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Category Archives: Tangental or Random. Perhaps both.

Pants

I think men’s pants have more “ball room” than they used to. Am i just oversensitive? I prefer men’s jeans because they’re sturdier and have capacious pockets, but the little poochy-outey fly looks ridiculous. It’s harder to find pants that don’t have room for a cod piece tucked inside. sigh….

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.

A girl that whistles and a hen that crows, makes her way wherever she goes….

My grandma used to say that sometimes, when i would whistle. Sometimes, instead, when my whistling annoyed her, she’d say, “A whistling girl and a crowing hen, will always come to a bad end.” But we both liked the other version better.

*****

When I was a child, I was DETERMINED to become a boy. I knew with absolute certainty that I had been a boy in some past life, and that I would grow up to become a boy in this one.

I kind of did, in a way. I make fart jokes; lift weights, (heavy fuckin’ weights, too, none of this 2lb pink vinyl crap for me);  drive stick shift– and  i’m letting my moustache grow for ‘mo-vember’ (even if i think it’s kinda stupid–mo-vember, not my moustache).

I also go out for walks, alone,  late at night; get into elevators even when the only other occupant is an adult male; list my full name in the phone book; and make eye contact with strangers.

When I was 11, I read in the paper about this guy who got an operation so he could become a woman and play tennis in the women’s league. I thought then that if he could do that, I could get an operation to become a male when i grew up. I told my mom. She didn’t like the idea so much, “oh, don’t do that, you won’t want that when you’re an adult”. I was determined, though, as i said before. I kept at it, insisting that I was going to save up my allowance and become a man.

Well, I’m not sure i said “man” or even thought it, I think i might have said ‘boy’.  Because I also did not really want to grow up.

Anyway, i was so insistent that she started to cry. She was washing my hair at the time. My mom washed my hair for me until i was quite old. It was a trial, my hair. that was another reason to be a boy. Boys took showers and had short hair that didn’t require hot oil treatments and curling irons and barrettes and braids.  My hair was curly and plentiful, but dry and fine.  From the time i was about 10, we tried all kinds of things to get it to lie flat (ish). I don’t know why I couldn’t have it short like my brother’s hair.

But anyway. My grandma always said to me, “Erin, you should have been a boy.” and I believed her.  For a long time, i believed that I should have been a boy.

When my period came, I was mortified. My mom was all excited. Tears in her eyes again as she gave me the belt and the pad (this was a loooooong time ago). she smiled and cupped my cheek in her hand. When i got the contraption on and called her into my room again, she checked to see if the placement was okay, and said, “Honey, you can tell your dad that you’re a woman now.” and she asked if she could tell her best friend, who lived in the United States now, and was (is) one of my very very favourite grown-ups.

There was NO WAY i was ever going to tell my dad that I was a woman now. It was okay with me if she told Mrs. Lenz. I just wanted the whole thing to go away. It was a disaster every month. all those bulky pads, the cramps, the mess the embarrassment. Everyone would know what those toilet paper-wrapped lumps in the garbage were. I flushed them.

Our septic system backed up.

Mom asked me, in a private moment, to please not flush my pads anymore because they had to call in a  plumber to clear out the pipes. I’m sure it was no picnic for him to fish used pads out of the basement.  I said i wouldn’t. but then I did. I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to use a tampon, but I finally did when i was about 14 or 15, and then the perpetual plumbing problems (alliteration!) cleared up.

And there was the bra thing. Godhelpme, i did NOT want to wear a bra. I didn’t want to wear a shirt, let alone anything under a shirt. You remember how it felt, when your breasts were starting to grow? How tender they were? Oh dear me. And those “training bras”? what the hell were our breasts supposed to learn wrapped in them?  the boys would always go around snapping our bra straps. It hurt, front and back. I was one of the first girls in my class to wear a bra, much as I hated the idea, and I didn’t have any idea of how to resist. I was always trying to keep my back to a wall.

