If you were gay, you’d realize that 99.99% of life is compulsory heterosexuality. By this I mean the art is straight, the stores are straight, the conversation in the supermarket is straight, the books on the shelves are straight, and straight people are everywhere you look. Everywhere you look, involved with themselves and not even noticing all the people they leave out. I don’t think straight people have a clue how exhausting their heterosexuality pressing, pressing, pressing against us is.
Next week is Pride week in the pokey little town where I live, and for a few days this year, not everything will be straight. People on the island will see gay people and gay symbols first, almost everywhere they go. We will even, finally, have our first, albeit temporary, pride crosswalk! (HUGE VOTE FOR A PERMANENT ONE. KEEP OUR QUEER CHILDREN SAFE!) Some will be revolted. Some will want to gawk. Some will be loud and proud allies. Loads will ignore the festivities altogether. But there you are. It’s a week of largely volunteer-run activities put on by DAISSI (Diverse and Inclusive Salt Spring Island … more details on FB), and if you live near Salt Spring Island you can join in the fun. We have a queer art show, the launch of a new play, karaoke, a poetry open mic, some religious services, a parade, a party in the park, a dance starring Queer as Funk, a brunch, a hike, a reading by famous author Anne Fleming.
Sept 3-Sept 14, 2019. The parade and dance are Sept 7. Full information on DAISSI’s FB page.
I’m happy to say I have an essay coming out in this fall collection on disability. You can pre-order now. Here is the link to the book at Amazon.ca. Here is the link for Amazon.com. Here is the Publisher’s Weekly review:
“In this exquisite collection drawn from the Times essays series started in 2016, disability is, refreshingly, seen as a part of daily life, even as the contributors discuss facing a “world that does not expect us and is often not made for us.” Ona Gritz, who has right hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, recalls asking a literary agent who suggested she write a memoir, “Would I have to be disabled on every page?” Coeditor Garland-Thomson, having learning her asymmetrical hands and forearms are caused by complex syndactyly, an exceptionally rare genetic condition, no longer feels like an “orphan” but part of a “world of disability pride and advocacy.” Similarly, the late Oliver Sacks finds value in his disability, an increasing loss of hearing, enjoying how “in the realm of mishearing… a biography of cancer can become a biography of Cantor (one of my favorite mathematicians)… and mere mention of Christmas Eve a command to ‘Kiss my feet!’ ” The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act comes up often throughout, making fully clear the turning point it represented. Demonstrating, above all, the value of persistence, Catapano and Garland-Thomson’s anthology merits a spot on everyone’s reading list for its brilliant assemblage of voices and stories. (Sept.)” Publisher’s Weekly
Kirkus Review calls it “A rich, moving collection.”
I’m moving some of my essays onto Medium for your reading pleasure! Here’s what’s there so far:
The Pleasure Scale, Gay Magazine, about how, as a near shut-in, I find pleasure
The Preludes to Assault, about a short encounter with Jian Ghomeshi, and sexual violence
The Nothing Between Your Legs, about my non-binary life as a girl in the 1950s; first published in Autostraddle
A Night of Art and Anti-Art, about a walk on beach one evening with Liz
“The Pleasure Scale,” my contemplation on disability, pleasure and pain, is up today at Gay Magazine. Be forewarned that it is sexually explicit.
I realize there’s so much more to be said about pleasure, mine, and, of course, that found by others.
“I want to feel my body opening in the way it can open, like it is split, and is yawning in two pieces like a knifed watermelon, when it can take not only a fist but a globe, it can take every war, every famine, every mining disaster, every broken child behind bars, every river of tainted water into itself and it can turn water clear and take the broken children onto its lap and cause weapons to be laid down and corpses to rise and people to laugh again.”
South of what is Canada’s southern border, reactionary events are afloat that may, or may not, be brought back from their facist brink by the upcoming mid-term election. Numbers will make or break this day at the polls. There are more progressives than there are retrogressives.
The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. Dr Martin Luther King made this sentence famous and I have thought of it thousands of times in my life, wondering whether, in fact, he was right. Does it? Does it?
In the meantime, this has been a weak and quivering seven days. A domestic terrorist mailed pipe bombs to prominent Dem targets, while another DT shot up a synagogue in Pennsylvania. Two developmentally delayed brothers were killed, and a generous doctor who worked with the first AIDS patients.
I think often of the Holocaust. I was born only ten years afterwards, when people were still counting their losses. Never again, we said. Never again a Holocaust. Never again will we stand by and allow harm to come to Jews. (We did not talk about the slaughtered disabled. We never knew of the murdered LGBT community.) Never again a Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Never again an Internment.
This was my childhood, ducked under my school desk against the fear of nuclear bomb from Cuba: Never forget. These words were bellowed, sung, whispered. Friend to friend. Parent to child. Principal to assembly. Pastor to congregation. And we didn’t forget. We new children who hadn’t been there, we didn’t forget. Our homes were full of the old tendrils of war, the ways our grandparents and parents had been affected, and we didn’t forget.
