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Holy smokes, it’s 2014 now! I began this post in the spring of 2013, I think. Just noodling away while my right foot healed from bunion surgery. Now I’m still a lesbian, but my right big toe is straight! I’ll just let this post stand as I’ve written it, but by bit over the past number of months, a sentence here, a paragraph there, write, delete, write, save draft, move on…here ya go:
In part, I’m not posting on account of I have this dissertation to finish. Most of my cohort has graduated now. Two others, like me, are not yet done, but both of them lost their mothers early in our program, and took a leave to help with their care and after. They have also added children to their families, as have most of the rest of my cohort. I don’t know how they do it — babies and jobs and publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals and teaching classes and presenting at conferences and ‘networking’ and then they all got academic jobs before or when they finished.
Then there’s me. Not getting a hair cut ’till i’m finished at least a full draft. hair’s pretty long. tangled and wild, just like the inside of my head. I am now working on my THIRD draft, but I didn’t get my hair cut because Mom wanted to brush it when I went home for Christmas. Plus, to tell the truth, now I kinda like it…and as I said, it is a fairly true representation of the knots and split ends and tangles my thinking often is — Harm reduction, women’s liberation, prostitution, front-line work, activism, law enforcement, legislation, compassion, education, learning and thinking and practice and theory — whose voice counts and for what? I have it, i have it all right here, but it’s still in piles or shards, and the finish line is shimmering in the distance like a mirage on the broad desert of libertarian individualism– choice, agency, consent, voice, sexwork, oppression, justice — what the hell do the proponents of legitimating prostitution mean by “justice” or “choice” when they argue for legal brothels? What do the women on the front-lines of feminist anti-violence work, or street-based health care, or social service advocacy mean when they talk about the application or meaning or uses or harms of harm reduction? How do we meet each other where we are, how do we see through the fog and cacophony of “best practices” and “evidence-based” and “respect for their choices–constrained though they may be” and hang on to each other as we look together for a way out?
It’s so easy to go off in several directions, and then i get kinda stuck and end up–well, here, fiddling with yet another draft of yet another blog post that I may not even post at all.  fits and starts, fits and starts. story of my life…
There are always reasons that i’m not done yet. Death, birthdays, grieving, celebration, work, love, fighting, worrying, fretting over this and that–but not delving, you know? not flinging myself wholly into one thing or another– just falling into the messiness of everything and thrashing about. There’s a difference. Falling in, you just get all covered in mess, and it takes a long time of kicking and flailing and sinking to make sense of it. Sometimes you only get covered in ick.
Purposefully leaping in, on the other hand, means you have to look where you’re leaping–even if you don’t see IT exactly, you know the spot to aim for. It’s good, too, to know to dive–close your eyes, tuck your head, raise your arms above your head, palms together, your body a spring–you’ve been training for this, you know what to do–once you’re in the air you have to have faith– and never lose your focus or your nerve.
One of my mentors (I have a few, most have come to me from surprising places) said to me, “Well, you have been dealing with a deadly disease, after all, don’t underestimate how hard that is”. I had, of course. Underestimated, that is, — how hard it is to figure out how to live as fully human after twenty years of hiding inside a case of beer (I preferred good single-malt scotch, of course, but it’s more expensive. And in truth it’s wasted on me. I would just chug it anyway).  There is NO WAY I would be where I am now were I still drinking. No way. Even though I think I’ve had a pretty smooth road, I have indeed worked pretty hard over the last nearly six years just on living sober. I go to these meetings, and I write about my resentments and anxiety and my part in it all, and talk to other women who “go to my church” so to speak, and I ask for help and I help others and I do things that I don’t want to do like pray and meditate (I’m an atheist, but I know I’m not alone. I don’t understand a whole bunch of stuff, so if I talk about it to my grandma, or to my dad or to ancestors who’ve gone before me, and then just shut up and sit still for a bit, an answer will come). So, you know, that’s a lot of talking and listening and writing and doing that just gets me to zero, right? It just gets me to where most people who aren’t addicted begin.
Of course I am still critical. I always chicken out at the last minute. I start, I train, i write, I read, i take my pen and my paper, my books right there, the notes from discussions there, the timer set and — “oh, one game of solitaire won’t hurt” — then before you know it, it’s gone from solitaire to email to that video about [‘well, it’s kind of related to my research…]  to Angry Birds (dear god, what have I become?) — and by the time i pick up my pen again, or open the file on my computer, I’ve lost my nerve. I have to prepare again, breathe deep, review my notes, set the timer — On bad days, I’m covered with ick, have cleared two levels or won three out of umpteen games of solitaire, read two or three articles about whatever, answered the phone, written three emails, checked my email 235.3 times, and —
on good days, all that, plus written one five-sentence paragraph. it’s exhausting. The self-trashing alone–i tell you…
It’s time i learned, though. There are three things in my life that I have to dive into with my whole self–One is living sober. I can’t do jack about anything else if i’m hammered or obsessing about altering my consciousness. I can do anything if i’m staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety. Anything.
One is my dissertation, and what the hell to do with it after — i must not let it gather dust on a shelf–or whatever the digital equivalent of that is—i’m sure it has something to offer, and sixteen women told me the truth about their lives and work–The PhD, jesus. it’s so intimidating.
And one is my, um, primary intimate relationship. I’m not sure what exactly to call it–‘partner ship’ sounds kinda too much like business, ‘love affair’ doesn’t sound committed or serious enough, and ‘relationship’ isn’t specific enough. We’re friends, lovers, political allies, family, home — and in all that sometimes comfort, sometimes discomfort — it’s a journey and a place–a project and a lifework–it’s play and solace and sometimes it’s not — and she has children, too, two happy, healthy, confident and beautiful boys. I think they will grow up to be good men, even with all the pressure to become gendered (and they are that too, of course), but because of their mother and her friends, and their father’s devotion to them, they will always know who they are—and what they can achieve.
We had a deal for the first two years that we would not, during disagreements or fights, go to the “let’s just break up” option. We could revisit the agreement to be together around our anniversary date, make a new deal or keep the same one. Of course some painful stuff has come up, we have had hard moments so far. So it was comforting to have that agreement– it meant that we wouldn’t go to that in haste, we’d evaluate other options first. We don’t have that deal anymore, it was important when we made it, but we have to come up with something different now, more nuanced—something that accounts for what we’ve learned about how we are together and what we understand now about each other. It’s hard work this. I don’t mind (mostly). It’s sometimes a bit, well, anxiety-provoking and difficult — but so are most worthwhile commitments and adventures. She is brilliant and funny, impatient and demanding, she has really good politics (that’s hot), she’s uncompromising and generous, disciplined and impulsive, fiercely loyal and tenacious – she won’t give up on me IF I never give up. I love being with her. She is absolutely worth the work I have to do to be open, compassionate, thoughtful, generous and gracious.
Sometimes, even knowing that, I fail. I’m impetuous and petulant, sometimes lazy, defensive, liberal, self-seeking, thoughtless. I am learning, though, however slowly. All three of those big important things are all about learning and putting what i’ve learned to practice. Trying and failing and learning and trying again and succeeding and asking for help and…

