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Scariest thing i’ve ever done, done. A beginning.

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well. i’m writing this post on Saturday morning. Yesterday morning was my last day of my first teaching gig. Twice a week for six weeks, 3.5 hours Monday and Friday mornings we met.

I was terrified. It was the same feeling I had when i started grad school way back in 2003, but from the opposite side. Then, and this spring, I was sure I’d be found out as a fraud, that I would reveal myself as incompetent. When i started in ’03, I was also working, both at an advocacy centre in a suburb (about an hour drive away from campus) and as part of the radical feminist anti-violence collective of whom i’m so fond. I had spent the previous 15 years working at that kinda front-line stuff. From bathing grown men and women to preparing women for court to facilitating groups for people who had been diagnosed with a mental illness or women who had experienced male violence to making meals for up to 100 people at a time to planning memorials for people who had died too soon–work was intense: enraging and heartbreaking and joyous.

I was nearly forty when i returned to school. Terrified. Exhilarated. Doubtful. Defensive. Curious.

it’s been quite a ride. I finished a Master’s Degree, and it’s quite the thing. But none of it is published yet, and it’s kind of important for it to get out there. it’s a critique of Vancouver’s Four Pillars Drug Policy. With a special focus on Harm Reduction. I started out with the idea that perhaps there was something awry about the way that harm reduction was implemented in our town, here, that it was maybe a decent approach to drug-related social problems. But that’s wrong, drugs themselves are the symptom, not the cause of social problems, and when you look at reducing the harms of drug use, (and only illicit street drugs, or the drug use of illicit street people, more like), you’re still not looking at the fundamental political and social problems which lead to drug use and addiction. Anyway, i went on and on about it for, like 200 pages. and the defense was an event–i invited everyone I knew (and a few people I didn’t) to come.

And they came. Then i regretted it. But one of my buddies, he said after, “you know, i’ve been to one other defense, and I didn’t understand a word, practically. yours, I understood.” That was good to hear.

Another one said, “i was really angry when you first started talking, I thought, ‘she’s touching my sacred cow! What is she doing with her hands all over my sacred cow?!” (about harm reduction–i am not a fan). But then he settled down a bit, he said, and listened, “You have given me some things to think about,” he said, and he thanked me. he was very gracious. Didn’t agree with everything I said, but never mind that, a door opened.

And teaching has been kind of like that. I went in sort of expecting people to push back a bit. I’d heard that typically, the folks in this class would be tired from their teaching practicums and anxious to be finished school and off to their new careers. They’d be reluctant to talk about so much theory–they would want to know techniques for classroom management and student evaluation.  I figured they’d be a tough crowd all in all.

Oh, but that was not the case at all. the first day, I told them a bit about myself, I told them that I had done all this front-line work and facilitated groups and designed and facilitated workshops and stuff like that, but never taught a course.

“Don’t be nervous” said one young man in the front of the classroom.

“Thanks,” I said, “You either.”

I made a ton of mistakes, and did a lot of things right. I wouldn’t assign such difficult reading, and I’d probably get them to build representations of theoretical concepts a little closer to the end of the class than the beginning. And I’d do more in class writing and then talking, have them work in different groups (i had them work in their same small group all term to create a final presentation based on their practicums) and next time, for sure, I’m going to talk way WAY more about sexism, prostitution, male domination, and how the education system colludes with all those other institutions of power. We reached a pretty sophisticated understanding of that stuff this time around, I hope it wasn’t a one-off, you know? and i came at it sideways, through class–which is not just income or economic status-and that’s tough to sort out.  But the education system has it sorted, and medicine, The systems themselves are way ahead of us–we all collude with them ’cause we can’t see what we can’t see, ya know? And Medicine is deeply implicated with the reproduction of social inequality, what with the whole attention deficit disorder scam going on, for example. warehousing children.

AND–I thought  that there would be more talk about sexism in the teacher education program, i really did. How naive of me. I focused on class, but once we got into the semester, it became apparent that any discussion of male domination and sexism had been silenced by a subtle but inexorable shift to combating bullying and homophobia. Girls and women scarcely exist, except as straight allies in the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) groups in high schools. Everywhere there are anti-bullying campaigns, rainbow posters and ‘feel good’ messages about inclusion and acceptance.

