culture, current events, musings in which another world is possible!
I am a chronically ill queer artist and writer. I have a number of degrees in higher education and have spent most of my life interested and active in social movements against racism, militarism, misogyny and homophobia. Over the course of my life, I have worked in the world of alternate news, translation, law, teaching, and with progressive cultures, music, poetry, performers, and artists. I speak and understand a few languages and plan to share media in them on this blog. I am a poetry, art, music, and nature lover with an especial fondness for cats!
We went to the park the other day. Storing up the sunshine of these beautiful days while we can, like squirrels with their nuts. The ups and downs of the meadows and trees, the glint of the sun on the tiny river and all around, little inhabitants of our world, scurrying to save stores for a cold winter. The park was full of scampering feet and half-glimpsed little chipmunks and squirrels, a few late monarchs enjoying the flowers and sunshine of early October and some ducks intent on sharing the loot of a solitary fisherman. Fall’s beauty is fleeting.
I found a poem I really liked, about autumn, from poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). The translation is from the German by Scott Stewart, 2017. I’ve accompanied it with my drawings of our park visit.
It is time, Lord. Summer was grand.
Now lay your shadow on the day,
and bathe your fields in the wind.
Let the late harvest linger.
Give it two more southern days.
Make it full and bring her
final sweetness into those heavy vines.
If you have no house now, you never will have one.
If you are alone now, you will always live alone,
Reading late in the fading light. Writing letters with no end.
Today I marched in the climate strike with millions of people around the world. I marched because I breathe, eat, need water, have increasing love and appreciation for the natural world, and hold the lives of the world’s citizens in the highest regard.
I have been appalled and sickened by the astronomical levels of pollution and contamination plaguing the lives of loved ones and strangers alike, in so many places I have been to. From Mexico City, Lima, Santiago, Rome, Kolkata, New Delhi, Toronto and in the northern reaches of this province, where the abomination of logging and mining has pillaged and plundered from the earth and water and from the indigenous communities that make up so much of the colonized world.
I marched because capitalist development has put profits before people and destroyed the very air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. The ecocide of the industrial revolution and its aftermath is matched only by the countless lives deformed and lost due to the absolute misery of millions that have allowed us to follow a narrative celebrating a linear, exploitative, and developmental progress as the only way forward. The very science being deployed to illuminate us about the climate crisis, has been used to subsume natural and human interests.
Science has been rooted in domination, and not in knowledge for the harmony and benefit of humanity. If this were not the case, we would not be fighting for such social benefits as public and affordable health care and universal drug and dental coverage. Indigenous communities would not be facing incursions from the research and development units of multinational pharmaceutical companies engaged in stealth exploitation of the rainforests. Our food and agricultural and water systems would not be poisoned by corporate interests, biotech and genetically engineered crops while pesticide runoff and fertilizer makes the oceans uninhabitable.
Our arms races and weapons of mass destruction would not devour the large chunk of international trade and governmental budgets that they do today.
I marched because not do so, would be to give in to hopelessness, to lose faith in the young people of this planet and their right to a fair and flourishing world. I marched because not do so, would be to be defeated by the greed and shortsightedness of capitalist patriarchy and its monopoly on our mainstream media, our economies, our thoughts– which flower, in spite all attempts by the rulers that be, to the contrary.
Like many people with poorly understood disabilities and conditions, I have heard every possible advice that people’s grandmothers, parents, aunts, doctors, naturopaths, second cousins, and their neighbours might possibly have to offer.
Headache. Oh, just do this, and it will go away. My aunt/doctor/grandmother used to have them. but after they did this one thing, they went away forever!
Endometriosis/Adenomyosis. Oh poor you, your period’s hurting you, huh? I never had that problem, but my best friend in high school had wicked cramps. She used to get to stay off school! She loved it!
Yes, I did my naturopathic training in a clearing in the forest. All the fairies and elves sang and danced in a circle after i was intiated. That’s why I don’t have a certificate, see, fairies don’t give them.
Anyway. Basically, you take off your underpants and then we’ll have you squat over an aromatic fire heaped with herbs that will cleanse your yoni, and enter into your womb, purifying it and getting rid of the growths very gently (read over numerous sessions at $150/session).
Yes, I’m aware this is unusual, but it’s often when we’re excruciating pain-either mental or physical- that we’re willing to take risks! That’s why I’ve been trained as well by a Mayan shaman!
You’re in severe chronic pain? Try to verbalize what that might sound like! (Sobbing and groaning). Good, good. Now direct that healing sound to the spot that hurts most. You know, you might be paralysed facially because you need to learn how to express yourself differently. This is a teaching!
