How to Survive Another Christmas Part Two

Free and Easy Christmas Trauma Treatments

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Continued from my last blog post . . . Some mental health practices for dealing with Christmas trauma . . .


7.) Get a notebook or a bunch of scrap paper and write a list of bullet points that answer the question ‘Why is Christmas hard for me?’ Each reason gets its own full page.

So, you might use up ten or twelve or twenty pages, each headed with one line of your list. “Brings up childhood poverty” one page. “Brings up the time Uncle _____ tried to _____” (Fill in the blanks.) “Reminds me of how depressed Mom always got.” “Painful to be around Dad when he is drinking.” “Always have to be nice to _____ who makes me want to vomit.” Et cetera.

Be as honest as you can. Simply naming and giving space — a whole page (or two or three if you want) — to the actual difficulty of Christmas helps to validate and modulate your own feelings.

Part of the reason why Christmas is so hard is because of all the pressures we feel to enact roles in the myth of Christmas — of plenitude, of happiness, of love, peace, joy, blahblahblah.

Walking in a winterland? WTF? There is no snow where I live in Canada: there used to be snow here in Toronto. Now it’s raining and feels more like Vancouver. As I mentioned in my last article, our massive celebration of over-consumption and over-production is also hard on our exhausted planet. Even if we are not fully conscious of it, we feel that, too, on top of many other stresses.

8.) Now on each page of your Christmas list, quickly scribble, without thinking too much and without worrying about your grammar or spelling — no one is checking this list at all, especially not Santa — how you could alleviate this particular difficulty.

Be creative. Be ridiculous. Write whatever you want to resolve your Christmas trauma/anxiety/sadness. Indulge in some questionable practices — it’s fine to have someone just disappear off the face of the earth — but do not commit violence or enact cruel vengeance on anyone, not even in your mind. Try to let go of that impulse: it’s violent energy which frees no one.

9.) Rather than vengeance or any harsh enactments of justice, go theother way: get spiritual and be able to miraculously forgive (or at least forget and release) all those who’ve hurt you. Act like you are some enlightened being, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the Angel Gabriel, a beloved Guru, Jesus himself, whatever works for you.

Yes, I know, that may be asking alot, but just try it. You may surprise yourself. I’m not saying what you imagine will come to pass, but we underestimate the power of the imagination to make us FEEL DIFFERENTLY. Even if only for a few moments.

A free and easy meditation: Imagine the burden (see it: a broken chunk of concrete; a heavy board; a pot of sludge or boiling oil; whatever: see a burden in your life in a physical form, on you).

Imagine that this terrible burden begins to lift off your heart, off your body, even away from that particular part of your body that is affected by the burden.

You are able to breathe more freely. Take five deep breaths into your nose all the way down into your belly. And let the breath go out of your mouth.

The burden lifts, lifts, rises away from your body until you can no longer see it. You are able to breathe easily. All that is up above you is clear beautiful blue sky.

You are now free. You can experience Christmas in a completely new way, a way in which you can embrace the most wonderful gift you’ve ever had, the gift you receive every day, the gift you receive even this moment: your life.

This one precious life. It is yours.

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10.) Use your imagination and your practical intelligence to liberate some of your pain around Christmas. Use your health to bring you more health. Often we know how to help ourselves — but we don’t.

We could Google up another freeing meditation on the Internet and give ourselves ten minutes to practice it. But instead we obsess on Facebook about an ex-lover or an ex-friend; we welter in old pain and suffering. We can change that. Engage your brain in some Christmas-freedom play when responding to your list. “Go to Havana” is a good solution, or, even better, “Sail effortlessly to Fiji.”


11.) Resolve to not drink too much alcohol during the Christmas season. Give yourself a hard limit for any Christmas occasion. Write your intention down in your notebook. Make a commitment. For those of us with PTSD, alcohol increases our feelings of vulnerability and makes PTSD symptoms more likely to reoccur. Christmas is a time when so many of us feel isolated. (That can be a symptom of PTSD.) Even if you don’t have PTSD, alcohol is a powerful depressant and diuretic: it dehydrates the body.

This is a time when we need to engage our most adult selves (while loving up the child self). Being our most adult selves means taking good care of our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Here are some helpful ideas to help you manage your drinking over the holidays. Everyone is different but hopefully something here works for you.