One Friday afternoon, when i was in grade five, i think, our teacher  held a dance for the grade five and six kids. I remember those things as fun. We turned the lights off and put records on and danced together, girls and boys and girls and girls and maybe the boys didn’t really dance much. I don’t know that I danced much, either, I was kind of clumsy and goofy. I was walking over to the front of the room, and my friend Karen noticed my bra strap hanging down, and took hold of it. I didn’t notice and kept walking, and then she let go of it when i was half-way across the room. snap! some of the other kids laughed, mocking me. I was embarrassed.  I left in tears.  why did i have to be a girl? Boys did not suffer such humiliations.

But by that time, I knew that i would be a girl, and not for much longer, either. I was becoming a woman, just as Mom said.

******

High school was pretty fun. But also a torment. It was a big school, and in the centre hallway, near the gymnasium, where everyone had to pass by at some time during the day, there were rows of benches. On the benches, at any time. but especially over lunch, there were sprawled an array of boys, the jocks. The benches in fact, were called “the jock benches”. the boys stomped their feet in the rhythm of the Queen song, “We are the Champions” and threw coins at the pretty girls. Sometimes they threw pennies at the ugly ones, and threw them to hurt. In my first year of high school , they would yell after me, “is that a boy or a girl?”

I used to wear Wrangler boot-cut jeans, a wide belt with what i thought was a beautiful buckle, kind of like stained glass, in all colours, and polyester shirts with pictures of English hunting scenes on them.  Also, often, wide suspenders, mismatched socks and a blue and white striped train engineers cap. Quite the sight.  Grade ten, the first year of high school, was also my first year of having contact lenses. I wore them all day, for far too long. So, you know, I looked like I was high, my eyes all red and teary.

Mom was still doing my hair in the mornings. i don’t know why. Neither of us enjoyed the process. Goddamn curling iron. One day in grade eleven, I think, I decided i wasn’t gonna do anything with it. Just wash it, shake it, and hope for the best. That was a kind of liberation. We didn’t have hair gel or mousse in those days. just hair spray. no way i was gonna use that stuff, either. My hair looked just fine, if a bit wild–fine, soft curls whirling around my head. Nobody cared…

I had a boyfriend in Grade 10, he had been my best friends boyfriend and he only went with me ’cause she broke up with him. i didn’t like him very much, but we were both in love with her, so that kinda bonded us. didn’t last.

I learned how to shave my legs and armpits, and i sometimes plucked my eyebrows.  then i would look surprised.

by the time i was in grade 11, I was wearing women’s clothing sometimes, and my jeans were tight (remember? in the late 70s you had to lie down to be able to zip up your jeans? remember that?). I often wore my dad’s shirts tucked into my too-tight jeans. I didn’t wear underwear, ’cause i didn’t want panty-lines, but my waist was all bunchy anyway, because my dad’s shirt was tucked into my jeans. And then there were the suspenders.  and makeup–oh deargod. I rarely wore makeup, but one day, I tried to hide a zit with a bit of foundation. But then that spot on my face was kinda orange, so I figured i’d better spread it out a bit.  consequently, the orange spot broadened. So I added a bit more foundation., thinking that if I could just blend the edges, it wouldn’t show.

I went to school that day with a distinctly orange face, chin and neck. “hey, Erin, are you wearing makeup?”

“no”.

It was a terrible day.

I could never get the hang of that femininity thing. And i was (am) asthmatic. I always wanted to run and run and leap over tall buildings and do parkour before there was such a thing, and swing from the light posts–but i couldn’t. I tried out for every team, from basketball to volleyball to badminton, and didn’t make a one. When we’d go cross-country running in school, I’d struggle along and come in dead last, hair full of sticks, wheezing and huffing–i got a reputation for being plucky, anyway.

But whatever, i rode my bike or walked the two miles to school every day, most days, and i became all excited about drama. I didn’t have to be a girl in drama class, i could be a mythical creature, a buffoon, an animal or an idea–and i was good at it, the acting stuff. I wasn’t all that comfortable in my body, womanly and wheezy as it was, but i learned how to use it to create art, and I  found a gang to hang with. we were into plays and singing in the hallways, and improvising skits behind the auto shop at lunch time. we did plays together with the drama teacher, Steve, and we sometimes partied with him too. That was kind of a no-no. Cool for us, not so cool of him. But he wasn’t much older than we were. He taught us about dada and noh and commedia d’el arte. we did mask work and improv and entered provincial one-act play contests. We traveled to Lacombe and Innisfail and Calgary, even.

