what I promised my husband

On Tuesday, June 13, at approximately 7:15 pm, Dylan and I got married in our livingroom. Nine people whom we care about very much and a lovely wedding commissioner named Jody gathered around us while we made our vows. I cried. Anna and Eliot were our witnesses. Dylan made potroast and I made a rhubarb crisp. It was very warm in the apartment. Anna brought a tiny plant which I managed to repot before the ceremony started. Laura brought a bouquet of flowers as big as a child. Gwen and Trevor brought champagne. Lauretta brought some of the teacups she received as wedding shower gifts over 50 years ago, and she also brought the typed-up story of that wedding shower. Ashleigh ordered pizza for August and Al. There was a bottle of wine from 1988 (Dylan's parents bought it when he was born), which might have turned into vinegar at any point during the interim 28 years, but instead became a divine elixir. Laura read from 1st Corinthians. Anna read from bell hooks. Gwen pronounced a Celtic blessing. Trevor quoted Sonnet 116. Ashleigh read (on my request) two stanzas from "The Country of Marriage" by Wendell Berry. Alley-Oop got a little drunk. I wore my strappy blue shoes. Kaylin came after work and gave us stick and poke tattoos on our fingers. (We cannot stop looking at them.) Laura read from East of Eden. Dylan said these things. And I said this:

Dylan,

As everyone here already knows, I started to love you reading your reports from Missinippe. They were full of your courage and honesty, your understanding of other people, your romanticism, and beautiful sentences--and reading them, I was exhilarated. I found something so important in them I realized it would be be easy to drop everything else. My life had become disconnected from the world and I was lonely and I didn’t know how to be loved by anybody. I did drop everything, much to your confusion, and we have become something extraordinary and volatile and capable of much more good together. You are brave to marry me. 

I know that both of us take what we are doing seriously. We both know that loving another person is difficult and profound, and that building a life together is a kind of monumental work, so I have a few things I will promise you.

I promise to speak to you as truthfully as I know how.

I promise to assume the best of you, and to do whatever I can to enable you to be an artist and a good person.

I promise to work for the life that is honest and happy for both of us.

I promise to take care of you.

I promise to share everything I have with you.

I promise not to keep scores.

And I promise to give you the freedom to love and be loved by people who are not me, and to respect all of your relationships.

I love you on a literary, epic, primal, and cosmic scale, and I am so honoured and happy to become your wife.

heat during the day and storms at night

We go to California in April, but something feels off.

For one thing, we can't really afford to be there. Paradoxically, we spend way more money than usual. It's almost as if we're trying too hard to have a good time. We see Sigur Ros in concert. I eat grits for the first time, also biscuits and gravy. We go to a Warriors game in Oakland, where I see Steph Curry in the flesh, even if we're too far up in the stands to identify much more than his number, his floating three-point shot. We make an extensive tour of Motel 6 rooms. Laura and Tom are along with us, the four of us splitting two queen beds along gender lines. For five American dollars, I buy a large piece of upholstery from an art supply recycling store, planning to make a bed cover out of it. I take pictures of Laura. We drop off some more of Evan's IMAX film at Fotokem, and enjoy how glamorous it all is through Laura's eyes. We go to the beach. Driving through rural Oregon, we see a kind of poverty and despair I've never associated with "American life." On our way home, a blizzard traps us in the mountains for an extra night. It shouldn't be so stressful but it is. We're rushed and broke. The mountains loom black over us, the mountain town we stay in has a gothic, murderous energy. 

Back home, it's difficult to regather ourselves. Part of it is that the things I'm working on are all long-term projects in their final, grinding stages. Part of it is that we seem, vaguely, to have misplaced our priorities. I don't organize Open Apartment. I drink more than I need to. I avoid looking at my credit card statement. I dread writing, dread showing the day's progress to Dylan. I wonder why pursuing creative work full-time (with two nights a week pouring beer at the Empress) feels so hollow and abstract, so disconnected from our real needs. There's no question that my work has taken me away from most other aspects of living this winter. I've barely even been cooking. And I've struggled to maintain a belief in the worthwhile nature of what I am doing, even as I've immersed myself in a world of patterns on a screen and imaginary money. Our culture does not take very good care of freelancers.

It isn't that I've decided writing and film are not important, or that my work, my projects (many of which will finally be completed and fully realized this summer) are a misuse of my time. But I have been using my work as a way to excuse myself from the realities and concerns of my life, and no wonder the result has been lethargy, confusion, aimlessness, pleasure-free excess. 

