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screaming demons

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Two more sleeps till i go off to Ottawa for the Women’s Worlds–1800 women in Ottawa–organizing activating speaking singing dancing arguing motivating obfuscating interfering intervening — maybe the earth will shift a little bit on its axis, maybe the movement toward the liberation of women will be revitalized maybe some of us will meet as adversaries and part as allies.

I don’t know. I am trying to not have expectations. I am asking for guidance, what is the next right thing? I’m pretty sure the next right thing is to finish the paper i’m going to present, but then again, we didn’t promote our panel as a series of papers so much as a conversation. It will be a difficult conversation, though, i want to have something to which i might refer–paper to look at if it gets too hot to look at the other women in the room.

We’re talking about harm reduction and prostitution. We are all activists in our way, one an Aboriginal woman finding her voice and vision as an artist, another a formerly prostituted woman, a third is a feminist law professor at a conservative wealthy school, and me, finding my voice as an academic, an activist and a former front-line service provider. I’m a bit long in the tooth to be just finding my voice, and i am impatient and self-deprecating (sometimes crossing the line to self-trashing) about how long it takes me to write, to speak , to plan and implement–but there’s a time for things, and this is my time, now.  Well, our time.

Oh dammit. it’s ten-thirty at night and i have spent the day being so sleepy, i couldn’t focus. all i could think of was how much i have to do–i went to school i met with my advisor i got a flat tire i put my bike on the bus and took it to a shop, i asked the young man to fix it and please can i have a tune-up and as these things go, there were a million little things that were wearing out or broken or in some kind of shambles or other, so $350 and four hours later, no, more like five, i had a new bike. And i walked to a restaurant and read about pornography and took some notes for the class i’m teaching in the fall and I wrote a few lines for the panel  next week and i tried to do the next right thing, one thing after another, the next right thing, but i was lonely and  wanted a coffee and i wanted something–

i have yearnings, see, i don’t know what i want, but here , right here is this hole–it’s a hole, mind you, not an opening–not yet.  I used to fill that hole with alcohol, I used to quell the screaming that came from there with wine and beer and vodka and sometimes, good single malt scotch. Other times, mouthwash.  And i’d rock back and forth and hum or sing and I’d write about things I couldn’t decipher the next day. Now i have other things, the hole isn’t so big or deep or frightening anymore. Because i have found some things to line it with–good friends and allies, work that gives meaning and nourishes me, meetings a few times a week, some tools for living–lots of exercise and reading and thinking. I have to be consistent though and vigilant, because if I let my guard down, that screaming demon at the bottom of the hole, well, it’s still there, isn’t it?  It will always be there, but it’s not mean or bad, it’s really sad and lonesome and frightened;  it’s become bitter and mean with the sadness of all of it. That screaming demon is  me.  Just as much as the woman who pulls a 250 lb deadlift is me, just as much the woman who taught 31 people a bunch of difficult theory is me, just as much as the woman preparing a panel about harm reductions’ failed promises is me, just as much as the woman who calls her mom every week is me.  Sometimes that screaming demon still overwhelms and paralyzes. But not for as long, ’cause i don’t give it liquor now. whew. I drag it off to meetings or the gym and give it a good talking to and try to give it some loving and shine some light deep down to where it lives.

But right now, two nights before i head off to this conference, that demon is fuckin’ antsy, lemme tell ya. I hate crowds. and there will be 1800 women. I’ve looked at the conference program. It’s 101 pages long.  panic. I can’t pick what to go to, where to place my energy and attention, who to find and talk to, 1800 women, hundreds of papers, performances, conversations and actions to attend to–all of it urgent, absolutely urgent. We are in mortal danger, women are. Everywhere on earth we are in danger. Just this week I read an article that was posted on a list-serve i’m on about little girls in India being turned into little boys–because boys are more valuable.  And we know, we’ve known for a long time about selective abortions and female infanticide and ‘corrective rapes’ and ‘comfort women’ and about all the women who are peddled through the mail-order bride industry, and those girls along Franklin Street here in East Vancouver, and the women going to the ships and the women trapped in mansions by their wealth and their miserable husbands–‘keeping up appearances’–

and we are pitted against each other — “we have to listen to the experiential women” — say the liberals, though they don’t call themselves liberal, they might call themselves progressive or even radical. they talk all about ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ and “listening to the experiential women”–as if we are not ALL of us experiential. They mean, by that fancy word, women who are engaged in systems of prostitution and pronography. But which of us has NOT, at one time in her life or other, been approached by a man for sex, “wanna sit on my face?”, “How much?”, “hey baby, whatchoo doin’ tonight?”– which of us has not been faced, at one time in her life, with the ‘choice’ of whether to have sex with a man in exchange for a meal or a bed or money or drugs or alcohol or protection or belonging or…? Which of us is NOT experiential? I don’t know one. myself included.

