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I have a thing in my head

Hello, Beautiful People.

Erin here. I have some news. It’s not good news, but it could be worse news. Like, it could be the news that Donald Trump was elected president of the united states of America. That is really really bad news, so it makes my news kind of even happy in comparison. My news is that I have a brain tumor.

A fucking brain tumor! Holy crap. How does one even begin to think about something like that?

Here’s the story: Last week, Thursday November 3rd, I had a seizure. I was just lying around home, feeling a bit sorry for myself because I had a cold, and then one of my legs started moving. I kind of thought that maybe I was going to have a cramp, because I get cramps sometimes. But then the other leg started moving, and then I tried to reach down to stop them, and I couldn’t control my arms and hands either, and then my whole body was going all spastic – it was very weird and frightening. I shouted a couple of times, really loud, “AAAAAAHHH!” but it was the middle of the day and none of my neighbours heard me, and then it felt like there was a disk over top of my windpipe, and I couldn’t inhale or exhale. Then I passed out.

When I woke up, I thought it was a dream at first. I felt something on my tongue, like a pebble almost. But I couldn’t get it out of my mouth, so I looked at my tongue in the mirror, and it was deeply cut and very bruised on the right side. The pebbly bit was the beginning of a kind of scab. I realized then that what I remembered as a dream had really happened.

I called my friend Francesca. We had talked about getting together for coffee that morning because she was in town for a few days, from some far-off island where she lives now. But she got too busy, and I had a seizure…anyway, she said she thought I should go into emergency. So I did. I drove to the nearest hospital, a little Catholic hospital in a residential neighbourhood.

I didn’t know what to think. The doctor who saw me wore a checked short-sleeve shirt, with a stethoscope round his neck, tucked into one of the front pockets, and he looked like a doctor from a Norman Rockwell painting. He was kind and measured. He got me in to a CT scan. Twice. Once with dye, once without. He looked at my brain, and my torso as well.

“There’s a swelling on the left side of your brain” he said, “It might be an infection, a stroke, or a tumor”. He thought it might be a tumor. He said he would get me set up with an MRI. A CT scan is a computerized tomography. It’s a bunch of x-rays all taken together to make a kind of 3-D picture. A Magnetic Resonance Image is that – magnets and noise acting together to make a more detailed 3-D picture. The MRI was Monday the 7th.

I was in the hospital, still, because that would expedite the process to get me the MRI. You know what, I barely had a moment alone. At the end of August, I started seeing a new woman. We met earlier this year through a mutual friend, and shared a bit of spark right away. She’d already read my dissertation, before we met. Part of it anyway. So that made her pretty interesting to me. I’m a bit self-involved that way. When I got back from my epic trip to the Ancestral Homeland, I invited her to dinner. My travels, and the women I’d met along the way, the adventures I had all served to nudge me out of my grief and sorrow. I gained some confidence again, had a sparky connection with UK feminists who inspired me and woke me up. Old Erin returned to Vancouver. But even better than I was before.

Anyway, I invited her to dinner, we learned a bit more about each other. So far, we find each other interesting, smart, politically astute, engaging, kinda sexy too (but I’m not gonna talk about that stuff, no way!), and really funny. We spend most of our time together laughing.

Before I left for the hospital, I sent her a message to please call me when she got home from work. But I got impatient and decided to call her before she called me. Or text, I don’t remember if I texted or called. Anyway, she came whistling over to the hospital from where she was. She was with me when the doctor said, “it looks like a tumor, but it might be something else”. He told it to me straight. He said he didn’t know any more than that, but they would keep me until they could give me a few more answers. I started to cry, I couldn’t not. But not great snotty wracking sobs, just quiet frightened tears creeping down my cheeks.

I don’t remember now who came that first night. Susan’s daughter Iris came one day, she brought a whole bunch of treats. She’s been off sugar for some months, so is living vicariously through other’s consumption – gummy bear things, fancy beautiful chocolates, energy bars, san Pellegrino sparkling flavoured water, some other fun things to eat. My friend Kim came nearly every day, and my women’s step group came, too, once a few came and we had a meeting in a room on my ward. We talked about living sober, and being grateful and holding each other up.