Now the summer has broke on us, in all its heat during the day and storms in the evening. We have a new focus. I reread a book by Ben Hewitt that explores how misplaced the West's definition and pursuit of wealth has become. (I cannot recommend it highly enough.) We make a budget. Dylan cuts my hair, banishing the mullet once and for all. The society that I lease my office from announces that it has to give up its space at the end of June. Ashleigh asks me to play violin on some of her new songs. I remember that I'm good at making bread, that for all the money I've been spending, I've abandoned many of the pursuits that actually make me happy. I start planning a film about our summer. 

We go out to Laura's family's property for the first time in over a year. We make plans to leave Edmonton for a while, to do other work and try other ways of living.  Laura uses our apartment to shoot her first short film. One day we receive a box of fancy cheese from Canadian cheese makers, an obscurely-motivated but lucky-for-us Canada 150 promotion. Skye and Jenna are finally able to print Accomplice. We spend an evening working on a puzzle and watching I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, the Wilco doc, at Jord's place. I take my road test and fail it twice, and finally master the hill park and book another test for tomorrow morning.

"It is a largely unacknowledged truth that the contemporary American life is lived under a guillotine of fear. We fear disease, poverty, terrorism, loneliness, and death. We spend a lifetime seeking security because we are told the world is an insecure and dangerous place; that peril lurks around each corner. We spend so much of our time believing those fears and trying to abate them that we don't even stop to consider whether our anxieties might be misplaced. We don't even wonder if perhaps the things we fear are, at least in part, the tragic outgrowth of our misguided attempts to create an artifice of security. We have disease because we have allowed our food to be commoditized and thus subject to the profit-borne whims of corporatism; we have poverty because we have believed the lie that money buys security and because we have created a system that unjustly allows money to beget money; we have terrorism largely because we have meddled and assumed the righteous stance of American exceptionalism; we have loneliness because we no longer need one another; we have death because it is inevitable and we know this, yet because we have come to see ourselves as separate from nature and its laws, we believe that death is something to be vanquished."

- Ben Hewitt

Accomplice update

Hello my friends,

Writing briefly to all of you who preordered Accomplice--we've missed our hoped-for release by a couple of weeks, but that's only because we've been trying to suss out printing this book on a RISOGRAPH printer owned and operated by Jenna Heinemann and Skye Olson. This is an exciting opportunity because:

1) it's a unique manufacturing method with an aesthetic that lends itself very well to our book design

2) I would rather pay Jenna and Skye than a big printing company

3) we have more control over certain design elements--i.e. we can, if we want, riso the inside pages and silkscreen the covers

4) printing with Jenna and Skye makes this a five-woman collaboration--if we can make this work, it'll be something of which I'm pretty proud

With any luck these books will still be mailed out to you shortly. Thanks for your patience!

 

XX Lizzie

State of the Union, Part 3 (life)

It is 3:50 on Saturday afternoon.

It is two hours before I have to leave to go to the Empress and twelve hours before I will be home in bed, asleep. I am 26. The birthday cake in the fridge is half gone. Our livingroom walls are painted green. Winter is back. Dylan is going to cut his hair. War and Peace is not as bad as I thought. My grandma is in the hospital. My mother is back from Florida; she loved it. The fridge is humming. Ashleigh is on sick leave. Venture Publishing is seven months late, paying me. Peter's new album is finished. Laura is finally taking Video Kitchen at FAVA. Fear is still the most useless and damaging thing. The Steinbeck biography is just as good as I hoped. I am a terrible drunk. My friends are kind and almost unbelievably generous. New York University is not going to let me into their creative writing program. Kyle is living one door down from Shawn. Sigur Ros is playing a show we are going to in April. Kyanite is an ideal transmitter of energy from one being to another.  Abstract: The Art of Design is pretty good TV.  3b drawing pencils are ideal for writing stories. The March page in the Maxim calendar is not as good as January. Simpkin is chiller by the day. It is important for us to be deliberate and choose better symbols for ourselves. Dylan and I are going to get married in October. 

State of the Union, Part 2 (angst)

"It occurs to me that in my adulthood I've vehemently espoused the idea that "being an artist" is not a state of being at all. I've ridiculed that idea, called myself in bohemian moments of unproductivity a poseur. Just having produced art--in my case, mostly, having written things--is what makes an artist, and is the point of the "creative life." As if the whole shifting plasma of thoughts, feelings, interactions, and experiences that finds its nexus in my body was nothing but a production line, and if I was serious at all I would be looking at weak links to eliminate. 