We have all of us experienced growing up female in a world that hates  females.  We all know what it is like to be sexualized as our breasts and hips grew, we all remember our first menses. Some of us did not want the attention of men as we matured and tried to disappear, some of us sought it out and tried to draw their attention. All of us were aware of it, though. All of us knew both the thrills and the dangers that men held for us. At an event last year, part of the urban women’s anti-violence strategy, we talked about how old we were before we knew about rape.  None of us made it to the age of ten before we learned about it, as if it were a virus that struck women and girls at random. We knew about it and we knew that there were things we had to do to keep it from happening to us.

That, of course, was a big lie. That there was or is anything we can do to keep it from happening to us. That there is anything we can do or take or say to ‘reduce the harm’ that men will do to us in order to protect their power. There is nothing. Short of gathering and speaking loud and holding each other up and saying to those men, “no”. But it is the men who have to decide to stop demanding sex, to stop harassing us, to stop letting each other get away with using porn or buying women or raping their lovers. Men. The source of the harm. We have to organize and listen to each other (ALL the experiential women, every one) and we have to be tender and disciplined with each other — and men have to stop. making. us. do. their. fucking. work. Their fucking and their work.

1800 women. a good start. maybe we can together find a way to harness all our screaming demons and make them work FOR us instead of against us. my heaven’s i’m nervous…

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…

 

 

Zombies. riots. women.

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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.

Not brains.

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?”

Uh, well…

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.

but more.

 

bra-shopping with Bourdieu. I know. weird.

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Speaking of “symbolic violence”, (which I am about to do) I have to tell ya, i hate marking.  I’m trying to teach about Bourdieu. Oh man, that guy is difficult. I think maybe he got more difficult after he died. That was 2002, mind you, nearly two years before I met him. So I can’t say. But I can say that marking papers about class, Bourdieu and ones social location in relation to urban or suburban teenagers — is a grind.

I bought a bra the other day. stay with me, here, i think i’m gonna get back to marking.

So, i’m kind of morally and politically opposed to wearing bras, but I’m also a bit self-conscious and have become socialized to hide  my nipples from public. I’m over 40, and obviously a lesbian, so by and large, I am not visible to men, (who are the ones sexualizing women and our nipples), but still and all, i get a bit twitchy. I know it’s socially constructed twitchiness on account of living in a fucking misogynist patriarchy and my nipples are lovely and all–but i’m fuckin’ twitchy.

right. So I go into this place that ONLY sells women’s underwear, ’cause my friend K she said, (and she should know, she’s smart about clothes and stuff, she helped me dress for my 30 year high school reunion, and it was even fun shopping with her. go figure) anyhow, K said, “go there, they’ll give you a proper fitting and a perfect bra for you”.

So, I went in. And I’m all twitchy, eh, and there’s a young woman hanging really tiny garments onto a display and she looks at me, smiles and says, “Can I help you?” And I’m all kinda sweaty ’cause i was just riding my bike and a bit nervous and I leaned into her, looking around to make sure no one could hear me (i don’t know why–EVERYONE knows that women buy bras there, fer pete sake, what’s the big deal? It’s like going to an AA meeting and being afraid you’ll see someone you know) –and I whispered, “I need a bra”. she didn’t laugh, but she looked like she wanted to, and said, “would you like a fitting, then?”

“yes please.” I said, “no wires, no padding.”

“ah,” she said, and smiled at me as she went  off to the back of the store, me following,  “we only have one with no wires or padding, that’ll make it easy. Unless you want to try a sports bra”. I said I’d try the sports bra, too. She took a tape measure and measured my circumference and eyeballed my breasts for the cup size. And it wasn’t awkward, either, she was good, that woman. I outweighed her by probably 20+ years, but she was very gracious and respectful. whew.

The sports bra  was like bloody armour  ! My breasts formed a shelf under my chin. I looked kind of formidable. but I also felt kinda stiff.

“Yes,” she said, “it’s okay for working out, not so much for all day”. not even for working out, i’d say. My pecs can do all that support stuff, really. they wer getting huffy being so constrained even for a few moments.

then she hands me the ‘no padding no wires” bra. lord thunderin’ moses. it was black. And that wasn’t the worst of it, it was lacy, too. Black lace! I ask you! I stared at it and then at her.