By and by, I started to fit in at school. I wasn’t one of the Beautiful People, I wasn’t a jock or a stoner or a party girl or a nerd–i was one of those drama kids.  my nickname was “maniac” or “spin”, but it was fine with me, i got attention, and i was left alone at the same time.  People liked me, I liked them, and it didn’t matter as much that i was a girl. I didn’t hang with the boys much, except for the two guys who were in my tight little gang. I have a picture of us from that time, we are in a park, the sun lit up our hair, we posed for the camera, Brent dark and brooding, Mark open and friendly, Cathy relaxed and shining, Bonny looks like she’s about to leap into a cartwheel, and i’m in front, on the ground, head thrown back, wearing goofy sunglasses and laughing. I don’t know where any of them are anymore. our paths used to cross from time to time, but not for years now.

They were my friends. we saved each other in a way. I fell in love with Bonny, but i didn’t know it and couldn’t understand it. Intense. Heartbreaking. I only wanted to be with her, even when we both had boyfriends. Then when i broke up with my boyfriend, she started going out with him. I wasn’t upset about that so much, except it meant that I wouldn’t be able to hang out with Bonny so much, and that was one of the reasons I broke up with him in the first place, i think. But I didn’t know what was going on. I only ached, and I didn’t know why until many years later.

*******

My body, the womanly, asthmatic body that i grew into, was not my friend. I was often hospitalized, and more often after i finished high school, and started smoking cigarettes. It’s common, apparently, for asthmatics to become smokers. Kind of like a pre-emptive thing. I want to be able to have SOME control, if i’m not gonna be able to breathe, it might as well because of something i’m doing deliberately.

I know it doesn’t make sense.

When i was 18, I started lifting weights. I loved it. It was perfect for me, I could sit and wheeze until I recovered and pick up the weight again. I didn’t have to chase across a muddy field or a gymnasium floor after a ball a puck or whatever, tripping and sliding and running the wrong way and letting the team down over and over again.

A few months after that, i got pneumonia. I was smoking and drinking too much at the time, which likely contributed to my respiratory distress. My fiance at the time (a man! Shocking, i know. He played bagpipes, how could i resist?) didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t breathe, I was in big big trouble. My mom came. she took me home. Then to the hospital. I was gravely ill.

I wanted to be a boy. Boys were strong, boys became garbagemen and firemen and acrobats and cowboys they got to be outside, riding horses, driving trucks, pulling, pushing and lifting things. girls became mothers and nurses and teachers. They had to stay inside.

When i got out of the hospital, i was all detoxed and very weak. Beginning again. I went to the gym. I went to the gym A LOT.  My grandparents were worried i would hurt myself, or that i would not be a real woman, maybe i’d become a lesbian or something awful like that. they never said that, but my grandpa especially implied that such pursuits were not alright for girls. that was mans work, that was.

I competed in powerlifting in the 1980s and 90s. I joined the women’s liberation movement in the 1980s, and lifting weights became a way to train for the revolution. There were years in there that i privileged late shifts on the crisis line and demos and dancing after demos over pumping iron, and other years when drinking took precedence, as well. but those are big stories, best left for posts of their own.

I did, in fact, become a lesbian, I’m sure my grandma knew, though i never told her. If I had, I would have said, “you know, Grandma, when you would say I should have been a boy?”–And she would nod or say, “it’s your deal,” (we played a lot of cribbage together), ” yes?” Then i would say, “I did better than that, I became a lesbian, how do ya like them apples?” (cause she always used to say that kind of stuff–including that little saying that makes the title of this post).  She would chuckle, I can hear her now; my grandma laughed with her whole body.

She used to say to me, too, “Erin, don’t ever marry an old country man”. She had married my Welsh  grandfather when she was a young widow in the first years of the Great Depression. My beloved grandpa  was a difficult man. Jealous and stubborn. A much better grandfather than he had been a husband, I’m sure. He was not violent, but neither was he loving.  Anyway, she always warned me not to marry a man from the old country (which old country, she never said), so I think the news that I would surely be spared that would have made her happy.