Meanwhile, grade seven girls are giving grade nine boys blowjobs in exchange for cigarettes and ‘belonging’. Young women are taking testosterone to ‘get the body they’ve always wanted’–or starving themselves to fit the model image–

A young woman of my acquaintance, dissatisfied with her body, claiming it does not represent the way she feels ‘inside’ has decided to take “T” in an effort to achieve the look of ‘not woman’.  She said she won’t get surgeries, but will only take t until she has the physical changes. I think i know what she means.  I too want hard muscles and broad shoulders.  Is that what she’s after? ’cause you know what,  as my buddy R said, “you can run for days, but you’ll never get away from your womanly hips”.

“just pump iron,” I want to say to her, “that’s how you can achieve peace with your body, become at home with it, with yourself”. it’s one way, it takes a long time, but it’ll  take, then.  But it’s not–it takes a long time to achieve the results. Not like injections.

That’s another thing we have to talk about in relation to the young people and education, I think, is that instant connection world we live in now. Instant gratification, instant connection, fluid hook-ups and ‘transitioning’ willy-nilly. all wings, no roots.  How can teachers make that Victorian Institution, the SCHOOL, a behemoth of brick and homework and classification and evaluation and ‘streaming’–how can they make it a place of collaboration, inventing freedom, redemption, resistance? How? I don’t think i can teach that.

Anyhow, it was the scariest thing i’ve ever done–well, the scariest thing i’ve ever done while sober, I guess. and those scary things i done drunk,well, they weren’t so worthwhile, I don’t think (i don’t really remember, that’s more like it). But it worked out. We sang together sometimes, and i played my accordion and we had these interesting discussions and even the guy who said, “I don’t want more theory, I don’t understand!”gave me a hug at the end of class and said he had learned a lot. He’s the working-class immigrant guy from a huge, poor family in China. Nice guy. solid, steady, he got it– one day he said, “you know, i’m not supposed to be here at all, in this university–not as a student–I should be a janitor here.”

I said, “you know the theory, man, you’ve got it.”

they took some risks with each other, pushed the boundaries of their understandings and assumptions, collaborated through conflict and bad weather. can’t ask for more than that for a first term, i think.

okay. i’m going to a rally for Canada’s Postal Workers now. ordered back to work by our federal government, never given a fair shake by the employers or the state–the media whipping up anti-union froth among “the public”–we’re in trouble here. I wore my anarchist t-shirt. is that a contradiction?

kind of…

Quixotic

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Today i made an appointment to see a doctor who specializes in adult ADD. i’ve been meaning to for a long time, but I keep getting distracted. you know how it is. Now, you know what, i don’t think that Attention Deficit Disorder is either a Deficit or a Disorder. it’s torture, i’ll tell you what, but it’s a surfeit, rather than a deficit. And it’s a set of coping mechanisms, it IS. Also, it’s imposed as a pathology by the Medical Industrial Complex, eh–if we each think that it’s something wrong with us, we don’t get together to make the necessary social/political changes–we make appointments with ADD doctors, and modify our behaviours and take the pills according to his instructions and assimilate. “Resistance is futile”.

But it’s not something in me. Look around! well, okay, don’t. All that information (not knowledge, mind you, nope); all that music and colour and big noise and shiny stuff and all those caffeinated beverages and all those pills and powders and supplements and books and videos and articles and microfibre and training tips and look at that cute puppy! and why don’t you have any children and will you sign our petition for equal marriage? 

It’s endless, I tell you. And there are so many causes and injustices and inequities and battles to fight and there’s a war on women–how do I pick?

help.

The other day, I went into this store near where i’m staying. It’s a fancy soap store, with all kindsa smelly exfoliant and moisturizing crap everywhere. I love that stuff, eh. Did you know that about me? Big ol’ dyke, with a thing for soap. well. I’ve had ‘a thing’ for way more destructive stuff, lemme tell ya.

Anyhow, so there i was and i got sweet-talked into a couple of these bodybutter bars. One with black current and another with almonds in it. yummy. And cocoa butter and shea butter and stuff. I made a joke to the young woman selling ’em to me, I said, “jeez, i might want to shave these into a salad or spread it on toast, too”. She looked at me blankly. “Why would you want to do that? Oh, no, you don’t want to eat it”.

Anyhow, I’m staying in a neighbourhood where everyone spends money they ain’t got on shit they don’t need. And I’m totally like that, myself. It’s been worse since I stopped drinking, I think. But it’s the same compulsion, ya? I have a need, something inside that’s not there, some kind of yearning for…i don’t know what. And I also have credit cards. And there are those beautiful things on display and maybe if i just exfoliate and moisturize, i’ll feel complete. or, um, ‘complete-er’. Or something.

