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So I decided, finally. I’m taking a leave from work. My last day will be February 20th and I can take up to six months off. I resisted for the longest time — all through radiation to about halfway through the third round of chemo. It wasn’t winter, after all, that was beating me up. It was the chemo. Sometimes I’d come home from work and go to bed and not get up until it was time to go back to work the next day.

This is not typical of me.

I’m in between rounds now, and I’m still a bit tired and cold-ish. Plus my teeth hurt. Also, apparently, a symptom of chemo. I tell you what, the treatment is more troublesome than the tumour. Which is a nicely alliterative sentence, isn’t it? I asked the oncology nurse practitioner for a letter and she sent one right away. When I went to talk to my supervisors they were very kind — “anything you need, Erin. You’re not asking for a leave, you’re telling us. you’ll have a job when you’re ready, just give us two weeks notice and we’ll be ready for you.” I didn’t know how wound up I’d been until I felt the relief wash over me.

One of our residents left us last week. He died — we don’t know how — and his body was found near where he worked. I get to plan my leaving, but he just — vanished. He left us with so many great stories, and we can hear his music and his laughter as we tell them. We’re all very sad. and hopping mad, too. He was doing so well! We loved him so much — his friends with whom he cooked and danced and who teased him and with whom he laughed ’till they nearly peed.

Since he died, I’ve had the chance to talk to lots of people about him. EVERYONE said, “He checked on me when I first came, and he knew my name right away”. Many people remember his music, and he did little things for everyone that we didn’t know about until now — the checking in, the extra smiles, the little notes on the door, the ‘inside jokes’ with so many people here. When I had an office next to the family lounge (the one with the piano), I’d hear him playing every evening. It was so wonderful. I never went over there to thank him.

You never know. You never know how much influence you have. You never know when it’ll be the last time. It’s cliche to say, “Make the most of it. Tell your loved ones that you love them”. Cliches get to be that way for a reason. It’s not easy to get to be one. Something has to happen, a cause and an effect, over and over before it gets to the eye-rolling phase. “Oh jeez, sure. I loveyouiloveyouiloveyou — it becomes meaningless!” Unless it means something. Take the time. I have to remember, I have to be patient (it’s not my best thing, patience).

That’s something Bo gave me — his life was big and troubled; loving and patient and musical. He attended to people who were new, and scared, and hard to reach. It was easy to tell him he was beautiful and lovable — most of the time. Not so easy to tell that to others. So that’s something he did that I can do — say, somehow, “I love you”, to people who are not so lovable, too. Because there has to be more to go around, We can keep the love we have for our dead going, by telling the stories, and pouring on the sunshine, and telling the troublesome that they are lovable too. We’re having a memorial for him, for Bo, on Thursday (two days hence). I’m glad we can do that together. This grief business is really hard all alone. We have each other. And we have the leavings of the lives we touched; who touched us too.

Okay. time to go to work. it’s snowing like crazy! Big fat white flakes of soft cold beauty. Love it. Don’t love driving in it, though, so I’ll give myself a good head start. I have 2.5 weeks of work left. Will make the most of it.

Round 3 of 6 — a Chemo diary

I took a couple days off work last week because I started chemo again. I took the dog for some short walks (this stuff makes me dizzy, I wasn’t up to long walks), ate bland food, started writing. Thought about a nap. Took some anti-nausea medication. Admired the light diffusing the cool blue sky and the fractals of ice on the puddles on the sidewalks. Played tug-o-war with the dog.

January 10 was Su’s birthday. We went to medieval things all weekend — Friday we heard the Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music: an evening of “Charms, Riddles and Elegies”, then Saturday we heard a harpist and storyteller named Benjamin Bagby to tell Beowulf. It was amazing. Music and words from the deepest, darkest winter and from the deepest, darkest ages of Anglo-Saxon history. We were both transported. We met there a doctor with whom Su worked, and she sent Su a note later. Here’s what it said:

I felt like I was being bathed in testosterone!!  The Song of the Vikings, killers and pillagers.

I thought it was pretty funny us nerdy whitehairs sitting with folded hands murmuring “How beautiful” about all that gore and galloping that sounded like it was written for 8 year old kids!

But the poet let the cat out of the bag by mentioning birth in one of two comments about women in all that torrent of words.  Every mother has a tale of blood and heroism, terror and wonder, much fuller of wonder than the Grendel story, the story of her baby’s birth!   (I think my Viking roots are showing, I’m one upping smugly just like Beowolf did the drunk at the party). 

That was just an orgy of womb envy.


We laughed and laughed — Of COURSE! It’s all womb envy — women go into battle all the time — ALL THE TIME — and unarmed, thank you very much, just as Beowulf went against Grendel. I never did. Well, not the birthing part. I left that to 80% of the women of the world. I dare say a great proportion of those women never had a choice about whether or how many children they would have, either. but I digress. as I do.

I meant this to be a bit of a chemo diarly. I just took the 11th dose of procarbazine. only 4 to go. Then a week, then a small amount of Vincristine intravenously (it’ll take about 15 minutes). Then a couple of weeks and a rest from it all. I can’t wait for that part. You know, generally I like hospitals. I like the MRIs, and I really enjoyed the last intravenous session I had. It was a windy day, and from the 6th floor, there’s a pretty good view of the city and the mountains behind the sticky-uppy buildings and construction cranes. In the wind, it looked for all the world as if the clouds and the cranes were dancing together. Very graceful and subtle, like a baroque minuet. The waiting room on the sixth floor is super comfortable, too, with a big jigsaw puzzle on a table, and coffee and tea, and sometimes biscuits or fruit, too. a few chesterfields, and some recliners, too. very nice. But I’m tired now, and a bit dizzy, and nauseous most of the time, so I’m about ready for this all to be done.

I’ve got it super easy, though. Last time I was there for my IV, I shared the room with a young person. She had a big bag of something dripping into her. She looked like she may have been 30, but possibly younger. Every other time, I’ve been on the younger side of the average age. Mind you, I don’t know. I don’t feel like I look as old as other 57-year-olds I know. But I do. That young woman, she was all curled up on a chair when I got there, looked like she’d been there for an AGE, and when I left, she was still curled up and quiet. Hunkered down. I don’t know what the chances are for people. Once the nurse introduced me to another person with a brain tumour. But that person’s tumour ended with “blastoma” rather than, as mine does, “glioma”. Anything with “blast” in its name can’t be good. What do you say to someone? I probably didn’t say the right thing. “Oh, I think I have a nicer tumour than yours”, and I realized how that sounded and stumbled — “We are in the best place, though, for treatment”. God. He was gracious about my stupid comment. Smiled kindly.

