poetic license

This week in my introductory writing course we covered poetry. I am not much of a poet though I tried my hand at poetry in junior high and felt pretty sure I was the next…well, good poet (I didn’t actually read poetry so there was no one I was aspiring to be). I occasionally wrote mushy or cryptic poems the year I met my hubby.

At that time, I was all of 18. In 1982, when I was 20, I wrote A LOT of poetry. Apparently I REALLY loved my (now) husband.

One poem (pictured above) I wrote in junior high garnered some attention from my teachers. It’s not because it was well written, but because I used the word “caressed”.

Now, this is 1974 and apparently that was not considered a 12-year-old student’s type of word.

My dreams of being a great poet came to a crashing halt. I recall having a very intense discussion with my English teacher about that word and explaining that my mother owned a rhyming dictionary, a regular dictionary and a thesaurus (she was/is a writer/broadcaster). Words were a big thing in our house.

I was one of a very, very small number of children that came from single parent families at the time; as a matter of fact, I cannot actually recall any one else whose parents were divorced. I always felt our family was under scrutiny. A few years earlier, at this same school, my brother had been suspended because he (and my mother) refused to have his hair cut – it was below his shoulders at the time. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised about the line of questioning from my teacher about my word usage. It did crush me that he questioned my ability, though.

(That being said, a year or so later, when my marks plummeted and I withdrew from all extracurriculars, not one teacher asked why. I’m not sure I would have told them that one of the coworkers was sexually assaulting me, but it would have been great if their concern was at least consistent.)

This week, I wrote a ton of poems. The criteria for the assignment was that it had to be focused on our senses, full of descriptive language. I realized, through this process, that my writing is not particularly descriptive. And, also apparently, I am very stuck on the experience of drinking tea.

Let me explain.

At least 5 of the 10 or so poems I ‘shortlisted’ for submission were about tea. Mainly about an experience I had a month or so ago.

On Fridays, I go to a writing workspace in east Toronto. A group of anywhere from 3 to 10 writers go to this space and write in silence for 3.5 hours.

I mean silence.

The kind of silence that when I poured my tea, I could hear the tea pour into the cup. I could hear it swirling. I could sense the motion from the sound. It was striking.

It was crazy loud in this quiet space. And every time someone else poured their tea, I heard it again. I was so enamored with this sound, I wrote about it that day and it became a bit of an obsession with all my writing.

I am working on a longer fiction piece and I put it into the piece. I wrote about it regularly in my daily freewriting. Finally, I put it into my poem this week. I even called the poem awoken because I felt like that tea experience was a bit of an awakening.

Tea and writing – a good pairing.

awoken

my breath
enters my body
cascades like a soft wind
down my throat
fills my lungs
then departs
with the unwanted
residues of the night

a chinook
clearing winter’s chill

the tea
pours into the cup
a sound unheeded
in the thousand times
I brewed before
ears attuned
to the soft spinning
of liquid in the cup

an eddy in
the hot current

the beauty
of snow on the path
crisp, glistening
filling my heart
my waking and
sleeping selves
spirits lifted
burdens displaced

fireflies illuminating
the direction home

sometimes I need only to stand

all italicized quotes by Mary Oliver, poet, 1935-2019

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed

Many times lately I have said to hubby, we have such a great life. That’s not new; ups and downs have been happening for 56+ years, but attentiveness to those waves has been a more recent practice.

These past few years, there have been a lot of moments in which I only needed to stand where I was to recognize the blessing – and then I voice it, to myself, or to whoever is there with me. I “over emote” on social media, unapologetically.

Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

Life is not always rosy and paying attention to that is also important. I have shared about loss, fears, anger, frustration, and trauma.

I find the down drifts easier to deal with if I remember to be swept away by the beauty of a sunny day, or a sunset, or a giggly baby, or an elderly couple holding hands, walking slowly down the street.

Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.

