Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Category: essay

The Shining Clarity of Social Justice

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.

 

Autostraddle, and Room

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.

My essay about being non-binary, ‘The Nothing Between Your Legs,’ appears here, but check out the awesomeness of the entire series at Autostraddle here.

And a link to my short story, ‘Phosphorescence,’ in Room.

Notable essay, Best American Essays

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!

Skinning the Rabbit

Whale Party

Whale Party

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?[1]

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

 

 

[1] How Does Life Live, Kelly O’Brien, NY Times

The Mostest of Solstice

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.)

Rumpus addictions: Spontaneous Combustion

 

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.

A new essay up at Catapult: Stitches of Love. Photographing Deceased Neonates

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.

Stitches of Love

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.

 

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!

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.

 

 

“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:

 

 

Out of the blue

unknown photographer

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.

“A Sexual Violence Reckoning is Coming In Publishing” Or Is It?

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

Femme au collier jaune

1946 Femme au collier jaune; Picasso

painting of Françoise Gilot with cigarette burn on her cheek–if we view this, are we complict?

I found this article by Claire Dederer useful in thinking through what has been an obsession without answer during my artistic career. Should we love the art and ignore what we know of the artist? Should art be held to standards? All I ever could answer with were questions.

What is art? What does it mean? Whose art? Whose history? What art was left out? This is as true of literature of course as it is of visual art or films or photography.

I want to see the world we’d have if the people who had been left by the wayside were white men. I want to see the films, read the books, look at the photography and visual art that wasn’t captured or wasn’t kept or wasn’t remarked upon. I long to know the world without patriarchy. Would it be better, or only different?

What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?

The Lesbian Paintbrush Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) BELIEVE THE VICTIM

This is a literary blog and exactly the place literary essays about domestic violence belong.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month in the US. November is Domestic Violence Awareness month in Canada.

S/he/they don’t have to be hitting you for you to be a victim; abuse happens with gaslighting, lying, cheating, yelling, sexual abuse, dehumanizing you, demeaning you, threatening you, throwing things, frightening you/the children. This month and next, I ask everyone to remember that this is not just a heterosexual, able-bodied crime. The disabled are victims of violence at home at a much higher rate than are the able-bodied. Queers and trans people are frequent victims of violence both outside the household perpetrated by strangers, and inside it perpetrated by their intimate partners. If you want to read more about queer violence, I started a website to collect the pieces I could find about it at www.queerviolence.com.

Thank you, readers, for having the interests of victims at heart this month and next. It is your understanding that will make a difference. Thank you for educating yourselves.

All a household needs for domestic violence to occur is one partner who feels entitled and willing to batter. It’s not about the victim. It’s entirely caused by, about and the fault of the offender.

Why doesn’t she leave? S/he/they have told her that she’s crazy, she’s imagining things, it’s not that bad, s/he/they love her. Periodically, the violence ends and the loving relationship begins anew, refreshed and revitalized This pattern of violence broken by love broken by violence broken by love eventually twists a victim’s mind. She believes in the love. She hungers for it. She needs it. It’s the “real” relationship, after that. The violence is just something to be borne. This creates a psychological condition called trauma bonding. (In a hostage situation the same dynamic would be called Stockholm Syndrome.) When there’s violence, she would give anything, do anything, be anybody just to have the pendulum swing back to where her partner loves and approves of her again.

Kids are often caught in the crossfire and this is particularly grievous because they are observing behaviour that will make them feel “at home” as adults. They won’t know how to form healthy relationships with healthy people. If you can’t make yourself leave for yourself, make yourself leave on behalf of your children.

Call your local transition house because, there, you will have breathing room to think through your circumstances and to begin the process of healing and figuring out the next steps to your free future.

What can you do? Support resources helping battered women. Educate yourself on feminism and why it’s critical to everyone’s future. BELIEVE THE VICTIMS. If you like the offender, and you don’t like the victim, nevertheless, BELIEVE THE VICTIM.

Read Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

Below, I’ll link to literary essays on abuse. Please feel free to add the ones that have been important to you in the comments.

It Will Look Like a Sunset by Kelly Sundberg, Guernica, Best American Essays

Apology Not Accepted, a blog by Kelly Sundberg with guest essayists on the topic of IPV

(Stay tuned for a book on the topic by Kelly Sundberg in 2018.)