“I know” she said, “It has lace, sorry. I think we have it in ivory, would you like to try that?”

but they’d run out of ivory.

anyhow. it fit. I’m a 36 E, apparently. they have it recorded at the store, so when they get the ivory one in, i can just go get it.

See? It’s even difficult to get a fucking bra (that no one’s gonna see) that isn’t — well, I guess bras are gendered already–but OVER THE TOP gendered. I want a bra that fits well and so i go to a particular store and the only bloody thing they have has all this lace and shit on it. Oh sure it’s pretty, but I’m self-conscious, aren’t I? and I have a reputation to uphold, don’t I?

don’t I?

made me mad all the way home. that I have to wear a bloody bra in the first place, which I hate, and then it’s so hard to find one that doesn’t have wires and padding and levers and ramps and shit cause god knows we gotta make ‘the girls’ stand out, and up, and be all cleavage-y–but NOT (god forbid!) nipply because the cleavage is comfort, the nipples are the business part, and we have to remember that women are all about being comforting and playthings, but not Life-Givers–that’s dirty.

really really makes me mad. That I cave to the pressure to wear a bra (even when i’m way over forty and therefore invisible to men anyhow, (except in Istanbul))–and then that I have to wear lace. Or armour.

“sorry about the lace,” said the young woman. She was kind of smirking, but not in a mean way.

“it’s okay, it’s not your fault” I said, “and no one will see it.”

“ah. okay” she said, stepping back a bit.

“No one,” I repeated. “you’ve been very patient and kind. thank you.”

Oh yea, and as i was paying, she noticed my ‘synapse’, which is a silver pendant i wear–it’s the symbol of the Lesbian Tent Revival (created and performed by Carolyn Gage–carolyngage.com) and it’s a reminder to keep thinking even when the patriarchy does it’s very best to interfere with your thinking and keep us from making the connections between each other and tells us we’re silly or stupid or fucking pre-menstrual (they’re just afraid, ‘pre-menstrual’ is a FANTASTIC state to be in)–keep them synapses firing–and she asked about it and when I told her she and her co-worker said, “right on! that’s true, too!”

So I left the store with a new bra that fit well (even though it’s black and has lace–sigh), and I was both angry AND happy. Which is a pretty fun state in which to be.

oh yea, i was going to get back to Bourdieu, and marking papers and  how bras are symbolic violence, but I think i implied it, and i still have some marking to do anyhow, and i’ll talk more about all that later. I’m not gonna get back to it this post. I’m sorry. shiny things. you know how it is.

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I  start teaching this week. the course is for secondary school teachers and it’s called “social foundations of education”.  I was surprised that i got to pretty much design the syllabus myself. I was trying to get everything in there, you know, the history of education in BC, the social construction of childhood, the increasingly virulent reproduction of patriarchal socialization as evidenced by hyper-sexualization of girls (and boys, actually, all that camouflage and so on–though my friend L, who is a righteous Aboriginal warrior in her own right, advocates dressing all Indigenous children in camo stuff, because, well”we’re at war with you all, don’t you know, gotta look the part”) ahem.  right. Never just a fashion statement. Clothing choices are a political statement.  Either a capitulation to the status quo (like pink for girls and blue for boys) or resistance against it  (camo for all the Aboriginal kids).

I had this great conversation this morning with a friend of mine. She and I used to sing in the same choir, we were in the tenor section–“the terrible tenors”–which did not refer to our singing but to our behaviour. Sometimes the choir director brought her “bad kitty” spray bottle to practice. heh. We realized we were from the same province, though not the same town, pretty close to each other. and we liked each other right away.

She’s a yoga teacher. Now, I like yoga, but sometimes yoga teachers and yoga practitioners can be a bit whifty, you know what i mean? They go rabbiting on about chakras and chanting and energies and that’s all fine, I guess, but sometimes it makes me a bit uncomfortable. For instance, there was this one yoga instructor at my gym for a while, and she would have us do this big long chant before and after practice. That made me all twitchy, on account of I didn’t know what the words were, or what they meant. For all I knew, we coulda been calling the wrath of whomever, the ancestors or the rivers that used to flow through this city, or the ocean gods, down upon our heads. One wrong syllable, and WHAM! curtains fer you, sister. So enough of us asked her for the words and the translation that she finally supplied them. She was a bit…oh, righteous about it, though. When she brought the photocopied sheets for us to refer to, she said, “Sometimes the Western Mind needs the words” or something like that. In that tone some people have of “i’m so much more enlightened than you are” kinda thing. pah.

