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Archive for the ‘Wanderings and Ponderings’ Category

There’s something lovely about being back inside an art gallery after months of not being there. For me, the Art Gallery of Sudbury is a “home place” of sorts. I spent my 20s there, first as a volunteer, and later as a contract worker who managed media communications for a short time. I met my first love through the AGS, when we were both taking an art history course at Laurentian during our undergrad. He was in the French section of the course, and I was in the English one. We met haphazardly during a joint class field trip to see an exhibit. (I still remember that I had no idea who he was, but that he had nice eyes, was funny, and could carry a witty conversation. That impressed me. I went back to the gallery, two days later, to find his name in the guest book. I was infatuated. The things you do when you fall in love for the very first time…) In any case, from that time, in my early 20s–until now–in my late 40s, the Art Gallery of Sudbury has played a starring role for me in my life.

I’ve written a poem, and a play, about how I encountered Mrs. Bell’s ghost while I worked there in my late 20s, and I’ve rarely missed an exhibition while I’ve lived in Sudbury. Times living in North Bay, Ottawa, and Kingsville found me searching out other art galleries like someone with a strange addiction to visual art. I am. Addicted to art, I mean. So, during the pandemic at its deepest lockdown, I most missed walking alongside the lake and also just going to the gallery to be in that space. There, I honestly sort of am in a timeless space, able to be in and out of my body simultaneously. It’s a creative vortex for me, and a major part of my heart and life.

When the letter to members came in the mail last week, saying that you could book a time slot on certain days, I called in right away. The gallery was open again! This reopening exhibit is titled, aptly, “Change of State/Alteration,” reflecting the historic and fluid time within which we’re living. You’re allotted forty-five minutes, which is a good amount of time. At the door, you’re greeted and you’re asked to wear a mask. Every staff person I saw while I was there was wearing a mask, and the person who was there to answer my questions about the exhibit was aware of social distancing. At the inside door, there’s a bottle of hand sanitizer, some disposable masks (in case you don’t come with your own), and gloves, if you’re super nervous. But, I mean, let’s face it…you don’t need gloves…unless you’re planning on illegally touching the art…but…that’s another story for a bit later on here…

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Covid-19 protocols for a safe visit are visible at the inside door, and then there are hand sanitizing stations throughout the galleries.

Gallery 1 is full of beautiful pieces from the Permanent Collection. Now, don’t tell me that you don’t like pieces from Permanent Collections. I LOVE THEM! It’s like someone let you wander around inside a secret wardrobe and pull out a variety of the best vintage dresses to try on in your bedroom! Here are pieces that the gallery has housed for years, and that have been brought out to share. I love this notion so much, especially when you consider the theme of the work.

The first one on the wall is a tiny piece by noted Canadian artist, Joyce Wieland (1930-1988). I saw an exhibit of her work at the McMichael a few years ago and was amazed. This is Sailboat Tragedy, #1 (1963). It’s self-explanatory, and kind of voyeuristic in a strange way as your gaze drifts from panel to panel, knowing what’s about to come even as you dread it. It looks simple, this Wieland, but it’s not. It sets the tone for what we’re living through, a life that seemed to be sailing along in a lovely fashion, and then is so easily upended without warning. Pandemics will do that, it seems, and we’re all learning that first hand this year.

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Next to the Wieland is a massive Fred Hagan. It’s titled “Homage” (1991), and it’s overwhelmingly beautiful. The bench is well positioned in the gallery, because you’ll want to sit in front of this one for a bit. It’s Northern Ontario, in all of its gorgeously raw natural beauty. There’s a tiny image of self-portraiture, if you know where to look for it, and then there are figures of influential Group of Seven artists who painted so much of their work up here. There are allusions to specific paintings, so if you’re a Group of Seven fan, look for the clues in the trees and flowers. 🙂

Get up close to it, now. Take your time here. This is one not to be rushed. It takes up the space, and demands that you give it the time to do the same thing with your body, heart, and mind.

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Tom Thomson is one of my favourite Group of Seven painters, and here he is depicted painting his wonderful piece, “The West Wind.” If you know Thomson’s work, you’ll know that that’s who’s painting in this corner of the Hagan piece. Then, move on to other parts of the painting, and see others of the Group who painted up here in Northern Ontario. It is Hagan’s homage to those who influenced him as a painter.

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Here is Lismer, busy at work en plain air, his canoe next to him, a pan of freshly caught fish frying on a fire for him to eat after he’s done his work. (I get this. I forget to eat when I’m writing, too. Today’s the perfect example of that, with me pecking at things over a series of hours that seem out of time and place…and the art living in my head.)

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The balance to this piece of Northern Ontario beauty and painterly history comes with an image that highlights Martin Luther King, pictured about John F. Kennedy. This is Carl Beam’s “King + Kennedy,” a piece that reminds us of the Black Lives Matter movement that began at the centre of the lockdown. A global virus that is called corona, and then the virus that has always been there–which is racism, discrimination, and colonialism.

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From here, I was drawn to Jane Ash Poitras’s massive piece, titled “Shaman Never Die” (1988). It, too, is a counterpoint to the Hagan, and to this country’s colonial past (and present). Hers is work I have loved for years. You can stand in front of this one and find so many things to look at and think about.

Do yourself a favour here: don’t rush it when you’re in front of the Hagan, the Poitras, or the Odjig. All three…have a great deal to say about the times within which we’re living. All three speak to the notion of how our world is changing, and how our lives are impacted by those massive changes. What goes on out there in the world also goes on as a mirrored experience inside each of us, too. It affects us globally, but also individually. It is massive, and it’s okay to admit that, even though it can feel overwhelming sometimes…

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In this piece of detail from the larger work, there’s the image of Poundmaker, as well as a repeated reference to the Lubicon Lake Cree. Poitras documents the ways in which the Alberta government allowed oil companies to drill on First Nations land. Hers is an art that is beautifully layered, a multi-media collage piece that is reflective of the colonial oppression and general bullshit that the Lubicon Cree have had to deal with–and fight against– for years and years.

The beauty of Gallery 1, though, for this exhibit is Daphne Odjig’s piece, “Spiritual Renewal” (1984). She estimated that it took her six months to paint, and it’s easy to see why. You’ll catch your breath if you stand in front of this one for a while and let it sink in.  As Odjig writes in her artist’s statement: “Spiritual Renewal is a historic portrayal of the spiritual culture shock associated with the arrival of the White Man’s religion. The first part of the panel shows the arrival of the missionaries and suggests confusion…The second panel depicts the return of…spiritual activities.” As she says “Spiritual renewal takes place within the heart and soul of all who see it.” You aren’t allowed to take photos of this piece, which makes it very special in my mind. It’s something you need to go to the gallery to see…to feel in your body, really.

The one thing I struggled with, and Tadd (the Gallery’s Visitor Services and Operations Co-Ordinator) know this all too well–sadly–is that I will always ask “Can I touch it?” if there’s something really unique happening. I mean, I always know that he’ll say no, but I always ask anyway.  In this exhibit, the thing that I most wanted to touch was a rock on the floor. It’s called “Zigzag Water,” (1986) and it’s by Bill Vazan. Just know that it’s also something you should see in person. It’s been carved into, so that there’s a pattern etched into it.

Talking about how landscape and environment can also change is reflected in Jana Sterbak’s “Dissolution” (2001), which documents a series of photographs taken of a chair made of ice. It melts, dissolving slowly from frame to frame. This is a reflection of how everything is constantly changing. In this case, one would easily think of global warming, but it seemed to me that it could also just be speaking to the notion that human lives are not at all about permanence. We are constantly evolving and changing–hopefully growing, if we’re lucky (and open) enough to do so. Besides that, though, we are not guaranteed a certain length of life. We are mortal. We are temporary. We change, and we live through change…

Upstairs, don’t miss the Doug Donley, David Blackwood, and Kenoujuak Ashevak ‘wall.’ If there were three pieces that meant the most to me in the whole building, these three would do it. Doug was a personal friend, and I have three of his pieces of work in my home. That he died much too young is always something that saddens me. His work is worth seeing, if you haven’t encountered it yet. Blackwood, well, he thrills me because he’s from Newfoundland and because his etchings are always stories waiting to be discovered and told. Kenoujuak Ashevak…gah…how do I even explain my love of her work? Go and see it and you’ll understand. Words…don’t suffice. (And also–do not forget to take a look at the Bruno Cavallo painting in Gallery 2, as well as the Mary Green piece.)

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The star of the everything at the AGS right now, though, is local artist Pandora Topp’s pandemic work. You’ll need to step into Mrs. Bell’s conservatory space first. Sit down and take the time to watch a couple of Pandora’s videos. Her project is titled “Imperfect Poetry.” Right away, I knew I was going to love it. I’m a fan of Pandora’s work, and have been for years. She’s a bright light in town, within the arts and culture community, and I love to watch her act on stage.

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“Imperfect Poetry” started as an artistic prompt as part of a creative challenge that was extended to Pandora by Charlotte Gowdy, and offered by Haley McGee, all of it connecting artists from here and the UK. The notion is that you “show up for 14 days and create for 10 minutes each day.” It’s a wide open field of creativity!

I love these collaborative arts projects, especially in times when creatives are even more isolated than they might usually be. (I always think it’s funny that people assume that all creatives and introverts would excel at quarantine and lockdown. We’re all still humans, after all, and it can be difficult to be in small, isolated pockets for long periods of time when we’re used to being around other creative people. While what we do must be done in quiet places and solitary spaces, we also need to share our work, to feel connected, and to feel that our work has a purpose and ripples outwards…)

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Here’s what’s really wonderful about Pandora’s pandemic project: you get to see her creative process as a *process* in its truest form. There are computerized notes, as well as handwritten journal entries. Alongside those two more literary elements, she has included some sketches. Go from left to right, and take the time to read the documents. I am in love with cursive writing. The more at risk it is of disappearing from our culture these days, the more I fall in love with it. I gather up old letters written by my mum and grandmother, taking them out when I want to remember them more closely. I have always thought that cursive writing is like a fingerprint of soul and personality. You can see a person’s handwriting and know who it belongs to. You can feel a rush of love for someone if you recognize the way they cross their Ts or tuck the loops of their Ys under things.

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I know I’ll need another visit, mostly just because I want to go back and read Pandora’s work more carefully. I kept thinking, as I read the pieces of writing, “Oh, sweet Jesus, I hope she publishes these things somewhere…”

What I love about “Imperfect Poetry” is that so much of what artists and writers do is create something. We create to press against the dark. We stir up magic and light, and then we share it. I’m sure each of us has our own specific way of explaining how this works, but what struck me as I read her work yesterday afternoon is that we all need to ‘get it out’ somehow. It’s about finding your voice, about moving through the grief and loss of lockdown. In one piece, she writes: “Weep today if you must. Listen to the high water mark, or low…the pull of the tides are within you.” Yes. Let yourself feel the emotion inside your body, she says. Feel it deeply. Honour it. And then, find yourself in your own body; give yourself a true voice that carries…outwards…and a voice that ripples.

You can listen to some of Pandora’s fine work here:

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This whole exhibit, including Pandora Topp’s “Imperfect Poetry,” runs until Saturday, September 5th. I really hope it’s extended, though, so that more people have time to go and see it. You can register for a visit–for yourself and five of the people in your immediate social bubble–by contacting the Art Gallery of Sudbury at 705-675-4871. It’s open from Tuesday to Saturday right now, with a certain number of visits slotted into each day.

Too, I think it’s a fair time to remind those of you who love art in Greater Sudbury that we really need to reach out and tangibly support our arts organizations. You can become a member of the Gallery for a reasonable fee, but you can also now really show your love by joining the Franklin Carmichael Circle. They’ll send you a tax receipt when it’s time, too, so you don’t even have to think about that part.

It’s another long blog entry, I know…but it’s worth it. If you can, go and see this exhibition. The Gallery’s done a fine job at making itself safe and creative, leading the way in showing us how the arts will survive in creative and innovative ways in the times of a global pandemic…and beyond.

Without the arts, what do we have….?

peace,

k.

 

 

 

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Something is making my heart ache today.

I’ve been following the Twitter posts of a variety of scientific, medical, and educational experts of late. I’ve been watching the various news conferences that come out from Ontario’s Ministry of Education. I’ve been watching the parents who are wise (and emotionally torn) enough to know that they need to “follow the science” and their hearts at the same time. I’ve been watching the slew of people who bash teachers coming out of the woodwork on social media, and I’ve been watching other educators worry and fret about how best to ensure a safe return to schools this fall. What I hadn’t expected to read was a heartbreaking Tweet from a student, Isaiah Towers, who lives in the catchment area of the Limestone District School Board (which includes areas like Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington).

Here’s what Isaiah wrote: “As a student, I can confirm I’m terrified. So are a majority of students. Personally, I feel like I’m getting sent back to die. But if I don’t go my education will slip even more.” He was responding to a parent’s tweet, responding to an adult who is advocating for a safe return to school. He was saying out loud what so many kids must be thinking. I don’t know Isaiah personally, but…as a teacher…I know Isaiah is just one of thousands of young Ontarians who are really afraid and worried right now, and who are looking for adult leadership in a crisis.

So. Here’s the thing. We need to listen to Isaiah’s voice above other voices.

We don’t need to listen to Doug Ford’s voice, or Stephen Lecce’s voice, or the voices of our various Board of Education Directors and Superintendents, or the voices of Trustees. If we wait to listen to those voices, the voices that are embedded within a power structure that is already archaic and mostly colonial and patriarchal in its historic origins, then…well…we aren’t really listening to Isaiah, are we? And we definitely aren’t listening to our students’ or our children’s deepest worries. This won’t be a popular opinion, maybe, but I sort of think it doesn’t matter anymore. I know other teachers are likely thinking similar thoughts…or I hope they are.