*******

I think this is the end of this post, but i’ll fill in the blanks by and by. There’s stories of a liberation movement here in this story of a girl who whistles in the darkness. Stories of many women who made space and made noise. I’ll get to them by and by, i promise.

It was powerlifting that reconciled me and my wheezy, clumsy body, and it was the women’s movement, it was radical feminism, in fact, that taught me how to be a woman. These two pursuits weave together a way into a movement of women building a world of women, for women.  this movement gave me many examples of womanhood that are not feminine or masculine–and women who were outside,  strong,  loud and taking up space.  Girls that whistle, hens that crow, making our way, wherever we go.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am that there was a still vibrant women’s liberation movement for me to join when i was a young woman.  And I’m really grateful there are women who are carrying on the work of this movements’ continued revival because we are nowhere near free, and we can’t let up until we are.

I didn’t become a boy, after all. I learned to whistle.

Influence

I don’t know what i’m doing, but i’m having so much fun doing it. I’m teaching again, another gang of new teachers, and oh! I love them. They handed in their first assignments to me last week, autobiographies. You cannot know someone’s story and not love them. I heard that from some storyteller or other  a long time ago and i’ve tested it out since. it’s the first assignment i give to my students, and each time I am amazed, and inspired and moved by their candour and hope and confidence and suffering.

They are going to be teachers. They will influence young people everywhere. Maybe they think they can make some lasting change that they will recognize in their lifetime. Maybe they just want summers off. Do any of us know what we’re doing? I give that assignment partly so I can know them a little and find a way in, so i can see them–and partly so they can know themselves, in the context of their lives, their social location. Are you working class or upper class? How has your gender training influenced how much power you hold (or share, or reach for, or don’t have) in the world? What did your parents do? Who are they? what shaped you? How do you shape the world you are in? Hard questions, unanswerable in some ways. Why do you want to be a teacher, what influenced your decision?

The answers were astonishing and mundane and monumental and trivial. Radiant and flawed. Human.

What does it mean to learn and to teach?

Last night, I went to a meeting, and this guy told a story. I missed the story, ’cause i went to the bathroom just as he started talking, but other people told me about it later (including him). Here’s the story he told:

It was summer. His life had become a country and western song. His girlfriend had died in his arms two weeks previous, he had injured his back while moving, he was broke, (there was something about his cat in the story too–it had run away or died or something, I don’t know), and he had had enough. Enough. He resolved to go to the liquor store and get hammered. All the way to the liquor store, he talked himself into drinking, told himself no one would know, he wasn’t hurting anyone, he was in pain, people would understand, of course he had to drink, this was unbearable. And all the way there, he took back alleys so no one would see him. And all the way there he prayed to god to give him a sign, to let him know whether or not he was doing the best thing he could do, or show him some way.

Then he saw me. And that was enough. He saw me, he took that as his sign and he went home and started painting pictures.

He told that story, and just finished telling it when i came out of the bathroom. He looked at me and everyone laughed, and he said to me, “Thank you”. My friend leaned over and said, “you saved him. I’ll tell you later.”

Of course it wasn’t me who saved him. He had heard me speak at meetings, and we had seen each other around. I didn’t see him on that afternoon, in that alley. He saw me and remembered where it was he knew me from, and remembered something I had said and something I often say is, “you are worth better. you matter. We all do.” But i was only repeating some things that i had learned, and that made sense to me. So it wasn’t me who saved him. We all did.

That’s what i am trying to teach, mostly. See, it’s like working out, learning is. If you know how to do a few key things, it will give you the foundation to do anything. I love squats, for example. Wonderful exercise, squats are. They give you legs like oak trees, explosive power, core strength and can even help increase your lung capacity. When i started lifting weights, i was weak, asthmatic, couldn’t run or swim. It took a few false starts, but i found that i loved pumping iron. loved it. And i became strong. Really strong. And I started to run, and swim and i rode my bike everywhere, and i used my asthma rescue meds much less and I could do much more.