When the nurse came to make sure my IV stent was in okay so they could put dye into my veins for the MRI, she looked at my arm and said, “It looks swollen, is it painful?” and we by and by figured out she was talking about my very impressive bicep. I laughed and flexed the other arm, “Which way to the gun show? That way!” We all laughed at that…

I haven’t been alone for hardly a minute since I got myself to the hospital last week. I know there are people I haven’t told. My radical feminist friends and allies met on Tuesday, I went too, because I wanted to be with them. Including my ex-lover, who’s mad at me – hell we’ve all been mad at each other for a good part of the last few months – but we always know we need each other, and we are essential to each other’s lives. She said to me, “I love you so much, Erin, you know that, right” it wasn’t a question. I do know that. And she knows I love her, too, no matter what, and forever.

One of the women I admire most, and who I know I’ve disappointed – but for whom I would do nearly anything (she knows that too), said at that meeting, she said, “you have a reputation for kindness, you show up for people. Now we can show up for you. We have a history, you’re one of us.”

My first lover, from the mid 1980s, when we were young and new and full of possibility – she lives here now, and she has brain cancer too – but worse than mine. She knows more than anyone else what this is like. She called me and said “I love you very much, Erin”. I told her we’re in a special club – I think only really really smart people get a brain tumor. She’s really smart, and she was instrumental in both my coming out as a lesbian and my embrace of feminism.

Everyone has showed up for me. It’s humbling and inspiring. My new lover came right from work the minute I sent word I was in the hospital. My oldest friends, my sober friends, my work mates, my feminist friends, everyone has stepped up. My doctor came, too – and she gave me a hug. Our first hug in the 26 years she’s been my doctor…The guys at the gym, my Terminal City Barbell Club – I went over for a workout yesterday, first day out of the hospital, and two out of the three of these guys, hands full of chalk and calluses, hugged me full and hard. The other one, a young man, said, “Erin, I don’t know what to say to someone who has something like what you have, …”

“Me neither, KC, I get it”

“…but I hope it’ll work out okay, and we’re beside you”.

I know.

My brother cried on the phone with me, “I love you so much, sis” and I could see him standing in his kitchen, holding the phone and wiping his tears. “Do you want me to come?”

Oh yes, I do. But I don’t need him here, and he would just be lost and neither of us would know what to do. There isn’t anything to do, really, just wait. Maybe do a little research about neuro-plasticity – how we could maybe re-shape the tumor into something useful, brain cells that I can use to climb walls and race trains – I told him not to worry. I’ll let him know what to do, as I know more. I told him I love him too. He is a lovely, lovely man. I’d think that even if he weren’t my brother.

The tumor is cancerous, looks like, but it might be the kind that just sits there, glowering, but doesn’t move or grow at all. They’ll find out more when they do the biopsy, November 21st. If it’s terminal, I can think of a few magnificent incendiary actions I could take that will help all of us in the wake of that nightmarish election to the south. But I don’t think I’m going to die any time sooner than the usual four-score-and-ten.

I asked the neurosurgeon if it was caused by accordion-playing. He didn’t think so, but no one can be sure. it’s not from cell phone use either, and there’s no indication it could be MS or a stroke or infection. Nope. It’s a wee tumor, that’s all. I can get away with all manner of bad behaviour now! Naked accordion playing, swearing in church, whatever I want. I would’ve thought i’d want to drink good whisky and smoke smooth cigars. But I don’t. Not even a little bit. I AM drinking coffee late into the afternoon though. Rebel me.

I’m gonna wrap up now, I’ll keep you posted. As cancers go, this is pretty good, really. It’s kind of romantic and exotic, for one thing – not icky like colon cancer – and brain tumors don’t hurt. That’s a relief. I am grateful, more than anything, even more than afraid, I am grateful.

Thinking Differently 3 and also some travel stories

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I’m on the train again from St Austell to Bristol, then Bristol to Newport, then Newport to Bridgend. Where Grandpa Morgan was born in 1905. Yesterday I had lunch with my cousins Dave and Gill Stuart, and their daughter Jenny (my second cousin. I’m getting better at this, I think). Dave is my grandpa’s nephew. In 1907, Grandpa’s mother, Mary (Williams) Morgan, died. He was two, his sister Gwladys was 4, I think. Their dad, John, remarried – a woman named Edith (perhaps the woman after whom my mom is named, but more likely the aunt Edith who raised him). This marriage wasn’t very happy, according to the sketchy family stories. Edith had two sons with John, and a girl, I think, too. Yes. Her name was .

Nancy. I forget the names of the two sons. One of them was Evelyn, I think.

