Freelancing & I Bought A House!

Long time no blog!

I feel like I always start my blog posts by talking about the weather, which is like, so typical of me, because I don't know how to start conversations online or in real life, so why not just blurt out something about whatever may or may not be falling from the sky recently? Well let me tell ya, it's super freaky around my neck of the woods lately. We had one snowfall in early November? I wanna say? Then it warmed up and it all melted, and there is literal green grass outside. It makes it tough to get into the Christmas spirit. 

You now what else makes it tough to get into the Christmas spirit? Persistent and unwavering depression! I've been on the same medication for almost 2 years now, and lately it seems like it's just stopped working. It's like I have this flat affect situation or else I'm ragingly pissed off, and I'm so tired. So very, very tired, deep in my bones. But! I soldier on. 

Some exciting things: I bought a house! Which probably seems like not the smartest thing for a person who's barely scraping by with 3 jobs to do, but! As it turns out, renting in Fort Frances is about as expensive as renting in Vancouver, as in, very. It made more sense to buy; this way, I'm making an investment from the future and my cost of living is much more manageable. And I don't have to sleep on a futon in my parents' basement anymore!

Here's a photo of the living/dining area. The current tenant's bed is in the living room, and the couch and stuff are in the dining room, because they're getting rid of the popcorn ceiling in the bedroom. 

It needs a little TLC, but it's a bright, cute little house in an amazing neighbourhood, and it has great vibes. And the owner is my elementary school teacher/mentor, so that's cool, too. 

ALSO. I got a kitty cat. His name is Oliver and he looks to be part Siamese maybe? He was rescued from the dump here in town, and my yoga teacher (who also works at the local vet) told me about him. And honestly he is so amazing. He's the cuddliest cat I've ever met, and his claws never come out, even when he feels threatened (like when Rosie is getting all up in his business). 

I've been freelancing for Romper for I wanna say 3 months now? It's been amazing; my editor is the sweetest woman, so supportive and lovely. And it's helping a lot with bills, 'cause I get paid in American $$$. 

I wanted to find a gif of the scene where they go to the CN tower and the guy says, "American currency! When would you like your breakfast, sir??" but this is as far as I got. 

People have been asking to see what I've been writing. 2 things: a lot of what I write hasn't been posted yet. They post A LOT of content, so some of it gets saved up for a while. Also, some of it is stuff I don't really want my family to see? I guess? I don't know. You know when you're comfortable sharing something with strangers but not with people you actually know?

Anyways, I'll link some stories below. FAIR WARNING: If you're a friend or family member and you don't want to read something that will potentially be TMI for you, then don't say I didn't warn ya. 

Finally, a bit of an aside: I've been lucky enough recently to have 2 people reach out to me online, out of the blue, because they saw things I wrote and were touched by them. And they've both become very, very dear to me. I don't know if either of them will see this, but I want them both to know that I'm so appreciative that they reached out. And if you're some random person who's read my work and wants to contact me, please do! It's a lovely thing. 

I hope you all have the happiest of holidays. 

https://www.romper.com/p/when-your-co-parent-is-your-mom-this-is-what-raising-a-child-looks-like-230

https://www.romper.com/p/i-tried-diy-stretch-mark-remedies-heres-what-happened-1339

https://www.romper.com/p/i-did-pelvic-floor-yoga-to-improve-my-sex-life-heres-what-happened-1333

https://www.romper.com/p/i-made-thanksgiving-dinner-with-only-kid-friendly-foods-heres-how-it-went-1348

https://www.romper.com/p/i-ate-my-own-placenta-because-thats-what-everyones-doing-now-right-212

Family History

I love hearing about my family's past. I think every family needs at least one person to keep the family secrets and stories, and to pass them on to the next generation. 

My family has figured out that I'm an anachronism, and I've begun to inherit various bits of memorabilia. My most prized possession is the cheese box that contains the soul of my grandmother (long story). 

My aunt and uncle recently passed on some photos and documents that used to belong to my great aunt. They're super fascinating, but most of them aren't labelled. Even though we don't know who exactly they are, I think it's amazing to look at the faces of my distant relatives. 

Mixed in with the photos was a letter addressed to my Great Aunt Agnes (who we just call Auntie Ag). It's in French (my family is originally from Quebec), and it's a Christmas card. 

Imagine a time when you could address a letter like that! No postal code or anything. 

"Seasons Greetings"

"Seasons Greetings"

Here's my (admittedly rough) translation of the text:

Good dear friend,
We find ourselves at the end of another year. Time goes by so quickly in which we can acquire the merits to get into heaven [ed. note: there’s something going on here colloquially that I don’t quite grasp; basically, there’s not enough time to do the things you need to do to deserve to get into heaven]. I wish you a good and blessed year and the health to continue to travel through the years, God willing.
You are generous to take care of the little orphans, as they are lucky to have such a good aunt. Such charity will bring you big rewards [in heaven].
I ask myself how you can do so much work after having an operation. You must be tired.
[Name] who is going to college here [something]. I asked him for news from Fort Francis [sic]. He told me that a Gagne woman died. I guessed that it was the woman who came from England. She was often ill. She was such a lovely person.
Sister Lanoix is on a mission here. She does evening service with us. [something] she has occupied.
My health is good and I have a good helper [nurse?] who has been with me for 2 years. I would be happy to hear good news from you, which I have not gotten since the [something].
From a friend who loves you ever more,

Sister J. Landry

The "woman from England" is my grandmother, Bertha (my mom's mom), who died in February of 1960. She was a War Bride, who came to Canada with my grandfather after WW2. We can infer that this letter is from Christmas of 1960. Auntie Ag, as well as some of my mom's other aunts, helped take care of my mom and her 6 siblings after my grandma died, although my grandpa was still alive, so they weren't exactly "orphans."

