Lying/Dying in a Field

Oh great, I think, the first time in thirty years that I’ve actually been alone – like *really* alone – and I’ve got a crow hovering around me. How symbolic.

I’m away on a cliché escape to a cabin in the woods, finding myself, because apparently I’ve been missing. Now why do we think we have to go somewhere brand new – somewhere where we don’t recognize a thing, where we can’t even locate a flashlight to help us to the toilet – to find our selves? I don’t know, but I promised myself I’d try.

Or maybe it’s not so much missing as it is knowing. I have a body that comes everywhere I go, but I’m learning that I know very little about it… and though I’m in it, living every second, I’m missing every second. I’m not present. I’m not here. I’m not now.

I live in my head, and I love with my heart, and that combination has proven to be fallible of late.

So I’m away, trying to find peace, and all I can fucking hear in my head is caw, caw, caw…

I know enough about Native literature to know that crows are not only shapeshifters, but also commonly thought to circle above scenes of death. I look up at the crow hovering in the tree above me and say out loud, (in my best Monty Python voice) “I’m not dead yet.” But he doesn’t leave me alone. I try not to think about foreshadowing.

Crows are also known to symbolize a guardian, and a sort of guide from darkness into light, so I feel as though I kind of have to let him hang around. Lord knows I can use all the help I can get to find some sort of clarity these next few days.

So I’m outside with my journal, hashing it out with my conscience and an acorn hits me square in the crown of my head. Bastard hit me on purpose. I look down and my writing to find some sort of significance – did I get hit on the head with an acorn to drill in a point? Like the exact moment when Einstein discovered gravity? “My parents just moved,” is all it says on the page. No symbolism there.

So Joe the Crow, as I call him, caw, caw, caws all afternoon. I go inside the cabin and cook a dinner I can’t even taste, and when I come out, he’s still there. So I decide to walk the grounds of this place, and Joe the Crow follows me. Just as I’m walking up a hill, he starts to dive-bomb me.

There is nobody on this “resort” – a few empty cabins next to a river. The only other person I’ve seen was when I pulled in with the car: a little girl of about five who stood beside the car as I pushed a button for the convertible roof to cover up. As it moved by itself, she watched in awe, “Wwaaaaahhww”.

She had a little dog. There are more dogs. Big huskies, and a few mutts. I think there is an accountant in the office, but on the phone, before I came, I told them to leave the key out and charge my credit card. I’m not here to make friends.

I walk up a small hill and try to hover underneath a tree, and Joe the Crow basically tries to kill me. I rock back and forth with both hands over my head, trying to shut out the piercing caws, which just amplify the other harsh sounds in my mind. You should have been honest. How are you going to forgive yourself? How the fuck do you think you can go on from here?

And then I see her. She’s breathing, but barely, and very slowly. She makes no attempt to move away from me. Most likely because she can’t, but I appreciate her motionlessness. She’s stuck. Like me.

Joe the Crow nails me on the head again with a twig from the tree that is covering me and his friend. Maybe his daughter, or her daughter, or son… Can you tell a crow’s gender? I don’t know.

“I’m not going to hurt her,” I say to Joe the Crow out loud, “I’m going to stay with her. I’m going to sit here with her until she dies.” I turn my attention to this little black, helpless thing, move closer so that we’re a mere foot apart (to the disgust of Joe the Crow), and I talk with her. I don’t know if it was out loud or not, but some part of me has to believe that she can understand me.

I will be with you when you die. I will show Joe the Crow that I won’t hurt you. I will shoo the flies away from you.

She doesn’t seem scared, but I am. She has a passiveness about her – a sense of calm, maybe – the kind I imagine you get before you die. Hopefully. But she doesn’t die. I sit with her for an hour and a half, and she just breathes and tries to move but can’t and Joe the Crow is going crazy and this little thing is my responsibility now, so what do I do? Nothing.

Actually, no. Not nothing. I take pictures. I fucking take pictures of a dying crow, because I think she’s the only thing that can feel as bad as I feel right now. Well, me and one other person, but this is one trip I’m taking alone, and I can’t let my focus break away from the purpose of this trip: to work on my self. Not the you-fucked-everything-up self, but the self that can actually learn and grow. It’s here somewhere.

Night falls and I get scared, so I leave Joe the Crow and his fallen friend. I actually pray. To whom, I don’t know. Please let the dogs eat her tonight.

