Bring David Connelly Home!!!!

May 20th. Saturday in Toronto. Sunday dead of night in Phuket, Thailand.

As some of you may know, my family have been involved in a tragedy . . . I am in the midst of negotiating, fundraising, phoning, crying, weeping, at times sobbing, praying, meditating, and trying not to buy a pack of stupid cigarettes. David, my beautiful brother, went to Thailand a couple of months ago to reconcile with our dad and to restart his life. He was clean, he was healthy, he was ready to be reborn. And the reconciliation with our dad was amazing, and beautiful, and made everyone in the family far and near feel much happier and at peace with the old fella. We all got into a familial and forgiving mood; there were Skype calls, there was video chat, there was that big Connelly grin from the southern tip of Thailand--TWO big Connelly grins, as a matter of fact--and it was a blessed thing to witness. Within a week my father and my youngest brother were like adult children together, all the love of David's early years once again rekindled and shining out of the photos he posted nonstop on his Facebook page.

However. The gods wanted to make SURE he would begin his life anew so they decided to try to kill him first.  No rebirth without death, apparently, though normally the gods do not take things quite so literally. In an accident(during which the witnesses disappeared, the truck driver on the wrong side of the road was totally innocent and the Thai police, handling things with their usual professionalism, did not bother taking a statement from the first witness upon the scene) David's body was more or less shattered: fractured hips, pelvis, vertebrae, ribs; punctured lungs; dislocated shoulder. Followed by failing kidneys, shock, pneumonia, etc . . .

All terrifying compounded by the fact that David has A rh Negative blood: a very rare blood type in North America, but almost unheard of in Thailand. So our first couple of weeks involved an absolutely desperate hunt for blood donors just to keep him alive.

You can read all the gory details here:

https://www.gofundme.com/BringDaveyHome

Yet our gorgeous brother is still alive!!!!!!!! Can you believe it? Totally impossible, but there you go. This morning he was worried about taking a shower and getting his phone back! He cannot SPEAK--he's got a ventilator in his throat--but he is writing a lot of notes to my intrepid sister Mara.

That makes me laugh out loud.

If you can donate to our campaign to bring him home, please do. Any amount of money will be gratefully received. Any love, prayers, meditations on healing sent his way are also gratefully received.

May all beings be free from suffering!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You might change your life. Or someone else's ...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Dear friends,

 Isn’t it wonderful to wake up in a cozy bed in a warm house on a winter morning, wishing only for snow? With a fresh baguette in the kitchen and a new jar of Bonne Maman jam on the counter. And honey! And butter!

 That’s what I was thinking this morning as I listened to my child grumpily recite his times tables. Despite the fact that he swears like a sailor about 7x8, we are so lucky. The child healthy, the jam on his cheek, the smell of coffee wafting up from downstairs. Plus, it’s MONDAY.

 I have always loved today because ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN THIS WEEK. Contrary to popular conception, Monday is the best day: we begin our lives all over again. I might get so much done. I might finish my book. I might do a back walkover. Like Rilke says in that great poem The Archaic Torso of Apollo, I might change my life! (He actually says “You must change your life” but it’s a poem. And he was another bossy romantic.)

 Why is it so easy for me to be hopeful and almost impossible for so many others? I’ve been thinking about that question ever since I could articulate it. . . It’s a long conversation, especially when you’re waiting at the water tap in a refugee camp . . .

 Palmerston Welcomes Refugees, a local neighbourhood group in north Annex/Seaton Village, Toronto, Canada, have  mobilized to find HOUSING, HOUSEWARES, FURNITURE, WINTER CLOTHES (basically, the beginnings of a livable life) for a second large Syrian refugee family, 5-8 people.

 They are arriving soon and they need your help.

 PWR are fundraising our second round of $46,400---we already have $10,000 of that so far. (The total needed for the two families is $92,800)

 Sponsorship is so much work: the money is not the hardest part, but it’s extremely important.

(Anyone interested in renting out a 3 bedroom apartment for $1700/month? bedbug free? Let's talk!)

 Please HELP US MAKE THIS MONEY BEFORE CHRISTMAS!

 DONATIONS ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

The link below will take you to the charity that is generously handling our charity paperwork for us. Our efforts are non-denominational. The donation button is at the bottom of this page:

 https://donate.mcccanada.ca/registry/palmerston-community-welcomes-refugees

 T h a n k   y o u. Please share this widely—with friends, STUDENTS, family members, colleagues, and unsuspecting acquaintances . . . and even if it’s Tuesday or Wednesday.

 Kaz

 

 

 

White Beggar Woman, or, Where I fail is where I begin

August 12, 2015 

I started writing this update in April, tried again in May, and now find myself in August, once again, a failed blogger. But also a poet who read poetry in Tallinn, Estonia—Head Read, the best literary festival EVER—and a novelist who has finished the rewrites of her novel (her sex and house-cleaning novel, pub-date to be announced, called The Change Room), also a mother who has taken her kid cycling over 24 km of trestle bridges on the Kettle Valley Railway, and a happy teacher who talked, played, and laughed a lot in Wells, northern B.C., where I taught a memoir workshop in early July. Island Mountain Arts is an inspiring place to learn, eat, breathe, and make art. I actually finished my novel there, while my students were busy writing away in the afternoons. I hope to teach there again next summer; will keep you posted.

But I get ahead of myself. As usual. That’s what happens when you are a failed blogger, blogging once every six months instead once every week or two.

For those of you who followed the last time I was intensely and relentlessly online, I wanted to return to the theme of my furious postings here and on Facebook, and say a few words about the Cindy Gladue protest and vigil. That takes us back to April 2nd, when people across the country, led by long-time Indigenous activists and their allies, protested the non-verdict and abhorrent acquittal of the man responsible for Cindy Gladue’s death, the man who murdered her. The protests provided space for an unequivocal national moment of strong, clear attention, a resounding "No!" to the injustice so long inflicted on Indigenous women in Canada. It was especially powerful because it came with strong critiques from First Nations women about how the so-called justice system itself fails Indigenous people. The vigils included words from Cindy’s family and a sincere, loving appreciation for her life.

