if they like butter. People save themselves with raccoon kits, bees’ wings, and bird babies in the eaves. These accidental evolutionary goodnesses. People save themselves with kittens, and lambs pronging in fields, and the slap of a horse’s mane on their hands as they ride barebacked through meadows. People save themselves with good cups of coffee or food.  People save themselves with tickles, with hand holding, just by meeting someone’s eyes. People save themselves with hikes or bicyling or long runs.  These spices of experience.  Fragments of mercy.

I am as dunderheaded as a person could be, but, yet, even so, even despite my flaws and weaknesses and losses, this reliable lift I feel because of the intricacy of a poppy unfolding crumpled petals, is there, is real, is find-able, is replicable, is mine for the looking. You won’t find it where I find it, because we are not the same person, but someday when the intricacy of terror and ruination lift, you will find it all the same–in a child’s giggle, a moon shadow, or in the way birch bark curls.

It is yours.

Prism International longlist

 

I’m delighted to be longlisted for the:

2018 Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction

Thanks, Prism! Congrats, longlist!

In no particular order:

 

A Girl’s Guide to the End of the World by Elle Wild (Bowen Island, BC)

Baptism of Alleluia Gomez by Michael Mendonez (Pemberton, NJ)

North Coast, Late Sixties, with Soundtrack by Jane Kinegal (Vancouver, BC)

Bodies in Trouble by Diane Carley (St John’s, NL)

She Figures That by Rachael Lesosky (Victoria, BC)

Sisters on a Quest by Mi-Kyung Shin (New York, NY)

Hawthorne Yellow Lisa Alward (Fredericton, NB)

Pooka by Angelique Lalonde (Hazelton, BC)

Ursa Minor by Quinn Mason (Montreal, QC)

Whiteout January by Jessica Waite (Calgary, AB)

Chosen by Marilyn Abildskov (Emeryville, CA)

Potlatch Returns to Wazhashk Creek by D.A. Lockhart (Windsor, ON)

Catch by Jennifer Dickieson (Vancouver, BC)

A Wager by Gord Grisenthwaite (Kingsville, ON)

The Gravity of Rocks by Jane Eaton Hamilton (Salt Spring, BC)

“Celebrating Diversity by Dismantling CanLit” by Amanda Leduc

I love when I learn more about people with whom I’m social media friends–people I notice in special ways, yet when I actually parse our relationship, realize I barely know at all. Here is Amanda Leduc, one of the champions of the Festival of Literary Diversity, on the FOLD Festival, on growing up disabled and trying to find herself in books, on UBCA’s devastation, on privilege, on GritLit (and generally the struggle of festivals to give up privilege, examine their biases and to provide accessibility). I am mentioned here, full disclosure, representing disability rather than with my kin, the big old queers, but what I know is that I’m lucky to be a participant at FOLD this year in any identity. I love the idea of this festival and their fight through the thickets of Canlit so hard.

Thanks, Amanda, for this article.

Celebrating Diversity by Dismantling CanLit

 

 

The ReLit Awards “The country’s pre-eminent literary prize recognizing independent presses.” -The Globe & Mail

Today ‘Weekend’ was long shortlisted for the ReLit Awards. Congrats also to Ashley Little for Niagara Motel, also through Arsenal Pulp, and the other finalists in the three categories of novel, short fiction and poetry.

The ReLit Awards

“Wendy Xu on the Impossible Complexity of Immigrant Love”

Poet Wendy Xu over at Lit Hub and this passage about learning to parse literature:

“My father was my first poetry teacher in all of these ways—he paused to let us wonder together at the power of words. Why was this part so vivid and easy to picture in your head? Why did you cry at this part? Why did you fall in love with this phrase and repeat it over and over? Back then I was just happy to be spending time with my father, but the gift he gave me will last a lifetime.”

I can’t get it out of my head how helpful this training would be for a child who would later become a poet.

“Xu is the author of Phrasis (Fence, 2017, winner of the Ottoline Prize), and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient of a 2014 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, her poetry has appeared in The Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Poetry, A Public Space, and elsewhere, with fiction and essays appearing in BOMB and BuzzFeed. Born in Shandong, China, in 1987, she currently teaches in the Creative Writing MFA Program at Columbia University, and is poetry editor for Hyperallergic.”