Though I’ve been writing seriously since I was twelve, I’m only now beginning to write (in prose) about my childhood. My own son just turned twelve. A couple weeks ago, he called me to his room before he fell asleep. I sat down beside his bed, which he’s almost outgrown — he’s two inches taller than me already — and he said in a worried tone, “Ama, I don’t know how to explain this.”

I said, “What’s wrong, honey? What’s the problem?”

“Christmas.”

“What about Christmas?” I had a vague idea of what he was going to say.

And he said it. “Every Christmas, I feel like something bad is going to happen. It never does, not really. But I always feel like something bad will happen. I don’t know why.”

Inwardly, I felt a huge deflation: like one of those giant lit-up Santas, knifed and rapidly losing air on the front lawn. I’d tried to protect him. We have a tree and lights and Christmas stories and music. We dress the tree together. We enact a happy Christmas; and it often IS happy.

I thought I had protected him from Christmas trauma. He’s never experienced the ideological warfare and fighting that constituted the whole month of December for the child of a Jehovah’s Witness and a Catholic. But he’s absorbed significant traces of my painful Christmas sadness. He’s also had mixed messages from the relatives on his father’s side. He is the only boy cousin amongst girls, which has meant years of watching girls bond, giggle, share experiences, and receive expensive gifts while he has been the odd boy out. So even for him, Christmas can bring up feelings of separation and not-good-enough. (We are also the least wealthy ones among my husband’s brothers, something that we feel keenly only at Christmas time. But that’s another story.)

I gave my beautiful son a hug. “It’s a difficult time of year for a lot of people. There’s so much going on. I think you also pick up a lot of the sadness I feel about how Christmas was when I was a kid.” And I shared more of my own family background with him. Not too much, but enough to help him understand.

My father won the Christmas war: we had a Christmas tree, and we even got presents. But my mother won the battles: we, her children, had to publicly enact the role of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and not sing the lovely songs or colour Rudolph pictures or even open our gifts without deep guilt and confusion. This was a childhood in Calgary, Alberta, in the 1970’s and 80’s. There were no Muslims, two Jews (and they were allowed to sing carols and colour Christmas pictures at school!) and me: I was the only student who was set apart from my classmates during every celebration of the year, including birthdays.

Though my siblings and I were allowed to celebrate Christmas under the dictates of our father (thank God!) I knew in my heart of hearts that getting out the beautiful delicate ornaments and hanging glittery silver tinsel and even wanting the gifts, let alone ripping open the shiny paper and getting them in my hot little hands, was bad. It was all bad, and dangerous.

When the end of the world arrived — it was going to arrive very soon — I would die because I got a new Barbie for Christmas. How was that fair? It made no sense. I knew none of it made sense. My death, when I died, would be senseless. That is a very painful realization for a fully believing six-year-old to have.

But then, historically and recently, the punishments adults inflict on children are often unwitting, senseless, and soul-damaging. We like to think random, stupid, terrifying violence against defenceless children doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but if you work in any public health, welfare, or policing capacity — or if you read the news once in a while — you know that people are still harming their kids, while other supposedly intelligent people are writing and enacting policies that grievously harm other people’s kids. Adults still violate children with impunity all the time. It’s disgusting.

The reasoning might be intellectual or political, rather than religious; an excuse is necessary, at least, for legal child abuse. Dividing thousands of children from their migrant parents at the U.S. border is inhumane and sick, but many people support the decision to do so and other people physically enact the separation policy, pulling small children out of the arms of their mothers and fathers and putting them in foster care, often among people who do not speak their language. Keeping destitute refugee children in the hot-stop refugee camps all across Europe is inhumane and sick: civilized Europeans are doing it and have been doing it for years.

12.) I mention wide-ranging child abuse because developing a wide perspective is a good antidote to self-pity. (Though if you need to indulge in some self-pity pre or post Christmas, go ahead. I understand. Just know how to pull yourself out of the self-pity pit.)

13.)A wide, generous perspective humbles and enriches us at the same time. As a friend often says, Love what you love.

Enough to eat? Lucky. Clean water to drink? So blessed. One trustworthy beloved? Sweet abundance.