After the protest in Toronto, I lingered as long as possible, chatting with one of the drummers and watching the lone dancer dance. And dance. And dance. Tattooing the concrete with her presence. Taking up space. She just kept going, even after the drummers were done. Her dance became its own protest, there on the downtown concrete. I write about the protests, the ongoing war, and that dance here http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/hazlitt/longreads/same-war

I am not a full-time political activist: I am a writer who writes from a political, engaged state. Being a good writer requires solitude and separation from the heat of political activism. That’s something I learned in Burma and on the Thai-Burma border, among lifelong activists, revolutionaries, and dissidents. (And I write about that struggle and my own in Burmese Lessons, a love story) Part of me has always disliked the enforced quiet of the artist’s life; it means that I cannot always be yelling my head off at the injustices I see in my own country and in other parts of the world.

 Besides, yelling my head off all the time leaves me headless. Or all mouth, which is not useful. Certainly when it comes to our relationships with Indigenous people, white people/settlers need to be quiet. We need to listen, to hear, to hang back, to make space. Moving respectfully is a learning experience. Trying to make space, to give voice, I asked an Indigenous activist if I could quote her online work for the Hazlitt piece I link to above.

My request made her angry; she lobbed accusations of plagiarism and untrustworthiness at me in emails, in public social media, and privately to her colleagues. She said that white women would not have cared at all about Cindy Gladue if she, the activist, had not written about the case. But I did not learn about Cindy’s tragic death from her writing; I learned about it from a friend, and a newspaper report. It was the sick violence done to Cindy Gladue herself that ‘made me care.’

To care (and to act out of care) is no feat, and should not be. When they were made aware of the details of the case, thousands of people across Canada showed care, expressed outrage, came to protests, wrote letters, wrote editorials and articles. Though the Solicitor General of Alberta wrote me a letter saying that public protest cannot influence the legal position of the Crown, on the very day of the national protest, the Crown Prosecutor's office announced that it would seek to retry Bradley Barton, the man who murdered Cindy Gladue.

Those weeks later, when faced with my critic's accusations, I explained politely in a follow-up email that I am not a plagiarist, and that because I have family members who’ve worked in or been closely involved with those in the street sex trade, I’ve often written about the vulnerabilities of sex workers. I've also published and spoken publicly, often, about the need for all Canadians to face the legacy of violence against Indigenous women, children, and men. Trying to make peace did not work. The activist called me a “white beggar woman” trying to steal Indigenous labour—and many other nasty things on social media. “Know your boundaries! Know your privilege!” she wrote, implying that knowing one’s boundaries and privilege means accepting wrongful accusation, name-calling, and general rudeness as a mode of communication. Some of her colleagues, and mine, without knowing anything about the substance of our exchange agree/d with her, and also castigated me online. I had some emails from strangers, charging me with racism cloaked as white-saviourism. I approached one of her colleagues for advice about how to deal with what had happened; she, too, told me I had a problem with boundaries, and refused any communication.

Hmm. In a way, she is right. I DO have a problem with boundaries. That problem has often led me to live outside of them, around them, against them, and almost entirely without them. Not morally or legally, but in the sense that I reject the Western notion that we, as humans, are hopelessly disconnected, boundaried into separation from each other, from the Other, from the natural world, from Holiness, or God, or the Goddess. I do not believe in the boundaries that are constantly being thrust down our throats even as citizens in a sort-of democracy in the free world. That we are separate and lost to each other, to this earth, is the Great Hoax, the cause of every kind of war and many sorts of pettiness, too. Granted, sometimes we cannot understand each other. So what? Not understanding and not knowing my boundaries has led me to learn, to love and to experience being wildly alive in this world, across many borders—linguistic, cultural, sexual, religious, political.

Months later, after that unhappy, painful exchange, where am I? Do I know my boundaries? And my privilege? Though the activist’s words were delivered in anger, I also took her accusations seriously, because white people are notoriously stupid about what it means to be non-white. We do forget our privilege; I’ve spent much of my life trying not to be forgetful. Damn, I thought, after all this political and personal work, trying to be human, am I really a white beggar woman? Just stealing, no, begging from those I wish to honour? Am I going backwards?

White beggar woman. Hmm. These are incredibly loaded words, brilliantly subverted. Such a complex, rich insult. Insult? Begging. Panhandling. White beggar woman. It makes me think of all the beggars and panhandlers I know and have known. (Agatha! Jerry!) Some are dead now; some have moved on to warmer climes. Ron is still here, the old (white) junkie for whom I regularly buy cheesies and chocolate milk and yogurt. (White food, too!) It makes me think of the old Jewish injunction that beggars give us a sacred opportunity to be generous. In ancient Greece, too, the beggar was often a holy person or a hero, disguised. Odysseus himself pretends to be a beggar when he finally goes home to Ithaca. But that’s not the point. The point is, the gods reward those who are kind to beggars.

Who am I, as I turn my own face to history? There are beggars, too, in Come Cold River.

Search for answer, I turned to that book, my own personal history book, Come, Cold River, a collection of poetry I worked on for a decade. http://quattrobooks.ca/books/come-cold-river/

It took me a long time to find a publisher for the collection. Poetry that engages social justice themes is seen in Canada as out-of-date; if you can understand the words, if you are down-to-earth, if you don’t reference Foucault or a chainsaw, you must be writing confessional women's pap. Editors repeatedly told me that "They don’t publish this stuff." I most enjoyed: "Hasn't this all been said before?" Poems that sing and sometimes howl the truth about violence against women and children; plain words about street sex workers, and the heinous violence we allow them to face on our streets, with our men; poems about the women of Vancouver’s downtown east side, the lost, beloved ones. Poems about my own turbulent, addicted, angry family. (It’s a good family, by the way. Good-humoured people, still crashing along, making jokes, making a goddamn mess. I have gotten over any longed-for fairtytale ending: it will never be all better. Look at this world. I love my family. It's a book of love poems, really.)