It’s cold. The Scottish-moors-in-the-dead-of-a-dark-ages-winter-cold. Su is making some wonderful soup that smells amazing (my appetite has been unaffected — still 16-year-old-boy-ish), and the electric ‘blanket of love’ is on the bed, and I’m worn out. I’ll go to work tomorrow, and I know that the moving about and the people will perk me up NO END. Because they always do.

Oh! also! I registered to compete in my first powerlifting contest in 25 years!Here’s a picture:


I’m so excited. Then I feel a bit nauseous. It’s six weeks away, March 21-22, so I have time to get in shape. My goal is to qualify for the provincials. There are 49 women competing! FORTY-NINE! Last time I competed there were a handful. This is gonna be great. Today at the gym, ‘great’ felt a LONG way away, but I will just keep doing on thing at a time. It’s nice to have a goal. And a generous coach, and a great gym.

Anyway, that’s it. My hair is growing back. People have given me some lovely toques and hats, which is good because my hair looks weird. All baby fine in one area and curly pokey thick everywhere else. I should go ask my friend to cut it again — she’s a great barber and she’d do a nice job. Plus we think the world of each other, and when there’s so much admiration flowing through scissors and clippers, you can’t go wrong, can you?

Not quite it — did i tell you? it’s working. The radiation, the chemo, all of it. It’s shrinking the tumour. All is going according to plan. Not as fast as MY plan would go, but then again, I’m a terrible planner. Whoever’s doing it can carry on.

Hindsight is here

20/20. Perfect vision. Hindsight is… this year, the one ahead of us; we can see ahead and behind 20/20.

Today dawned bright and blue, few clouds in the sky and the sun bringing the various shades of green and brown into glimmer and glow. Magnificent, really. Su said, “it’s like last week was a week of crying everything out”.

Begin again.

Today I saw a former professor and colleague from my last job. He’s still there in my old department, making the best of it. He greeted me with warmth and happiness. It’s been years since we have seen each other; i think he was on sabbatical for most of my last year there; though I know he visited the faculty association in my defense when the Dean decreed I should be offered no more teaching contracts (the faculty later paid me a settlement in return for my resignation–as if I had a choice, really. the money was helpful, though). it was lovely to see him, and his wife. He invited me to meet for coffee or a meal sometime together. We stood in the sunshine of the new year, late morning, smiling and saying how good it was to see each other, and blinking in the sudden light after the interminable rain. When we parted, I started to cry. It’s such a relief to know that someone I worked with and admire has respect for me still. I have been mourning the loss of that place, those relationships, that work. I loved my department, and I loved teaching.

Though it was kind of lonesome. And I would get all wound up with worry through the semester. It was hard to keep up with the reading; the marking; the current research — and the increasing promotion of misogyny and anti-feminist ideology was VERY troubling. I could’ve continued without addressing the trans ideology, I suppose. Some of my friends did it — they just didn’t talk about it. Here in hindsight, I could have just said, when it came up, “this is not a topic we will discuss here. At all.” and moved on. I don’t know. Also here in hindsight, I can see that that was not the right forum for me. Not a good fit, that sessional/adjunct professor stuff. No future in it for someone like me. It was wonderful to see my old friend, though — that whole long journey to PhD land really happened, and I do still have solid relationships from it. So reassuring.

This week past, for another example, I met up with my friend with whom I attended PhD school. She lives in another city now, with her husband and their daughter. She is planning to go up for tenure this year. No one in her department approached her about it; she’s going to go ahead, though, because it’s time and she’s done the work. A (white, male) colleague of hers, who was hired the same time as she, and who has roughly the same number of publications, and a comparable teaching an service record, was approached by the department to proceed to apply for tenure. We all figure that the reason she wasn’t tapped is because she’s Asian and female. She’s an admirable woman, my friend — steady and determined; talented for sure, and works really hard as well. And she is one of my anchors, too. Every time we get together, a couple of times a year only, we pick up where we left off, and it’s easy. Even when our lives are so different now. It’s really maddening that she has to work twice as hard as her male colleagues of European descent.

It’s not one person or one institution’s fault or wrongdoing–nor is it any individual. it’s all of us and it’s the systems of which we are a part. The Institutions. Big I Institutions. We are all in them, all separated by and cleaved to them. Those that benefit most from them don’t want to team up with those who are sidelined, not really. Too much to lose. All those institutions — Education, Medicine, Law — they all go on about ‘community’ and ‘social determinants of health’ and ‘social justice’ — They all mean it, too, I think. Theoretically.

I don’t think we can yet imagine what real freedom looks like. I noodle around in my blog here, and with my friends and colleagues, and political allies — and I start to write about it, like just now — and I can’t imagine what to say. Here we are in Hindsight — the year of perfect vision — and I can’t see a metre in front of my face.

That might be changing this year, though — in part because now we have a gang again. A small one, but we’re starting something. A group of feminists uniting to interfere with our mayor and council here, the media like the CBC, and various SJWs (social justice warriors) who have tried to stifle the voices and stop the work of radical feminists, and tried to ‘disappear’ lesbians from the dyke march, (not entirely successfully, but most of us opted to participate in events that were actually for, by and about lesbians instead of face the over-the-top vitriol we encountered in 2018) and tried to shut feminists up and out of the public discourse. We’ll see how we do. I am kinda optimistic. Maybe it was the sunshine today.

I’m going to change the subject now. This time I want to tell you a story about Su and her dear friend Norene. They were friends when they were young women in University in Sackville. Mount Allison — “The first university in the British Empire to grant a woman a degree” Su reminds me. Long time ago, now. To hear Su talk about Norene, you’d think they were soulmates. I think they were, anyway. Norene was about 8 or 9 years older than Su; she was an artist. A fine arts student who came from an old New Brunswick family. Su was studying science, then found the interesting people and switched to English lit and art history. Hung out in the theatre department, too. She and Norene did a lot together — shared stories and adventures; held each other up after break ups and disappointments; celebrated each other’s joys and successes. Norene was a guide to Su, too. Worldly without ever having left New Brunswick, she was a friend and a mentor.