I spend the next day secluded in the 200 square foot cabin, the faint caw caw caws not so faint. It’s not until seven at night, when I reluctantly go out for air, Joe the Crow is right there again. She must be dead, I think. But she isn’t. She’s about twelve feet away from where she was over twelve hours ago. The dogs didn’t get her. Now she just has more flies climbing on her. She blinks to shoo them off. That’s the only thing she can do.

I tell a boy who walks down the path to ask if someone can help. He looks at me with a that’s-just-a-common-crow look, says yes and then runs down to the river with his fishing rod. I don’t know why, but I don’t do anything. I don’t try to find anyone else. I don’t call wildlife rescue (it’s a crow… do they take in crows?). I don’t do anything except sit there, with Joe the Crow above and the little crow beside me, and I cry. She’s in pain and she can’t do anything about it. The symbolism finally fits.

I’m lying motionless on the grass, broken, fading, with nowhere to go. I want to give up. The only difference is, I don’t feel anyone above, a guardian, watching down on me.

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Stanley Park is part of MY past, too

Today a Facebook friend posted an article, “Stanley Park is part of our past, too,” published today in the Vancouver Sun and written by someone who somehow didn’t have the nerve to include a byline (or an obvious one, if it’s there somewhere).

This article really struck me. And yes, I’m oversensitive and generally avoid newspapers because of this quality, but this made me equally sad and angry and made me want to say “Fuck you” to the writer. Fuck you for being such an ignorant, insensitive asshole. Fuck you for not having the courage to put your name on this. Fuck you for speaking for me. Fuck you for making me not only look bad, but feel badly about something that I don’t even agree with. (And fuck you for eliciting a childish stream of fuck yous from me, which I am openly sharing with the world under my real name.)

I’m not an expert on aboriginal issues or an activist or even that knowledgeable about the Coast Salish who originally lived off of our land. But I recognize that this lack of knowledge is something that I should not only be aware of but should also be ashamed of. I also recognize that differences between western concepts of “knowledge” and “learning” and aboriginal concepts of “knowledge” and “learning” present barriers for me — a non-aboriginal — to know and learn more about Coast Salish culture and history. Depending on who you talk to, it may or may not be my business (and I respect whichever opinion).

Not only have I lived my whole life in Vancouver, my ancestors at least as far back as my mother’s great grandfather also have, and on this side of the family I am 12th generation Canadian. This means that I, in particular, have something at stake in the argument being made in this article.

My grandma has told me stories about going on dates with my grandfather to Stanley Park. When I go there I imagine them there, young and in love and looking out at the same ocean that I am also mesmerized by. Stanley Park is also a part of my history.

However, this does not mean that I have a right to completely disregard the attack on aboriginal culture that was probably instigated by my very own ancestors. It doesn’t mean that I have a right to dictate what constitutes acknowledging the past. It doesn’t mean that I get to say what is or isn’t a true representation of aboriginal culture in Stanley Park (I haven’t looked into this, but the questions I would ask would be: (1) Was the aboriginal community involved in putting in the aboriginal components of the park? (2) Do they feel it represents them? (3) Do they think it is enough? (4) Do they feel acknowledged?). And, yes, I was just theying, which is a danger in itself and part of the problem and complexity of the issue.

Maybe the writer’s point was that it is time to shift to a we mentality. However, this is what he or she says:

Canada’s history has many narratives. The first nations say their story dates back 10,000 years. Europeans arrived here just 500 years ago. Neither narrative is more valid than the other.

So is the argument: Neither is more valid than the other so let’s just completely disregard the first nations’ story because Europeans are here now? Let’s claim their language is impossible to pronounce and therefore clearly not marketable!

Yes, we need to shift to a we mentality. However, this is extremely complex and requires a lot more respect and acknowledgment and participation from the aboriginal community. The entire argument is actually a rally for completely disregarding aboriginal culture (by simply posting up a plaque to “solve the problem that first nations were here first”), under the guise that this is creating a unified culture.

We don’t yet know what a unified, we culture looks like. The closest we’ve come is the current, still very white-patriarchal version of multi-culturalism. Admit that this is complex. That there is no easy solution. That — heck — this might even be too idealistic.

But please, don’t be so blind as to think (and so stupid as to say — in a PUBLIC, WIDELY DISTRIBUTED NEWSPAPER) that by supporting the status quo you are somehow supporting cultural inclusivity.

This newspaper article is not only a joke, but it is also only one perspective. My blog post is also only my perspective. Please consider that each individual — whether they identify as aboriginal or Canadian or whatever — has a completely different perspective, experience, and belief system and don’t let any of these stories speak for an entire group of people. This may be the first step in moving from they to we.

