Appropriation: Our Bodies Are Not Yours

The recent weeks of the ‘appropriation prize’ bullsh!t has and probably will stick with me for a long time to come. It’s saddening and hugely disappointing when you learn that people at the top of their field(s) who are widely respected don’t deserve to have anyone looking up to them. For people who are so influential (all of them white) to so casually out themselves as entitled, insensitive, racist pricks on social media, makes the world and this country feel like there have been few societal gains made by Aboriginal people, people of colour and other marginalized people, toward justice or equality.

I’ve lived my whole life knowing that people are treated different because of what they look like, where they come from and what they don’t have. But to bear witness to the unfolding of this event and its aftermath – an aftermath which may just be the beginning for some – has been painful. I wrote two posts about this issue, mainly the facts, without truly injecting myself into them and I feel like that wasn’t enough – or right. It wasn’t enough because I didn’t make it clear that the Aboriginal writers featured in the spring edition of the writers’ magazine were not alone in their hurt; and it wasn’t right because in cyberspace we can choose to be anonymous without revealing which side of an issue we choose to land on.

I am not Aboriginal, but as a person of colour, whose ancestors also had their lands, their bodies and minds colonized, I identified with the pain and anger Aboriginal writers and their communities felt. As someone who writes – although because of illness I do it now primarily for myself – the idea that anyone would find it acceptable, even in jest, to tell others to write about who or what they couldn’t possibly know beyond gross generalizations and dehumanizing stereotypes is maddening. For members of that elite, gate-keeping clique to become indignant and lash out at the ones hurt is irrational and sickening. It pains further that they tried to hide their racism behind supposed efforts to protect free speech – which I pointed out before, on this occasion of overt racism, became the beneficiary of protections when it was least threatened – from Aboriginal writers and their communities speaking out against the harm being perpetuated by the denial of the existence of appropriation.

As one who has been wounded, I know that to be always alert and ready to respond to an incident like this as an individual and/or a representative for your race/ethnicity/community is demanding. To have to restrain one’s self in the face of conflict to avoid perpetually being labelled angry or ignorant of the bigger picture is exhausting. To be repeatedly harmed and then told by the perpetrator no harm was done to you is abusive. To have the things that concern your life flippantly mocked and dismissed as ‘identity politics’ is a form of erasure conveniently applied when those with racial privilege and power have no interest in examining their wrongs, or seeing all of what makes you human.

Moreover, when people throw around the term ‘identity politics’ they seem to forget that in each person’s life it’s not realistic to separate politics from who you are because the personal is political, which simply relates to consciousness-raising, awareness of where you come from, and what makes you who you are in any moment. So instead of attempting to stir controversy with such a ridiculously inflammatory positioning of these words, they might actually think about doing something beneficial with the privilege, influence, and power they continue to stockpile. Perhaps, these privileged few could learn the true unpolished history of this country, which will show how impossible it is for any of them, or other white individuals, to write what they don’t know. It might also clarify, how inherently difficult it is for the Aboriginal writers they belittle, and other writers of colour, to produce beautiful work about what they know when our worlds are overrun by systemic violence, oppression, physical and emotional trauma, lost lives, wounded families, and sometimes fragile love(s).

I’ll give them a place to start. After spending a few days in reflection, I turned to writing this post to purge the bullsh!t from recent weeks and only started feeling mildly better when poetry appeared. In all likelihood, were I to send any of this writing to any of the involved publishers, editors, or journalists, they would probably reject it without consideration because of the subject. Ironically, that knowing might be what prompted the editor to write that offending editorial; why in his words, the face of literature in this country is so white and middle-class…

 

InkTober: Day 10 – Jump

The first thing that popped into my head this morning when I saw today’s Inktober prompt was a poem I wrote a lifetime ago. When I was in university, I spent a lot of time studying in the campus library. It was a massive intimidating space. Whether I was studying alone or with a group of people, some of whom are cherished friends today, I always sat in an area on the top floor. I remember looking down to the main floor one day and suddenly wondering if I’d survive the jump. No need to fret, I wasn’t suicidal. It was just a momentary flash of a thought, which I suppose was stirred by the invincibility we feel when we’re young. That thought eventually became a poem that I’m sharing along with my illustration of today’s prompt.