Come Cold River is also an imperfect book. Its imperfections are possibly the most useful thing about it. The way it tries. The flaws teach us the most; they teach us what we need to learn. Where I fail is where I begin. So I thank my angry critic, who did not want me to quote her words. She lent me something better; her outrage, her disgust. A Metis friend, a lawyer who has worked on land claims cases across Canada and is a living encyclopedia of legal history and wisdom, told me that if you still stick your head up in this particular storm, you must get struck by lightning. This storm is fueled by pain, rage, injustice beyond comprehension---as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and their reports show us.  http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=3

(The TRC is a group of Indigenous people telling the truth about the violence and genocidal intent of Canada’s residential school system, and by extension, of the Canadian government. Both the commission and the extraordinary reports it produced—which are available online above—are funded by Indigenous people themselves, not by the Government of Canada.)  

A Buddhist teaching counsels that we must thank those who condemn us publicly, bow to them as to important sages. However I failed, whatever raw nerve I touched that is storm-linked to the wounded heart of one woman, of her people, of many peoples, of theirs lands, of the true, still-being-written histories—that is where I begin, at that tender, pulsing, fiercely alive place. I move from there, more humbly, more gently, astonished, sometimes, by who we are. And stumbling. I am grateful to my teachers, however they arrive.

April 1st update: Voices for Cindy Gladue: Protests and Vigils on April 2

People across Canada and beyond Canada have responded to the social media and letter-writing campaign demanding justice for Cindy Gladue. Indigenous, Metis, sex-worker advocacy groups, women's groups, social justice organizations and ordinary citizens are joining protests on the ground in cities across Canada, coast to coast. This is the first time that people across the country will come together to protest the particular and the systemic mistreatment of and racism against Indigenous people. We will gather to honour and remember Cindy Gladue in the full awareness that Cindy is not the only victim. There have been powerful editorials in the Globe, Winnipeg Free Press, at @KweToday, on Rabble.ca, on activists' and writers' blogs nationwide. Scroll down to my earlier post to access the addresses for the Crown Prosecutor's office and the Solicitor General's office in Alberta: write to them, still, demanding a retrial. Write to your local newspapers and send emails to your local and national CBC and other media stations, asking them to cover this case and all it means.

Come to a protest if you can, or send others in your stead. Protests alone are not enough to change things. But your voice, her voice, his voice, our voices help to lift and shift the silence and apathy around violence and racism against Indigenous peoples--especially against women and sex-workers.

Sex-workers deserve better from all of us. Too many people believe that sex-workers get killed because they are working in a dangerous profession. Cab drivers and police-people also work in dangerous professions: when they are murdered, we don't say they deserved it, and should have been secretaries instead. It is time, after several thousand years, to stop whore- blaming. It is time to educate ourselves about the women and men who sell sex and a few hours of their time in exchange for money. That is the equation--s/he does the agreed-upon sex act, spends the time and gets the money. The equation does not equal rape, nor murder, nor torture, nor degradation. Sex workers do NOT sell their bodies. Their bodies belong to them always. Why do sex workers get hurt and killed? Because criminals, usually men, hurt and kill them. Bill C-36, a legal bill meant to 'protect' people in the sex trade only attempts to control women (and men and trans people) and to deprive them of the ability to organize and protect themselves and each other.

But back to PEOPLE making some refreshing and much needed angry noise. Protests and prayers, too, will be, are being said, publicly and privately for Cindy, for her family, for all the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

Heartfelt gratitude to everyone putting time and energy into the protests, particularly to those who will continue to care and to work for the well-being of Indigenous and Metis people even after the protests are over. Who is that? It could be all of us. http://nomoresilence-nomoresilence.blogspot.ca/

Check Facebook invitation pages for new protests close to you . . .

VICTORIA makes this a coast-to-coast day of solidarity with Indigenous people in Canada.

Victoria, Thursday, April 2 at noon: https://www.facebook.com/events/1606587266225135/

Vancouver Thursday April 2 at 10:30  https://www.facebook.com/events/446813728815761/

In Edmonton on  Thursday April 2, at noon : https://www.facebook.com/events/1501176266769571/

in Calgary, on Thursday April 2, at noon https://www.facebook.com/events/1501176266769571/

in Lethbridge, on Thursday April 2 at noon https://www.facebook.com/events/934387869934355/

in St. Paul, Alberta on Thursday April 2 at noon https://www.facebook.com/events/1592063801041473/

in Lac LaBiche on Thursday April 2 from 1-2  https://www.facebook.com/events/897332023620446/

in Regina,on Thursday April 2 at 12 noon https://www.facebook.com/events/1592063801041473/

in Saskatoon on Thursday April 2 at 12 noon https://www.facebook.com/events/1411748372467390/   

in Kenora, ON, on Thursday April 2 at 12 noon https://www.facebook.com/events/682805831848855/

in Ottawa, on Thursday April 2 at 6 pm https://www.facebook.com/events/659410977496946/

in Toronto, on Thursday April 2 at 12 noon at 720 BAY STREET https://www.facebook.com/events/1592063801041473/

in Peterborough on Thursday April 2 at 4 pm https://www.facebook.com/events/357892087750793/  

in Sudbury on Thursday April 2 at 12 noon https://www.facebook.com/events/1629764743905331/ 

check Facebook for a new Sarnia location

in St. John's, Newfoundland on Thursday April 2 at 12 noon https://www.facebook.com/events/516826465122931/

in Iqaluit, Nunavut!!!! on Thursday April 2 at 12 noon https://www.facebook.com/events/646431928836961/

#JUSTICEFORCINDYGLADUE March 22, 2015

#JusticeforCindyGladue

Cindy Gladue was murdered four years ago in Edmonton, Alberta.

No, she was "accidentally" yet brutally violated by Bradley Barton. Just an accident, a mistake, that caused her to bleed to death. I am sorry for restating these details; they are upsetting.  She was so violently penetrated with something--his hand? or a knife, as the Crown Prosecutor maintained?--that an 11 centimetre tear opened inside her. Bradley Barton didn't know he did this. Right. Without knowing he had hurt her, he fell asleep after she went to the bathroom. The next morning, he left his hotel room with a bag, returned without the bag, and decided he should call 911. Initially he maintained that he didn't even know Cindy; that she was a stranger. Then he admitted that they had had sex--because there was security camera footage of them together two nights in a row--then he maintained that it was all just a sad mistake and the mostly male, no-people-of-colour-no-Indigenous-people AGREED WITH HIM. Bradley Barton, like so many other men who hurt, torture and kill Indigenous women, is free. Cindy Gladue died a horrifically violent death and her family--she was both a mother and a daughter--will suffer this appalling injustice for the rest of their lives.