non-sequiter coming right up–
I had a meeting with my committee recently, and when we started up, the first thing i did was cry. It wasn’t because i was afraid of what they would say about the six chapters i’d sent them. I worried they would say that I am not worthy, it’s not good, it doesn’t make sense, the arguments don’t hold together–but they didn’t say that. They said it needs a lot of work yet, but also that it’s substantial, remarkable, inspiring (!). Which is also frightening, but in a way different way.
**************************************************************************************

On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously agreed to strike down most of Canada’s prostitution laws.

The decision is suspended, however, and the VERY Conservative government has one year to draft new legislation that will not infringe on the human rights of “sex workers”, as did the previous laws. Those laws were meant to criminalize such activities as, establishing and profiting from escort agencies or brothels, procuring women for the satisfaction of men’s sexual appetites and communicating for the purposes of prostitution–all laws which could have been (but were not) used to interfere with and constrain men’s demand for sexual access to women.

We went to an open house January 1st, my lover and I–a small New Year celebration of friends who live around the corner from me. We enjoy our friends–they are smart, interesting and generous. It was good to spend the first day of the Gregorian calendar with fine women and good food. There were lucky black-eyed peas and lentils, boiled cabbage and corned beef, cornbread and pecan tarts, and few other women at first. A couple who play bridge with one of our hosts, another neighbor who is a doctor of Chinese medicine, and a co-worker of one of the hosts — then more came.  Including a woman I used to know when we were on a steering committee together, and some other shared projects of the feminist variety.  Now she’s a local politician, or she was. We were never friends, really, though we were at one time allies. Not now, though, and not for a long time.