People who don’t remember their history are doomed to repeat it, said George Santayana, a Spanish poet, and here we are, here we are, at the yawning cusp, at the mouth of the beast, at the bared yellow teeth.
What are we going to do? How are we going to respond? This beast hates us. He’s never met us, but he hates us on a theory.
Ours is a world yearning toward love, I swear it, I swear it. I watch it each day in the coo of the babies I see weekly. I see it when a hummingbird mother brings her two young to sit with her on my round feeder, teaching them about bird and human interaction. I see it when my parrot tucks himself on the side of my glasses and begins to preen and hum, happy in my warmth. I see it when people kneel down and render apologies. I hear it all the time, for my family, both its Caucasian members and its JC members, is a family engaged in social justice. I’m sorry, we say to each other when we’ve erred. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Will you forgive me? Our striving to do better for each other is utterly human. Human and beast, both, adult and child, both, we long for safety, for shelter, for food, for acceptance, for this restoring power of generosity, compassion, empathy, humility, respect and love.
Once, I stood under the railing in Tennessee where Martin Luther King Jr stood as a sniper shot him dead, and I wept. I touched the bed where he had slept, peered from the window to see the path of the assassin’s bullet, and I broke inside, over and over, as I had broken over and over moving through the rigours of the National Civil Rights Museum.
“The arc of the moral universe,” said King, “is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Is it bending toward justice? It is, when transgender rights are protected in Canada. It isn’t, when transgender rights are threatened in the US. It is when the abled world works to fix accessibility issues for the disabled; it isn’t when US police drag protesting disability warriors out of their wheelchairs to arrest them. It is when we host annual Missing and Murdered Women’s Days; it isn’t when again and again white men go free after murdering BIPOC. It is when we get the right to same-sex marriage; it isn’t when homophobia moves underground like a hot spring, and bubbles up to burn us.
The opposition to social justice is fierce now. The blowback isn’t coming. It’s here.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” – Elie Wiesel
We must interfere.
It was a new thing in TV news in the 60s that we could watch assassinations almost live, so I watched the replay of President Kennedy dying over and over on our scratchy black and white console, and a few years later, I watched Dr King crumple.
All my life, and fiercely for the last 40 years, I’ve fought for social justice through a stretchy and gorgeous feminism. My feminism was never a solid block, but a curious, questing, alive thing. My feminism was always encompassing, and it stretches to encompass even now our foibles, our mistakes, our minor offenses, our sloganeering and academic thought. It fights against violence against womxn and children; it fights racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism. No one can be left out of our fight toward love.
In my justice, no one will be left at the bottom of the stairs looking up.
Imagine my good luck to appear in the Bad Behaviour series at Autrostraddle, and in Canada’s oldest feminist journal, Room, in their queer issue, all in one month, alongside the grooviest writers (people I’ve admired far and near for years), and, might I add, the most amazing visual artist, Ness Lee. (Their cover is above.) The former magazine is online, and the latter is available at your favorite independent bookstore or from Room, link below.
And a link to my short story, ‘Phosphorescence,’ in Room.
I’m thrilled to say that one of my personal essays, “Skinning the Rabbit,” which appeared in The Sun, is a notable in Best American Essays 2018 ed Hilton Als. To see the included essays, and the notables, go to “look inside” here: Best American Essays
This is my third time appearing as a notable in a Best American collection, and second time for an essay.
Thanks to my editor at The Sun, Andrew Snee, and to the team there. Congrats to everyone on the notable list, and of course to the authors of the included essays!
Tonight, my visiting daughter pulls me from my recliner to go explore bio-luminescence. At the first beach, there are some sparkles in the water, but a lot of ambient light too, so we decide to go north. At our second beach we need to use a flashlight to creep down over roots and rocks. We can’t see phosphorescence from shore, but the view is stunning: calm water, humpbacks of rocks, a wild-star sky.
Slowly, we wade out.
We begin to laugh like kids because every step stirs up sparkles. Underwater fireworks, or the fairy dust that falls from Tinkerbell’s wand. It really does look like stars. Unable to stop giggling, we stir, we splash, we kick. “I have superpowers!” Meghann says and tosses phosphorescence in an arc of blue.
“We’ve got to go get your sister and the kids,” I say. It’s way after bedtime in their house, but a holiday weekend—no work tomorrow. I call, Sarah wakes the 2 and 3-year-olds and we pick our way with them half asleep back to the beach, and hold them tight. They can’t figure out what’s going on. They’ve never even seen stars before, and now we want them to dunk their sandals. They’re very impressed, though, with the lighthouse in the distance. Naiya spies a falling star. “With no tail!” The dog swims through the bio luminescence, and it looks like she’s swimming in the Milky Way. “She looks magic,” I say. Sarah says, “She’s always been magic; you can just see how it sparkles tonight.”