Then Norene was hit by a car while she waited for a bus, and was killed instantly. November 2, 1978. Su was devastated. She couldn’t finish her degree. She couldn’t be there without her friend, and grief so heavy. She couldn’t put it down, and she didn’t know how to move through it, so she packed it (and the little rainbow cups and saucers Norene had brought Su from London) with her and moved to Vancouver. Norene wouldn’t have been pleased with Su’s decision to leave school that year. “She would’ve kicked my butt. if Norene hadn’t died, I would’ve finished that degree, and I probably would’ve gone to Toronto….” But Norene died, and Su left town. Who knows what would have happened? Hindsight doesn’t make stuff up, it just sees what was there with the clarity of experience.

Norene’s other friends were also left bereft. Her death bound them all together, I think. Su still keeps in touch with those people. This fall one of them died. Laurie. he was brilliant and tormented, “an impossible treasure” Su called him. Norene thought Laurie and Su would be good together, “You should marry Laurie” she’d said — but Su, though she loved Laurie, knew otherwise.

The friends all kept up with each other, all these years. Over time and love affairs and jobs and miles and illness and continents and break ups and oceans, they all stayed with each other. Sometimes tenuous, sometimes ethereal, sometimes in person, sometimes through voice or text or letter. But always. Then Laurie died. The old friends came together from different directions, bonded again by grief — they texted and called and reminded each other of their past. And it rained non-stop for what seemed like ever in Vancouver. And everyone was wringing wet and dissipated by the rain and the cold and the dying year with not much chocolate in it (strangely) and fewer lights than last year, it seemed. Su was burdened with grief and worry. One night, she just wept and wept and asked for help. She asked for help from something not human, not god, but from some power she just feels around her sometime. And we slept wrapped in each other, sharing a sadness.

The next rainy day Su called me and said “Norene sent me a message.”

I asked “what did she say?” and Su replied, “I asked for help last night, and she heard me. She told me the sun is coming back.” She showed me a picture of a painting Norene had done in 1978 as part of her graduation show from the fine arts school — and it was a big, yellow, magnificent sun glowing over a summer landscape. Even from the tiny screen of the phone, the picture looked like redemption and promise. “It’s going to be okay” said Su.

Su’s sister had seen the painting as part of an estate auction, (she also knew Norene) and sent Su the picture asking if she wanted to bid on it. The auction was today. Joanne said to Su that there were a couple of other bidders, but “I turned to the crowd with my best, ‘your soul is over there somewhere, go find it’ look, and they petered out. My kids say I am good at this”. When Jo sent Su a text “it’s yours”, Su let out a cry and started to weep.

Thank you, Norene. What a wonderful gift to your old friend — a big sun to light the year of perfect vision and hindsight.

Early November 2019

it’s a sepia day on the west coast. I just saw a chickadee flit along the branches of the grey buds of the magnolia tree outside the third floor bedroom window. I’m writing here, noodling away at a couple of assignments for this course I’m taking. The radio is on in the other room, piano music spilling out of the doorway along the hall. It’s cool and still.

I’m taking a course on ‘theories of counselling’. it’s been really fun so far. And I’m learning some things that I can use at work. We’ve discussed psychoanalysis, humanist therapy, cognitive therapies, behavioural therapy, family systems, Adlerian, Rogerian, feminist therapy and trauma-informed practice. I’m taking it all, though, with a grain of salt — even the feminist therapy, ’cause I’ve been around the block a time or two, and I’ve noticed the individual nature of therapies and counselling. Not to mention the entrenched sexism of the institution of medicine — the ongoing and increasing trend to pathologize all aspects of human behaviour and coping. Also, many years ago, i read Changing our Minds: Lesbian feminism and psychology by Celia Kitzinger and Rachel Perkins.

That was an important book for me. I have it somewhere, but I haven’t read it in many years now. From what I can remember, their main argument was that only people who are relatively well-adjusted, (and for whom the social-political structures in which we live work), will benefit from any kind of psychological or therapeutic intervention. For most women, they argued (I think), what is most useful is collective interventions — the comfort of friends; accountability to a community; belonging to a group and shared meaningful work. Politics, really — the power of a movement and an analysis of our strength and worth.

Then again, I’ve benefited from individual counselling as well as collective action, and the mutual aid of people who gather for common cause. I see the benefit of focused therapy, but not instead of political action and organizing, not instead of finding others with whom to share common cause. The thing to which I most take issue about most therapies is the lack of challenge. Like, one of the first things our instructor asked us was to indicate which pronouns we prefer. Of course everyone in this class indicated the pronouns appropriate to our sex, but that she asked us in the first place indicates that gender ideology has been imposed upon this supposedly ‘neutral’ course exploring theories. Nothing is neutral, for sure. But that pronoun thing…dear god.

Anyway, listen! We attended another GIDYVR talk. This was the 3rd one, and the first in which I didn’t have a job. So I could soak it all in, and participate in the Q&A, too. It was a while back now, in early November. About media bias. Meghan Murphy, Jon Kay and Anna Slatz (who was absolutely a breath of fresh air! I knew nothing about her before). They all talked about how important it is for women to have sex-segregated space, sports, public and private gatherings, and language with which to refer to ourselves. It’s absurd that we are having these conversations. That we MUST have these conversations.

Oh, speaking of language and conversations; I heard a few weeks ago that apparently I’ve been going around harming people. There are people in Vancouver who believe that I have named people (vulnerable people, the inference was), and posted their addresses and private information on my blog. Here. I you all find anything of that sort here, please let me know.

This is not exactly what I meant when I have said that I want to be famous, and it’s kind of cool to be thought of as dangerous. But it’s not true. In case you were wondering. I’m not harmful or dangerous, as far as I know. I have been, on the other hand, harmed. As have many many women I know of. Anyway, I’ll get to that.

