The Queen suggests…

The first few hours of the year 2020 are dressed with finely sifted snow. No hollering or screeching of tires, just the old trees rumbling peacefully in Gage Park. Some fireworks to the northwest begin at 11:55 and continue for fifteen minutes. I sense a breathing out in the world, like a photographer does, after taking a shot that requires patience and utter stillness.

2010 to 2019. Quite a decade.

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Houses. Ten years ago I lived in a house I’d spent five years building with my husband. Three years later I walked away from both – a good move. I will forever miss the trees there, and the walls I built with my parents but to stay would have been unthinkable.

I lived in four beloved places in that decade after I left the house with the trees. Released two of them, built a tiny, sacred one that will anchor my soul for lifetimes to come. It’s a seven-generation kind of place. Has a heartbeat.

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Cars. Chelsey the Tercel, Sam the 20-year-old red Impreza. Katie the silver Fit, and now Indigo Thomas, just cleaned inside and out by my family, in time for Christmas. All cars loved, two of them grieved like old friends when they passed on – Sam developed a hole in his gas tank, but for two weeks after I kept driving him anyway. The unbelievable cost in gas was necessary in my process of letting him go.

Music… a decade of cello – teaching, playing, cajoling, gigging, laughing, snorting & cursing (happily) at tricky bits. No regrets there, but I did eventually injure my bow arm and now must pay attention and play differently. My old friend  – (now ninety) with whom I bonded when I was sixteen – came back into my life. He sits across from me now like a strong anchor in stormy seas. Not an instrument, really. More like my grandfather whale.

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A great deal of learning and discovery about the capacity and stretch of my own minds (heart, brain and gut). Their limitations, too. Funny how doing a Masters in Community Music extends my awareness and insight into so many things that I’d once thought were not related to either community or music. Like writing. Painting. Or just …art, in the world. For and about people of all species, for and about provocative relations with the world.

Family. Our home was packed up, distributed and sold; my dad passed too after a slow battle with dementia, having mostly made his peace with humility by the time he chose to go. I read in his chair now, my book is lit by his lamp. I hear him every time the train passes my house. Ten months before the decade’s end I moved into a place five minutes by foot from the house where he lived between his ages of nine and twenty-five. Up the street from the stadium where the Tiger Cats won every home game last season. In a way that makes sense to me, I know they did this for Dad.

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Briar Hill was built in 1867 by colonial scots stonemasons, my parents bought it in 1968 as a decommissioned rural school complete with desks, a centralized woodstove, a wall of slate blackboards, institution green paint, and big white globe ceiling-hung lights. A house of many many great gatherings.

I live two minutes by foot from Gage Park, whose trees were no doubt climbed by my dad in the late ‘Thirties, and twenty-two minutes by indigo blue car from the park where Ontario’s reintroduced Trumpeter Swans spend the winter.

I moved myself here to make art in whatever form it comes, in collaboration with past, present and future. To make a meaningful third anchor for myself in this Treaty 3 land (1792) of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Attiwonderonk and the Anishinabek nation., this city of immigrant workers, artists and broken old industrial buildings, where 125 years ago the wives of the cotton, then steel industry magnates made certain there was an art gallery of note, and began collecting good work.

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These broken old industrial places are connected to our shame, that as a city we prospered early on the labour of African slaves stolen from their villages, as we deforested then paved over the astonishing beauty of 10,000 years of traditional Haudosaunee territory. The rows of immigrant worker houses are connected to the fires raging in Australia, the melting ice caps in Antarctica. the steam and fire still belching from the steel mill to the tar sands in Alberta and to all those who continue to insist that money is the most important thing.

Now the artists are here, to tell the story of where we’ve come from, and where we are going.

Here in the beginning of a new decade, our payment for unchecked colonial, industrial and now neo-liberal greed comes due. We all arrive, willy nilly, at the place where we question our entitlements. Each of us is called to be accountable to ourselves, and then to all others – including other-than-human others.

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Rage is good as a fire-starter, but it can’t be sustained; it burns itself out, leaves a dry husk behind. I much prefer curiosity as fuel for creativity. It is sustainable, can participate in a full spectrum of observation and emotion, can offer up epiphany and insight, understanding and compassion, but it cannot live in a place of fear.

It’s my sense that we need to find our way to courage, to muster enough curiosity to balance the fear. That this, not anger, is a good way forward.

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At age ninety-three, Her Majesty The Queen of England maintains her dignity and decorum, even as she carries the inherited sceptre and shame of British colonialism. She suggests that we take this next decade one well-considered step at a time.

…small steps, taken in faith and in hope, can overcome long held differences and deep seated divisions

where might this tunnel lead

Just a hint of snow. The occasional fat flake visible against the still leafy tree, in slow dance downward. I watch, mesmerized as if my back window has become a television, the floating white stuff a metaphor, a plot device in the opening credits that whisper a coming change.

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There are things I am pleased about. The great functional beauty of my living space. The ancient trees five minutes away from my front door, the warm community of artists that surrounds my studio and work. The hum of this reconstructed painting as it nears completion in a few days, in time for its’ entry submission into a group show.

The way this painting, with its’ odd off-balanced, skewed gravity has informed what I will do with the other golden one – a permission to work with graffiti on my own work – to include a vulnerability, a soft ‘wrongness’ in what the piece will say, or sing.

To include an ache.

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New awarenesses have risen in me in these days spent writing, reading, drawing – and watching the rain, the wind, the first snowflakes dance slowly downward. This is what I’d hoped for when I leaped off the cliff last winter, though of course there were, and are no guarantees.

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Now the train song, second of the daily five as it curves past my neighbourhood’s houses – high metal squeals, deep chug chug of engine, bell clanging a clear, steady, andante A. My mother would have named that note without checking, which warms my eyes a little, remembering. The mark of a real musician, I used to think.