The beauty of art, well, that is a whole other wonderful wave of emotion. A photo, a story that takes me somewhere – all are things that make you stand still and be astonished.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

to share or not to share

A friend of my daughter sends out an email weekly with “insights, info, thoughts and other things”. I really enjoy the emails; they are funny, thought-provoking, and candid.

This week, the author, Jess, spoke about sharing. Not in the “here’s half my bagel” sharing, but the kind that comes from telling people the real deal in your life. That you’re struggling or confused or sad, or…whatever.

When it comes to writing, I believe that sharing is a big deal. I have literally hundreds of pages of stories and poems and thoughts. I have rarely shared them. One of the reasons is simple, and probably something lots of creative types experience: I don’t know if what I write is of interest to other people. (You’re reading my blog, so obviously I put that concern aside on occasion.)

The biggest hold back comes in two forms. I don’t want to throw my burdens onto those I love. Working out certain issues or problems or trauma through writing has meant thoughts or experiences I have not previously shared in-depth are starkly put onto paper. Sometimes though it’s as simple as me not wanting to embarrass those loved ones. I grew up with a mom who is a broadcast journalist on radio and television and occasionally she said things I would rather she hadn’t.

The second hold back is an old comment another mom said to me. I was answering a very pointed question about my childhood and after I responded, this person said, “You know what? Get over it. We all have stuff in our lives.”

It’s interesting because in the email from Jess she addresses this second hold back. She stated that others can benefit from you sharing what you have gone through. And she’s very right. I know that I have found reading something in a book or a magazine or an email that I can relate to, or that eases a burden – well, it’s a game changer. I’ve never been sure my experiences have that kind of value to others.

This type of thinking has kept multitudes of people silent and was core to my thinking around sharing my #metoo story – and I definitely was not alone as the thousands of stories flooding out proves.

“One should try to write as if posthumously. Because then you’re free of all the inhibition that can cluster around even the most independent-minded writer. You don’t really care about public opinion now… You don’t even care what your friends, your peers, your beloved think. You’re free. Death is a very liberating thought” -Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens definitely followed his own advice; as a very controversial writer (once claiming that Mother Theresa was a fraud, for instance), he wrote whatever the hell he felt like, consequences be damned.

As I mentioned last week when I wrote about submitting my work to a writing contest, putting things out in the world has become something I’m doing for myself. I am not interested in being controversial or having a hate fest arise on twitter. I am interested in sharing, in hopes of lifting burdens, mine included. And if, down the road, my fiction stories bring some happiness or entertainment value, that will be great, too. I don’t think I’ll ever write like I’m dead, but I think that ‘putting it out into the universe’ without any expectation of approval or accolades is a doable action plan.

 

say yes

When I said yes to hitting the ‘submit’ button to a writing contest last January, the weight of the world lifted from my heart.

The piece I submitted is my #metoo story. The writing of the story was in itself a big leap of saying ‘yes’; I said yes to doing the very hard work of dealing with the trauma of being a victim. The piece was raw and painful and it physically hurt to write.

The first draft was freewriting: I simply let my fingers race across my keyboard and I said what I was feeling and what I remembered. I was able, through writing, to reconnect to the girl that I was. I was able to be present in the pain and the sadness.

The biggest yes came when I realized that I was healing.

I recently began reading the book Hunger by Roxane Gay. There is a passage in the book in which Gay states that her “body was broken”, and she “did not know how to put myself back together”. Gay goes on to say that she is “writing my way back to her”, the girl she once was.

That is exactly what saying yes to writing my story was like.

In a Twitter Q & A recently, Gay responded to a question by stating that you don’t always move past trauma and pain. You learn to carry it forward.

The funny thing is, the minute I hit the ‘submit’ button and entered my story in that contest, I no longer carried the story. It was a part of me, a part of my life story, but it no longer was the burden that had weighed me down so heavily. It no longer was the first thing I thought of when I sat down to write.

I had been set free.

