Posted on 3 Comments

particularities

I am not been feeling generous with humans of late. Maybe because I’ve read and signed and shared more petitions than I can count over the last week. Myanmar’s big-oil supported military shooting at citizens, Trans Canada Pipelines & TC Energy’s horribly distorted value systems, the fact that we only protect TEN PERCENT of our incredible boreal forest from loggers, who cut the equivalent of four hockey arenas EVERY DAY, Doug Ford’s bid to get more money for his election by selling the greenbelt to developers, the massive amounts of garbage left by Londoners released from lockdown… when, just when are we all going to grow up out of our collective stupidity?

I’m not calling you stupid, nor me. It’s US, together. WE allow all of this to continue.

There’s a new Canadian news service called The Breach. Entirely people-funded, launching this spring. They are determined to ask good, uncomfortable questions. I gave them money.

There are passionate, knowledgeable, remarkable people who have built grassroots lobby groups, people who understand where the political and financial pressure points are, who are collecting signatures and delivering petitions where they will count. These are the places I’ve signed and shared – my twitter feed, @KeiraMcArthur, is full of opportunities to do the same.

There’s more, but getting this much off my chest has lightened my being enough that I no longer feel like screaming bloody murder at next person who litters in Gage Park.

Thank you for reading through all the spit. The fact that you do really does count for me.

Have you noticed that the world is both smaller and larger in these pandemic times? I’m regularly in conversation with California and South Africa now, along with people from other continents, cultures and belief systems. I can check what the weather is like in Kyoto and Prague, whether it’s raining or snowing at Skara Brae in the Orkneys, and then continue with my chores… garbage out on the rain washed street past the chirping sparrows then respond to a text from LA, then turn the kettle on & after send a quick note to Johannesburg.

I eat a Mexican avocado, a Chilean plum. I wear a merino wool (Australian sheep) sweater made in China, shipped from the US. The gas in my car comes from the ground beneath the middle east, my coffee from Guatemala via the Kicking Horse Pass in BC.

A container ship blocks the Suez for a week, and 400 million dollars per hour in traded goods just… stops. More empty shelves.

Effects and counter effects. I came into this residency to change and deepen my work, which was never gonna happen if I wasn’t willing to change and deepen myself. Luckily a global pandemic, then, which brought with it some hard right turns, then some hard lefts, also some necessary full stops. Much buffeting and dissolving of old ego stories. I am not the person who arrived here in January of 2019.

The works shifts as the world does – how can it not? In purely material terms, working on six and seven foot canvases is no longer practical or sustainable. I have two on the go at the studio and three here in my apartment, but I’ve scrapped all big installation plans for now. Works on paper, which began in 2019 and grew through 2020 into a 2021 series of painting/drawings (Conversation Pieces – see posts with this tag) with crazy-wild shifting grounds – these have become my new pleasure and practice, each one a delight and a surprise. Small, intimate and mid-sized, they fit and shift in the changing light on walls between other things – much more practical.

And playful. I’m putting fruit stickers in some – Chile, Peru, South Africa, used stamps – Spain, Poland, USSR, in others.

Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, Resmaa Menakem, my friend and inspiration Marilyn Struthers and the entire conversation around intersectionality and post colonialism has turned me with slow, steady inevitability toward an exploration of my own indigenous roots in Scotland and Ireland. Back across the ocean I will go, through the commons and the old ways to find out more (when we are able to travel, which I hope will be in 2022). This will, no doubt, change and deepen me some more. Bring it on.

It’s these backdrop pieces that aim me toward a personal archaeology of my ancestors’ land, story, memory.
It feels very much as though they are expressions of an older part of me

Trees and water, water and trees. In 2020 I found myself studying the behaviour of my beloved Georgian Bay, while the world was in lockdown. My cabin there is in a forest, some of which is original growth that anchors the various levels of shore over the past eleven thousand years or so. I love that lake with my soul, and will always return to her to learn and give thanks. The Water Bodies project, and The Tree Story project are both alive and well in me, waiting patiently while I change and deepen enough to make something meaningful that honours the lake and the tree people I know and love.

The red-tailed hawk sails past my window on the spring thermals. I know where her nest is, among the trees on the escarpment cliff at the end of my street. I felt a need in this post to offer a snapshot of the particulars of place, purpose and context to you, a pause to breathe in the way everything connects us one to the other, whether it’s through garbage strewn and picked up, petitions signed and shared, tough questions asked, choices and artwork made.

Watch here and on Instagram, twitter, tumblr, fb and a new YouTube thing (in development now – why not?) for photos and stories from the new work. If you have a piece of wall for a twinkling piece of art capable of sparking a good conversation, there’ll be some easy ways to purchase it from me.