Her poem, Notes for an Opening, is here.

The interview with her from which I pulled this quote is here.

Cherry blossoms, Vancouver

The most beautiful street is Graveley at Lilloet. I took these today.  Stunning.

 

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Many Gendered Mothers

Ah, but we have a smart and sharp bunch to celebrate over at Many Gendered Mothers, where we publish essays on writers’ mentors. Today Rose Cullis writes on finding and admiring Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and feeling “…as I read it, I felt a shift in that place where the meanings are.” There is no more you could ask from someone’s work, is there?

Please join us and send us 800 words about your lit hero. We especially welcome submissions from and about marginalized authors.

 

I think it might be spring

The Garden Getting Going

Cutworms have decimated the sprouts of the daylilies; slugs have been rolling out placemats on my ligularia, forks and knives in hand. Yesterday, I tucked some last-leg plants that have been crying out for root-room into my new garden. I don’t even know if the delphinium, given to me by garden-witch Tekla Deverell on Pender Island, now deceased, can possibly make it. I’ll baby it along, thinking mauve/blue thoughts at it, but what if, as the sun rises higher in the sky, the garden still gets no sun?

All over town the cherry blossoms are out and it’s hard not to believe they are hollering celebration. Is there anything else as beautiful as a magnolia in bloom? I chase blossoms like candy, up and down the good streets in Vancouver, the streets where I know there are canopies, because I have to feast on the beauty, storing it up and hiding it the way chipmunks do stashes. All the hyacinths, the muscari, the daffs, the tulips play their parts. Come winter, I’ll be pulling blossoms into a memory quilt.

A flicker came to sit on my fence a couple of days ago, but it didn’t talk to me, just sat there, orange and grey, eyeing the suet feeder which is surrounded by a cage much deeper than the flicker’s beak. I used to get them at my house, drumming on the metal hat of my garden heater.

My feeder last year was clustered with baby goldfinches for weeks running.

This year I’ve got juncos, sparrows, chickadees, finches, bushtits and even (finally, finally) hummingbirds. I’m going to try that thing where you pour syrup into your palm and see if they’ll eat out of it. Plus I’ll do sunflower seeds to see if I can entice chickadees.

Suffused with well-being that never seem to let go.

The Hail of Fire, Maple Tree: On Friendship

image: Jane Eaton Hamilton, The hail of fire: maple tree, 2018

This was woodpeckers! Probably trying to eat the gloomy scale!

I’m trying to get rid of writers in my life who don’t treat me very well, as a writer or a person–out of self-respect. If you want to share collegiality and reciprocality through the joys and bumps, well, I’m around for that, but if I was on your “B” team and now you have better “A” team members, well, see ya.

I try to say good things about everyone’s books when I’ve read them (but tbh, I am now a horrible reader who reads 30 books at a time and rarely finishes anything, and it’s often the case that I stare longingly at a book rather than opening its covers–or opening them again. If I haven’t commented to you or on Goodreads, that’s what my silence usually means. But feel free to ask. I am responsive. I know we have to do that sometimes, bump ourselves to the top of someone’s pile. I also sometimes take a long time to absorb a book–freakishly long, a month or two, sometimes much longer.)

So, this thing. I was at a holiday party for a bunch of Vancouver publishers recently, and told a new writer that I had really enjoyed her book. The blood drained from her face. I am clumsy sometimes, and very shy. I thought I’d hurt her somehow until she said that not one other writer had ever mentioned her book, published, I think, a year earlier. That broke my heart. My god, Canadians, for all we say we’re friendly and welcoming, we are a shallow and parsimonious bunch.

Please, let’s support each other. Let’s be fulsome and giving in our praise.

How is it possible that this really good writer with her first really good book with good reviews had never heard from a single one of us? I’m sure many many of us read her. What is wrong with us? If that was you, it would break your fucking heart, wouldn’t it? If that was you, you’d be crushed. You might even be suicidal. Is that actually the point, that we crush each other?

