Jane Eaton Hamilton

"If you want to change the world, you have to change the world." -Jane Eaton Hamilton

Tag: JEH

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

 

 

 

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.

In Conversation–with Room Magazine

I’m lucky to be judging the Room short forms contest this year; I was interviewed by Mica Lemisky here. I hope you consider entering because I’d certainly like the chance of reading your (exciting, invigorating, devastating, soulful, perplexing) work!

Toronto poet Lisa Richter launches at Salt Spring Library!

Natalie Meisner and I will be joining the reading to help celebrate Lisa’s achievement. Join us 8 pm Nov 29, 2017.

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

I Show My Dick

unknown source: please contact me for credit

I wrote a new poem. I’m sure you can guess whose voice I wrote it in. Louis CK has been accused of showing his penis and masturbating to colleagues. I watched Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi Season 2 reference to one of his assaults recently, as it happens, and I wondered about the male privilege and disregard for others you’d have to experience to commit assaults like these. What relationship would you have to have to your penis? I bet you’d have to think it was pretty great, at least superficially, wouldn’t you?

 

I Show My Dick

 

I carry my dick in front of me

It’s an easy-glide dick

It’s a strong dick

It’s a big dick

a stand-up dick

It’s a straight dick, it doesn’t bend

My dick’s a trophy dick

My dick’s a race car dick

It’s a stallion dick

an elephant dick

a blue whale dick

In a bag of dicks, my dick perks up

In a bag of dicks, my dick’s a fountain

In a bag of dicks, my dick’s Dick of the Bag

 

-Jane Eaton Hamilton

 

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton

Out presenting at Surrey International Writer’s Festival this past weekend, I popped into a workshop held by Meg Tilly to help improve writers’ reading skills. Here she is sitting on a participant’s feet. There’s probably a great story behind that, but I’m not whispering it.

photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton

The Surrey International Writer’s Festival

After appearing at the Whistler Writer’s Festival on Oct 14, I’ll be at the Surrey Festival from Thursday Oct 19 through Sunday Oct 22 presenting at the Surrey International Writer’s Festival. Join writers Dong Won Song, Juliane Okot BitekSean Cranberry, Zsuzsi Gartner, Meg Tilly, Jack Whyte and many more for a weekend of skill-honing and fun. #siwf17

Social Justice Writing

Jane Eaton Hamilton

Friday, October 20, 2017

10-11:15 am

Writing about activism is writing that promulgates a progressive view of our world and motors towards change. Is it possible to write social justice poetry or fiction, along with the more usual non-fiction and memoir? Is writing about social justice risky? What will happen to a writer’s career if they become associated with a cause or causes? What about lawsuits and trolls? We’ll spend the workshop engaged in a lively exploration, using social justice writing prompts, learning how to be an effective activist in Canlit. Bring your questions!

 

Cross-Genre Writing

Jane Eaton Hamilton

Saturday, October 21, 2017

3:45 – 5:00 pm

Writing across genres means writing in more than one arena—poetry, short fiction, memoir, essay, non-fiction or cross-genre within a piece. What makes a piece one genre or the other? Are there conventions that can be carried from one genre to the others to create new cross-genre pieces? What are the implications to your Canlit career of crossing genres? Using a single writing prompt, we’ll explore how to cross genres. Bring your questions!

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

 

 

At the Whistler Writer’s Fest…

I’m delighted to be reading with Lenore, Jim and Joan at the Whistler Writer’s Fest! I wrote about the risk in writing my novel ‘Weekend’ for the festival, here.

Writers of Fiction

October 14, 2017 | 10 – 11:30 a.m.| Fairmont Chateau Whistler | $15

Lenore Rowntree, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Jim Nason, Joan B. Flood and the fiction winner of the Whistler Independent Book Prize. Author Claudia Casper explores the essential elements of fiction through our guest authors’ stories. They involve an only child struggling to emerge from his mother’s bipolar disorder; the complexities of contemporary queer love; how a veterinarian’s life choices, at times, contradict her alleged love of children and animals; and a family drama set in Ireland in which decisions and mistakes echo through generations.

 Moderator: Claudia Casper

Love Letters–of a sort

Will You Ossuary Me?

 Jane Eaton Hamilton

She wanted to kiss me in bones. Death, much? Spiraling down 19 meters. She pulled the ends of my scarf and I moved closer because hers were Parisian lips, the top lip thin, the bottom lip full, and I felt her deeply inside where my nerves snapped and I was decomposible. There were tibias all around us in the damp light, and scapulas from the plague, phalanges and fibulas and metatarsals. Infant bones. People dead of polio. People collapsed of childbirth and famine. Of war. Cries and tears and screams. The bones of six million Parisians dug up from cemeteries to make room, shovels of bones, wagon-loads of bones pulled by sway-backed nags for a full two years—carted down into these old mine tunnels, then arranged. We stood in puddles. The air was heavy with the motes of people’s lives—more broken dreams, I guessed, than dreams come true. It was quiet, but the past echoed. Ghost-din. Someone had written, Pour moi, mort est un gain. Pour moi, pour moi, pour moi, she whispered, rumbling her voice. Exhumations and exhalations all around us, the breath of death, bone-stacks, bone-crosses, bone-chips in heaps, my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, maybe, resting in pieces. My lips were swollen and sore, cut and scabbed over from all that had already happened. Skulls placed in the shape of a heart, eye sockets staring, and behind those eye sockets more eye sockets. Shadows moved across us; her nipples hardened. She pressed me up against a white cross against a black tombstone. I will leave you, she said as she bit my throat, but not yet.