Arthritis. Why dont you try drinking a shot of rum every morning on an empty stomach that had garlic steeping in it for a month? My mother/gardener/veterinarian does that and she swears by it!
Why don’t you try doing weights and conditioning the joints that hurt? Because they hurt too much to hold the weights, obviously! Have you tried skating? It really strengthens the ankles!
Have you tried drinking green tea at 4 hour intervals? It will burn fat and decrease inflammation! While turning me into more of a raving insomniac than I already am?
If you wear shoes with lumpy gel points, it’s like a constant massage on your feet as you walk. Totally cleared up my grandmother’s foot pain, you must try it!
Having fatigue and inflammation? My guru and I drink our own pee and we’ve found it worked wonders for our wellness and skin issues. Have you considered it? You must start low and slow, you know!
Then there are the doctors
These are the people we generally trust to be able to help, guide and minister to us in some of the most terrible and bewildering times of our lives. If you are a person who doesn’t go to the doctor much, perhaps you have a friendly and benign relationshp with them. But, if you have complex and unclear multi-systemic issues, going to the doctor can provide you with the same laundry list of offerings as those above—except these ones come with warnings and side effects as long as your arm.
Got a headache? Try every kind of migraine abortificient whether the side effects are well-known or not. Take Gravol for the nausea. If you have chronic nausea, you can take Ginger Gravol!
Swollen arthritic joints ? Try Lyrica and gabapentin which will help with the nerve pain caused by discs compressing onto your nerve and pinching it.
Chronic pain? Have you tried trazadone, tramadol, fentenyl patches, hydro-morphone? And then they bemoan the opiod crisis.
Feeling depressed? Try paxil, effexor, celexa, amitriptyline, etc, etc, and if you feel even more anxious than you can have Xanax. If the rebound anxiety from the Xanax unexpectedly kicks you in the butt then you can pop an Ativan. If the Ativan doesn’t do the trick than you can have a long acting clonazepam or klonopin as it’s sometimes known!
Have you been offered medicines/ treatments, where the prescribing doctor reassures you, oh we don’t really know how it works yet, but I’m sure you’ll be fine?
All of these interventions and remedies purport to bring some relief and ease to me and people like me. I have been offered every one and many others, and have even tried some, which benefited me for short periods. But I have come to realize through the experience of being ill and my frequent interaction with the medical system, that all these enigmas of blood, flesh, nerves, bone which are me— are always complicated by that MEness, because my brown skin, non-Anglo name, and gender and sexuality are as much factors in my health care— along with class and percieved class status— as in everyone else’s. How could it not be otherwise?
We are ourselves engaged in multiple and sometimes overlapping constellations of social relations wherever and who ever we are.
They are bound to be the foundation through which other relationships are built, in particular the reciept of goods and services, of which health care unfortunately is one.
Health care ought to be a basic human right administered by and carried out by those who fully understand the human in human rights.
But until that day comes, we are doomed to vie for human status in front of the masters (whether they be male or female or non-binary or trans) of our health care— encased in our bodies with their telling tales of burning hands and feet, flu-like symptom, chronic and sudden fatigue, disabling insomnia, erupting skin, sudden weight loss or gain. Encased in our bodies with their headaches and paralysis, their swollen knees and aching hips, stiff necks, and even stiffer upper lips!
If you are interested in this topic, I’ll be following up in future posts from time to time!
I’ll leave you with some good and much needed discussions about the multiple evils plaguing our health care systems in both the U.S. and Canada.
Today’s piece is sharing some poems which have been part of our English poetry canon for centuries and decades. Some I had to study in school, and thus happily rediscovered in adulthood. My mother suggested me a beautiful poem by John Keats, Ode to Autumn. I share it below. A beautiful cadence of the English language and evocative images. Here it is
Ode To Autumn, John Keats
season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep Steady thy laden head across a brook; Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Day in Autumn, Rainer Marie Rilke/ trans. Mary Kinzie
After the summer’s yield, Lord, it is time to let your shadow lengthen on the sundials and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.
As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness.
Direct on them two days of warmer light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.
Whoever’s homeless now, will build no shelter;
who lives alone will live indefinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,
and, along the city’s avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.
Autumn Song, W.H. Auden , 1936
Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse’s flowers will not last,
Nurses to their graves are gone,
But the prams go rolling on.
Whispering neighbours left and right Daunt us from our true delight, Able hands are forced to freeze Derelict on lonely knees.
