Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Tag: blog post

Summer

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Photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2016

It’s a warm day on Salt Spring Island with my ailing, aged cat, where, for the most part, summer never came. These days, I stay in a ’68 school bus under a double roof that ensures it stays dark and no sun reaches it (both a loss and a gain, depending). The bus is both sanctuary and trial–come dark, rodent armies are let loose, and, alas, the cat dispatched a baby shrew. At first, I banged the walls for deterrence but lately I’ve noticed that human voices are more effective–leaving a TV running might convince them, if I had one. The cat seems to really love it here, though she’s alone a lot–she doesn’t have this kind of exterior access at home. Here, I see Puppy flopped in the sun having a dust bath; she sprawls across the steps; she curls up under a shrub or in the shade of the bamboo. I see her stalk dragonflies. Though there are no beasts to speak of, but something treed her on top of the metal outhouse roof last week on a day I was gone ten hours.

It was a fairly intense June. I did a writer’s residency at Historic Joy Kogawa House and ran near daily Shut Up and Write sessions. My novel WEEKEND came out to some hoopla. I co-hosted a launch at Kogawa House, had dental surgery, and befriended some crows in a particularly meaningful way.

102 Latinx and black people were shot in Orlando, 49 of them fatally, and I, like most queers, was crushed. Every one of us had to some degree cut our teeth in nightclubs like Pulse, and some of us had personal ties to the victims, to Pulse, to Orlando, to Florida. We grieved and still grieve.

I could not work out how to hold this brutality next to my personal joys.

At the end of June, I travelled to Ontario to blitz through a book tour in Toronto, Cobourg, Peterborough and Ottawa, meeting a lot of writers whose work has been important to me, and convivial, welcoming audience members, and taking in Toronto Pride. There was a lot of scooting from town to town (on trains, on which I get quite ill) and loads of bad eating. Meeting Facebook friends IRL was a great thrill–and seeing old friends likewise.

I’m here to help my child with her children. I spend long hours at her cabin pitching in. The big girl is a year and a half; the little one will be four months soon. They are what babies and children are–all-consuming, loud, messy, demanding, adorable, persnickety, touching, sweet. I don’t have any stamina. Ever since I had open heart surgery I fatigue in all the usual, draining ways, but also suddenly, in a second, with the kind of overwhelming fatigue that greets a post-surgical patient up walking for the first time.

But everything people say about grandparenting is true–one can’t get enough.

My older granddaughter has acute hearing. Out-of-doors, she says, “Wazat wazat wazat?” She’s made me understand I regularly tune most of the world’s noises out. And jiminy, there are a lot! Now I hear planes, dragonflies, bees, hummingbirds, sawing, trucks, cars, the croak of a great blue heron, tree frogs, thrushes, robins, chickadees. Sometimes, a pileated woodpecker chortles. Along the driveway, fledgling flickers try out their calls. In the trees, crows and ravens tell their stories. Crickets chirrup and tree frogs complain.

What do I hear now? The wooden bus door slapped shut, knocking, the little metal latch jangling. The slurp of my coffee. The cat’s purr. The riffle of the breeze through the maple leaves. The hum of electricity. My spoon against my ceramic bowl of yogurt and Granny Smith apple. The computer keys. The fan.

Just now, from bed, I heard a loud buzz and looked up to a hummingbird in front of me. She flitted around a bit, hovered near a window, then turned tail and flew back outside.

C’est Tout Ce Que J’ai – by Jane Eaton Hamilton

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acrylic painting Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014, Paris
Reprinted from Canadian Lesbian Fiction

I hobble along rue du Président Wilson, my skull a walnut shell of fleshy coils and confusions, taking it in, in, in, the Paris scene, the gusting wind and rain, firing synapses, maneuvering the running gutters, dodging the knobs of canes and dog paws, feet in running shoes or boots, sticky gum, spit. Can’t go straight, so I go crooked, go dyke, down the curbs, over the cobblestones, under the limestone palaces. Every place in me hurts—the gimp hips, the left knee, the two torn rotator cuffs, the narrowings in my heart, the turned ankle, the osteo-knuckles, the hot swollen feet. All the car tires, the horns, the shouting, the lampposts, the metro signs gothic or deco, the Eiffel Tower there across the Seine under which my wife and I once renewed our vows.

C’est tout ce que j’ai, shouts a woman into her phone. C’est tout ce que j’ai.

My wife. I gave her all that I had and then, after that, I gave her all that I had again, and afterwards I gave her all that I had again and again, and still she came at me, and after that I was a lover flattened.

I loved her ruinously.

I pass The Palais de Chaillot and its art deco exhibit, where I will go later with the Meet-up queers.

The Musée de Toyko: fermé.

