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 snot 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--we 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.

October

We have a Friendsgiving feast that begins at 2 in the afternoon and concludes with singing and guitars at 3 in the morning, approximately twelve bottles of wine and several pies having been consumed by maybe twenty-five people in the interim. I have never been surrounded by such good people, or so happy at a party. 

Andy Shauf plays at The Needle downtown and I learn how difficult and nerve-wracking it is to make the first move re: putting your arm around a girl. 

Dylan and I drive to California with more IMAX film to be developed. I actually get to drive part of the way. At a gas station in Nevada I get an email saying that the Edmonton Arts Council is approving my grant request for money to finish my short story collection, Modular. I squeal and buy a box of Wheat Thins, the most immediate available form of celebration.

In LA we see Kelly Reichhardt's new film, Certain Women (when I get home I put the book of short stories it's based on, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy on hold at the library). We eat as many tacos as possible and drink as much juice as possible. We drive home up the coast and see the ornate row houses in San Francisco, where we also walk through Golden Gate Park, which smells like cinnamon, and eat a legendary cheese bun. We sleep in the back of Ingrid the Mazda 3 in a redwood forest.

We make a pilgrimage to Cannery Row in Monterey. I haven't read the book yet, but after Dylan gives me the summary, I'm able to participate in his religious experience when we discover that Doc's lab is still there, untouched, and so are a few small houses, a warehouse, some concrete ruins on the beach. Then we go to Salinas, to the John Steinbeck interpretive centre, and I blow two hundred dollars of grant money on two mugs for us and one for Laura, a new copy of Sweet Thursday for Ashleigh, a collection of letters, a biography, the journal from the writing of The Grapes of Wrath. I see a tower that says Salinas Ice Company, and also people harvesting cabbages in the fields outside the city.

We see a few Trump signs.

We see strippers in Portland. I experience what must be the female analogue to penis envy; I'm so overwhelmed by the beauty and confidence and athleticism of the women dancing that I start to panic. If they are women, then what am I? Why am I jealous of Dylan, but not turned on? What am I supposed to do in this scenario invented for men?

We go to Whole Foods before we leave for Vancouver the next morning and are awestruck. I buy a yellow hat and Icelandic yogurt. I wonder if Portland is real, or if it has an ugly underbelly. In Vancouver we visit Dylan's cousins and finally we come home.

While we're in America I write a horror story for Sprudge. They're commissioning original Halloween fiction, which I think is a v encouraging and exciting thing for a trade publication to be doing. 

Matthew announces he's put his furniture in storage, quit his job, and is moving to Victoria. His last open apartment is a good one. He reads from Kafka's The Trial and Les Mis. Hannah reads from Frankenstein. Elisia reads from Claudia Rankine's Citizen. I read my new story, which is called "The Siren and the Worm." 

I make a list of schools to apply to and ask my professors to write me reference letters.

After he insists for two years that he doesn't understand poetry, Dylan starts writing incredible poems. We write poems back and forth to each other. One of mine goes

 

on applying to MFA programs

 

I am stupid to apply to American schools

I am stupid to open our home

to this certain failure

 

to this slim chance

to adopt standards we've always rejected

that we try not to understand

 

Dylan's are better.

Back at the Empress, I wear a fur hat while I'm serving and tell the old men that I'm a Russian spy. On the 31st, we skip Halloween entirely. Now it's November and it's still not cold yet. Edmonton seems uglier and smaller than usual after California, but also honest in all its roughness, its squalor and bad architecture and bad transit. Right now we have both snow and green leaves, and flowers inside.

anniversary

The winter light

makes everything look like a photo on high-contrast film stock.

It is only two years that you have been cosmically aligned,

 

at least on the human scale, 

which is neither large nor very small and

therefore physically imprecise,

even inconsequential, though these things

have enough consequence for the likes of us.

 

 

The world was carrying on. You were at home,

circling something massive and invisible,

and like the classic observer, you could not tell

whether you had passed the point of no return. 

You were sitting in a cafe, saying

the coy, earnest things girls say

when they are shopping out their vulnerability.