I’d be so honoured.

Posted on Leave a comment

I know so little

We call them bodies, the lakes. Bodies of water. Great and larger lakes, oceans, straights and inland seas are bodies. I’ve amended my understanding of this term through travel in the world in a learned understanding that context is all-important.

The largest lake in Ireland, Lough Neagh, is about one fortieth the size of Georgian Bay, upon whose shores I spent my tween and teenage years (and where my tiny cabin is now). Compared to the other Great Lakes, Georgian Bay is little – just a bay, even though it covers more area than Northern Ireland.

Context is all. All six Great Lakes have been ten minutes or a few hours away by foot or car throughout most of my life. Huron, Ontario, Erie, Michigan, Superior, Georgian Bay. The land I live on and travel through is full of rivers and waterfalls that feed the lakes with groundwater and snowmelt. Water’s pretty high this year, we say to one another, yep, just like the ’80s. Had to raise the dock again. Every one of the locals has a favourite spot on a favourite shoreline; we mark the days with sunsets or sunrises over the lake.

As a kid I believed that the whole world was just like it is here – abundant and generous with water. As an adult I came to understand that my soul and my white female body is forever linked to these enormous freshwater seas we call The Great Lakes, bodies that for 10,000 years and more have had other names. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

The older names sound like the beginning of a long and complex story; full of a kind of wisdom I’ve always longed for: Waaseyaagami-wiikwed, Shining Waters Bay. I begin to learn that story in my middle age, and just how much of a recent anomaly I am within it, me with my white female body.

Yesterday I listened to the long version of the excellent, compassionate and enlightened Krista Tippet’s interview with a man whose name sounds like the beginning of another good story I can learn from: Resmaa Menakem, a trauma therapist from Minneapolis. The interview occurred in the On Being studios just before our pandemic lockdown. I could hear Resmaa observing Krista’s white body cringe as they discussed racism and white supremacy. I could hear the squirm he was seeing in her voice, as she struggled with choice points about what to ask him, how to ask him… for help with what she doesn’t and cannot understand about being black, from her experience in a white woman’s body.

I’m grateful for this interview because this is my struggle too, especially and specifically right now right here. If you’re white, I recommend you give yourself a good hour to listen to it, then another hour to walk through the park with what you’ve just heard.

Good Lord, but it’s well beyond time to pick up the burden of my white person inheritance and feel its’ actual weight. More appropriately, to take the weight off the backs of the BIPOC people who have been carrying it for me all my life. To observe what I have assumed without question, and how this has translated into behaviour through fifty seven years of living in a white body. In a system where to be white is to be supreme and privileged over all other people of colour.

Start there, says Resmaa Menakem. Say it, white-bodied people: White Supremacy. Look straight at what that means, and how you benefit from and support the system. Then stop talking. Just notice what happens in your body. It’s your job to change the system, but not just with patchwork policies, empty slogans, and lists of books you’ve read that prove how enlightened you are. You need to do this from a place of real, embodied understanding.

I know so little, but I learn, daily. Overwhelmed by the news, the full display of blatant callousness, rage and brutality from white people in power. How different that behaviour is from the intense but peaceful protests organized by BLM.

There’s a great deal more for us well-meaning white folk to learn about this long-rotted white supremacist system, a great deal of listening to do. Changing to do, in right action: for a start, my taxes over-fund the police, when they should be funding universal basic income. A start when I ask good but difficult questions, and make my wishes known in the system that has benefited me and my white body while excluding and punishing all other bodies. It’s not activism, it’s being human.

And it’s simple: if I don’t ask the questions and make my wishes known, I support the rotted system.

My story, and every story is valid, but it’s more important to hear the one that came up in my fb feed this morning.

Please read on. If you’re in a white body in a predominantly white neighbourhood, don’t just file it afterward and move on to make another coffee. Give yourself some moments to sit with Kyra’s childhood experience and notice how your body feels. Notice if you’re squirming, like Krista Tippet does in the interview. It’s okay to squirm. That’s how you know something’s wrong.

Ask yourself what you want to do about this.

In a rural population area of 350,000, a mere handful of the locals I grew up with were black. Two Anishnabe reservations were within a 40 minute drive but I remember little to no interaction between first nations people and the white people of Owen Sound. This is changing now, but we still have a long way to go.

I’m grateful to Kyra Nankivell who writes here about what it was like to grow up black in the same place I grew up white:

Kyra Nankivell is with Erick Baptiste.