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PS To the ladies of Hello. I miss you., sorry for turning “Wordless Wednesday” into “RANT Wednesday.”

All the people who bought our things

It is fun to pack up and go to Asia, but it is not fun selling everything you own on Craigslist.  Over the last month, we’ve had a parade of people come through our home to inspect our belongings and see how low we’ll go on the price.

Brendan’s lovely parents left us nice things when they left Vancouver, and people on Craigslist hate nice things.  They want cheap things or funny things.

Here’s where our stuff went, in chronological order:

1. The rain lamp.

I bought the lamp for $40 at an antique shop. It featured a naked gold lady standing in a bed of plastic ferns, clutching a sheet. Surrounding her were strings, and when you plugged it in, she was bathed in an eerie green light, and mineral oil ran down the strings making it look like she was caught in the rain.

I posted it for $50 and a lady from New West called up and said “Ohhh please, is it still available? I haven’t bought something just for myself in 10 years, and I just know I have to have this”.  She cares for injured or otherwise unadoptable animals that overflow from the shelter, and currently has 30 damaged dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs that can’t find homes elsewhere.  Not for money.  Can’t just stop, she says, because the animals just keep coming.  She’d like to move back into Vancouver, but you just can’t do that with 30 animals. When she picked up the lamp, it made her happier than I could have imagined.

2. The love seat

Sold to a Surrey couple who took 40 minutes to decide.  Get out, couch or no.

3. The couch

Sold to the people who are moving in for slightly too much money.  We broke a wall trying to get it in here.  They’re gonna be so sorry.  Nice people– sorry!

4. The crappy barbeque

We got the barbeque from a friend’s dad for free, and it looks like it came from space, and doesn’t actually cook food.  I sold it “as-is”, needing a new heating element.  A silver-skull-shirt chach came to look, for his mom. Thought about it for like half an hour. Said he wanted to go to Canadian Tire to check for the part, then would call back to let us know.  Never came back, never called.  So heartbroken.

A young guy hosting his first barbeque for his friends bought it. I don’t think he knows what a normal BBQ looks like, because he didn’t even comment on the fact that the strange silver box body has an extra area for a fireplace.

5. The floral cabinet

I loved this cabinet– it had this silvery floral pattern on the front of an otherwise black wooden body.  Lena came to look at the dresser, first.  Then she saw the cabinet.  Ooh, she likes that cabinet!  Looks at the dresser.  “Mmm, not bad, but slightly the wrong colour.  I will take the cabinet. Although, you have a statuette of Ganesha there beside the dresser, so maybe that’s a sign.  No. Cabinet. No. Dresser. No. Cabinet.” She gave us a $30 deposit, through no request of our own, and left. The next day “Hi Jen, I decided that I really don’t need a cabinet, I need a dresser. Can I have the dresser?” Yes, Lena. The next day, while I’m at work, two missed calls and a panicked message “Oohhh Jen, I realized that the dresser is too big.  Oh, no, please call me as soon as you can”. I start to call back, but have to hang up because of a work call.  Another panicked message “Please call me, Jen, as soon as possible!!!”.  Call back, “Oh sorry, are you at work?” Yes. (No response to this) “Blah blah, 20 minutes of something about the dresser not fitting due to heating pipe positioning in her bedroom, blah, I’ll have to take the cabinet, how much is it?” 225, I think. “Oh, well, I saw it posted for $200.”  I guess Brendan must have posted it for less, 200 is fine. “Well, I just want to know what’s going on here, first it’s $225, then $200 and I saw another ad for $220.  I just want to know what’s going on.” Lena, if you saw it for $200, that’s fine.  She sounded like we’d betrayed her, somehow. She finally comes and gets it, can’t get it in her car, but leaves it sticking out of her trunk.  She tells us to call her when we get back from travels, we can visit the cabinet. 10 minutes later– “Jen, I didn’t get very far, can you come down the block and help me lift it into my friend’s van?” It weighs like 40 pounds. No. I bet they can manage, she just missed me.

Dear Lena, we do not have a personal relationship.

6. The dresser

Taken by a lovely expecting couple, did not haggle the price.  Thank you, lovely expecting couple.

7. My desk

Lady came to look at the table, decided it didn’t work for her, but liked the desk.  Assured her it was solid wood, not particle board.  Charged her more than I had it posted for.  As we were loading it into her car, we all realized that it IS particle board (who knew!).  She didn’t ask for any money back, but we rented a truck to drive it to her place at no extra charge.  Oops. She just split with her husband and moved into her own place with her teenage son.  We had a lovely conversation about her son’s band.