My Auntie Ag had breast cancer. She was diagnosed shortly after my grandmother died (hence the "operation" mentioned in the letter). She died 3 years later on February 24, the same day my grandmother died. 

I don't know why this letter, of all things, was kept, but I'm happy it was. It's nice to catch a glimpse of the past. 

"Nevada" by Imogen Binnie

Fall is here, which is bittersweet in this part of the world. It's my favourite season, but it's also extremely short. It won't be long before the snow flies. 

I will have some exciting, writing-related news to share soon. Until then, I just finished the novel "Nevada" by Imogen Binnie (Topside Press, 2013), and I've had a million thoughts about it swirling around in my head, so I thought I'd put them down here. 

"Nevada" is about Maria Griffiths, a young trans woman living in New York City. She finds out that her girlfriend lied to her, and they break up, which forces Maria to face the fact that she's in a state of arrested development, trapped in a protracted adolescence since she transitioned a few years earlier. 

The book is written in the conversational cadence of your average millenial woman; long sentences, littered with "likes" and "shits" and "fucks." Maria is prone to long internal (and external) monologues, and is constantly trying to parse all of her complicated, ever-shifting feelings about what it means to exist in the world as a trans woman. 

"Nevada" is, as one cover blurb puts it, a "jackhammered" version of the typical American road novel. We spend the first half with Maria aggressively navigating her bike through the boroughs of New York; then, after her break-up, she steals her ex-girlfriend's car and takes off across the country, eventually ending up in Star City, Nevada. 

The run-on sentences, the internal monologues, the lack of quotation marks; it's like Binnie takes the boring, pretentious stylistic choices of the (all male) beat writers and punches them in the face. The way young women speak, which is so often maligned as being stupid and vapid, is uplifted to a literary level. 

I read a lot. But "Nevada" is the first novel since I read "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham 3 or 4 years ago, where I dog-eared every few pages because it's like Binnie is right inside my head, saying things I've always felt but never been able to put into words. 

Like, it would be nice to believe that you could just exist, just be some true, honest, essential self. But you only really get to have a true honest essential self if you’re white, male, het, and able-bodied. Otherwise your body has all these connotations and you don’t get the benefit of the doubt.

When Maria leaves New York to head off on her journey of self-discovery, the narrative voice shifts abruptly, from what for the first half of the novel seems to be a very close, self-reflective, non-omniscient third person narration, into a similar voice but this time inside the head of a 20-year-old boy named James. 

James lives in Star City and works at the local Wal-Mart. His internal voice reads exactly like Maria's, only he's overwrought with self-hatred in a way that Maria seems to have overcome. 

Because look it’s not like James doesn’t think about whether he’s trans too, right? To be totally honest he thinks about it all the fucking time, he just can’t imagine actually being trans in the real world (...) Like there are a million reasons why he is obviously not trans or not the kind of trans person who transitions. He has never said it out loud or even explicitly thought about it but he is probably kind of genderqueer, so he doesn’t even know what to think about it (...) He knows that if he’s transsexual he’s definitely not, like, a normal kind of transsexual, normal transsexuals all fucking know they’re transsexual when they’re little kids and fucking tell their parents and get yelled at for it or else start hormones when they’re thirteen.

Binnie is taking the reader on this stream-of-consciousness journey through the mind of a young transgender person, and it's so authentic, and so important. Because that's the narrative we hear about trans (and queer!) people, isn't it? You can only be "authentically" trans if you've "known" since you were little, if you didn't repress anything, if you couldn't live any other way except as your authentic self. 

In the real world, there are plenty of trans people who don't transition until they're much older. Who don't come to terms with or understand their identity until later in life. Some trans people never transition; some trans people don't want to transition. 

James's struggle to understand himself as trans, to try to fit himself into this narrative he's been presented with, is gut-wrenchingly real. 

I should mention that before Maria left New York, she bought $400 worth of heroin, which is in the glove box of her stolen car when she arrives at the Star City Wal-Mart. When she walks in and sees James, the intimate third person narrative voice is able to jump back and forth between their heads in a way that suggests they are of one consciousness. They recognize each other; James recognizes Maria's trans-ness, and Maria recognizes James's; he looks exactly like she did at that age. 

Maria asks James to direct her towards the Miranda Lambert albums (she likes Miranda Lambert because her music is all about literally murdering men when they do you wrong which, like, yes). She leaves, but decides to come back and take James on as a "project." As if she might be able to go back in time and help her younger self by helping James. 

Another great moment where Maria struggles internally about what pronouns to use when she's thinking about James:

She’s like, Let’s start with the kid’s understanding of himself. Herself. Theirself. Wherever James winds up, you don’t get to pick a pronoun for someone even if you want to give them one you think they’ll like.