In 1914, when young Dave was 9, Gwladys was 11, their father died. Maybe he was 40. I don’t know what happened to Edith. But I don’t think she wanted them anyway. Gwladys went to Uncle Phillip in London, and Dave went to Tom and Edith Williams in South Wales – Cowbridge? Maybe. That’s where my cousin Alun lives, Cowbridge. [Update–Brynna, they were in Brynna– Katie, David, Tudor and Tom were the cousins]. Alun’s Tom jr.’s son, so my grandfather’s second cousin? I think—I need a chart. Kind of more like a nephew than a cousin is Alun, given that Grandpa grew up with his father. Anyway, so they were separated, Dave and Gwladys. My auntie in Ontario is named after Grandpa’s sister, my Uncle Tom after Grandpa’s uncle, or cousin maybe (it gets a bit confusing). My mom is probably named after Alun’s grandmother Edith, NOT John Morgan’s second wife.

Grandpa had a hard life, and it made him into a hard man. Good, but hard. He was tall, handsome, athletic, resourceful, honest, loyal and had a sense of humour – clearly, someone loved him. But he was stubborn, rigid, had a mean streak, and could hold a grudge. I think he didn’t really approve of Dad. My poor drifty messy dad. I am so like him. Dad, not grandpa. Grandpa’s tool bench was meticulously organized, and he knew how to use everything there. Dad’s was – well – he had some tools, I think, but he didn’t really know how to use them. And everywhere he went, he left a little trail of clutter. Me too!

Dear me. Look at that! We’re passing through these valleys, green hillsides bounded by hedges dotted with sheep in one, cows in another, guarded by gorse and thistle—here’s a field of corn, and a stone bridge we’ve passed under. No wonder Grandpa yearned for this place. He left in 1926, and didn’t return until 1969. His life here, from when he was 13 until he left, was centered not in the valley farms, not on the land, but beneath it in the mines. When he left, he made his way to the Canadian Prairies, a place with few hills, and he came before the shelter belts were planted, before the Great Depression – which means there were no trees when he came, either. Grassland and sky. Mostly sky. He left this lush, wet, green land for long horizons, dry relentless wind, and brilliant hard sun.

Stephanie Davies-Arai was the next speaker – I should have powered through and written this update the day after, because it’s all a bit fuzzy now. Stephanie focused her talk on what’s going on with children. You might know that the referrals of “transgender” children to the Tavistock Clinic in the UK has risen by over 900% in the last few years.

“If anyone had said, five or even two years ago, that in order to become their ‘authentic self’ children would have to take puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones and prepare to undergo surgery – they would have been thought mad,” she said. Now, this is the kind of thing that ‘gender specialists’ are promoting. I have to say, once again, that this is so like the promotion of prostitution. It’s not only that liberals are describing prostitution as a form of labour, they are now erasing the harms that the pimps and purchasers wreak upon the women who are prostituted. Everywhere, women are expected and coerced into subjugating to the entitlement of men to women’s bodies, women’s spaces. If we resist, we are bigots. We are threatened with our livelihoods, our homes, our lives.

Now it’s Saturday, the 23rd. I’m waiting for my cousin Alun to pick me up. We’re going to see my grandpa’s childhood home, and the graves of his parents. Then the Welsh national museum.

Here’s a story of coercion: On Wednesday, when I was in the youth hostel, Christiane from Germany asked Lydia from China, “your skin is flawless, how do you do it?” they are both young women. Lydia is tiny and dynamic, Christiane is tall and broad. Lydia didn’t understand the question, and Christiane said again how beautiful Lydia was, how perfect her skin. I said, “you’re both young, you haven’t had time to dry properly yet” and “you’ll find different beauty in a couple of decades”.

Christiane told us a story (it was late at night) of her evening. She went to a pub with some other young people. A man invited her to go for a walk with him to the beach. “I didn’t go, I came here. I was going to, but then I thought, ‘wait a minute, no light, a strange man, an empty beach – no thanks. We went to another pub and then I just left after a pint.”

She expressed admiration to another woman for her conventional beauty, joking that she herself was too big and heavy to be attractive (she is nearly 6 feet tall). Both of them talked about their boyfriends, and the way their boyfriends touch them – Lydia’s picks her up, he’s as tall as Christiane. Christiane’s makes a big production, grunting as he plays at picking her up. Christiane says, “that’s not very flattering”, and they laugh. Then she tells this story about an encounter with a friendly man in a pub. A friendly man who is a stranger. “you can’t be too careful” she said.