Though this idea has freed me up to try to work even when I don't feel inspired, I wonder whether it has cheapened the experience of (or the search for) inspiration. I also wonder whether feeling like an artist--enjoying that heady and visceral experience of individuality, of total concentration combined with free association, the pleasure of synthesis, of making something--was and perhaps should be again my primary goal, reason for writing at all. Just that I enjoy it. Just that I find life, and find life meaningful in it. 

I wonder too if this detachment from notions of inspiration and process has made me consider my inspirations less sacred, caused me to betray them or default on them at the last minute. The deadline might scare you into sitting down at your desk, but does it produce the best ideas or the patience and pleasure required to see them through?

I have been so scared to stop working lately." 

- journal, February 25, 2017

 

"My soul is not a little white bird. I haven't any soul, nor much of agonized ambition any more. I shall go ahead, but I wonder whether that sharp agony of words will occur to me again. I wonder whether I shall ever be drunken with rhythms any more . . . I shall write good novels but hereafter I ride Pegasus with a saddle and bucking pads, and martingale, for I am afraid Pegasus will rear and kick, and I am not the sure steady horseman I once was."

- Steinbeck, letter to Dook, February 25, 1928

 

State of the Union, Part 1 (projects)

Here is what I have been working on:

Modular

The first draft of the collection of short stories about Caronport is finished. I wrote 7 of the 10 stories this year, after I got a grant from the Edmonton Arts Council to complete the first draft manuscript. There is a stack of typed pages sitting beside me as I write this. I'll submit it to the EAC this month, then use it to try to find a literary agent.

The stories are about two children, Esther Spellicy and Sheldon Knowles, and their parents. When I started it I thought it was about the kind of childhood embarrassment that verges on mortification, but now I see it is more about the kind of childhood loneliness that comes with seeing the land and the adults around you too clearly. The stories, in their tentative current order, are called:

The Jehovah's Witnesses Episode, which is about the time that Esther mobilized a gang of children against members of a cult

The Green Dragon, which is about the Knowles's minivan

Thrift, which is about trying to save things

Highs Below, which is also about trying to save things

Christian Internet, which is about sex and having career goals as a woman

Ess, which is Jesus's take on Esther Spellicy

Mrs. Knowles, which is about the time that homeschooling failed Sheldon and his mother

Mopsy, which is about hating a little girl and how that feeling is memory-warping and transfers onto things it shouldn't

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, which is about drafty attics and escapism

Foxes Have Holes, which is about the flat land

 

Accomplice

The poetry chapbook that I've been working on with Hannah Braun and Kaylin Put and written about here and made available for pre-order here should be going to print within a week or two. A little later than I'd hoped (we were shooting for a March 15 release), but so close. We're going to print a few hundred copies, that will be for sale online, as well as (hopefully) through a couple of boutiques in Edmonton, and possibly distributors in other cities--I've got my feelers out. As soon as the books are done, there will be a poetry house show and release party at Arts Hub. Here's Kaylin in my livingroom a few weeks ago with the completed cover illustrations. I can't believe how beautiful this book is going to be. 

 

Cricket 

The short film formerly known as BUILD GOD, which I've written about here and here. I'm working on a second cut right now, which will bring the length of the film down from 30 minutes to 20 or 22 minutes. When the second cut is finished I'll be submitting it to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for review, though I'll still have quite a lot of post-production to do. Most importantly, I'll finally be ready to start working with Mary Wood of Feverfew, who will be composing the score. There's a great deal of work ahead of me on this little movie, but I am thrilled with how it is developing. I'll be releasing a trailer later this month.

 

Secret Project

I've just started working on something I can't talk much about. It's a writing project, the biggest one I've ever done, and I think it will consume most of my time from now until the summer.

dirt

"not dirt for dirt's sake, or grief merely for the sake of grief, but dirt and grief wholly accepted if necessary as struggle vehicles of an emergent joy--achieving things which are not transient by means of things which are."

- Ed Ricketts, from an unpublished essay quoted in John Steinbeck, Writer by Jackson J. Benson

 

I think a lot about the moral responsibility of writers and other artists, and how we are supposed to contextualize ugliness and pain. More and more I see that ugliness and pain are part and parcel of beauty and joy and attempts to sanitize beauty and joy seem more and more misguided. No wonder we are so anxious, wondering why our incredible prosperity can't be cleanly snapped off from the messy, tragic history that created it. But also: no wonder we are so frustrated and devastated by dirt and grief, as if these ugly things appeared out of nowhere and had no purpose, no connection to the life we want.

