I rode my bike to my friends place the other night, as the Stanley Cup Final was underway. I’m looking after her big bright sunny apartment and her fecund balcony. Is that the right use of the word ‘fecund’? She’s got flowers galore out there, and bits of shrubbery and ivy and stuff all over the place. needs frequent watering, and nearly as frequently, I have to ‘dead-head’ the marigolds. Which is a task I quite enjoy. there’s something meditative about those kinds of picayune tasks. ‘Picayune’ is another fun word, like ‘fecund’, which i think i used in sort of the right context, but not quite.
Vancouver was kind of like a ghost town that evening. There was the odd whooping noise emitting from an open balcony window, but overall, really quiet. Nearly peaceful–but not quite. More “eye-in-the-storm-ish” really. No traffic, not many pedestrians. some groaning coming from open windows–as if the zombie invasion had indeed happened. It was all those people in blue and green hockey jerseys, they were really zombies,not hockey fans at all and they’d eaten the brains of everyone who drove cars or walked on sidewalks. and then they’d gone inside and had eaten the brains of all the people watching TV and that was the groaning noise–
I rode my bike along the quiet bikeways and thought about what to have for dinner.
By the time I got home, the Canucks had lost. The game wasn’t over, but there was no hope for the home team. And the zombies poured out into the streets.
as you may know by now, the Vancouver team, the Canucks, lost the game to the Boston Bruins. and then a big-ass riot broke out. and right away, the media blamed “anarchists and criminals”. christ. Anarchists are NOT hooligans–and certainly NOT Zombies. And the media, they spent MONTHS whipping the fans (short for “fanatics” you knew that, right?) into a nationalistic froth (see this lovely bit of analysis here: http://toddsieling.com/slowblog/?p=88). and then turned around and said “tsk tsk”. As if those rioters could not have been any one of us, all of us–and as if the people who showed up by the thousands the next morning were any more representative of the average Vancouverite than the rioters. maybe, who knows, but maybe, some of the very same people who smashed windows, burned cars and looted stores turned up the next morning with rubber gloves, garbage bags and dust pans to clean up the wreckage. Because you know what, we are all that extreme and complicated, i’m pretty sure. In fact, one boy, an upper-class kid with a promising athletic career ahead of him, did turn himself in to the cops (he was photographed trying to set fire to a police car, it was only a matter of time before he’d have been caught anyhow, but he was only 17, and he did make sure to come out in public as one of the ‘bad guys’–)–and people who know him said that his behaviour was not characteristic.
except for when it is. I don’t know that I would be able to withstand the kind of social pressure to go wild in the streets like that. Even for such a trivial reason. I bet the real reason isn’t trivial at all, really. We’re so…lonesome. And frightened, and disengaged. i think most of us are walking around with a bunch of rage bottled up, (I didn’t call myself ‘easilyriled’ for nothing, you know), and nowhere to funnel it. I’m way WAY less volatile than I used to be, but that’s because i’ve got lots of things that plug me into engagement with the world and with people in the world and even though i’m nothing special, there’s a place for me, and people around me who value my contribution and for whom I also have great regard.
so many people are flailing. and when there’s a reason to gather and a shared disappointment, and the relentless pressure to take it personal, we will go all mobbish. is that how you spell ‘mobbish’? spell check doesn’t think so….anyhow. We drift. to the lowest common denominator. we drift. but we could just as easily rise, couldn’t we? maybe not as easily–moral gravity is as powerful, i think, as physical, geological gravity. sigh.
Anyhow, so a couple days after the game and the riots, i walked to work at the women’s centre. and I walked past The Bay, which had all these boards over the windows. On the boards were drawings and pictures and posters. the message of all of them was, “the good people are Vancouver, the rioters are not Vancouver and they are bad”. Outside the Bay, on the sidewalk some of the Good Corporate Citizens of Vancouver™ had set up tables and were serving juice and water and coffee and pancakes! it was a ‘thank you Vancouver’ pancake breakfast. I teared up. Really, i had nothing whatsoever to do with the riot, or the clean up–and even during the whole lead up to the game, i would try to buffer myself from “canuck fever” by hollering out
“Rider Nation!” at random moments (that phrase refers to both the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team and their legions of loyal fans scattered throughout Canada. I am a card-carrying member of Rider Nation–well, T-shirt wearing anyhow. When my dad died, Mom gave me his new Saskatchewan Roughriders t-shirt. even though i watch probably less football than hockey, and there aren’t very many (if any) Canadians on the team anyhow)–but I was moved — or maybe manipulated– to tears.
But anyhow, i queued up and had a breakfast and thanked the volunteers and read some of the things on the walls and got all choked up at the earnestness of it all, the desperate feeling in the air of “we didn’t do that, we’re not that brutish, it’s not US–we’re good people, you’re good people…” defensiveness. and pride and shame held together–they had music playing out of kind of tinny-sounding speakers. The Village People song fromthe 70s, YMCA, came on and all the blue-smocked volunteers started clapping and dancing as they handed out plates of pancakes and paper cups of coffee. Were they Zombies? When would they turn?
i better get going, i thought. i turned and walked the rest of the way to work, sniffling a little.