Post-publication blues

photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton

I always look at publishing a book as throwing it down a well. Maybe you will hear echoes, and maybe they will be strong enough to hurt your eardrums, or perhaps as faint as whispers. Maybe, eventually, you will hear a splash when that book hits hard (bellyflops?). But mostly you will just peer down a very dark hole and watch your book careening through the air before drowning. You will see this even with reasonably successful books; even those have their season, and attention moves on. The pages become waterlogged, and sink, and tear. The glue loosens. Things sinking can be very beautiful. Things disintegrating can be magical. Think of fabric waving in water, of seaweed, of things barely glimpsed under surfaces. Of underwater dance. Of the grace and flow that you’ve been given back now the project is done. All that beauty of the finished book–sinking out of sight. This is exactly what leaves you alive and full and tarnished and battered and happy and excited for what’s coming next: the pause, the making.

Here is a piece I once wrote about failing to write a novel and giving it another try:

Congrats-Its-a-6-Pound by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“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

 

 

Hunger–my story collection (not Roxane Gay’s memoir I’m reading now)

When I was sorting through my archives, I discovered two reviews of my 2003 short story collection Hunger, one from Event Magazine and one from The Fiddlehead. I thought folks might like to read them. I’d forgotten they existed, and I so loathed the cover the publisher gave that book that I immediately orphaned it. Don’t get me wrong. I am a sizable fan of the artist Egon Shiele, but I didn’t think the chosen image evinced hunger, and the book design was, frankly, pug ugly. I was stunned by the back cover, or lack of back cover, which wasn’t even designed. I know I could have checked the typical stylistic quirks out when the press asked me to publish with them, but I didn’t. At the time, I was on a Gulf Island, and there were none of that press’s books I could find in the library, and it was before the internet was really going. I didn’t see the mess of that book until the press had gone to print (probably on purpose … some presses respect their writers and some don’t) and when I got my author copies, a signature fell out of the first one I picked up, proving that the production values sucked. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. After that, I just–refused it. I always knew it contained great stories, since most of them had won pretty major awards, and it went on to be shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley, earning it a lovely quote from Emma Donoghue, but I hated its look, so I orphaned it.

Anyway, what a difference 14 years makes–and doesn’t make. I still loathe that cover and the production values (you’ll note the cover is not included in this blog post, and it doesn’t appear on Amazon either) but I now imagine I might like the book if I read it again, because in tearing apart litmags and anthologies to make tear sheets for the archives, I found these:

Event review of Hunger

Painting the Babys Room Green review of Hunger

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

 

 

 

 

The Best Reading Ever

Jane Eaton Hamilton and Naiya Hamilton, June, 2017

I am fond of Salt Spring Island, where I used to live and raise my kiddos, and where my eldest and granchildren currently reside. I read at the beautiful Duthie Gallery on Saturday night from the Mother Tongue anthology The Summer Book. Mona Fertig, editor, had to kick me more than once to get me to put pen to paper, but I finally did for the piece I called “Bull Shark Summer.” Any reading my kids attend is a fond one for me, but this reading was my favourite of my life because Naiya, the two-year-old, saw me at the front and shouted, “Nana! Nana!” Oh-oh, I thought, imagining her parents carrying her out yowling because she wasn’t allowed. I scooped her up and sat her atop the podium and continued the reading apace, if distracted. The essay, after all, is in part about teaching her to swim. In the photo above, she is pointing at scored text I removed for timing’s sake, saying, “Nana, you did this!” Yes, child, I did scrawl all over printed text, just the way we always tell you not to. Later she asked what I had read, and I had to admit it had no pictures. At one point, she asked to be set down and opened my change holder so my change spilled out over the floor. I ignored it, but Naiya carefully picked it up, shouting, “Monies, Nana!” She slid it carefully back up onto the podium.

It was wonderful listening to the talented readers who came after me and I know the audience enjoyed themselves.

Here is Mother Tongue’s press release for the book:

THE SUMMER BOOK

A new collection of creative non-fiction

In this satisfying collection of new personal essays, humour and meditations on nature, 24 BC writers capture the joys, memories and spirit of summer. Dip in and relax in the warmth of The Summer Book, anytime of year. It’s perfect for backpack, bus, boat, beach or bed. A small positive treasure in this complex crazy century.

Authors: Luanne Armstrong, Kate Braid, Brian Brett, Anne Cameron, Trevor Carolan, Claudia Cornwall, Sarah de Leeuw, Daniela Elza, Carla Funk, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Eve Joseph, Des Kennedy, Theresa Kishkan, Chelene Knight, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Grant Lawrence, JJ Lee, Peter Levitt, Christine Lowther, Pearl Luke, Susan McCaslin, Briony Penn, DC Reid, Harold Rhenisch.