The writing of the piece was very important. The submitting of the piece was critical. In that act, I was telling myself that my story mattered. That it deserved to be seen, that I deserved to be heard. It was the best thing I had ever written, in all its rawness and truth. It was the most honest and most painful truth I had ever told myself.

The piece made no traction in the contest. And I am totally at peace with that. The point was not to be recognized; it was to set my story free.

I have reworked the piece, weaving in bits and pieces from the trial judge’s statements. It contrasts the sanitized legal wording and the judge’s sympathy for the perpetrator against my view from the inside.

This new version is an equally beautiful, haunting, sad piece of work as the first.

I hit another submit button and I feel buoyed once again. I am happy to pay $25 once a year to give the universe an update on how I view my story.

It is no longer a stab in the heart; it has become a point of pride.

say yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

all that matters is what you leave on the page

I was all ready to write a blog about writing – or rather the big uptick in my ability to prioritize writing.

And then I got into a live chat with Bell about my internet bill. And now all I want to do is rant.

Ranting has been no small part of my blogging experience to date.

I’ve written about education issues, specifically special education funding (on several occasions), violence in schools, the importance of voting, and a reality check for the Wynne government about what life is really like for Educational/Teaching Assistants.

We all pay too much for the internet. We all are with companies who by and large have sub par customer service.

Rant over.

Writing, on the other hand, is something I’d like to stand on the rooftop and shout about.

I am enrolled in a writing class through the University of Toronto which means deadlines and assignments and all sorts of parameters to make my big daily resolution to ‘prioritize writing’, well, a priority.

This week, there were readings, daily writing exercises and an assignment. There are three discussion threads going and this is the most engaged group I’ve been ‘in class’ with in all the courses I’ve taken. People really want to be here.

It’s been a great week of writing.

Another big support for writing is a writer’s group in Toronto. I head to east Toronto every Friday afternoon and write (or read, or think) for 3+ hours. There is complete silence, other than the occasional pouring of a cup of tea (which in a very quiet space is quite loud). For a brief bit at the end, we chat.

It’s been a great month of writing.

A final act of prioritizing writing is to create a permanent space in the house for writing. And that was the easiest part – we had all the pieces and I simply had to pull them together.

I know that not every day or week or month will go this well. And there’s been definite struggles. I could not find the words to describe the snow outside this morning (and not because I was up til 3:30 a.m. – I simply could not find words to capture the beauty).

Writing is hard and illusive.

And wonderful.

***

One of the readings from my course this week is by Zadie Smith. The article, Rules for Writers, is from 2010. Smith’s rules are an interesting mix, and one speaks strongly to something I am slowly accepting: “You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.”

all that matters is what you leave on the page

Simple, but not. I am in the stage of leaving everything on the page – freewriting and letting the thoughts pour out. Editing will come later and will help me only leave behind the words that really matter.

Stay tuned.

daily resolutions

I am not a New Year’s resolution maker. I’ve always felt it set me up for failure.

Instead, I’ve always been a promise maker.

I promise to not eat those empty calories. I promise to get more exercise. I promise to get more sleep.

If I commit to something for other people, I am guaranteed to show up. But for myself, well, I do not have a great track record in the keeping promises to myself department. So that too was a failure waiting to happen.

Going back to university was a big learning curve around not having destinations, but journeys. So, I’ve changed tactics and gone big and gone small.

I am setting big journeys with daily resolutions.

I want to make writing a priority. That’s the journey.

The steps along the way include a writing course and a weekly work space meet up. The daily resolution is scheduling in the time.

I want to have fewer celiac episodes. That’s the (life long) journey.

The steps along the way include taking the diet right back to the basics. The daily resolution is journalling everything I eat, looking for clues. 

In 56 years, I’ve learned a thing or two. And one is that tomorrow is another day. A day where the journey continues and you can begin again. 

 

rereading my life

I recently drove across Canada and the Western States and had the chance to stop by the home of Margaret Laurence in Manitoba. I have a big place in my heart for Laurence’s book, The Diviners.