I increasingly believe as I get older that the act of creating a book is akin to a secular miracle. Even when the seams show in yours (and they will), I will still consider it a remarkable achievement. It is. I mean, how do we do it, continue to do it, against the forces arrayed and pressing for our failure? I’m not talking to cis white men, here, where everything lines up to favour them (altho of course I understand there can still be considerable obstacles), because I choose not to read cis white men, for the most part, wanting to put my energy into writers I find more intriguing, but to the marginalized: POC, WOC esp, the disabled, the queer, the trans, the penurious, the traumatized. We all make breakfast. We look after kids. We go to work. We vacuum. We change beds. We deal with email and social media feeds. We pay or wish we could pay bills. We fret. We love. We worry. We grieve for our lost loved ones. We deal with addiction, or mental health issues, or cancer, or death. We take our kids and pets and selves to the doctor. Our bones ache. Our jaws ache. Our hips ache. That knee? It hurts. But still, we put words on the page. Sometimes, we hate the words we put on the page. Sometimes we love the words we put on the page. We put the words we put on the page into the world that really doesn’t care very much for 99% of us as people or authors. We speak and we say, Hey! We matter. I am here. Count me in.

What a brave and foolhardy occupation.

What older writers know is this: You will probably “fail” according to whatever your standard of that is. But failure is actually not that bad, and, in its way, is even liberating. Remember when you wrote your first book without any pressure? It’s like that again. That sophomore book production thing really sucks eggs. When you’re older, and you are already a proven mediocrity, you’re free … and you rise to surpass your own expectations.

Older writers really understand that we’re all in this together.

Sometimes young or new writers think that CanLit is a fierce competition, that they have to knock someone down a peg or two, or off their pedestal, to make room for their own work. Believe me, we published writers with multiple books don’t really need you to tell us our literary flaws; we’ve had decades to flaunt them. Guess what? You have just as many. They may be different ones, but you have them. Listen up. I’m telling you what I’ve learned, kids: I am not a perfect writer. You are not a perfect writer. But even so, there is a big enough pie if we support each other. We can remake Canlit in our image/s so that this will always be true.

And until it is, we can at least promise each other to do what’s free: and that is to offer up a compliment or three here and there, or some stars on Goodreads or Amazon. You know how long that takes? Stars with no review? Like, once you’re logged in, maybe three seconds? Or to say, “I really admired this book?” Fifteen seconds.

Here’s what I ask: Lift a writer today. I don’t care who you choose. You choose the writer you want to lift. But make it somebody who isn’t already being lifted by the system, okay? Lift Indigenous writers in 2018, or trans writers, or disabled writers. Lift only womxn authors. You choose. The fine writer Marnie Woodrow and I talked about this once for queer writers, and it never really got off the ground because of busy-ness. But maybe it still can. Maybe we could do it on the first of every month, every time we pay our rent or mortgage. Make kindness to other writers a habit.

To quote Jen Pastiloff, “don’t be an asshole” to other writers. Don’t be a literary asshole, all right?

I tell you sincerely: I love your book for being its perfectly imperfect self. I love the wild life and the heartbeat and the longing you poured into it. I wish with all my heart that it could bring you the relief  you want and crave and need … the admiration of your peers, money to pay your rent and put food on the table, the way clear to another book, prizes and awards. I wish this for you, because this is what you deserve after your efforts. I’m sorry when it doesn’t happen, when your career seems to coast even though you’ve worked like a dog.

But even if it didn’t go that well when you published, or you were a one-book wonder and Canlit’s attention wandered after that first book, we still need your talent and your skill and your vitality and your yearning and your vulnerability and your trauma and your stories and your fierce fucking fighting power.

At the same time, I wish we would stop with the cult of awards. We’ve gotten narrow and lazy, only responding to the same five or ten books in a season when there are delights galore if we look a little more widely. And a season is only a breath. Those good books are still there the next season when publishing churns out more.

Just like you need us. Older writers did not just pave the way for you. We are still paving it, out there with river rock and flagstone, paver by paver making CanLit a more expansive place.