You were standing in an alley, beside a cemetery,

in an apartment you recognized from the movies.

 

The stream of events that brought you so far

flowed past you and slunk down the stairs.

 

Still in your black underwear you stepped 

across the landing. 

The kitchen window showed an imprint of the same illustration

etched on a copper plate on the door across the hall.  

The man with the camera. 

  

 

You look up and the sentence in the book

you are reading appears on the wall.

You have arrived at the correct place and time, 

carrying the correct book. 

The day you run out of money is the day

you get a cheque in the mail.  

You never send a grocery list. Your needs

for toothpaste and juice are telepathically

anticipated. The love you were sick for

is the health that lets you do other things.

The future you saw simply happens, no calamities,

and fate is not your jealous mother,

fate is only call and response. 

 

how to make a birthday cake

So I wake up at an almost-reasonable time and start making Hannah a birthday cake for everyone to eat at open apartment this afternoon.

Halfway through the recipe, I realize we have maybe 1/2 a cup of white flour. No problem, I think. Hannah will have some! We’re past that awkward stage in any friendship where me asking her to donate flour for her own birthday cake would be weird and uncomfortable. I call Hannah. She says she and Josh are broke and she only has a 1/4 cup. The recipe calls for 2 cups. I put on Dylan's shoes and run downstairs to the bakery, hoping they’ll have a small, overpriced package of white flour. At first I think I’m out of luck. Obviously they have corn and tapioca flour, but nothing that looks like wheat. Then I see a bag with a blue and white label in Portuguese, which I’m pretty sure contains "self-raising" flour. The ingredients are wheat and “rising agent.” The label also announces this product is EMPREGO FERMENTO, which makes me a bit concerned. I buy it anyway, because I have a bowl with butter and eggs and sugar and vanilla already in it sitting on the counter, and tell myself that the recipe I’m using comes from a 1980s ladies auxiliary fund cookbook. It’s probably designed for self-raising flour—bleached self-raising flour even. I run back across the street, meet Cynthia at the door and invite her to open apartment, run upstairs, and finish mixing up the batter. I put the cakes in the oven. I take the cakes out of the oven. They’ve risen in an uneven, wave-like pattern, each cake’s topology an interesting, dynamic arrangement of dips and swells, but they’ve definitely risen. They’re chocolate cakes. Assuming they come out of their pans intact, I’m going to smooth them out by covering them with marmalade and whipped cream with anise in it. Maybe candles. 

Peter

I love this face. 

Peter is my little brother and steadfast gym buddy/swole mate. He's 18 and he just graduated high school. He draws and writes and makes music as Wytch Code. He is a wise, kind, and perceptive human, and sometimes I am so proud of him I could burst. We took these pictures yesterday outside a food truck downtown. As soon as I put away my camera we sat down on the sidewalk in front of a huge pickup truck that three elderly ladies were nonplussed to find us camped out beside when they stepped delicately past the two of us demolishing sandwiches to get into their vehicle.

September

I shuffle plants between pots, bringing in the thyme and mint from the deck, uprooting the ragged tomato plants, and transplanting the crown of thorns into a big pottery planter, a planter that looks like it belongs outdoors and brings a vague atmosphere of the greenhouse or solarium into our bedroom. I have been places where people live in the liminal space between outdoors and indoors--the porches of Los Angeles with their couches, the mud rooms of the prairies. In urban Alberta, liminal space is not a thing, except for the bar patios, which I've already practically written odes to. We are adamantly in or out (mostly in), either blasted by snow or blasted by central heat. No wonder we get sick every winter.

It's still warm though. I pickle some hot peppers and use up half our mason jars. I buy a green wool jacket and a handknitted cardigan at a vintage pop-up sale that happens one Saturday at The Empress. Dylan brings me flowers we don't know the names of. We are doing well. I make elk sausage, potato salad, and walnut-plum cake for dinner before Dylan leaves for Pop Montreal and we eat on the deck. The sunlight coming into the bedroom/study where my desk is is warm on my typing hands. I'm trying to write 500 words every day. I have a calendar page printed off the internet taped to my wall, and I colour in the squares for the days I meet the quota. I just finished the first draft of a story called "Mopsy" and I'm working on a new one called "Sea of Mud" right now. It desperately needs a better title. I just finished On Writing by Stephen King and I'm now determined to aim for prolificacy. I don't think my work has ever benefitted from my writing slowly (read: less). I'm also determined and excited to read a Stephen King novel ASAP.