The book was my first ‘grown up’ novel. I had devoured every children’s book in our home by 1974, the year The Diviners was published. I had read dozens of modern and classic plays that were in anthologies on our bookshelves, and I had been permanently scarred by Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask (my mother’s idea of a coffee table book). If not scarred, definitely confused.

I had literally worn the cover off both Charlotte’s Web and Harriet the Spy. My best friend for many years was the dog next door; I believed she understood all the secrets I told her, and that she and the squirrels and birds spoke to each other, like the animals in Charlotte’s Web.

I began carrying a notebook around after reading Harriet the Spy for the first time. Like many characters in the book, I was considered an oddball and overly opinionated. (I was an oddball and I was more than a little talkative, if I’m honest.) I often spent time in my childhood ostracized, much like Harriet; for real or perceived slights, for being part of the only single parent family in my school, for not having cool jeans, for having bangs, for not having bangs, for just about everything.

I had no heroic ‘return to the fold’ moment as Harriet did, but I always held out hope that this time the apology would be the golden ticket.

Books and my imagination were always my refuge.

I do not recall where I found The Diviners. I’m going to guess it was the library I visited weekly.

An excerpt from The Canadian Encyclopedia explains the novel this way:

The Diviners (1974), the fifth and final book-length fiction in Margaret Laurence’s celebrated Manawaka series, is the story of Morag Gunn, a Manitoba prairie-born novelist and single mother, whose life and works loosely resemble Margaret Laurence’s own.

This is truly not much of an explanation for book like this. Laurence appeared to write simply yet on further examination, it is with significant complexity that she tells the story of Morag Gunn. Morag’s parents die and she goes to live with family friends. The man of the family, Christie, is a scavenger who runs the town dump. The woman, Prin, short for Princess, rarely leaves her home for a variety of reasons both expressed and unknown; Prin seems unable to interact with the world. When Morag goes to school she is immediately made to feel different, less than enough. Her dress is wrong and the other children let her know.

Oh Morag. I remember so well going to school one day in a touristy, tacky Hawaiian skirt. How it came to be in our home, I don’t recall, but I distinctly remember that my sister told me not to wear it, but I didn’t listen – I never did when I had put my mind to something.

I thought the skirt was the most beautiful thing in the world.

Apparently I was wrong.

I was told in clear (mean, horrible, demeaning) terms that my idea of beauty was a joke. I left school at recess to go home (apparently yard supervision was not what it is today!).

I didn’t have Morag’s gumption and ability to put everyone in their place. I began policing what I wore and often wore the same thing over and over rather than try something new and risk a negative reaction.

When Morag was around adults, they also let her know that she was an outsider and their pity embarrassed Morag.

After getting in trouble in school one time – for talking too much, no doubt, I was sent to the principal’s office. As I sat there, the principal discussed my home life with the vice principal and a few teachers. It was the first time I realized that people pitied me and my siblings. I thought my life was pretty great at home. It was later that, like Morag, I became aware of how unusual my life was and I could become embarrassed by the circumstance.

At one point, Christie is driving Morag on his scavenger wagon and they come across some youths who Morag knows. Christie reacts to them in a way that mortified Morag and she wishes he would just be quiet.

My mother was a local television and radio personality and she went on air more than a few times talking about things that I wished other people didn’t have to know. I was proud of my mom, but I could have crawled under a rock more than once.

Morag would understand. Once again, literature had provided me with a kindred spirit.

There was a lot of controversy around Laurence’s portrayal of a single mother. Morag, although married at the time she gets pregnant, is not carrying her husband’s baby. Rather, she has an affair with a man who had been her first love (and lover) as a young woman. It’s actually a stretch to call the conception of their baby an affair: they sleep together one night and then part ways. Morag is clearly using the man Skinner, to end her marriage, although she does have a deep affection for him. Throughout the novel, the baby’s father returns to Morag and her daughter’s life.

There was a lot said about the ‘salty’ language Laurence used as well, but the underlying criticism likely was that the father of Morag’s daughter was a Metis man. Racism against Metis and other First Nations was running above and below the surface throughout ‘polite’ Canadian culture then as it does now.