8. The bookshelf

I posted it for $15 because I needed it OUT. A woman calls to confirm, because it’s so darn cheap.  But then, when they arrive, her jerk boyfriend asks her four times, “Are you sure this is what you want? Yes, Yes, Yes, and then, she turns to me and says “I guess we won’t take it”. He looks surprised, and says “Oh, really?” So, they take it, but he tries to haggle me to $10 because it’s heavy.  Yep, it is. And, nope, still $15.  When he lifted his end, an old paint palette fell on his head.  I liked that.

9. The table and chairs

Older lady, just came back from working 15 years in the Caribbean.  She really liked the table, wanted to buy it.  She called later to let us know that she found it for less, new, at the Brick.  God damned Brick! We lowered our price, significantly, due to the Brick’s stupid sale on the identical table.

10. The $20 bed

A middle-aged couple decided to take it, and while the husband dissembled every part of the frame (for no apparent reason, it would fit in their truck fine), his wife told me all about her mother who has Alzheimers and the general sadness it’s causing for everyone.  She was very matter-of-fact about it. The bed will be for her mother when she stays there.

11. The Ikea kettle

I signed her up for Zipcar earlier that day.  Weird!  She was happy I could help her with her kettle and vehicle needs.

12. The people who bought the motorcycle helmet, stand mixer, plant, bedside table, crock pot

Thank you for being prompt and painless.

13. The low bookshelf/cabinet

There’s a guy in front of me looking at it right now, currently talking with his girlfriend on his cell to decide.  He’s been on the phone pacing around my living room already for 12 minutes. OK, he’s off the phone and is not taking it.  Thank you for coming into my house, talking on your cell for a while and then leaving– it was fun for me too.

14. The $1000 bed.

Can not sell.  Oh Lord, we’re moving tomorrow.

This is where I’ve been all these months (but I have no idea how I got here)

Wolos knocked my planter of swiss chard and snap dragons off the balcony railing again today. A spray of brown dirt around a mass of damp black earth, green bits poking out as if to say Hey! I’m still alive! Don’t bury me!

Wolos is the nickname we’ve taken to calling stella bella, our one-year-old cat who has taken to hanging out on our back porch staring at the array of small- and medium-sized birds that flit onto the nearby telephone wires.

As she gawks at them, her lower lip chatters and some instinctive screech she doesn’t ever make in any other situation flutters from her throat. Sometimes I catch her sitting on the balcony railing, poised as if she’s about to jump onto one of the flimsy hedge trees in an attempt to reach the birds.

Down,Wolos, down, I say in a calm-but-stern tone. Usually she jumps down. Or she erupts in that strange chatter as if to say But I can’t help it, please, let me catch one before I carefully lift her off, deposit her on the ground, and say, Down Wolos, good girl Wolos.

I’ve become one of those people who seems to always be talking about their cat.

Or about Norky, a rescued pug we recently acquired whose real name is Penelope.

I’ve also become one of those people who “we”s.

As I write this, Wolos is sprawled out next to me.  She sleeps silently but for a Mew she lets out, without moving or even opening her eyes, when I reach over to play with her extremely soft pooch of a belly.

Norky is on the floor, face-down and snoring like a bear.

Jaz is in the next room, “the office,” sighing as he works on wrapping up his day.

Our bay window looks out onto greenery and the top floor of the character home across the street. Our back porch faces a blue-red-and-yellow auto shop, and above that, the North Shore Mountains.

From the corner two houses down you can see the ocean, Hastings Street, the first synagogue ever built in Vancouver, a church spire, a tower with the Scotia Bank logo, the edge of McLean Park, and, sometimes, women selling sex.

This evening I re-potted the swiss chard and the snapdragons for the second time. As I plucked each plant from the spilled soil, careful not to harm their roots, I marveled how, other than a film of brown powder, the plants and flowers remained in tact despite their (second) fall.

I looked down at my palms, dusted with earth, and wondered how the hell I got here.

Now, writing, I reach over to give Wolos another pat but she’s not there anymore. Norky’s gone too — out for a walk with Jaz. The house is quiet, the room lit by a lamp. In the stillness I can finally let go of the to-do-lists, anxiety, and go-go-go of my day. The chaos that is my life sits as starkly as the overturned flowerpot. My sense of self, though poking through in a few places, is almost completely hidden beneath dirt.

I can’t see them now, but somehow I know the roots are still in tact. Hey! I’m still alive! Don’t bury me!