This gross miscarriage of justice has had almost no comment at all in the Canadian Press. Three days after the verdict, neither the Globe and Mail nor the National Post carried a single mention of it, and no print editorial was published about the racist overtones throughout the trial, during which Cindy's preserved, wounded vagina was used as evidence to show the severity of her trauma. So, here you go Canada, the vagina was on trial. An Indigenous sex-worker's vagina was on trial. Not the white man who violated it. The Indigenous body was judged guilty, obviously, sentenced to more abuse, more degradation, more injustice.

This verdict is an abomination. It sickens me. It proves, again, that our country is soaked in the blood and tears of Indigenous men, women, and children. Colonial genocide continues--in our courts, in our 'law' enforcement structures, in our streets, in our history, in the millions of dead buffalo, in the photographs of the starving People of the Plains, in the poisoned waters and air and land that we stole from The Peoples who have always lived here. We need to recognize that fact: this is a war. Another acquittal (as Robert Pickton's earlier attempted murder charges were also 'stayed' so he could continue killing women, most of them Indigenous) simply proves what is already clear. This is a war. I stand in solidarity with my Indigenous brothers and sisters. @CindyGladue  @JusticeforCindyGladue. #MMIW

HERE IS A CHANCE, FRIENDS, FOR YOUR WORDS TO COUNT. Share this widely. I challenge people to care enough about this to WRITE IT DOWN and SEND IT IN THE MAIL if at all possible.

The Crown Prosecutor Carole Godfrey has only 26 days left to initiate an appeal for a retrial. If I've understood process correctly, the appeal will have to be approved by the Honourable Justice Minister and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis. Please write to them both. Jonathan Denis is also an MLA in Calgary.  Call and ESPECIALLY WRITE ON PAPER AND SEND EXPRESS to the Crown Prosecutor Carole Godfrey to respectfully request that she initiate an appeal to retry Bradley Barton for the original charges of second-degree murder.

The grounds for appeal: the gross miscarriage of justice; bias on a jury with few women and no people of colour. Express your moral outrage that Bradley Barton is free while Cindy Gladue was left, by him, to bleed to death.

Crown Prosecutor Carole Godfrey

6th Floor, J.E. Brownlee Building 10365 – 97th Street Edmonton, AB T5J 3W7

Telephone: 780-422-1111 (her personal ph. is 780 427 6105 but the mailbox is full)

Fax: 780-422-9756 E-mail: edmontonprosecutions@gov.ab.ca and try: carole.godfrey@gov.ab.ca 

Call AND WRITE ON PAPER AND SEND EXPRESS to the Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis expressing your moral outrage, grave concern for public safety and the miscarriage of justice for Cindy Gladue, her family, and for us, her fellow citizens, in the verdict of not guilty for Bradley Barton, the man who clearly is responsible for her death.

Honourable Jonathan Denis QC MLA Minister of Justice and Solicitor General

3rd floor, Bowker Building,

9833 - 109 Street. Edmonton, Alberta

T5K 2E8, ministryofjustice@gov.ab.ca

Phone: 780-427-2339 Fax: 780-422-6621 

the "Justice Minister" is on Twitter: @MinisterJono  Tweet him every day as many times as you can. Let's get this gross miscarriage of justice in the news.  Emails are something but this is small chance to make your written, printed word count. Letters written on paper are still more meaningful than emails. Email AND send letters. And talk about what this means. Write a letter to the editor of the Edmonton Journal, the Calgary Herald, The Globe and the Post. Enough. Enough. This is 2015. What country do we live in? The violence of colonization must end. Stop killing Indigenous girls and women and letting their murderers walk.

If you really care about violence against women

talk about it, write about it, sing about it -- especially when no one else is doing so

donate generously to a women's shelter, money or clothes or time

try not to hit or scream at your own kids

commit to mentoring a woman or man, a girl or boy at risk (of whatever: risk of poverty, risk of violence, risk of a crappy school, risk of stressed out home-life, risk of mental illness, alienation, etc. there are people like that in every neighbourhood in Canada--or just four streets over)

volunteer in a community centre, esp in a lower-income neighbourhood

be a Big Brother or a Big Sister

foster a child from the Children's Aid Society

adopt a child from the Children's Aid Society

 

All the coverage on Jian Ghomeshi is tiring. I also find it hypocritical. Here we have a famous person; let us focus our rage on him; he can be our poison container. Citizens, did you just figure it out? Was last week the first time you imagined a man punching a woman in the head? We live with this kind of violence against women every single day; we just turn our eyes away because that is the easiest thing to do. (Witness all those who 'knew' about Jian and did nothing. Well. There are many who know and we still do nothing. We.) If people really care about violence against women, they can act instead of ranting and raging on Facebook. I also feel tired of the many people who denigrate and verbally abuse Ghomeshi. At one time, he was probably an abused child; these behaviours do not come out of nowhere. That is not an excuse; that is a fact. Violence is TRANSGENERATIONAL.

December 6 will be here soon. Let's meet at a vigil.

 

Review from Prism Magazine

“Come Cold River” by Karen Connelly

Posted on November 3, 2-

by Esther Griffin

When Come Cold River opens with the image of a poem as “another goddamn pervert/whetting his steel blade/against granite,”  I know this collection is going to slice open truths and expose painful landscapes. While many of the themes are dark, chilling even, Come Cold River is beautiful in its raw honesty.

Come Cold River takes its readers on a journey through old haunts, in and out of shadows. These poems show us dark alleys, barren roads, and broken homes, where women are diminished, grown skeletal, even reduced to a knuckle bone underfoot. I’ll admit, in her first section, Home for Good, some poems are so unsettling that Connelly had to tug me along by the hand. But her skillful revealing of these landscapes drew me in, and soon I longed to run my fingers through the cold river water with her.

In her poignant poem, “Enough,” Connelly unburies the women murdered by Pickton, not as skeletal remains, but as 68 fleshy women: mothers and daughters. She lifts them to the light of the page and honours their names. The poem captures the horror of the delayed investigation/slow news reveal in juxtaposition to the women’s first and last names. We feel the injustice of “how quickly/a woman disappears/under wet hooves/under police reports/lost/misfiled/and ignored.” (55) After finishing this poem, my thoughts echoed back to the final line of the poem “Home for Good:”

Oh Canada, what do you really mean?
How can I sing you
without lying?
(17)

This question resonates through the entire collection.