It’s embarassing.

But it beats drinkin’. and i have some insight, anyhow.

Anyhow, so as i was paying for my new soul mortar (i’ll call it that for now–I’m saving it, maybe i’ll give it away as a gift to someone I love, then i won’t feel so self-indulgent), the young woman at the till asked if I wanted to sign their petition for ‘equal marriage’ rights in the U.S.

Why do I do this?

I said, “Well, you know what, i’m not really down with marriage at all”. and both these women looked at me with the same kind of uncomprehending, yet disapproving stare. Same look that younger sister gave me when i made that joke about shaving the body bar into my salad.

But I carried on, especially as one of  ’em said, “oh? why not?”

“Well, you know, it’s a heterosexist patriarchal institution that isn’t founded on mutual respect and equality–”

and she said “but people can’t get benefits or their partner’s pension plans, or…”

“I know, but economic reasons are the only reasons to get married, really, why can’t everyone get taken care of like that, rather than sign ownership papers for each other–we’re fighting for the wrong thing”

She kind of muttered, “okay, suit yourself” and busied herself with some kind of smelly soapy thing under the counter.

the other one, the one who didn’t get my joke about eating the bodybutterbar, she said, in that kind of polite way you talk to the earnest young people with Greenpeace folders, or the religious who come to your door sometimes, or slightly daft conspiracy theorists who button-hole you at parties–she said, “i never thought of it like that”

“it’s good for men.” I said, “not so good for women”. I tried to…I don’t know, look like a nice person, though, and said, “I don’t think anyone should be, um, punished for getting married, i just think it’s not a solution to…” oh, Erin. just stop, already. solution to WHAT? yea. that’s a bad path you’re heading up on, no one has this kinda time…

She nodded, her smile fixed on her face–I could practically hear her sigh with relief when I said, “well, uh, good luck with that” and headed for the door.

my belly churned all the way to D and A’s place. That was a good hour bike ride away. I was invited to a little celebration for their youngest daughter who had just turned 10. her older sister had just turned 12. their mothers are not married. they have been together for 19 years, and I have known them for longer than that, especially D. We have been organizers and front-line workers and activists and actors together. We have fought and fallen out with each other and stumbled and told each other our deepest secrets and sorrows. We are family, and we never signed any papers that gave us state approval for our love for each other. We’re not in each others wills, we don’t share a pension plan, we don’t even see each other much-but those little girls, they have known me since they were embryos, since they were unknowable. And those grown women, they have known me in my very worst moments, and some of my best as well–as I have known them–and somehow we recognize, and will always recognize, that the kind of friendship we have forged here is the kind that we all deserve.

I talked to D a week or so ago, and we had an intimate moment together, and offered appreciations to each other for the times when we stepped up for each other.  Like when i first sobered up in 2001, and D called me EVERY DAY for three weeks to say congratulations, and keep it up. And she doesn’t much like telephones. things like that. And when we were going through a rough patch, and D wasn’t up to calling or getting out much, and I called every so often, and said, “I love you” in one way or another into the answering machine. And Christmases together and bringing my mom over to meet the girls, and trying to be a good bad influence (“you’re a GREAT bad influence!” the younger one said to me last time we had an evening together). small things. small things. twenty years of small things one by one build into the other night, when we were having sushi and celebrating the births of two little girls growing big and smart and happy–protected and cherished–and we made plans to picnic at the beach, and we talked about the organizing meeting i was going to, and what we had done twenty years ago that could inform the actions we are taking now. Personal and political.

See what happened there? i started off talking about going to some ADD doctor and got all side-tracked. But not, kind of…

 

 

Life is Beautiful. Even when there’s bad news in it.

Saturday morning my darling friend Deborah who lives in Montreal called me. Well, she called Friday. and i called her back and left a voicemail, and then i called my mom, because Deb was on her way to Red Deer (her home town and mine). Her mom was in the hospital “and it doesn’t look good. Can I ask your mom if I can stay in the guest suite in her condo?”

Of course she can.

I didn’t hear from her, so this morning I sent her a text message. Sometimes these alienating electronic devices can be handy. I said, “i hope you’re okay. I’m sending love. Call when you want to.”

She received the text about a half  hour after her mother died. Her lovely, spirited mother. “She waited for me, Erin. I know she did. I held her hand and I said, ‘we’re here, Mom, we all love you, and we want you to be at peace.’ And she relaxed, I could feel it.”