What matters, then? The safety of Ontario’s children. That’s it. That’s what matters at the core of it all. Some will say, “Oh, you’re a teacher, so you’re lazy, and you’re not wanting to teach, and you get paid way too much, and you get summers off, and this is just another way to avoid doing your job.” Those are some of the voices who will always be there. They’ve been there for decades, but their voices have been steadily increasing with each and every passing year. I’m not sure why, to be honest, because the career of being an educator at the elementary or secondary level of study these days–anywhere across North America, I’d venture a guess–is more complex now than it’s ever been.

Teachers don’t just “deliver curriculum,” but we also serve as role models, as pseudo-parents for those kids who come from abusive homes, and as social workers for those children who might not have enough to eat at home, or who might be self-harming due to mental health issues. We’re called upon to do things that our predecessors never did. Still, teachers do what needs to be done, and often without a parade or any kind of fanfare. Teachers, you see, aren’t in it for the money. If you ask any teacher why they initially entered into the profession, you’ll likely hear that it’s because they love to learn, that they’re curious, that they’re interested in the world around them, that they like to ask questions and think, and–here it comes, now…get ready for the truth–that they love to be around kids, even if they don’t have kids of their own.

If we get caught up in that “teacher bashing” mess, though, which most teachers have put up with for a very long time, then we’ll miss the forest for the trees. If the ‘trees’ in this case are the bashers (for lack of a better phrase), then the ‘forest’ is made up of our kids. Yup. They’re “our kids,” even if they go home to your house and you’re called ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad.’ They’re “our kids,” too.

So…let’s talk about protecting our ‘forest,’ then…just for a little bit.

If we look at Premier Ford’s “plan” to return to school, which was released last week, and which is based–in a very wobbly fashion–on the Sick Kids report, we can see that parts have been addressed and parts have been avoided. The parts that have been avoided, it seems to me, are the parts that are the most important…and the most expensive to address. Funny how that works, eh? Easier to say you support a ‘plan’ you’ve created, based on a medical report, when you can pick and choose which pieces work best. Then, fast forward to yesterday, and a reference by Premier Ford that begins to discount the ‘plan’ to return safely in September, the very plan that was his party’s last week. “It’s not our plan…I’d be nervous if my kids were back in school…The other thing is they don’t have to put their kids in school.”  This is back pedalling of the highest order, if you ask me. Whose plan is it? And, let’s be honest…it’s not a plan…so….where exactly is the plan?

No one likes a pandemic. I hate it. No one wants to be in a tiny bubble. We’re meant to be social creatures. This virus takes away what most makes us human, which is touch and gathering together, so that’s brutal. Absolutely so. But…what this virus does physically to people, in terms of how it affects a person’s health, is terrifying. It’s a shape shifter, I’d say, and the longer we muck through this mess, the results of scientific and medical studies that are coming out from around the world seem to be stranger and stranger. Children aren’t meant to be isolated. We know that. We know they do better when they’re in school, socializing and learning with kids their own age. This is true. Of course it’s not ideal that they’ve had to struggle with online learning. Nothing about a pandemic is ideal.

And, it’s not ideal that this pandemic has hit women, single parents, and those who are parts of marginalized groups, the hardest. COVID-19 has shown us where our failings are, as humans–in terms of equality, in terms of compassion, and in terms of our privilege. Our experience in Canada varies from other countries around the world, and our experience within our communities varies, too. If we own houses, we likely have a yard to escape into. If we live in low-income high-rises in larger urban centres, though, the pandemic has played out very differently.

You only need to look to the cases of school re-openings around the world, in recent weeks, to see what’s worked and hasn’t worked. You can look to cases in Montreal, in Israel, and–sadly–in two weeks’ time, likely most of America, as well. You can figure in that COVID-19 is more airborne than we’d thought it was initially, when we were all panicky and buying things in bulk. Then, back then, we thought it was only transmitted through touch. Now, thanks to the hard work of scientists around the world, we know it’s more about airborne transmission. It’s how we’ve come to know that masks help to reduce transmission. It’s how we’ve come to know that social distancing is key. It’s how Canada has managed to flatten the curve, in that we know we have a social responsibility to one another, and to those groups of people who are most at risk of being negatively affected by this virus.

This ‘plan,’ for a return to school, isn’t at all clear. It puts students, as well as all education workers–including principals, vice-principals, teachers, secretaries, cleaning staff, bus drivers, and cafeteria staff–at risk. Each and every one of those people in Ontario is at risk.  All four teaching unions put out a joint statement last week. The Ontario Principals’ Council put out a statement last week. None of them is saying that the Sick Kids report is wrong. It’s fine. But…the Sick Kids report is suggesting that a safe return to school means that Boards ensure smaller class sizes (call them ‘cohorts’ or whatever fancy word you want, but it’s just about making classes smaller in size). This means that Boards across the province are now scrambling to sort it out over the next three weeks. They’re trapped between a rock and a hard place.

You see, if you reduce class sizes, especially after the recent cuts to teaching positions in Ontario over the last two years, then you need to hire more teachers, and you need to find more space in which to hold classes. All of this means you need to invest more money into the places where it really touches kids. You need to re-imagine education in a way that allows teachers to teach in community spaces that could be rented to school boards. You need to think outside the box of a system that still works on the premise upon which it was founded, which, if you study the history of education in Ontario means that the patriarchal and colonial structure we’ve inherited might not work in the face of a pandemic. This might actually be the best and most opportune time to be creative in reimagining how education works at the elementary and secondary level. That’s a whole other blog, and there are lots of other people who know much more about this particular notion.

What we need for the fall, though–and that means it could be a later start than September, if people really do want a “safe start” for kids and education workers–is smaller class sizes at both levels of study, physically distanced classes, alternative teaching spaces, better ventilation in schools, and PPE for education workers. And, yes, we need students to wear masks, too. It is, for now, for these times, what will help us to ensure everyone’s safety.

This is a long blog. If you’ve read through it all, thanks for that. If you’re a parent, know that teachers worry as much about your kids as you do. If you’re a teacher, know that we’re likely all as worried and freaked out, but just don’t know what to do. If you’re a principal or vice-principal, God, I don’t know…thank you for trying to guide the staff in your schools in an uncertain and anxious time. If you’re in a school board office, I don’t envy you your role, either. You have to ensure the safety of thousands of people under you, on your watch. You have to dance a difficult dance between the Ministry, and unions, and teachers, and parents, and students. That’s a huge responsibility. I wouldn’t want it, but I know you’ll try your best to make it safe for all of us under you. I know this because…you were once classroom teachers, too, even if you aren’t now. I know you won’t forget those early days, even if you’re in big fancy offices with name plates now. I know you love kids as much as we all do.

If you’re in the Ministry of Education…and you’ve never been a teacher…you shouldn’t be there right now. If you’re meeting by Zoom, and you don’t want to sit in a class of 28 kids during the fall cold and flu season, then you shouldn’t be there now. But…if you are there now…then it’s incumbent upon you to make sure our kids are safe. It’s incumbent upon you to make sure Isaiah, and all of the thousands of kids across Ontario, are safe. If that means putting more money into health and safety measures that actually show up in the lives of classroom teachers across Ontario, then that’s what you need to figure out.

We have three weeks. People can get creative. The money needs to be there, though, or else we’re looking at kids in classrooms that aren’t socially distanced, and we’re looking at teachers and education workers falling ill when they don’t need to, and we’re looking at community spread, and we’re looking at hospitals that will be over run when they don’t need to be. The bubbles…won’t matter at all…and we’ll see how that plays out in a very terrifying way.

I just hope…we can all be together on this one thing. The Isaiahs of this province deserve our best because–guess what?–we’re the adults here. We need to step up to make it a safe return, even if it’s staggered or different from what it usually looks like. The old Sears catalogue photo of kids in plaid skirts and maroon shaded cardigans just won’t do it this year.

peace,

k.

 

 

 

 

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You can’t be alive on the planet right now and not know about the fuss over wearing little homemade fabric masks. I’ve mostly avoided looking at social media in recent weeks, just posting a thing or two, and then ducking out. Part of this is because I continuously shake my head at people’s self-centred stupidity. If you know something like this virus is spread through touch, well, you can pretty much manage washing your hands. Our parents teach us that as we grow up, and, if they don’t, then I know I’ve spoken quietly to a few teenage students about how soap can cure a myriad of ills, and will serve you well in life. Now, if the newest scientific studies are telling us that this virus is spread through droplets exhaled through our mouths and noses, or through sneezing, or through singing, then it would seem to be fairly logical that we wouldn’t all rise up and not consider a few things…even just in passing.

So…some points to consider:

~For those of us with underlying health concerns—either invisible or visible—a mask means that we know we need to be responsible for our own health and well-being. We don’t do it out of fear, just so you know, but because we’re being proactive with our own health. It also means that we know there are others out there, just like us, who may be a little bit anxious about how this pandemic thing is progressing. And, no, it’s not easy to say ‘I’m nervous about this virus’ or ‘I’m fearful of how it could impact my health’ out loud, mostly because now there’s a stigma—for wearing masks, or for contracting a virus that is stealthy and a bit of an asshole, if we’re all honest about it. In the early days of the pandemic, people were muttering things like “We need to know who has it, how they got it, and what their names are.” I was talking to a Toronto friend about it earlier on, just on email, and they were saying that it reminded them of the panic and discrimination after AIDS arrived on the scene in North America in the 1980s. It feels a bit like a witch hunt, and it makes me think that we need to check our hearts and minds on this one. For those of us who care for, or love, people with underlying health issues—again, either invisible or visible—wearing a mask means you know they’re more vulnerable of really dying from this disease.

~There’s a lot about fear here. Maybe, by avoiding wearing a mask, people can pretend to convince themselves that things are as they were before COVID-19 arrived. But…they aren’t the same…and they won’t be for a long time. Wearing a mask might trigger people to think this whole pandemic is real. Well…it is real. If you follow some of the scientific studies that are being published and mentioned online, even today, some of the top minds are saying this is transmitted in an airborne fashion. But…knowledge isn’t fear. Knowledge is power. So…if we know that that’s the way the thing is spread, why not try to prevent its spread…before it hurts the most vulnerable in our communities, around the world?

~I’ve written about the frail elderly before in an earlier pandemic entry. It upset me then, knowing that this would likely happen, and it’s only made me more upset now that we’re in July. Having the military being sent into long term care homes (and I’m sorry…but I don’t care whether they’re non-profit or for profit in origin…so don’t get me started there) meant that a lot of truths were revealed. Those of us who have cared for, or who have advocated for, parents in long term care know that it means a schedule of visits that are jotted down at the start of a week, varying in times and days, so that you can be sure that your loved ones are cared for as well as they should be. I should say here, now, that I have great respect for those who care for our frail elderly in long term care, but I also know that they are overworked, underpaid, and often work other jobs to cobble together a proper living in a society that really would rather shuffle our elders off because it fears aging and death. Here’s a thought: why not pay them better, and why not offer them more support in what is a really, really difficult job, both physically and emotionally?

I follow Nora Loreto on Twitter. She’s a journalist. Throughout the course of the pandemic, Loreto’s been posting stats about the numbers of people in long term and residential care homes who have died from COVID-19. As of last night, July 4, 2020, of the 8,674 Canadians who have died from the virus, Loreto has linked 7,252 to a residential care facility. That’s 83.6%, by her accounting. Now, it’s easy enough for people to say “Don’t make me wear a fucking mask” or “This is all a conspiracy by the government” or “You’re all sheep” but…I wonder if they’d start to give a shit if they had someone they loved in residential care. These are not just the frail elderly, by the way. You can count in people with disabilities, too, those who live in neighbourhood homes and who are cared for by people who are our friends and acquaintances. You can count in the people who are marginalized within our fucked up Western society. I’m not listing them off here, but maybe this pandemic should have us look to our own hearts, to see where we’ve not supported certain groups as compassionately as we ought to have done in the past.

~This also just reminds me of what it’s like to have a chat with someone who doesn’t want to wear a condom during sex. They’re usually self-involved. Now, I know, this is not the same way that COVID-19 is spread, but this speaks to the notion of caring for others and making wise decisions for your own–and others’–health. Sexually transmitted infections (STI) are something we teach kids about in schools across Canada. In Ontario, the sex ed curriculum was revised a few years ago, and we know that knowledge is power. The uproar about that stunned me. I don’t know. When I was growing up, we were separated into two gendered groups and were given two separate ‘talks.’ I remember a pink and grey pamphlet that really stymied me in Grade 8 Health class. (This was even more fucked up if you were in the Catholic system in the 1970s…as you might imagine.)

So. If you know you can ‘catch something,’ then why wouldn’t you be proactive in your planning and in the way you live your life? (If you care for a partner enough to wear a condom, to stop the spread of STIs, then why wouldn’t you just care enough to wear a mask when you’re inside a grocery store? Are you having a dalliance with the avocados? With the kiwi fruit? Doubt it. (or I certainly hope not…but to each their own, I suppose…)

I figure…if you’re having sex, then you can also likely manage the rather basic machinations of putting on a simple fabric mask with polka dots or stripes on it. (I have two that I’m especially fond of—one is brown with polka dots, thanks to my cousin, Mary Kelly, down in Kingston, and the other is a leaf pattern, with thanks to Marjorie Stintzi up near Rainy River. In total, I have about four, so…there’s always one in the car for good measure.)  Too, though, I mean…this is about caring for loads more people than just one person you’re intimate with on a regular basis. This is about caring for one another–in community–and about caring how we move forward. Your use of a mask protects the other person more than you. So…by wearing a mask, you show care for others. It’s not a conspiracy. If anything, it’s a conspiracy about spreading a philosophy of kindness and compassion.