Obama played golf and all I got was this oil-soaked bird.

I was four years old when the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach California, struck the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound and spilled an estimated 10.8 million gallons (although some sources claim it was much closer to 30 million) of crude oil into the Alaskan waters.

I don’t remember reading newspaper stories articling the tragedy.  I don’t remember looking at photos of sea otters, seals and sea birds chocking on oil and drowning in the slick, black quagmire.  I don’t remember watching puffed up, preening TV pundits debate over the best clean up strategies or argue over who was to blame, (CORPORATIONS! or POLITICIANS!) for the boondoggling of the clean-up.

What I do remember is my outrage.  The frustration and impotence that I felt every time I passed an Esso station.  I forced my parents to promise me that they would never purchase gas from the company ever again.  They tried to tell me that Esso was simply the Canadian subsidiary, but I wouldn’t listen.  Exxon (and therefore) Esso had done something truly terrible, and as such they should be punished.  One less customer probably wouldn’t do much on the grand scale of things, but it was something.

To this day I never buy gas from either company.

Fast forward twenty-one years.  Our world is living through one of the worst ecological disaster of all time.  (The worst ever probably occurred during the first Gulf war, but no one talks about that because of that Saddam guy, or the ongoing strife in Nigeria, because that’s Africa and Africa doesn’t really count, right?)  And I am looking for newspaper articles that should be screaming this horror show to every single person the world over.  But I find nothing.  I seek out heart breaking photos of pelicans, sea turtles, and other marine life, destroyed, along with their habitat, floating, bloated, forgotten, cooked alive from the oil that seeps through their feathers and onto their skin.  I post them on my facebook hoping that someone will see them and be moved.  But I find nothing except disgusting, tawdry jokes, because it’s never too early to either not care, or poke fun.

A co-worker told me he thinks Obama has done a brilliant job distancing himself from the events of the gulf.  I wanted to shove my fist into his face.  Break his nose and split his lips.  I wanted to yell that that is exactly why Obama has failed himself, his constituents and his countrymen.  He has failed because of that distance.  The Deepwater Horizon sunk along with his presidency.  “Remember when we were all enamoured with him?”  I want to shout.  Remember when he would fix everything and then Canadians wouldn’t care whether people thought they were Americans when they travelled abroad?  WELL WAKE UP MOTHERFUCKERS!  HE HAS FAILED!  HE HAS FAILED BECAUSE HE’S THE SAME AS EVERY OTHER GODDAMN POLITICIAN!  And for that I suppose I shouldn’t fault him.  Because I’ve finally learned that it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if they’re black, female, gay, mobility-challenged, old, white, young, good-looking or fugged-out.  We live in a time and a world where no one has to be accountable for anything.  Don’t want to grow up?  You don’t have to.  Your parents will pay for you/it/them.  Don’t want to acknowledge the mass killing and irreversible ecological devastation that you had a hand in causing?  You don’t have to!  Congratulations, everyone!  Welcome to 2010!  The year of the privileged, accountability-intolerant, first-world citizen!

In this vein, the Globe and Mail is cautioning parents not to traumatize their children with photos of dead birds, or those struggling to remain alive.  Images of such brutality may be too much for their young, malleable minds.  They will cause nightmares and lead to harder, more difficult questions for which you don’t have answers.

Remembering my four year old self, and the indignation I felt over second hand news from my father, devoid of any pictorial evidence or internet slideshows, is why I believe we MUST show them the photos.  Put them in their lunch boxes!  Stuff them under their pillows!  Discuss these events over dinner and sit up watching the news (only pray that they actually cover the spill, and not Helena Guergis’ pregnancy and her contemptible, cocaine-loving husband.)  Traumatize the living daylights out of them!  Destroy their faith in human kind, and enrage them over the rape of Mother Nature and her offspring.  Because to riff off of the much maligned, tired, old cliché –  these children actually are our future: they are our leaders, t.v. pundits and corporate CEO’s.  And if they go one or two more steps further than simply boycotting Esso, we may have won some kind of battle.  But not a war – as personal accountability is something I don’t know how to instil through graphic and disturbing cinematic evidence.

And until such a time, I slink into the shower and I weep.  I fold myself into the bottom of my bathtub and let the tepid water fall onto me, fall over me, fall into me.  My body, wracked by uncontrollable sobs, shudders, and I think of those birds.  The birds.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/17390/111965?RS_show_page=0

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/05/oil_reaches_louisiana_shores.html

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/06/14/more-oil-spilled-in.html