The poem that stayed with me the longest was from Awake, the second, quieter and more sensual section of the book. The poem, “Children,” is a conversation between a woman and her not-yet-born children who are arguing to be born:

Nothing deters these ones:
not this great slaughterhouse
Earth, not the bad genetics,
not even sullen poverty.
(71)

These innocent souls still “regard the newspaper without fear” (71) and don’t understand the truth about the world they want to be born into. After everything Connelly has shown us in Come Cold River, we empathize with the woman when she insists that these children are better off with the starlight as sustenance.

In the final section of the book, The Last Shelter, the poems delve further into memory. Even when an old home has been demolished, and Connelly raises the question, “What is the use of a people’s history?” (96) the Bow River remains constant. As a strong symbol for family history, mythology, and loss, Connelly also shows the river as a catalyst for forgiveness.

On Connelly’s acknowledgements page, she wrote that when her book was initially rejected for publishing, someone commented, “Haven’t we all heard these stories before? What new emotion or perspective can we find here regarding the murder and abuse of these women and children?” Connelly responded that she will never stop thinking about these critical questions. And when you read her book, neither will you.

Connelly offers her readers nothing but new emotions and perspectives. We witness abuse from a conflicted child’s perspective, hear a woman’s howl as closed wounds are re-opened and cleaned, and feel the vibration of an abuser’s footsteps on the front steps as he returns home. After reading “Enough,” we hold all the women’s names in our arms. Some of these perspectives are hard to hold, to bear witness to, but they should never be left buried without a voice.

Esther Griffin teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario. Her poetry and fiction have been published in various anthologies, and she is currently pursuing her Optional Residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.

THANK YOU SO MUCH ESTHER GRIFFIN!!!!!!!

Death Sucks.

Brilliant photograph HERE. Okay, so, that didn't work. Dammit.

 

"Death sucks" is hardly how I should put it; it seems disrespectful of Death. Death cannot help itself, after all; it is what it is. It's not Death's fault. Death is just doing its underpaid, unloved, ununionized job. Everyone hates death, but what would we do without him? (Sorry I am not willing to make death feminine. It's my blog.)

My friend, Linda Pauline Griffiths, died recently. September 21, 2014. She was 61 years old, though most of us thought she was in her 50's. Linda Griffiths was an icon in Canadian theatre, an artist through and through, a gifted playwright and brilliant actor. She was a diva, in a real way--though a Canadian way, too, sometimes (privately) self-effacing, jittery about her talents. Still, she knew that Work was the key to her life, to life, for her. We were writers together--that is what our relationship was about. She is the first of my close writer friends to die, and her death, by breast cancer metastasized to her liver, is still reverberating through my life and the lives of the many people who loved her. I was in conniptions half the time while she was in the final stages of her illness, mostly because I couldn't see her. (And before that, it had proved almost impossible to have a conversation about her dying; she was too busy working.) In the palliative care ward, she had become a kind of Madonna figure. I mean the holy mother of God, not the other one. People who had not seen her for years were coming to visit, to say goodbye---dozens of people, and their siblings. Her close caretakers did not know how to handle this onslaught of well-wishers. Eventually the doctors told people she needed time alone. She needed time and privacy to die. Death is such hard work. for everyone; it's truly exhausting to labour alongside the one who is dying. I was not attending Linda in that manner--but it had been hard to visit with her at all, to find a few private moments. I was certainly not the only one who felt that way.

Here is an edited email exchange with a friend:

Yes, it is disconcerting to go in her room and listen to a huddle of strangers talk about the roles they are going to play in which show and who's lost which part. Why are people pretending she is not dying? Because she is? She is so pissed off about dying. Says she finds it BORING. The worst crime, really, to be boring. To be bored, in this life. She is rebellious against it still, refusing to die even while dying. Which is so stressful. Have I told her, "I love you? I love you!" ? I wept, with a gaggle of people behind me talking about shoes! I am selfish: I want her to die the good, accepting death so that I can learn how to do it. It is mundane, the Enormous Mundane, like so many natural things in life. . .  childbirth, sex, mortgages . . .  the Little Mundane anchors us through the Enormous Mundane of life, the little mundane allows us to be natural and real, as you said the other day, neither sobbing (uh, at least not all the time) nor faking it, just being natural, wiping up the spills, laughing at the small things, holding that white hand with its little diamond ring, her mother’s certainly.  And that naturalness seems to be sth that some stage actors lose. (I have noticed this often, when I’ve become friends with actors and some dancers; they are almost always acting and dancing.)  Isn’t that the strangest irony? The actor acts, trying to be natural and true in their craft, in their role, then, when stressed, they perhaps are unable to be fully  natural?

 Of course it’s not only actors who act.

 But the Buddhists and Zen-ners have it right: to just be, to just be, simply, in the moment. It is no small thing. All those beautiful koans and Zen haikus, nature-based, earthy, about clay pots and wells and walking up the mountain. They make so much sense when you’re stressed out of your mind. Or hallucinating. (One jumps to mind, v well-known: The barn burned down. Now I can see the moon.) And Koban? Ichikyo:

 Empty handed I entered

The world

Barefoot I leave it.

My coming, my going—

Two simple happenings

that grow entangled

Like dew drops on the lotus

I vanish

One Buddhist practice, to keep one present to life and conscious of death, is to write a short death poem every day. (It was what most Zen teachers did—they wrote death poems as they were dying, as a kind of last lesson to their disciples.) Westerners often think writing a death poem is morbid, but it’s so---basically intelligent. Again, no drama, just plain consciousness. Basho’s last poem was something about his dream ‘goes wandering over the withered fields’.

 All right, Kaz,that’s enough. How do you write a death poem about a bunch of actors laughing beside their dying Diva? Shall we try, set it as practice?

Oh, I agree, I agree. All that stupid smiling makes me want to slap someone. And just writing that makes me want to CRY!  And isn’t that a style too? Am I acting?  (I don’t think so. I think I am just a bundle of raw, jumping nerves, wires in rain.)