I notice that I am less lonely when I am reading and writing a lot. 

All but one or two of the submissions I sent out last winter have come back to me. I know I need to send out another batch, but lately rejection notices make me angry more than anything else. Last week the fiction editor at The Walrus (the closest thing Canada has to The New Yorker) quit because he was told not to publish a story with the words 'crap' and 'orgasm' in it. This is not the literary environment I want to participate in, and they don't seem to like me much either. (Incidentally, any qualms I had about ruining ill-defined writerly opportunities by making 'compersion' public now seem utterly inconsequential. Apparently most of my prose is already unpublishable.)

Anyway. September's more than half over. I've got the next week to myself and I feel that bookish hibernation urge, which is a relief from the nagging desire to be on a bike all day every day during the summer. I have two new boxes of tea. I hope you're well.

OPEN HOUSE // finished

OPEN HOUSE is finished. I showed it at open apartment on Sunday, after readings from Franny and Zooey, The Slumbering Wasp (Liam's new book of poems and essays), and A Man Called Thursday, and before a reading from The Killers in the Crowd, which is an urban fantasy web novel by Dylan's brother Eliot. Geoff brought flowers and banana bread and Kaylin brought blueberry scones. But for those of you who couldn't be there, OPEN HOUSE has found a home on the good old internet. 

This film was written by Kyle Hubbard, who writes lots of other excellent stuff. 

Blue ReVue

A couple of weeks ago, Dylan, Theo, and I made a film for Edmonton's annual Blue ReVue film festival, which is a one-night-only showcase and competition of amateur pornography run by Vue Weekly, the local independent newspaper.

I feel lucky that something like this exists in Edmonton where it's not only the work ethic that's puritanical. (Someone came into Empress the other night from out of town and asked me where to find the gay bars. I had to tell them there's only one.) But the Blue ReVue is surprisingly popular. The Metro is usually packed, and first place takes a respectable $1000 prize. At the end of the night, they destroy the hard copies so so far no one has found themselves leaked onto the internet.

I'm more proud of this film than of any other film I've been involved in. When we were talking about how to approach a genre that a lot of people reduce to parody, I realized that we had to be willing to try to make it beautiful. We couldn't succumb to the implicit combination of shame and brashness that makes so much porn intolerable. We made sure the lighting was nice. Dylan used his new camera. We filmed each other eating dinner (quinoa, beet greens, eggs, wine, cake from Theo's work). We recorded two hours of conversation about writing and Seinfeld and art criticism and previous sexual experiences and our favourite sounds. We filmed each other doing things we normally do. We called the finished short 'compersion'It's beautiful and real and I want people to see it.

The Blue ReVue is happening on September 14 at 7 pm at the Metro Cinema. There's also going to be a burlesque show. You can buy tickets here.

BUILD GOD // shoot

So finally we went to Caronport to shoot BUILD GOD. The seven of us, five adults and two kids, plus Blanche and Susie, all drove eight hours south-east, then swung west at Moose Jaw and I found myself at twenty-five driving a pickup truck back into my childhood hometown. Dylan and I went a day early to dress sets, find places for all of us to sleep, buy groceries, and generally scope out the scene. Dylan wore a cowboy hat, moving more and more ambiguously back and forth over the line between costume and working uniform the farther out of the city we drove. On the one hand, cowboy hats are really more of an Alberta (rancher) than Saskatchewan (farmer) thing; on the other hand, irony in general becomes less recognized and appreciated once you leave the city. And Dylan was wearing the hat because outdoor film shoots are notorious opportunities to get sunburned. 