~And, here’s the really big thing about wearing masks. Lean in close to your computer or phone now, like you’re huddled over a campfire and I’m telling you a story, or you’re trying to hide from someone: By wearing a mask, you help to keep our hospital system from being overrun. You only need to look to America to see what’s happening in states like Texas and Florida. There are others, I know, but the news reports I watched online from those two states are heartbreaking. Now, I’m not a scientist, although I once dated one fairly briefly. (He fancied himself a poet…but he wasn’t one…) So. I think it’s really about reading the science behind this virus. For me, this can be a difficult thing. (I failed science at Marymount…and there are plenty of stories of me in a science classroom that only a few women my age know, mostly because they were in the same class that year…and…it wasn’t pretty. The math and science teachers back at Marymount there were…very kind to me…) Basically, as a poet, I think in image and metaphor, not in fancy schmancy scientific terminology. I don’t understand all of it, but I’m fairly clever and a quick learner if someone’s a good teacher.

And now, here’s the other thing: Our health care workers are the first line of defence in so many ways, along with other groups of people who we’ve come to understand do much more than we ever imagined before this all started back in mid-March. They need proper PPE. They’ll need PPE for a very long time to come, if we see how all this plays out—based on the history of pandemics. I don’t know the stats on how many health care workers have died in Canada because of COVID. They died caring for people we might have known or loved. They sacrificed their lives when they really shouldn’t have been asked to do that. Just because you don’t know someone who’s got the virus, or who’s died from it, doesn’t mean that person who died doesn’t matter. The people who have died had names and were someone’s beloved. It doesn’t matter whether they were 18 or 37 or 81. They aren’t numbers. They are people with names.

~I’ve been watching, with interest, what people are saying about education, too. Come September, teachers will be front line workers again, and they will need to be properly considered. I worry about high schools. Anyone who’s a teacher will know that classes have been stuffed full of kids in recent years, and that there have been cuts to teacher jobs and hirings. I feel for those administrators who have to make decisions quickly now. I feel for teachers more, though, who are really just hoping for some sense of a plan. I feel for parents, too. But, and let me make this clear, I also want to say that this pandemic has revealed that quite a lot of people see schools as a form of day care rather than as places where children learn. To reinvigorate the economy, parents need to return to work. I get that. What I don’t want to see happen is teachers and students being put at risk of contracting this virus. Schools should be safe places. That means that there needs to be proper ventilation, access to proper PPE for all teachers, and more intense cleaning of classroom and office spaces.

What bothered me about most about watching Quebec open some schools a while back was that those teachers and children were like guinea pigs. There were spikes afterwards, obviously, and that frightens me. Our children aren’t expendable, and, just because we don’t see them affected in the same way as adults, or in the same sorts of numbers or percentages, doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to be. I also understand that mental health is key here, especially when socialization is such a key part of child development. But…this is a pandemic. It’s that “unprecedented time” thing that everyone talks about. We don’t know enough yet. We just don’t. But…if we follow the science, and include our hearts in that ‘equation,’ I think we’ll maybe have a shot at making it through that second wave. And please don’t tell me that a second wave isn’t coming…or that Bill Gates or Richard Branson is somehow mysteriously involved.

*****

I feel like I’ll put a trigger warning on this blog entry saying “If you don’t like masks, don’t read this” because I’m tired of the self-centred, me-first philosophy of life. That’s the old way. This is a new world, and I don’t think it’s going back anytime soon. What I do think is that we should maybe learn something about community from this pandemic.

And…here’s the last thing I’ll say: the faster everyone puts on their masks, the faster I’ll be able to hug the four or five most important people in my life. As someone who lives alone, I haven’t been able to touch anyone I love in too many months. I’m in a state of what’s called ‘touch starvation.’ It’s sad that I had to research it, so that I wouldn’t feel like I was going mad. (It’s also probably why I love being outside in the rain these days, or swimming, because at least something is touching my skin…but that’s a whole other series of poems that I’ll work on in coming days and weeks.) I love those four or five people of mine, and it’s hard not to just want to latch on like one of those little plastic monkeys in barrels when I see them in person. That would scare most of them, to know that I’m a tempest inside a body right now. (I haven’t seen a couple of them in person yet…and I almost dread it when I think about getting to see them…because right now I feel like I’m in a boat without a rudder.)

I do know, though, when I do get to hug them, that they’re going to not be prepared for the gales of tears I will weep…because…you never know how long you’re here on the planet for…and this time should sort of make you value your most important people even more…especially when you live alone. They all better let me have a glass of something alcoholic  beforehand…because then maybe I’ll just fall asleep quickly and they will be able to back out off the back porch. (If they’re really smart, they’ll also just ask me for all of my important passwords…or ask me something totally mad…because I’ll be like a bad Russian spy…and spurt out everything I think or feel without a filter…)

All this is to say that, if you don’t wear a mask, and now that you’ll be required to wear them here in town, maybe think about why it’s not such a bad thing after all. This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. It’s actually what my dad used to call ‘a long game.’ I don’t understand football at all, but he always used to make that analogy when it came to my own writing. “Don’t worry, Kimber…it’s a long game. Set your eyes on the horizon, but put your head down and work hard. Look up every so often to see where you’re headed.”

This is the part where we put our heads down…where we work hard…for ourselves and for everyone else. For the ones we know and love, and for the ones others know and love…even if we don’t know them at all. That, now that…would be a lesson to have learned in a pandemic.

Peace,

 

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I’ve been finding the contrast between social media and real life hard lately. It’s led me to spend less time on Facebook and Instagram, which I’ve never really done before. In the ‘before times,’ before the virus swirled around the world, the pictures helped me to feel more connected to other people. I live alone with a dog, so being able to see the lives of friends from around the world helped me to feel included. Mostly, I have friends who seem to like nature, so I didn’t mind seeing photos of hikes near lakes and in amidst trees. Social media felt inclusive then. Lately, I find it makes me feel excluded and lonely inside. I’ve been thinking about why, and there are likely so many reasons.

I think of Susan Sontag and her On Photography, and how she says people curate images to create an image of what they think the world would like to see (or believe) of their lives. My images are almost always of nature. I don’t usually do selfies. I do, though, take photos of my feet. There’s a reason behind this. Near the ends of their lives, both of my parents were without the use of their legs or feet. My mother had a trans-metatarsal amputation of her right foot for the last eight months of her life, so was bedridden until she died, and my father fell on a fishing trip and ended up as a complex quadriplegic during the last two and a half years of his life.  As a result of this, I grew to be much more aware of the gift that I had in being able to walk and hike, and to be grounded into the earth I love so much. Now, I take photos of my feet, sometimes on hikes against the black of northern Ontario rocks, and sometimes on the shores of a lake before I go for a swim. Mostly, though, I take photos of my feet when I highlight poetry books I’m reading and reviewing. Poetry, for me, grounds me. My feet do that, too. For both of those things, I am grateful. My feet, for me—in a symbolic way—mean that I can still keep moving, after a lot of struggle in life. They help me to stand strong on my own, even in storms. (Sometimes, though, I also imagine myself as a birch tree, so that I envision my whole body as a strong, but bendable tree with my feet as roots and anchors…but that’s a whole other story I tell myself.)

When the pandemic began, and when self-isolation was new and felt like it might not take too long, it was easy to pretend things would (or could) continue as they had been. I tried to think I was just in the middle of a serious writing retreat. Just before it all hit, I was making revisions to my latest play, All The Things I Draw. I had a session with my dramaturge on March 11. Later that afternoon, the local university shut down. It felt surreal. I had edits to make on that play, and I have a date set to finish it by, one I’ve set for myself. Still, since that day of dramaturgy in mid-March, I haven’t been able to touch it. I haven’t been able to make the edits and rewrite the sections that need rewriting. I have all of my meticulously taken notes, with all of my questions scribbled in the margins of a piece of the script, but they sit next to my writing chair in my little ‘in between’ room, where I sometimes sit to read or write. The play, it seems, is now frozen solid in time, in the ‘before times,’ as one of my online poet friends has so aptly called it. No matter what I try to do, I am drawn to my play, but it repels me, and so I repel it in turn. We are strangely drawn to (and yet also repel) one another. It’s likely a very complex toxic relationship. Fucked up magnets, me and this little play of mine…

I found I have lost the ability to read novels, which completely unsettles me as a writer and avid reader. Some part of my brain seems to have come loose. Nothing connects. There have been more than a few tears shed over that lost bridge between my head and heart. What I’ve come to, instead—and it is the thing I have always loved since I was a girl—is poetry. I can pick up a book of poems by Mary Oliver or Seamus Heaney and read one or two, and not feel as if I’ve failed, or as if I have been irretrievably broken. My mind only ever sees and understands things in image and metaphor. Things, right now, seem fragmented and jig sawed to me. Being on social media has been harder and harder. Wherever I turned, once well into May, there were people saying how wonderful the time has been for them as readers, or as writers, or in their couples, or in their families. Even the divorced couples with shared children seemed fairly happy, playing card games and taking selfies alongside photos of family outings.

This hasn’t been my experience of the pandemic at all. It hasn’t been pleasant. It’s been a struggle. What used to make me feel connected now makes me disconnected. Still, we are all on the same tempestuous ocean, but in very different kinds of boats. No one’s experience of it all will ever feel similar to someone else’s. This is what I tell myself. So comparison, when I see too much togetherness on social media images—whether it’s real or whether it’s curated for the comfort of the person who’s posting it—makes me feel ‘less than’ of late. Can’t stay in a place where you feel less than. I’ve learned that from people and experiences over a long period of time. I miss the images of trees and rocks and lakes, and knowing what people are up to, but I can’t handle the rest right now…so it’s good practice for me to gather my energy inwards into making sure my own boat doesn’t sink.

Some writers will post on Twitter that they’ve finished drafts of novels. Others will say they also can’t write. Right now, I gravitate to the orbits of those who also confess that they can’t find the words, or the links, or the sense of connectivity to literary creativity. I put together a manuscript of poems through April, but it felt like an exercise of ‘doing something’ rather than of ‘creating something new.’ I like to feel I’m amongst others who can’t find the words, or who are looking around trying to pick up pieces of a life that you had planned, but isn’t quite working out as well as you’d imagined. I get fed up with writing pandemic poems. I have written too many pandemic poems. Then I think, ‘Well, of course you’re writing pandemic poems. You’re living through a pandemic. You’re writing. The words you write, in poems, will of course reflect your concerns and experiences.’ And, really, how could I write anything but pandemic poems right now? My lexicon has changed, poetically, inside my head. The images are shifting. I can’t find the lighthouses I used to find, but I keep seeing hourglasses and boats without anchors or oars. Fitting, somehow.

What I have done to cultivate creativity has felt a bit haphazard and daft in its intention. I don’t like puzzles. I don’t like adult colouring books. They make me anxious because I can never complete them. There are too many tiny pieces and spaces. So, what did I do? I ordered a paint by number kit. That seemed to be a decent idea. It arrived, and it was lovely, but it was lacking in numbers. (People who have known me a long time will laugh because they know I have a very long string of crap luck. One only needs to ask me about the time a tow truck driver stopped at a pharmacy to dry shave—all to impress me and then ask me out while taking my broken down car to the garage—to know that my historic string of crap luck goes back at least twenty years.) In any case, I tried to paint the little shapes in the guise of the photo that came with the outlined paint by numbers canvas, but I only got more and more frustrated. One more thing I couldn’t do properly in a pandemic. Fuck.

So. This is what I did.

I took out all of the little acrylic paint tubes and opened them, covering the canvas with paint and creating a mess of strange, alien-like red flowers with dark green vines underneath. It’s not at all pretty, but it’s something that I made. It’s the making that seems to help. I’ll post it here, because I can’t curate my life at all right now, and I’m learning to practice letting go of things I thought I knew were truths, and accepting that new truths are making themselves each and every moment of each and every new pandemic day…even if they make me mostly feel nauseous and in need of a Gravol.

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I planted tiny seeds in empty egg cartons. At first, they didn’t sprout. For weeks, I stood over them on the back porch, bending down to see if they would grow. No. Of course not. Like the words that wouldn’t emerge or link themselves into being, the tiny egg crate seeds were saying ‘Fuck you, Kim.’ Last week, though, after a few days of cooler and rainier weather here, the carrots emerged in tiny fern-like fountains of green and I said out loud to them, a big cup of coffee in my hand, ‘Are you sure you want to be here now? Things are really falling apart out there…’ (Yes, I know I’m referring to Pema Chodron’s brilliant book…) But still they grew. Stubborn, these seeds of mine. They conjured themselves into being, with the help of a few hot days followed by a few rainy ones.

I planted window boxes, even the one outside my bedroom window, the one that I’ve never planted in all of the seven summers I’ve lived here in this little red brick hobbit house. This year, I told myself—while remembering William Morris’s philosophy of cultivating beauty in your home—I will make my window box beautiful. I will be able to see beauty, even as the world seems more and more like an out of control and very weedy terrarium to me. And so the little sweet potato vines are growing, tossing themselves gracefully and poetically over the edge of the box, looking hopeful. (I want to warn them, though…and tell them to mind what the lemmings did…but…)

I sing Irish songs out loud now, as I always have, as if to prove to myself that my lungs, my breath, and my voice are strong, and will continue to be. The plans I had made, the ways I’ve been making meaning over the years, worked for the old way of living, for the time before the arrival of the virus. Now, there are no set plans because what I’m learning is that plans aren’t really well suited to an apocalyptic time. I’m learning that I can do a lot more yoga than I’d ever imagined, except when the dog walks under me. I’m learning that my feet will always keep me rooted down to the earth, even as my Sagittarian self longs for something dreamier.