Learning is like that. If you explore one thing really thoroughly, you can use that exploration to inform other intellectual pursuits. See, i love Bourdieu’s theories of cultural reproduction and how domination and inequality are reinforced, and even though he’s hard to read and understand, once you find a way in, you can use your understanding of his thought to figure out how all kinds of things work. I can reject some of his concepts, too, in certain contexts, but then find some other way to understand what’s going on. And I can read other theorists, too, and figure out what they are talking about. It’s making sense, too– one little bit at a time.

It’s parallel to regular workouts. I have done the leg presses and the stretching and the warm ups and the building up from using light weights at first, to 200 lbs for one rep* (barefoot, no wraps, no belt). And i can breathe better and run faster and think better than I could before. One little bit at a time.

Does that make sense? See, if when you’re teaching, you give people a range of ideas and means by which they can investigate and understand these phenomena then they can find a way in. If we can wrestle with these ideas in a way that will spark curiosity, maybe they will gain the confidence to read further, and deeper and change their practices to see if the theory can make it better. But if you just go, “yea, this is how you write cursive” or”this is the life cycle of the fruit fly”, maybe that’s not enough–that’s more like using only machines to work out and not barbells and body weight.

Where is this going? I don’t know. I do know that everything we do matters. We all have moments of inattention, but if we have a big vision of what we want to achieve and if we try to do the next right thing, and try to be intentional, then we will both grow stronger and have some affect on the world around us. We all have some influence in how things go. We are all teaching. We may never know, though. I might never have known that i had any influence on that guy who told the story of the sign he got from god.

If there is a god, it has a great sense of humour, sending as a sign a radical feminist lesbian atheist to the suffering alcoholic.  Good one, God.

*that’s when i’m pre-menstrual. I’m always strongest in the week before I bleed.

we are visible only to each other.

This morning I woke up to the radio, as I always do. A woman was reading the news. When i finally rolled out of bed, I called a friend who had called me the day before. We talked as I made fruit salad for a breakfast I was preparing for another woman who was coming over. I took out the garbage and called another friend about a couple of work shifts. C_ arrived for breakfast just as I put some music on my cd player.

and I realized that my morning had almost NO men in it. The host of the morning radio show was a guy, but other than him, there were no men. all of the music I played today was by women, all of the people i talked to were women, and if you look around my walls, almost all of the art is by women, the books are mostly by and about women (not all, but a big proportion)–my work is about women and our shared resistance against male domination, and our shared celebrations of each other. I sent a text to my friend, H_ to say “I had to tell someone, and you were the first i thought of to tell, I fuckin’ LOVE women. I woke up this morning, anxious, like always, but full of love and admiration for us nonetheless”.

Everywhere else, you would think there are no women. I went to a music festival this weekend, and most of the musicians were men. The headliner of the festival was a woman, kd Lang, oh and what a golden glorious voice she has, but all of the musicians in her band are (and always have been) men; another woman, whom i’ve never seen before, an Irish blues singer, Imelda May, all of her band are men as well. She was fantastic, too, though. One man, Luke Doucet, had women in his band, and he promoted them too. But two of them sang a duet, “Joelene (please don’t take my man)” — sigh. It seems that, in order to become famous, women have to be the  only woman. There is no room for more than one woman in a successful music career. there was a duet, The Secret Sisters, and I think it was only the two of them singing sweet bluegrass and country together. In general, though, if you want to be famous, you have to go it alone without your sisters. From that festival, and most of the others i’ve ever been to, the headlining women were backed by a band of boys. And male producers and male technicians and and and…

Movies? All men.

Radio?  Mostly men.

News papers, magazines, books?  by men about men. sometimes by women about men. it is still more difficult for a woman to be published as a woman.

I am sitting in the library right now. to my left are three men, to my right are three men.

I was visiting my friend H_ last night and she said that one of the men working on repairing the chimney in the building where she works (a transition house) came to the door. She said, “are you one of the workmen?” and he looked shocked. “I come here every day, you say hello to me every day”.  She said, “I’m sorry, I just don’t pay that much attention.”

he was not used to being invisible. This was not his experience at all.