She was young and white, too, by the way. pretty much as Western Mind as I am. probably she’d been to India, though, so she got all tuned in there.

Anyhow, back to my buddy today, she said, and this was really great to hear, “Some of the harm that’s being done in the name of yoga here is just….maddening. it’s really dangerous how some people practice”. I’d never thought of that before. How can yoga be bad?

“Well, take Kundalini, for example”, she said, “it’s a practice where breath is really emphasized and fast poses and it stirs up lots of energy, and when people do that they’re practically floating–” so in an altered state, that is, they are practically floating and all energetic and happy. But they are also really vulnerable and exposed. And in this city, people don’t have a guru, a teacher who keeps track of how you’re doing and what you’re learning and how the practice is affecting you, and we pick and chose too, oh, today i feel like Bikram’s, and the next day it’s this studio that does Hatha, or Iyengar or whatever, and we never settle and if someone is vulnerable or in trouble or even just ignorant, they can get in a lot of trouble.

huh.

You know, it’s another sign of our liberal, or neo-liberal times, eh. We’re supposed to just do what feels good, and take on whatever identity that “resonates” in the moment, and float around from one thing to another without attending to the contexts within which our choices are made, and our identities formed. it made sense what she was saying, that so much harm is done by this proliferation of teachers and yoga studios and this and that…people are desperate for connection and meaning, but also we don’t really want to work hard at it, cause we’re afraid. and we’re in pain. J. said that she was so filled with self-loathing and she was so anxious about drawing attention to herself and so fearful and confused when she finally found yoga that she too latched on to the New Age goop that said, “you can create your own reality” and all that. It was just as she feared, she had created her own reality and it SUCKED. But she hadn’t, not really. She had taken on the messages that said that we are responsible for how we feel and we do have an array of choices and this is the new world and we are creating the context as we are living it….but what about where we come from? and what about our ancestors and the land upon which we walk and the powerful who maintain the structures within which we have to make these so-called “choices”? As she practiced yoga, and started to be able to breathe and open up to the big world around her, and make some connections and stop being so self-involved and at the same time becoming aware of the world beyond, she could see–

anyhow. what she was describing as the harms of yoga practiced willy-nilly without context sounded to me like harm reduction. you know what, it began as palliative care for drug addicts. It emerged from medicine and it has always been only to reduce disorder, crime and overdose death. It has NEVER been to end addiction or make any systemic changes. no. so now, now that harm reduction has spread like a viral you tube clip over the land of social services there is this confusion about what it is meant to do, and how it is meant to be implemented, and it’s attended to at the expense of ANY other approach to ALL social problems. and like yoga, it is the individual practitioner who is meant to be responsible for how it all goes. The addict has to use the safe injection site and clean needles, the woman in prostitution has to negotiate condom use and refer to the ‘bad date’ sheet to keep herself safe–it is up to those who are harmed to reduce the harms done to them, and the inconveniences that others endure because of their ‘choices’– to use in public, to dispose of condoms in gutters, to die in dumpsters…you know. Same like the yogi who goes mad because all this energy has been stirred up and awareness opened and then they go out and experience the world in that new way and lose their connection to reality–

“There is so much harm being done” said J. “And don’t get me started on kharma,” she said, and I wanted to ask more about that, too, but it’ll have to wait, ’cause i have this course starting tomorrow and i’m just frantic with nervousness.

But anyhow, I know it’s all tied up with this neo-liberalism. And as we were talking, i realized we’re in the same soup together. We are looking for improvement, relief, connection, meaning. The liberal way is to look for a negative conception of freedom–the ‘you do your thing and i do my thing, we are not in this world to live up to each other’s expectations’ kinds of freedom. That’s harm reduction. That’s North American yoga. ” this will make you safer, this will keep you from dying, this will open up your energies”

But THEN what? Then you’ve got a lot of still addicted, but now dependent on all the systems that simultaneously preserve life and enthrall life, still prostituted, but now dependent on the services that open the doors to the punters and offer you condoms and referrals to services that amount to band-aids, not engagement with solutions–still lonesome and self-trashing, but now euphoric and rootless in the same world there was before the yogic practice–

maybe i need to add more sentences to that last paragraph–I think I understand the connections–it’s the same de-contextualized answer in different guises–it’s not a solution. The radical solution has not yet been found, but there are women working on it. We know, Simone De Beauvoir figured it out, we have to be responsible for the well-being of others–a positive conception of freedom (thanks Darlene R. for that insight, all your work on that has left a lasting impression on me)–we need each other. we are all of us implicated in these structures of class/race/gender and unless we are looking at the big picture, unless we are always connecting the dots, we are always going to be settling for this lonesome fruitless ‘feel-good’ emptiness.