I was thinking of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art yesterday. It’s a book I’ve always loved. One quote that seems to resonate with me these days, in all of their uncertainty, is: “Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we really are and become it.” The time before the pandemic was more about the first part of the sentence, right? And now, well, now we’re living in the second part of the sentence. We’ve had to spend time with ourselves in ways we haven’t before—the single people, the married people who are both happy and unhappy, and the separated and divorced people with kids moving between houses. We’ve had to face things we couldn’t before, because we always made ourselves too frantically busy, too much with the ‘doing’ and not enough with the ‘being.’ Now, well, now the ‘being’ feels terribly hard, when the default has always been to just fill spaces with ‘doing.’

I miss reading fiction so much that my heart hurts. A friend offered to bring me books, but I can only handle poetry, so to see anything else makes me feel physically sick inside right now. This week, I started Harry Potter. I have prescribed it for myself, trying to focus on reading two chapters a day. Why this book? Because. I know what the dark and light do in these books. I know there will be battles and that good will win out, even though people will struggle for what’s right and even though some will likely perish. I know that the ‘outsiders’ and eccentrics in the story will triumph because they are unique and true to themselves deep inside. I know I will lull myself into a rhythm of reading that will pull me back—I hope—to being able to read prose again soon.

And I’m immersing myself in Charlie Mackesy’s beautiful little book, The Boy, the mole, the fox and the horse. It’s not hard to read because it’s full of tiny illustrations. You can start at the beginning and then make your way to the end, or you can open it at any point—just as you can with a book of poems—and find yourself lost in the lovely words and images. It reminds me of my mum’s favourite book, which was The Little Prince. In both beautiful books, which seem on the surface to be written for children, there are messages of wisdom and kindness from which the world could learn right now.

Here is the thing I think I’m trying to say: this pandemic time is not about learning a new language, or teaching yourself how to make stained glass, or bake really complex opera cakes in their tiny, multitudinous layers, and it’s not even about pretending to do any of those things well. Those are (and let’s just all call them what they are) distractions from the uncertainty, fear, and grief we feel as humans—living in the midst of a global pandemic and, now, witnessing the horror of racism and violence. I won’t speak to that because I am white and privileged. I want to listen. To not mention it here, though, would be ridiculous. If the first wave of the corona virus was an invisible health threat that swept the planet, as well as a real cluster fuck for your mental health, then the second wave is revealing humankind’s inhumanity towards itself. The third wave…who knows? It will likely just be the second wave of the virus, and that’s hardly a ‘likely just be’ if you ask anyone who has silently lurking health issues or who has someone they love living in a long term care home. So. How do we manage, then, is what I’ve been asking myself. As a creative person, I need to create. If I can’t create with the words I’m used to creating with, and if even reading (which is usually such an escape) is hard to do, I have to think it’s because we’re living through trauma.

Yes. We’re living through global trauma, of more than one kind, and then we’re living through trauma that’s been freakily reflected and embedded in our individual lives. Maybe some people still flourish in the pandemic, but I’m not one of them. I’ve surviving. I kind of imagine we all are. If I say I’m only surviving, praying for a vaccine, does that mean I’m weak? No. Mentally ill or ‘fragile’? No. It means I know that I can’t expect more of myself right now. I can’t expect to finish a novel I used to love writing every day. I can’t expect to make the ‘right kinds of edits and rewrites’ on my newest play. It means I have to be less hard on myself, more gentle, and more accepting of the fact that we’re living through a very surreal time. I have to hold myself tightly, and closely.

If you’re a writer, and you’ve been watching other writers on social media say how fantastic a time they’re having, finishing stuff up, just know that I’m not in that cohort. I feel broken as a writer right now. I can focus on small poetry book reviews, and I can write blog posts, and I can write pandemic poetry (which I hate writing), but I’m mostly trying to find other ways to assure myself that I can still create something worthwhile. I’ve signed up for online writing courses, and then been really worried that my frazzled head will let me down. My mind is the thing I like most about myself, but lately it’s rusty and clunky in how it works creatively. That worries me, leaves me trying to find my sea legs again as a writer.

I also am part of a small group of local playwrights. Once a week since this began, we respond to a prompt that one of us sets out. We only write for an hour, and then we post our work around a text-based sort of campfire that proves we can still set aside an hour a week to create something imaginative beyond what’s lurking ominously outside in reality. We don’t ‘zoom’ this. We just write separately and the pieces appear for reading and commentary. It proves we still exist, that we can still create, that we are somehow still connected by words and writerly friendship. It proves to me that I can still write, that once a week time slot. It’s not the same as meeting in person, though, and that’s hard, especially because writers tend to be introverts anyway, so writing groups can offer that sense of community you might be craving. After all, even the most introverted of writers need human contact…

I keep looking for lessons during this time. Poets do that, I think. It’s likely why we end up with other poet friends, so we feel less awkward in the world. Maybe the lesson is to be found in looking for the tiny silver linings, in trying to find light in darkness, and maybe it’s just even about breathing through a difficult yoga pose that could easily be renamed ‘life in the pandemic era,’ or maybe it’s just about leaning into the uncertainty of the unknown in the face of 2020’s chaos and brutality.

I think–for the creatives out there–we know that creating is important. It’s what we’re here on the planet to do. Often times, I think, too, that what we create has a purpose beyond what we can intuit at the time when we create it. A painting, a poem, a song…these things can move through us, and then ripple out in waves of light to other people. We create because we need to create. When we feel we can’t create…it’s hard. And, too, we create and speak up against darker things like oppression, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, hatred, and bullying in the work we do. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s more subtle. Art…the creation of art…is so important these days. So, even if I’m struggling with my own creative process right now in a really tangible way, I can think….

….maybe…if I plant carrot seeds and they grow, I’ll be thankful. And, if I can write a pandemic poem that reminds me of what has been lost, I’ll be thankful for what I remember loving most about that ‘before time.’ And if I can listen to a piece of music that makes me cry while I sit underneath a tree at the end of the day, I’ll be thankful again. It’s a time of being within ourselves, and of being true to ourselves, and we will all do that in different ways. It’s a time of speaking up after being silenced by others for too long, and also a time of knowing when to listen more than to speak. Different boats, same big ocean…and all of us looking for our lighthouses…

peace,

k.

And…an addendum for those who wonder: I may love the Harry Potter books, but I’m not keen on J.K. Rowling’s TERF-dom this week. Still working through that discrepancy in my head and heart now, and very angry about—and disheartened by—her comments. For me, the books have lit up my life during my very darkest times, and will likely continue to do so. That she has spoken so hatefully is wrong. In my life, her books have saved me in ways I can’t even begin to express here. Thinking this week of those who have also loved her work, but who this week feel betrayed and battered by her ignorant and hurtful words…

…and wishing for the wisdom that only Dumbledore could offer us during one of our darkest and most challenging of years. (He’s his own man in my mind now, anyway…separate from her entirely…as all good characters should be.)

I kind of think Dumbledore would say to keep fighting any kind of darkness, to keep creating, to keep spreading light and compassion, and to be lighthouses for one another…but you’d have to ask him to be sure…

 

 

 

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Sometimes in life, you’re in the middle of something and a pandemic suddenly arrives without warning. For some it might be an emerging love affair, the tail end of a university degree, a half-cultivated pregnancy, or a marriage that’s falling apart. For me, it was dealing with the detritus of a repressed memory of childhood abuse and trauma. I won’t dwell on it, as I’ve already written about it before, and once is more than enough.

What I will say is that, when you’re dealing with psychological trauma, and another larger sort of trauma comes along like a tsunami wave, you’ll have a hard time finding your sea legs again. What you usually use to anchor yourself likely won’t work, and you’ll find that friends in couples or in families sort of disappear as they batten down their own hatches, pulling in to protect their loved ones. None of this is unexpected. People who have their people are busy.

When you’re a single woman of 49 and a bit, and someone with an underlying health issue that has to do with lungs, you’ll find yourself thinking that now you’ll know what very elderly and isolated widows must feel like, housebound. You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about how your lungs are made of something like tissue paper, something easily torn or ripped, and that even if your body is physically strong and fit, your lungs are like…those rice paper fire lanterns that are pretty in the night sky, but so bad for the environment.

And, when you’re a single woman, an introvert and mostly shy, and a survivor of mental health issues, you’ll find yourself a bit like a solitary leaf, being swept down a fast moving river. It will at times seem as if there is absolutely nothing to grab onto. You will do yoga, and you will walk far and fast (as if you are the girl in that story that Hans Christian Andersen wrote about with the cursed red shoes, the ones you can’t ever take off and that won’t let you stop dancing), and then you’ll try not to think about how rarely you are normally touched. And then you’ll cry again because you’ll think you may not be touched again.

And sometimes, a few weeks into the apocalypse having a hissy fit, you’ll see people start to say things on social media like ‘reach out’ and ‘here’s a 1-800 number’ and ‘call me if you’re desperate,’ and you’ll just sit there and shake your head. And then there will be others who say ‘Are you on meds? Should you be? Can you find your psychiatrist again?’  As if a pandemic isn’t supposed to shake a human being, a human soul, to their core. As if a virus that infects so insidiously isn’t supposed to make you fearful and nervous. As if that isn’t just about being human.

From inside this snow globe, I keep thinking, “Why won’t you just say that you’re afraid? Why do you pretend it’s fine?” So much of what a poet friend of mine out west has called ‘The Before Times’ was all about people creating illusions of lives that were Instagram pretty—perfect family and vacation photos, two wine glasses kissing in front of a fire, or too many selfies. Now, in these new days and nights, is it so awful, so upsetting, to actually voice fear, or worry, or concern? I hope not. I think ‘The Before Times’ were overscheduled, full of things, full of superficial social posturing, and an avoidance of the real vulnerability and intimacy that comes from sharing and feeling things deeply. Better, it seemed, to stuff all of that in a box and put it in a closet. Now, with the threat of losing people we love, maybe the too-carefully-constructed societal masks will start to slip.

Here’s what I think, as someone who’s a survivor of depression: please don’t re-stigmatize people who are dealing with, or who have survived, mental health challenges. Please don’t be condescending. Please know that we’re all still people, too. A lot of us have struggled through very dark places to learn how to use tools to survive. A lot of us manage after having been very ill, and a lot of us somehow manage to recreate ourselves in new ways. But, to have people think you are depressed or suicidal because you’re struggling, can actually make you doubt yourself during the very days and nights when you most need them to let you know that you are strong, and not fragile. Maybe, if you haven’t struggled with mental illness, you won’t know this, and I’m glad for you not to have to know that. It’s best you don’t. It would add another layer of complexity to this pandemic stuff, and who really wants or needs that?

These last few weeks, I’ve had to re-think my work/life balance, and my return to teaching in September. It’s been stressful. You don’t want to have to look backwards, to constantly be looking over your shoulder to see if your past has caught up with you, but you also want to be mindful of what your own human side can handle, especially when you’re living alone as a single woman. You always need to make all of your decisions by yourself, without a partner to bounce questions and ideas off of. You need to think ahead to your finances, and how they will be when you’re a much older woman in your seventies or eighties, if you are even blessed to live that long.

People have difficult choices to make during these pandemic days, for what comes afterwards. Do you keep a small business open, or do you close it? Do you work full time afterwards, or do you choose to work part time so that you can have a life outside of your workplace, one that’s richer in ways that have nothing to do with money? Do you stay in a relationship or marriage with someone who’s just not the right person for you anymore? Do you date someone who just wants to have sex with you and not really get to know you or spend time with you? Do you think you’ll go back to who you were before, in “The Before Times,” and…really…should you even want to? There’s the biggest question of all: who will you have become when you exit the chrysalis of this COVID-19 pandemic? Will you just return to your old ways, or will you have evolved into a more interesting, and more compassionate human being?

What I miss most is human touch. I don’t get touched enough, really, outside of when I’m my visiting my hairdresser, esthetician, or massage therapist. I imagine other single woman in their late 40s are like this, unless they are open to random hook ups organized via Tinder. I’m not that woman. I never was a ‘lark in the park’ or ‘spring fling’ person. Last year, a very handsome man asked me if I was dating anyone, and then proceeded to tell me about his lengthy roster of previous sexual partners. Numbers. And I would be the next, perhaps. That wasn’t enticing to me because it felt more like a transaction than the start of anything that could be a collaborative, healthy, interesting, fun or long-term sort of grown up relationship. It felt as if I’d been objectified. This was not his fault. Not at all. He’s a good, kind, and handsome man. It’s the time and it’s the way of the world, which leads me to my next point.

I am rarely touched. I’m lucky to get hugs from a few very close friends, occasionally but not often, and usually a few times a week after my dance classes from one or two dear friends there. I was likely in a severe touch deficit before this pandemic thing began. I was, I know, because I couldn’t hug people for most of this past year, given the trauma of working through repressed memories from childhood abuse by my paternal grandfather that rose up last May. I felt, through a lot of the fall and winter months, that, if someone I trusted and cared for deeply would hug me, I would fall apart in their arms. My worry then was that I’d have to come home to an empty house and try to pick myself up again afterwards. There wouldn’t be a man here to gather me in while I fell apart. How do you explain this, though, to people who aren’t single women, or who aren’t shy or introverted? You can’t. (And yes, you can be a straight woman, and a feminist, and still wish to have a man who will hold you after you’ve broken apart emotionally, and that doesn’t mean you’ve sold out or fallen prey to old school gender stereotypes…but that’s another blog entry entirely…)

So. Here it is.