Maria keeps trying to get James to open up to her, to "admit" that he's trans. But even though he feels an intense sense of relief to be around the only trans woman he has ever met in real life, he also has his defences all the way up. While Maria monologues and tries to force the conclusions she's come to about gender and sexuality on James in a matter of hours, it seems clear that James isn't ready to accept those things. Those are conclusions he needs to come to on his own, however much of his life he might waste in the process. 

And that's the tragedy of the novel, at its core. That's what Binnie is getting at when she talks about the privilege of being a cis, het, white, able-bodied man. You don't have to spend half your life working to understand yourself when society has already taught you everything you need to know, has shown you how to be, and accepts you without question.

This was a pattern that went back my whole fucking life. I was totally checked out in high school, to the point that it seemed like a good idea to try a little heroin now and then. I barely made facial expressions in grade school. I learned to fake it well enough that people didn’t mistake me for an autistic kid; actually, it’s fucking wild if you think about it, how being totally checkout out emotionally can look like normal American masculinity.

Maria and James decide to go to Reno to party. When James reminds Maria that he's not old enough to drink, she tells him about the heroin. Here, again, it struck me how Binnie is turning tropes of trans and queer people on their heads. It often seems that if you're going to be trans in a narrative, you have to be unflinchingly good. You're not allowed to be a deviant and also be a complex, human person with both good and bad qualities. 

Maria has stolen her ex's car and spent all that remained of her money on heroin, which she's now offering to share with a 20-year-old who has never done hard drugs before, and who she initially set out to help. 

The most heart-wrenching scene in the novel has to be when Maria tells James about an interview she heard on NPR during her drive across the country. Two psychologists were having a debate about how parents should treat their transgender children. One was preaching acceptance; the other was basically saying that parents should shame their trans kids and be cruel to them so that they repress their feelings and don't grow up to be a "pervert."

Maria is incensed by this and she decides to call in.

And I’m like, Yeah! Here it is! I’m gonna solve this shit once and for all! Except I open my mouth and nothing comes out, right. I had thought, maybe I’ll get carried away and flip out on this asshole! And I’d thought, maybe I’ll just rationally lay out the contradiction inherent in this guy’s argument, right. But I hadn’t thought of a first sentence to even start out with. If I’d been like, Hello Dr. Zucker, I probably could have started. But instead I froze up in the face of institutionalized patriarchal misogyny, ageism and transphobia and I couldn’t say anything.

And it's true; it's so heartbreakingly true how you can be this incredibly thoughtful person who works so hard every single day to unlearn all of the horrible shit you've been taught all your life about what it means to be male or female or trans or queer. You can know all of these arguments like the back of your hand, you think about them constantly. They're arguments for your own humanity, for your right to not only exist as a human being in the world, but to be happy. But when you're actually staring someone in the face who believes you're lying about yourself, or you're perverted, or wrong; someone who would take away all your rights and tell you, no, you are not allowed to be this way. When you get in front of a person like that, it's like they represent everyone, and you are just you, alone. And it's almost impossible to stand up to a giant like that all by yourself. 

At one point, Maria is using the bathroom, and James is alone in the car. He pops open the glove compartment and stuffs about half of Maria's heroin into his shoulder bag. He doesn't seem to have a clear idea why he's doing this, but he does it anyway. 

They arrive at a casino on the outskirts of town. It's huge and mirrored and complex, and when they get inside, James loses track of Maria almost instantly. She abandons him, it seems. He eventually finds her playing a slot machine. She has shifted from being overly invested to totally dismissive. James seems to sense this; he tells Maria that he's going to go smoke, but he really calls his girlfriend, who comes to pick him up. 

It's a remarkably quiet ending. There was so much emotional buildup, plus the fact that this kid now has $200 worth of heroin on him. Nothing is settled. Nothing is done. 

It's a hard ending for a reader to reckon with, but it makes sense. Throughout the book, Maria tells herself over and over again that if she could just think it through hard enough, she would eventually get to the root of her problems. She could figure herself out and be better, somehow. Be happy and not messed up. The ending seems to suggest that that will never be possible for her, and it will never be possible for James, either. This is the world trans people live in. There's no ultimate acceptance, there are no real conclusions, just survival and existence. 

The similarity of the voice between Maria and James, combined with our ability as readers to exist inside both of their heads at once, made me think that maybe they are one person. Maybe James is Maria's creation, a mental exercise she uses as part of her journey of self discovery. Maybe she feels that if she could go back and help her younger self earlier, she could get herself out of this state of arrested development she's come to inhabit since the time of her transition. 

But then how are we to read James's theft of the heroin, and his ultimate departure? Maybe Maria snorted half the heroin at once and OD'd. Maybe his leaving her at the casino is representative of her finally letting go that part of herself. 

Or maybe I should just take it at face value. This book is nothing if not blunt, after all. 

http://store.topsidepress.com/shop/nevada-in-paperback/

Herbal Teething "Popsicles"

It's September and I'm ready for it not to feel like the centre of the sun outside anymore. 

I love sitting under this willow. Even when it's a kajillion degrees outside. 

I love sitting under this willow. Even when it's a kajillion degrees outside. 

