20/20. Perfect vision. Hindsight is… this year, the one ahead of us; we can see ahead and behind 20/20.
Today dawned bright and blue, few clouds in the sky and the sun bringing the various shades of green and brown into glimmer and glow. Magnificent, really. Su said, “it’s like last week was a week of crying everything out”.
Today I saw a former professor and colleague from my last job. He’s still there in my old department, making the best of it. He greeted me with warmth and happiness. It’s been years since we have seen each other; i think he was on sabbatical for most of my last year there; though I know he visited the faculty association in my defense when the Dean decreed I should be offered no more teaching contracts (the faculty later paid me a settlement in return for my resignation–as if I had a choice, really. the money was helpful, though). it was lovely to see him, and his wife. He invited me to meet for coffee or a meal sometime together. We stood in the sunshine of the new year, late morning, smiling and saying how good it was to see each other, and blinking in the sudden light after the interminable rain. When we parted, I started to cry. It’s such a relief to know that someone I worked with and admire has respect for me still. I have been mourning the loss of that place, those relationships, that work. I loved my department, and I loved teaching.
Though it was kind of lonesome. And I would get all wound up with worry through the semester. It was hard to keep up with the reading; the marking; the current research — and the increasing promotion of misogyny and anti-feminist ideology was VERY troubling. I could’ve continued without addressing the trans ideology, I suppose. Some of my friends did it — they just didn’t talk about it. Here in hindsight, I could have just said, when it came up, “this is not a topic we will discuss here. At all.” and moved on. I don’t know. Also here in hindsight, I can see that that was not the right forum for me. Not a good fit, that sessional/adjunct professor stuff. No future in it for someone like me. It was wonderful to see my old friend, though — that whole long journey to PhD land really happened, and I do still have solid relationships from it. So reassuring.
This week past, for another example, I met up with my friend with whom I attended PhD school. She lives in another city now, with her husband and their daughter. She is planning to go up for tenure this year. No one in her department approached her about it; she’s going to go ahead, though, because it’s time and she’s done the work. A (white, male) colleague of hers, who was hired the same time as she, and who has roughly the same number of publications, and a comparable teaching an service record, was approached by the department to proceed to apply for tenure. We all figure that the reason she wasn’t tapped is because she’s Asian and female. She’s an admirable woman, my friend — steady and determined; talented for sure, and works really hard as well. And she is one of my anchors, too. Every time we get together, a couple of times a year only, we pick up where we left off, and it’s easy. Even when our lives are so different now. It’s really maddening that she has to work twice as hard as her male colleagues of European descent.
It’s not one person or one institution’s fault or wrongdoing–nor is it any individual. it’s all of us and it’s the systems of which we are a part. The Institutions. Big I Institutions. We are all in them, all separated by and cleaved to them. Those that benefit most from them don’t want to team up with those who are sidelined, not really. Too much to lose. All those institutions — Education, Medicine, Law — they all go on about ‘community’ and ‘social determinants of health’ and ‘social justice’ — They all mean it, too, I think. Theoretically.
I don’t think we can yet imagine what real freedom looks like. I noodle around in my blog here, and with my friends and colleagues, and political allies — and I start to write about it, like just now — and I can’t imagine what to say. Here we are in Hindsight — the year of perfect vision — and I can’t see a metre in front of my face.
That might be changing this year, though — in part because now we have a gang again. A small one, but we’re starting something. A group of feminists uniting to interfere with our mayor and council here, the media like the CBC, and various SJWs (social justice warriors) who have tried to stifle the voices and stop the work of radical feminists, and tried to ‘disappear’ lesbians from the dyke march, (not entirely successfully, but most of us opted to participate in events that were actually for, by and about lesbians instead of face the over-the-top vitriol we encountered in 2018) and tried to shut feminists up and out of the public discourse. We’ll see how we do. I am kinda optimistic. Maybe it was the sunshine today.
I’m going to change the subject now. This time I want to tell you a story about Su and her dear friend Norene. They were friends when they were young women in University in Sackville. Mount Allison — “The first university in the British Empire to grant a woman a degree” Su reminds me. Long time ago, now. To hear Su talk about Norene, you’d think they were soulmates. I think they were, anyway. Norene was about 8 or 9 years older than Su; she was an artist. A fine arts student who came from an old New Brunswick family. Su was studying science, then found the interesting people and switched to English lit and art history. Hung out in the theatre department, too. She and Norene did a lot together — shared stories and adventures; held each other up after break ups and disappointments; celebrated each other’s joys and successes. Norene was a guide to Su, too. Worldly without ever having left New Brunswick, she was a friend and a mentor.
Then Norene was hit by a car while she waited for a bus, and was killed instantly. November 2, 1978. Su was devastated. She couldn’t finish her degree. She couldn’t be there without her friend, and grief so heavy. She couldn’t put it down, and she didn’t know how to move through it, so she packed it (and the little rainbow cups and saucers Norene had brought Su from London) with her and moved to Vancouver. Norene wouldn’t have been pleased with Su’s decision to leave school that year. “She would’ve kicked my butt. if Norene hadn’t died, I would’ve finished that degree, and I probably would’ve gone to Toronto….” But Norene died, and Su left town. Who knows what would have happened? Hindsight doesn’t make stuff up, it just sees what was there with the clarity of experience.
Norene’s other friends were also left bereft. Her death bound them all together, I think. Su still keeps in touch with those people. This fall one of them died. Laurie. he was brilliant and tormented, “an impossible treasure” Su called him. Norene thought Laurie and Su would be good together, “You should marry Laurie” she’d said — but Su, though she loved Laurie, knew otherwise.
The friends all kept up with each other, all these years. Over time and love affairs and jobs and miles and illness and continents and break ups and oceans, they all stayed with each other. Sometimes tenuous, sometimes ethereal, sometimes in person, sometimes through voice or text or letter. But always. Then Laurie died. The old friends came together from different directions, bonded again by grief — they texted and called and reminded each other of their past. And it rained non-stop for what seemed like ever in Vancouver. And everyone was wringing wet and dissipated by the rain and the cold and the dying year with not much chocolate in it (strangely) and fewer lights than last year, it seemed. Su was burdened with grief and worry. One night, she just wept and wept and asked for help. She asked for help from something not human, not god, but from some power she just feels around her sometime. And we slept wrapped in each other, sharing a sadness.
The next rainy day Su called me and said “Norene sent me a message.”
I asked “what did she say?” and Su replied, “I asked for help last night, and she heard me. She told me the sun is coming back.” She showed me a picture of a painting Norene had done in 1978 as part of her graduation show from the fine arts school — and it was a big, yellow, magnificent sun glowing over a summer landscape. Even from the tiny screen of the phone, the picture looked like redemption and promise. “It’s going to be okay” said Su.
Su’s sister had seen the painting as part of an estate auction, (she also knew Norene) and sent Su the picture asking if she wanted to bid on it. The auction was today. Joanne said to Su that there were a couple of other bidders, but “I turned to the crowd with my best, ‘your soul is over there somewhere, go find it’ look, and they petered out. My kids say I am good at this”. When Jo sent Su a text “it’s yours”, Su let out a cry and started to weep.
Thank you, Norene. What a wonderful gift to your old friend — a big sun to light the year of perfect vision and hindsight.