Please don’t worry. I’m not depressed or suicidal. I’m very, very sad that the world is in such a state. I’m used to being independent, so no worries there. And, as I’ve said at many small dinner parties with three close women friends, I have a couple of very good vibrators with a stock pile of AAA batteries, and one relatively new one with a technologically advanced USB cord for charging, but that is not the same thing as being held or comforted when you are worried or are crying, or having a long and interesting conversation that moves tangentially from place to place, but still somehow finds meaning there. And it is not the same as being caressed or cherished, and it is not the same thing as holding someone’s hand and wondering how their day went, or even kissing them on a walk in the woods.

What I worry about is how the world will work afterwards, in “The After Times.” Will I be able to let myself be held and cry in front of friends who hold me and don’t let me go, even when I try to turtle in? Will I be able to trust people? If you’re not a Tinder person these days, as a single woman, then you’ll likely know what I’m talking about. You might not want to say it out loud, though, and that’s okay too, because saying it loud makes you feel naked and vulnerable and raw. If you’re a man, you likely won’t know what I’m talking about. Funnily enough, things for men are still fairly privileged, even though we’re in 2020. I think it’s much different for younger women, who seem much more bold and free to me in their relationship choices, but I could easily be wrong about that observation as I am so often on the outside of so many things.

How much of this is mental health, and how much of this is being isolated, and how much of this is just being uncertain about what your future looks like? I don’t know. My friend Lara calls it “the butterfly soup,” the time and space where the caterpillar becomes a gooey mess before it emerges from the chrysalis. How such beauty and light comes from such darkness, I have no idea. I’m hopeful that what comes next will be brighter, in some ways, than the world we knew before.

Yes, it’s okay to be sad right now, to grieve what’s been lost. So much has been lost, but maybe some things that are of greater value will have been gained, after it’s all said and done. Who will know? That’s the thing. We’ll have to lean into the flow of things, trust the Universe a bit, and know that we did something, collectively, that speaks to how humans can really care for one another without knowing who they’re saving just by staying at home.

And, for those of you out there who were ‘in medias res’ when this corona virus shit storm blindsided the world—whether it was a sudden cancer scare with deferred appointments, or a wobbly and crumbling marriage, or a mid-life career change, or a plan to travel the world in a free and whimsical way—here is the thing: we will still be ‘in medias res’ when it’s all moved along. We will always be ‘in medias res,’ I think, but it’s how we choose to face that challenge that speaks to our survival and, later, too, to our blooming.

For those of you who, like me, may be dealing with pre-existing trauma in the face of the trauma of a global pandemic, I’d say that it’s okay to admit it’s hard. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or fragile or sick. It means you’re brave, able to say “This fucking sucks. Now I have to deal with more than what I ever imagined I’d have to.” To say it isn’t, to say that you’re “fine,” is only going to hurt you more, I’d guess, in the long run. So many people won’t understand it. If you’re living alone, it’s even more important to know that this is just probably not even the middle of a five act Shakespeare play. Pace yourself. Be kind to yourself. Know that you’re stronger than you can imagine.

And…if you are blessed enough to be with other humans in a house, be sure to hold them. You may be sick of them after these long weeks of pandemic self-isolation. I can understand that. Still, imagine not having close physical human contact for just as many weeks. If you’re not getting on with your spouse, or your marriage is falling apart, then hold your child close instead. But, above all, be grateful that you even have another human to hold, to feel, to touch. You can’t imagine what it’s like not to have that physical closeness in the midst of this uncertainty. Find some of your peace and calm in that great gift of physicality, for that is what it most certainly is…

peace,

k.

(…and…too…please do not try to set me up with your male friends after this is done. I’m not into set ups. Never have been, and…really…this hissy fit of an apocalypse won’t change that. This may be the only thing of which I can be most certain these days…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The calls for pandemic literature have been coming in recent weeks, from around the world, really. Writers and artists will help to document what’s happening, maybe without even knowing they’re doing so. I’ll blog, as I do when I feel compelled, but I’m having a hard time writing these days, so I don’t know that it’ll be that often. Here is the first, in who knows of how many entries, of things I’ve been thinking about lately. Thanks for reading, if you do. Kim

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The news across Canada these last few weeks grows more and more grim, and the tales of people who continue to disregard the government’s request to stay home and think of others first can often be disheartening. So many Canadians are ‘sheltering in place,’ as some people would say. But, there are those who seem to seek out the ‘loopholes’ as ways to make themselves think that ‘normal’ is ever coming back again after this pandemic has swept across the country. It’s the ones who look for loopholes, for reasons to just think it’s all a conspiracy theory, or who have theories about government control, who actually make it worse for the larger group. Who will suffer? Or, perhaps, who will suffer most? And why does that matter? Or…why should it matter? It’s an ethical debate, really, and there are some who will disagree with me. That’s fine. Keep it to yourself, please. Write your own blog. Bitch somewhere else.

I’m a poet, and a philosopher I suppose, too. (Can you ever have a poet who isn’t a philosopher? I personally doubt it.) I’m also someone who has underlying health conditions. My lungs are not happy ones when I get a bad cold. Those things–for me– often morph into severe bronchial infections or pneumonia. I have adult onset asthma. Its arrival in my late 20s was shocking and meant that I needed to learn how not to panic when I couldn’t breathe deeply. So, this virus terrifies me, on a very personal level. I feel it’s only fair and honest to admit to that fear, because it’s a real thing. Those others I’ve talked to since COVID-19 arrived, those who are also adult asthmatics in their 40s and 50s, are just as afraid, as are many others with “invisible” underlying health issues. They just won’t always say it out loud…and that’s okay, too.

I am also someone who spent a great deal of my 30s taking care of elderly parents who both had severe health issues. The health care system is not friendly at the best of times, whether you consider the structure of long term care or hospitals. It isn’t ‘user friendly,’ and it often requires an injection of compassion during the most difficult times in a person’s life. Sometimes, if you’re an advocate for frail elderly parents, you’re made to look crazy, as if you’re mad because you stand up and ask questions on behalf of those you love. Sometimes, it’s easier for people in high places to gaslight you, if you’re an advocate for the frail elderly. Sometimes, it always felt to me, people in charge would rather just not worry so much about the frail elderly. Why not just assess them, stuff them into a hospital bed, and then have them shuffled into long term care? Why not just say they are ‘bed blockers’ instead of human beings? Out of sight, out of mind. This, sadly, is still the case in Canada if you visit a nursing home and see how many elderly people are without family members to show them love, affection, or support. Those who do visit are the ones who become vocal advocates for the elderly, and for their rights. Some of us keep on, even after our elderly parents have died.

The news of the numbers of deaths due to the corona virus, when you look at them, tend to speak to how brutally this thing is hitting residents in long term care homes across Canada. There are calls for masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), calls for gloves, and calls for proper quarantine within long term care residences, but they have come–it seems to me–too late. What this points to, I think, is a blatant disregard for our elders. The same thing is happening within group homes for adults with disabilities, as well. In both cases, there is serious discrimination against two high risk groups. In both cases, frontline workers need PPEs and support. That they don’t have these things is, I think, a travesty, and speaks to a sort of moral and ethical decay within our society. At the ends of my parents’ lives, both of them were physically disabled. Neither could walk. One was confined to a bed for the last year of her life, and the other was in a wheelchair. Both had issues with breathing, and with underlying core morbidities.

I have chosen to minimize my time on social media lately. What used to make me feel connected, as a single person who lives alone, now makes me feel disconnected. It’s a strange state to be in, to be honest. I don’t have a television, so I watch the news on CBC online once a day, just to see what’s happening. I read online newspapers, too, but I am mindful to think through what I’m reading in a critical way. If we learn one thing, besides compassion of course, after this is over…and it will take some time for it to be ‘over’…I hope it is that we will think more critically about what we read, say, and posit in public spheres.

What I worry about is that some people are thinking that it’s not so bad if older people die from this virus. The numbers of deaths are higher in this group, so surely that’s to be expected, is what they might be thinking, and sometimes even stupidly say (or write) out loud. In Italy, doctors and nurses had to make decisions to not put people on ventilators based on age or physical ability. When you’ve had a parent in a nursing home, or even in the hospital, you’ll likely already know how often some bug passes through a building, and how quickly things are usually managed, with disinfectant hand wash and gowns and gloves at entrances to patient rooms. You’ll also know, though, that people will always still die when there is a flu bug that sweeps through a long term care facility. You’ll know why you get the flu shot. Yes, it’s for you, but if you have an elderly parent in a nursing home, you’re more likely getting the flu shot to protect them, and those they live with, and their carers, too.

The things that have been happening at the Dorval and Bobcaygeon nursing homes in the last couple of weeks show us that they are simply both the more obvious canaries in the coal mine of a system that has been vastly underfunded for decades, really. In these places across Canada, where our elders live, the ratio of PSWs to residents is unacceptably low. Nurses, registered practical nurses, and personal support workers are all underpaid for the hard physical and mental work they do each and every day.

I’ve been reading bits of Richard Wagamese lately. He is, for me, a source of great wisdom and comfort. One of my favourite books of his is Embers, but I read One Drum: Stories and Ceremonies for a Planet last fall. In it, he speaks of how we are all connected, as human beings. He writes this: “So the most profound truth in the universe is this: we are all one drum and we need each other.” He also writes: “The great forgotten truth of our reality as a human species is that we all came from somewhere. We all began our cultural journeys somewhere on the planet and because of that we are all Indigenous to her. Everyone. But we learned to use our minds. We learned to think, to rationalize, to know fear and to be protective. When we learned that, we learned separation. And as we practised separation we learned dislocation and disharmony….We learned to exist for the grand illusion–that we can control things on the planet.” He speaks, too, of courage and faith and fear. Faith, he says, “has come to mean ‘find an insight that heals.” See? Wagamese was wise. He still is. What he also writes about, in both Embers and One Drum, is how we are all part of one song. He writes of how elders are meant to be valued, heard, and respected. This is also what I have always been taught.

Growing up, I had two families. One was my father’s side, which was abusive. The damage they did is still something I’ve been dealing with of late. The other was my mother’s family, which was the opposite. I often think of my great aunts who lived on Kingsmount because they gathered us in when we were little. I also think, very often, of my maternal grandmother. All four of these women took us into gatherings that were for grown ups and spoke to us as equals. I don’t ever recall a time when we were made to feel ‘other’ or ‘outside of’ something, even when I was little. I learned my manners there, from my Gram Ennis, in particular, but also from my great aunts and uncles, from my aunts and uncles, and from my parents. In my twenties, I often spent time having coffee visits with my great-aunts and my grandmother at their houses, on Kingsmount and Wembley, listening to their stories. They were then seniors, and they had such a wealth of stories, and somehow wove me into them. For me, they were the women who taught me the value of story, and of telling stories, and of remembering stories, and of feeling worthy enough to write them down, and of gathering people together.

I think of those people who were wise elders in my life, and I think of the frail elderly I saw when my father was in long term care, those who often didn’t get visitors, and I think that we need to remind ourselves that all people are to be valued. Age, in so many cultures, is something that is valued, not denied or avoided. The strange Western phenomenon of plastic surgery and denial of the physical aging process is, I think, terribly sad and unsettling. Are we so afraid to be here, to still be alive, to gain more and more life experiences as we go along our paths, side by side? Are we so quick to cast off people?

As of yesterday, April 12th, almost half of Ontario’s COVID-19 deaths were in long term care residences. That it takes the corona virus to wake people up about the state of elder care in Canada is a worry, I think, but it may be that one of the things that might change after the virus has swept across the country will be the way in which we treat the frail elderly. That it might take this awful thing, and these great personal losses in long term care homes, breaks my heart. Why, I wonder, has it taken this for us to stop and think, just for a scant moment even, about how we treat our elders?

I go to Wagamese for comfort these days. I go to him more often than anyone else. We are all part of one song, and that he so openly shared his culture’s wisdom to teach us is a gift I’ll always be grateful for. He has been my greatest teacher in recent years…and I miss him being here. But I will always be grateful for all of the books, all of the words, he wrote and shared.

peace,

k.

 

 

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You’ll enter into Gallery 1 on a snowy March day and think you’ve been dunked into a lovely multi-coloured pot of paint. This is Brigitte Bere’s exhibit, The Imaginarium. Bere has exhibited her work for over twenty years, and her art has been sold to various clients across North America and Europe. She works from a wide variety of sources of inspiration and reference materials. As she herself says, she tends to “paint from the heart, rather than the head.” Bere uses many mediums, including acrylic, watercolour, encaustic, callography (print making), pastel, felting, sculpture, high relief works, acrylic collage, acrylic ink, graphite, and alcohol ink. The vibrancy of the colours, when you walk in, sort of makes you make a little circle around yourself with your feet as you turn. It’s a bit of a slow twirl, really, to take in all the beauty. It can all be that lovely and eye catching, especially on a grey winter afternoon.

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The felted pieces of Manitoulin are the ones that first drew me in. I’ve loved Manitoulin since I was a girl, when my parents used to rent a camp on the edge of Lake Mindemoya for one week every August. That was our summer holiday, and we swam and went fishing, hiked through meadows full of wildflowers and cows, and climbed all over the split rail fences. Show me a Manitoulin field and I get a bit teary eyed right away. The three felted pieces, “Manitoulin Landscape,” “Quilted Landscape–Railway Tracks,” and “Manitoulin Shores,” are evocative of the Island’s raw and magical natural beauty.

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Bere had me, though, with two of her more ethereal pieces. “Beltaine Celtic Rite of Passage” made me think of a day I spent hiking in Caherconnell, an ancient stone ring fort on the Burren, in Co. Clare, Ireland, a year and a half ago. Walking there, touching the stones, I could imagine people like the ones she has presented in this painting.

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Further along, you can’t help but smile at the mermaid-like quality of Bere’s “The Diver,” which makes you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a sighting where you hadn’t been expected in the first place. Here is someone who is busy diving, her eyes focused on the depths rather than on the shallows, not minding that you’re trying to see if she really has a tail, or if she’s just a human woman diving for pearls. The suggestion is that she’s a supernatural being, someone with a purpose and power that we may or may not be able to divine.