She’s a little older than I am, and as a young woman was part of the Abortion Caravan in 1970 — women from all over Canada, beginning in Vancouver, traveled together to Ottawa to demand legal, free abortion on demand. Wonderful, brave action, and part of a world-wide movement of women that was rising strong in those days. She was an organizer, and she was interested in women’s liberation from male domination. She would say she is still.

Anyway, she came to the party and sat next to me. She asked what i was doing now, and I told her that i am finishing my PhD. She asked what I was working on, and I told her, “front-line anti-violence workers, their engagement with harm reduction in relation to their work with women in prostitution”. She said that sounded interesting, and I said, “yea, timely too, now.” Then she said, referring to the Bedford decision, “What a great day that was”.

Sigh. People do not pay attention. I don’t know how she could NOT know my position on this.  Anyway, she does now. I said, “oh, Ellen, you and I are not on the same side on this issue at all. Of course women in prostitution, those selling sex must be decriminalized –“

“yes, of course” she said.

“But the pimps, the procurers, the men who buy sex–they’re the problem–the demand must be stopped. It is a big mistake to decriminalize them.” I looked at her, “Big mistake.”

She looked uncomfortable (I think), and then my girlfriend tapped me on the shoulder, “We should make room now for the new people coming,” and I was happy to do so.  Ellen nodded hello to her and we all smiled stiffly at each other. Then we kissed our hosts good bye, wished everyone a happy new year and walked into the grey rainforest afternoon.

We should be allies with ALL of the women who were there that afternoon, and more, besides. Especially women who organized in the 70s, who took such brave risks to ensure my freedom. But the best I can hope for from her now is that she will get out of the way. I don’t think she will–we are equally committed to our positions, it would appear. Perhaps she thinks I am in her way, as well.

Never mind. I just have to finish this damn thing, and then find out how to put it to use. It’s almost there, so close now, the culmination of many years of work. Yet still only a small part to add to the work of so many women before me, beside me and the women who will lead in the future. It is a hopeful beginning.

It’s 2014. Time to grow up.

about that last post…

I made some mistakes. if you got it, please don’t circulate it. I’m going back to the drawing board.

another gone

George Atcheson died this morning. It’s December 29, 2012. He was 96 years, one month and 18 days old. He had been ready to die for a long time, but it was only recently, within the past three or four years, I suppose, that he was increasingly disabled. In 2005, the year he turned 90, he came to my dad’s last birthday party. I remember that day, because I was home. It was April 20. Dad turned 77. He had fallen some weeks earlier, Dad did, and had broken his knee. So he was in the hospital. We got him a pass for the day, hired a handi-dart, or whatever it’s called here, and brought him home. As I wheeled Dad into the front lobby of their building, I saw a woman watching for us. She scurried away to the big common dining room when she saw us coming, and as we wheeled into the dining area, one woman struck up “Happy Birthday” on the piano. A quaver of elderly women sang the song to Dad, all off key and out of synch, but it was the most beautiful song. there were some men there, too. Fred, Dennis (I think), Merv, and a few others, and George. The men all sat together at a long table, and I sat with them, next to Dad. Mom brought a carrot cake she had made (Dad’s favourite), and all the women came around, fluttering like birds around the men seated like logs washed onto the shore of a river. Dad blew out the candles (I helped I think). And I took a seat beside him. We cut the cake and passed it around, one of the other women poured coffee or tea. The men ate in silence. Each of them took turns looking at Dad. “Happy Birthday, John” one would say, and another, “yep, Happy Birthday”, and Dad would say, “thanks”. Other than that…not much.
Later they stood around in the courtyard as Dennis and one or two others smoked. They talked about how much harder it is to quit now than it was years ago. “I quit forty years ago,” said George, “started on roll-your-owns, not so much junk in them then as there is now”. And Dennis grunted in agreement. George didn’t much like Dennis. Mostly because Dennis swore a lot.
Every year another one dies. Fred died last year sometime, I think. Dennis was two years ago. Last year Sheila, George’s daughter, died. This year it was George’s turn.
At the party, six and a half years ago, he said, “my next birthday, i’ll be 90. That’s long enough.”
Yesterday, Mom and I visited June. She was Auntie Jean’s sister, and Jean was George’s wife. She died at 80 some 16 years or so ago. June said to Mom, “George has been ready to die since Jean’s been gone.”
I think she’s right. Jean was one of my favourite grown-ups. She was elegant, graceful and kind. She painted beautiful pictures of fields and mountains. I liked her prairie scenes the best. She also did ceramics, she poured ceramic into molds and fired them in a clay oven she had in their basement. Then she glazed and painted them. I don’t know the whole process, but she let me make some things with her sometimes. She always took me seriously and was affectionate and attentive with me. With everyone. She made George human, i’m sure she did. without her he was not quite whole. Always politically conservative, he took a dim view of people on welfare, anyone who broke the law, cursing and rudeness in general. He was kind of stiff and detached. But he was a loyal and generous friend to my dad, and he was in love with Jean from the moment they met until the day he died. Which was today.
Mom and I went to see him earlier this week. Boxing day, maybe? Maybe the day after. We brought him Welsh cakes, because Mom always does that, and he loves them. He loves us, too, i know he does, though he did not recognize us at first. He didn’t know who Mom was at first. He put it together when we gave him a Welsh cake from the bag we brought him. When we sat beside him, as he was at the table of the care facility where he lives, he looked at me with his blue eyes, all watery and tired now, he said, “are you Shawn Graham?” I said, “no, i’m his big sister, Erin.” He said, “you look like Shawn Graham.”
I guess my moustache must be a little thicker than I thought. Shawn has worn a moustache since he could grow one.
I told Uncle George that we look alike, my brother and me. We swam in the same gene pool after all and have the same devastatingly handsome parents. He smiled, and Mom laughed a little.
The 25-word story I wrote a while ago, last year, I think, the one that begins, “The tenderness of old men.” That was about George and Dad.
One of the Atcheson kids always calls Mom when something happens. They invite her to the annual family reunion, too, it’s not always about bad news. This morning Colin called. he is one of the twins. Colin and Curtis. They are both older than me, and i think they’re both cops. Retired now. Colin called to say that his father was gone. He called about an hour after Uncle George drew his final breath. “We wanted to make sure you were among the first we called, Edith,” he said to my mom.
Last year, when his big sister Sheila died, he called and I answered, as I did this morning. I passed the phone to Mom, as I did last year.
We should all be so lucky to die as George did. He was surrounded by people who loved him until his dying breath.
He was one of my dad’s best friends. Another gone, another link to my dad gone. That’s how it goes.