I found it really interesting, in a really-really-angry-almost-despairing kind of way. She was at the same time admiring the beauty of another woman, and talking about the need for vigilance against the men for whom women work so in order to achieve this ‘flawless skin’. We learn very early that we should want to be attractive to men, and we should work at it. We also learn that men are a danger to us, and that we can’t ‘lead them on’ or reveal our distrust—“If I told him the real reason I didn’t want to go for a walk, he wouldn’t understand” said Christiane.

More likely, he would, but instead of getting angry with other men, or about sexist,  he would get angry with her for telling the truth—and he would be defensive and unpleasant at best.  None of us pointed out the obvious dissonance of that moment. It’s always our fault

July 24, 2016 – oh dear. It’s a week after the conference now, and I haven’t got half way through. And we went to St Fagan’s yesterday! And I want to tell you about Welsh Faggots! Not “Poofters”, mind, faggots. The first night in Bridgend, my cousin Alun, and his wife, Sian (who, turns out, has the same birthday as me, November 22) took me to dinner to a little pub in Bridgend. Alun ordered the mixed grill, which was about seven different kinds of meat, a grilled tomato and some chips (French fries). Alun is a tiny man, about my height, (which is really 6’2”, but people keep “mis-heighting” me at 5”3”), and probably I outweigh him by a stone (which is UK for about eleven pounds, or about 5 kg) at least. He has the metabolism of a hummingbird.

I ordered the Handmade Welsh Faggots. Only because I wanted to say, “I’ll have the faggots, please” with a straight face (well, of course, with a lesbian face—which is quite stern). The waiter looked at me a little bit quizzically, as if to check to see if I was serious. I grinned in a friendly way.

They were delicious.

Stephanie Davies-Arai said that Bernadette Wren of the Tavistock clinic notes that little boys outnumber little girls, but teenage girls outnumber teen boys coming to gender identity clinics. “We are absolutely training our boys and girls into boxes that do not overlap” Stephanie said. She showed us side-by-side photos of children surrounded by their belongings, a project of a Korean artist, I think — boys the world over were awash in shades of blue, girls in pink. it was stunning.

While girls presenting at gender identity clinics indicate the presence of other disorders and problems (depression, anxiety, autism, bullying, eating disorders, self-harming behaviors, past trauma, sexual abuse—to mention a few), there is no research into causes of the huge rise of girls presenting as transgendered. And therapists are NOT looking at underlying problems, or possible sources of this alarming increase in dysphoria.

Of course, I think it’s easy – we are ALL “dysphoric” – we live in a dystopia! Really, if you’re gender-conforming, you’re not well. Not well at all.

In Vancouver, the School Board and the Parks Board have lost their ever-loving minds. It is now policy that anyone can go into any bathroom they please. Children in schools can take the name they want, and “identify” how they like, and the school is under no obligation to let parents know. I have absolutely no doubt that had my parents and teachers been as encouraging of my magical thinking as parents and teachers are expected to be now, I would be a ‘transman’. Also, married to my father, and probably dead – because I wanted to be a cowboy, and I’m very allergic to horses and hay. That’s an aside.

Next up, Julia Long, who first read a statement from a woman who is part of a disability rights organization. The statement referred in part to the trans ideology that those who believe themselves the opposite sex are “born in the wrong body”. Which is completely inaccurate and deeply insulting to people who are born with a disability or disabling condition.

Right. The first thing Julia said was “transgenderism is a form of male violence”. I’d never heard that before, but when she said it, a light went on. I have often joked that of course men know exactly what men want in a woman, we can just retire to some tropical island and let them do ‘woman’. But that is not what they’re after. They will still require us to do the messy emotional and care-giving work, while they wear the corsets and heels and ‘perform woman’ with all their entitlement fully intact.

Julia went on to describe how, basing her analysis on J. Galtung’s (1990) description of ‘cultural violence’, and Marilyn Frye’s (1983) description of ‘oppression’.

Galtung: Cultural violence is […] events, actions, threats, etc. which have a deleterious and injurious effect on an individual’s or group’s basic needs being met (survival/well-being/social/identity/meaning/freedom).

This violence is Direct, Structural, and Cultural.

She images and accounts drew from news media and blogs that described how the transgender lobby enacts these forms of violence against women, and reinforce the bars of the cage of patriarchy which incarcerates women in oppression (Frye, 1983). She drew a clear picture of the increasing pressure on women, and especially lesbians, to disappear. We are in danger of erasure by the trans lobby, this is clear.

of course, we’re not going away, though.