Lisa Moore, in a Globe and Mail piece written in 2003 about The Diviners sums up what I think I truly love about Morag: she is unbearably vulnerable, and instantly strong, a queer alchemy Laurence works throughout.” 

Moore points out something I had not considered – the honest portrayal Laurence gives of Morag’s aging and the new set of vulnerabilities inherent in that time in a woman’s life. Morag is frank about the pitfalls of aging including loneliness, and speaks to her daughter, Pique, about jealousy for what is gone from Morag’s life but is so vibrant and active in Pique’s.

Rereading The Diviners at this moment in my life, just like the first time, has been like going home: sitting in a place where you are welcomed, accepted and understood.

Ontario politics: nothing to be smug about

I remember when the US election results from 2016 came out. So many Canadians were walking around all smug and confident that we would never elect a public official like Trump.

Wake up and smell your double double folks – Doug Ford has delivered a smack down to that smugness in the form of severe and crushing blows to marginalized and vulnerable citizens. There are a boatload of negative actions engaged in by the Conservatives since taking power which will affect the average Ontarian as well.

Some say much of the vengeance is emanating from Dean French, Ford’s Chief of Staff. The source doesn’t matter; the outcome does.

So let’s look at the slashing the Conservatives have dealt to the social fabric of Ontario:

  • rent Control for new builds – cause there’s not a rental crisis in major cities right?
  • elimination of Bill 148, the bill which gave wage protections for workers, specifically part-time workers; this bill included a minimum wage hike
  • withdrawing the pilot project for basic income
  • stopped the opening of safe-injections sites
  • eliminated the Child and Youth Commissioner (who monitors and investigates abuse with the welfare system)
  • dropped the plan to spend $100 million for repairing schools – the actual physical buildings
  • repealed the 2015 Health curriculum
  • stopped the sessions for the rewriting of Indigenous education curriculum – counterintuitive to the Reconciliation process – updates were a significant recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • slashed the size of Toronto city council – reducing the levels of representation for the province’s largest city
  • eliminated the Environment Commissioner who makes sure the Province abides by environmental laws
  • scrapped the Cap and Trade program
  • ended the Green Ontario Fund
  • ended the Drive Clean program for emission testing
  • fired Molly Shoichet, Ontario’s Chief Scientist
  • cut the French Language Commissioner – along with scrapping a proposed French language university
  • withdrew funding for three satellite campuses for Ontario universities (Ryerson, Sheridan and Laurier/Conestoga College)
  • narrowed the program offering free prescriptions for children and adults under 25
  • pulled support for federal refugee resettlements
  • has delayed work around the police oversight law

But hey, you can buy beer for a buck and have open access to pot.

There is some confusion about exactly what happened yesterday regarding a resolution around gender identity. Originally news sources said the resolution passed; in fact, the resolution is being put forward for debate.

Either way, it sucks. To propose to debate the inclusion of gender identity in any way, shape or form IN 2018 is appalling.

The resolution says gender identity theory is “A highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology’; and, as such, that an Ontario PC Government will remove the teaching and promotion of ‘gender identity theory’ from Ontario schools and its curriculum.” 

Good grief, it’s like Trump is a ghostwriter for the Ontario PC party.

The Ford government is taking Ontario in a very scary direction and Andrew Sheer is attempting the same thing on a much bigger scale.

So, yes, what happened, is happening, will continue to happen in the States – negativity, intolerance, hatred, polarizing views – can and is happening here.

Peace on earth seems a rather tall order for Christmas this year.

From here to there: the medium fast way to Vancouver

After driving from Toronto to Vancouver (via Montana, Idaho, and Washington state), I can safely say – again – this land is amazing.

So many people – myself included – have been to many places around the world without fully exploring our own country. I have been to every province – some multiple times – but I have not been to the north. I have not visited even one territory.