IMG_4427.jpg“Floating Dreams No. 4” is intriguing because it takes up a large part of an end wall of Gallery 1. You can’t miss it. It feels as if its on fire with colour, and so you have to stand in front of it and wonder what’s happened to this woman. She looks as if she is asleep, or resting, but also feels to be defeated by something bigger than she can articulate. Her body becomes a part of the landscape, which I found interesting, given that the exhibit in Gallery 2 is all about how we view and interact with landscape and ecosystems. IMG_4432.jpg

“21 Pillows,” by Cheryl Wilson-Smith, was organized and curated by the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, with assistance from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). Wilson-Smith wants you to interact with her exhibit, placing a little bucket of stones near the entrance with a sign that invites you to place a rock somewhere within the space, on one of the burlap pillows. It’s a bit like when actors break that fourth wall in theatre, when they walk into the audience or pull someone up on stage. You feel as if you might be stopped, as if someone might scold you or slap your hand, if you take a rock and then place it somewhere you maybe ought not to. But then you look up to see this…and all bets are off.

IMG_4450.jpgThe exhibit is lit to simulate the time of day around dusk, and there is the sound of ravens calling. It’s beautiful, really, to sit there on the rustic bench and listen to the ravens while you ponder the various patterns of stones. All of them, all 10,000 pieces, are glass pieces but tend to look like actual stones. It took Wilson-Smith two years to create all of the glass ‘stones’, which are reminiscent of the granite of the Canadian Shield near her home in Red Lake, Ontario.

For a poet who likes to hike, and who has piles of rocks in her home, well, this was a very tempting exhibit. Your eyes are caught by the shimmer and gloss of some of the glass pieces, but then are drawn again to the rough layers that other ‘rocks’ seem to have. Each pillow has a different ‘thing’ going on. (The gallery attendant, Tad, told me later that he takes photos at the end of each day, just to see how visitors to the gallery have shifted the patterns or organizations of the stones.) IMG_4440.jpg

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While I loved the riot of colour and texture of Brigitte Bere’s exhibit, my rock hound collector’s heart (and hands!) loved the ability to get right in with the pillows and ‘rocks’ in Gallery 2. It’s a sensual experience when you can pick up handmade stones and hold them in the palm of your hand, moving them from one place to another. What Wilson-Smith has said before, in interviews, is this: “When you pick up a layered piece, it’s got another piece of glass inside that will rattle, and sound like breaking glass. I’m hoping that people will just help move the landscape, because we all affect the environment, so how can we do it in this room?” She hopes, as an artist, that everyone who interacts with the exhibit will realize that they all “affect the environment and change it. For a long time, I blamed big business and corporate for our environmental problems. And, just recently, realized that it’s not just their fault. We’re allowing it, we’re changing it too.”

These are big messages that Wilson-Smith conveys in what seems to be a minimalist sort of presentation, but if you take some time at the gallery on your own, or with someone else who can sit next to you quietly, you’ll listen to the ravens, and notice the light, and think about how we are in the natural world. Interestingly, I couldn’t bear to alter the patterns of stones on the various pillows. I thought each pillow was fascinating. Some stones were grouped according to colour or shape, whereas others were arranged in patterns. Aren’t we all looking for pattern and meaning in our lives? I kept thinking this as I walked around the gallery, and as I sat quietly on the bench, watching the way the light hit the rocks.

My grandmother used to collect stones when she was on road trips. She’d go down to the shores of lakes around Northern Ontario and pick up little stones. Then, she’d put them in a glass bowl that sat–for most of my life–on the sill of the kitchen window above her sink. I thought of her today, this afternoon. There I was, sitting in a dimly lit gallery on John Street, and there her house was, down on Wembley Drive, with someone else living in it. All of that made me think of how time passes, and of how people are only here for a short while, and of how my Gram Ennis seemed to gather those stones as ways to keep memories of times spent with people she loved. Maybe that’s why I pile little bunches of rocks around my house. They remind me of her…in the loveliest of ways.

Anyway: Sudbury people should go see these two exhibits soon. They run until Sunday, March 22 at the Art Gallery of Sudbury. Be sure to just buy a membership. It’s really inexpensive, and it is such a good way of saying you love and support arts and culture initiatives in Greater Sudbury, and in the Northeast as well.

peace,

k.

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I’ve been open about my journey with mental health issues in the past, so I’m going to write about the anxiety that I’m dealing with right now. There’s a trigger warning here, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know about what repressed memories of childhood abuse can do to a woman in her late 40s. If you can handle it, then go ahead and read. If not, be wise enough not to.

I’ve never been one to hide my past history with depression, and I’ve honestly been concerned lately that I’ve had a slip in that direction, but speaking with my doctor last week has made me realize that it’s a lot more about something else entirely. Anyone who’s suffered from depression and anxiety in previous years will always wonder if the other shoe will drop again. You always look over your shoulder, and you always wonder whether you’ll be ‘safe.’ You always second guess yourself–what you think, what you feel, and how you choose to say what you most need to say. Speaking with my doctor last week about that repressed memory, crying through the telling of it, she just shook her head and said “Of course you’re well. It’s the effects of what you’ve remembered, and the trauma.” More weeping then—and that crappy doctor’s office Kleenex that is useless—and mostly more weeping because it means that I’m still okay…even though it feels a lot like hell right now inside my body and mind.

I’ve always dealt with insomnia, and sporadic bits of anxiety. I’ve also dealt with grief at Christmas time. Usually, those pieces of anxiety are due to grief, over the loss of my parents, who bookended the holiday season with their departures. I expect that sort of slump to always come through late November until mid-January. It makes me nervous, then, when it goes past that timeline. This year, it’s done that. My insomnia has been much worse and the anxiety has ramped up because of it. I can’t really sit still in amidst groups of people, and I feel like running away for no apparent reason. I’ve increased my exercise, which was already pretty intense before this, and now I’m trying trazadone again, to help me regulate my sleeping patterns. And then, of course, there are my therapy sessions, the things I’ve never stopped doing since I began them in 2008 when my mum was fading away slowly and I was taking care of her.

But…I’ve gotten ahead of myself…because avoiding a memory that you don’t really want to remember clearly is something I might have perfected since I first remembered the thing in Newfoundland late last May. It was triggered by a murder that happened in my grandparents’ old house on Bancroft, by a news report I read online while in a different province. Even then, it took a day or two for the memory to rise up from inside. For most of June, I was in a spin, not knowing where to find an anchor. Losing my eldest dog in early July didn’t help. By fall, it seemed, I felt less wobbly.

I have five very important people to thank for listening to me—mostly via text because I couldn’t handle speaking it all out loud—and they will always know who they are. They were lighthouses in a dark time, when I was in a boat without oars or an anchor. They weren’t my oldest friends, interestingly enough. They are friends I’ve only met in the last four years or so. They won’t have known me when I was at my most ill, when I had suicidal ideation because of major depressive disorder twelve years ago, so perhaps our relationships are more rooted in my being more myself. Not sure.

The memory is one that I don’t like to recall. It’s too visceral, and, when I recall it, I feel it in my own body now. My heart speeds up. I can’t breathe easily. I shake. I’m terrified. That’s the whole ‘inner child’ thing. It actually exists. I sort of knew it did, in theory, but until you feel it in your adult woman’s body, there’s no explaining how that smashing together of child and woman sets off a tsunami inside. In the memory, I am little. I am hiding from my grandfather, pressed up against the back wall of a closet, trying to protect my little sister behind me. Somehow, I have pulled the closet door closed, even though there really isn’t a way to do this without hurting my fingers. Still, when you are terrified of being found and of being hurt, you will do things to try and protect yourself, especially if you are small, and especially if you love your little sister.

It is, to be honest, such a small fragment of a memory. You would think that such a fragment wouldn’t be so damning in an adult’s life, but it has been since it surfaced last May. What the emotions mean, because I recall it on a physical, ‘body level,’ is that I knew enough to hide from being hurt, which means that I had experienced it before enough times to know it wasn’t right and I didn’t like it. The memory is of just one time, but feels as if it is part of a continuation. The hiding from my grandfather means that it had happened before.

After the remembering, there have been months of dreading the arrival of other buried memories. The worst one that hangs over me, to be honest, would be the notion of sexual abuse. It makes me feel nauseated when I think of it because it is at odds with my memories of my childhood. The childhood memories I recall clearly aren’t ones of violence and abuse, but when my thoughts shift to my paternal grandparents, the memories and feelings are ones of fear, intimidation, and control. In the memory, I am little. I can remember what I was wearing, and that it was summer, and that I had a scraped knee from falling off my bike in the driveway between my parents’ and grandparents’ houses. In my memory, I am the little girl in this picture.

 

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For the longest time, I have loved this photo of me. It was taken in elementary school, long before the time when I got to be overweight and bullied, and it’s from before the time I felt ugly in high school and was afraid of boys. (It took me until university to find a boyfriend who made me feel safe enough to really let him into my life, and I never knew why. I blamed myself for the longest time when, really, I should have just blamed my grandfather. He had taught me to fear men from my earliest years, and then…I had forgotten it until last year. Your brain, I’ve learned, is a very complex machine. It can box things up when you’re at risk of falling apart, boxing them up so tightly that you don’t remember them until you’re 48.)

The photo of this little girl, of me, always seemed—for the longest time—to be capturing a sort of idyllic time. I have a copy of it on my fridge, but now I keep it there for a different reason entirely. There is a little girl who was afraid, who didn’t know who to trust, and who maybe still doesn’t even know who to trust now that she’s grown up and has somehow remembered this horrible thing. There is a little girl who is fearful, ashamed, and confused. She doesn’t trust easily. I wish I could go back and gather her up, and into my arms, to protect her.

It likely explains why, as a teacher, I always felt called to try and help the kids who were dealing with hard times at home. There were the kids who were living with parents who were pretending to be happy together (but really weren’t), and there were the kids who were living with separated families with lots of transient, pseudo step-parents sweeping in and out of their lives, and there were the kids who had parents with addictions. There were also the kids who knew poverty all too well, and then there were the kids who self-harmed, or the ones who acted out because they were afraid of bonding with people who might actually not leave them, and there were the kids who were ignored at home and only wanted to have someone really listen to them.

They were the ones who gathered around my desk at the end of a period, or who followed me to my office to borrow a book I thought they might like to read (to escape into), or who would ask shyly if they could share a poem or story they’d written with me because they knew I was a writer. All of them felt like kids I needed to protect. I felt a kinship, and I didn’t even know why then. Now I know why. I was one of them. I could see myself reflected in them. I wanted to help save them, and I didn’t even know that I had so badly wanted some teacher to have seen some clue, some inkling, of what I was struggling with back when I was in elementary school. But, even then, I didn’t really know that I was being abused, which is why child abuse is so deeply and horribly twisted and manipulative. You’re meant to keep things quiet, and this means you likely don’t even know how to find or use your voice as a woman until much later in life.

My parents didn’t know about the abuse. They loved us. If they had known, it would’ve been stopped. At some point, though, my mother stopped letting us stay there when she and my father were out of town on trips to buy stock for their gift shop, so I think—maybe on some level—she must have had concerns about how my grandparents were treating us. After that time, I remember spending some overnight visits to my three great aunts, Norah, Maureen & Clare, at the house that my great-grandfather built on Kingsmount. The Girls—as they were called—were dear to us. And then, too, there were weekends spent at my Gram Ennis’s house on Wembley. Staying at either of those two houses when my parents were out of town on business always felt like a gift to me, a way to not stay at my paternal grandparents’ house next door on Bancroft. Now, after the memory surfaced, I can understand why I have always loved those four women so much. They kept us safe when the alternative would have been having us stay with people who hurt us.

Besides the closet memory, there are other memories: an afternoon when, as punishment, Stacy and I were put out into the back yard and locked out. A neighbour had come to visit and we were told we had behaved badly and so would not be allowed in. We were little. We hadn’t done anything wrong. We wept and wondered how not to upset them again. There were nights when he would stand in our lit bedroom doorway, listening to us breathe to be sure we were asleep. It’s no wonder, I often think now, as I struggle so terribly with insomnia, that I can’t sleep easily as an adult. A whole lot of things make sense to me now, since the memory arrived last spring.

Now, there will be people who will say ‘why would you write this now?’ or who will say ‘your parents wouldn’t want you to air this dirty laundry’ or who will say ‘but your grandfather helped to build a church and made really beautiful furniture.’ I’ll tell you why I am writing this now. When this memory emerged, I wanted to read a voice that would tell me what was going on inside my head, my heart, and my body. I couldn’t find one online. I think, mostly, for me, it is a way to try and exorcise some of the frenzied energy and pain I feel inside myself these days. I know I’m likely on the cusp of remembering something else because I can feel my body wanting to run away from it, but I also know that my therapist has said these things tend to come up when you’re well. All of those years of me being unwell were, I think, a result of this childhood abuse. The years of being obese and caring for others before myself were really ways for me to protect myself from making close connections with people. If I padded myself with fat, men wouldn’t see me, and they never did, or if they did, they were the wrong kind of person for me and ended up being manipulative or deceptive. Not a good pattern.

When I began to heal and get well, I lost weight. I felt more myself. I felt in control of who I was becoming, or in who I was allowing to emerge from inside me without fear. So much of my life was about being quiet and polite, about being agreeable and compliant, that the blooming of my 40s has been a bit of shock to me. My 30s were all about being very ill, and about caring for very ill parents. There was great darkness then.