Lookit, I’m going to see if I can find Coity Castle today, and it’ll take me at least an hour to get there, and it closes at 6, so I’d best get after it. I apologize for the meandering and tangential mess of these posts – I want to tell you too about seeing Grandpa Morgan’s childhood home (that guy was gender-conforming, by the way – except for his immense talent for growing gorgeous flowers. I see why he got that faraway look whenever he talked about Wales). Oh! And St. Fagan’s! and sheep and cows in fields and roads so narrow that the trees at the side scrape against the car as you drive by, and how people greet you in the shops and on the streets and –

So this is it for now, I’ll post again in a day or two.

circle of life

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Hello, my handful of readers. it’s been a hell of a week over here in easilyriled’s world. My head is full of dreams and self-doubt, my heart is in tatters. again.
this past weekend, though, was devoted to BIG THINGS in the lives of other people. Friday I went to two twelve-step meetings, and spent the afternoon in between in the hospital with a friend. She’s pretty sick, but she’ll be going home this week. She had a seizure, which is related to other stuff going on for her. We’ve been friends for more than 30 years, she was my first love, and first big heartbreak. We re-connected about three years ago after a ten-year break. She is one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. We don’t agree anymore about everything, politics-wise — but she was instrumental in my journey to feminism. And we’re bonded, you know…
Saturday was the wedding. You remember i was all tortured about it last week, or week before last, right? yea. But it went really well. Stephanie and I were MCs for the evening. I did get in a few digs about the institution of marriage, I played my accordion, sang with some beautiful people, carried around some babies, and ate a lot of pakoras and lamb curry. there were a couple of gay men at the party, they though Steph and I were partners. “is she your wife?” one of them asked me.
“have you not been paying attention?” i wanted to say, “what, just because i’m a dyke, you think i should be all married and shit? even though i have just finished ranting (just a little rant, the day, after all, was not about me) about the institution of marriage and ownership papers and patriarchy and shit?”
I didn’t, though. i just said, “Um. no.” They’re GAY, fer cryin’ out loud, there is a reason we call homosexuals that. bless them.
So I went away to play a sad Ukrainian waltz on my accordion. I only know three songs. But i play them different every time, so it’s like having a repertoire. Music does mend broken hearts, that’s a true fact.
the newly institutionalized couple were very happy, their families were very happy. It looked like people had a good time. And everyone there, you know, we took care of each other. In our presence our friends made their commitment to each other, and in so doing, invited us to hold them accountable. They brought people from all parts of their lives together, added music, flowers, food and speeches–the signing of the ownership papers (for the approval of the gubbmint battery farm) was the least of it, really. There were a few of us broken-hearted, kinda cynical dykes there — i am not the only one — and we just felt the love in the room and did our best for our friends. Plus, you know, i had my accordion and an audience, so that made me pretty happy, too.
Then yesterday I went to a celebration of the life of a young man I knew for a while. Ten years ago, when he was 17, he and his mom joined up with our friend Sharon as she was heading to her death. She had cancer, and it moved slow then fast from her breast to her brain. For ten days in April of 2005, we stayed with her — her husband, her neighbours, her friends, her relations — and she let us carry her to the doorway. It was a beautiful gift she gave us, to let us in like that. there was lots of laughter, many many tears, all the songs, and stories galore. As he was dying he told his mom that he wanted to do it the way Sharon had done. With grace and humour, surrounded by love and music, engaging with everyone who came as he could. I didn’t know that he was ill, nor that he had died until his mom posted on facebook that the memorial would be July 12. He was a beautiful young man, sensitive, smart, kind and quirky. the celebration of his life was excruciating. His mother was so poised and shattered. All that care and love in the room for her and for her son held her up. But there is no making sense of such a death. “Why him? Why one of the good men?” people will ask. But the question might just as well be “Why not?”
It is not true that everything happens for a reason. Not true at all. the true thing is that everything happens. That’s all.
This afternoon I will go see my friend in the hospital. Then i’ll drive my ex-lover’s mom (whom I adore) to the airport. And it will be some time yet that i will be in mourning.
I am glad for the wedding. And I am glad I spent the weekend in service and celebration. it’s been a year of loss and endings. That wedding was someone’s beginning, and that’s kind of encouraging, even though…

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

non-sequiter coming right up–
I had a meeting with my committee recently, and when we started up, the first thing i did was cry. It wasn’t because i was afraid of what they would say about the six chapters i’d sent them. I worried they would say that I am not worthy, it’s not good, it doesn’t make sense, the arguments don’t hold together–but they didn’t say that. They said it needs a lot of work yet, but also that it’s substantial, remarkable, inspiring (!). Which is also frightening, but in a way different way.
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On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously agreed to strike down most of Canada’s prostitution laws.