I know that at some point in my three years here I will record that train song, and add my own voice to it, like graffiti.

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This morning I’m feeling more than a little raw and chafed by the lack of beloved human voices in my world. The rootedness I feel only at my cabin is a lump in my throat, a wetness behind my eyes. I yearn for that safety, that belongingness, today.

As I listened to our Estonian residency artist Kai Kaljo talk about her time here in Canada last night I heard a thread of this in the way she approaches her work. Belonging and not belonging, comfort and discomfort, public recognition and then forgetfulness. In a dark time after everything changed she drew dead flowers, because she found them beautiful. Eventually realized that her creative self was rising, impossibly, again and change was good. Of course it’s good. But still.  Why eyes? asked the young artist. What is the significance of eyes for you?  “I don’t know, really. You decide.”, says Kai.

Kai gifted me a print of the opened window she stared through and loved all through her Italian residency, said as she signed it “I think art is like a window, yes?”. After the rich art talk and the connections made I closed my studio door and wondered why I felt different.

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I begin to understand that my known internal voices have long been misinterpreted by me, out of a learned assumption that outside voices automatically hold more authority. An old old lesson; my older sister finished all my sentences when we were children together. Somewhere beneath conscious awareness our culturally competitive parents approved of this as a mark of her superiority of mind and were entertained by it.

Instead of arguing I learned to archive my unspoken thoughts deep in a subterranean library. Floors and floors of shelves full of unspoken observances, delights, curiosities, private games, resonances and interesting relations with other-than-humans. Beneath those floors the wounds, traumas, bewilderments, betrayals, shocks I believe we all have some version or extreme of, levels below levels, each darker than the one above.

By doing this I could become the mirror required of me aboveground, and did so for many years, since “mirrors show everything but themselves. …nothing of your own will be heard”

Or possibly this is what I did. It’s a good working theory at least, based on what I’ve gleaned so far. In any case I’ve known for a good long time that for me stories are best mined in the dark.

IMG_0375 In The Faraway Nearby Solnit says,

 

Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. …. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two?

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The end of my annotated, allegorical Masters story, Seven Swans, Seven Rooms keeps changing, as I get closer to telling it aloud in collaboration with an Owen Sound audience on December 7.

Since I last spoke the story at the end of April, my father passed, I traveled for a month in Europe, returned to find I lived somewhere else, was surprised on the summer road by the strangeness of Grief, and then the comfort of Retrospect. Both have since become my good companions. So of course the story’s end changes. It describes a beginning I’m only just now beginning to glimpse through the trees.

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To echo Kai – I’m not sure why these curiosities are here, or these aches, these lumps in my throat. Am reluctant to over-explain, wise enough to know that the only way through is in. I do trust them, that they’re here for good reason. Maybe they’re for you?

I really don’t know. You can decide.

 

Come on, Canada.

The taste of anxiety on my tongue over the Canadian election has been an undeniable distraction. How can there be so many voting humans in this immense and beautiful country who deny the urgency of climate change?

I’ve been watching the polls, stuck in bafflement, for weeks now.

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EVERYONE I speak to on the street appreciates a sunny day, the shelter of a healthy ancient tree, a green park, a lovely garden. Every human eats food that has been polinated by bees. Grocery Stores. Restauraunts, markets, clothing, drinking water, vehicles, light switches, plumbing, musical instruments, furniture… none of this would exist without our interconnectedness with other-than-human species and complex natural systems on this planet. How is this deniable?

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Maybe I’ve been living in denial. Maybe there are other humans out there who do not make use of these interconnected things, are living soley on money – sleeping on it, driving it, wearing it in layers against the cold, stuffing it in their ears. Eating it like junk food, but not getting any nourishment, hence the appetite for more, more more.

I’ve never met a human like that, but clearly they must exist, since according to the polls, thirty-one percent of Canadian voters support a party that will not even discuss the possibility that all of these daily interconnections are at the verge of collapse.

Even though the science. Even though increasingly extreme weather. Even though extinctions, melting glaciers, lethal heatwaves…

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In Canada, despite the fact that the remaining 58% of polled voters recognize the urgent need for Climate Change Action, this means the ‘denial’ party who lives just on money could form the next government.

What in the name of life and love are we doing here, in this moment? Who ARE these 31%-ers? Who has convinced them they can live on money, alone, and never mind real food polinated by bees?

That’s quite a snowjob.

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It’s not difficult to follow the money if you know where to look. We all felt this way when Trump won, too. Rebecca Solnit keeps a weather eye on the news behind all the distractions and posts today about Russia’s tactical involvement in the 2016 US election,

Senate intelligence report introduction: The Committee found that Russia’s targeting of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society. Moreover, the IRA conducted a vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood. The IR.A’s actions in 2016 represent only the latest installment in an increasingly brazen interference by the Kremlin on the citizens and democratic institutions ofthe United States.”

The Committee found that paid advertisements were not key to the IRA’s activity, and moreover, are not alone an accurate measure o fthe IRA’s operational scope, scale, or objectives, despite this aspec~ of social media being a focus of early press reporting and public awareness.16 An emphasis on the relatively small number ofadvertisements, and the cost ofthose advertisements, has detracted focus from the more prevalent use of original, free content via multiple social media platforms. According to Facebook, the IRA spent a total-ofabout $100,000 over two years on advertisements-a minor amount, given the operational costs ofthe IRA were approximately $1.25 million dollars a month.17 The nearly 3,400 Facebook and Instagram advertisements the IRA purchased are comparably minor in relation to the over 61,500 Facebook posts, 116,000 Instagram posts, and 10.4 million tweets that were the original creations ofIRA influence operatives, disseminated under the guise of authentic user activity. …

Continue reading “Come on, Canada.”