Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A few words on & by Dr. Maya Angelou

I was sitting in a gorgeous little cafe on Dundonald Street when I found out Maya Angelou had passed away. Normally when I find out someone has died I stick my nose in my wifi capable device and I read every single article and thinkpiece about what they’ve accomplished. I’m not going to pretend I was Dr. Angelou’s biggest fan growing up; the little I knew of her seemed to be the stuff of Hallmark cards and inspirational plaques on walls.

But when I was gifted ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ when I was perhaps 17, "I had gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware. And the worst part of my awareness was that I didn't know what I was aware of.” It struck me deeply even if I didn’t truly understand many of the racial aspects of the book until a few years later. (“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” )

Maya Angelou was a lovely poet, a fierce activist, and a beautiful person. She was awarded over thirty (!!!) doctoral degrees, and was a journalist and a professor as well as San Francisco’s first woman African-American streetcar conductor as I just learned today.

So when I found out about Dr. Angelou’s death I remembered what she said about autonomy, about structural racism, about voicelessness, and ran to grab I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (where all of these quotes are from) which is actually surprisingly both easy and not that easy in Bermuda. I ended up missing my bus, I sat in my favourite park in Hamilton, and I read it, not front to back but I took a few moments to try to suss out all of the parts that struck me so many years ago.

“If you're for the right thing, you do it without thinking.” 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Beating the shit out of someone

On Friday, May 9th, 2014 in Halifax someone beat the shit out of a person.

I’m going to say shit because I don’t think crap is a strong enough word for when someone it beaten.

I don’t need to say allegedly because no one will tell us who beat the shit out of a person although what I am about to write will highlight a trail in communications that implies it is someone and results in potential misinformation or disinformation.

This person has been identified, although not officially yet, as a woman.

You don’t need the woman’s name. You don’t need to know who she was unless you wants you to know that, but someone beat the shit out of her.

I am not writing about the woman, although I really do hope that she is okay, that she has an amazing support system that helps her recover in the way that is best for her. I hope she is treated with respect by the media and the attention and the people paying attention to the media. I hope people will think of her, not her personality, not her as potentially a mother sister or daughter, but her as an autonomous being before talking about her and her situation.

I have. I thought a lot about this last night because I am frequently troubled by how people in positions of power use that.

I hope that she’ll tell me if she wants me to change anything about this. I’ll do that. For her.

But someone beat the shit out of a person.

I’m not going to talk about the person who had the shit beaten out of them, or even really the person who beat the shit out of the person.

We’re going to look at what “beat the shit out of” becomes.

Beat the Shit Out Of
Beat the shit out of is not a legal term. I don’t want it used in a paper either. I use it here because I am not a newspaper. I still feel compelled to remind people of that.

Domestic Assault
The headline of this CBC article says Domestic Assault. That is a legal charge. That is the name of the charge against the person who has physically hurt someone. In ‘Domestic Assault’ you can identify that someone beat the shit out of someone, even if it doesn’t come out and say it.

This is a quote that uses the word assault:

"We can confirm that officers responded to a report of an assault at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 9 at a Halifax address. A 34-year-old Halifax man was subsequently arrested at a separate Halifax address that same evening and was released on a Promise to Appear in Halifax Provincial Court on June 18, 2014, to face a charge of assault," the HRP said.

Sun News Network’s headline also used the term domestic assault. I am not linking to their story because I am not interested in giving them ad money, but here is a picture of that headline.

In the piece you can also see that the press secretary says “after charges for a domestic matter.”

Charges for a Domestic Matter/ Domestic incident

Charges for a Domestic Matter is not an official term although it uses official terms in it. It includes the word domestic from ‘domestic assault’ but not ‘assault.’ Charges for a domestic matter could theoretically be a lot of things, like some combination of fireworks or drugs or land or anything. It could also theoretically be for beating the shit out of someone.

Kyley Harris, the communications director for the Premier, is on paid leave for charges for a domestic matter, as reported by Metro.

Legal problems/ charges
Here are a list of a few potential legal problems:
  • A parking ticket
  • Cannibalism
  • Driving without a license
  • Murder
  • Shoplifting
  • Beating the shit out of someone
In the CTV News article, Kyley Harris is on paid leave for charges for a domestic matter that are legal problems.

In addition to not being a newspaper, I am not a journalist. I have an awful lots of respect for journalists. They work difficult hours and have to process a lot of information very quickly. They are threatened, both physically and and legally. Sometimes I’m not sure if they are aware of their own power.

Someone beat the shit out of a person.
Someone is on paid leave for legal problems.

In all that will come out of this conversation, I would ask you to remember a few things:

  • Feelings are valid but outrage solves nothing
  • The person who was beaten is a person and can probably read what you publicly say
  • It does not matter if the person could have been your mother, wife, sister, or daughter
  • Words are powerful and shape our perceptions of very real events that take place
  • Someone beat the shit out of another person, and no context, no nuance, no situation, no excuse, no other side of it, no further information, no nothing will ever make that okay
For transparency’s sake, I identify as a New Democrat, and for transparency’s sake, it really doesn’t matter, as the party of the person who beat up the person doesn’t matter, as the government who is in doesn’t matter as long as it is handled appropriately.

I write from the bias that beating the shit out of someone is bad. Most people write from different biases.

I will consider making updates to this piece as information comes in.

All of the screen grabs were taken between 10 & 11 am on Wednesday, May 14th, 2014.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Three unrelated pieces of writing I found while cleaning up my bookmarks folder

These are on display at Argyle Fine Art but I wish they were on display in my home.

Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere.
A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont.
The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset.
A seat on the subway.

And something bad will have happened:
You will have lost someone you loved,
or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed.

And sitting there, you will fall into the centre of yourself.
You will look for some core to sustain you.

And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be.

I don't want anyone I know to take that terrible chance.
And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way.

George Eliot wrote 'It is never too late to be what you might have been'.

It is never too early, either.

- Anna Quindlen from Being Perfect, which is not a poem, but this is the way it was spaced on the now defunct Tumblr that I first read it. Now, I every time I read it, which is frequently, I read it like this.


White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior.
Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected.
Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action.

Mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor. Viewers are encouraged to feel sympathy for the white male home owner who made a mistake. The fact that this mistake led to the violent death of an innocent young man does not register; the narrative is worded in a manner that encourages viewers to identify with the one who made the mistake by doing what we are led to feel we might all do to “protect our property at all costs from any sense of perceived threat.” This is what the worship of death looks like.

-bell hooks from All About Love: New Visions, but this was circulated again after Trayvon Martin was shot


Spring comes into Quebec from the west. It is the warm Japan Current that brings the change of season to the east coast of Canada, and then the west wind picks it up. It comes across the prairies in the breath of the chinook, waking up the grain and caves of bears. It flows over Ontario like a dream of legislation, and it sneaks into Quebec, into our villages, between our birch trees.

In Montreal the caf├ęs, like a bed of tulip bulbs, sprout from their cellars in a display of awnings and chairs. In Montreal spring is like an autopsy. Everyone wants to see the inside of the frozen mammoth.

Girls rip off their sleeves and the flesh is sweet and white, like wood under green bark. From the streets a sexual manifesto rises like an inflating tire, 'The winter has not killed us again!'

-Leonard Cohen from Beautiful Losers, which just seems so appropriate

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Things I want(ed) to do before turning 25

Birthdays make me feel a bit numb. I am not old enough to hate them (yet), I do not relish having lots of attention being paid to me in a very concentrated period of time, and they kind of go against something at the very core of my being, which is rather hard to explain but just trust me on this. Also, in good Maritimer tradition I am a chronic "you too!"-er. ("Have a good day!" "You too!" / "See you later!" "You too!" / "Happy birthday!" "You t- auuuughh.") Birthdays are not very big in my family and I've had a hard time explaining to friends that the "no, really, it's okay" line is not modesty, but no, really. It's okay.

Despite all this, I pay a lot of attention to years and what I can accomplish in them and I find it much easier to decide what I want to do in vibrant May (swing dance! change the world!) than dreary January (screw everything! wear sweatpants!) When I was 20 I made a "five year plan" full of concrete goals with steps and deadlines but also random whims I've always had. As I'm turning 24 this week I thought it might be time to revisit some of these things and get the pressure on in the next 12 months but I was pleasantly surprised at how closely my life had mirrored my forgotten list, especially lately.

If I had a lot more time than I do I would love to write a thesis on the gendered aspects of to do lists. (This is not a goal, though.) Whether it's a grocery list on the door of my mother, the list of most detested body parts my friends made (there's a strange, perverse solidarity in realizing all the other 13 year olds hate their stomachs too), or simple five year plan I feel like the Internet is the checklist on crack. Still, here's mine, because I think it's a pretty solid list and maybe this will serve as inspiration to actually complete it for once.

Bolded items are what remain to be accomplished.    

Finishing writing my book.

Learn to swing dance.

Buy original art. (Although I love the prints I've purchased, the spirit of this goal was more a painting or sculpture: something difficult to carry and monumental.)

Chair a committee.

Own a cat. Specifically, own a little grey cat who is an offspring of Momma Sunshine, the sweetest cat in Antigonish. Solomon, named for Evan Solomon, who provokes his loudest meows, was in Momma 
Sunshine's last litter.

Cook a turkey by myself.

Bake a pie by myself.

Go on an American road trip. (Driving from Toronto to Cleveland was wonderful but I'm not going to check it off as motivation to do something lengthier.)

Pay for a vacation entirely by myself.

Take a train. Any train.

Do some sort of feminist tangible project.

Work on a pro-choice campaign. (Okay, two birds on stone.)

Work on a sexual assault campaign. (Interestingly, this was done in the same month as the pro-choice campaign.)

See the Braves.

Be able to afford avocados. Well, this is actually quite emotional because I'll never forget times when I could not afford avocados. This is a real measure of personal finances for me, something I affectionately call 'the avocado index', because even when times are tight now I can usually afford an avocado if I'd like.

Wear lipstick regularly. I don't know, it seemed like a thing grownups do.

On that note, I also scrawled 'actually know how to apply make up.' I don't think I'm there yet.

Get a Marimekko Unikko couch. My grandmother had one because Jackie Kennedy had one. I might substitute this goal because I live with someone who can only handle so many florals.

Wear a swimsuit publicly. I'm not kidding, this was a hard one.

Go a summer without getting sunburnt. This one is actually impossible to do before 25 as I just turned a toasty rose today. Sad trombone.

Not live with roommates. 

Live downtown.

Paint a room. (We did the entire apartment! Every single room! Goal DONE!)

Make a piece of furniture.

Buy a piece of furniture not from Ikea.

Fix / refinish my grandparents' gorgeous mid century modern furniture. (It's a process.)

Make my closet sweatshop free. (Working on it.)

"Watch the sun rise or set or something cheesy I just don't know how to end this list." is something is actually wrote. 
Not much changes in 4 years after all.