The talk was supposed to be about the media, and the media response/coverage/editorializing of gender identity and sexism and women and so on. All the people were journalists. Lyndsay Shepherd was the moderator. It was pretty good, mostly. But Jon Kay took up WAY more than his share of air time and space. Also he corrected people who referred to trans-identified males as “he”. And instructed us about treating them with respect. Even fellas like Morgane Oger — who has directly campaigned against Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter’s right to determine their membership; and who has attempted to prevent Meghan Murphy from speaking in public — (Oger is male, and those of us wishing to be accurate in our use of pronouns will refer to him by masculine pronouns). Kay’s admonishment of the women who referred to Oger as ‘he’ was not a fine moment. He (Kay) did alright during his prepared presentation, but during the discussion part, he lost the plot. Ah well. All the panelists were united in their agreement that women need to have our voices in the public discourse; and that the vitriolic response to any question or critique of gender identity ideology, or transgender rights compared to women’s rights, is effectively pushing us (women) into the shadows.

The lesbian collective were there, handing out stickers that said, “you can’t drown us out” — a reference to the mideval practice of drowning witches– and others with the words “men aren’t women, though” (which apparently got Meghan Murphy banned from twitter, I think).

It was good to have an opportunity to tell a bit of my story, too, in the Q&A part. I asked everyone who had lost a job, or had their physical safety or livelihood threatened, to raise their hands. And a forest of arms rose to the air. Jon Kay asked if I was among those. I said “yes” and he asked if I would tell my story. Seeing as how I signed a non-disclosure agreement, I was a bit nervous, but I went ahead. A friend of mine in the audience said, “you know this is being recorded” — to which I responded, “What are they gonna do, fire me?” Anyway, I didn’t name the institution or the names of the people who harassed and surveilled me. It was fine. Some people came up to me after, and let me know they appreciated my comments — “I’m a teacher,” said one woman, “it’s very distressing, what’s going on”. I think it’s important to take those opportunities when we can. Because we need each other. And if we don’t know that there are others, we might go mad. But there is a ‘we’, and we are everywhere.


Okay! Wednesday the 3rd of October was the last day of radiation. I got this weird mask just in time for Halloween. But it freaks out the dog. So I probably won’t wear it — or not often, anyway (I did. backwards – -so I was ‘two-faced’ for Halloween). For five weeks, every week day, from August 23rd to October 3rd, I finished work on time (that never happens…) and got to the Cancer Agency just a bit late to lie on a metal bed to get my brain zapped. it was a very trippy experience. The radiologists and techs were really efficient and friendly. They asked me when my birthday was every time. One time I asked them if they wanted to know what I wanted for my birthday.

A unicycle. and lessons. I think it would be great to learn how to ride a unicycle, good for my balance and core strength AND brain function. When I told the two young women who were the team about that, they were very interested. Thought maybe we could make up spin classes, but with unicycles. “Could be our ticket out” I said.

Su’s always going on about some weird thing being “our ticket out”. I sometimes make this great liver dish with carmelized onions, apple and balsamic reduction. “that could be your ticket out” she said once. Her son makes amazing sour dough bread. He also is a carpenter and makes workout things out of ropes and carbiners. He has many tickets out.

Su’s ticket out is her habit of collecting Harris Tweed coats from thrift stores and re-purposing them. cutting them down to women’s sizes and shapes, making vests or cuffs from them. Other things, too, related to fabrics. She’s got an eye for beauty.

Where is “out”, though? And what if, instead of “out”, some of these pursuits could be our ticket “in”? Uh-oh.

Okay. As usual, it is now many days after I began this post. I’ve a cold today. Feel terrible. But never mind, I’ll be okay soon. There’s a bug going around work. I work in a residential addictions treatment centre. And recently, early in the summer, I moved from the women’s floor to a men’s floor. Now I work with ALL men. Imagine that.

Alright. Jeez. Now it’s more than a week since i left off. More than a week — a lot of change, started chemo on the 17th of October, that was interesting. I think i’m making up more symptoms than I have. You know how that is sometimes? Am I tired because of the drugs or because i’m not sleeping because i wake up worried about the drugs or because i’m just normal and have to pee a few times a night at my age now?

This whole chemo thing is weird. I almost feel as if I’m making it all up. I don’t have any symptoms from the brain tumour. No headaches, no seizures, no wonky motor function — nothing i can perceive. But I’m radiated now, (and have a bald spot to prove it), and I’m getting chemotherapy (which will probably NOT cause any hair loss). So there must be something going on up there. Well, of course there is. It IS my brain, after all. There’s some storms a-brewin’! the thing that keeps bugging me though is, it kinda feels as though i’m making this whole thing up.

Who would make up a brain tumour? Now that I think of it, it kinda reminds me of when I decided to be a lesbian. It was 1985, I lived in Lethbridge, I was a university student, and I had been, until that spring, engaged to marry a man. Lovely guy, too. We still are in sort of contact. Sometimes I see him when I go home (so very seldom now — this year not once. I ache for home, the older I become). Anyway, my world split open. I fell in love with a woman, i fell in love with feminism, I returned to school a different (but the very same) woman. It was weird looking in the mirror and seeing a lesbian. It didn’t feel like a trial. I remember thinking, “am i doing this because it’s cool to be a dyke now?”

at the time, it kind of was cool to be a lesbian. But I was still afraid. I lived in Southern Alberta, after all. But I didn’t ever have to face the violence that women even ten years older than I had faced. I was never incarcerated for loving women, never hospitalized. I lost a job once in the late 1980s, but it was a crappy job anyway. It was easy, overall. Becoming a lesbian. So I wondered, you know, if I was making it up to be cool, somehow.

I’m not cool, though. It’s been 35 years — just over. And now i’ve been a lesbian WAY longer than I was ever heterosexual. I was cool for, um, maybe, if you added all the days together, about a year all totalled. Not that brain tumours are cool, not at all. The suffering, though, I’m NOT suffering. Not that I want to be, no. But it seems unfair that I get all this attention and the treatments and appointments and so forth, and my brain tumour is this little dorky slow-growing thing that’s just poking around back there, not causing a ruckus or anything. I suppose it’s better than letting it be and then it’ll get all obstreperous and mean eventually. yes. definitely better than that. I’m not making this up. I just go get my MRIs, and those reveal the movements of the stowaway. I wonder if it has a consciousness? Does it know things? Can it tell that we’re after it? Wouldn’t I know if it was sentient?

Okay, this is getting weird for a blog. I should put this stuff in my paper journal, not out here on the web for everyone to see. But it’s here now. I may just leave it.