We are at that age now, my friend and me.  We need each other more than ever. We’re all pretty resilient, yea? We needed our parents and now they need us, and it’s a scary gift to be able to be good to them. Mom told Deborah, she said, “Erin was very good to me when we were in Maui.” and Deb said, “Of course, there’s no other way she should have been.”

Christine, Deborah’s mom, she was an athlete, and she was a writer and she was a musician and she was a nurse. She had newspaper clippings, pictures of her playing ball when she was a young woman, her softball team somewhere in Southern Saskatchewan. She raised three children on her own, and she always wanted to write her life story. She lost her sight before she could finish it, but I think she got a good start on it. I hope so. She had a sharp sense of humour and an unmistakable Prairie accent (though people do often mistake Prairie accents for just about anything else). She was fierce and hard to get along with sometimes, she had a temper, according to her daughter–but don’t we all have conflicts with our mothers. Is that because women give up so much to become mothers? Is it because we can’t understand how complicated and urgent it is to love someone to whom you gave life? Unless we become mothers ourselves, I guess.

I don’t know.

Mom called me tonight and said Deborah had called and was going to come over tomorrow, “don’t worry about cooking for me or anything,” she said, “all I need is a hug from you and I’ll be okay.”

How many more? Well. All of us. There are no easy bits to life, really, are there? Sometimes there are moments of peace and ease. But there is always conflict and upheaval and change and life and death.

I’m sick again today, kinda run down and wrestling with a sinus infection, so i’m not really firing on all three cylinders, but i wanted to…I don’t know. Acknowledge Christine. And the friendship between me and her daughter. She’s the friend i went to my high school reunion with, I wrote about her in “Haunting”, in, when was it? July. if you want to look it up, it’s still there.

Deborah went to visit her mom a couple of times while we were in Red Deer, and the day she left was one of those times. I picked her up at her mom’s place, a nursing home on the north side of town.  We had tea together in the cafeteria-style kitchen. Christine was blind by then, but took me to get a cup of tea, and introduced me to a man who also lives there, and found the sugar and milk for me to use.

“Mom can get around almost as if she can see–she’s good in here,” said Deborah to me. And she said to her mom, “come to Montreal in August, Mama. You can come with your friend, and the airline people will be happy to help you. The children would love to see you.”

Christine lit up. Then shook her head, “I don’t know, I haven’t gone so far since I’ve lost my vision. I’m afraid.”

“Afraid is a good sign,” I said, “whenever I’m afraid of doing something, and then I do it, it’s pretty much as cool and fine as it was frightening.”

She laughed, and agreed that that had been her experience too. And agreed to go.

And when she went, everyone along the way treated her well, she had a wonderful time. It had been years since she had seen her grandchildren and they enjoyed each other very much.

Now Deborah has no reason to go to Red Deer.

Deb and her younger brothers gathered ’round their mom one last time, and gathered around each other. There is so much to do, such furious activity after a death. Cleaning and sorting and reading your mothers writing and feeling shy because “am I supposed to read this? But who else will, now?” this life of a woman from the prairies, this big life of hope and promise and disappointment and suffering and grace–the material is contained in a box. Photo albums, a sheaf of paper, notes scribbled on napkins. But carries on, too, that life, in the hearts and memories of these three grown children and in the grandchildren who knew her only a little.

Deborah’s partner and children came from Montreal. My mom fell in love with them. Every time I talk to her, she tells me how polite and smart Deborah’s children were, how much she enjoyed Deb and her husband, even though it was such a sad time.

Today (which is a week after i started this post), they took Christine’s ashes to Banff. She is in the mountains now. singing no doubt.

Life goes on. The circle closes and opens and closes again. Perfect. Awful. Radiant. Life.