I also don’t know the real history of this land. I’m trying to remedy that.

I want to say I will never drive that cross-country drive again; I said the same thing 35 years ago when we moved from Calgary to Toronto. Once across the prairies seemed like enough. But, I somehow did it again and enjoyed it.

Mostly. Not the snow. Or the cracked windshield.

But other than that, I’d say it was a success.

Good company helps; my best friend Maureen (Mo), who had been my constant companion on road trips with my children when hubby was unavailable, came along for this latest ride. She brought show tunes and was keeper of the TripTik. She’s comfortable with long silences and my tendency towards getting hangry.

She also swore there was a field of cow statues somewhere on the prairies, but that’s a whole other story.

The trip started with taking a photo with me and the car that was heading for its new West Coast home. Then I headed to the Beaches/Beach area of Toronto where Mo lives and it didn’t take long to be reminded: Ontario is SO BIG.IMG_7152.jpgMississauga, Ontario: traditional land of the Anishinabewaki and Huron-Wendat and Haudenosauneega Confederacy. 

The first night was spent in Sault Ste. Marie at one of the many really nice hotel/motels we stayed in. Simple, clean accommodation – that’s all I care about. I forgot my water bottle after the first night so we stopped in a place called Pancake Bay. Inside a little store attached to this wood carving shop there were water bottles and bait, and all things hunting and fishing.IMG_7195Pancake Bay, Ontario: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.  

The tourist complex also had a bathroom – my teeny tiny bladder often was the motivator for our stops throughout the day. Mo, on the other hand, is like my daughter: she can go all day without a series of bathroom breaks.

Often the bathrooms were, well, basic.IMG_7224.jpgThunder Bay, Ontario: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.  

It took us two days to get from Toronto to Thunder Bay. Not full-out driving, but about eight hours per day. Although it was late September, there was a significant chill in the air, and it frequently poured rain, but we did pop out once in a while for shots of the incredible skies and water.nbg6HRBgSA6G9Di9MpgThunder Bay: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.  

You cannot go to Thunder Bay without stopping by the Terry Fox Memorial. It’s not exactly at the spot that Fox’s run ended but the memorial is very well done and it is in a beauty of a location.IMG_7217.jpgIMG_7221.jpgThunder Bay: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.

After Thunder Bay, we still had more Ontario to go, but it was a gorgeous day to start. IMG_7231.jpgMachin, Ontario: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki.

Once you hit the Manitoba border two things happen: the roads get very rough and the land gets FLAT. IMG_7237.jpgSte. Anne, Manitoba: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

We stayed in Winnipeg for the night, shortly after passing through the longitudinal centre of Canada. Yup, it’s a thing. I didn’t get a photo, but really, it’s a thing.

An unexpected treat in Manitoba, Neepawa to be exact, was seeing the home of Margaret Laurence. Laurence is a bit of a hero of mine. Her book, The Diviners, was the first non-children’s book I read – I literally graduated from Harriet the Spy to The Diviners. Laurence made me fall in love with complicated characters and stories.IMG_7265.jpgNeepawa, Manitoba: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

Saskatchewan held its own surprises in the form of SNOW.IMG_7276.jpgOrkney, Saskatchewan: traditional land of the Metis and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

This is not the snow at its heaviest; at that point I was calling hubby and asking him to check the weather radar to see if we needed to pull over.

Side note: we had chosen our driving route based on a couple of factors. Firstly, we wanted to stay in Canada as much as possible. Secondly, we wanted to visit family in both Edmonton and Calgary. Lastly, and the biggest wrinkle, we had to avoid driving through BC other than the Lower Mainland because it is required that you have snow tires as of October 1st on BC highways. Theoretically, the snow tires for this car were already in Vancouver (and they weren’t but that too is another story).

So, on this day in Saskatchewan, we were driving with all season tires and the cars approaching us were very heavily covered with snow. Hence the call to the hubby to ask how long this snow was likely to last. Funny enough, he said 20 minutes at most and it was about 17 (I mean really, who was watching the road while I was watching the clock?).