Close behind us on our track, Dead in hundreds cry Alack, Arms raised stiffly to reprove In false attitudes of love.
Scrawny through a plundered wood, Trolls run scolding for their food, Owl and nightingale are dumb, And the angel will not come.
Clear, unscaleable, ahead Rise the Mountains of Instead, From whose cold cascading streams None may drink except in dreams.
The Time of Year thou Mays’t in me Behold ,William Shakespeare
That time of year thou mayst in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou see’st the twilight of such day As after sunset fadeth in the west, Which by and by black night doth take away, Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest. In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, As the death-bed whereon it must expire, Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by. This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Ever since I saw the phrase, “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds”, I have been so moved. I am a part of so many communities that have survived burial, in the manner of the phoenix.
We are resilient and resourceful like seeds that are nourished by hope instead of fear, possibility, instead of prisons, new and green ways of being. It is powerful to be able to turn what seems like unrelenting loss and sacrifice— both voluntary and involuntary—of our humanity in these banally brutal times, where death is just a click away.
I first saw this expression in Spanish, in the context of the Ayotzinapa massacre in Mexico 2014, where 43 student teachers from a rural teacher training college were massacred and their bodies further dehumanized. The case has rocked Mexico, where violence has become a commonplace element of both the economy and the political environment.
I wanted to find the atrribution of this powerful phrase and see that it is originally attributed to Dinos Christianopoulos (1931) of Thessaloniki, Greece. As a gay poet, he said, “ what didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot i was a seed”. Since 1978 when he penned it, the couplet has travelled on the wind, in the manner of seeds, and taken root wherever the marginalized cry for social inclusion and justice. Most recently, the migrant rights movement in the U.S. has also adopted this as one of it’s slogans.
Last night, I glimpsed the harvest moon, red and full. This is the time of the year when the days grow shorter, the wheat and vegetables, apples, and stone fruit are harvested. Soon the nights of pumpkins and souls will be upon us. Autumn also brings the delight of jumping on crinkly fallen leaves, and the comfort of baked and roasted foods which warm the belly and the heart. While chronic illness and fatigue often prevent me from enjoying autumn to the fullest, with its damp and gale-like winds affecting my body and turning it into a rubber band–sometimes stretched too tight, other times, limp and weak– autumn is a beautiful season, full of stark contrasts and the last of colour we may see for months. Thus, autumn gives us the majesty of fall leaves in the northern hemisphere, leaves which crown the fading summer, soon to become memory. Many years ago, English poet Ted Hughes, penned these lines. As we witness the climate crisis that characterizes our times, celebrating the harvest becomes not only essential, but poignant.
The Harvest Moon, Ted Hughes
The flame-red moon, the harvest moon, Rolls along the hills, gently bouncing, A vast balloon, Till it takes off, and sinks upward To lie on the bottom of the sky, like a gold doubloon. The harvest moon has come, Booming softly through heaven, like a bassoon. And the earth replies all night, like a deep drum.
So people can’t sleep, So they go out where elms and oak trees keep A kneeling vigil, in a religious hush. The harvest moon has come!
And all the moonlit cows and all the sheep Stare up at her petrified, while she swells Filling heaven, as if red hot, and sailing Closer and closer like the end of the world.
Till the gold fields of stiff wheat Cry `We are ripe, reap us!’ and the rivers Sweat from the melting hills.
For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about myth-making, religions, and various deities. I saw a Cannabis strain called Blue God. It made me think of Krishna, the Hindu blue god and flute player, and lover. Before the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda, this image of the blue god was one I always found to be of beauty, gentleness and/or passion, celebrating the love between Krishna and Radha. Today, where Hinduism has become a threatening and militarized religion as promoted by the Indian government, the blue god, might have a different incarnation.
I’ve also been think about the Orishas, the deities of the Yoruba religion practised in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the United States, and Brazil (Candomble/Umbanda).
Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgen de Caridad de Cobre has a counterpoint in the goddess Oshun, daughter of rivers, love, and what might be called “femme” energy. Yemaya, mother of the sea, and goddess of the seven oceans, has her counterpart in Santa Barbara. And Oya, goddess of hurricanes, lightning, death and rebirth, reminds me of Kali, the Hindu goddess, although she is apparently syncretized with Saint Brigitte. Syncretism was one of many ways in which oppressed and persecuted African practices were kept alive by those who were enslaved. Santeria is a huge part of historical and contemporary Afro-descended culture and has influenced music, dance, visual arts and story-telling traditions in Cuba. The religion has also played a part in abolitionist uprisings by the those who were in enslaved.
