Jane Eaton Hamilton

"It was her mouth that had a hand over it, not her eyes." -Jane Eaton Hamilton

Tag: JEH

Best American Experimental Writing 2020

I’m delighted to announce that editors Carmen Maria Machado and Joyelle McSweeney have chosen one of my pieces, Battery, for the 2020 volume of Best American Experimental Writing. Battery was chosen by George Saunders as the winner of Lit Pop 2015. He said, “I admired and enjoyed the wit, clarity, and compression of this story. It’s fast, funny, precise in its language. The author is really using language as a tool of persuasion. The story also has real heart – the narrator manages to make us sympathize for both chickens and executioners. The details of the operation are chilling and terrific. The story is beautifully shaped and minimal – the writer seems to recognize that the essence of making a work of art is choosing. The story makes us face a certain harsh truth, but without any sense of preaching, and even a sense of wonder. Above all, the story is musical – it zings along, making a world as it goes, with its confidence and its sense of curiosity.” —George Saunders

Joyelle McSweeney says this about the compilation on Twitter:

“I agreed to guest ed BAX 2019 only if I could undo every word in that title: our re-imagined antho that is defiantly anti- ‘Best’, de-prizes the category “American”, is not always ‘Experimental’ & or even ‘Writing’! It’s up to the series eds and authors to shape what’s next-“

Indeed. Should make for an exciting anthology!

The little bubbles of a short story for your reading pleasure

 

This short fiction Phosphorescence about love, pregnancy and beluga whales from Room Magazine’s Queer issue, now online.

Phosphorescence

It’s a bit of a stretch, finding queer characters with physical disabilities, but Casey did

Yonder at Autostraddle, where I’m a contributing writer, Casey answered the call. I’m totally smitten with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha’s work, no matter its genre, and I look forward to reading the others here (the antho QDA is already on board). Check out the list here.

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.

 

“Weekend:” have a great one, people

It’s great to get thoughtful and lengthy reviews of one’s work. Thanks to Casey!

“There’s a lot to revel in in Weekend, just purely from a representation angle. When was the last time you read a queer novel about people in middle age, let alone a novel that has extended sex scenes featuring queer people in their 40s and 50s? Older queers getting it on feels revolutionary in and of itself, but Hamilton also features a character who is disabled and black (Ajax has a heart condition and grew up in the Bahamas), a trans masculine character who uses they pronouns (Logan), a masculine-presenting polyamorous character who uses she pronouns (Elliot), and a kinky couple (Logan and Ajax). None of this feels forced or for the sake of diversity itself, but simply a portrayal of some real people with various intersecting identities.

“As you’re probably guessing, this is a highly character and relationship driven novel. You know at the beginning that shit of many kinds is going to hit the fan for both couples. Hamilton takes you there slowly while letting you get to know all the characters, their dynamics, and histories. The only other work I can think of that has so much authentic dyke processing in it is Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For. Logan, Ajax, Joe, and Elliot talk about their gender and sexual identities (I found Ajax’s ruminations about her lesbian identity in the face of Logan’s in-flux gender identity particularly fascinating), sex, feelings, their exes, illness, and relationship practicalities.”  -Casey, the Canadian lesbrarian

Here is the rest of her review:

Viscerally Real Queers, Dyke Processing, Kink, and Disability in Jane Eaton Hamilton’s novel WEEKEND

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

A recent portrait…

charcoal and acrylic on canvas 11×16

Treat refugees and migrants with respect

Unite parents and kids. All of them. The world is drawing horrible parallels.

acrylic and charcoal on canvas 12×18 Jane Eaton Hamilton

the photograph/painting depicts a baby being removed from its mother by a huge red hand

 

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

National Poetry Month: The Hole in Her Cheek

One of mine today!

National Poetry Month

Once again, spring, with the kanzen cherry blossom

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 12.37.30 AM

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)

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.

 

 

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:

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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