You know who you are in my life. I don’t like small talk. I don’t like false people, who pretend friendship, who pretend admiration, or, worse, say nothing about my works as if I don’t publish. One can tell when friendship is sincerely offered, I think, and the fake and phony stuff just leaves me, when I say goodnight and close the door, when I get off the phone (social media, email, Skype), exhausted.

Please don’t waste my time. Be your better self. And be honest and forthcoming, okay?

I don’t like people who are as deep as puddles, who are always fine, fine, fine and never talk about the nitty gritty in their life while wanting to hear it in mine. I don’t trust them. If you think I don’t notice when only I open up, you’re smoking something. I ask the questions but you mumble your answers, distract, evade. I notice most things, whether or not I comment.

Don’t be small in my life–if you have never bothered to read me, bothered to get to know me, bothered to take the time to find your compliments for my work (my work has real range, so if you don’t like one thing I’m positive you can find something else to enjoy, and there’s lots of mine online you can read for free through this site), bothered to tell me what’s eating you up as a person and writer, bothered to listen, I want you to go away.  You are whatever you are (you know better than I do). If you think you’re better than I am–better because you have more money, or you’re young, or your body is able, or you’re more talented, or a better writer, well, all those things are very probably true. But so what? Who gives a crap? What has that got to do with friendship? It’s irrelevant to friendship. Either occupy a two-way street with me, or vanish.

PS: I am not talking to my mentees or clients here, or my buds. You know who you are. You are here for all the good reasons.

 

“The Man in the Mirror”

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.

The Man in the Mirror

Ohhhh, pharting around

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:

 

 

Celebrations of Womxn on IWD 2018

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:

Viola Desmond, Canadian hero

_________________

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.

Overlooked

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.

You can use this form to nominate candidates for future “Overlooked” obits. Read an essay from our obituaries editor about how he approaches subjects and learn more about how the project came to be.”

International Womxn’s Day

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.

 

Growing Room grows room

Growing Room Festival

Where Does the Page Stop and the Body Begin: Writing the Body
l-r: Casey Plett, Samantha Nock, Amber Dawn, Mallory Tater, Kim Clark
Moderator: Mallory Tater

This weekend, while I was busy with Growing Room Festival here in Vancouver, and indeed listening to this informative, intelligent panel, above, two other womxn in my sphere made disclosures that blew me away. Not because I wasn’t familiar with the bones of what they needed to say, because we are social media friends and have intersecting bios, and they’ve talked about these disclosures in other ways over time, but because of the unique and brave ways they chose to bring sensitive information into the public.

Sometimes I can only stand back, jaw dropped. Wow, you two. I want to have half your courage when I grow up. I thank you with all of my being.

Thinking about this panel, above. When I read the phrase in the program “Where does the page stop and the body begin?” (a play on Amber Dawn’s poetry collection title) I wondered not for the first time where the page does stop and my body begins, and then I imagined the pages of my writing as a kind of external skin, a body suit I can climb into (is it always ill-fitting? Do I never get the seams sewn tightly enough? Was I smart to use a reinforcing stitch? Is it going to unravel anyhow?) Where does my body stop and my page begin? [And is that creepy? Can you stalk your own writing? If you text it too many times, will it stop responding? If you get in there with a scalpel, is it going to faint? Can you kill it? What if all you can bring back from your body is a translation, an approximation, a waned hope, a cataclysm?] Where do poems live? Do they live there, in your spleen, in your arteries, in your thyroid, in your ignored middle toes? I mean, Do you fuck your heart? Do you even have the ability, ever, to write your heart? What if your heart wasn’t born now? What if your heart only makes cave drawings? What if your heart is a crabbed ugly dessicated thing? What if it’s thick and messy and too hot? Where do poems live before they appear? Where do your characters live in the globe of your brain? Do they hang out in the right, left hemispheres? Is that an outmoded way to think about creativity/creation/the formation of theory? In the parietal lobe? In the pons, in the medula?

Seriously. What delimits us?