Using CNF to Teach the Realities of Intimate Partner Violence to First Responders: An Annotated Bibliography, by Christian Exoo, Assay Journal

The Story of My Fear Over Time, by Kelly Thompson, The Rumpus

Underwater, by Kelly Thompson, Manifest Station

I Understand Why Some Women Stay, by Virginia Mátir, xojane

The Mule Deer, by Debbie Weingarten, Vela

On Car Accidents and Second Wives, by Mandy Rose, Apology Not Accepted

Never Say I Didn’t Bring You Flowers, by Jane Eaton Hamilton, Apology Not Accepted, Full Grown People, notable in Best American Essays

 

 

Skinning the Rabbit: the essay at The Sun

My second piece (after a piece of fiction called “Hearts”) with The Sun appeared in July, but there was only a preview online. Now they’ve put the entire essay up, but the best news, the absolutely best news, is that they’ve opened their archives. How wonderful for all of us. I can see what we’ll be reading for the unforeseeable future. If you are a subscriber, you can see it all; if you’re not, you can read two pieces a month. Huzzah!

Skinning the Rabbit

Writing and Disability: She used to be a writer, but then she got sick

At the wonderful Lit Hub, Emma Smith-Stevens writes about the shock of illness, and how losing physical capacity threw everything else in her life into question.

I Used To Be a Writer

“Matthew Klam’s New Book Is Only 17 Years Overdue” and other tales of failure

 

the new book

Over at Vulture, Taffy Brodesser-Akner has a terrific feature about Matthew Klam’s career and his new book. Every writer should read this. We all deal with self doubt and castigation, I think. The article is a really a good look at Klam’s early fortune; about how just as he was deciding he’d quit writing, he got a yes from Dan Menaker, editor at the New Yorker, for one of his stories. (My stories got lots of comments from Menaker in my time, and once we even moved into editorial, but I never quite got the yes. The story that came closest was published in the Alaska Review.)

The world opened for Matthew Klam, and his list of early awards and honours was daunting. He had it all except for a second book. As the years passed, he still didn’t have a second book. He wrote continually, he tossed continually, he taught instead for its anonymity.

For me, the world never opened, and my talent, which was substantial but wanting, withered from lack of support. I didn’t have an MFA program to weed out weaknesses. I learned slowly. Sometimes folks went mad for one story or essay, but when they wanted more, the more was always so different they didn’t like it. This is a problem with range and writing across genres (and letting my heart have its way).

I needed an imprimatur I didn’t have. A Menaker imprimatur, maybe. Once Ellen Seligman at M+S spent six months telling me yes, telling me no, telling me I don’t know, I go one way, I flop the other way, and I wonder what would have happened if she had said yes eventually, whether that profound novel about child rape in the world of wild mustangs I was then working on would have come to fruition. All these years later, I’m still curious about what would have broken out of me if by chance I had just been valued and nurtured, and really had to work to an editor’s expectations. I would have risen, I know, because I am like that, but in what way, to what end?

What literature did I not produce because I:

a) wasn’t quite good enough?

b) wasn’t repetitive enough?

c) there was discrimination (even inborne and unacknowledged) against certain categories of writers (disabled/queer/feminist)?

d)  wasn’t from the US?

What would those stories and books have been?

I was low-income and a sole-support parent a lot of those years. And of course I asked the same questions Matthew Klam asked himself: What does this matter? Who needs another story? Another novel? To what purpose? To win a prize and still be unable to pay the bills? I certainly never cared about a postmortem reputation–that and $5 I’d get a plastic glass of latte at Starbucks to set on my gravestone.

I won the CBC contest a couple times. I published in the NY Times, the Sun and other strong periodicals (back then and again this year). But no successes ever built, no one ever tucked me under her mentor wing. I still write in my self-propelled bubble without much response. I certainly write now without any hopes at all for the marketplace–really, only to please myself.

I had my perfect form and lost it. I quit writing stories and nobody noticed. I quit writing stories and only a friable piece of my heart noticed. I struggle to write novels, but I am no novelist. I am no novelist.

Maybe Matthew Klam is. I look forward to reading Who Is Rich?