Naiya says, “How did the stars fall into the water, Mom?”
How did the stars fall into the water? Do blue butterflies eat parts of the sky?
Finally the kids, chilled and sleepy, think it’s time to go back to bed. They don’t realize that there isn’t year-round phosphorescence.
I hear loud breathing sounds as we negotiate for a minute more. Huffs. Not very far from us at all, and close—perhaps 30 feet out?–I realize I’ve been hearing it a while, and I wonder if it’s a sea lion coming in to heave herself atop the rocks.
Sarah says, “Whales.”
“Shh, shh,” we all say, and even the chatterboxes quieten. The baby is nervous and cuddles her mom close.
We talk about Tahlequah, J35, the orca mom who that night still carries her dead baby on her snout, and wonder if the close whale or whales breathing at the surface might be Tahlequah and her close family, lagging behind, resting their bellies on the rocks a few minutes.
As we listen, at least two of us hope the whales don’t mistake us for seals, but even so we’re reluctant to get out of the magic water connecting us to the whales in the bio-chain of life. I’ve never been in the water with whales before. I think about how many orcas are in the resident population: 75. I think about how many people are in the world who aren’t hearing whales tonight: I wish there were a way to whisper this beauty into every person’s ear. I wish people could wake up restored, a little braver for the tasks at hand, as I will.
As we muddle to leave, off in the distance, in between where we stand and the nearby island, we hear slapping sounds.
“Tail slaps!” I cry.
They’re loud—surely they could be heard on land by the people who live here on the edge of land and water–and Sarah explains to the children that the whales can’t play during the day with all the boats around, but they can at night under the moon. Maybe the orcas are hunting, but whatever they’re doing lasts a long time, and is noisy, and I like imagining they are playing, making a fine night racket, breaching, slapping for joy, loving the perfection of the bay and the beautiful clear sky. Who knows, maybe they’re enjoying stirring up bio-luminescence. Maybe they’re playing just to ignite it, so they can swim in sparkling orca soup. Meantime, the pod, or members of a pod, who are closer to us swim off and return, rising and diving–and breathing.
We stand until the whales, both groups, dive, before making our charmed and stunned ways back up to the car. The experience beats in a chamber of our hearts devoted only to magic.
#orcas # whales #Tahlequah #eatonhamilton #bioluminescence #phosphorescence
 How Does Life Live, Kelly O’Brien, NY Times
Happy solstice! I’ve put armfuls of Shirley poppies on the mantel in vases. Every few minutes, a red or orange petal falls, but every few petals, yet another wheels itself out into the room 5-6′ like a bird flying with wild wings. I know some plants dispense seeds this way, but I never knew any dispensed petals this way. (And no, it’s not the wind. And yes, already on the poem which imagines a roomful at once.)
I have a new essay up at The Rumpus, called “Spontaneous Combustion,” joining my other essay there called “Infarct, I Did.” This essay is about my mother’s addiction to prescription drugs and its challenges to the family. Why my mother never overdosed, considering the great number of pills she ingested, is a mystery.
Voices on Addiction is a column devoted to true personal narratives of addiction, curated by Kelly Thompson, and authored by the spectrum of individuals affected by this illness. Through these essays, interviews, and book reviews we hope—in the words of Rebecca Solnit—to break the story by breaking the status quo of addiction: the shame, stigma, and hopelessness, and the lies and myths that surround it. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, adult children, extended family members, spouses, friends, employers or employees, boyfriends, girlfriends, neighbors, victims of crimes, and those who’ve committed crimes as addicts, and the personnel who often serve them, nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, prison guards, police officers, policy makers and, of course, addicts themselves: Voices on Addiction will feature your stories. Because the story of addiction impacts us all. It’s time we break it. Submit here.
It’s always thrilling to have a new essay appear. This one is with Catapult, and is about my experiences photographing dying and deceased newborns. Let me say again, to the families suffering these excruciating losses, what an honour it was to spend this time with you and your infants. It remains one of the most moving experiences of my life. I hold you in my heart. I will never forget.
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.
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:
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.
From Bitch Media, S E Smith’s great piece on sexual harassment and assault in CanLit. Where are we now? Where have we been? Where are we going and how will we get there?
As someone pretty much drummed out of a traditional literary career, and who (mostly) speaks their mind, I have to tell you losing hopes of getting ahead is a lot better than the alternative of shutting up. It’s a coming out, if you will. There’s great and abiding strength in it. There’s passion and direction and a waiting army of feminists who refuse to shut the fuck up about the harms that have been done to us.
Nothing will stop us.
A Sexual Violence Reckoning is Coming in Publishinghttps://www.bitchmedia.org/article/sexual-reckoning-in-publishing