I will just leave it. I’ve had a pretty good fall so far. Which is lucky, because i have no more sick days at work, or vacation days — so I can’t get sick. well, I can, but then i would have to take a bit of a hit on my paycheque. it’s a small thing, though. all is well. Okay, i’m going to go do my school project now and post this. Next time i’ll put up something about the last GIDYVR talk, which we attended, (as did about 300 other people, probably more). I think the tide may be turning. Then again, maybe not. I get all hopeful then I step out of my house…sigh.

more later, dear ones.

Anthropomorphizing identity

Super-hero masks

Friday August 23rd was the first day of radiation. It was also the day, 11 years ago I stopped using ‘mood altering’ substance (except for caffeine!). So, good day to start dealing with the wee interloper. I was a bit apprehensive, on account of, well, it IS radiation after all. The week before, i went in for my superhero mask fitting. Maybe it is a supervillain mask, come to think of it. It’s very trippy. They start with a face-shaped disc of plastic and mesh, heat it up in a slow-cooker oven, and stretch it over the face and head of the patient. Me, in this case. I can breathe fine in it, too. They left it on for about ten minutes and ran me through a CT scanner to plot the coordinates for the radiation laser beams, and then gently removed it. Then the radiologist told me they would call within two weeks to set up a schedule. The 22nd was the one-week mark, and a woman called me from the Cancer Agency and asked if I could start THE NEXT DAY. i had been hoping for the next week, but never mind.

Let’s back up a bit. At the beginning of August I went to a ten-day workshop about Virginia Satir’s Transformational Systemic Therapy. Of course I went in all skeptical and wary, because i’ve spent most of my adult life mocking therapists. I should know better. I also spent most of my adult life mocking academics, then I became one for a while. That was a comeuppance. Turns out I was mostly right about the academics after all. Anyway, I had just found out about the ol’ stowaway stretching out his short little arms, and I was kind of reluctant to go in case I got sick from the treatment and couldn’t be available to my work anyway, and then they would have wasted all that time and money training me. That’s what I said, anyway. I was grasping at straws. I was afraid.

Turns out, I was right to be afraid. It was a LOT of work, and emotion and learning. Also eating. Lots of eating of really good food. what the hell. I’m bulkin’ up for chemo (you can’t make that joke just anywhere, it would seem). there were 19 of us, plus 4 facilitators. One of them was the lead, and she was really something. Gifted. All but one of us was female. One man. We all got along like a house afire. Well, mostly. There were a couple of people there who weren’t already working as counselors or therapists. They had a bit of a tough time figuring out the difference between managing (as in personnel management), or public speaking (as in motivational speaking), or teaching (that was me a year ago — and still a bit); and counselling. To all of those things, one must bring oneself — but for counselling, there’s a particular intimacy involved. Not TOO intimate, mind — but a quality of love that walks a line to both embrace and protect oneself and the other. It’s tricky. Not tricky as in deceptive, but tricky as in ‘bloody challenging, innit?’ So for some of the participants, what they got from the ten days was quite a different quality than what I got. And their contributions were sometimes pretty prickly gifts. I could go on and on and ON about what a great ten days that was. We laughed and laughed and cried and cringed sometimes, and had some great conversations, and learned so much about each other — our challenges and catastrophes; our family histories and our relationships with our kids/pets/school teachers/partners/colleagues…

It was an experiential workshop, see, so we had to bring our whole selves. A bit harrowing. Really moving. I think I was funnier then than I am in the rest of my life. We were not sitting in front of screens all day, that’s one thing. We were face to face, and heart to heart.

Ah shit. Here it is, two weeks plus since I started this post and I haven’t finished. I’m tired. probably from having my brain zapped every week day, but mostly also from staying up late, spending WAY too much time on Facebook (aka Crackbook), worrying about how I can keep up with my work and the other stuff i’ve promised to write, and the course that’s beginning next week and the gym (I only work out once a week now — this monday to friday thing is fantastic but consuming. I’d forgotten). I don’t attend enough to my lover and I don’t eat right, and chemo’s coming and I want to go home to visit, but when?

Another thing is, I’ve joined a small group of other gender critical feminists, and we’re writing a basis of unity, and figuring out how we can interfere with this damned juggernaut of trans ideology. It’s extremely toxic in this city — I can barely stand to go to Commercial Drive anymore — the last time I was there, I saw graffiti that proudly proclaimed “We punch terfs”, and “kill terfs” — The so-called dyke march (which I missed, thankfully, on account of the aforementioned wonderful workshop) was filled with signs that said “No terfs, no swerfs” and compared feminists and lesbians with nazis and fascists. A few women I know went to observe and were frightened and/or disgusted by the blatant misogyny. That’s not all, of course, not by a long shot. So a few of us are organizing. We need women’s spaces as much, maybe more, than we ever did. It’s great. Great to have this project, these women. I hope we can make a difference. Sometimes I think the tide is turning. But it really doesn’t matter if it does or not. I have to join with others, I have to. It definitely won’t turn if we do nothing. So something it will be.

This post is kind of all over the place. I’ll end with gratitude, how’s that? I’m grateful for the love I have in my life — I cannot tell you how much. And for the Canadian health care system, and for my amazing work place who took a big chance on me, really, and good thing, too. I have the resources to flourish and to make a meaningful contribution to our shared freedom. I know I do. I’m not going anywhere, I’m not shutting up, and i’m not alone. Anyway, maybe next post i’ll tell a story that has a beginning a middle and an end. I think every day of things i should post on my blog. so I’d better get after it. Right now i have to get ready to go, though. Until later, keep the faith, feel the love

Transformations and Adaptations

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One Friday evening in April, we went to a storytelling circle. They’re once a month from October to May, and each has a different theme. April’s theme was “Stories of transformation”. We are mostly women, the tellers (and listeners), and mostly “of a certain age”. It was a gorgeous spring time evening; all the blossoms out and flamboyant — the city looks like a ’70s Drag Queen. But smells better and is more graceful than fabulous. You know.

There were three tellers, and then we circled all the chairs and everyone had an opportunity to tell a story of five minutes or less in duration. I was one of the featured tellers, along with Bill and Mary, two tellers of some renown around here (and beyond). We all chose stories that involved death and resurrection — or ‘re purposing’ of some sort or another.