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.

home?

I’m going home today. I’m leaving from home to go to the airport to fly to Calgary to meet my brother and my mom and drive home from there. I think Red Deer will always be “home”, even though i’ve been away longer than I was there. And when i’m there i’m always amazed by how much it has changed. Home. It’s really now a place that lives only in my memories, eh. That home, that place where people rode horses along Fairway Ave; that place where we’d run our ski-doos out the back yard, across the street, past the church, across Kerry Wood Drive, down the hill to Great Chief Park and then onto the river (it froze in winter then, this is long before the dam was built–now it never freezes, the river); that place where the trains ran just down the street, behind Jensen’s house, next to the abandoned gravel pit, every night about 11 the train would whistle through town, and sometimes, often, i would wake up, stand on my bed to look out the window and see the light of the engine sweep the sky as the train went west, chasing the long-ago sun.That home is long gone. The farm from whence came the horseback people, that neat yellow house and the tidy barn–it was torn down in the 90s, I think, maybe the early 2000s. There’s a big fancy subdivision there now, with a man-made lake in the middle. The river still runs past, but no one pays attention to it. The trains don’t run through town anymore. Jensen’s old house was torn down a long time ago, the early 70s maybe. There’s nothing left of it. New houses where that farm house was, too. Sometimes the people living there will dig up an old horseshoe nail or even an arrowhead when they’re gardening.

Every time i go home, I am more of a stranger. But it is still more home than any other place will ever be. I am more of a ghost than a stranger, I guess.

 

‘Tis the Season

Well. Time to take stock. In one week, it will be 2011, by the Gregorian Calendar. huh. I guess i’ll enter the 201’s then, ’cause i was not gonna be anywhere near the 2000’s while there were more than one zero in the name of the year. Zero’s make me nervous. They’re so–haunting and limitless and far away. So much space to fill in.

I’ve got candles lit, and it’s a rainy grey day and i’m kinda foggy from being up so late last night and a diet of beige food all month. Last night i worked at the night shelter. The Women’s Centre where I work operates a drop-in during the day as well as a shelter at night. It was Christmas Eve. sometimes during the night, the rain was so cold it froze to sleet.  Outisde the front door there is a puddle so deep women have to practically swim to get to the door. “hey, we could do christmas water polo out there, got a stick?” nah. The women just wanted to have a smoke.