July 2015 was the hottest month on record on planet Earth. Perfect time for a popsicle recipe??

Brief preface/awkward segue: I think it's pretty safe to say that most of us in North America haven't a clue about herbal medicine. 

It's not mainstream, and who has the time to learn about the uses of herbs, figure out where to buy them, and spend hours (or sometimes weeks!) preparing them, when the ibuprofen is just sitting right there. 

I get it! I do. I also think that people assume proponents of herbal medicine are hippie dippy anti-vaxxers who think no one should ever go to the hospital (some are!)

I think herbal medicine has its place alongside modern medicine, and it would be cool if we could make knowledge of herbal medicine more mainstream, and access to it more readily available to people regardless of location or socioeconomic status. 

Anyway, I digress. 

As many of you know, my mom is a certified herbalist. She concocted this recipe for herbal teething "popsicles." They've proven invaluable around our house, so I thought I'd share!

Some of the ingredients might seem unusual (yes! catnip has other uses besides making your cat act weird. It's a very safe and effective sedative!), and some of them are hard to come by, especially in Fort Frances. 

We order our dried bulk herbs from 2 main places: Hollow Reed Holistic, which is a great company out of Winnipeg; and Mountain Rose Herbs

You can also grow all of the ingredients in your own back yard and dry them yourself, though of course, that's somewhat labour intensive. 

The other option would be to just buy any old Sleepy Time tea from Safeway and use that. Pharmasave also sells some herbal sleepy teas (including this one) that would work great as an alternative to putting together  your own blend of dried herbs. Pre-made teas won't have all the same ingredients, but they'll be similar. Just make sure it doesn't contain any St. John's Wort or liquorice root! Not so good for little ones. 

INGREDIENTS

3 parts catnip
3 parts chamomile
3 parts rose hips
2 parts lemon balm
1/2 part cinnamon chips or hibiscus flowers

You'll also need some little facecloths. Ours are made out of organic cotton flannel. 

METHOD

Make tea! If you're using loose tea, use 1 tablespoon/cup of water. If you're using bags, use one bag/cup. 

Steep your tea for at least fifteen minutes, but ideally more like 30 mins to an hour. You can never steep herbal tea for too long. 

It's VERY IMPORTANT to always cover your herbal tea while it's steeping! If you don't, all the precious volatile oils will disperse. 

We use a French press to steep our herbal tea when we're making large batches like this. 

Once the tea is steeped and cooled, soak your clean cloths in it for a few minutes. 

Then roll the cloths up like little sausages. We call them "stogies." Don't wring them out before you roll them; you want to keep as much tea in there as possible!

Once they're rolled, we wrap them individually in plastic sandwich bags. You can use plastic wrap (like my mom is doing here), but we discovered that little pieces of the plastic can get stuck on the popsicles after they're frozen. 

We've also tried wax paper, but same problem. Sandwich bags do seem to work the best, and you can reuse them every time you make a new batch. 

You definitely need to wrap them, otherwise they'll get stuck together and you'll have a heck of a time breaking 'em apart. 

Once they're all wrapped up, we put them into a bigger bag and let them freeze for a few hours. 

My little tester LOVES them, and has since even before she was teething. They help so much with teething crankiness (and heat crankiness!), and they help with learning to self-feed, too! They don't replace Tylenol and ibuprofen, but they help reduce the need for them. 

Enjoy the last days of summer! 


Against Boredom

Sometimes, ya get bored. 

Not me. No, no. I long for the days when I had enough free time to be bored. But in the interest of furthering the progress of humanity, I've compiled an eclectic list of things you can look at, if you haven't looked at enough DANG things already, gosh dangit. 

I've taken to swearing like a Mormon. They say stuff like, "Oh my heck!" and, "Jiminy Christmas!" I'm eternally fascinated by Mormons. 

ANYWAY I realize that a lot of these things are super old and you've probably already seen them but GUESS WHAT here they are anyway. 

Cabin Porn. This is exactly (or not at all exactly??) what it sounds like: lots of photos of beautiful cabins around the world. 

Stefon's Illustrated Guide to New York's Hottest Nightclubs. Remember Stefon from SNL? One of my favourite characters of all time. This is a collection of images from a bunch of different illustrators depicting the clubs he describes on Weekend Update. 

Aerial Nudes. Just the coolest photos of naked people from far above. By John Crawford. 

Lakota Jonez.  Cherokee/Mohawk/Lakota hip hop artist. I think she's won some Junos??

rpm.fm. Indigenous music culture. A great platform to discover indigenous artists from around the world. 

Two. Just really amazing/surreal photography of identical twins by Tereza Vlčková.

The Complete History of Art References in The Simpsons.  Again, this has been floating around the internet since 2012, so a lot of people have already seen it. Super cool and interesting if you're as obsessed with The Simpsons as I am (few are). 

Pianists in Paris. ...just watch it. 

Olga Strazheva at the 1989 AA Women's Gymnastic Championships.  Okay seriously, this is so cool and beautiful and it makes me want to aggressively stretch my hamstrings. But yeah, back in the good old days, artistry was a lot more important in gymnastics floor routines than it is now. Also, this is set to my favourite piece of music of all time. 