I’ve lost friends. I know. And I want to say I’m sorry if one of them reads this. Something a person might have said or done might have triggered me, even four or five years ago, and I wouldn’t have known what had caused my reaction or even how to deal with it, so I tend to pull in and turtle when I feel threatened or “less than.” I can’t handle conflict. And sometimes there comes a place where, well, if you feel you disappoint someone, you just can’t try and ‘fix’ a friendship that demands more energy than you have to survive. So much of it seems now to be about energy, and about how balanced things are. I have always been a people pleaser, someone who gives more of herself than she ought to. I have not been as good at receiving, and I think that’s mostly because I didn’t have a healthy role model to show me how to trust others. My parents tried, and I loved them dearly, but there are days when I think they ought not to have stayed together. My parents taught me how to be fearful of connecting to others, to be wary of trusting others. I’m sure, though, some people on the outside will be upset to read this, and maybe one of my extended relatives will be upset with me…but I’d ask them to keep that to themselves. Sometimes, most often I’d venture a guess, what you see outside of a house and family is not what actually goes on inside of it. Social media, even, often makes me think of how Susan Sontag spoke of how people create illusions for others, so that their lives look perfect but really aren’t. Either way, families are complex. One of my best friends still says I am the most open, but also the most private, person she knows. She is likely right. It takes a long time for me to trust someone. These shadows, I’ve learned this year, have long lives.

I’ve told a few more friends about this memory since the fall, sometimes as a way to explain my strange, removed behaviour. It’s just been the most awful journey in the last year, and one I can only walk on my own. People who care will say ‘just ask me’ or ‘reach out,’ but when you’re in the midst of intense anxiety, there really isn’t the energy to do that. Also, when you live alone, you can’t really allow yourself to fall apart. It takes a lot of strength to just be present. Besides, most people in my age group have their ‘person’ and kids, so I worry I’d be the drowning lady in the middle of the lake, pulling them under. Sad, but true. Right now, I don’t trust people easily. Hopefully that will pass too, but it may not, and I may just have to accept that people will disappear again…as they so often tend to do in my life. I feel like the shapeshifter of Irish myth, The Morrigan, a figure I’m most fascinated by. She is powerful and magical, and she walks between worlds.

I’ve taken on too many projects this winter, and that means I’m in a people pleaser mode, which only really serves others, but exhausts me, and doesn’t allow me to fuel myself creatively as best it could. I’ve had to pull out of two things I wanted to take part in next month, but just don’t have the energy to manage, and I had to cancel a poetry visit from a dear friend from Toronto. That one hurts most, because if I felt stronger I could have whipped up an event all on my own. Not just now, though. Not just now.

So. In March, I’ll have one public event, when my new play, “All The Things I Draw,” gets a staged reading at the Sudbury Theatre Centre on the evening of March 20 as part of PlayMine. I’ll be less on social media for a while, mostly because I feel too isolated when I see other people leading really ‘happy family’ lives. I’ll be around, but not as often. I’ll mostly post about writing and art, or put up some of my photos alongside a poem or two every few days. In the next month, I’ll finish writing my play and I’ll keep at my novel. I’ll be with the trees…because they don’t hurt me and they make me feel safe.

April, May and June are busy months for me, and I’m looking forward to book tours and readings in various parts of the country, as well as giving writing workshops. Right now, though, I need to sort out the anxiety and find a centre of calm. I will. I slay dragons when I have to…and Gull is a fine companion for that. The gift of my book of poems last year was a bright spot through darkness, and I’m grateful for the many kind messages I’ve received about the words I’ve written. That what I write…makes a difference in people’s lives…is really lovely.

I’m not depressed. I’m sad, though, and I’m anxious, and I’m angry…that such a memory…after such a long time being buried inside my brain…had to even emerge and throw my life into chaos. And I’m angry that that little girl I knew so well was so badly hurt. And I’m healing through a lot of pain because, as D. H. Lawrence once wrote, there is worth and great value in “coming through it” rather than avoiding it. I’m wrestling with it, from dawn to dusk. For now, if you see me, I’ll likely cry if you’re nice to me, or if you try to hug me. This is mostly because I’m not used to being held and comforted. This is also because I always feel that people tend to disappear…so I am never sure who will stay and who will go. My default setting is to expect people to go. Sometimes this is to be expected…because people will grow away from you. In my life, it has mostly been the pattern…that people have disappeared. So when someone tries to hold me, or gather me in, my instinct is to bolt, to not trust them, to imagine that I must always be strong. If someone holds me for too long, I crumble…and I so worry I wouldn’t be able to put myself together after that.

I would ask, though, that you think of the children in your lives. Don’t always assume that they are safe with people you love or are related to. Sometimes, sadly, they aren’t. Sometimes, the things you most wish wouldn’t happen…happen under your noses…and sometimes children don’t have the words to tell you yet.

Give children love and make them feel so very safe, but also don’t teach them how to be afraid of the world and other people. That doesn’t really help…and can do so much more harm than good when all is said and done.

My wish for this blog entry is that I’ve used my voice and told my truth, even though it still feels shameful to me inside. I also hope that some other woman, in her mid to late 40s, might find this blog post and maybe feel less alone at the very beginning of it all… because the dissociation between what you think is real and properly remembered, and what actually did occur, is something that can tear you apart inside.

I’m working on letting this little girl know that she is safe now, and that she doesn’t have to hide inside my mind or body, and that I’m strong enough to bear the remembering if it means we can walk forward together hand in hand. This sounds poetic and hopeful, but I am well aware that it will be some of my life’s hardest work. My heart is broken…for more than one reason…and I’m trying to put it together one piece at a time, one breath at a time, on my own. People will just have to be patient…with me. Some will stick and some won’t. That’s okay. I’m used to it.

I feel sorry I have to write this, really. I miss my parents and my maternal grandmother, my uncles, and my great-aunts and uncles. The ones I loved most in the whole world–and the ones who loved me most–have died. I hope, somehow, that they would be okay with me writing this, and that they’d understand the purpose behind doing so. They were of Irish descent, so I think they would’ve been fine, somehow…because they were all survivors, spirited to the core, even when their own hearts were breaking, I’m sure.

This is such a long journey…and such a long blog entry. Sorry for that…

Peace,

k.

 

 

 

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I have never liked reading the comments sections of online newspaper articles when there were issues in education in Ontario when I was teaching. They were without thought, or care, full of horrid trolls, and mostly written without much knowledge of what it’s actually like to work and learn inside schools today. Right now, I’m taking time away from classroom teaching, so that I can work on my own writing. I know I’m privileged to be able to do this. I’m thankful to take time to breathe again because, when you teach, you breathe, but sometimes you forget to breathe deeply. Days rush into one another without warning in a way that I can’t imagine they do in other professions. Part of this is because–since I started in education in 2000–the amount of paper work related to reporting, standardized testing, and data collection has skyrocketed. Being more and more connected by the internet was helpful, of course, because it meant you could spend weekends at home doing report cards online, rather than going into an empty school to sit on a Sunday, but it also meant that there was a further disconnect between ‘work’ and ‘home/life’ balance. And, to be honest, if you were a single woman, the unspoken suggestion has always been that you might have less to do in your free time because you don’t have a husband or children to care for. In many ways, that has always bothered me. Some people will likely scoff, but if you were to ask the single women teachers on a school staff if they have ever felt this, I’d venture a guess that they have, but haven’t felt safe enough to say so out loud. Sometimes, the single women teachers are the canaries in the educational coal mine, and they might be the most easily sacrificed and least supported…

Of course, every profession is tied to gathering information and reporting on it, in some way. This is, I suppose, part of how we build knowledge. But…and this is a worry…it is not the only way we should build knowledge for ourselves, or–more importantly–how we ought to build knowledge for our children. It’s the worst thing, to see a child who struggles with anxiety, have to worry about passing a standardized test, and who equates that one day’s writing of a test to their well-being and sense of self-confidence. I can easily say, too, that I’ve seen many young writers not pass the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) because of anxiety rather than because of their lack of literacy skills. And, to be honest, I’ve seen students pass that same test when I’ve wondered how that’s happened because they’ve struggled with literacy over four years in a classroom. Mostly, though, I’ve always wondered why kids wouldn’t be considered literate after being in our Ontario school system for twelve years of formal lessons. What’s forgotten is that children–even in their teens–are still just kids. (I’m still uncertain and awkward at 49 and, though I don’t have kids of my own, I’ve known enough over the years to know that they are wonderful and vulnerable and so full of potential. I have always hated the day when they get their results, to see faces crumble and to know what that does to a person’s heart, from the inside out. After all, anyone’s who has felt bullied or a bit of an outcast in high school will tell you that those things are memories that linger into adulthood…)

Although it may seem too cliche to those who don’t teach, it’s actually very true that teachers see the children they teach (from kindergarten up to Grade 12) as ‘their kids.’ After a long period of time in the classroom, I’m lucky to have stayed in touch with many of my previous students. Now, the ones that I taught in my first few years in the classroom are adults, in their late 30s, with families and children of their own. That they want to stay in touch makes me feel honoured to have been with them for some part of their youth. They only ever taught me so many important lessons. For me, as a teacher, the knowledge of English literature that I have shared in my classroom–and especially my love of poetry–has been such a small part of my own learning as a human being. My greatest teachers have only ever been my students. (And I’ll always love and miss two students of mine who died much too young…Jordan and Deidre…because they are with me in my heart and mind always.)

Here’s what I know.

Since I started in education back in 2000, things have changed. Teachers and kids are more connected with technology. This is both good and bad. Assistive technology has made classrooms accessible for kids, and this is definitely good. Wireless internet hubs have helped educators connect in ways that just weren’t possible when I was a high school student in the early 80s. That you can link up with a teacher in another part of the country, or the world, or that you can stream in a university professor or a published author for part of a lesson, is magic. Cell phones…have changed the game of teaching forever. That’s a whole other blog post, and someone else can take up that challenge. It only ever exhausted me. That children’s attention spans have shortened changes the way you work in a classroom, and changes the way you teach, and changes the way kids learn, and–in turn–how they read and process information. It’s also changed the way they perceive themselves in terms of their identity because of how they consume and process mass media (body image and notions of ‘beauty’, for instance, is a big one for girls), and in terms of how their minds work. The cell phones that might have initially seemed to have been a help in a classroom have now become a real addiction both inside and outside of schools. Of course, I’ve witnessed amazing things with technology in the classroom, so I’m not against its advancement, but I’m always wondering what’s been lost as one fad in society or education gathers precedence over another.

The arts in schools, something I’m a passionate supporter of, has been–quite simply–decimated since 2000. Music, visual arts, creative writing, and drama classes have all been cut in Ontario schools in recent years. If you look to the province, you’ll see this echoed in the non-profit arts organizations, including the recent cuts to the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). Here’s the thing, though: cuts ripple. They aren’t always obvious to those who live and work outside of a system. A cut will happen in one place and then ripple down over the next two years. So, for example, a cut at the OAC will result in a great place like the Inkwell Workshops in Toronto not being able to offer as many free creative writing workshops to people struggling with mental health issues. That same cut will mean that Inkwell will need to petition writers from across Canada to donate money to publish a journal full of beautiful and powerful pieces of writing written by mental health survivors. In the same way, cuts to the arts in education mean fewer arts-based classes and teachers. These are the classes where kids can really sort out who they are, exploring how to express themselves in truly creative ways. Why, in God’s name, would you ever want to cut them? But…they are being cut in the most drastic of ways.

Who cares? I do. The teachers who work in the humanities streams do. And here’s why. Those classes are so key to mental health and well-being for our children. They offer places where kids can find and express themselves in thoughtful, creative, and artistic ways. They help them build people skills and compassion for themselves and others. The universities know this, and so leaders there are thankfully championing STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics) programming that will then reach down into the secondary and elementary education systems to encourage that cross-curricular weaving of ideas. This sort of programming encourages experiential learning, collaboration, and working through the creative process. It’s meta-cognitive and higher level thinking. And it’s creative. But, still, the arts are being cut in Ontario’s schools. The classes that used to be full of kids blowing into French horns and dressing up in costumes and splattering paint around are less and less sacred, and those teachers have to fight more and more vocally to defend the worth of their programs. They have to fight for their jobs, and they have to fight for the kids who are in classrooms now, and for those who aren’t even there yet. Teachers, you see, teach the kids in front of them, but are always thinking of those who are yet to arrive. Education evolves, and teachers evolve and adapt, but sometimes the government doesn’t know what it means to be a teacher, or a student for that matter.

Since I began in 2000, there has been a sharp increase in children with mental health issues. Somewhere along the way, there were more children having panic attacks, self-harming by cutting their arms and legs, and dealing with depression. There were more children struggling with eating disorders and their own sense of identity. There was, to be honest, a greater sense of kids being under great pressure both at home and at school. (Make no mistake: perceived pressure is real pressure to any human being, so it affects kids in an even more intense way than it does adults). It is, I think, a reflection of our society. People live fast and fragmented lives. People are less likely to get outside and be in the natural world. Families are more dynamic, and are more apt to shift and change. People don’t stay married. Divorce is more common, and a lot of people would say kids are stressed because of that. To be honest, I’ve also seen kids, though, who do better after a divorce, who are calmer being outside of a too-tense home environment, so it’s hard to say if that old stereotype is even true anymore. And, too, I’ve seen kids in the most stable of homes crumble and fall apart in the most heart wrenching of ways. Each child is different, and each case is different. Now, we have social workers in schools to help students. The work of Guidance counsellors has burgeoned, and classroom teachers are called upon to sometimes be more like social workers than teachers–even if they don’t have that same training. My worst fear was always that I would say something, do something, that might actually cause a student harm because I didn’t have the background training if they were dealing with childhood trauma issues or mental health issues. Sometimes…you can try to help and do harm without meaning to…with words.