Bill and Mary were both great — really wonderful tellers, both of them. Bill told a story of when his childhood friend became his hero. Mary told a story, based on an historical story, about middle and upper class women (almost all of her stories are about women) who collected pearls during the first world war, then made and auctioned off necklaces to raise money. I can’t remember the story now, because I’m finally writing this four months later. Both of their stories had to do with death. Mine did, too.

I told two stories in one. A pre-Hellenic-and-Erinized version of the myth of Persephone, woven with my friend Sharon’s death in 2005. I have told the first one many times now; the second is my experience of walking with my friend and her family, but I told it only once. Of course her transformation was going from life to death — from the ‘upper world’ of the mortals, to the ‘underworld’ of Persephone. Our transformation came as we walked with her and each other to that doorway, and held her until she left us. She shed her skin, and we said goodbye.

I think ‘goodbye’ is always a transformation. It’s an event in all of our lives wherein we acknowledge the space a person occupies in our lives, and holds it for them so they can return. Of course, Sharon will not return to it in the form in which we knew her, but she’s with us in our shared memories, and in the stories we tell and invent of her. I say ‘invent’ because memory is tricky, and time and perspective transform our memories. So we hold what we can, incorporate what we wish for, and learn from the interactions, experiences, pain and joy we shared. T

Transformation. This is a tenuous segue, but never mind. You remember my wee stowaway Well, it’s been very quiet the last two-and-a-half years. As the chemo doctor says, “It’s behaving in an indolent manner”. This indolence is now past. The stowaway is awake and growing.

So in the middle of August, I’ll begin 5 weeks of radiation, followed by 6 rounds of chemotherapy over 9 months. That’s good and bad, of course. Good that the minute they saw that it has grown to about 5cm, they’re on it; good that I live in Vancouver where you can’t swing a cat without hitting a brain surgeon/doctor/neuro-scientist; good that I live within spitting distance of one of the best cancer agencies in the world — and bad that I need to have all this stuff.

But whatever, I’m super lucky. Fundamentally, the main feeling I have about this new adventure upon which I am to embark is gratitude Followed closely by fear — but I’ve learned over the years, especially since I quit drinking, that the things I’m most afraid of are the things that will give me the most learning/excitement/satisfaction/delight. Really and truly. So here I go.

The timing of this thing was impeccable, too. I’ve been with my new job (addictions counsellor at a residential treatment facility) since mid-June of 2018 — and it’s a village, that place. We all have lots of room for each other, and there’s significant agreement about how we do what we do, as well as space for dissent and dialogue when we disagree. It’s not like UBC was at all.

I really miss teaching, still. And to be honest I miss the reverence with which people responded when I said I was a university professor. I didn’t do that much, mind you; I’d say I was a teacher (which is more accurate, but not as fancy-sounding). Now that I’m no longer an academic, I kinda regret not getting a bit more mileage out of it. Never mind, I should have written more, too, and used my access to the library and the technologies there in the service of good (the women’s liberation movement) much more than I did. I can now return to mocking academics, so that’s good.

I don’t really belong in an institution anyway. Last summer, when I said that to my cousin Bev in Saskatchewan, she didn’t miss a beat! She was doing something else, and looked up from that to me and said, “Oh yes you do”. We all laughed. I do like hospitals, that’s true. But the ivory tower, that’s not for me. there is no way to really change things for the good in there. The people who are ‘successful’, in fact, got that way by towing the line, sucking up to power, and following directions from the more powerful (aka wealthy). I’m not bad at following directions, but, conversely, I’m also not good at impulse control.

So anyway, here I am, with a permanent position in a place for which I have great regard as well as health benefits. I plan to work through my treatment — though I anticipate having to take a day off here and there. I’ll probably lose some hair. Then I might be able to wear a hat at work, though, so that’s a plus. Otherwise we’re not allowed hats. Or i can draw curls onto my head with a sharpie. In whatever colour I want.

Su and i were new when the stowaway first made me seizure. Now we live together. We still spend most of our time together laughing. Nearly three years later. I haven’t given the tumour much thought or energy in all this time, and it seems to have been ignoring me, too. Just napping. I have no symptoms at all. And I really enjoy MRIs, so that’s cool. Now I will have even more of them!

My old friend who has the same kind of tumour, but in a much less convenient spot. She went through the radiation+chemo treatment a few years ago, and the doctors have told her there has been no growth since. None. In 6 years, it hasn’t budged. So that’s encouraging too. i get all this treatment done, and it’s just going to stop in its tracks.

I’m still aiming to turn it into a vault for super powers. I already have the power of invisibility (but that might just be because I’m a woman in my 50s). I’m going to train for a powerlifting competition — the Winter Open, probably, next February — so we’ll see if I can get some more superpowers. If it’s gonna live in my head, this guy, (and we established it is a male, colonizing a woman’s space — little jerk), it’s gonna have to at least help with the heavy lifting.

So here we go. Another transformation. I’m not going to join Persephone or Sharon anytime soon, but I can tell you, I’ve been discussing all this with my ancestors — Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa — (especially Mom and Grandma) — and they have indicated that they are right here. Like all my mortal people, too. We’re going to be okay, all of us. I’ll keep ya posted.

Because we are girls — the movie (and other women)

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It was a sunny afternoon in late April. I was out walking with one of the men I work with. Near the treatment centre, near the hospital. As we passed the pharmacy, I saw a young woman sitting beneath a tree. She looked at me and recognition came across her face, and she gave me a big open grin. She looked familiar and I smiled back and nodded. Then she got up and followed.

She said, “I think you taught a class I was in”. Then I recognized her. She was in a class I taught during my last semester with the teacher education program in UBC. The semester that was especially busy, and especially difficult. We exchanged names, she said she had run into a rough patch and was going to finish her course work this summer, but she was teaching. She wasn’t happy, she said, and she didn’t like the education system. I empathised — “that’s for sure. I’m glad you’re teaching, though” — She shrugged as we went our separate ways, raised a fist half-heartedly and said she would sooner be taking the system down.

I know some of her story. She’s very smart, and has had a number of challenges — because she was a smart girl, and she was, it seemed, alone for a lot of her life. She faced significant losses without enough loving around her. She had some, though — a woman who befriended her and saw her potential. And a teacher who encouraged her. She looked like she remembered me as a support, an ally. She didn’t immediately remember that she had supported other students’ complaints against me, (probably lodged one herself, I don’t know). Maybe she remembers now; but when we met, she registered me as a friend. That’s good. I am.