In this massive Steinbeck biography I'm reading, Benson compares Steinbeck's version of non-teleological thinking with his friend Ed Rickett's, a Monterey biologist who was the model for Doc of Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. While Steinbeck's worldview was mechanistic (grief and joy must be accepted together because both demonstrably exist in the world), Rickett's was more mystical. He seemed to believe that acceptance of grief was necessary in order to make any meaning of it. Conversely, humans, confronted with a world in which grief and joy are intertwined, can only find meaning in joy by acknowledging the cost at which it comes: 

"where there is refusal to accept the hazards of grief and tragedy, as occurs more frequently than not, I should expect to see the struggle belittle rather than deify, since whatever is has to be taken and accepted in order for development to proceed."

on 99th Street: Capital Tailors

The traditional warm week in January has lasted all month. It is a Saturday at five-thirty in the afternoon and the 99th street lights are coming on when I enter the wormhole, through a back door marked 'Capital Tailors.'

In from the outside world where people try to live up to their possessions, I descend carpeted stairs. Out of the company of those engaging in regimens of self-improvement in preparation to welcome a new dress, I come inside. Down into the basement, into the earth, on whose surface people are building a parlour because they bought a new couch, I go. As the atmosphere changes, my glasses steam up. 

At the bottom a counter is heaped with hemmed pants. The counter is a clogged gate to the fluorescent work room beyond. There are at least two women in there, at least two clacking machines. In this reception area at the foot of the stairs, there is a coat rack and a peripheral impression of fluttering carbon receipt slips. If, when you fix them with your eye, they appear to lie still in piles on the counter and pinned to plastic-wrapped bridal gowns, you can still hear them shifting, like wings brushing your ear. Racks of repaired clothing of slump against the wormhole's walls, supporting them or perhaps, with their weight, causing them to cave in. 

A little man whisks me leftwards, under ceiling tiles etched with Chinese flowers and filigree and into one of two little dressing room alcoves covered with red curtains. I am not sure how I arrived so quickly but I put on the black dress I brought. It is brand new but too big in the top for my breasts, each the size of a good handful of dirt.  Across from my cubbyhole, spacetime expands into a mirrored wall. Shyly, one steps out to face oneself. A double row of high heeled shoes for trying on appears at the baseboard. A little woman is at my side, nipping in the dress. 

All this time, people having been coming in and out, up and down the stairs. I can see why the racks of clothing sag so badly. A short young lawyer is having a pair of dress pants hemmed. The little woman has pinned up four inches of cloth. It is clear that, before descending to the basement, the lawyer must be unable to walk in any given pair of pants she buys. There is a fat school teacher who, far from stocking up on clothing in her goal size, is having seams let out. There is an older couple waiting for something to be done while-you-wait, and they are examining knitting patterns. 

No one is the least concerned about the boutique integrity of their clothes. The clothes were made for a strange mannequin race that lives in white rooms under white throwblankets and makes coffee in bare marble kitchens, so the clothes are pinned without ceremony, sliced up and rejoined and folded in and ripped out. Only the sturdy pieces--wool and real denim and silkworm silk--survive. In the subterranean world of the tailor they grow and morph on metal racks until they fit the inglorious bodies of the tailor's customers, all sausages and marshmallows in their winter coats, and sweating as we climb the stairs. 

making a book

Back in July, I went to Hannah Braun, my friend, downstairs neighbour, and designer extraordinaire, and told her I wanted to make a book. 

I had come to the end of my powers as an illustrator and book designer, and I hadn't put out a zine in a long time. I had a pile of new poems I wanted to publish. 

Yes, she said. Let's make a book.

Hannah told me to collect print materials I liked the look of. I showed up at her door with two paperbacks printed in the 1960s, a copy of Cinema Scope, and a box of herbal tea. 

I said, I don't know how to talk about how all of these are the same, but I think they are.

She immediately gave me a crash course in fonts, colour schemes, and 20th-century design trends and confirmed that yes, in a way they were all the same. We decided to give the book a green cover printed with black and white, and Hannah sent me back upstairs to think up a title. 

I spread the poems out on the couch. I made a list of references and themes. They were about love, and jealousy, and Saskatchewan, and ambivalence and threat and reward in human relationships. We decided the book should be called Accomplice and that there should be an insect on the cover--one from the prairies.

I wanted a Dutch Elm beetle; Hannah said they were too ugly. We looked at stock images. What about a cricket? one of us asked. Kaylin could draw it. 

Kaylin Put had already designed and tattooed wheat and canola into my shoulder and Dylan's forearms. She came over for breakfast one morning and the three of us talked. She said she could do the cover illustration. 

As of yesterday, it looks like this:

Accomplice is coming out in the spring--16 new poems, including this one. It'll be available for pre-order February 1.