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

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

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

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

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

“yes, of course” she said.

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

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

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

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

It’s 2014. Time to grow up.

what IS teaching, anyhow?

The other day, I wept in front of my class. We are reading a bunch of stuff about pornography and gender and how girls and boys get into gangs and how they organize themselves (or are organized) within those gangs, and lot of other stuff. Lots of difficult reading, and stories of suffering and confusion. We also read a couple of chapters from Robert Jensen’s book, Getting Off: Pornography and the end of Masculinity. And an article that talked about how to educate for gender equity. It’s an old article, from the late 90s, and it talked about ‘hallway politics’, with a description of how girls are sexually harassed by boys in the hallways of schools.

It is difficult to read this. And difficult as well to live it. Women become used to it. We learn from infancy how to either ignore or attract the male gaze. We learn from infancy how to be ‘girls’. Even when we would rather be boys.

I asked them to take five minutes and write out their emotional responses to the material we had just been reading and discussing. Not judgments, just feelings. “Keep your hand moving,” I said, “keep writing ‘I don’t know what to say’ until something emerges. It will. Just write. If you are more comfortable writing in a language other than English, please do that, no one will read it.”

Then after that, i handed out different coloured construction paper. “Okay, here I want you to write the dominant feeling that emerged for you. One word, or two. And put it up on the wall, and then look at what your colleagues were feeling too.”

Anger. Confusion. Frustration. Fear. Anxiety. Rage. Anger. over and over again the word “Anger”. One man wrote “Relieved (because I am a man)”. I walked around, I read them aloud. I looked at my class, at these women and men who are embarking on careers as teachers. They looked back at me. Was it my imagination or did some of them look a bit shook up? Was it my imagination or did the men drop their gaze when i met their eyes? I said, “Oh, thank you. Look at this, ‘anger’, frustration, confusion’–I,…” and then the tears came. I felt all of it, all at once. All of that frustration and rage and sadness they wrote out and tacked onto the walls. There it was.

See, this is what we feel all the time, I think. Women, anyway. We are always angry. How can we not be? Everywhere we go, everything we see, every place we go, we see our imperfections reflected back at us, writ large. We see we are never safe. We are never in charge, and we are never safe. Even the women who are in charge, the few CEOs and politicians and the judges, for example, the school principals and the school board chairs; they are still in charge of a man’s world, which is, in turn, in charge of them. And they too are always subject to the male gaze. and the implicit threat of violence if they refuse to ‘play nice’.

How can we dismantle this? how can we imagine living without the constant presence of fear and rage? Mine lives right here at the base of my neck, and right here, behind my eyes. What would I see if it were removed?

I am teaching teachers. They are, WE are, all of us entrenched in the big reproductive machine–the Education System–we think we can change things. Education is important, you can make your way with an education, you can make a change with an education. That’s what we believe, that’s what we’ve been told. But the system makes us.

Meanwhile, boys still sexually harass the girls with whom they are in class; and men everywhere learn they are entitled to look at us a certain way and expect us to bend to their will, in myriad subtle and not subtle ways. And the system grinds away and we say to younger women, “well, it was worse when I was younger”. But I don’t think it was.

Maybe I’ll write a post about why I am optimistic in spite of all that. Fueled by rage and fear, their is a light that shines like the sun through the clouds of evening.

Life. Ghosts.

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When a friend dies, grieving is private. All the cards and letters and flowers go to the family of the deceased. the friends cook and clean and help prop up the partner and the parents and the children . We weep quietly alone at home, or in the spice aisle of the grocery store when the grief washes over us, or we scream our sorrow into the wind while riding down a steep hill.

I see her, my friend Shannon, I see her sometimes still. There she is now, in fact, sitting in the bus across the street, looking out the window. She doesn’t see me. It is not her. there’s another one, look, the way she is walking as she turns the corner, it’s her–

no it’s not.