Tiny House Swoon. Anyone who follows me on Pinterest will know of my obsession with tiny houses. One day I'll have my own, and Tiny House Swoon is good inspo. 

Have A Sexy Little Halloween. Hilarious and pertinent year-round. Undoubtedly my favourite Hairpin article of all time. 

"A Village After Dark" by Kazuo Ishiguru. I read this story a couple years ago and it has stayed with me. 

Scientific Illustration. A Tumblr filled with scientific illustrations. What more could you ask for in life, I say?

Elena Ferrante. 

A giant list of all-female bands. 

A punk playlist by Carrie Brownstein

Motionpoems.  Short film adaptations of contemporary poetry. 

Rainymood. The best rain sounds site on the internets, I tell ya what! I like listening to it along with moody jazz. 

Dirtbag Macbeth. 

This Is Sand.  An app for creating cool sandscapes. Good for calming anxiety. 

Vintage Book Collection Blog. Just really cool images of a person's vintage book collection. 

Male Novelist Jokes. An example: 

Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: The terrible sex had made him feel deeply interesting, like a murder victim.

(lololololol)

36 Questions That Lead to Love. I find this super interesting and I want someone I know to try it out because as we all know I have taken a vow of permanent hermit status and shall never know love again. 

Mama Malas. These are so preeeeetty but so expensive. It's my birthday this Friday, cough cough. 

Letters of Note. An online collection of cool letters and scans. 

There! I hope that alleviated someone's boredom, somewhere. 

Bye summer. 

Bye summer. 



Having Babies & Harnessing Anxiety

As I sit down to write this, the sky has gone quite a scary shade of black, and there's a tornado warning in effect. If you never see me again, I've likely been crushed by a falling house. Please don't steal my magic shoes. 

I send an email once a month or so to a group of friends updating them on my life. Recently, a lot of them commented that my life seems wonderful, and in many ways, it is. I was grateful for the reminder to stop and appreciate what I have. 

Sometimes, when you have depression/anxiety, it's hard to be aware of your blessings. I couple weeks ago, I went through a very low point, and coming out of it, I had a lot of anxiety/manic energy.

I think a lot about how to harness that energy in a positive way. It's this kind of very unproductive energy, when you're buzzing around but totally unable to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. Not terribly conducive to writing or studying. 

It's also the kind of energy that's tinged with this crushing fear that I'm not doing anything with my life. Or that I have to accomplish every single goal I've ever set for myself RIGHT NOW. 

I've found it helpful to just throw myself into creative projects that don't require too much thinking. Needle crafts are great--in the course of a couple weeks, I made two skirts, a baby dress, a knitted pullover, and a quilt. 

I made this skirt out of some silk that's been sitting in our basement since the early 2000s. 

I made this skirt out of some silk that's been sitting in our basement since the early 2000s. 

Making things can be stressful, too, in that making things often ends up costing money (anxiety also tends to make me online shop a lot, eugh). But luckily I used to do a lot of quilting in high school, and my mom is an avid knitter with a hoarder-like yarn stash, so everything I made came from "foraged" materials. 

It's harvest time for a lot of the herbs in our garden. Also a great way to harness that energy and make it useful. 

Herbs drying on the line. 

Herbs drying on the line. 

In terms of writing, it's a slow process, as usual. I have two poems forthcoming in the next couple months. One in The Dalhousie Review and one in The Malahat Review. So that's exciting!

I'm going to be teaching a couple writing courses to teens/pre-teens in September which is one of my all time favourite things to do. 

I had a wonderful experience on August 20th, when I got to attend my first birth as a doula-in-training. I believe a mama's birth story is her own, so I won't go into too much detail. But it was very life-affirming and awesome. 

The surprising thing was that I got sympathy contractions! I never would have thought that was a thing, but the two nurses who attended the birth told me that it's quite common, and they both experienced it as well in their early days in obstetrics. 

Of course, it's nothing like the pain of actually being in labour. It's just like really intense period cramps, or after-pains. And the really crazy thing was, I kept experiencing them all day the following day! Bodies are amazing things. 

I have a special kind of love and bond with the mama in question so I'm sure that contributed to my body's feelings of empathy, too. 

My thinking when I started this whole doula journey was that when I eventually became an "official" business, I would just go by my name, and not do anything fancy. But now I'm starting to think I should come up with a name? 

I was thinking that "Devil's Nettle Doula" had a good ring to it. Devil's nettle is one of the many nicknames for yarrow, which is my favourite herb (and what I'm holding in that cute illustration at the top of the page!). Not many people know that, though, so I'm thinking potential clients will just think I'm somehow involved with Satan. I don't know. 

It's way too early to be worrying about that, anyway. 

Precious new soul. 

Precious new soul. 


Orange is the New Black & Prison Abolition

Yeah, you could say I enjoy Orange is the New Black. 

I'm still laughing at this scene. 

A while back, I was scrolling around on the little blogging website known as Tumblr dot com when I came across a post talking about OITNB and the prison industrial complex. If you're unfamiliar with the term, here's a definition from criticalresistance.org:

The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.