InkTober - Day 10 - Jump

Here are my musings from that long-ago day in the library…

If I Jump

 

Flourishing: An Ode To A Yellow Four-Nerve Daisy

After a night of mostly interrupted sleep, I was awake early this morning. To fill my time in the early morning hours I visited the sites of some of the truly interesting people I follow in the online world. One blog I found myself drawn into this morning was Portraits of Wildflowers where Steven Schwartzman shares uniquely beautiful images of wildflowers and other flora and fauna he discovers on his excursions into nature. Looking at his photographs, I don’t feel so shut away and I learn things I wouldn’t have an opportunity to otherwise.

This morning as I clicked through some of his recent posts, I had visceral reactions to some of the images. One in particular, a photo of a hairy white larkspur flower (Delphinium carolinianum ssp. Penardii) before its petals opened, made the hair on my body stand on end. I can’t remember having that kind of reaction to a flower before. The image of a rain-lily (Cooperia pedunculata) tricked my eyes into seeing the soft brush strokes of a floral portrait. While the bent stalk of a bright yellow four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris linearifolia), and the words Steven Schwartzman used to describe its fate, inspired my brain to connect with the tips of my fingers to create an ode to that single delicate bloom.

Bent but still flourishing © 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Bent but still flourishing © 2016 Steven Schwartzman

 

On days like today, I don’t mind not having slept much. Creating something has a way of making me feel grounded and easing agitation and anxiety that is sometimes caused by a lack of sleep. Besides, how can I not feel lifted by a bright yellow daisy or Steven Schwartzman’s generosity in granting me permission to post his image?

Flourishing

 

New Glasses And Improved Insight

Literally seeing more clearly is a wonderful thing. I recently went to have my long overdue eye examination. I should have gone for my check-up around the time I became ill almost three years ago, but each time I scheduled an appointment I had to cancel it because my pain was too intense for me to push through it to travel to the appointment. I was forced to go now because the changes in my vision couldn’t be ignored any longer and my old glasses finally stopped helping me see things better. I started developing a pronounced vertical line between my eyebrows from squinting my eyes to see just about everything. It didn’t help that I had to hold things up close to my face for me to read or see details.

When I picked up my new glasses a few weeks ago, the improvement in my eyesight amazed me. Even in dim lighting, I can read small print from a significant distance away, which means it might be less difficult for me to get through reading a book now, instead of only reading articles online with a high level of zoom. Drawing and colouring aren’t as frustrating either because I’m having an easier time connecting lines with the fine points of the pens and pencils I’m using as I build my creative skills. I’m seeing details in things I had completely forgotten existed. Although, I’m not sure I need to see all my new grey hairs or every pore in my face. An added bonus is that the line between my eyebrows is fading because I no longer have to squint while holding things against the tip of my nose to figure out what’s in front of me.

New Glasses & Improved Insight

I also connected – however loosely – what I’ve decided to describe as a “metaphysical vision improvement” to getting new glasses because I’m seeing some things from my past more clearly. Having as much time on my hands, as I do these days, makes it difficult not to spend some of that time combing through past events and painful memories. Even though the moments are long gone and I know I can’t change them, it’s hard not to replay them. A few weeks ago, I spoke with a cousin about our past romantic entanglements and some of the lessons we’ve each learned from our respective relationships and breakups. After that conversation, I couldn’t stop thinking about one situation that years ago caused me a lot of unhappiness. I turned it over in my mind so many times that if it had been a living, breathing thing it would have developed a severe case of motion sickness.

I was fortunate enough to be able to reach out to someone who, after all these years, was able to give some helpful insight. What she told me confirmed that as much as I was hurt by what happened, it was the best thing for me. In that past relationship, I didn’t have the freedom to express my true self and I was forced to lie to people who love me to hold on to someone who could never fulfill my needs and made me doubt myself and feel insecure. The conversation we had helped me to let go of any lingering doubts and reminded me how easy it is to allow emotions and thoughts to suck us into a downward spiral where it’s almost impossible for us to see the truth sitting right in front of our noses.

Freeing up that emotional/psychological space and energy made room for something more enjoyable. The one thing that has been constant during the ups and downs of relationships and illness in my life is poetry, and each poem I write shows me truth I’m not always aware I know.