back to the salt mines…

Well. Saturday I went to the airport again, with Mom. To send her home. We went for a drive in the morning, i drove her around to where the rich people live, because they have pretty gardens. And we went to Southlands, by the river, next to Musqueam. Southlands is where rich people live, too, and their horses. We saw some horses, and small girls riding small ponies. Serious looks on their faces (both the girls and the horses). Musqueam is where the Musqueam people live, the First People who were here. the government, on behalf of the Musqueam, leased the land to (mostly) white rich people, who built big lovely houses on the land. 75 houses. In the late ’90s there was a big fight when the Musqueam people took over managing their own land, and increased the rent on the land to more accurately reflect land values. whoa. That was a come-uppance to the people who’d built the big houses, and leased the land for $400 a year. I think they finally settled, in 2000 or thereabouts, for about $10,000 a year. don’t know though. anyhow, it was a big stink for a while. You wouldn’t know it driving around those wide quiet streets, though. Like we wouldn’t have known about the Hawaiian Sovereignty  movement, either, just by being there. The tour bus operator told us some of the history, and how the last Queen had the rug pulled from beneath her, and then we went to see a play, Ululena, that told the story of Hawaii from the point of view of Hawaiians — but we wouldn’t have known about the tensions and the movements of the people for their land and rights if we hadn’t had an idea from those movements here. Everywhere. Indigenous people are rising. Still and all, this revolution, as all revolutions that stick, is glacial. We want to be allies, but we were on vacation, and we didn’t seek out the storms and live lava flows. We can pick and choose. it’s a double edged sword, that privilege that prevents us from offering fully and suffering fully and allying fully.

On Thursday night, we’d gone to see Cavalia, which is sorta Cirque de Soliel with horses. So there were acrobats, clowns, aerialists — human and equine. None of the horses were aerialists. In fact, none of the men were, either. Only the women flew. It was a stunning show. Magnificent horses, and powerfully tender moments between horses and humans–like the bit where the one woman stood in the middle of the stage with six horses and they all did as she asked. She made a gesture, and they galloped together in a circle, separating two out, who galloped in the opposite direction and then all of ’em lined up and turned toward her and she touched each one and said something to each–she was a “horse listener”–and then there were the men and one woman who each rode two horses at a time, standing up, one foot on each broad back, and like this they jumped over a log held up by two of the acrobat guys–and the one woman who rode like this, at one point she had a team of SIX horses, all of whom jumped over this log, two at a time. Hot.

And the aerialists, they danced light on the air above the proud stepping white horses ridden by men in blue velvet jackets. The women sometimes touched down upon the horses, gently behind the rider, then they’d fly off, faeries above sawdust.

I watched. I didn’t see even one horse poo on the stage. Not even the two colts who opened and closed the show.

Anyway. We stood with the rest of the crowd at the end and gave the troupe a resounding ovation. We talked about bits of it for the next two days. “How about that guy on the ball?” one of us would say, and “remember that woman driving those six horses all at once?”

Mom said as we were leaving that she couldn’t have imagined a better holiday. And that she’d treasure the memory for the rest of her life.  Me too, I will. Sometimes i got impatient. Because she tells the same story over and over, and she’s kind of forgetful, and she doesn’t move too good and she gets tired easily. But I think I was impatient not because I was angry, but because I was–am–afraid. Afraid of what her forgetfulness, and limited (diminishing) mobility and fatigue and increased dependence means.

We didn’t have such an easy time when I was a younger person. I was willful and headstrong and impulsive. Creative and restless and independent. She was afraid for me, and protective and I don’t know, maybe she understood me better than I thought (probably)–but there were some things she didn’t understand. She still doesn’t understand the whole lesbian thing. She doesn’t get why I don’t like the institution of marriage so much, and the whole radical feminist thing makes her kind of nervous, I think. But she loves me. And she’s met some of my friends and lovers here, and she’s reassured that i am not lonely, and can see that I am not bitter or unfulfilled.  And i see that, too. That there are people around me who will always be my friends, and we will help each other out when we need help, and celebrate each other and love each other. Mom and I both have those kinds of friends.

When we arrived, my cold was waiting for me here at home. So i’m sick and snotty and hacking again. But still and all, i’m nearly finished my course outline, and i’m reading up on Istanbul, and have both unpacked and begun to pack and made doctors appointments and started to catch up on the work i left to wait for me as I went swanning off to the tropics, there. But oh, my, I would love to go surfing again. The minute i can breathe fully again, i’m going into the Pacific Ocean again. I know, I know, it’s colder here, but it’s the same water. Healing. Rejuvenating.

Also, Mom has called me every day to find out how i’m feeling. She misses me. I miss her. I’m mailing her some pictures I took of our trip. I’m so lucky and happy that we were able to do that together.

mom

I talked to my mom last night. She’s coming tonight! We’re going to stay in a hotel near the airport and tomorrow morning get a shuttle and get on a plane to Maui. In September,  I won two tickets anywhere Westjet goes. My lover at the time, she said, “Erin, you don’t have to take me just because we’re together”. That was generous of her. She’s like that, J. is. Perceptive and generous.