 Yes, this has been such a bonding experience for you and me. I am also EXTREMELY grateful for you now. I’ve been so fretful, so scattered, emotional without having much of a place to put that emotion. You are such a good friend, to everyone you come close to. Steph said that the other day,something like “even I felt how caring and generous she was, in our brief encounters”.  (He always speaks like that, so elegantly.) He’s still in a lot of pain but seems to be getting better.

 Aren’t we fortunate to have become friends? I love you very much.

 And the day awaits. It’s so beautiful outside, gold and blue. I have to go for a walk. I cannot believe there will be more brilliant bright autumn days, soon now, without Linda in them. It cannot be. Linda!

 

 

Dis/Passionate Observers

You are invited to a Pen Canada Benefit . . .

Ideas in Dialogue: Wade Davis and John Vaillant in conversation

Thursday, May 22, 2014

7:00 p.m.
Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario
Tickets can be purchased online at www.pencanada.ca  until noon on May 22.

Remaining tickets will be available at the door for $25, cash only.

Elegist, advocate, or dispassionate observer? What role should writers play in a world of transient landscapes, and ever-changing languages and cultures? Anthropologist Wade Davis and author John Vaillant consider the ethics of storytelling, reportage and bearing witness in the twenty-first century. Moderated by poet and novelist Karen Connelly.

And, speaking of dispassionate observers, an excerpt from an essay-in-progress:

 

#StolenSisters      #INM     #MMIW     #ItEndsHere

The full text will be published this fall in The New Quarterly

. . .  But then the man across the table said, “You cannot compare two disparate situations, like missing Aboriginal girls and women in Canada and a bunch of school kids from Nigeria, stolen away by Islamic extremists.” But the man is wrong. I am a poet as well as a prose writer. It is my job to compare disparate objects, people, and situations. The work of metaphor is to uncover the root between the dead star and the living seed, to lift the buried net into conscious language and see what stays, caught there. Then I also must look beneath the net and pick up what falls through.

            As I read the newspapers, saw the Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, heard people declaim the horror of losing a beloved teenage daughter to a bunch of madmen, I felt the same kind of anger that I felt twelve years ago, in Vancouver. Except that it felt tempered by maturity.

Then some of the preliminaries findings in an RCMP report were released. In the last thirty years, over a thousand Aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or are missing. Aboriginal women and girls face much higher rates of violence than any other group of women in Canada. But there was no corresponding hashtag, Twitter, and blogosphere outrage, at least not among the majority of white people, anyway. And I no longer felt mature in my anger, or tempered. I felt kind of crazy. Disbelieving, yet knowing that it was all real, the deep concern for girls (conveniently) far away, the utter lack of empathy or even awareness for the girls and women who are our fellow citizens, the next street or province over. By email, I asked Aboriginal colleagues if this was a moment to highlight the profound disconnect that we have when it comes to violence overseas and violence right here at home. Was there a hashtag? Would they, you know, publicize one?

They must have rolled their eyes at my indignation, my bad punctuation. But they answered my emails. They pointed out how long they have been doing this, how much they have been doing. They patiently educated me. Jess Housty, a young Aboriginal leader on Haida Gwaii, wrote “Good point,” then sent me most of the hashtags that are scattered throughout this essay . . .

The Holy Trinity: Flesh, Sex, Desire

If you are in Toronto and would like to hear some poetry from my new book Come Cold River, come out to the Art Bar on Tuesday April 8 at 8 pm.     www.artbar.org

 

AND . . .  to celebrate the arrival of spring (AT LAST, here in Toronto, anyway) and in response to a reader who wanted to read this essay in full, here is a reprint from Shambhala Sun magazine's Body Issue in 2013 A year later, March 30, I am happy to say that it still works. It has no expiry date . . .

Sex plays an important role in my next novel, too, The Change Room, tentatively slated for publication with Random House in 2015. In fact, it was after I wrote this essay that I decided to put away a much more political and difficult book that was depressing the hell out of me and write something more fun. In other words, I took my own advice . . .

 

Flesh. Desire. Sex. It’s not the only holy trinity, but it’s my favorite one, Buddhist noble truths notwithstanding.

All Buddhist schools agree on the Second Noble Truth—that we suffer because we desire. I know it. There is no way to wiggle out of it. Trust me, I’ve tried. Changing the vocabulary to ‘attachment’ does not work at all. Desire is all about getting attached, clinging like an octopus with suckers (but without the octopus’s elegance) to what we want, be it a beautiful fellow human or a serene state of being.

De sideris, the Latin root of the word "desire," is wonderfully instructive. In a roundabout way, it provides a Buddhist comment on the impossibility of getting what we want, of ever being completely satisfied, sexually or otherwise. The very meaning of the word also explains why desire is so compelling and magical, why it will always reach us, somehow, from another world, another life. De sideris means "of the stars."

We think of the stars as far away, and of the light that comes to us from them as dead. Yet the Sun is our closest star; we cannot live without it. Desire is a large, hot fact of life. Everyone, Buddhistically inclined or not, has to find a way to handle it, to enjoy the light without going blind or burning to a crisp.

I was raised with the Bible, but also, secretly, as a little pagan. So when I think of human flesh, my flesh, my lover’s body, the Earth follows close behind. Adam came from adamah, the Hebrew word for "the dust of the earth." When I think of some of the best sexual experiences I have ever had, I remember how thin the walls were, or non-existent, or how the windows were open and the land or water were there, close by, present, part of the act.

After the ragged breath and that sweet, sometimes violent crashing together of two hungry bodies, after the orgasmic focus begins to ebb, something I love (beyond the lover’s body and my own body, and the cracked-up grinning happiness of orgasm) is how the air returns, how I become aware of the air on my skin. The wind might move the edge of the curtains, might actually enter the room and be there with us. It’s the easiest, most natural way to have a threesome.

And if there is no wind, then just the air—that breath outside the body speaking to the breath inside. I become aware of how it moves into the room, over my naked skin, and its arrival seems almost conscious to me. And voices, somewhere outside. Our own murmurs. Then birdsong, if there are birds; I hear them again, anew, though the sounds never stopped during the sex, or lovemaking, or whatever.