 

The Frame

 

Gratitude and Creativity: Sometimes I Forget

Sometimes I forget how blessed I am because my body is always feeling pain. However, I was reminded of my blessings yesterday when my cousin brought her three children to see me because I was hurting too much to go to her home to visit for a few days. I was so thrilled to see the children, especially the new baby who I watched come into the world thirteen days ago. The two older children burst into my home with so much life energy when I opened the door that they almost knocked me off my feet. They were so happy to see me it filled my heart. They greeted me with hugs, huge smiles, and the bright sounds of honest childhood laughter that hides nothing, as they asked me in turns to help them unzip jackets and remove shoes.

The new baby was napping in his carrier seat under soft, warm blankets. He was quiet and unmoving; until his mother gave me the go ahead to disturb his peace, and I took him out of his cozy corner of the world. When I picked him up he wiggled in my arms like a worm – he might have gained the misfortune of me using the word ‘worm’ as an endearment toward him for the rest of his life. He finally settled in my arms, almost weightless – he weighs just seven pounds now – and slid back into sleep as I held him against my chest. I had him in my arms or laying in my lap for most of the afternoon, with the only exception being when he woke up in search of his mother’s breast. It was a wonderful feeling.

I occupied the older children with a jumbo box of crayons, paper, and a children’s television channel that made their mother cringe. I’ve never been a parent so I don’t mind a few hours of children’s shows full of mindless rhyming songs and lessons on counting and primary colours. They were also easy to please with snacks that were thankfully lacking in sugar – bowls full of Cheerios™, sliced vegetables, and orange juice. What I couldn’t provide, they filled in with their imaginations. When they went home, my place was loudly quiet and still, but I felt full. I felt happy.

Today, I’m still feeling wisps of that happiness. But as I sat down to write, I realized I haven’t written anything in my art/gratitude journal in a few weeks. Instead of writing a new entry, I decided to flip through the pages of things I wrote about being grateful for in recent months. On the bottom of the page from my second entry back in April, I wrote a poem. That’s what I’m grateful for today. Not that specific poem; I’m grateful that I started writing again. Whether here or in that journal, writing is making my life with chronic pain a little easier to bear and helping me to make room for other things, happy things, in my life.

Still, sometimes I forget. What I’m hoping is that in the future I work at having more days like today where I look for ways to hold on to the joy and happiness that my cousin’s children brought to life in me yesterday.

Line To My Life

 

Gratitude and Creativity: Truth and Thought

It absolutely sucks when you think you’re having a good day and then out of nowhere you start to cry. Since becoming ill, that happens to me more often than I like to admit. Yesterday was one of those days. I was happily moving through my day when the tears started coming. I’m not sure what triggered them, but if I had to guess, I would say it was my pain. When I woke up yesterday I was feeling what I consider good from a pain perspective, but as the day continued, my pain got worse. Usually that wouldn’t make me cry, but yesterday it felt like there was no one I could tell about my feelings. That caused me to feel overwhelming sadness.

Even though my friends and family are always checking in with me to see how I’m doing, I don’t always feel I can tell them about the extent of my moods – or my pain. I tend to save most of the low feelings and troubling thoughts for my therapist, because I sometimes think that it’s easier not to have everyone worried about me all the time. As much as I appreciate it, I don’t find it comforting to have people constantly concerned about me. I don’t like answering the same questions repeatedly and feeling the need to reassure everyone that I’m doing just fine, especially when I’m not. The moment I tell someone about a bad day, whether my pain or my mood is the cause, they go into “what can I do to make it better” mode; when there is nothing they can do to make it better.

A prime example is me bursting into tears and not being able to explain why. If I told anyone about that, the worry would be immediate and I would feel bad about being the reason for that worry. The interesting thing is I know that if things were reversed, I would try to do whatever I could to make things better for someone I cared for.

Thankfully, I was able to express what I was feeling in poetry because of a timely silent share post, from my friend Bert, that I read yesterday morning.

 

Truth and Thought

 

Gratitude and Creativity: What Cannot Be Compared

There is something in the thoughts and shared writings of my friend Bert at who is bert that inspires me to write poetry. His writings pull words out of me in combinations I’d never before conceived and I am filled with joy by the process and my finished work. Bert’s silent share 127 made me sit up late last night to write, when a moment before I was close to slumber. Thanks again Bert.

What Cannot Be Compared