In Caronport, we rented two rooms in one of the Briercrest Bible College dorm buildings. We went and visited Carla--my old babysitter--who'd offered back in July to let us shoot in her trailer, and I think promptly mortified her by ignoring her beautifully decorated living room and dressing her storage room as an extremely cluttered, even neglected, child's bedroom. The rest of the cast and crew, still on the road, got a flat tire outside Lloydminster, which Dylan (always the producer) charmed the tire shop in Lloyd into fixing before the end of the day. We explored the drainage ponds across the highway, where I was envisioning a sunrise scene. The mosquitos were as horrific as they can only be in Saskatchewan, and we kept encountering hoards of them all week (basically whenever we went to shoot any kind of windswept, romantic, horizon-heavy, trailing-through-the-wheat-and-clover type scenario).

When the others (Alley-oop and August the actors, Ashleigh their endlessly forbearing mother, Jenna my assistant director, Tom who had supplied most of our equipment and was also manning a camera) arrived, we set up house between the two dorm rooms. Ashleigh and the kids had the one with the working fridge and the other bedroom set we'd created in the dorm livingroom; the rest of us slept on couches and bare mattresses in the other suite, where we also cooked and played Bananagrams until the small hours and stored the equipment. The dorms were lit with exactly three dreadful fluorescent tube lights each, so on the first night we set up the Arri lights Dylan had insisted on bringing, despite my protests, covered with some nice orange gels. (I thought I wanted a primitive, Dogma 95 ish set, without lights to slow us down or make anything look too idyllic. We used the lights in almost every shot. This is going to be a beautiful movie.)

The shoot itself was complicated. I'd subbed in August to play the part of Becky after my other actor cancelled the day before we had to leave. August changed the dynamic between the two characters--and the dynamic on set--drastically. We had to set up his scenes so that they would work if we just let August run in and do his thing. He brought an energy and level of pathos, violence, and comedy I probably couldn't have scripted if I tried, but trying to capture it all meant we couldn't count on much else. 

I almost expected to fall apart at some point. I've been a director, I guess, on all the film projects I've worked on since last summer and let's just say it's a learning experience I value more than it is a role that comes naturally to me. But I didn't fall apart. 

Sometime during the second day of the shoot, it struck me that there were six other people here in this tiny village with me, six people who'd driven hundreds of kilometres and donated a week of their time in order to work on my project. Doubtless, everyone had their own reasons for being there, and a movie is never one person's sole creation. Nevertheless. They were all there to help me do something that two years ago even I didn't think I could do. Living all piled together as we were, they weren't only running sound and setting up lights and hauling gear and battling mosquitoes and consulting on framing and composition, they were also cooking communal meals and washing dishes and taking out the garbage and making sure everyone was getting along. And I didn't have to ask them to do any of it. I found myself able to take naps when I needed to, and go to bed early, and still there was food on the table, the footage and sound files appeared on my hard drive, the kids were entertained. Life was good. Ally-oop kept up a steady stream of ethical dilemmas from his Book of Questions. August swore like a rig pig. Jenna went swimming in Moose Jaw. Tom seemed to survive on Tricuits. Dylan and Ashleigh talked about David Foster Wallace. When I got sick on the third day, I made ginger tea for everyone, which we dosed surreptitiously with bourbon (as far as I know, Caronport is still, officially, a dry town; but they'll have to dispose of the beer cans we forgot under the sink). I woke up from a nap to find Dylan and Jenna making spaghetti, Tom playing with the kids, and thought, This is what it must be like to have a wife. 

I had brought A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf along with me. I didn't get much of a chance to read while we were in Saskatchewan, but when we got home, I was still sick and I finished the book in a day. Woolf is concerned with the conditions under which women have written and can write fiction (read: produce art), and the combination of practical and psychological support that I experienced on the shoot is, according to Woolf writing in 1928, something that women have almost never in the history of the world been privy to.

Woolf mentions two factors that come into play: the self esteem (arrogance, really) necessary to create good art or do almost anything of consequence, and the logistical freedom historically enjoyed to a much greater extent by men.

On self-esteem, and how it has historically been gendered: "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. The glories of all our wars would be unknown. We should still be scratching the outlines of deer on the remains of mutton bones or bartering flints for sheep skins or whatever simple ornament took our unsophisticated taste. Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never have existed. The Tsar and the Kaiser would never have worn crowns or lost them. Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action . . . That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men." 