On Friday night, we went to see Because We Are Girls, a feature documentary of the Vancouver DOXA festival. It was SO GOOD. It’s about three sisters from a South Asian family in a small resource-based town in BC. All of them were sexually abused by an older family member. They didn’t tell until they were young adults. Their parents didn’t know what to do, and because they were girls, the parents warned them to stay away from their abuser — they didn’t sanction him. But they love their girls, and they raised them to be powerful, even though… Now these powerful women are together and loving and angry and wounded and fighting back. Together. The sisters, their parents, and a good deal of their family were in the audience. The sisters and the director had a discussion on the stage after the movie. They were every bit as strong, smart and lovely in real life as they were in the documentary. I was hopeful as we left to go home. Inspired.

As we walked through downtown, we saw a woman in her 30s crossing the street. She had short sticky-uppy hair and a thousand-mile stare. With an iron grip, she held a liquor bottle with a couple of shots sloshing about inside. We turned to watch her walk down the street — both weaving and tense at the same time. As we turned to watch her, we saw another friend of ours coming from the movie. We walked together to her bus. We talked about the movie again and the challenges women face. We all know, first-hand from our experiences as women, and as women working within “institutions of power” that women’s lives and stories are rarely attended to, or taken seriously.

Our friend is a lawyer, my partner is a nurse, I was a professor. Law, Medicine, Education. All of them designed to protect the interests of the powerful and reproduce inequality. But at the same time, all of them can be utilized (in some ways) by and for the subordinated classes to gain power and freedom. That’s great and that’s part of the trouble. Our lawyer friend pointed out that students these days are encouraged to do what they are told is “speaking truth to power” — but it isn’t. They are set up to undermine teachers, parents, other students, in the name of “inclusivity and diversity”. And that kind of manipulation sets them against their natural allies — isolates them. Renders them harmless to the REALLY powerful. Like my former student — she’s not doing well, and she was set up for failure by my supervisors. We were not allowed to figure out how to understand each other. We were both forced into our respective corners. Natural allies separated from each other.

When we parted, my girlfriend and I walked along Granville Street on our way home. It’s been a LONG time since I walked along Granville Street on a weekend night. It was PACKED. we passed a disheveled young woman screaming at no one and everyone, whirling about waving her arms in the air. A man lurched into an intersection against the light and got as far as the centre line. He stopped, teetering on his feet and a very expensive car roared in front of him, horn blaring. He kept his head down, stuck his arm up and turned almost graceful to give the speeding car the finger. Young people in fancy stupid shoes and shiny suits tight dresses perfect hair thronged around nightclub entrances. One of the entrances featured the picture of a handsome South Asian man — He’d been killed in a fight in front of that club last year. He tried to break it up. Now there’s a picture “In Memoriam” and that’s it that’s all. At a corner in all this mayhem stood a young Black woman with a microphone and an amp. She sang a song of hope and redemption — something about light. Her soaring contralto cut through the screaming the roaring the hubbub and dirt. The dark night sky was lit by her voice.

We walked home over the bridge. We passed more young women in low cut dresses and high high shoes; young men with gleaming hair and designer biceps; clumps of grubby kids clustered together feigning bravado; shiny fast 2-million-dollar cars slicing through the teeming streets; the very rich and the very poor living in alternate universes right next to each other.

it was late when we got home, but we had a cup of tea anyway.

it’s been so long. everything has changed, and not much has changed.

Hello, Gentle Readers,

here in this small, secret space that is my blog, we’re crammed together reading and writing away. If you’re reading this, you are among a small number of people who found me and asked to come in to read. Prior to the fall of 2017, anyone who stumbled across this could just come over and have a chat. Figuratively speaking.

Then things got a bit chilly over here, (due to the actions of my previous employer), and I had to close the doors. You can read about it, it’s not far back in the history of this blog, and I’ve barely added anything over the past year. I’ll tell you what’s happened since, though.

From May 2011 to December 2017, I taught, first as a teaching assistant, then as a sessional lecturer, in UBC’s teacher education program. In the spring of 2017, some colleagues nominated me for a prestigious teaching prize. I didn’t win, but one the adjutants wrote to tell me that I had a strong nomination and it was obvious that I was an effective educator. A credit to the school.


That didn’t last, as you know. From the summer to the end of the 2017-2018 winter term, I was relentlessly surveilled by a few of my students, arguably at the behest (or at least with tacit encouragement from) the dean of education, his minions — including the previously mentioned adjutant — an assistant dean, and other faculty (one in particular who was responsible for promoting trans ideology to public schools). That last guy encouraged students to come to him with complaints about me that he offered to then forward, anonymously, to the teacher education office.

The gist of the complaints was that my opinion that humans are a sexually dimorphic species was transphobic and potentially harmful to students; also unscientific. I said in class that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are not the same. I said it was appropriate to refer to people by the pronouns that indicate their sex. I said that children are naturally curious about themselves and each other, and certainly may display tastes and behaviours usually ascribed to the opposite sex. This does not mean they are ‘born in the wrong body’. My students learned in other classes that the pre-frontal cortex is not fully developed until we reach our mid-twenties, so decisions that we make before that age, or beliefs that we hold, may change drastically in a short period of time. Nevertheless, they were also taught that children somehow know that they are ‘trans’ inside from a very young age. So it was jarring to these students who believed they heard bigotry when I and some of their classmates suggested that perhaps young people need a lot of space and guidance to explore who they may become. To say “No one is born in the wrong body” was considered particularly egregious by some people in the university. People with power included.

I knew they would not hear ideas like this anywhere else in the program. My students, most of them, were relieved to have a space to speak of their reservations and confusion about this new trend to ‘transgender’ children. A few, however, appeared to think that even questioning the ideology (as promoted in the school board’s ‘sexual orientation and gender identity — SOGI–policy) was bigoted and harmful. In these times, disagreement is seen as disrespect.  Now, when students are uncomfortable about confronting ideas that are unfamiliar or unpleasant to them, they are encouraged to express outrage, not argument. Those who found an invitation to consider critiques and alternatives to transgender ideology unsettling went to the dean’s office and said they found me hateful.