The Vulture

 

 

Skinning the Rabbit, The Sun Magazine

I got home from a trip, picked up my mail and found my contributor copies of the July 2017 issue of The Sun Magazine (along with the welcome cheque). A couple of weeks ago, I went to add The Sun to my list of places I’ve published, and it was already there. I was puzzled; I didn’t remember having already added it. But then I explored a little further, realized I’d published there a long time ago, and sought out the issue, the cover of which is above. I was bemused to find that the subject matter was quite similar to the recent essay since I haven’t written about my childhood in ages.

Here’s that original and second-person story, which was still on my desktop: Hearts

My piece this time around is called Skinning the Rabbit. I explored my relationship with my father through our collision about animal welfare, and through the bullying I experienced when I got alopecia totalis at six. I hope you like it. Tell me if you do, k? It’s not online, but you can find The Sun almost anywhere that carries literate magazines, even in Canada.

I am proud to have had essays in the NY Times and The Sun this year.

The Sun November 1993

 

 

 

 

Edie and Thea–marriage and disability

Edie and Thea, a movie still

A lot of you know I was one of the litigants who sued Canada’s federal government in 2000 for the right to marry my queer, long-term partner. I’m not a big booster of marriage in general, given its roots in female ownership, and some of its current reflections of same, but I found it offensive that a group of people had been systematically excluded from a civic right available to the rest of the population. I worked with lawyers barb findlay and Kathleen Lahey toward our ultimate success June 8, 2003 and was fortunate to be sitting in the Supreme Court of Canada when Beverly McLaughlin’s court changed our constitution to reflect the new, inclusive law.

Until 2003, you didn’t have the right in Canada, if you were queer, to decide whether or not to marry. We’ve had the right to make up our own minds about marriage for 14 years less a week now.

Heterosexuals changed their minds about us, recognizing our humanity because they recognized the similarity of our vows. Hets spoke marriage and so we began to have a dialogue toward reconciliation and safety.

Why that matters, still, is that we can’t be entirely safe without allies. We can’t fight the battles ahead, which I fear may start grim and devolve, without having each other’s strength and courage to lean on. There are a lot of incidents mentioned in the news now where a straight person stopped an attack we couldn’t stop.

While recognizing that marriage is a flawed institution that evolves in contemporary but still flawed ways, I believe that, all in all, marriage has nevertheless been a great plus for my community. Yes, we got corporatized and gawd knows our Pride marches got taken over by big business and the various arms of the military. But we can stop participating in where that’s gone. We can make our own community Pride again, particularly in support of BLM. We can wrest Pride away from the forces which overtook it and say, again goddammit, This is ours.

People in the community still diss the litigants for ruining queer culture (many of the people who lobbed this charge at us then took advantage of equality to get married themselves). But I watched the magic of visibility unfold as I attended a rash of friends’ weddings, then witnessed for couples from Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, the US, New Zealand, the UK, France, countries in Africa and more.

One of the couples who availed themselves of Canada’s changing marriage laws was Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, a longterm couple from the US, memorialized in an eponymous movie. I wanted to mention them not because their love was long, or solemnized at its end by marriage, but actually because Thea, one of the two, was from her forties disabled, using various canes and then a wheelchair, and the movie was filmed entirely from this later vantage point, making it a study of love and disability, valuable for people with disabilities and the people who love/care for them.

People may know that I am in and out of wheelchairs, and utilize scooters and walkers. I have thought a lot about whether my disability is a burden (my wife left our marriage declaring that life with disabled me was “1/4 of a life”) and I have decided that no, it isn’t. That the part of me that believes it is is the shamed part that the able-bodied seek to disempower, who finds different to be lesser. I am not lesser. I am not less intelligent. I am not less kick-ass. I am not less talented and skilled as a writer.

I am just not always able to get to the podium, is all, because you able-bodied people insist on repeatedly making that a hard thing for we disabled people. Even today this happened again, for readers and audience in Toronto, though replacing the inaccessible venue only took two hours in the end. (But does the new choice have a safe enough ramp? “Nothing without us,” is part of CripCanLit’s pledge. Please invite us into the discussion before you choose your venues.) Read Nine Phrases Allies Can Say When Called Out Instead of Getting Defensive.

But not to get distracted. My point here is that the person who gave my ex-wife 1/4 of a marriage–if indeed that’s what I had–was not me, but in fact the woman who perceived it as such. Witness how Edie handled it instead.

The movie Edie and Thea shows how to love completely and endearingly while loving someone seriously disabled. And I admired it, and the two of them and the filmmakers, for giving all of us a template on how to do this.

 

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