That wide perspective I mentioned is just out your front door. The teenager begging for change on the street. The old man sleeping on a heating vent downtown. (FYI: a high number of homeless men suffer a serious brain injury before becoming homeless. So let’s put to bed the callous response, ‘They just like living that way.’) Kids in foster care who have no families coherent enough to create even a traumatic Christmas. My childhood home was often a disaster, but at least I had one; I’ve always been grateful for that. To be a child in state care at Christmas time is to try to celebrate on the site of an open wound.

Unfortunately, and still, Christmas triggers my whole body. For years I’ve approached this time of year like a soldier who’s been assigned a grueling exercise in an underground tunnel (the basement) where some disembodied form of torture takes place. Punishingly loud sounds? Constant screams of a child in a neighboring cell? Ice water spraying from the ceiling for hours at a time?

Then come the two most dangerous days — the day of Christmas Eve and The Day Itself.

On those two days, things get a little tougher. Okay, much tougher. If I’m unprepared, if I haven’t taken care of myself properly, the psychic pain of those two days is so unmanageable— the self-talk so vile, the difficult memories so intrusive — that I have to go away and lie down and be still or stand in the bathroom doing Observed Experiential Integration, which is a neural trauma therapy developed by the gifted therapist Audrey Cook and Dr. Rick Bradshaw.

As a therapist myself who uses this therapy and as a client who still benefits from it, I have to advise people to practice OEI only under the guidance of a skilled therapist. For those with severe dissociative disorders, OEI can be disruptive. It’s a therapy I hope to write much more about in the future because it’s an extraordinary way of managing and healing trauma. I use it when I’m feeling mildly triggered or when I’m in the midst of a full-blown PTSD episode.

OEI helps me manage my traumatized brain by using my eyes. I hold my left hand over my left eye, then switch to hold my right hand over my right eye. First one, then the other: that is the most basic OEI technique. I observe the emotions on each side, spending more ‘seeing’ time on whichever side feels calmer and less reactive.

If I’m feeling especially triggered, I cover my more reactive ‘upset’ eye; this calms me down and helps to engage the more adult-functioning, non-traumatized parts of my brain. I can titrate calmness from one side to the other, back and forth, switching eyes until I return to a balanced, non-reactive state.

Though I don’t have the space to talk about any of the neurological aspects of OEI here, in essence, it helps calm those regions of the brain that have been affected by trauma. It possibly helps the traumatized brain to create new neural pathways through traumatic memory.

I also tap the left and right sides of my body — shoulders, thigh, knee — with the opposite hand. That’s bilateral stimulation — a simple subtle way of getting the brain back online in the present moment.

14.) When we’re feeling triggered and upset, we’re going back to past trauma. To feel better, we need to return to the present: to bring our minds back into our ‘now’ bodies. As I said at the beginning of Part One of this article, Whatever is happening in our current Christmas is probably far less dangerous physically and psychically than what happened when we were small children.

So the goal, with Christmas trauma, is to bring us into a clear present. Any grounding technique will help us do that. Even sitting up straight and putting our feet on the floor. Going for a walk. Brain yoga. These are simple, helpful exercises for balancing both sides of the brain and body. Brain yoga takes just 5 minutes to de-stress and relax you. Share widely as a wonderful Christmas present.

15) We can send our blessings or prayers of peace and comfort to the millions of men, women, and children at all the borders of this world, visible and invisible, victims of war, famine, political turmoil, broken, violent families. It is their birthright, too, to be welcomed and given a safe place to raise their children, to eat, to receive love, to be blessed with gifts.

To have a safe, sturdy place to live on this hurting planet is like winning the lottery. In some ways, it’s completely accidental, like the miracle of our births.

Because of my childhood, contradiction and paradox have always been a part of me. I’ve never been good at polarized (black/white — good/bad — us/them) thinking, even when I wish I could be, because I grew up on both sides of an impossible divide. Many children still grow up like this, simultaneously separated from and conjoined to their parents and their traditional religious upbringings. The original meaning of ‘confuse’ meant ‘to be fused with; to become part of something else.’ Really then, I’ve always been confused. And I continue to be confused. Sometimes a form of wisdom.

When I was a child, my confusion was a source of tremendous suffering. Through years of travel, meditation, loving, losing, and waiting, it has become a multiplicity of belief that has led me to study the world’s major religions. It’s enabled me to learn and embody many forms of healing and sacredness. Ever a carrier of messages, I have made peace between my two angry, early gods.

15.) In Buddhism one of the key benedictions is simple, brave, and limitless, a blessing that extends in every direction.