It was slushy and slippery and gross. But then, it wasn’t. It was just dry, flat highways. IMG_7283.jpgPrairie Rose, Saskatchewan: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

The next day, after a night in Saskatoon (and some pretty good sushi), we headed out to more flat landscapes and GRAIN ELEVATORS!IMG_7292.jpgLashburn, Saskatchewan: traditional land of the Metis and Cree and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

We tried to capture provincial border signs whenever possible. Just because that’s what you do.IMG_7268.jpgManitoba/Saskatchewan border: traditional land of the Metis and Anishinabewaki and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

But when you travel a more northern route between Saskatchewan and Alberta, you go through Lloydminster and you simply cross over a street with a large marker. Some time later you see the Welcome to Alberta sign. It’s one of those quirky things of the prairies.IMG_7293.jpgLloydminster, Saskatchewan/Alberta: traditional land of the Metis and Cree and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

Along with big Ukrainian Easter Eggs (pysanka).IMG_7294.jpgVegreville, Alberta: traditional land of the Plains Cree and Métis and Cree and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)

One of the BEST sites while travelling came shortly before we arrived at my sister’s home. Elk Island is a National Park east of Sherwood Park and Edmonton. Elk Island is home to a lot of wildlife and has the highest concentration of hoofed animals but the coolest – in my opinion – are the bison. There are currently more bison in the park than there were in all of North America in the late 1800s. There was a concerted effort on the part of Parks Canada to increase the bison population. The area was first created to protect Elk, hence the name.

Thanks to Wikipedia and the Elk Island Parks Canada site for info. IMG_7299.jpgIMG_7306.jpgElk Island, Alberta: traditional land of the Plains Cree and Métis and Cree

When Mo and I were at the site, there was such a noise coming from the bison. I tried to capture it but instead, I caught Mo and I discussing how they sounded like snoring (a bit of theme for our trip!).

Elk Island, Alberta: traditional land of the Plains Cree and Métis and Cree

A few days later, I headed to Elk Island again with my daughter (who had flown to Edmonton to meet us) and my sister. It was a beautiful day and it made me super happy to have two of my favourite women hanging out. IMG_7325.jpgIMG_7328.jpgIMG_7300.jpgElk Island, Alberta: traditional land of the Plains Cree and Métis and Cree

After a few days of rest and relaxation at my sister’s home – where it felt like we were in a luxury hotel – and visits with my mom, we headed south to Calgary for a lunch with my sister by choice and my niece and then into Montana.

Calgary had a huge amount of snow, but the roads were clear for the day. We woke up the next morning in Browning, Montana. The two lane highway with a very high speed limit was pretty empty and the scenery was amazing. IMG_7355 2.jpgIMG_7362.jpgBrowning, Montana: traditional land of the Métis and Niitsítapi (ᖹᐟᒧᐧᒣᑯ, Blackfoot) and
Ktunaxa

The day was spent rushing along through Montana and – blink! we pretty much missed Idaho. We landed in Spokane for the night. It was Mo’s birthday and I had found a restaurant where the chef also had celiac. Not that I wish that on anyone, but it meant we were assured ‘safe for us’ and delicious food. It was amazing.  IMG_7372.jpgIMG_7373.jpgSpokane, Washington: traditional land of the Spokane and Pend d’Oreille and Ktunaxa 

I’ll be honest – my mouth is watering remember the delicious meal.

Our last morning was a sign of the day to come – clouds and mist. It poured rain most of the day. We crossed the border and things cleared up and we admittedly cheered. We were happy to be near the end, even though it had been a great trip. IMG_7242.jpgAfter the windshield was fixed and the paperwork to transfer the car complete, I flew back home. I love Vancouver so much (and especially my favourite newlyweds!) and if I didn’t have a job to go back to, I probably would have stayed a while. IMG_7394.jpgVancouver, British Columbia: traditional land of the Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilwətaɁɬ) and Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw and S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm

Leaving my daughter is never fun, but this time there was a bonus the day after I got back: my son moved home from Boston after living and working there for five years. My hubby had taken a road trip to pick him up and similar to five years earlier, I was on the West Coast with my daughter and hubby and my son were moving him to a new job. IMG_7413.jpgMississauga, Ontario: traditional land of the Anishinabewaki and Huron-Wendat and Haudenosauneega Confederacy. 