And it was quiet at work. One woman, in the afternoon, she was struggling to get out of her pullover sweater, and she was bent over, pulling all of her clothes over her head, with her t-shirts coming up and exposing her breasts and ribs and skinny back. Without thinking, I reached over to her and tried to tug one of her t-shirts down, to help her keep clothed while she peeled off her heavy layer.
She started screaming. She was muffled by layers of fleece, but her rage and fear gave her impetus to tear her shirts off, clutch them to her breast and start swearing at me, “you don’t ever touch someone when they can’t fucking see you, fucking bitch–” she yelled, and ran out of the centre, half naked, yelling, “get away from me you fucking dyke”.
I followed, trying to ask her to stay, get her clothes back on, don’t go…
but it was too late, she was out the door. Someone else followed her out, keeping her distance, and then returned a few minutes later, “she’s okay, she’s got her clothes back on.” One of my co-workers said, “you didn’t do anything wrong, don’t take it personal”.
I won’t take it personal, but I did make a mistake. I didn’t consider where I was, and where she was. She was high for one thing, and all those women are hyper-vigilant–that she was undressing in the middle of the women’s centre should have tipped me off (and would have, had i taken a moment to consider) that she was not safe anywhere else to do that. and she was right when she said, “don’t touch someone when they can’t see”. Especially when they’re high on crystal meth or crack or something. that shit really ramps up the paranoia.
Another woman passed out in the bathroom, in the middle of taking a shit. Her pants around her ankles, she slipped of the toilet seat. the doors to the toilets have a lot of space beneath them, because that discourages drug use, theoretically. So, women could see her feet sticking out. We were freaked out. No one has ever died IN the centre before, (though some have come close–that’s another story i oughta write about sometime, but not now), and I sure as hell didn’t want it to happen on my watch. I crawled under the door. On my belly, I reached over and tugged on one of her feet. She’s a tiny woman and she’s all bent over, she was in a really bad accident a long time ago, and it left her in pain and built like a question mark. She wears wigs and is alternately sweet as pie and mad as a nest of wet hornets. I tugged on her foot and yelled her name, and she woke up and her head shot up and I’ve never seen her eyes so wide and she yelled, “AAAAHHHHH!” and I yelled back, (cause i was afraid she was dead, or not breathing and I’d have to pull her out of there, through her own shit–poor darlin’– and give her mouth-to-mouth, which I was not anxious to do), I yelled at the same time, “AAAAHHHHH!” and then she said, “what are you doing?” and I said at the same time, “you freaked us all out, honey, we thought you were dead!”
“no, no, i’m okay, i’m okay, thanks honey,” she said, “get out of here, i’m trying to go to the toilet”.
“Okay, okay, we were just worried about you, careful not to step in that there now” I said as I scooted backwards under the door.”
“thanks Darlin'” she said, “i won’t, I’m okay, just gimme some privacy”.
whew. that was a bit nerve-wracking. She cleaned up the floor, sat back down on the toilet and nodded off again. oh well.
as we do, my co-workers and I got into a discussion about politics. Feminism. One of my colleagues said, “I don’t know, i like cooking for my man, and doing his laundry, and taking care of him…does that mean i’m not a feminist?”
How can she work at a place where so many women are living out the legacy of patriarchy in such flagrant suffering and say something so–superficial? Does she really think that’s all feminism is? A bunch of angry women saying, “we’re not gonna cook for him no more!”? really. what’s the answer to that?
She’s trying to work it out. We all are. She has felt the back of his hand, the hammer of a teacher’s low expectations, tasted the bitterness of poverty–she wants to think there is something about her that can correct it, wash the taste out of her mouth, some salve for her wounds.
The salve is feminism. the women’s liberation movement. But that movement has shimmered out of sight for now. That movement has been scattered by the strategic placement of posts–post-structuralism, post-modernism, post-colonialism, post-feminism–
We can’t afford to theorize in terms of ‘posts’. There is nothing ‘post’ about the traumas and terrors the women of the women’s centre endure, nothing ‘post’ about the motivations and actions of the mob unleashed after the game, nothing ‘post’ about colonialism–we’re still here, squatting in someone else’s living room, using up all their stuff and not replacing it.
But nevertheless, the posts have been planted and in trying to accomodate, consider, take into account, include, we have skittered over to that side and the other, and we’ve lost the connection to each other, and the posts obscure our vision of freedom and we have been deconstructed into splinters and factions and the strongest remaining thing is patriarchy. How bad can it be to show my love to my man by cooking for him, by taking care of him, by…?
jesus wept. where do I start?
But we all talked about it, feminism and women’s place in our cultures and the difference between culture and politics, and the difference between appreciation for beauty and sexual harassment and about what we do to protect ourselves and how we’ve been set up to compete and…
in between we handed out cups of yogurt and swept the floor and sang some songs and tried to hold back the flood waters. you know. that front-line stuff. like digging through cinder-block walls with a teaspoon.