The Siren and the Worm

The houses on our street were built all at once after the war. They had pointed roofs, windows flanking the front doors, and eavestroughs painted green and red to match the doors. My parents were children when they were new. By the time I grew up the houses were already broken, the little front lawns were weedy, and the vinyl siding engineered by the war scientists had been warped by the sun. 

    It was the first week of warmth after the winter. It was the year I was fifteen, my first year of service. I was still unused to work and it showed in my dirty black uniform, my dirty hair, and the sores around my mouth. My grandmother told me to try and remember to eat an orange once in a while, but it was hard to remember when there was little in the pantry to remind me. I never ate with my family any more. I left before it was light and when I got home in the afternoon, I usually crawled into bed and slept through my supper.

    Early in the morning, I started out for work and the shop on the other side of the freeway that flowed past the end of street one-thirty-six. Trudging down our row of single family dwellings, most of them like mine with a grandmother in the basement, I felt immense sympathy for all creatures displaced from their natural environments, especially for the pink and purple worm I saw gasping on the sidewalk. It had rained during the night. He must have tunnelled up through the roots of dandelions toward the damp night air, our six visible stars. Somehow he found himself stranded on an endless pad of concrete. My grandmother said worms were great helpers and I thought perhaps it was time someone did them a good turn. I crouched down. The worm coiled around my finger like a ring of muscle, all friendly. I should have transplanted him back to a lawn, it would have been kinder. But I took him to the goddess’s shop.

    Although I wanted to parade through the heavy steel door with my prize, I was obliged to cover my left finger with my right hand because Siren might have seen me, the people might have cried out. The other aprons and I milled around, gathering our hair into nets and removing the rings from our noses. We all lined up for the clock. I slipped the worm into my green pocket. So Siren wouldn’t guess I’d brought a fellow foreigner to work, I was sullen as usual. 

    Every day she pushed me up in front of the slavering crowd and made me perform. Today, I hoped the worm would somehow help me. Jostling, balancing on spiked shoes, silk nooses around their necks, the people would ask me to do a series of impossible tasks. I was to heat water past the boiling point, mirror the molecular structure of sugar, cure the common allergy to fat, and cause ice cubes to float in hot tea. I was to make coffee that tasted unlike itself and transform a cup of milk into a celebration feast. I was also to smile at insults, do nine tasks at one time, and speak everyone’s true name, whether they had told it to me or not. 

    There was no time to think, rest, or even urinate. I forgot all about the worm in my apron pocket. 

    When I remembered my helper, I was struggling to create a blizzard in a glass jar. The knives spinning in the bottom of my vessel screamed, but I paid no notice. I scrabbled in my pocket, trying not to pinch the worm and sever him. Rogue chunks of ice rattled against the sides of the jar. The worm lay limp and hot like a snapped elastic band in my palm. Panicked, I started stroking him. As gentle as I tried to be, holding the weight of my hand stiff in my wrist, my finger skidded on his darkening body. I could feel his segments feebly contract. He was drying out quickly. I had forgotten all about the mob, but as my blizzard started to liquify, their murmurs grew. And as I lifted my hand to the handbasin’s crusted, dripping faucet, the worm lying abject on my flattened palm, the noise of the people’s outrage broke over my ears.

    Another apron, with a collapsed chin and faded purple hair, shot me a desperate glance. Her eyes looked like the eyes of the raccoons who roamed our street in a pack to protect themselves from the stones and hockey sticks of the little kids. 

    I looked around. The mob was threatening to climb over the money counter separating them from us. Slowly, I backed away from them, holding the worm out in front of me like a talisman. A man jabbed his finger in my direction and said that I would never get another job in service. Then my hip hit a machine and I couldn’t back any farther, except by pulling the hand holding the worm in toward my body. Cradling my wrist against my chest, I turned to face the machine. The people screeched. The machine was open, in between brews, the basket of boiling hot coffee grounds above one of the big urns pulled out like a convenient, microcosmic substitute for the worm’s native soil.

    I dropped my friend gently into the steaming basket. He reared up in solidarity, what must have been his eye-end, his mouth-end, weaving back and forth in the air like a rebel protester’s bullhorn a few inches from my nose. For the first time, I noticed the way his whorled pink face resembled a fingertip.

    Inside the forgotten glass jar, the knives started to buck and clatter. The worm, my helper, squirmed around, staining himself with coffee grounds and stupidly burrowing down. After a few seconds, he stopped. I could no longer see his clean face. Half-burrowed, he lay there. I slammed the rusty basket in.