Outside there is only a little traffic noise. an hour ago I heard sirens. A truck is backing up a few blocks away. I talked to Mom, my brother, my sister-in-law, my nephew. “Can’t wait to see you…” we told each other, “Merry Christmas”.  Then I called Dani and Andi and their two daughters. The girls are excited. They had not yet opened their presents. When i’m in town, I often go there for part of christmas. Have done for years and years. Last year I was home with Mom. The year before I was with them, though. My heartbreak year.

December 26–Ah. sorry i got distracted there. went off to work at the Women’s Centre–four hours of food, presents and mayhem. whoa. We kept serving food all day. Waffles and sausage for breakfast, then pannetone and cake, some left over quiche, a bit of fruit, the usual bad bitter coffee, more cake, chocolates…too much all at once. Got into a ridiculous fight with a co-worker. the deal was, as women leave at 4, we call up tables one by one, each woman gets a gift as she leaves. No gifts before 4. aim for consistency. women see others getting gifts before four, they’ll raise a ruckus. So, what does co-worker do, but give a couple of women gifts mid day. sigh. When a couple of other workers challenged this, she said, “Everyone else does stuff like this all the time, why is  it suddenly a big deal when I do it?”uh. It’s not that big a deal, but why not try to keep your agreements? This is a small thing, but it is indicative of the problems with that place, too. Make agreements with co-workers about how we’re gonna work together, and then break those agreements if it suits us. In fact, mostly, there are no agreements, there’s no unity there. There is no sense of what we’re trying to achieve, either. We’ll never get beyond putting out fires and slappin’ on band-aids, not from down here at the lowest common denominator. We settle for so little–for the women we are supposed to be helping and from each other.

But my friends Val and Jackie came to help out! I haven’t seen either of them for most of the year, and it was just delightful to be together. They’re a mother-daughter team and I’ve known them both for as long as I’ve lived in Vancouver, when Val and I were about the same age Jackie is now.  We lost touch for a few years after my break up with a good friend of Val’s, but something stuck, our friendship lay dormant, but when conditions were right it blossomed again, as these things can do. We see each other rarely, but when we are together again it’s like we were mid-sentence and the conversation continues. With all three of us. I love that.

the giving of the gifts was awful. There was so much stuff, and so many women and I don’t know how to make sense of the mess that happens when we dole stuff out. the mad rush happens when we just toss things into the middle of the room, too, all the women just leap into the pile of stuff and take as much of the shit they don’t even need, it’s like putting a pile of blow in the middle of the road. mayhem. It is like that. There’s no sense to it. We tried, we said, “Okay, women, there’s lots for everyone, we’re gonna try to be orderly and patient, please stay seated until your table is called.” But maybe it’s that thing about there being no expectations, maybe it’s that–“you are the poor, your job is to receive our cast off stuff all year, and at Christmas we give you new things. It’s best if you don’t have autonomy, you don’t mind, do you? No? Good.”

There was a mad rush, and then the women who were sitting and waiting, they got nervous because other women were pushing to the door, and so they got up too, and there was shouting and pushing and I stood between two women and said, “Hey! Hey! I’m not feelin’ the love here–where’d it go?” Women want to be good, and to be useful and we all want to be loved and loving too, and there’s just so little available, ya? All our training as women pits us against each other, and then when the staff (also women, also having the same conditioning) don’t have agreements about how or why we’re doing this stuff, it all just exacerbates the competition for the meagre resources, the limited power, the teeny tiny bit of influence…yick.

Then, of course, in the middle of all that chaos and shouting, come miracles–one group of women started singing at their table. “Silent Night” they sang, and it was lovely, that small peaceful carol spread slow over the drop-in and some peace came as a shared smile rippled across the crowd. And for a while, as I stood beside the slowly moving line of somewhat cranky tired women, everyone who passed me reached over for a hug. And that was a miraculous, too. Holding on to each other, sharing the love, knowing we matter .

Women. we are complicated creatures. infuriating and troublesome and magic and radiant.