And Hannah Arendt, you know what, she was no friend of Simone but they came to roughly the same conclusions–these difficult brilliant women, they both realized that we need each other. and no one can be free until all of us are free, and we can’t achieve freedom by just doing what we want and having what we desire. We have to DO freedom by taking care of each other and by sometimes throwing ourselves in front of the tank, and by really attending to examining our responsibilities and who is with us and how we can end the suffering of others. end it. not reduce it.

And Pierre Bourdieu, he’s the dude i’ll be teaching about mostly for the next six weeks, i’ve mostly been reading him lately, and i need to know more so i’m gonna teach about him. he was a working-class guy who became one of the most influential thinkers of all time, and he kept saying, especially in his last years, that those of us who have a little influence, a little more room to move, we HAVE to look at the structural causes of suffering and inequality. it’s our responsibility–as academics, as journalists, as teachers–we have to push and pull and make room and interfere with the downward spiral of expectations and chances–(that’s from Pascalian Meditations, 2000, p. 216 or so–“we adjust our expectations to meet our objective chances”–that is, if we’ve been poor all our lives, we are going to expect to deserve more of the same–basically). it’s more complicated than that–and really dense and difficult and French, but worth wrestling with.

and my friend, J. It was refreshing for both of us to meet and talk and realize that we are on the same kind of path, we are not content and we are not willing to settle. She uses yoga (among many other things) to help people ground and to keep connected to alleviating suffering and tapping into the connections, I use, I dunno…blogging, maybe teaching, (we’ll see i hope that works out), telling stories, making jokes, lovin’ my friends…

Context is very important. a “post-structural” analysis of anything is premature. oh dear. look, that’s the first time i’ve said ‘post-structural’ in this whole post and now i’m gonna hit ‘publish’. talk about out of context! sorry. I’ll get to it. now i’m gonna go to choir practice, though. And of course that’s political too….

Slut-Walk. sigh.

Remember Take Back the Night? That was a BIG thing for decades. It was a women-only protest against male violence against women. We gathered as dusk fell over our cities and towns.  As many women as could come–no permit, the cops were never invited (though they always showed up)–we provided our own security–women in vests, or identified with armbands, who made sure we were all together, that the women who were spray painting or stickering were shielded from the surveillance of the state. That the women who removed their shirts had room to move, but be safe within the march, too. We had an “arrest one, arrest all” policy that everyone attending these marches agreed to. We wore jeans and sneakers, dresses and heels, feather boas and long elegant gloves–boots, slippers, rings and bangles, or wallets stuffed into our back pockets.

As we gathered, there was often music, always speakers–women who were activists, anti-violence workers–one or two women gave a speech about the work of the year, the reasons that we gathered like that, every year, third Friday in September, across the nation. We read telegrams, then faxed messages, then e-mails from other women in other cities and towns in Canada–all of us gathering in solidarity as dusk fell. We together lit a way for us to walk together in safety and defiance with each other. All of us were (are) women who had been harassed or attacked on the streets by men, women who adjusted our behaviour in attempts to keep us safe (don’t walk at night, carry your keys in your hand as a weapon, don’t go out alone, don’t do this, don’t do that–you can’t wear that). We were (are) women who had been raped, battered, incested, prostituted, insulted, harassed, put down, held down, excluded, diminished–by men. By patriarchy.

But together, for that one night, everything was possible. We knew we were safe to be together, we protected each other, encouraged each other, healed each other and stoked the fury of our collective rage and faith in each other. Faith in our Liberation Movement.

I tell ya, those marches were so much fun. One year, the year before I got to BC, I think, ’86–when Expo was in full force in Vancouver, the women of Rape Relief built these giant puppets and danced them through the city. The next year, ’87, I was part of the organizing committee for Take Back the Night in Victoria. We didn’t know what the heck we were doing. But we got maybe 20-30 women (and a couple of sensitive guys–we did agree on women only, but these guys didn’t get the memo. whatever, i didn’t notice them till the end of the march) and we walked down the middle of the road (and partly on the sidewalk) for a few blocks–I gave a speech about pornography in front of an “adult” video store, and we yelled at the man who had the fine timing to open the door and scurry away from our taunts as we arrived. We opened the door to the police station and chanted “get your laws off our bodies” at the cops at the top of the stairs. I don’t think they took us seriously. well. Never mind. we were fine. we chanted and sang and danced, the tiny band of us, through the sleepy streets and then we held hands and sang and made our plans to get home safe.