Whatever. That catch-all teenage word works well, because sex is many things, and changeable, unpredictable, our own human weather. The calm sea of grass, waving, bending over, bending back. The tornado. The reluctant or drenching shower of rain. Even the most routine sex wakes me up to the body’s climate. Oh! Oh! Here I am! This is my body!

Does a session of blissful fucking in a tent make the nearby trees and squirrels happy?  Does the earth beneath his sweaty back rejoice, and the rivers rush harder when I come?

Sometimes I desire the living, wild flesh of the Earth as much as I desire my lover’s body. In the city where I live, I feel this desire as a low-grade, grinding ache, a lustfulness for that other flesh, the living presence of uncontained nature. It seems to me that such a sensual longing, a yearning for my senses to be awakened, exercised, and expanded, must also be sexual. Yet we never call it that. I do not call it that.

But it is spring now. The natural world shows me how sexual it is, without shame, without coyness. Glorying in the strong light of the sun, the starlight that reaches us all, the sex of trees and birds is literally in the air these days, and in me, too. Buds are swelling up; trees are getting ready to have flagrant congress in public. Soon, flowers will start to pop open, spread themselves for all to see. Flowers are the genitalia of plants. Is that why we love them so much, why we adorn our houses with their colors? Even the mud around my car tires looks great, rich and juicy and wonderfully eatable. If I were a goddess, I too would want to mold it into a beautiful human, breathe life into it, and let nature take its course.

  When I let this body outside for a walk, it awakens; when the air and the wind touch my skin, or when I sit down on slightly wet grass, or in dry, powdery dirt, I feel both calmer and more electrically alive. Walking in a mountain valley, or even a well-treed inner city park, or on a deserted beach, or swimming in the water, salty or sweet, I usually get a little turned on. Horny. Don’t you?

Maybe not. Maybe you just get hay fever. Each one of us is so different when it comes to the holy trinity. In the mountains, some would be nervous about bears. In the Aegean, where I have swum for hours on end and reached a mystical, physical union with the sea—I could show you my gills, though I won’t show you what I can do with them—some would only think of drowning, and jellyfish. So. What does it for you, then? Make your own list.

I know why I bring the Earth into sex. Because then I can never be without it. The hardest times in my life have been sexless. When I have healed, or mourned, or untangled myself from unhealthy relationships, or when I have been deeply focused on work, celibacy has sometimes been a necessity, a form of spiritual and physical rejuvenation. But even when I have recognized its importance and usefulness, my body has always disliked sexlessness and felt grumpy about it. By accepting the Earth as a lover, I know that as long as I am alive, that sensual, fleshly pleasure can be mine, even if I am alone.

It is impossible to speak honestly of sex and not mention fear. Fear is partly why sex makes us feel so alive, and half-crazed sometimes, and weird, and irritated. Sex disturbs us for many other reasons, too, but fear is always in the mix. Touch it—whatever it is for you--and the fear rises like the fine, narrow skull of a snake. Flick, flick. Is it poisonous? Will it kill me? Or is it just a garter snake?

It might be a small, niggling fear, an embarrassment, something that makes you roll your eyes at yourself, or at your lover. It might turn the sexiest moment into ridiculous comedy, which is a kind of blessing. Yes: what we fear can also be, and very often is, funny. The body is an honest comic, no matter how cool and wise the mind may be. On all fours, her lovely ass seductively lifted in the air, the most beautiful woman in the world farts, loudly. Once, on the night that the seduction was going to take place, after a meal of long, delicious foreplay (lots of oysters), by the time we got down to our knickers and lots of tongue, there was no longer any way to deny it: we both had food poisoning (lots of oysters). Or, during that longed-for romantic weekend away from the children, you will have enough time and space and a gorgeous hotel bed to lie down in, naked and alone together at last! You find that the hotel bed is wide and big enough to accommodate a huge argument over finances. The sex should be unsalvageable, but you attack it anyway, desperate, needful, furious at that need. As you enter or are entered, you wonder why you ever married anyway. Was it out of lust? Or for money? And now you’re stuck in it, with the products, the joyful, miraculous results of your sex, gorgeous children, left at home. And you’ll be terrified that you could wonder such a thing, in anger, just before you have the best, outraged, breaking-through-outrage sex you’ve had in your life.

Fear is as much a part of being human as sex is. I have just turned forty-four, and am haunted by and fearful of what my mother told me about menopause: It finished sex for her. Done. Gonzo. Never again. “You’re not even interested in masturbation?” I asked her in a disbelieving, whiny voice. She howled at the absurdity of the idea. When I suggested she just needed a good vibrator, she laughed so hard she almost fell off her chair. “Nope,” she said. “Not for me. After the change, I just lost interest. The hot flashes burned the lust right out of me.” She acknowledged that she had even less interest in men messing up her house and leaving their damn socks on the floor, but still, her words frightened me. Her post-menopausal stories made me think of the poet Donald Hall’s beautiful elegies for his wife, who cried out, in the midst of her fatal illness: “No more fucking, no more fucking!”

I fear death for the same reason. If I were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, it’s not the unwritten books or the unlearned languages that my spirit would mourn. After despair for my son growing up motherless and my husband growing old without me, my self-focused grief would be not exactly for my body, but for all the sweet, joyful sex, and the slightly distracted, hurried sex, and the sad sex, and the confused sex that I would no longer be able to have. I know that spirits, if they exist, do not care about such things. But I am not a spirit yet.

When it comes to the body, fear is also larger; it cuts much deeper and harder than daily disappointments and human foibles. The fear that sex brings up is often about horrific losses, the ones we suffered as children, as adolescents, as adults, in abusive relationships, in dysfunctional families, in religions that hated the body, hated sex, hated us, basically, hated the holy trinity, flesh, desire, sex. For some of us, that fear has the power to stop up our throats. Literally. The words are not metaphoric.

For years, I couldn’t speak about what I wanted before, during, or after sex. I couldn’t talk about what I needed, either, about what didn’t feel right. My throat closed up. The power of speech was gone, and, along with speech, all chance of being heard by the person who happened to be undressing me.