What is our personal scaffolding? Poverty, education, racism, homophobia, ableism?  Wealth, white skin, straight skin, an able-body. How have people treated us? How have we treated people? What is behind our scaffolding? What is our skeleton? How was it made? With generosity, banquets, kindness, bequeaths? The opposite? When we are composing poems, or essays, or novels, or stories, are we stripped bare, are we under our scaffolding, are we in our bodies then, are we in all of our bodies, are we in the parts we’ve never thought of, that small vein that feeds our baby finger? Deep? How deep? Real? How real? Is our marrow sucked clean? What survives?

I’ve been fighting my own cowardice for years. I’ve been using alternate means to tell stories slant, hinting around the edges, disclosing fragments, being circular and allusive instead of immersive. I’ve let people who’ve terrorized my time with them continue to terrorize my time after them.

This panel and the panel that followed it at Growing Room Festival, What Binds Us: Sex, Bondage, and Fetishes, with Amber Dawn, Kim Clark, Lydia Kwa, Samantha Nock and moderator Sierra Skye Gemma, were fascinating. These are intelligent, probing authors who have thought deeply about such matters for decades and have translated much of their thought into literature and, with the help of good, well-prepped moderators, knew how to communicate the act of having done so. The audience members too asked questions that probed for deep answers.

I’ve been excavating childhood experiences, putting mud on the wire structure of some of them, or building the structure under the wire of some others. Trying to pin the Jello of distant memory into words that will stay the course. In this process, I’ve also been trying to find a deeper understanding of metaphor–as a lyrical author I’ve worked with metaphor for 35 years–as a language I can open to parse experiences I’ve had down far inside systems such as ableism, such as homo and transphobias, such as rape culture/misogyny. I’ve been using braids for my exploration. My writing, I see, gets increasingly experimental and fragmented as it goes forward.

These panels (and other events) took place this year in the ambient light of Me Too and Times Up. Over the years, I’ve worked behind the scenes (as disability and circumstance allowed) to change things for the next generation, all actions that are in their own way brave, some of them shading into foolhardiness. Last year, I named one of my rapists, a man who raped me in Ontario when I was 18. If I had named him then (and hadn’t been laughed out of a police station), how many womxn could have been spared rape? One of those women would have been my mother, because some years later, he attacked her, too, in an attempted rape. The act of naming him has been interesting and anxiety-provoking. Of course I have questions about what my responsibility is. If it was (is) my responsibility to name him to save others, isn’t that downloading his criminality onto me, blaming the victim? Yet always the pit of my stomach churns (has churned) at the idea of others.

I’m old, I’m feeble, I’m done like dinner. I have more recent offenders, both a batterer and a rapist, I don’t name. I am shit-scared to associate their acts with their names. I refuse to stay silent about violence–the acts were illegal and remain illegal. The blame for the violence belongs to the criminal. I’m sure they both just got on with their lives, wiping the old slate clean, while the repercussions for their actions bequeath to me.

Why am I so scared? I don’t even know. I fear financial annihilation? But I have physical evidence. I have contemporaneous accounts. In court, these two would lose–lose something, I don’t know. Status. Money. Freedom. Perhaps everything. It would offload the burden of their crimes to them. It might feel great, the shucking of lodestones.

But, still. Still.

I am a feminist, and I don’t name them. I don’t believe I have the resources to fight them. I believe fighting them would kill me. Figuratively? Literally? I don’t know. I only know I’m scared, so scared, every day I’m scared of them. When people have proven themselves happily vicious, it’s hard to stop worrying they’ll go there again.

I watch the womxn I mentioned in the first paragraph name their offenders. I watch these acts of great or foolhardy courage. I ask myself whether these womxn are somehow protected by their education, by their literary or career success or other things I don’t know about? Are they less protected by other things I don’t know about? Are they just fuck brave fuck wow? Wow. Wow. Wow. Would they have been disbelieved two years ago? Does Me Too give them protection of a sort? Do we believe them now? Do more of us believe them now?

I want to live in a world where womxn are not silenced, where being the victim of an assault is given priority over the sensitivity of the offender. I hope someday I get to.