Shannon died in 2007. She died in pain and alone. I was awake, probably the moment she gave up the ghost, about 2 or 3 in the morning. I’m often awake at that time, i get up and have a glass of water and read a paragraph of one of the books by my bed or I stand at my window and look for the moon.

that night, i was troubled. i try to remember if I thought of her, I don’t know if I did. She had just got out of the hospital the evening before. She’d been there for 5 weeks. and was let out not because she was better but because her bed was needed.

god. how i miss her.

and sharper now because an extraordinary thing happened.

I met her sister. A sister that she never met. Here’s the story:

in 1961, Shannon’s mom had a baby. She couldn’t have an abortion, she couldn’t marry the man she was dating–(not then, she eventually did, but not for a few years). She gave the baby for adoption and did the best she could.  what to do? birth control was obviously ineffective, abortion was inaccessible (and unthinkable at the time, for her), and she just … capitulated.

Fast forward, Shannon’s mom and dad had a whole bumch more children. One of them, the one born shortly after their marriage, was in and out of foster care and addiction–his father took it out on him–the reason for this dreadful marriage, he figured. it was never Daddy’s fault, he never considered that had he kept his pecker in his pants, he would not have had to take care of all those children. it was the oldest boy’s fault that he had to get married, it was his wife’s fault that they had to get married, it was anything but his own behaviour. He blamed his wife, he blamed his kids, and is wife, this bright beautiful sensitive girl, she blamed herself, too.

Shannon was born in 1970. Into this tragic family.

oh, she was a gift. the only girl in that family–she was her mother’s pride and joy. Smart, beautiful, athletic, stubborn, willful. She was a handful. I don’t know the half of it.

I met Shannon in the late 1990s, we worked together in a mental health drop-in, a place for people who’ve been involved in the psychiatric system to come–whether they were ‘patients’ ‘survivors’ or ‘consumers’–didn’t matter. C’mon in, have a cup of coffee, wanna game of crib? want to sign up for lunch? There’s walking group in an hour, you in? these things, this place, we were a family. After a while, we were a family. I loved working there.

Shannon was finishing her master’s degree. Anthropology? Sociology? i think the former, but i’m not sure now. She was living with a man, (but she broke up with him after a while)–she had a daughter, she was always laughing and joking and cleaning at work. We took a shine to one another.

And we started drinking together. I don’t even know how it happened, that partying thing. but we’d get together every week for a while there to drink. Sometimes I’d babysit her daughter while she was off working or something, but not often. Her daughter used to like me, when we first met, but I drank too hard, and was not good for her mom, she could see that, and it made her really mad. Then she hated me.

Oh, alcohol.  How I wish I had never met Johnny Walker and his ilk.

But then again, in some ways, he brought me to Shannon.

We sobered up together finally, after burning a few bridges and damaging a few more. Can two drowning people save each other? Yes. we could. for a while.

This is hard to write. My friend was bi-polar. I’m sure it was because her father was a brute, and she was not safe from his anger her whole childhood. She loved her dad, oh, yes–but she was so mad at him. and she had a lot of trouble holding that anger and that love for him in her heart. She had a hard time.

We loved each other, Shannon and I. she was a good friend to me, generous and funny and kind and volatile and troubled and belligerent and tender and all of it all of it. We went through some hard times and then we went through some better times and I couldn’t see that she was losing her grip. She loved life. LOVED life, with that big heart, all of it, she loved–but she couldn’t find a way to be in life. She couldn’t find a way out of the depression that caught her time and time again over and over and darkened the way forward and hid her friends in shadows and stifled the spark she had.

I know i’ve written of her here before somewhere. early on. I will always know her. Always love her.

and her oldest sister, the one she only spoke with a few times, the one she never met but always knew and understood, she contacted me. She wrote me a letter…”I am S___, Shannon’s older sister…” she wrote. And i leaned back in my chair as all the air left my body with a ‘whoomp’.

Shannon. Shannon, she’s here, I’ll send her your love.

So I wrote her a letter too, and I told her as much as I could remember and some of it was hard to write and probably hard to read. But we met and she read it and she said, at one point, “it’s okay. I want to know everything” and she looked at me with eyes so like Shannon’s, and she gave me a gift of cookies and a photograph in a nice frame (Shannon loved to cook and bake, too, when she was well–she was always feeding people she loved). She was gracious and a bit nervous, my friends sister. And she was her own woman, a totally different woman than my friend had been, but so much alike. The way her hair fell over her forehead, the way her voice sounded, that one gesture she made as she was ordering tea at the shop in the Quay there. I feel like we have begun something.