I remember when i was a young woman, just discovering political activism. Glenn Babb, then the South African Ambassador to Canada, came to speak at my university. There were a few of us then who were budding “social justice warriors”. We would take up causes, without necessarily knowing anything much about them. We knew more about apartheid than we did about the residential schools. But we did know that Apartheid was modeled on Canada’s Indian Reservation system and the Indian Act. We went everywhere he was to speak and shouted so loud and long that he could not be heard at all. There were some African students, I remember, who wanted to hear what he had to say, but we didn’t listen to them. We shouted him down. I heard him speak about that time a few months ago on the radio. He seemed to me to be not much regretful about the system of which he was a part.

About ten years later, I was part of a (not very– but certainly more than the present) feminist collective at the Vancouver Status of Women. We were organizing a 20th anniversary celebration and had invited some of the founding members to speak. During our planning meetings, one of the women in our group told us that one of those women we had invited — a founder — had said something racist at a public event she had attended. I don’t know what she said, but, even though I knew little about the woman who leveled the accusation, I decided she must be right. We all did. So we un-invited the founder. I was chosen to deliver the news. I was a ‘good ally’, I supposed. When a woman of colour says something is racist, she’s right. Even though I didn’t have all the information, i did as i was asked. I was uncomfortable about it then, and I’m regretful still. I didn’t have the guts to ask for more details; or tell any of the other women about my discomfort and concern. I’m still embarrassed about that.

So, you know, I have some sympathy for the young people, the students who are swept up in the current ideological tsunami calling for ‘trans inclusion’ at the expense of women-only spaces. I remember that I had misgivings both of those times, and I was afraid to speak up. There was no room, in either of those situations, to say, “wait a minute, can we talk about this a bit more?” . There is no such room anywhere; not in the university, or at city hall, or ‘institutions of power’ in general, to stand your ground, or even ask questions. A number of students contacted me throughout the year to say they appreciated that I made space in my class (just once or twice, really, I had very little room to move) to discuss this. “We’re confused about it,” said one young woman, “I took a degree in sociology here, and we were not allowed to talk about it at all — it was ‘transwomen are women’ and no questions asked.” She didn’t know what to think about it, really, but she was glad to have had at least a moment when there was some light on the subject. Some open space into which they could discuss their concerns and ask questions.

I’ve got a new job now. UBC paid me a settlement and I resigned. I don’t really belong in an institution (I said that to my cousin in Saskatchewan last summer and she didn’t miss a beat, “oh yes you do”). Now I work at an addictions treatment centre. People come to get free of their addictions to drugs and alcohol. It’s much, MUCH different than teaching. More about relationships and discovering our shared humanity. It’s very hard work. And exhilarating. I’m going back to school, too. I have this PhD and all, but I need something different. A praxis of counselling.

Story of my life, eh. I spent nearly 20 years mocking academics before I became one — and it’s been at least that long also taking the piss out of therapy and so forth — and look at me go. Never too old for lessons in humility, I guess, eh?

Just yesterday I remembered a conversation I had with one of my students late in the semester my last year at UBC. He told me that my class was his favourite class; he really enjoyed the content and my teaching. “This is not the case for some of my classmates” he said. As I knew. He said that people talked about me in other classes, and not kindly. He related it to his relationship with his dad. They had some fundamental political disagreements. He was Jewish, and he and his dad were at odds over Israel and Palestine. They hadn’t talked in a long time. I expressed sorrow for him about this rift. I couldn’t imagine being estranged from my parents — that was a fear for me when I became a lesbian. He said it was sad, yes, but it got him out of the house, in the end, and propelled him to adulthood. So in a way, he was grateful.

I thought of that conversation on my way to work the other day. Leaving teaching–leaving UBC — was like leaving family. I belonged for most of the 15 years I spent there. I thought I did, anyway. I was wrong, obviously. It was great. I enjoyed grad school, and PhD school, I really did. I’m not great at research, but I loved the thinking and discussing and the presentations — giving and hearing them. Also, i’m a pretty good teacher, and I kept on because I thought, you know, I could teach a few courses a year, write a bit, work out every other day, do some shifts at my favourite feminist rape crisis centre, and have this life I had. A little teaching a little activism, a little rabble rousing here and there — until retirement or what have you…

But there is a cost to activism. Not that I really did any. After all, you can’t be part of the system you know you must subvert. What was I thinking? That I could continue to teach with integrity in an institution that exists to reproduce structures of domination and subordination? Every year, that’s what I told my students: “you are part of a system that functions to reinforce and reproduce the dominion of the powerful. You may make a difference in the lives of individual people, but you’re not going to address oppression in any meaningful way”. I said that. And I carried on as if I was throwing a spanner into the works, as if I was part of changing the system. Bullshit. I had no allies among the faculty — how could I have had, without working to organize? Of course I failed. I didn’t even begin. That was short-sighted of me.

By the time they were on to me, summer of 2017, it was too late. My academic career was already over (as if I’d ever started). The dean of the faculty, the associate dean, the head of the department — they harassed and surveiled me for the rest of the year. They encouraged another faculty member to gather ‘evidence’ from students about me. He was happy to do so. I was backed into a corner, and I was defensive. Two of my colleagues advised me to keep my mouth shut, that there were things they did not say, either. That I was too good at teaching for the school to lose me, and I would not be able to stay if I kept this up.

I was not politic about it at all. In the end, I have landed in a better place. And I am, like the young man who spoke to me at the end of the last term, grateful. I was anxious all year, and not so happy as i tried to appear. I wish I had the courage to try to organize with my colleagues — or at least to walk away earlier — when I still had a voice and a good reputation. I wish it had been my decision. I stayed too long. I was pretty shaken up, too. It was a very difficult year, that last one.

I tell you what. This is the end of this blog post. I started it last year sometime, and I haven’t posted it because I was in the middle of it all until recently — and my new job has been completely consuming. Plus, I’ve been coaching at a little barbell gym — when I lost my teaching work, the man who coaches me gave me some work. He’s been utterly loyal and generous — even when there was some threat that my political stance might have an adverse affect on his business. Anyway, so i’ve had two jobs since last summer, both of them a bit insecure for different reasons, and no time for writing. I hope to post more now, especially as I’m going to stop working at the gym. I am yearning to write, and to become more creative again. Between (anti) social media and the thumping the university gave me, i’m not as confident as I was. Downright scared, really.

who isn’t? So here. the first post of 2019, four-and-a-half months in. Here we go…