Yes, this land is pretty amazing.

Acknowledging that it has a history and a meaning to it that is not what we have been taught and believe is something that needs to change.

If you wonder about the real history of where you live and travel, I have found this website useful as a starting point.

Podcast mood: my view of the world will never be the same and that’s a good thing

I recently began commuting using only public transit or my own two feet. This means that I have plenty of time to have my mind broadened and my heart broken by podcasts.

Podcasts are the way in which I am learning more about the world, the real world that I have known nothing about because of who I am, how I look, and the fact that I have been afforded good fortune that has surrounded me throughout the vast majority of my life.

I recently listened to the description of the brutal death of Helen Betty Osborne on the podcast Someone Knows SomethingI stood at the GO bus terminal, looking at the sky, and cried.

Why? Why did her story have to be this way?

Helen Betty Osborne was a young woman from Norway House, Manitoba. She had been sent to residential school; she later attended an “integrated” high school (Indigenous and non-Indigenous students) where she faced considerable racism. One of the people who harassed her eventually killed her.

Helen Betty is one of countless murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada.

Listen to her story.

Another CBC podcast, Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleoexplains the story of Cleo Nicotine Semaganis who was taken from her family during the Sixties Scoop.

Listen to her story.

These stories, these lives, these women and girls – they deserved more. They deserved better. They deserved people beyond their own communities taking a stand and demanding change.

I had a prof once say that the story of anthropology ruins everything – you can’t unhear or unlearn what it brings to your life and your mind. That’s how I feel about these podcasts.

The real question is how do the families go on, continuing to fight for justice in a system that seems to be more interested in denial of culpability than seeking the truth?

I live with these stories for moments while listening to them. These women, their families – it’s a life sentence.

Another podcast, Out in the Open, recently talked about what it means to be an ally.

When the #metoo movement had a major resurgence last year, my daughter reached out and told me “I hear you”. It meant so much to me – I felt supported and loved and heard. It was more than enough. It was everything.

That’s why I have made a commitment to, as much as humanly possible, listen to women’s stories. Many stories end in tragedy, in lives cut short by people who cared nothing for the potential of women’s lives. Even when the story does not result in a woman’s death, too many result in a woman’s future – and that of her family – being negatively impacted.

I have struggled with understanding what being an ally means in the context of other situations though. Is it enough to send money, donate items, walk in a protest? Is that being an ally?

Is it when I call out people for their actions and remarks?

All those mean I care. But is that enough? If I can’t help to affect change what good am I? Am I doing this to alleviate my guilt? Have I asked what it is I can do or am I imposing my version of help on someone else?

There was a line in the Out in the Open show about how as an ally you can walk away – I can support someone’s cause but I can choose to take a break. I don’t have the lived experience of being from a marginalized group – of being a person of colour – of being LBGTQ – of being homeless – of being disabled.

I don’t get it.

On the Out in the Open show, Feminista Jones shared her perspective of what real support looks like – not doing something to get a pat on the back or that feel good moment – but being a ‘co-conspirator’, someone who “just does the work with the communities they are trying to help” without trying to tell those communities how to do it, or be recognized for doing it. Someone willing to work to break down the systems which oppress – even if those systems are ones in which you benefit from yourself.

What I do get is this: hearing those lived experiences expressed on podcasts or in books or on Twitter – I am confronted by my ignorance of people’s lives and their day-to-day (moment to moment) realities, challenges and heartaches.

And sometimes I do hit stop. I can walk away and not have to deal with the harshness.

That is truly where my privilege resides.