    With a loud jeer, the people called for more ice and air to be whipped into foam, for the blizzard to form anew for each of them, for liquid snow sugar to drink. I turned back to my counter, my jar, and my knives like a helicopter. The other aprons didn’t speak to me.

    That night, Siren called for a congregation. Her star-wreathed head loomed against a bar of fluorescent light above the refrigerators. When everyone had gathered, she hauled me up in front of the other aprons, pulled my wrist behind my back, grabbed a handful of coffee grounds from a compost bucket and pushed it into my mouth. Her hair snaked over my shoulder and rolled over my chest and held me still. The coffee was like oily dirt in my mouth. I chewed and swallowed.

    Shuffling home, I tried not to look at the cool green lawns choked with clover and chickweed, lush in the dark. My throat hurt and my bowels felt twisted. Siren had not paid us after the congregation and I had not been paid in six weeks. I wondered if I was hungry. It didn’t matter; the thought of eating the dry oatmeal, grape-flavoured apples, and canned beans in the kitchen made me more weary than I already was. 

    The screen door clanged behind me as I entered our house. My parents were in bed, but my grandmother heard me, and slowly and loudly she climbed the basement stairs. I waited for her in the dark kitchen. There were dirty dishes piled up against the window above the sink. My grandmother’s head rose in the kitchen doorway, her scraggy hair shining white. She spoke from the stairwell. “You’re sick, little one.” 

    I sunk down in the lawn chair at the head of the kitchen table. My stomach was so distended that I sat with my legs spread like a man or a pregnant woman.

    My grandmother flipped on the machine that boiled water by the cup, a wedding present of my parents’. It had a water chamber on top, like a small plastic coffee maker, with an element spiralling into it, and a red button you pushed to turn it on, and a green button to dispense the hot water into the mug or soup bowl below. It worked slower now that the element was thick and white with calcium, but it still worked. 

    “To make the worm drink,” my grandmother began, “use a worm that has been thoroughly cleaned.” She winced as she raised her arm to reach into the cupboard and pulled out a twisted plastic packet full of yellow powder. “To remove a fishy odour, worms are usually boiled with a ginger root. After the stew is filtered it is ready to drink, but more delicious when added to honey or practical sugar.” She coughed. “Little one. Reach me the sugar.”

    My grandmother had never made the worm drink for me, though she’d been mixing it for herself since I was a little girl, standing in the corner of the kitchen stirring, her back to us, while the rest of the family crowded the kitchen table. I stood up and took down the white paper sack and sat back down. My back ached. I could feel the grain of the wooden table bristling under my fingers. Siren had made us use the lye to clean the machines and my hands were raw as peeled carrots. My stomach bubbled.

    “Thus, myths about the earthworm are fulfilled, and thus earthworms can safely treat us in terms of commercial good-enough.” When I was a child my grandmother told me the worm drink cured world weariness. She walked slowly to the table and set a small lozenge and a mug blazoned with the usual propaganda in front of me. The drink was sweet and good. As she rubbed my back, my muscles began to unclench. A warmth rose in my throat and spread down into my body. As my face relaxed it became slack and loose, so that a tear spilled out of one of my eyes. My grandmother dug her swollen knuckles in between my shoulder blades, encouraging me. “There, good.” The pain in my stomach subsided and flowed out through my limbs. 

    My grandmother descended the stairs to the basement one step at a time. I went to bed. 

    In the middle of the night I woke and stumbled into the dark hallway, tripping over a hairbrush on my way to the bathroom. I was going to vomit. I planted my arms and legs and hung my head over the sink and stared into the porcelain bowl grimy with glycerine and face paint. Saliva poured into my mouth. 

    The row of lightbulbs above the mirror whined. 

    The worm was swollen, three feet long, as long as the Siren’s week-day braid, as whip-like and powerful as it reared up in my throat. My mouth filled with cold, segmented flesh. I could feel him pressing against the inside of my lips, which finally split open. The worm spilled halfway out, half-burrowed, half-emerged. He hung there, his mouth-end, his eye-end bobbing between me and the streaky mirror. I started to choke. The muscles in my abdomen spasmed.         Ever since I was small, I’ve closed my eyes tight before vomiting.

    When I looked down, my friend was curled up in the sink, filling it, his skin pink and slippery again, his segments rolling and shuddering in the air. I wiped my mouth, sagging against the counter a little. He had grown so much. I put out my whole hand. The worm stretched out his neck as if to smell me, nosing against the base of my thumb. He seemed to be drying out already. At least, I could feel the wet spot of his mouth, distinct. I cupped my hands under the faucet, ran a trickle of water, just enough to slick my palms, turned off the water, and carefully ran both my hands over the worm’s exposed skin. I murmured as I worked. “There, good.” For a few seconds, he seemed to relax. 