Through its reach and impact, the PIC helps and maintains the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and other privileges. There are many ways this power is collected and maintained through the PIC, including creating mass media images that keep alive stereotypes of people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, and other oppressed communities as criminal, delinquent, or deviant. This power is also maintained by earning huge profits for private companies that deal with prisons and police forces; helping earn political gains for “tough on crime” politicians; increasing the influence of prison guard and police unions; and eliminating social and political dissent by oppressed communities that make demands for self-determination and reorganization of power in the US.

It's always harder to find resources/info that have to do with Canada. I find that Canadians tend to think that we're so perfect up here, that we don't have all the same problems with racism/sexism/all-the-other-isms that they have going on down in the US of A. From an article on the CBC from 2013:

New figures show the number of visible minorities in Canadian prisons has increased by 75 per cent in the past decade, while the number and proportion of inmates who are Caucasian has declined significantly.

As well, Canada’s prison population is now at its highest level ever, even though the crime rate has been decreasing over the past two decades. Ten years ago, the number of inmates in federal prisons was close to 12,000. It’s now more than 15,000.

Here's a link to a great interview on Upping the Anti about prison abolition in Canada if you're interested in some further reading. 

Anyways, back to this post on Tumblr. It was kind of one of those self-righteous, shamey posts that mean well but usually make me cringe. I can't find the original or I would link it here. Basically, it was saying that if you enjoy Orange is the New Black, you should make an effort to understand the prison industrial complex. It offered a link to blackandpink.org, and LGBTQ prison abolition site. 

So while I wasn't a huge fan of the tone of the post, I agreed with the sentiment. I visited Black and Pink and read about their LGBTQ Prisoner Pen Pal program. Basically, a lot of people who are incarcerated for long periods of time lose touch with people in the outside world. They often lose their support systems. By writing to them, and hopefully forging a friendship, you can be a bright spot for them on mail days. 

As mentioned above, prisons are disproportionately full of queer people and people of colour. There are many trans folks incarcerated in facilities that are not gender affirming. Imagine if Sophia from OITNB was stuck in a men's prison. 

I chose three people to correspond with from a database thousands. Now, I'm in a unique position as a Canadian living in a border town. I have a PO box in the US that I can use to avoid paying extra for postage. Also, I can understand how giving out your home address to someone in prison might squick some people out. I've looked into pen pal programs in Canada but I haven't been able to find any that seemed reputable or weren't affiliated with a religious organization. 

I've been writing back and forth with my pen pals for a couple months now and it's been a great experience. I've certainly learned a lot about what it's actually like to be incarcerated. It's no Netflix dramedy, to say the very least. 

I like writing snail mail. I like talking with people of varying experiences. I like knowing that I can provide some comfort to people who haven't had the privileges I've had in life. 

If you'd like to learn more about prison abolition, or if you'd like to investigate getting a pen pal or two yourself, visit Black and Pink. 

Tarot Project

Let me tell you a story. 

When I was going through my first major breakup, my sister-in-law thought it would be a good idea to take me to see a psychic. An especially strange suggestion if you know anything about my sister-in-law, but that's a topic that could fill up, like, 20 blog posts.

Anyway, my sister-in-law had apparently visited this psychic a few times before. Her shop was on Granville Street in Vancouver, in an incredibly innocuous looking office building. The reception area was as bland as any dentist's I've ever seen, and in fact, I think the psychic shared the receptionist with the dentist in the next office over. 

My sister-in-law went first. She brought her little notebook in with her, and when she came out she gave me a quick debriefing. 

"She said to watch Gillian around stairs." (Gillian is my niece)

Then it was my turn.

I can't remember if someone led me into the little room or if I found my way there myself. It was dark in there, lit by a few candles, and the whole room was the size of a large-ish closet with no windows. 

The walls were covered, floor to ceiling, with tchotchkes. I remember there were a lot of frogs. 

The psychic herself was sitting behind a large desk, similarly adorned with tiny statues of fairies and forest creatures. She was wearing a jangly shawl and had a thick Filipino accent. 

She asked me what I wanted to know about, and I became deeply mortified all of a sudden. I think I said something like, "Well, uh, I recently went through a breakup..." and I guess she inferred the rest. 

She pulled out a deck of tarot cards and had me cut it. I can't remember how many cards she drew, or what formation she laid them out in.

She then went on to make some fairly accurate comments about my past relationships, although not much about the one I had actually come to ask about. 

Then she got into the future. 

"When you are either 24 or 26," she said, "you will move to Australia."

Okay, this seemed kind of unlikely, but then again, my parents lived there for a while and so did one of my brothers, so not that far fetched.

"You'll meet a man," she went on. "A dentist. You will marry him when you're 26 or 28."

Okay, sure, why not? 

"He'll be Asian. The two of  you will take over his parents' sheep farm. You will have four children."

I think I smiled and nodded a lot for the next 35 minutes as she basically repeated the same thing over again to fill the hour I payed $55 for. Then she sent me on my way, blinking into the fluorescent light of the hallway. 

Many years before all this, I found my dad's deck of tarot cards in the garage. It was an original Rider-Waite deck he'd had for years. There was a book about how to interpret the cards. I thought it was pretty cool and I worked at learning for a while, then lost interest, in a 10-year-old-ish kind of way. 

Two summers ago, I used the cards from that deck to decorate my coffee table. It was pretty badass until Rosie chewed off an entire corner of it. 