232 pages, includes drawings, linocuts, watercolours, etchings by Gary Sim, Briony Penn and Peter Haase

978-1-896949-61-1 | paperback | $24.95

The Summer Book

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 4.10.52 PM

Kai Cheng Thom wins the 2017 Dayne Ogilvie prize for best emerging LGBTQ writer

 

Kai Cheng Thom, right, with Amber Dawn (ed. of A Place Called No Homeland).

The three shortlisted authors, l-r: Carellin Brooks standing in for Eva Crocker, Kai Cheng Thom and Ali Blythe

Leah Horlick, host

Ali Blythe

Kai Cheng Thom

Carellin Brooks standing in for Eva Crocker

Big congrats to the shortlisted authors for the 2017 Dayne Ogilvie Award: Ali Blythe, Eva Crocker and Kai Cheng Thom. Reading your books was an honour and a pleasure, and awarding this year’s prize to Kai Cheng Thom on behalf of prize founder Robin Pacific, the Writer’s Trust, and my co-jurors Elio Iannacci and Trish Salah, was a wonderful celebration of queer writing.

Here is the jury citation:

“Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is a delicious and fabulist refashioning of a trans memoir as fiction. It is a cacophonous coming-of-age story and a genre-breaking refusal of the idea that the only stories trans people have to tell are their autobiographies. Her poems in A Place Called No Homeland are jelly-tender, tough as knives. They ride the borderland into and through trauma, relationships, love, and power, and carry us out deepened and changed over to the other side. Her work is sheer joyful exuberance, creativity, and talent.”

Congratulations, Kai!

 

Floundering

photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2017

Floundering

A friend and I spend the warm, sunny day on Crescent Beach. I once housesat a block from the beach so I could do a concentrated writing stint—a retreat for one. For months, shine or rain, every wintry morning I circled the town, trodding past tossing ocean headed for the mud flats with my binoculars, DSLR camera and my ubiquitous umbrella. Work was not going well. This riparian area beside the Nicomeki River, Mud Bay on Blackie Spit, was balm. Known for birdwatching because it’s on a migratory path called the Pacific Flyway, it’s also the only place nearby where Purple Martins nest. The swallows looped above while I strolled through demarcated paths beside the eelgrass, able to pull from my photography belt lenses of different focal lengths. I discovered seed pod decay was as beautiful through a macro as a blooming flower. I took photo after photo of rotting pylons, cormorants drying their wings atop. Later, when I became an art student at Emily Carr, I made a painting of one of the bleached white morning pylons. One day I walked late, and rounded the corner to town just as the sky lit up pure radiant orange from top to bottom, north to south; I shot the silhouettes of people as they stood watching. The photos were gaudy, like seventies’ paintings.

Today, I’m older, and for the same stroll I’ve brought a walker. I sit on our blanket, pulling my gear out to photograph great blue herons—I don’t count; are there ten? Fifteen?—fishing along the low tide banks, but I understand it would be chancy for me to hoist this heavy, long-lensed equipment while standing up. We eat our overheated picnic lunch while I feed a crow egg salad from my hand, hoping some nestlings will be the healthier for it. Kayakers paddle past. Behind us, a woman reads in a purple outdoor inflatable. We turn up our pants’ legs and make our way down to the water while mud oozes through our toes. The water pulls the sand from under our feet. It’s hard going indeed for my arthritic body, rife with pain the way uneven surfaces always are, but I love it—my body’s screams of objection at least have the courtesy of silence. A bay has formed a sand shoal and in the intermediate strip of water, as I slosh through it, I notice a creature leaping and flailing. I head for it, but I am slower than everyone, so have lagged behind when a father picks up a flounder to show his kids. I see the milky under-body, which looks like sole in the frying pan. I don’t know my flounders, but I enjoy pointing and saying, “Look there. A flounder is floundering.” It may be a gulf, summer, southern or winter flounder. It may be a sole or (just for the halibut), a halibut. It thrashes. It has two eyes on the top side of its body, jumbled close, which I later learn are ordinarily placed at birth then metamorphose to the top of the fish’s flat head. The child carries it across the spit to the deeper ocean on the other side, but it just lies there looking quite dead, exhausted from its ordeal, far too visible. It’s heron bait, if you ask me.

It’s low tide in my love life too. Epitonium sawinae seashells, dead mollusks picked over by crows, crusty seaweed. Brackish water, poor circulation. The water makes alligator patterns on the surface. My feet keep sinking. My hips keep hurting. My feet are in agony.

Sad, I think of that flounder all evening. I think how it needed a world, a circumstance, it was helpless to create. In the survival of the fittest game, it lost. It’s a bird eat fish world out there.

I am not strong, either, after multitudes of surgeries. I think of sanctuary, where to find it, what it means to the various creatures of the world. I’m lucky that for me, sometimes, sanctuary is as simple as the arms of a beloved wrapped tightly around me, the simplest of homes.

 

 

Mud Bay, Crescent Beach, Jane Eaton Hamilton, acrylic on loose canvas 2013

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