    Then the worm coiled blindly around my hand. He twisted up my arm, heavy as a wet sheet. At my shoulder he turned to face me with some effort, like a child correcting her posture. His head bobbed inquisitively. His eye-end, his mouth-end tapped against my lips like my grandmother’s white cane on the red letter days when she left the house. When I spoke, my lips brushed against him ticklishly. “What is it my friend?” 

    He nibbled my bottom lip in response. He knocked against my lips like a door. It was hard to fathom such tiny, delicate movements. I laughed and I couldn’t help opening my mouth. 

January 1, 2017

An incredible thing, our whole society trying to swipe the slate clean, together on the same day. We have managed to learn how to do that. 

A few things I am grateful for: 

- the love of a good man, a family, an adopted family, many beautiful friends, the best cat

- the chance my little sister got this year to start a new kind of life

- my work, which includes three manuscripts and a film at the moment

- the opportunities Dylan and I have to learn from each other, accept love from each other, help each other, and try to be better artists and better people--I don't know how I can ever deserve so many chances

- a place to live, material wealth of all kinds, more than I can use

- the revelation that is dancing in public

- a healthy body that seems to have forgiven me for abusing it so badly

A few things I would like:

- more patience, for just about everything

- grace in jealous situations

- unflagging energy and good habits for my work

- closer relationships with my siblings

- closer relationships with my lovers

- the chance to prove myself as a writer and a film maker 

- a driver's license

Happy New Year my friends. The fresh slate is arbitrary, human-made like anything that means anything, only that cosmic, only that real, but let's use it anyway. God knows we need to.

re: feminism

"Feminism has meant many things; many unnecessary things. It can be defined as a position--about justice and dignity and liberty--to which almost all independent women would adhere if they did not fear the retaliation that accompanies a word with such a sulfurous reputation. Or it can be defined as a position easier to disavow or quarrel with, as it was by Banti (and Arendt and Colette). That version of feminism suggests that there is a war against men, which was anathema to such women; that feminism suggests an avowal of strength--and a denial of the difficulty and the cost for women in being strong (above all, the cost in masculine support and affection); more, it proclaims pride in being a woman, it even affirms the superiority of women--all attitudes that felt alien to the many independent women who were proud of their accomplishments and who knew the sacrifices and the compromises they entailed."

                                          - from "A Double Destiny: On Anna Banti's Artemisia" by Susan Sontag

       

December

Simpkin is sleeping on the striped blanket behind me.

Hannah is at her new office job. Leonard Cohen is dead and so is Marianne. The new cafe on 95th Street is open. Trevor's plane is out of the garage. My mother is singing in a choir. BUILD GOD is open in Premiere Pro. Breakfast is leftover cake. Peter is dating a girl. My tattoo is 1/3 complete. Dylan is working on a Telefilm grant. "Cakeland" is published. The bed is made. My grad school applications are in. My coffee is cold. Shawn and Tom are living in Arts Hub with us. Gwen is retired. The men from the Italian Centre are roasting chestnuts. Winter is here. Susie's battery is dead. Overfraught Productions is my sole proprietorship company. My dad is not speaking to me. Dylan's new jeans are made here in Edmonton. Laura is back from Israel. My right ear is pierced again. Holly is a babe. Forgiveness is not disputable. Theo is going to Hawaii for Christmas. The City of Edmonton is keeping LRT stations open overnight so people can sleep in them. Grace is living in Cape Breton. The best movie of the year is Kelly Reichhardt's CERTAIN WOMEN. Dorothy is approved for a mortgage. The Salinas Ice Company is something I have seen. Jealousy is a force to be reckoned with. Eliot is living in his own apartment. Erwin is fine, after a car accident. Trump is president and Trudeau is prime minister. Monk is not lost. Ashleigh is writing a song for me to play violin on. Our apartment is the most beautiful home in the city, with the most beautiful Christmas tree. Sunrise is at 8:45. An Oxford English Dictionary is sitting on my desk. Geoff's mom is a fox. The internet is increasingly a problem. Matthew is living a new life in Victoria. Blanche is a good winter car. Kyla is buying an espresso machine. The new bookshelf is half full. Love is wiser and stronger than it was a year ago.

 

 

addendum

Talking with Ashleigh, I realized that what we should be doing is making climate change the nemesis.

in which winter is late

We still don't have snow in Edmonton, but Sherwood Park has a little.