Anyway, I won't bore you with the history of tarot, or the Rider deck, or all the complex symbolism associated with it. Point being, I've always had in interest in the aesthetics of this particular deck, if nothing else. 

I've also been inspired by decks created by some amazing artists. 

Photographer Alice Smeets teamed up with the Haitian art collective Atiz Rezistans to create the visually stunning Ghetto Tarot. 

There's also the crazy-cool psychedelic deck of the Major Arcana by Oliver Hibert.

Basically, there are a million different tarot decks out there, and a lot of them are pretty neat! I've wanted to make my own custom deck for a while now, but I wasn't sure what medium to choose. I'm not a terribly great artist, and I knew I'd probably have a hard time making something I liked the looks of. 

Then I was riffling through a stack of photos I took with my Instax Mini and it occurred to me: hey! these are a lot like cards. 

So, yeah. I'm going to create my own custom tarot deck (major and minor arcana) using instant photos. There are 78 cards all together so it will probably take me a while, but I'll be posting them here as I go! Here are the first few I've taken, so you get the idea:

From left to right: 2 of Cups; 2 of Wands; 6 of Cups; 6 of Wands; 10 of Pentacles; Ace of Wands; The Hierophant. 

Yep, the Ace of Wands is a vibrator. 

I've chosen the imagery of each card to go along with its symbolic meaning. But like I said, I don't really want to bore you with those details. When I'm all done, I think I'll make a master post with the meanings behind each card. 

I'm pretty pleased with the results so far. Hopefully you think it's cool and enjoy following along with this project!

Dinner With Karen Connelly

I seem to have dinner with a lot of authors lately. 

I certainly won't complain, although making dinner for someone who won the Governor General's Award when they were twenty-three, especially when I'm nearly twenty-five (and relatively award-less) is a tad intimidating. 

Karen actually invited herself over, which I think is a pretty bold and respectable thing to do, especially when you're inviting yourself to the home of someone you've never met before. 

As I've mentioned before, my social anxiety means that when I find myself in an unfamiliar place, I'm more likely to hide in the hotel room and and eat crackers for dinner than push myself into a situation where I have to interact with unknown entities. 

But the opportunity to have one-on-one time with someone like Karen Connelly isn't an opportunity I would ever pass up. 

She's an incredibly interesting and charming person; she speaks five languages, has traveled and lived all over the world. She has a son named Timo who's artistic and precocious and having trouble fitting in at his current school. I wasn't about to admit that my main association with the name Timo is the cute little brother from the Disney movie "The Emperor's New Groove."

If you're wondering what I made: salmon with roasted veggies and green beans. Pretty pedestrian stuff, but I figured I couldn't possibly mess it up. 

Oh, and we had chocolate pudding cake for dessert. Karen asked for the recipe. 

I'm eternally grateful for the opportunities that my job at the library affords me. As if it wasn't enough to be surrounded by books all day!

Karen will be giving a reading at the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre at 6:30 PM tomorrow (April 16, 2015). I'll be hosting. Come, if you can!


Dawson City, YT

The following story was longlisted for the CBC Canada Writes Short Story Prize. 

photo by Arthur Chapman

photo by Arthur Chapman

DAWSON CITY, YT

First, I met the girls.

            “You’ll want to spend a day or two just watching,” Irv said. “See how it’s done.”

            Ginger, Vivienne, Halo, Destinee, Kat. Me, the nameless newbie. Six of us in the little room above Irving’s Hardware in downtown Dawson that wasn’t so dank as I’d thought it would be. There was a window. Each girl had a desk and a little cubicle with her own regular office phone. The rolling chairs were ergonomic.

            “Ladies,” Irv said to the room at large. “I leave our new charge in your capable hands.” He spoke to us like that, like the headmistress of a British boarding school.

            “You’re leaving already,” I said, grabbing at his wrist. One of the girls, Kat, looked up at me over her cubicle wall.

            Irv tugged at his beard. “There’s the store to run,” he said. “I’ll see you tonight.” Then he disappeared down the stairs, shutting the door behind him. 

 

Two months before Dawson, it was Christmastime in Mississauga. I was home for the holidays, not that I had far to come. It was my third year of studying dance at York.

            My mother still wrote From Santa on the tags of our Christmas gifts; my younger brother got the tablet he’d been asking for. I hadn’t asked for anything, and so I got the same tablet, with a hot pink cover.

            My father was into spy-gear and self-defense; his gift was a can of pepper spray disguised as a heart-shaped tube of lipstick.

            “You can never be too careful in the big city,” he said, smiling fondly while my mother rolled her eyes.

            During a lull in conversation at dinner that evening, Auntie Barb lit up and called across the table, through a mouthful of potatoes, “Oh, Stephanie! I ran into Nancy Hayes at Safeway the other day. She told me about David!”

            “What about him?” I asked. David Hayes was my high school boyfriend. We hadn’t spoken in two-and-a-half years.

            “He’s getting married!” Barb said. “Some girl he met at school. She’s a dental hygiene major.”

            “Right, yeah,” I said. “I think I did hear that somewhere.”

            Later, while my mother and Auntie Barb did the dishes and my father showed off his new night vision goggles to Uncle Bill, I downloaded apps for three dating sites onto my new tablet.