But the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is open. And here, after Derain, Picasso, Matisse, Fautrier, de Chirico, DeLauney, Dufy, Bonnard, Vlaminck and Rouault, after Dadoism and expressionism, and surrealism and fauvism, I come to a halt in front of one painting, La femme avec les yeux bleu. Modigliani, Dedo, and I go so sad, I go so happy. Come and heat the feckless wind, I think to him. This straining, uncomfortable mix of adoring whom, perhaps, I should not adore, a behaviour well known from marriage. Modigliani and I, we both know what it is to touch a woman. We know the hand and how it can move like eyes across lips, nipple, mons, soft as glove leather.

Closer, he whispers.

Relative to this painting, he once stood where I am standing, 96 years ago, his daughter Jeanne an infant, so I tell him that his arm is my arm and my arm moves in blues and greens and peaches, my arm pushes paint onto linen.

Phantom in Parisian oxygen, his brushes clack wood on wood handle, Prussian blue, Rose Madder, Aureolin, Viridian, Cobalt Violet, Emerald Green.

No one apprehends us. The guards, do they even notice?

Lesbians notice. Their nipples erect and between their thighs they dew. They wrench cries from me as they penetrate.

Fucking, Dedo breathes.

The inside of women, I tell him.

There is only inside, he says.

Ce tout ce que j’ai, I say. But is it? Is it all I have, now, and then for the dead time?

After a scoundrel life, Modigliani died painfully, from TB at 36. His wife, artist Jeanne Hebuturne, 21 and 9 months pregnant, was so distraught she jumped from a window leaving Jeanne, their older child, an orphan at 3.

No arms with which to paint. No lips with which to speak. No feet with which to walk. No hands with which to write.

The situation histrionic, obsessive, mentally fragile, unstable. Just like a woman, Dedo says. These women of the paintings of the Musée d’Art Moderne, these unknowable models who led their fragile penurious fraught and I hope precious lives after the painter’s last stroke fell.

Who cares for them? They might as well all be abstractions, unrecognizable cubes, used and then discarded, except that we have their likenesses, crude or realistic or just shapely. And don’t imagine that I’m above it: I ride that knife edge as an artist myself, hungering always to place the story above friendship, love, loyalty, resisting or giving in.

Am I disgusting? Should I be ashamed to love the art of these rogues and roués, these knaves, these mysogynists who betrayed and battered and knifed and molested and shot their women folk? TS Eliot who had his inconvenient wife institutionalized. Hemingway, Maugham, Updike, Mailer, blackguards all. Burroughs shot his wife in the head. Picasso was a batterer. Gauguin, a sadist. Louis Carroll, ee cummings and Gore Vidal all said to be pedophiles.

And anyway, where are the women? In all these salles, no Lucy Bason, Henrietta Shore, Emily Carr, Marie Bashkirtseff, Anna Boch, Rosa Bonheur, Olga Boznaska, Marie Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, Camille Claudel, Marie Ellenrieder, Kate Greenaway, Georgia O’Keefe, Kitty Lange Kielland, Edmonia Lewis, Constance Mayer, Victorine Meurent, Berthe Morisot, Suzanne Valadon, Enid Yandell, Wilhelmina Weber Furlong, or Marie-Denise Villers, Frieda Kahlo.

No Romaine Brooks.

How is a radical dyke feminist writer to articulate a swirl of half-formed thoughts? All my thoughts are strangled vowels and nipped consonants. How am I to see, to touch, to feel, to absorb this terrible beautiful cruel situation where I love the art and hate the artist, where the women have been discarded like dirty tissues? Even here, in the city where the women worked. And why haven’t curators worked to change this?

I look out my Paris window and see, in these old buildings, an endless repetition of staircases and balconies. Birds sing at night. Why do birds sing at night? The world order must be flipped.

If we have extra-textual knowledge, and we do in this age of information, what are we to do with it? Can the man and his mistakes come together? Do we, should we, de-bifurcate?

We can’t, is the answer. He is one thing. They are one thing. He is the other. They are the other. Perniciously.

There are still no women.

And my body still hurts as if every thought I’ve had was on the attack: every punctuation mark acid, every word poison, every sentence a mallet, every paragraph a fist.

I drown in Parisian wind, going down in a glug of hopeless love for Hemingway, in adoration of Dedo. I choke on my love for Picasso, my head in the noose of his elbow. I bruise after Gauguin pummels me to the linoleum, after TS Eliot locks me away. Here I am dead after Burroughs puts a bullet through my skull.

It is not as simple in this world to be a woman as it is a man. It is not as straightforward in this world to be a lesbian, a feminist. It is nothing like elementary to be a woman artist, a woman filmmaker, a woman musician, a woman writer.

The streets of Paris are still the streets of Paris, still the streets where these men walked with determination and sorrow and backache and sore feet carrying the tools of their trade without understanding women. They are still full of potholes and filth and direction that plays tricks on you.

C’est tout ce que j’ai, indecision and worry, as I plaster myself up against these bastards of beauty who always, always whisper their clean and dirty seductions. And as with my wife, after they damage, I get pie-eyes, flowers, apologies, promises to do better, to be better. I still get joy.

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