May all beings be free from suffering.

Including you and me. Including those beings, human and non-human, that we will never meet. Including those who have harmed us. Including those we can forgive and those we cannot (yet) forgive.

If you have a dry erase pen, write it on your mirror and say it every morning and every evening until the end of December, or the end of January, or perhaps until the end of time. 

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May all beings be free

from suffering.

including you and me.

Karen ConnellyComment
Merry Christmas Trauma, Part One

. . . in which the author recounts her Christmas trauma and liberally dispenses advice . . .

May the force be with you. I have complete faith in your abilities . . .

May the force be with you. I have complete faith in your abilities . . .

How to survive another f***ing Christmas

 Yes, I know “Christmas Trauma” is not in your old (or brand new) psychology textbook. Nor is it in the DSM, the American Psychiatry Association’s coveted manual that names, describes, and legitimizes mental disorders. But last time I checked, Complex PTSD wasn’t in the DSM either, and Complex PTSD is real, too. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/ptsd/ptsd-dsm-5-understanding-changes. It’s a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that many people experience, particularly if they grew up in unstable, chaotic, or violent homes where neglect was common.

Sound familiar?

If you’re nodding and saying, Yeah, that sounds like the kind of childhood  . . . um, uh, a really close friend of mine had . . . then read on. My list is scattered throughout this article, so if you want only practical tips on how to survive Christmas, just read the numbered highlighted list. If you want a little more perspective—from me, of the wacky religious, dysfunctional family kind —read the whole piece.   

1.)    Remind yourself (as I remind myself) that you’ve survived every Christmas from birth up until now. Write it down. Say it out loud. Say it to the mirror. So far, neither our dysfunctional families nor the poisonous commercialism of the season have killed us. Those childhood Christmases were probably more psychically and physically dangerous than the one we’re going to experience a few days from now.

 2.)    Barring, of course, the tragedy of stepping off the curb as that proverbial fucking bus careens by. Always look both ways when crossing the street. Please don’t read this article on your phone while walking in a semi-catatonic state across a mall parking lot. Sit down somewhere. Chill.

 3.)    But if you are or if anyone you know is facing a Christmas that may become physically dangerous due to domestic violence, please read the linked article just below and consider acting on at least some of its suggestions. Being prepared can save lives or prevent grievous harm. http://16days.thepixelproject.net/16-safety-ideas-and-tips-for-women-facing-domestic-violence-over-the-holiday-season/


Of course “Christmas Trauma,” as a clinical term, sounds ridiculous. Humour is one of the ways I deal with my own Complex PTSD symptoms during this merry, joyful, infuriating, nauseating, wonderful season. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml 

Certain forms of humour depend on the tension between the idealized image of something (‘our most joyful day of giving, full of peace and love”) and its grossly contrasting reality (“our collective struggles with addictions of all kinds and with healing our old and ongoing family wounds, including the wounds we inflict on the planet.”)

Christmas truly is a special day—no, a whole month, if we’re honest—of unbridled, immoral consumption. It is like continuously vomiting backwards, a physical and commercial gluttony that crams our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our spirits, our roads, our cities full of stuff that (most of us, if we are honest) do not need. It is truly the signature festival of the rich, colonizing, thievery-based, capitalism-exporting North and West.

No wonder it triggers many other painful events of the past, even for those who did not necessarily have harsh childhoods. The ENTIRE PLANET experiences Christmas as a traumatic event. Over-production, overconsumption, murder: forests, waters, animals, humans. Our beautiful earth is exhausted, raped and pillaged by us, her favored children, her highest IQ babies. So perhaps the term “Christmas trauma” is not so ridiculous after all . . .

 4.)    In an attempt to integrate my Christmas trauma, I’m letting my inner child swear a lot, as you may have already noticed, so please don’t be offended. In general, let us try not to be offended, even when random people show us their offensive side.  Let it go: those three impossible words. Smile. Laugh. Fake-laugh for several minutes a day. Try it right now. https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/stress-anxiety/is-laughing-good-for-you-the-health-benefits-of-laughter/

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Did she or did she not sight a cougar?