Fear resides, often, in the throat, along with its sibling, shame. Not a trinity, these two, but the difficult, unloved twins of the human psyche, born of damage and capable of creating more. Shame and fear huddle like angry children in the places where they are inflicted, trapped in the subterranean passages of the mind and the body. Most of us have sexual wounds, smaller, larger, healed, still raw, scarred over. If we are persistent and fortunate, we find ways to heal those wounds through compassionate relationship, in spiritual practice, with good therapy. But all of us live in a culture that uses sex flagrantly; cheapens, sells, perverts, even tortures, and hates sexuality; debases the bodies of women and men in various media while using those same images to titillate, to instigate sexual response.

Meanwhile, up on the surface, in our schools and homes, in our politics, in the way we teach and talk to our children, we are often puritanical about our bodies, frightened of the flesh, of desire, of sex. Our culture seeks to control, legislate, manage, obsess about, ignore, silence, and straitjacket the body, even as our teenage girls feel pressured to hook up with boys they’re not really interested in and send out sexy photos of themselves to prove what everyone should know about everyone else, naturally, from childhood on: that we are all sexual beings, even we who are asexual. Sex is part and parcel of our humanity. We seem to be able to do almost anything with sex except simply relax with this most obvious and potentially charming fact of life.  

Somewhere, deep down, under these sensitive acres of skin and warm fat, in the animal layers, our bodies know that sex could be easier and, if we so desired, wilder. We could know both the deep comfort and edgy thrill of sex, with more grace and storminess, as the trees know it, the birds, the flowers, the animals in their spring-time cavorting. Like that old song by Cole Porter, "Let’s Do it, Let’s Fall in Love," sex with or without love could be more fun. It could simply be more. Instead of being difficult, or anxious, or kind of dull, muted by routine and our own unwillingness to let go of our fears and to change our lives. And, from time to time, our positions.

Here I bow again to the spring-time Earth as my inspiration and my teacher. I have always loved the bhumi-sparsha mudra in which the Buddha’s right hand is draped over his knee to touch the Earth. He is calling upon the Earth, the soil, to witness his enlightenment. This gesture is full of meaning for me, for us, for the planet. In the oldest extant stories, the Earth that the Buddha touched was embodied in one of the ancient goddesses that predate Buddhism. She was Prithivi, also known as Bhumi, the Source of All, She Who Cannot Be Deceived, the Womb of the World.

Ah-ha! Mother Earth, in the form of a fertility goddess, is present at the very birth of Buddhism. In some of the stories, Prithivi actually rises up and insists upon the Buddha’s purity.

That is what I see in the singing, budding, swelling, lusting, mating spring-time world around me. Prithivi rises again and again, every year, all year, whenever we are ready for her, whenever we want her. No matter how badly we humans treat this planet, she is always ready to speak on our behalf. Spring is her song, not only of life-giving lust and fecundity, but of perfect faith. The purity that she swears by is non-dualistic, enormous, with enough space and breath and starlight for every one of us, with our kinkiest kinks, our fear, our shame, our deepest lust, what we dream, what we whisper, what we dare not utter. She cries out, I am your witness, and you are—or you could be—free.   

 

 

Happy Burma!

March 17, 2014

Happy New Year!  Happy Birthday! (It was mine recently.) Happy Burma! (They finally let me back in, but don't let that fool you; the military still calls all the shots there, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the great lady, while admirable in many ways, is still a big disappointment if you happen to be a Burmese Muslim: more on all this later.) Happy St Paddy's Day! Happy almost Spring! (Though you'd barely know that here in Toronto, where it is still freezing.)

Well, judging from the list of greetings, it's clear that I have failed to keep up with my "blog posts". I am obviously not a blogger. I am an occasional poster of thoughts and a bit o news, nothing more. I am even having trouble putting up regular Facebook posts, which is pathetic, considering that some people cannot seem to shut up on Facebook. And Twitter? Tweet tweet tweet! Isn't that enough? Tweet! In theory, I admire the usefulness of these social media platforms, but in practice, I always seem to be out of the country in an internet difficult area or housecleaning or having a pillow fight when it occurs to me: Oh yeah, I should be blogging. Then I watch the news or take a bath instead. And how do I hook my social media accounts to this, my unblogged blog? I don't know. How do you fix a vacuum cleaner or get to the moon? Ask me about metaphor, or Burma.

Everyone inside calls it Myanmar. Which is an interesting sign of the times. While the military is neither forgiven for their crimes and certainly impossible to forget (seeing as they take up most seats in Parliament), the people have chosen, at least in public, to give them a pass. On the surface, things LOOK busy--so many cars, and SO MANY NEW FOREIGNERS with international development degrees!! and with that youthful-white-in-SE-Asia-ability to get shit-faced drunk and ridiculous-looking. (That is a brief summary of the Alliance Francaise party in Yangon; none of them call it Rangoon; they may not have known that it ever was called Rangoon) --things look "better," more 'developed', but underneath the traffic jams and the plastic tea shop chairs, the economic situation is possibly worse than it's been for many Burmese business people and the man and woman in the street are angry about many things, especially about how the image and smell of prosperity remains very remote from their own lives. Oh: and small children are still dying of malnutrition and easily preventable diseases, just in case you thought that was all over . . .  I am working on a new essay about all of this (God, yes, she's going to write about Burma AGAIN, and probably lose her new found freedom to actually go there), about some remarkable people I met, about the grace and charm and kindness of so many Burmese people--I fell in love all over again, hopelessly--about the wackiness of my return to that country which has affected me for so many years, even when I wasn't allowed to go there. It started out with a slightly disastrous and oddly colonial affair: a big quite English literary festival in Mandalay. It was surreal, and wonderful, to be back in a country where my books had been banned for so long, reading from those same books. 

Here I am with some of the women who came to hear Aung San Suu Kyi speak at the literary festival. Not that she spoke to them at all. (I'll save that for my essay, but I have to say: it was sad. Not a single word in Burmese. How things have changed indeed.) They are also writers and poets from Mandalay. The red flag with the gold (fighting) peacock on it is National League for Democracy flag---Daw Suu's party.

Look at how beautiful all the thamins are! The longyis--mine is not Burmese but from Cambodia, across the border from Sisaket, Thailand.

Some day, I will post ONCE A WEEK here and have thousands of readers. Haha. Until then, it's just you and me, friend . . .  Please see my thrilling upcoming events if you're about to be in Ottawa or Moncton or Toronto any time soon . . .