On practical freedoms: "First there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby is born. Then there are three or four months spent in feeding the baby. After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby. You cannot, it seems, let children run about in the streets . . . People say, too, that human nature takes its shape in the years between one and five. If Mrs. Seton, I said, had been making money, what sort of memories would you have had of games and quarrels? What would you have known of Scotland, and its fine air and cakes and the rest of it? But it is useless to ask these questions, because you would never have come into existence at all . . . It is only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs. Seton has had a penny of her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband's property--a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in keeping Mrs. Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange. Every penny I earn, they may have said, will be taken from me and disposed of according to my husband's wisdom--perhaps to found a scholarship or to endow a fellowship in Balliol or Kings, so that to earn money, even if I could earn money, is not a matter that interests me very greatly."

It might seem far-fetched to address passages like these so directly to my own experience last week, but I think there is a connection to be made here. Bringing these people, all of them my friends, to Caronport to work on my short film was the culmination of a personal creative project in the making for more than two years already. Regardless of my own feelings re: my leadership qualities, in many important senses I was both leader and catalyst in this enterprise, and though the project was shaped by everyone involved in it, I was the reason they were all involved in the first place. The self-esteem (arrogance) I derived from this position had a profound effect on my ability to perform while we were on the shoot. If I hadn't had a whole team of people believing in me and the project, and backing up that belief by taking initiative and interest in their own areas of specialty, managing very gracefully to follow my (shaky) lead all the while picking up my slack, I wouldn't have lasted a day. As a woman, as a person, as an artist, I have never been in this position before--never had the privilege of so many flattering, encouraging, bolstering mirrors surrounding me while I worked.

I also benefited enormously from our communal, familial living arrangements. The constant presence of people, the mixture of children and adults, the shared responsibility for practical and psychological management (making meals, making sure everyone's various needs were met) made for a rejuvenating, ultimately relaxing environment (in spite of the stress of trying to avoid Wet Willies). Managing a living environment and taking care of people (especially children, but also especially husbands) has historically been a woman's job. Finding that this responsibility was not falling squarely on my shoulders was a huge surprise, and a huge relief. There's no way I could have focussed both on directing even this very small production while simultaneously keeping track of a meal plan for seven people. As it was, Dylan did that, and acted as director of photography to boot. 

Finally, none of us would have been in Caronport last week if it wasn't for the grant money I had been awarded, that I was using to pay everybody (shoutout here to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts). Woolf is famous for prescribing women writers rooms of their own, but in her book she always follows up with the need for women to earn or otherwise secure "five hundred a year" i.e. enough money to live and work on. 

So the movie is shot, and I have a beast of an editing job ahead of me. I plan to let the footage chill and my brain recalibrate for a couple of months, then get to editing with fresh eyes sometime before Christmas. In the meantime, I have another film to finish, stories to write and revise, a bar to work at, books to read. I just started Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner, about the history of southern Saskatchewan, and Both Flesh and Not by David Foster Wallace.

Back home, the apartment is too empty and quiet. I think I am done with living alone; I want to live with a group of people, a pack of kids, a family I guess. The idea of a family seems more open and possible and creative-work enabling than before. 

some romantic ideas, with endnotes

The reason I appreciate non-monogamy so much is that it is, for me, protection against the airlessness and inertia of a couple passing their own limited resources back and forth, using them up like a shared breath. [1] It is protection from that.

And it is the excitement and risk of seeing your partner invigorated by someone else and trying to be humble enough to accept the benefit to both (all) of you. It's the excitement of knowing your partner is someone someone else wants to fuck and talk about movies with. [2] 

It's realizing the wholeness/complexity of your partner by placing yourself within the ranks of their lovers, people sometimes confoundingly different from you and from each other, all people your partner loves [3]. 

It's locating your ego within yourself, not your partner. 

It is meeting someone for the first time, knowing that your partner has slept with them and feeling immediately close to them for that reason. [4] It's becoming friends with the women who scared you. It is bringing new blood into the family.