JtSpeune 5 ato mSn11fsnmurof:rg2l0h eidSueAatdM  · Black in a White Town – SHARE THIS PLEASEFor context, my full name is Emma Kyra Nankivell and I started going by my middle name in grade 10 to “feel more black” among other reasons. I want to share my experiences because I’ve been told that it really helped people recognize their ignorance and try to understand. So here it goes…I’ve always described my experience growing up in Centre Wellington by this simple line, “The first time I saw a black person in school was like grade 9.”Although, I never fully understood my situation until Erick (my bf) looked at my CWDHS 2018 yearbook and saw pages and pages of white kids in every grade. He was just in awe. And honestly I never saw my yearbook like that… That was a “wow” moment. Like holy sh*t I actually grew up in that environment. Obviously I wasn’t an idiot and there was racism but it became so NORMAL to me.Here are some very specific experiences:

1. Finding out my best friend had a confederate flag in her basement
2. Being asked countless times to punch “N****r cards” so people could say the word.
3. My school invited a group from Brampton to perform for black history month and they didn’t even invite me to the assembly. On top of that, everyone was asking me who the group was and why they were at my school. AS IF I KNEW.
4. Getting my hair braided and having almost every TEACHER ask me if I went on vacation.
5. Going to track & field meets in Guelph and actually seeing black people was the first time I felt NORMAL.
6. PEOPLE TOUCHING MY HAIR 24/7 and people asking why I don’t straighten my hair.
7. TAKING INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS AND HAVING CLASS DISCUSSIONS ON ISSUES IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES WAS LIKE ME AGAINST EVERYONE. “Why don’t they just raise minimum wage”
8. Someone drew swatstikas on the bathroom stalls
9. Having a black friend over, walking around Elora and getting 628379191 texts the next day saying “who was that”
10. Countless black jokes that weren’t funny at all. “Hey Emma what sound does a chainsaw make? Run nikkaa-nikkaaa-nikkaaa”
11. Explaining to people what black history month is, then explaining black history
12. BEING TOLD EMMA IS A WHITE NAME. “Seriously your name is Emma??” *confused look*
13. Always being “the only one” or at least feeling like it!!
14. BEING CONFUSED WITH THE ONLY OTHER NON WHITE GIRL IN THE ROOM BY PEOPLE & CUSTOMERS AT WORK HOLYYY. Like no I’m not that person.
15. People assuming the only other black or even just non white person is related to me. Like whattt?¿
16. Never seeing a shred of my culture displayed, understood, spoken about. Only ever talking about Jamaica when “those poor nations” came up.
17. People comparing their skin to mine after a sunny day/week. “Omg I’m almost as tan as you hahahaha”
18. Being told I look “aggressive” with my hair braided
19. “Where are you from” ummm I was born in Guelph “no like where are you actually from?!”
20. I played hockey for 10 years of my life and I can count the number of black people I saw on my FINGERS. It was super discouraging and you best believe that when people “talk sh*t” racism was fuel for the fire. “Monkey” “N***r” “Why r you even playing hockey?” “Do your parents have the money for this?” “Why don’t you go back to Africa”
21. I was nicknamed “Mocha” on one of the teams I played for.
22. WHEN I WORKED AT MCDONALDS IN FERGUS SOMEONE ACTUALLY REFUSED TO LET ME TAKE THEIR ORDER. THEY ASKED FOR A WHITE PERSON. THAT WAS 2017.
23. Girls at my high school asking me to hook them up with my black friends… As if it was something on their bucket list.
24. People trying to guess where I’m from, like it’s some kind of fun game.
25. I actually tried to switch schools after crying to my parents and saying “I hate it here, no one understands me.” I remember going on a tour of the new school and the guidance counsellor asked me my main reason for switching, I said “There’s not enough diversity at my school” and then we spent a couple weeks trying to figure out how to “legitimize” my reason so the board would allow the transfer. CRAZY.

After Ahmaud Arbery was shot while running, I was genuinely afraid to let my bf run in my neighborhood alone. I still am. I get anxious everytime he goes on a run or bike ride by himself… THIS IS NOT JUST AN “AMERICAN PROBLEM” THIS IS VERY VERY REAL IN CANADA. The fact that people are brushing off RACISM as just some American issue is DISGUSTING. WAKE TF UP PEOPLE. I need everyone to reshare this. I know my following is predominantly white people and it’s hard to admit that you’re part of the problem but it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. Y’all are getting tired of hearing that black lives matter, TRY BEING BLACK. I love everyone, idc if ur black, white or purple. But right now we all need to get behind this because I don’t want to raise black children in the society we live in. #blacklivesmatter#sharethis#blackpower#useyourvoice]

Posted on 4 Comments

on isolation

I know people who choose to live in forests – with forests, that is, rather than with humans. I am one of these whenever I am able, though I recognize a balancing urge also, to interact in the world of people, thoughts and ideas. So, internet connection, car, art studio, city streets cloth face masks for me, too.