Then I rode my bike in the rain and the slender traffic to Laura’s for dinner.  Laura and I met when she lived in Kelowna. Or Kamploops,  (i always get those two mixed up. They’re very different, but they both start with “K”. you know how that can be sometimes).  She would come to visit, or drop her daughter off to see her father, and then she’d stay with Mike and Sharon (Sharon of  the “sharon at the doorway” post, sometime in May or June, i think). So we first met when she was just finishing Nursing school.  Then, when Sharon was dying, Laura was there too. And that’s when we really fell in love. We have the same kinda whacked out humour, we love to talk about words, she’s really really smart and acerbic and funny and we enjoy each others’ minds and…

what a hoot! Laura, it runs out, has the voice of an angel. Honestly. She was singing Brahms! Fucking Brahms as she was basting the turkey and setting the table and cutting up the organ meats to give to the dog. I could not stop grinning. The tv was on to the channel that has the fireplace logs on it, and every time the hand came to adjust the logs, we had to yell, “the Hand!” and take a drink. I don’t drink, but I was happy to yell, “the hand!” and facilitate everyone else’s drinking. I said to Susan, Laura’s sister (who is a concert violinist–wow) “I didn’t know Laura sang” and Susan said, “Only when she’s drinking.  In that way, I’m a good influence.” We had the crackers, you know the ones that you yank on and sparks fly with a great “crack!” and you get a hat and a joke (mine was, “Father: Our son gets his intelligence from me, don’t you think?  Mother: Must have. I seem to have kept mine.”) and a prize. I got a tape measure.

My former lover, the one who broke my heart into smithereens in 2008, she used to make the Christmas crackers out of toilet paper rolls. It was my job to buy the prizes, ’cause i had the whacked-out sense of humour, I guess. I miss that family, but less as the passage of time stitches the heart bits together. This year was the first that I didn’t send her mother a card. I don’t love her less. But she never responds, so I guess that means, well. Judging from the last conversation we had, it means any reference to me is met with hostility or disapproval (from my ex, not her mom).  Anyhow. I would get pretty good prizes. buttons that said stuff like, “I found Jesus. He was behind the sofa the whole time”, and packs of chewing gum with titles like, “Satan’s Choice Fire Stick”. Little noise makers and puzzles and fortune telling devices.

This year I am single again, but not nearly so piteous as i was two years ago.  Joanna (recent ex, always friend)  had given me candy and cookies she baked and we’d spent a little time together a few days ago.  My old friend and ally D. talked with me for nearly two hours last week and we finally started getting to the bottom of the conflict we’ve been having, but ignoring (to disastrous results) for the last couple of years. I was so relieved.  Two years ago,  D and A invited me (as they have done every Christmas), and me and my broken heart took the frozen skytrain across town to spend the evening in the warmth and light and care of their home. I played with their new wii with their daughters. we played boxing and tennis and something else riotous. This year, the invitation came late, ’cause we were fighting, and I’d already said yes to Laura, and that was okay, because I talked to all of the girls in their house and they know i love them and will be coming around a bit more again. I hope. We need each other.

last night, we dressed the dog, Violet (who is a very big black-spotted greyhound) in a red coat with big bells on it and a santa hat with a beard flowing down, and a few of us went out for a walk to look at the lights. Oh, that was so fun, too. Trinity Street is decked out. Every year most of the neighbours tart up their houses with lights and snow people and inflatable penguins and reindeer on roofs and candles in windows and trees blossoming l.e.d. lights and so on. We walked and talked and argued and giggled and sang and picked up bits of clothing that Violet flung off herself at irregular intervals.

When we got home, Mike suggested we choreograph a line dance to the song, “imagine” and we had a little fun trying to do that without stumbling too much into the furniture. then Sue brought over a cd of Flamenco music. I think it was Flamenco. There was lots of clapping and strumming on many-stringed guitars. I struggled into my rain gear and rode my bike home along the quiet rainy streets. my belly and my heart full, humming what i could recollect of the Brahms Laura had been singing.

Before I left, Laura said, “I love you so much! I mean, I really hardly know you, but I’ve loved you from the moment we met.” Of course taking Sharon’s  last steps together sealed it, we all had so much humour and grace then, and it all meant that we will always know each other.

I’m still full from last night, of music and laughter and lovin and turkey and Stella’s Ek-Mek . Stella is Laura’s daughter. She’s 17 and her favourite Christmas gift this year was a collection of Abert Camus’ essays, Lyrical and Critical Essays. She got it from her mother. How fucking cool is that? I told her a bit about Simone de Beauvior, who she is now going to look up. Anyhow, her Ek-Mek is divine, and creamy and sweet and rich.

oh. life. what a life.