Winter, which should have arrived a month ago, is nowhere, and though I bought my first proper parka in years, heavy as a homemade sleeping bag and expensive, oh man, with synthetic fur on the hood and everything, I don't need it.  

I miss winter, our familiar adversary. I miss the city-wide, province-wide, Canada-wide sense of commiseration and hilarity as we all try to go about our business in the thick of a blizzard. I miss the way we dig ourselves out heroically, and venture forth to school, the warehouse, the grocery store, swaddled up to our eyes. I miss the way mucus freezes to our mittens. I miss our unheated apartments on 99th St. I imagine I miss waiting, stoic as an ice-fisher, for the overheated bus, but I know I'm not imagining clearly. 

My friend Ashleigh has a twelve-minute scene in her movie of a woman struggling to get her two kids into snowsuits so they can walk to the video store.

Nothing to fight and brag about having fought. Without a well-defined external foe to make ourselves and our small warm homes glowing life-pods in the frozen waste, we're shiftless. We look for minor wars to wage. We wish for some injury or tragedy or close call to get a rise out of us, force us to see our lives as fragile and precious as they are.

We are too lucky, in so many ways, and we don't know how to deal with it. We have not evolved in peacetime. We are confused when things come too easily; we have built up whole religions and a national work ethic against the notion. 

My friend Joe Gurba once argued that Canadians are only comfortable when they believe they are braving the elements, perpetually breaching and taming the frontier. It's an illusion that we've ever truly done this, of course--most of us weren't the first people here, and now it is increasingly foolish it is to look at our limited natural resources and see an endless wilderness. But the feeling persists. 

Essentially, it's a problem with ego. When we look around and see nothing but ourselves and the work of our hands--our urban sprawl, our red tape, our books, our imperfect loves, our refineries, our endless possessions--it all seems small and sad. We need something bigger, more important and more powerful. (This is also where, for many people for as long as we've been around, God comes in.) We need something to define ourselves against.

Trump won't do, exactly, as an adversary, because Trump is a little bit in all of us. He compounds the ego's discomfort. He is not separate, he is no relief. Winter, though? Skin-freezing, brain-shrinking, toe-stinging cold? Frozen water pelting you from the sky? Snow that grows out of the ground and engulfs your car, your house, snow that has to be pushed back and dug through and removed before the roof collapses? What could be more ideal as a nemesis?

Notes From a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition - Wislawa Szymborska

This is a poem Wislawa Szymborska wrote in the 1950s. She knows what's up. She has an idea about what the world is facing this week in the wake of the American election. Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, represents increasingly inhuman and corrupt Stalinism.

 

 

So these are the Himalayas.

Mountains racing to the moon.

The moment of their start recorded

on the startling, ripped canvas of the sky.

Holes punched in the desert of clouds.

Thrust into nothing.

Echo--a white mute.

Quiet.

 

Yeti, down there we've got Wednesday,

bread and alphabets.

Two times two is four.

Roses are red there, 

and violets are blue.

 

Yeti, crime is not all 

we're up to down there.

Yeti, not every sentence there

means death.

 

We've inherited hope--

the gift of forgetting.

You'll see how we give

birth among the ruins.

 

Yeti, we've got Shakespeare there.

Yeti, we play solitaire

and violin. At nightfall,

we turn lights on, Yeti.

 

Up here it's neither moon nor earth.

Tears freeze.

Oh Yeti, semi-moonman,

turn back, think again!

 

I called this to the Yeti

inside four walls of avalanche,

stomping my feet for warmth 

on the everlasting 

snow.

 

translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

 

I first read a few stanzas from "Notes From a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition" when I was a teenager, in a book called How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch. It was probably the first time I encountered and understood a gracious, curious response to an atrocity--a response that left the victim more human than her victimizer. As a writer, I was (and I'm afraid I still am) angry, resentful, prone to despair, and eager to drive pain and injustice home in new ways. I think that for a long time my unacknowledged aim as a writer has been to hurt the reader. I love those acid, stomach-punching last lines. I love viscera. I love saying what no what else is willing to say. I've wanted to hurt the reader exactly as much as I have been hurt. I don't want to do that anymore.

Glynis

I met Glynis when we were both teenagers in Bible quizzing. She lived in Calgary, but we saw each other at quiz meets three times a year. After high school we became pen pals. She just moved to Edmonton to take her master's degree in library and information studies at the U of A. She's come to open apartment a couple of times and I hope she keeps coming. She has great taste in books. She climbs. She seems very self-actualized. She told me to read Vampires in a Lemon Grove by Karen Russell, and I did.