5.)    Seriously. Smile and do a fake laugh, right now, for ten or twenty seconds. Thirty seconds. Come on! If you press weights at a gym or run around fucking Central Park for an hour in tights every day, you can fake-laugh for forty seconds. Even fake laughter trips the body’s mood switch; happy chemicals flood the bloodstream. If you need the laughter to be real, and if you ever do yoga, this video is hilarious:  https://www.cbc.ca/22minutes/videos/clips-season-22/angry-yoga (it’s about a couple minutes long; just put up with the brief advertisement.)

 

Christmas as Ideological Warfare, Or, A Religious Childhood

Despite my issues with Christmas, that little child part of me still comes out every December, hoping it will be different. And it is different. I am no longer a small child torn between two murderous ideologies—Catholics (my father’s side) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (my mother’s side). These ideologies shared an identical promise, though: if I did not do what each different version of the One True God wanted me to do (to celebrate or not to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus in the manger), I would experience eternal death. The Catholics believe in hell; the J.W.’s just believe in death everlasting. Like all ideologies, both of my early ones promised that if you are bad, if you are not a true believer in the creed, then you are condemned.

(Meaningful tangent: Has anybody else noticed that a lot of university campuses are disturbingly fundamentalist-religionist-be-good-or-die these days? Censorship, vicious self-righteousness, all the things students are not supposed to say, do, ask, think. Or is it just me? I will never be at ease with people who insist on how good they themselves are while pointing to those other fuckers over there who are so bad. Anyway—)

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As a child, all I wanted to do was sing Christmas carols like the other kids, and believe in Santa Claus, because God was a murderous psychopath. I wanted to colour pictures of Rudolph: but then I would die at Armageddon. I used to have burning, tearful night-time conversations with Jehovah about how I was sorry for wanting to sing “The Litter Drummer Boy” and, especially, “Silent Night.” It sounds funny now, but when I was eight, I thought singing Christmas carols was literally going to KILL me.

            Isn’t that fucked up? Why, yes. Yes, it is.

I identified at a soul level with Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, because the JW’s got my soul (for a time). I looked forward to the animated story that appeared on T.V. every December. My mother (Thank Jehovah!) relented, and let us watch Christmas specials. Boris Karloff, who narrated The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, has a smoky dark baritone: his will always be the true voice of the season for me.

I lived under the reign of the Grinch—a grump who nefariously tries to steal Christmas from Whoville. My dad was as lapsed a Catholic as you can get, an alcoholic, an occasional brawler and a gambler: it’s not like he ever took us to church. My mother, however, dragged us to Kingdom Hall meetings three times a week. I drank Watchtower Koolaid--because I was, after all, four, five, six, eight, ten years old, prime Koolaid drinking years--and became a devout believer, a door-knocker, a Bible thumper.

As a precocious and wary child, I was very worried when the original Jim Jones clan killed some federal agents in the jungle, drank the cyanide-spiked Koolaid and died. All of them, even the kids. I asked my mother a lot of uncomfortable questions about that whole tragedy. Nevertheless, I continued to drink Watchtower Koolaid until puberty and books tapped me right between the eyes (and, well, between the legs, too.) Soon enough, I had to face Armageddon and my impending death on my own terms. Thus I became a writer.

But before I made it there, I had to get through early childhood, where we all lived and fought together in the same house, my parents and five children, damaged to varying degrees by their parents’ battles. I contained the opposing ideologies for all of them. I was the middle child of the family, a bridge between my parents and often in between my parents and my siblings, and between my siblings and my siblings. I was a translator and carrier of messages; I was the silent recorder of disasters.

During my parents’ passionate drunken arguments, during the fist fights my father had with my older brother, during the horrific beatings he gave my older sister, through the bullying and God-mongering and the hidden-not-hidden sexual abuse, I witnessed all, forgot half, and buried everything until many years later—post suicide-of-the-sister, post-addictions-of-the-brothers, post-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-major-intrusiveness—when I started to dig it all up. The first serious archaeological dig into my own past took place was over twenty years ago.

 And here I am, still a writer and more recently (surprise-surprise) a therapist specializing in trauma.

End of Part One. Part Two Will Be Delivered Early by Santa Claus Himself.

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The most confusing and impossible fairytale collection of my childhood.

(notice how it’s dented? top, toward the right side)

 

Karen ConnellyComment
It's getting chilly. Here's a little something to warm you up.
 

It was as dark as a movie theatre. She had forgotten bars, except for the pub up the street from their house, where they sometimes took the kids for french fries and burgers. This was not that kind of a place. You would never bring a kid in here.