It's watching your partner fuck someone else [5], feeling lucky for the number of times you've been the one whose hips they're grabbing, whose hair they're pulling back. It's watching your partner make out with a person you introduced them to with a look of joy and surprise on their face.

It's allowing someone else to be in love with you, even when your partner is not. It is allowing friendships to become sources of oxytocin--affectionate, profound, and erotic in a way that isn't allowed these days. [6]

It's allowing your partner to drive across the continent, knowing part of it is the allure of never-met women, part of it is being free from you, part of it is the freedom to be the sole interpreter of their own experiences, part of it is the subjective, censored, poetic version you get in letters.

It is allowing your partner to have desires unmediated by affection for you, by your presence. [7]

It's locating your ego, distributed [8] across all your relationships, to your surprise not just a monolith hulking in the space between you and your partner.


1 - Now that that beautiful statement is out of the way, perhaps we can come up with a better term for clumsy 'non-monogamy,' perhaps just 'life.' Hardly anyone manages to have sex with exactly one person anyway. 

2 - Hot.

3 - or at least likes

4 -Intimacy w/o jealousy is transitive, I think.

5 - The internet suggests to me that this is a relatable scenario, at least in the imagination.

6 - It's true that almost everything does, after all, lead to sex.

7 - It is protection against that kind of loneliness when you can only be who your partner wants to see. They can see other people. 

8 - with slightly different faces and bodies

 

On Being Non-Monogamous in Alberta While the Price of Oil Is Going to Hell

I live in Edmonton, Alberta. The Gateway to the North. Oil City. Everything here is built on oil and gas money—a situation that makes me by turns proud, sad, frustrated, and angry. My left-leaning sentiments (which I could over-simplify as anti-capitalist) come along with a certain working-class pride that sometimes makes even a vicarious participation in the industry exhilarating. I am at all times implicated in a system of capitalist consumerism which is ecologically unsustainable and seems to dilute culture and relationships—a system which replaces a human dependence on art, experience, and interpersonal interaction with a dependence on money and possessions.  

But I am beginning to think that the most eloquent statement I could be making on the economy is already manifest in my sex life.

    My partner and I are openly, actively non-monogamous. I’m a writer and he’s a filmmaker. We live with our cat Simpkin on 118th Ave, a veritable bakery district in the middle of the city where we can easily walk to the grocery store, the calzone place, the library. Our close friends live in the apartment below ours, and Dylan's cinematographer is moving in down the hall. We share meals, a vehicle, and a bedroom with each other, but often with other people as well—sometimes lovers, sometimes just friends. We're freelancers in our mid-twenties; by Albertan standards, we're poor (though there are many people in our neighbourhood subsisting off of much less). The amount of money I make is laughable to many of my peers; at the same time, Alberta has a poverty problem out of proportion with its overall wealth. Like many millennials, we depend heavily on a network of friends for everything from the use of an electric drill to help with website design. Dylan uses his truck for hauling film equipment, but he probably uses it more to move everyone's furniture. When Dylan or I want the apartment to ourselves, the other one has to go sleep on someone else's couch—or bed.

    This is not the way the so-called Albertan lifestyle works. I can generalize about interdependent groups of “millennials,” but I'm only referring to a small subset of the young adults in Alberta, the ones I know from university arts programs and house shows. Even since the price of oil dropped a few months ago, it's more common here for twenty-somethings to be working up north on the rigs or in the bars in Fort McMurray, earning more in a couple of months than I do in a year. 

    I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that traditional heterosexual monogamy is the only acceptable basis for a forming a relationship or a household in this culture.

    People are likely to tell you they’re up north for three years—or five years or seven years—just as much time as they need to save up the money to buy a new house in one of Edmonton or Calgary’s vast suburbs. The Albertan dream is to work as long and hard as necessary to attain self-sufficiency. These identical houses with four-car garages become physical manifestations of security, havens in which to raise a family, man’s home as his castle. And who can blame anyone who regularly works a dangerous job for two or three weeks straight, who’s being paid accordingly, who can afford it? Life is hard. Wouldn’t anyone want a home to come back to, a partner who’s not going to have taken up with someone else during those long stretches away?