In my time studying and researching in Cuba for my graduate work, I was very interested in the practice of Regla de Ocha in the Caribbean as the religion is also called.
When I started my exploration of the religious traditions of Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian peoples, I relied on books, records, and then the oral knowledge of practitioners. But today, there is a lot of information about pantheistic religions on the internet including Hinduism and Santeria/Ifa. There is information on the West African religious traditions which were carried across the murky waters of the slave trade I won’t get into long explanations and discussions here. But certainly amazing writers of the Caribbean and Brazil have relied on their audience’s knowledge of the Orishas and their meanings. Earl Lovelace, Alejo Carpentier and Jorge Amado are three classic and highly lauded novelists drawing on these Afro-descended practices.
It’s been four years since I lost my face. The one I was born with. The one in my school photos and in the pre-selfie days of social photos.
I have a new one, it’s true. The eye squinting and tight, the neck muscles straining beisde the affected ear. The grimacing smile, the half-kiss.
I loved to joke and smile and laugh— but now laughter is literally, painful— my smile looks like a grimace, and my attempts to dress up, take into account the state of my face. My voice has changed, speaking becomes tiring, and I sometimes slur my words when overtired or stressed. The headaches are frequent.
I rarely look in the mirror, and reading the accounts of many Bell’s sufferers, very few of us do. I have not only entered my mid-life, but the the invisible life afforded to women of a certain age and appearance.
Learning to live with intrusive stares and comments over the past few years has been a life-changer. i have learned a lot about cultural responses to facial disfigurement and disability. In Canada, people stare but rarely comment, except to ask if i have had a stroke.
British reserve and colonial coldness generally merge, even in the medical profession. When I went to the Emergency Room, I do remember the doctor telling me that our former Prime Minister Jean Chretien and late Quebecois politician, Rene Levesque, had suffered Bell’s Palsy. Not particularly sympathetic or encouraging words for a relatively young woman, even one who is not white. But I see that my non-whiteness has afforded me a level of medical care far below white women of my education and social status.
In contrast, Mexico showed me a different approach to disability— many strangers came to speak to me about Bell’s Palsy, many people reassured me that things would get better, and in a land of stress and poverty, many people had familiarity with bell’s palsy. In a way, it was a relief to be there during the height of my disfigurement. A much kinder environment.
I heard many compliments as my face began to lose the excessive tightness and paralysis, all of which encouraged a mind /body harrmony in the spirit of “getting better”. And indeed, my time in Mexico showed me the resilience of the human body and mind.
A second untreated relapse during a bizarre surgical experience, has resulted in permanent sykenisis. This is a condition of overactive muscles and nerves, where the healing of the previously damaged area has led to “crossed wires”. The solution to pain and tightness is then relaxation of overactive nerves and muscles, not the regeneration of nerves which is the first stage of healing from Bell’s Palsy. About 10-15 percent of people with Bell’s Palsy sustain permanent damage and synkinesis.
Bell’s Palsy has been linked to chronic Lyme disease in the 21st century, but before that, it’s aetiology was rather vague. Often affecting pregnant women, women in labour, small infants, and people experiencing extremely high stress, it’s becoming discussed more and more on Lyme websites and boards. Some famous celebrities have had the more common form of Bell’s— that experienced by 85-90 percent of the afflicted who experience spontaneous healing and regeneration of the seventh facial nerve.
This is the first time I have written about any aspect of my disabilities. And it is an important one, because in our superficial world, we are rarely given a second chance on our appearances. And when such an ethos is fueled by the discriminations of race, sexuality, etc. it is important to face the situation “head on”.
By calling out discrimination based on disability, we begin to envision a world where our faces are as beautiful as our hearts— not our looks.
I used to love the roads
as well as blood loves vein
the geographies of other maps
where my race
charted like a cartographer’s
finds itself obscured
by the deviance of our desire
in all my darkness i have never lost the way nor forgotten the words of this lamentation
A motorcycle revs up the evening somewhere a man forces himself between a child’s legs A silk-clad woman drinks her solitude into stupor A father afraid of hungry tomorrows breaks through a picket line Dishonour is painful and carries a thousand names.
the new season
with raw uncertainty
even this weather
has us guessing
night’s frost a riddle
chancing upon a newspaper
a little bit of history
between the fullstops
lives collapse and transform
nations turn upon themselves
jobs are lost
and all our dreams made homeless
everywhere there are signs
the streets are no longer clean
we cannot permit oursleves
a fleeting yearning
or despair in this winter
of our politics
but tell me
how do they expect us to forget?