She looked for me. She looked for me because I was an important friend–among many many important friends–I didn’t know Shannon for long, we didn’t grow up together, we were not related, we only worked together for a couple of years, really. But we were kin. We knew each other, deep and sure.

I hope that I will be able to share my memories of and my love for Shannon with her sister. We are in a way grieving her loss on the peripheries of  Shannon’s life–She is family, but they never met–she grieved alone, far from anyone who ever knew her sister, or even knew of her.  To find and then lose such a bright spark–almost too much to bear. Maybe we can be something to each other that can ease that lonesomeness a little.

A beginning.

So many feminists–

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And we made the most of our limited time. Last week, I was  in Ottawa, the capitol city of Canada. It was  an exhausting and exhilarating week, to be sure. So many workshops and panels and singers and dancers and conversations to have that one week was not enough:  not enough but a beginning.

Not a vision of freedom, but glimpses for sure.

I  met some women who read this here blog! there were women from Italy and Nigeria, from Central America and India and Bangladesh and South Korea and Okinawa and Denmark and Norway and the Yukon and there are Indigenous women from Mexico,  Samiland and the Interior of BC and the Six Nations and –there were many many more women i’d have like d to meet, talk with, plot with, and grow to understand. But this was a beginning.

i was in a short conversation one night with a woman from south africa, a friend on facebook, who said she honours the women in prostitution in her country, because there are so few choices for women for work, and the women who engage in prostitution become rich and don’t have to do soul-destroying menial jobs for their whole lives. We honour them too, i said, but we have no respect for the fellas buying them, we want them to take responsibility and stop demanding access to women’s bodies. And we want all women to have enough.  to have much better choices between a grinding boring ill-paid menial job and prostitution. in fact, it would be good if those two ‘choices’ weren’t on the palate at all. How ’bout that?

it’s the trap that I dare say we all fall into, all the time–we talk about the women’s choices, we talk about how to help the women–we talk endlessly about hauling the babies out of the river or teaching them how to swim, and we don’t pay any attention to the guys throwing them in there. That’s an old story, the story of the babies in the river. One that Cherry Smiley of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network  told in the panel we were on together–you know,  a woman sees a baby floating in the river. She rushes in to save it. Then another baby appears, and another and pretty soon the river is filled with babies, and women scooping them out. Cherry added a few women teaching the babies how to swim. Then one woman boots it up=stream. Someone calls out to her, “where are you going? can’t you see we need your help here?” and she replies,  “I’m going to see who’s throwing them into the  river!”

I’ve heard that story many times before and mostly in the context of the anti-male violence work, though I know now that Pete Seeger tells it, too. I had not heard the part about some of the rescuers teaching the babies to swim.  I don’t know if that’s Cherry’s addition, but it’s a pretty good metaphor for harm reduction.

anyhow. It was a transformative week–so many feminists in one place. And the Abolitionists owned the conference. There were panels about feminist legal interventions–the Norwegian women told us how they managed to get their government to implement the Swedish model of prostitution law–they targeted Johns, they used a big bold sense of humour, righteous rage, and courage.

We were courageous last week, holding each other up, giving each other the best of our thinking, and the most we could of all we had learned in our daily work and lives. Lee Lakeman and Diane Matte were gracious and disciplined chairs, animators of a daily conversation called Flesh Mapping: prostitution in a globalized world. They have both been fierce feminist warriors spreading the joy of struggle for decades now. Their organizations, La Cles in Montreal and Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter are influential world-wide now.It was wonderful and encouraging to meet the La Cles women and to learn more about their activism–they’re an admirable bunch, to be sure.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard women express admiration for Vancouver Rape Relief and Vancouver feminists.  Made me all proud and humble at the same time. I have had a small small part in the successes of this powerful group, and learned an enormous amount from my association and collaborations with them. I think, after last week, that I can finally move into a more useful place, finally having confidence that my voice is important, and the work I am doing is necessary for the movement. I must put together the stories and experiences of all the women i’ve worked with, beside and for over the last quarter century–it’s urgent. I’m a theorist now, an activist academic and i can figure out a way to make the contradictions fuel our shared movement toward freedom. It’s okay to be afraid. The women before me were afraid. They have paid a great price to clear a path for me. It’s my responsibility to carry on the fight and pass what I know to those who are beside me and coming after. Finally, and beginning now–

and still play my accordion and do stand-up comedy. Cause there is joy in the struggle. and everything is political. damn. there are so many stories to tell but i gotta go now, i’ll get to it all later…another time another post, i have articles to write now…