My ex is perhaps still friends with what seemed to me to be an alarming number of men who have ended up in the eddy of inherited? houses they could not afford to maintain, or had no desire to. Each room filled with stuff piled on top of stuff, the whole house and yard choked with stuff so that they are left with only a corner of the old kitchen to live in. Perhaps a different kind of forest, thick and impassable with once-useful things.

Amazing, these worlds that exist outside of what’s considered acceptable in our wealthy consumer culture: old blankets repurposed as blinds to cover windows, yellowed wallpaper and institution green paint left to peel, rusted coffee tins full of square nails and lost tools on top of old newspapers piled two feet high. Some who live this way have dogs, some have books; they all know things most people haven’t considered.

Others I know live on boats and work in solitary construction jobs, are friends with their faraway daughters who visit occasionally, but regularly. They yearn for Scotland, and home.

Some, widowed, sit in a room at a retirement lodge and practice naming the people in the dresser-top photos. When he turned ninety, one friend of mine told me that being in such a place was like being asleep all the time until someone came to visit. He’d been a musician, passionate in connection and love. As a widower in a care home he existed in a kind of almost-death, waking into life and memory only in the presence of an other.

Through injury or illness, some of us exist in a vegetative state. Non-responsive, but physically stable and alive. Some stay in this state for years then emerge, slowly, achingly into interaction with the world.

Neuroscientist Adrian Owen writes about his research into the this liminal place of being alive and yet not in his 2018 book, Into the Grey Zone. It’s been a good thing to read in these strange times, and I agree with The New Yorker review: “Strangely uplifting…the testimonies of people who have returned from the gray zone evoke the mysteries of consciousness and identity with tremendous power”

I’m wondering if these extremes are what we fear, we who live connected to others through children and jobs, the exchange of goods and thoughtful engagement with community and neighbours. To be alone without external interaction, to forget how and who to be, with others. Fear is a great blocker of insight and greater awareness. In our fear of forgetting, what do we miss? What do we not notice?

Ondaatje’s The English Patient; Trumbo’s Johnny Got his Gun are just two of many stories that have fascinated me – both crafted around disconnection from our senses and our memories. Do we identify memory with Self? I am the person who did and felt these things. I am identified by what and whom I can remember.

What a mystery then, that though he had no memory left, my Dad in his last days was still fully present with me, still communicating, responding, as the person I know.

Swing forward twelve and a half months to 8am on this quiet, wet Monday. I’m in the place I’ve been coming to meet myself every morning for many months now. Here is where, pre-dawn, I gather my thoughts with dreams from the night before and put them on the table in front of the third-floor, east-facing window.

As the light seeps slowly into the world so my thoughts and rememberings return to me in different shapes, intertwined. If I’m still enough, If I keep my willful, active self at bay, I can give them form in some appropriate language – words, or pictures, or sounds. I think this morning it will be my cello I go to, to play them through and out.

6:30am, Monday May 18, 2020, upstairs with Mia the cat in the deep rain morning. I dreamed of garbage piled high in the streets, coated with clusterflies. Children were walking over this on their way to school…

We are afraid to be alone with ourselves, maybe. To be unwitnessed by another human is to be without an important anchor of external self-reference. He thinks I’m funny, she loves my smile, they like my work…. I feel permanently fragile in the loss of these warm things. I miss the quickness of laughter, the lift of an eyebrow, the intensity of a lean-forward response. I miss body warmth and touch; I miss the complexity and resonance of in-person humanness.

#StayHome is a difficult gift, but a gift nonetheless. The isolation challenges me to be fully here, by gum, without worry or anxiety about how important I am, what I do in the world, how others might respond to me, what I’ll do next. I have no idea about any of these things, after all, nor control over which way the world shifts, since what I remember the world to be is no longer what it is. I can only bear witness, show up into my creative space, respond in whatever way feels right, and stay as open as possible to change.

In these morning moments with the table and the dawn I feel more like dad seemed in his last days – absent to my measured, measuring self, maybe, but entirely and fully present to wonder. Curious.

There, a breeze in the sway of the birch, heavy with catkins. Leaves pushing open at the tops of the big trees. A busy chatter of sparrows and starlings. The through-wet-glass blur of the house across the street.

A seagull angles southward.