Lately, I’ve been watching high schoolers Jack and Shay in Ontario who started this initiative which may become viral across the country, changing our literature forever: Rethinking Diversity in CanLit. I’ve been watching the kids in Florida and more widely in the US be brave and insistent–and make change. I’ve seen how doggedness and anger can be forces of great good. I’ve watched disabled activists storm DC, I’ve watched water activists, watched Black Lives Matter, watched WOC take apart white feminist bullshit.

I bow down to the power of womxn and men and youth to reshape the dialogue and change the reality. Thank you, thank you. I salute your courage and fortitude and wisdom. I imagine sometimes that you don’t know you are cherished, so let me say that: In this faulty heart, you are cherished. I say this to the panelists from Growing Room, as well: You are cherished, for your work but for your abilities, also, to talk to the deep and dark sides.

You make me know my small pieces of intersectional activism are worth it. The fight is still worth it, that the fight is indeed the only thing that ever brings about change.

Lately some focus for me has been disability activism. Disability activism is hard because its practitioners are ill and disabled–health concerns intercede. Actions equal stress equal months of physical repercussions.

I am weak and I am flawed and I am uninformed and I am clumsy. But within my capacities and lack of capacities, I’ve been analyzing, and working in, disability activism for a year or two. I’ve started to excavate my 32 years disabled–what I’ve experienced, what happened to me because of my condition in the medical community, but also at home and with friends/family, and in my career. I’m rooting out my tumour of shame at being disabled (which stems from when I was a bald and bullied six-year-old), and replacing it with solid political analysis.

I understand, as I have since the early 80s, while I write essay after essay, and novel after novel, and poem after poem, and short fiction after short fiction, that the personal is still political. If it is not my personal, but rather a character’s, it is nevertheless political.

Always and forever.

I hope the womxn who performed in and/or experienced Growing Room this weekend are about to write with all the power and strength of their minds and hearts and blow CanLit open. But I also have wishes for you, if you’ve read this far: I send you courage. There is a fight ahead. If you are new to activism, I welcome you. If you are not new, then every one of you political feminists made my life more bearable. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

 

Books by Writers with Disabilities

I love that slowly, slowly, we build a literature about disabilities written by the disabled themselves. Pain Woman last year by Sonya Huber is one such book. Another is the upcoming Sick by Porochista Khakpour. Dorothy Palmer, well-known for her clear reports/retorts about/to UBCA, has a memoir coming out this very year.

Now here is an interview with author Kim Clark on her book A One-Handed Novel. Her narrator has MS. Can’t wait to read this.

The BBC ignited fury after having 3 able-bodied spouses on to talk about the hell of having spouses with disabilities. I have threatened to write an essay about the hell it is to have an abled spouse.

My novel Weekend with one disabled character and plenty of romance wouldn’t pass my own Bechdel Disability Test, in that it is a romance, and there’s just one character with a disability, but Clark nevertheless recommends it as a good read.

Read Local BC

 

Introducing Dorothy Ellen Palmer

There are more and more initiatives with high school students demanding a more inclusive literature. All the support to them!

Rethinking Diversity in CanLit

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.”

Read Dorothy’s interview at Open Book Ontario

Just the facts:

  • Dorothy grew up in Alderwood, Toronto
  • She spent summers at a cottage on Balsam Lake, very close to Fenelon Falls
  • For twenty-three years, she worked as a high school English/Drama teacher, teaching on a Mennonite Colony, a four room school, in an Adult Learning Centre attached to a prison, and a highly diverse new high school in Pickering, where she created the only high school improv program in…

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The FOLD: Festival of Literary Diversity

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!

 

Trenchcoat: a poem about Columbine

Bags of potpourri that the Littleton, Colorado, fire department made from flowers placed at Columbine High School: 3000

Trenchcoat

 

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

giggling

happy to be vanquished

 

I wanted to tell someone I loathed potpourri

 

 

 

The Last Words for Valentine’s Day

 

If Literature’s “Complicated Men” Were on Tinder by Sarah Chevallier, yonder at McSweeney’s

Now I can die happy, and also in love with Sarah Chevallier.

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