The Silk Route, it was called. Deep plush divans were tucked into the corners. I’ll get used to the dark, Eliza thought, trying to keep her breathing steady. My eyes will adjust.

She twisted between the jumble of crowded tables, chairs draped with women’s coats and bags, thirty or forty faces floating in the air, animated, talking above glowing candle holders. the light flickering across those faces, men and women who looked soft, anonymously young. A jazzy, drunken buzz animated the air; the music was Arabic pop.

What if Shar didn’t come? And what were all these young people doing out on a Sunday night in early February? Didn’t they have to work in the morning?  She shrugged off her coat and stood up, swaying in the too-loud music. Aisha Aisha, ecoutez moi, Aisha Aisha t’en vas pas. She went toward the bar, feeling disoriented in this old world of young people. The red-haired bartender approached her with a grin on his fox-like face; tattoos encircled both his arms. Eliza thought he might be, at the outside, twenty-three. Twenty-five? She couldn’t tell their ages anymore, except younger than me. She ordered the most expensive wine they had on their chalkboard wine list, a shiraz, then turned to survey the avid faces again. Half of them were busy on their phones. Did they know they were there, at the crest of the hill? Their twenty-five or twenty-nine or thirty-two years would click over soon into thirty-five, forty. The dazzling rush down the other side of life would begin. They couldn’t see it coming. The joy and the fear was in not knowing how everything would change, and change again.

She steadied herself against the bar and lifted her glass. Put her lips to the edge. But did not drink. Someone had come up behind her. He was too close. He felt as tall as Andrew. Her husband. She half-turned, slowly, the wine glass still in her hand.

But it was Shar there, behind her. “Bonjour, ma belle amie,” she said. “Madame Fleur, comment ça va?”

Eliza turned around. Shar didn’t step away; they stood face to face. Eliza kissed her on the cheek, a hello peck to the Bonjour. When she drew back to kiss her on the other side, Shar moved forward and caught Eliza on the lips. The women kissed, to the surprise and delight of the bartender and a few people who happened to be ordering drinks. Four full lips. What else could they do, but invite tongues to join in? At such close quarters, what could the bartender and the customers do but watch? Then glance politely away. When the customers moved off, the bartender continued to stare with frank appreciation.

Eliza drew her head back and answered with a decent accent, “Ca va très bien. Et toi?”

“Waa-ooow,” Shar said, en français, which turned the retro wow into a word of sensual pleasure. She took a big theatrical step backward to look Eliza up and down—her black knit dress, her thigh-high boots, surreptitiously put on in the car—and said, “Yeah, I see you are well. Nice boots.” Then, taking a step closer, whispered, “And I think you must be very horny.”

Eliza fell up into the large, deep-lidded eyes. Actually, she had been wet since she left her house. No, it had started when she replied to Shar’s text. Ridiculous. It was like really bad erotica, the old Penthouse Forum: Eliza’s pussy was dripping wet. She put her hand on her forehead. Did she have a fever?

At home, this would be just another quiet Sunday night.

They went to sit down on the divan, facing each other. Suddenly it no longer seemed dark; Shar’s wrist and inner arm glowed pearlescent. The long hand spread open, with its knobby opposable thumb, always separate from the other fingers. Working with flowers, cutters, and glass made Eliza conscious of the extraordinary machines she used every day, two hands, ten fingers, hundreds of interlinked bones, woven tendons, the skein of fascia overcoating and connecting all, that net of skin inside the skin. Her hands were work-hard, her skin calloused.

Every hand should come with a label and a manual. Miraculous hand, treacherous hand. Press here. Go on, do it. You know you want to.

Go ahead. Blow up your life.

Who is thinking this? Both of them. Eliza touches the tip of her middle finger to the centre of Shar’s palm.. Shar’s long strong fingers close over Eliza’s. One palm presses greedily against the other palm, pushes, insists the hand is the body in miniature. Their hands writhe naked on the sofa, over and under, as their bodies hover above their hands, and their minds flicker through and around their bodies. At different moments the thought floats from one mind into the other until they are both thinking, like a Greek chorus:  I will have to lie about this.

Press here. You know you want to.

 

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Karen ConnellyComment
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, praying, meditating, and trying not to buy a pack ofcigarettes. 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 ...
 

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

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

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.

 
Karen Connelly Comments
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.