It is ours. Men do not see women. They see breasts, perhaps, or glossy, shiny hair, or hips. They do not see us. In fact, we don’t see us. We are not visible in the world of business or politics or art or theatre or music. We have to look to find each other.

Do not tell me, though, that we are as invisible as this Man’s World made us. or that we are as ineffective as our invisibility would imply. We are actively in revolt and the rock will wear away. The women I know and the women i see, ALL of my friends are part of the revolution in some way or another. All of us capitulate in some way, of course. We have to in order to survive. Many of my friends are married, many have children, most work for some man or other, directly (he owns the store) or indirectly (he funds the drop-in centre). All of us have male relatives who profit in so many ways from the patriarchy and from our shared oppression. Most of us have men in our lives whom we love dearly. That doesn’t matter, though they love us, too, we are, to them, still women, and still invisible. As well as indispensable, of course. To men, and to each other.

If all the women and girls really did vanish, the whole house of  cards would collapse. I’d like to see that. No more porn theatres, no more burlesque, no prostitution, no shirts and chinos, no food picked fresh from the farm, no curried lentils, no hot milk with honey, no librarians or primary school teachers, no dresses, no traffic control women, with the stop signs at the road construction, no one in the grocery stores–

the men would probably go on as before for a while, because they don’t see us anyways, but they wouldn’t be able to manage too well for too long without us. They’d run out of clean underwear within a few days.  I’d like to be there when they finally notice; when things grind to a halt around them. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

If we do go on strike, or take off together someplace, all of us, can we have a big gym with lots of barbells and squat racks and lifting platforms and stuff? That’s all I ask. oh. and a washer, dryer and ironing board. That’s heaven, that is. A world of women, a gym and laundry facilities. with a kick-ass iron and an ironing board. and way in the distance, we could hear the murmur of confused men…then we’d just play our accordions louder.

heh.

pride. shame. summer

Summer has arrived. Well, it’s been here a while, but it’s been suffering from a fit of pique. gloomy and doomy and raspy with sorrow, apparently. Here on the west coast, summer has been grumpy. But something happened, and she finally got out of bed, got dressed and came out to play. But still, she dressed for winter.

Last weekend, it was “Pride” weekend. on Saturday there was a dyke march, and that was fun. There were actual lesbians there, including women I know from my radical circles and from sobriety stuff and from storytelling and from comedy. My worlds came together. Women I love. I love women. We talked politics and ate hot dogs and watched the entertainment.

Which was:

An earnest young woman in jeans and tee-shirt, singing love songs with a voice like Amy Ray’s. She was cute.

Kate Reid! I got there too late to hear much of her this time, but I caught the last few bars of “Emergency Dyke Project”. That was fun.

scowling, black-clad young women dressed to look like men, dancing to rap music. “Honey, you don’t need to paste a beard on your face–wait ’till you’re in your thirties, it will come all on its own,” I want to say. That was like watching a train wreck.

The next day, I went to the gym. In the change room, there was just me and L. She’s a little older than me, and has been working out with BIG weights for at least as long as I have, but probably more consistently.

She said, “you’re not going to the parade?”

“No. It kinda makes me tired,” i said.

“Yea,” she replied, “y’know, I liked it better when we were ashamed.”

hahahahahahahhhahahah.

yup. now that we’re all proud and shit, we are: a) just like everyone else; b) except when we are all about sexsexsex (and kink), and mostly; c) affluent gay men.

even the lesbians. who aren’t lesbians these days so much as “queer” which is much less threatening.

“we’re not out to change anything any more, you know?” said L.

The spectacle of the parade is kind of fun. The beautiful bodies, the dancing and music, the high-fives and laughter.  But it’s also a bit sinister, you know? I can’t help but think of pre-WW 2 Germany–when there was all kinds of this kind of highly sexualized, gay-friendly stuff going on–overdrive hedonism even as the economy was going to shit and a loaf of bread cost a wheelbarrow full of German Marks. It seems desperate. The party frocks, the sparkly rainbows, the “WE ARE OUT AND PROUD” business. the corporate sponsorship.