The next year i missed it. I was wrapping up a treeplanting contract in Northern Saskatchewan. Another great story altogether….

I remember those marches–exuberance and rage, joy and light in the darkness, all women together. We always had to ask men to leave. We always had some push back from women who said we were sexist for excluding men–but we also always had men who were willing to do childcare, and provide rides home to women after the march, and back off.

“whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!”

Take Back the Night was a women only protest against male violence against women. Very clear. We knew that sexual harassment, you know, wolf whistles, invitations to perform fellatio, queries of “how much?” and so on, were along the continuum of men’s everyday violations of our safety, bodily integrity, confidence and abilities. We knew that we needed each other for protection (not our boyfriends or husbands or fathers). We knew that those seemingly innocuous comments about our looks, or our expressions (“Smile, Beautiful!” they would command) were/are not  compliments, they are intimidation.

Men rarely attack women they do not know. But when they do, it makes front page news, because all the other ordinary men can point at the monster and say, “see? that’s terrible, I would never do that, you’re much safer with me”, and the patriarchy wins our capitulation again.

so. Take Back the Night was about that. We knew there were always women who could not come out at night because they were held prisoner in their homes by abusive men. And we knew there were women who could not join us because they could not take the risk, however slight, of being arrested. We marched for them, too.

Now, there’s no Take Back the Night. There still are marches held here and there, but they’re not women only, for the most part. They’re not even about male violence against women. They’re about bullying. or violence. in general, as if it’s an air-borne virus that randomly strikes out of the blue. “we must stop violence”– like, um, how do we do that if we don’t NAME who is doing it to whom? you got a vaccine for that?

no. Now we have Slut Walk. this cop in Toronto, he said that women who dressed like sluts were asking to be raped. Or something like that, some offensive, victim-blaming remark like that. which included the word “slut”. So, women in Toronto got all dolled up in their hosiery and push up bras and short tight skirts and went walking together in Toronto. This weekend, they’re gonna do that in Vancouver too.

I won’t be there.

I know, I don’t have to dress in a skirt or anything in order to participate. But the whole thing kinda skeeves me out. It’s not about male violence against women. It’s not about the systems of oppression, rooted in patriarchal power, that keep us from freedom and safety wherever we go. It’s more about individual choice, and capitulating to the impositions of stereotypical gender roles — “This is what a feminist looks like” kind of rhetoric that valorizes a certain kind of beauty that is appealing to men.  How the hell did we get here? This whole business of “I choose to wear this clothing, these shoes, I CHOOSE it” stuff. Do ya? really? how is our choice shaped? what are we giving up when we choose one thing over another? what are the costs or benefits to our freedom–our real freedom, i mean, I mean the freedom that comes from acting in solidarity with others–taking responsibility for the well-being of others? When we wear shoes that hinder our ability to walk easily, when we wear tight clothing that shortens our stride, when we wear binding undergarments–I know, I know, “they’re comfortable, I can run in these shoes, I LIKE this stuff”–I know. I’ve heard women say that.  But who designed that stuff? And to what purpose? and how can it be liberating to wear constraining clothing? I don’t get it.

and this whole slut walk thing, it’s only about women’s individual choices of what to wear,  it seems. Men are not named as the threat to our autonomy. But they are. the man who called those women “sluts”, he was talking about women who had been raped by men. He blamed women for the violence done to them by men. He said, in not so many words, that men are incapable of governing their own behaviour, nor could they be expected to be responsible for the decisions they made when faced with a woman dressed a certain way.  He let men off the hook. Enormous insult to men, that comment, as well as to women. but women, in response, have not made the connections between our individual choices and the structures of domination within which those choices have been made. This walk is not about shaking the foundations, or dismantling those structures of domination. This walk is only about the legitimacy of the individual choices made within those structures.

Anyhow. I won’t be going. I think anytime women organize together in our own interests, it has transformative potential. But in this case, I don’t think the potential for transformation will be realized.  to quote Gertrude Stein (out of context, to be sure–sorry, Gert), “There’s no there there”, ya know?

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.