My first impulse was Newfoundland. I’ve long thought of  “The Rock” as my spiritual home. Not least because people often hear my flat Prairie accent as an east coast accent. But Mom and I talked about it for months, and finally, she said that her friend recommended Maui, maybe we could go there. Okay.

I’ve got a wicked cold right now. dammit. Usually the annual bronchial event happens in November, but somehow i managed to evade it. I was getting a bit cocky, I guess. But Mom said last night, “Even if you sleep for two days when we get there, you’ll be in Maui.”

I never wanted to go to Hawaii. Never wanted to be part of that whole colonizing thing, even though i am implicated just by being a white woman born in North America. People who’ve been there said “oh, it’s beautiful, heaven on earth” and that it’s all laid back and chill and stuff. But Lahaina (where we’re going) is “kind of touristy”–which is also what Mom and I will be, “kind of touristy”, all big eyes and pale skin, wool socks slumping over sneakers. Well. mom will have compression stockings on, she fell a few days ago and is just now beginning to walk comfortably again. Getting old ain’t for sissies, said my Grandma. anyhow, it’s a town that’s become kind of pretentious with nostalgia, you know how that is? brick buildings and whitewashed siding and everything a bit too tidy, a bit too tucked in.

Powerful women in Hawaii, there were. Pele, the Volcano God (she’s a she, of course, this devourer of land, but i am resisting adding “ess” to her title, on account of “ess” and “ette” have a diminishing effect) rumbles along the Hana Highway and seethes under the seven pools and surfs the waves on her days off. Queen Liliuokalani the last Queen of Hawaii reigned fair and fierce with all her might until the White guys took over, wrote silence over the sounds of the ancient stories, took ownership of the children, added a price tag to bamboo and pineapple and even the white sand of the beaches.  My friend who writes plays about women who’ve been disappeared under the histories written by men, she said that before Europeans came to the Islands, there was no currency, no written language and now ownership of children.  What was time like then? when there were no marks to count the hours, but instead  layers of stories to mark the movement of myth? when no one owns children, fathers do not rule, and mothers don’t get worn to raw nerves. maybe it was like that. I can’t imagine no written language. What must that be like? In the Hawaiian language the words are like the ocean, they mean many things, cover a lot of ground–‘aloha’ is gift and hello and goodbye and something that is not definable in written language or European language now so laden with structure and money and wars for more stuff. Polynesians had wars, and the Maori sailed away to Aotearoa and the Hawiian gods are fierce and vengeful or foolish and joyful. Like deities can be. i told Mom not to worry about the volcanoes. I’m pretty sure they only take virgins. She giggled.

Today I have this persistent dry cough that is wearing me out. Kept me from sleep last night, and has interrupted a few conversations today. When I was a little kid, Mom could keep track of me when while we were shopping by the sound of my coughing. at night before sleep she would rub my chest with vick’s vapo-rub and tell me stories about I can’t remember what now. Then she’d kiss my head and tuck me in.

Until I was in my late teens, i would turn on my side and rock back and forth and sing. Usually loud. Mom told me that she used to sit by my door to listen to the songs I would make up. I sang about taking the shape of an eagle and soaring over the earth and watching my friends play in the roads and the parks and the woods behind our house. I would sing about becoming a trapeze artist, or earning fame that went beyond my specialization, or riding horses headlong into the wind on a rolling plain outside of town. Random stuff. whatever came into my head i would make into a song and rock back and forth as i sang. Later, when transistor radios came along, i’d plug one earplug into my ear and rock back and forth to whatever distant American station i could find late at night. it was cool at night, because you could get signals from exotic cities like Houston Texas or places in Montana. I’d listen to the evangelist guys, like Garner Ted Armstrong all the way from Pasadena California. i liked Garner Ted. His name was kinda funky. and he said strange things like “Jesus could have been a mushroom for all we know.” I liked the cadence of his voice and sometimes the signal would weaken so there’d be the evangelical lilt under staticky snow and the lonesome rumble of the train along the tracks past the end of our block beyond the abandoned gravel pit behind Jensen’s house.