            Irv, screen name yukonjack82, was one of the first men to message me. Six weeks later, I dropped out of school and got on a flight direct from Pearson International to Vancouver. From there, I took another flight to Prince George, where I met Irv face-to-face for the first time. He was waiting at baggage claim with a bouquet of carnations and a teddy bear from the gift shop.

            I called my parents that night from the motel.

            “Stephanie, listen to me,” my father said, as my mother wailed in the background, “you’ve been brainwashed. This man, this Irv, he’s not what you think he is.”

            “He’s nice, dad.”

            “Thirty-two-year-old men don’t go with nineteen-year-old girls for any nice reason.”

            “I’ll call you when we get there,” I said. Then I hung up.

Most of the time, the hardest thing about it was keeping a straight face.

            “What are you wearing, baby?” a gruff voice would inquire.

            Different girls answered in different ways. Halo was demure; “Just the bubbles of my bubble bath,” she’d say, scratching at a scab on her forearm and resting her faux-Ugg-booted feet on the desk.

            Destinee had a more direct approach; “I’ll tell you what you’re wearing, baby, and that’s my pussy on your face.”

            My first call, I was wearing my sweatpants and parka, and when the question came, I realized I had no idea what to say. What was something sexy women wore?

            “Uh, ah, a teddy,” I mumbled.

            “Teddy!” Kat squealed over her cubicle once I’d finished the call. “That’s you, baby. That’s got to be you.”

            The rest of the girls crowded around, cheering and chanting, “Teddy! Teddy!” I felt warm, knowing I was one of them.   

 

We took our cigarette breaks huddled in the fire escape; Irv didn’t allow smoking indoors.

            “I guess he’s got to have some kind of standards,” Ginger told me. At twenty-six, she was the oldest of us. She worked summers at a local bar when tourist traffic was high, then winters with Irv to round out her income.

            “I came here for a man, same as you did,” she said when I asked how she ended up in Dawson. “Most of these girls are tweakers. But careful what you go asking ‘cause not everyone’s keen to talk about the past.”

Vivienne and Halo lived together in an apartment above the coffee shop down the street; Kat lived in her mother’s house with her young son; Ginger lived in the trailer park. Destinee never told anyone where she lived, and we didn’t ask. I lived with Irv, in the little apartment behind the hardware store.

            My universe had gone from the size of Toronto to the size of a single building in downtown Dawson. I called my parents once a week from the payphone at Klondike Kate’s. My mother would cry and my father would threaten to involve the authorities. Really, there was nothing they could do.  

 

I managed to find out that David Hayes was having a spring wedding. Spring in Dawson was still far away; not nearly so far in Southern Ontario.

            At night, I lay in bed next to Irv and wondered what David’s bride would look like on their wedding day. I pictured her as everything I wasn’t, with a fitted lace gown and a blank spot for a face.

            I wondered if she knew about me, or the night David and I rode our bikes to the Cooksville Go Station to fool around in the empty field next to the parking lot. A few of his friends were there, and I took turns having sex with them. That’s what they said happened, anyway, and I was branded a slut, and my mother homeschooled me for the last half of grade twelve.

            Clearly, David had moved on. I wondered if he knew I was in Dawson. I wondered if he even knew Dawson existed.  

 

“Do you like it there?” my father asked one afternoon over the phone at Klondike Kate’s.

            “Yeah,” I said. “I like it a lot.”

            “Why?” I thought for a moment.

“I like that it’s nothing like Mississauga.”

            My father sighed.

“Will you be coming home to visit at least? What about the rest of your education? It was your dream to study dance at York.”

            “It was something to do,” I said.

            “Stephanie...” he trailed off. It felt strange to hear that old name. It belonged to someone else’s life.

            Movement in the alley across the street caught my eye; a woman had been thrown to the ground and a man was standing over her, fist raised.

            “Dad, I’ve got to go,” I said, and hung up before he could answer.

            The little bell over the door of Klondike Kate’s dinged as I stepped outside into the forty-below. The sound caught the eye of the woman in the alley and she looked up; it was Destinee. I couldn’t hear what the man was saying over the wind, but his voice was sharp, and his fist landed a hard punch into Destinee’s left eye.

            I threw up my hood and ran across the street towards them, trying not to slip on the slick winter road. I bit off a mitten so my hand could find what it was looking for in the pocket of my parka.

            The man didn’t even notice me until I was an arm’s length away. “Stay outta this, lady,” he started to say, but he was cut off by the stream of pepper spray from the pink lipstick tube container. He screamed and clutched his eyes; I grabbed Destinee by the sleeve and hauled her onto her feet. We ran, clutching each other, to the back door of Irving’s Hardware.

            Once we were inside the little apartment with the door bolted, I got a bag of peas from the freezer and handed it to Destinee. She pressed it against her swollen eye.

            “What the hell was that about?” I asked, when I finally caught my breath.

            She looked at me and away again. “Just one of those things,” she said. I sat down heavily at the kitchen table. “I tell you one thing, though,” she went on. “I’m gettin’ the fuck outta here come spring.”

            I nodded. “I’m thinking I might do the same,” I said.

            The rumbling of wheels on the floor upstairs sounded a little like distant thunder. Destinee and I sat in silence for a while, listening.