Since I began in 2000, the stresses, demands, and expectations placed on teachers themselves have changed. There has been a rising awareness of how to support kids with mental health issues, but teacher burn-out is also an area that no one really wants to talk about. You can put up posters to raise awareness of mental health for students, but the ones who care for them every day in a classroom also need to be supported. I don’t think school boards in this province do that very well, but I don’t think society deals with mental health issues very well either, so this doesn’t surprise me at all. The stigma of mental health will always be present in certain places, and the people who say it doesn’t exist probably haven’t had to deal with mental health challenges, and likely don’t really want to…if we’re all honest about it.

These strikes in Ontario of late aren’t about money. People who don’t teach will always say that they are. They will always say that teachers complain too much, that they’re greedy, and that they have summers off, and that they leave work at 3pm every day. What they don’t know is that a twelve-month salary is spread out over a ten month period. What they don’t know is that teachers take home massive bags of marking every night and that weekends don’t really exist. What they don’t know is that teachers sometimes answer the phone at work to be sweared at and berated by an irate parent who thinks that an 85% grade on a senior essay is ‘shit’ and that you’re out to get their kid. What they don’t know is that teachers worry about their kids at night, and that teachers will sit at lunch in classrooms with kids who struggle and who just want a quiet place to feel safe and cared for. What they don’t know is that teachers didn’t choose to be teachers for money. They choose to teach because they love kids, and they love learning, and they really believe that children are the future of the world. You see, I think, to be honest, teachers are some of the most idealistic and hopeful people I’ve known and met in my time on the planet.

When I began, all of those years ago, in my early 30s, it seemed like people didn’t hate teachers. They didn’t vilify teachers. Now, that’s all changed. It really seems that people hate teachers, and are more and more apt to say that out loud. I often wonder why. Anyone who wants to be a teacher–who feels so called to be–can become a teacher. It means a four year undergraduate degree, with specializations if you want to teach at the secondary level. It means a fifth university year in a Bachelor of Education program, with time spent practicing teaching in schools in Ontario. It means spending money on  Additional Qualification courses in areas where you want to improve and diversify your qualifications. It means continual professional development because you care to offer the best to your students. But, mostly, it means that you are blessed to be a ‘guide on the side’ to thousands of Ontario children in the span of a career, kids who end up teaching you more than you could ever teach them…about life and living.

These strikes aren’t about money or salary increases, despite what the public might think. They’re about people who love kids enough to take verbal harassment from the public in order to fight for kids now, and especially for those children who will come along later. Cuts to boards and teaching staffs made in a willy-nilly, thoughtless fashion, and cuts made that will ripple to affect the most vulnerable and marginalized children in Ontario, are cruel and detrimental to kids.

Cuts to autism programs, and cuts to arts program, and cuts to the very important support staff members in schools, and cuts to teachers…all of these cuts will ripple. If you cut teacher jobs to save money, you end up with fewer teachers in schools and you end up with bigger classes. These bigger classes mean that a teacher may not be able to spend as much time with each child in a 75-minute period at the secondary level. They mean that kids will be stuffed into rows of desks that really shouldn’t be stuffed into a classroom that was built in the 1950s. They mean that kids might need to share textbooks and other resources. They mean that kids might study out-of-date literature by dead white guys because there isn’t a lot of money to buy new books.

If you mandate e-learning classes and say it’s all about teaching kids how to use technology–but you’re really just doing it to save money on hiring three-dimensional teachers in actual classrooms–you neglect to consider the variety of ways in which children learn, and sometimes you make those same students feel even more isolated and frustrated because they aren’t in a classroom with a supportive teacher to encourage them along. And, then, logically, you cause those students undue anxiety. You also don’t help children learn how to communicate with other humans in the real world. You see, we have, I think, lost the ability to be compassionate in a three-dimensional and very human way. Children still need to learn how to speak to one another, how to listen, how to read, how to be comfortable with being silent inside themselves, how to be alone, and how to think and question things carefully. If they are so full of anxiety that they can’t interact with other people outside of technology, then there’s something going wrong inside the system, and adults are the only ones to blame.

I’m outside of teaching right now, while I’m working on my writing, so what’s struck me with this series of protests is how much more vocal people are about how horrible teachers are. The parents who are vocally supportive are grand, and the people who used to be teachers and have since left for a variety of reasons, are equally vocal in positive ways. But…mostly…it’s got me to thinking of how vilified the profession has become since 2000. The demands of the career have only grown and grown, and while teachers have become more and more mindful of their students’ well-being, I often worry for the teacher friends I have who struggle with their own well-being and work-life balance.

This blog entry could go on forever, and I’m sure I’ll get nasty comments and emails for having written it…but some things need to be said.

This province…isn’t the province I grew up in. This government lacks in thought and compassion. It’s harder and colder, more heartless than any other I can recall. These days, it makes the Harris era look like a tea party, which is farcical. I’m not sure what I hope, but I’ll keep hoping. I know we need to speak up for all of the things we love and care about, even if we’re slandered and harassed for it now or later. I know when you believe in something–like the arts, and education, and health care–that you need to fight for it…

…for what happens…if we stop fighting for what brings light in a darkening world? Apathy isn’t the answer…

peace, friends.

k

 

 

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You’ll know, as soon as you walk up the steps at the old Bell Mansion that you’re about to enter into a gallery full of colour, pattern, narrative, and beauty. Make no mistake: these are definitely not your grandmother’s quilts. They fill the walls of Galleries 1 & 2, pulling you along as you marvel at the artistry.

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Traditional foot selfie in Gallery 2, thinking that that blue on the wall is the loveliest shade.

The “art of quilting” is “the process of creating a quilt, or quilted object. There are three parts to a quilt: the fabric top, the batting in the middle (for warmth, obviously!), and the fabric backing. When these three layers are joined together with stitching, the piece becomes a quilt.” This is part of the information sheet that you’re given as you enter the gallery, and it’s truly helpful. You’ll learn about the difference between ‘piecing,’ ‘paper piecing,’ ‘fabric origami,’ ‘thread painting,’ ‘appliqué,’ ‘needle felting,’ and the ‘art of stitchery.’ So much work, so much detail, to create such beautiful pieces of art.

The wall at the top of the stairs, just before you enter Gallery 2, is filled with the names of the people who make up the Sudbury and District Quilting & Stitchery Guild. It’s a full block of names, most all of them women. What of it? Why have women, historically, been drawn to making quilts? I often think that it has to do with narrative thread, and with passing things down. Stories are often passed down through women in families, and the same is true of quilts and cross-stitched pieces that are inherited.

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“Fluttering Around Verona,” by Louise Henri, is one piece I loved because of the barn swallows and leaves. So lovely…

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“Conflagration,” by Marilyn Clulow, is a piece that speaks to the fires in California, and to the climate crisis and emergency that we’re experiencing globally.

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“Steampunk Julye,” by Carmen Huggins, is a work that makes you stop and look closely. (You can also see why the gallery attendant tells you—quietly but firmly when you first enter—that you can look, but “don’t touch the quilts!” It’s so tempting…especially when you’re a ‘toucher.’)

My paternal grandmother was an award-winning quilter back in the early part of the last century. I have one of her quilts, and my sister has the other. When I was growing up, she often spoke of us needing ‘hope chests,’ something which the women on the other side of my family–my mother’s side–never really dwelled on. Funny, how one side of a family can value marriage and an old fashioned dowry over a woman creating her own life. My father’s mother was someone who tended to her husband, a man who was tall and dominant in the house. He intimidated my father, and he was intimidating when we were little girls. My grandmother, then, mostly tried to make him happy. She cooked, cleaned, and made things. Mostly, she seemed more like a servant than a wife, but those were different times, and she was born to a farming family in Southwestern Ontario, in Park Hill, just outside of London. Those were definitely different times for women. . .

The quilts in The Art of Quilting are beyond the ones that my paternal grandmother used to stitch. Hers were traditional patterns. These build on those patterns, but springboard out into newer places and spaces. In the article “The labor of creativity: Women’s work, quilting, and the uncommodified life,” Debora J. Halbert, of the University of Hawaii writes of how quilting is “an area of creative work rich in tradition that demonstrates how ideas and inspiration flow between quilters as they share with each other, move to different parts of the country, and develop their own designs.” In Canada, there are places where quilting seems to have flourished. You only need to visit Mennonite towns in Ontario to see that the old art is alive and well in a traditional sense, and a visit to the East Coast of Canada will leave you drooling over which quilts you can imagine draping across a white bed in the depths of winter. No matter where women lived, in America or Canada, in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, or in Sudbury or the Ottawa Valley, they sewed and quilted. They made things. They created pieces of work that were practical, but also artistic. It may really have been one of the few ways that they could be creative and independent. . .

While she wasn’t the warmest person, my paternal grandmother was skilled at making quilts. My favourites, when I was little, were the ones with puffed up squares. The puffy quilts were made out of old shirts worn by people who had long since died, I knew.  This was slightly creepy, but those puff quilts kept you warm at night, when people turned down the furnace. If you grew up in a house with parents who watched the thermostat, as I did, then you learned to “put on an extra sweater,” or “bundle up under a quilt” with a hot cup of tea while you read a book. As those puff quilts began to fray and then rot over the years, I remember my grandfather putting them out overnight, to protect any fall vegetables from early frosts out in his gardens on Bancroft Drive, in the Minnow Lake area of Sudbury. Those older quilts died a slow death, being shoved into corners of the battered garage for the fall frosts. They ‘lived there’ through the winter, spring, and summer, only coming out in late September and early October to mind the vegetables.

The quilts that I’ve taken photos of are ones that spoke to me, but each person will find themselves drawn to particular colours or fabrics. I am always taken with the notion of origami, with how things are folded and composed. One of my earliest poems, in my early 20s, was all about origami. Funny, mostly because I’ve never really tried my hand at it, but I’ve watched people make origami in Windsor at Levigator Press, and I was amazed by the intricacy of it. The same thing happens to me when I look at the quilts that are on display in Sudbury this month. They are beautifully layered, with meaning and colour and texture.

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This one, “Memories of Estelle,” by Patti MacKinnon, has close to 1,000 hexagons in the centre! I mean, what are the odds? So beautiful to see them all up close…

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This is a close up shot of “Blue Lagoon,” by Natalie Ferguson. I love the patterning…and the repetition. It reminds me of what I do when I write poems, and of how certain lines or images echo in a work…

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This gorgeous piece is “Rosalie,” by Joan Chabot. This piece was inspired by a doily that Chabot’s grandmother, Rosalie, created. (Rosalie was born in 1877). I love this because blue is my favourite colour…and I think that doilies are fascinating things…so… 🙂

There’s no way to describe the beauty of the exhibit that’s on at the Art Gallery of Sudbury (AGS) this month. It runs until January 5, 2020, so people can take any visiting relatives to see the quilts. (A fond ‘shout out’ to Kelsey Gunn, a former student, whose little piece in honour of David Bowie made me smile this afternoon. You go, girl!)

I’d also like to say, as I always do at this time of year, that it’s a wise idea to think about becoming a member of the Art Gallery. It’s inexpensive, and it’s an important place in the city. I know some people will disagree. I know–when I see people driving madly for parking spots to see a Wolves game on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon downtown–that this town is slow to support the arts and cultural groups. It worries me more than I can say. Ask me, and I’ll tell you. I’ll wave my arms around, too, most likely. And people will say that we’re ‘just a mining town,’ and that ‘this is the way it will always be,’ but I’m hopeful that we can move forward with the arts and culture sector growing and flourishing, and not being forced to beg for extra dollars every year.

I’m looking forward to seeing the AGS and the library in one place, with light streaming in through windows, and with places for children to read and write. And, to be honest, I’m looking forward to a fully wheelchair accessible, modern art gallery that will have space to properly store all of its beautiful pieces from the permanent collection.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t love the old Bell place. I do. More than I can say. I think that building will need care after the AGS leaves it, too, when the time comes. We’ll need to be sure that it doesn’t get left behind, or destroyed, as so much of Sudbury’s historic architecture was thoughtlessly erased in the middle of the last century.

Before you leave the Gallery, do stop in and see the art that’s been produced from the children’s art classes. Those pieces are in Gallery 3, through a door and with a window that looks out over the back yard with its beautiful trees. My favourite pieces were seven-year-old Ava’s chalk pastel stars and hearts piece, aptly titled “Clouds & Stars;” Georgia’s gorgeous “Flower;” six-year-old Kiniw’s “Lava Deer;” thirteen-year-old John’s “Solitude;” ten-year-old Kamara Charlton’s oil pastel “Spooky town;” and Mia Reich’s sweet little piece titled “They’re not seagulls.” Of them all, though, I was most fond of “Unideer in the Sun”, by ten-year-old Zoe Hopkins, because…let’s face it…who doesn’t want to see a deer that has a unicorn horn? It’s sheer magic, that unideer, and I’d love to tell Zoe that in person, but this will have to suffice. (#unideersforever)

A little side note…

I’ll be taking a break from my blog–and minimizing my online presence on most of my social media platforms–through December and into mid-January. It’s not my best time of year, to be honest, and I find social media can sometimes make it more difficult than not, so I’ll wish you all a safe and happy holiday season with your families. I’m going to turtle in, read books, hang out with my dog, and write a lot. It’s been quite a busy year for me, and I’m so very thankful for all of the opportunities I’ve had with These Wings, and with launching it in various places across Canada.  Thanks to everyone for buying the book, and for reading it, and for mostly saying that you love it. That means a great deal to me!  🙂

If you need to get in touch for writing or reading purposes, or for freelance writing and editing requests, you can reach me through my more formal email address on my author website at http://www.kimfahner.com

I’ll see you in the new year.     🙂

peace,

k.

 

 

 

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