    True, this dream makes less sense when you’re interested in maintaining a semi-permeable household and meeting new people to have sex with. These houses on the ragged outskirts of the city necessitate a certain level of consumerism just by their isolation from amenities and centres of community. You can't walk for groceries if you live in Terwilligar, but you can definitely park a couple of SUVs and a boat. I can't help but wonder if it's loneliness and insecurity more than anything that's actually fuelling this economy. Dylan was on a shoot recently in one of these suburban homes. He came home and told me about the giant calendar on the kitchen wall on which the seven-year old in the family was counting down the days until her dad got home. 

    I realize it's audacious to suggest that commitment to ideal monogamy is directly correlated with consumerism and the perpetuation of a capitalist economy. In my own city, however, I see oil money being earned in order to establish discrete, traditional, single-family households, I see the loneliness and isolation that result, and I see the excessive consumerism used to combat this loneliness and all the while maintain self-sufficiency. 

    In monogamous relationships (including previous monogamous relationships I've been in), the threat of cheating is potent enough to inhibit the kinds of interactions Dylan and I have with other people, even though not all of our relationships are sexual ones. Many couples do not feel they can afford to entertain the possibility that close platonic friendship or neighbourly collaboration might lead to any level of physical intimacy, and I think that a fear of cheating often leads to a kind of emotional isolation that I see mirrored in the physical isolation of living in a big house on the edge of the city.

    It's too easy to limit monogamy to a simple question of limiting sexual interactions. There's a reason why every house on a suburban crescent has its own lawn mower, and it's not because everyone needs to mow their lawns at the same time. The individualism promoted by our economy also reproduces itself in our relationships, in particular in our romantic/marital ones; the jealousy and protectiveness that a fear of cheating produces often makes the alternative small-scale communal sharing economies impossible. Once the threat of cheating is removed, it's not only the idea that one lawnmower could be shared amongst several households that becomes plausible. In my experience, non-monogamous partners who have their own friends, who are not accountable for every moment spent with people other than their primary partner, do not need to feel the same protectionism over the practical intimacy of household-sharing (carpooling, communal maintenance, shared meals, distributed parenting duties that might limit the need for expensive daycare). 

    We had an unseasonably—a freakishly—an apocalyptically warm winter here. There has been much talk about the future of the planet versus the future of oil. It's not a hypothetical question. With the drop in the price of oil, capitalism in Alberta is floundering (again). People have lost their jobs, their houses. The suicide rate is up. No one knows what to do; everything from construction to arts funding has been affected. Effective community-building seems like the best antidote to excessive consumerism and dependence on the work/life imbalances that fuel corrupt capitalism—and strong community is something that many (I would even argue most) people in Alberta do not have. The Albertan economy, which facilitates (and is facilitated by) discrete, monogamous, single-family households, does not facilitate measures to alleviate the isolation that families living in this situation experience. For example, while shared child-raising, networks of emotional intimacy, and inter-household dependence would make sense in a culture where one parent is away for weeks at a time, Albertan culture does not accommodate these practices. 

    I know many people who practice monogamy lovingly and well, as a considered choice, and I do not wish to discredit them at all. But I don't think that monogamy as a norm produces strong communities or stable societies, as has often been assumed. On the contrary, it seems to put up barriers between people, cutting them off from each other and making them more and more dependent on material wealth, more and more at the mercy of a corrupt and unstable system. I'm convinced that moving toward a sustainable future will need to involve not merely a turn to renewable sources of energy, but a simultaneous turn to alternative kinds of families, households, and relationships. 

 

I wrote this for the GUTS magazine blog, back in March, on the subject of 'Futures'. You can find their post here.

 

Sam

This is my brother Sam. He plays the most hilarious British villains imaginable in the murder mystery films he makes with Grace and Eva. He has incredible hair. He can make a weapon out of anything. I moved out when he was five and I wish I knew him better. 

dog days

I make a batch of waffle batter and it lasts me for a week of breakfasts.  It storms every day. Hannah and I go to the pool.