For an atheist, I have this complicated relationship with Evangelists and so forth. I always wanted to be an evangelical speaker. Sometimes my friend M, who is a believer type, she says I am an evangelical preacher. hah! I like that.

anyhow. i’ve drifted off again, i don’t know what the point of this post was now….but i’ll wrap it up. In less than four hours, Mom will be here, and then this time tomorrow, we’ll be in Maui. wow. I’m gonna try to listen for the right ways to do things, and pay attention. And I’m going to be really loving to my Mom, ’cause she listened to my made up songs and rubbed vick’s on my chest and gave me life–then saved it a few times.  We are closer in age these days, ’cause of the way that time has of warping and shifting between parents and children as we all grow and age and our experiences bring us closer and further and wrapped around each other. For the longest time I was about 12 to her and to Dad. I’m a grown-up now though. I’ve saved some lives myself by now. me and my sister-comrades. I know my mom doesn’t worry quite so much as she used to about me. Not like you would for a twelve-year-old. maybe only like you would worry for a middle-aged single woman living in a big expensive city on top of a couple of fault lines. come to think of it, more than a couple of fault lines, in a metaphorical way…

Maybe i’ll post a bit while i’m away, but maybe not. it’ll be good for me to be away from the ‘net for while.  I’m looking forward to more stories from Mom’s childhood. We’ll talk of Prairie winters while ambling along the warm beaches of the South Pacific. That’s gonna be weird. And lovely.

compassion seems thin on the ground in these neo-liberal times…

Okay.  You know the shit storm I referred to a couple of posts back? Well, it’s died down a bit. But there’s still acrimony. Now, I’m as twitchy about disagreement and conflict as the next person, and I have a defensive streak, yes I do. But these people, they didn’t just disagree with me, they called me “hateful” and “phobic” and “anti-sex-worker” and some other stuff. They didn’t actually engage with the ideas they found so hateful. They said, “you’re hateful and transphobic.” Um. But why? Some of ’em said they knew of our “differences” before, but thought I was respectful of that. Well, I am, I think. But once I posted on my blog the  argument for abolition that a few of my allies and I came up with, that demonstrated not just unspoken differences, but articulated disagreement. A bit more frightening, perhaps.

One person said, “I knew we had our differences”. But that’s not accurate. We disagree. We have differences, yes, we are not the same. Different hair cuts, favourite foods, hobbies– But we also disagree. And our statement about lesbian feminists and prostitution articulated the disagreement, which my adversaries seemed to perceive as attack. This is common in this realm of pretend conversation and faux activist space. We write things, and then we attack others for writing things we disagree with. What happened to me a couple of weeks ago, and what happens to many others of us in this strange space-of-no-space, the world-wide-web–was not dialogue or debate–it was attack and it was bullying.

I think we attack when we think we are in danger. When something dear to us is threatened, or we perceive a threat.

Now, i’m not whining here. It’s troublesome, this. My adversaries are not the enemy. The enemy is the structure within which we live, and those who benefit the most from the imbalance of power and the inequitable distribution of resources. That is to say that patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism rewards men, middle-and upper-class men; middle and upper class, white-skinned, North-American or Western European born men. We try to name who is doing what to whom. So we say “male violence” and we say “women in prostitution” and we say “prostituted women” because it names the women as in a system of exploitation which is fueled by the demands of men. And in that system, women do not have the power to set the terms or call the shots.  Maybe they are choosing, sure. But choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. We all see that. Those who want “safe working conditions” and those who want the abolition of prostitution all see that the most visible of the “public women” are also the ones whose choices are the most constrained. And we all know that the women we see on the street corners, the young ones, the old ones, the ones who are addicted and sick–they would not be able to find a place in a brothel.

And men who buy sexual access to such women do not WANT to go to a brothel. They would if they wanted to. We all know where they are. But saying that we know men target specific women is somehow dismissive of the women?  One of the people who was offering insult as argument lately said that the women in prostitution she knows “felt dismissed and unlistened to”.  Never mind that “unlistened” isn’t word, and should never, ever be used in a sentence, but neither word describes a feeling, or emotional state. They are judgments. Which is okay, we asked for people’s judgments, and critique and engagement. But what exactly was dismissive?

See, this is a good way to shut people up who are saying things that are uncomfortable to think about. Tell them they are bad, hateful, dismissive, disrespectful. We are feminists. We can’t bear to be told that we are not respectful. We don’t think of ourselves as hateful. None of us do, not on either side of this debate. And we’re women. We are trained to second-guess ourselves. We are trained to try to be “nice” and to avoid conflict. And we are trained to see the threat in each other. Not in men. We are trained, in fact, to align ourselves with power in order to protect ourselves.