Now, I can have a good time, and i’m all about celebrating our successes and our solidarity. But KFC and the cops are not my friends. Gay men are often punished for being gay, but that’s because they are perceived to be like women. They are still men, and they still have patriarchal power of men over women. Unless they have an analysis of how sexism operates in their lives and how their oppression is based in sexism, they’re not likely to be political allies.

Anyhow. L was right, back then, before pride parades, we had a bit more unity, it seemed. we could see better, from the outside, how the structures of society were built to exclude anyone other. but the stuff inside the structures is shiny. and comfortable. and if you can get in there, it feels good to belong. and power, too, is heady stuff. it’s inside the structures of domination, not outside. so when we were outside, we could see how it corrupted, how it eroded relationships and de-railed movements. When we’re inside, on the parade float with the thumpy dance music in our ears, maybe we think we are moving.

nah. i’d rather do squats for now. and spend the evening planning a syllabus for my next teaching gig: “Social Issues in Education”. 12 weeks i have to cover ’em all. Last one, the focus was class. This time, i think it’ll be sex and feminism. and you know what? in the recommended readings package for this course (I have to use at last 9 of about 14 or so), only ONE talked about “gender equity in education”. The other four even remotely concerned with feminism and sexism talked about queer issues, or masculinity or homophobia.

I’m on the lookout for good articles about feminist pedagogy and feminism in education. I’ll let you know what i find, and if you have any links to fire over here, i will be grateful and so will my students.

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.

 

THIS is telemarketing

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The other evening, I got a phone call. i didn’t recognize the number on my call display, but I answered it anyway, because, well–not many people call my landline and sometimes I get lonely for an old-fashioned, non-carcinogenic conversation, you know?

There was the tell-tale silence after i said “hello?” and then a bit of a clatter and then a man’s voice:

“hello, Mrs. G_?”

I HATE when they call me “Mrs.” that whole marital status thing. I used to kinda ‘go off’ on the sales people and survey folk and all that…but I don’t any more, I just say, “you can call me Erin”. Soon, (I hope soon–like in a year or so) i’ll ask them to call me “doc”.

Anyhow, so I said, “call me Erin”. And buddy launches into, “Yes, my name is Tam and I am calling from the Computer miantenace department and–”

I interrupted him, “Computer maintenance department of where? what company?”

He  kind of sputtered to a halt. then he continuted in the same South Asian-accented monotone, “We offer maintenance —Windows 7 — other operating systems–worldwide” I missed most of it,  as he was talking over my question. then he said, “Do you understand?”

Was he patronizing me?

“Okay, but I got a call like this just a couple of nights ago, I don’t have any problem with my computer”

Same monotone, no affect, I swear to you, he says to me: “Well you can just hang up the phone now and go straight to hell. Don’t waste my time.”

So I did.

But now I wonder. Was it some kind of radio show? Like, I don’t know, “wiretap” or something, and they were calling around trying to get people to be witty in the face of insult? ’cause I can totally do that. And I love talkng to telemarketers and stuff, I really do. I did that job once myself. For four hours. Longest four bloody hours of my life just about. Well, there was the Greyhound ride from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay with the drunk guy sitting next to me, “awww, don’ go t’sleep, you got such beyootiful eyes…”. Jesus wept. That was longer than four hours anyway, and among the longest hours of my life…Anyway, so, i often pick up the phone, even when I know it’s a telemarketer, because, hey! I bet they’re lonely. And they always sound so relieved to talk to someone who’s not haning up on them or swearing.

Not this guy, though. He just sounded flat. Like maybe he was reading from cards, and he got the cards mixed up and instead of reading what his next line was supposed to be, he read “possible responses from client”, and read what my response might have been.

So maybe he was representing some kind of  “Candid Camera” thing but on the phone, and it was my chance to be famous.

Dammit. Blew it again.

I did have another call like that the day before, but the guy that day was nice. He said, “we’re following up on your computer problems”–and when i said I don’t have computer problems (I’m a bit incompetent with them, is all), he kind of chuckled and said goodnight.  Maybe i’ll have another chance.

weird.