Our livingroom window looks down onto the porch steps of the church across the alley. St. Faith's Anglican, where I went with my family until I stopped going to church when I was fifteen. The past two mornings, a woman in her forties has been sitting there, crying and screaming and cursing someone. She's tall, with short, professionally-coloured hair, long legs, bracelets, earrings, and a big belly. She's not talking into a phone. She's wailing and screaming herself hoarse with rage. Sometimes she gets quiet and sits in the sun for a few minutes, then she starts up again. She's unselfconscious about pausing mid-cry to light a cigarette. She picks up where she left off. She says she won't be made a fool of, that you can go fuck yourself, that you're a fucking liar and she's sick of it. At intervals she lifts up her shirt to scratch her stomach. Yesterday around 4, she finally stood up, put on a long coat even though it was blazing hot, and walked off down the sidewalk. This morning she's back. I haven's seen her eat anything. 

I get a job at the bar that's kept me sane two summers running. I've written poems there, been on countless dates there, gotten drunk alone there, read most of Infinite Jest there. I've got 100 pages to go. I start tonight. 

I finish my first big book-editing project, and gosh I'm proud of the finished product. I listen to Amanda Bergman's new record about twenty times and cry. 

Hannah and I start designing a new chapbook together. Our main sources of inspiration are paperbacks printed in the 70s and 80s, a copy of Cinema Scope, and a box of peppermint Nutratea. Flat, saturated colours, black and white on colour, right angles, slab-serif fonts. I'm relieved that Hannah picks up on what I have no words to describe when I present her with the collection of print material and say I want our book to look like "this." 

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

 

Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June's long days,

and wild strawberries, drops of rose wine.

The nettles that methodically overgrow

the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

You must praise the mutilated world.

You watched the stylish yachts and ships;

one of them had a long trip ahead of it,

while salty oblivion awaited others.

You've seen the refugees going nowhere,

you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.

You should praise the mutilated world.

Remember the moments when we were together

in a white room and the curtain fluttered.

Return in thought to the concert where music flared.

You gathered acorns in the park in autumn 

and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.

Praise the mutilated world

and the grey feather a thrush lost,

and the gentle light that strays and vanishes

and returns.

 

 

- Adam Zagajewski

 

 

BUILD GOD // place

Laura and I were in Saskatchewan partly so that I could go back to Caronport and find a house where we can shoot my film in August. I went door to door up and down Spruce St, the last street in the town, the street where trailers back onto the village cemetery and then onto fields. I told people I was from Edmonton but I used to live in number 87, just down there, could I possibly come back and film in their home? I'd forgotten what it's like to be an outsider in a town so small. I told one woman about my partner and she assumed I was a lesbian and immediately became unkind to me. I told another woman that this was my first real movie project and that it was, among other things, about a conflicted relationship with Christianity, and she said she'd love to talk over coffee and would we need any meals while we were on the shoot?

This is how I tried to explain the movie in the grant application I wrote for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts:

Set in one of the small Bible-college towns scattered across the prairies, Build God explores how a vaguely religious impulse manifests in a child caught, simultaneously, within the void of the prairie, and the airtight belief of an evangelical community which denies the reality of this void. How can a child find concrete, comprehensible meaning in such a situation? If, as that child has been told, God is “up there”—the only agent in a terrifying expanse of space—it seems to be up to the individual to fill in the blanks and try to understand his immediate world through significant actions. Josiah tests the bounds of his own agency, his effect on the environment and its effect on him, the ways in which he can impose on others and they in turn infringe on him. Under a seemingly limitless sky, what are the limits?

Josiah’s story is based heavily on my childhood experiences, and my interest in making it stems from a desire to unpack the interactions between religion, community, the landscape, and the individual which have been formative in my own life and which are so particular to this part of Canada. At the same time, I think that Josiah's disconcerting activities recall universal elements of human childhood—which is not nearly as simplistic or innocent as many people prefer to remember. I can't think of a place where the darker aspects of childhood are more apparent than the setting of Build God: a dirt-poor village set down in the middle of a field, where the church has catalyzed a sense of mysticism and where in the summers there is literally nothing to do.