What does it mean to align with power and against each other? Well, we are pressured to lose weight and wear makeup and wear underwear that yer bum eats and shoes that give ya bunions and take all the hair off our bodies and remake our bodies to look like what we think men want. And we are pressured to have babies and take care of them and we are pressured to get married and take care of our partner but rely on them for income and we are pressured to compete for the attention of men and we are pressured to pay more attention to boys and we are offered shitty jobs for not much money, or good jobs for not much money, but more than the shitty jobs, just less than the men would make and we love the men in our lives, the helpless little fellers who can’t cry, poor darlings and they don’t have a clue but they sure get the grants and the raises and the attention and the power and then they want more or they want something else, and we need the stuff they have, the space and the money and the influence but we don’t have it so we have to attach ourselves to them, and that means doing what they want at the expense of our relations with each other, other women.  Even lesbians, even lesbians do this stuff in some way or another. In fact, most of the people who are really mad at me and vocal about it (well not vocal, like they haven’t actually approached me, they just write shit on each others’ walls about me), they are lesbians. No, wait, they are queer. or trans. Butch or femme, they do attach those labels to themselves, but not lesbian, in general.

what’s that about, I wonder? I think it’s about not wanting to be identified with or as one of those hairy, seventies, ‘womyn with a y’ womyn’s libbers. I think there’s something in there about that. Several comments i have read, including some to the abolition post, called us “80s feminists”.  As if that was a bad thing.  But no explanation about why it would be a bad thing. Mullets were big then, for hair styles. That might be part of it.

Just the other day, one person sent me a note on crackbook in which she said our statement that lesbianism and prostitution are opposites is dismissive of heterosexual women.

Now. Let me look at her sentence.  On the one hand, it seems  she does not agree that lesbianism and prostitution are opposites. However, she did understand that we thought that lesbianism is a more positive choice for women to make.

so that might imply a glimmer of understanding. But we didn’t mention heterosexual women, because that’s not who we were talking about. We weren’t dismissive of heterosexual women, not at all. We’re lesbians.  Indeed, we meant to trouble the notion that prostitutes and lesbians are in the same boat, ‘choice’-wise, or in the way of enjoying an ’empowered’ version of womens’ sexuality. Which is generally how the pro-pimp folks put it. She added something in there that we did not say. We did not articulate our judgments of heterosexual women, because we were not writing about heterosexual women.

We were writing about what we knew, from where we are right now. feminists. lesbians. who have worked for a combined, oh, about fifty years in anti-male-violence work and activism.

It’s just been a strange trip altogether. It’s tiresome, this exhausting struggle with each other. We ought to be allies. There have been NO men commenting on this blog, far as I know. And no men commenting on the facebook flame fests, far as I know. A couple of my male friends and allies have clicked “like” to some of the posts and links that I and other women put up. But on the whole, this is a cat fight.

And that’s wrong on so many levels. We should be able to disagree (and that’s not ‘have differences’–that’s disagree–You think something that i think is a mistake, i think something you think is a mistake–that’s not ‘difference’–that’s ‘disagreement’)–without being reactive. We should be able to say, “I think you’re wrong when you say this” and say reasons why (and not “because you’re hateful” or stupid or phobic or anti-sex or whathaveyou). We deserve way better from each other.

We get mixed up and can’t tell the difference between an emotional state and a thought or judgment. We get mixed up and confuse insult with argument. I’m not likely to agree with you if you call me ‘hateful’ right off the hop. Don’t get me wrong, i’ve rode into town on some pretty high horses, for sure. I can get all righteous and in yer face about what a jerk you are–but bottom line is, if I really think that the way I understand things will get us closer to freedom, then i’m gonna stick to making an argument, and i’m gonna try to remember to feel the love. And when I’m not feelin’ the love, then, well, i’m going to fold up my tent and walk away.

We really DO need each other. All of us. It’s going to be more difficult to rise to the occasion and help out one of those mean sisters who’s been trashing me when she needs help, but i sure hope i will do if if that need arises.  Can’t say for sure, though.

The folks that most vex me are my greatest teachers.

Compassion is sharing the suffering of another and working to alleviate that suffering. It’s difficult and maybe even dangerous. But … why not try?

ach. i want to write what neo-liberalism has to do with this, too. And I wanna write about the Lesbian Tent Revival weekend–but later. another time. i still have a syllabus to figure out…jeez…