Saturday, 15 October 2016

“Storm Proof” by Casey June Wolf

I have been neglecting my blogs. No essay this time, and no poem by some great poet, though I have one in mind I'd like to beg access to. Instead, a poem from me, written yesterday as the warned of storm hit land near where I live, but by the time it got to me, was gentle as a very angry lamb.

Diana in the Autumn Wind — Paul Klee, 1921.

Storm Proof

the winds are fresh today
fierce   some might say
each branch   each leaf strains
toward my open window
wide   welcoming

cool invisible arms
wander round me

we are both thrashing here
you in jerk and thrust of changing air
me with words on screen and all the
churning heart that goes into them

you are quiet now
a pause in your suffering
in your frantic throwing off
of leaves stitched cell by cell across the months

they are going   gone
as sure as what I cling to rips away
in my mere internal tempests

I looked up   though
not for metaphor
but for companionship
and as I drank the dregs of your wild traverse
and what of those at sea
how welcoming
do your arms appear to them

Casey June Wolf
copyright 15 October 2016

Image: "Diana in the Autumn Wind", Paul Klee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Abandoned Hearth

David Creedon "Hearth"

When I look first at this photo I see all sorts of things I love--the red, the checks, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the comfy rocking chair, the plaster walls.

It's only when I look longer, begin to relax around the warmth the image brings that I see--what's that in the hearth? What's that all over the floor? And the paint peeled ... The disruption of hearth and home call clear to me. Someone, like I am now, faced the loss of a beloved home. For whatever reasons, that person, an elderly one, by the look of the room, left to never return, and the young, if they came, chose not to stay. Not even to pillage all that much. Jesus still presides over the vanished hearts of those he came to tend and guide. The cloth along the hearth still ready, with perhaps a shake of plaster dust, to support the family frames again. Most eloquently, the comfy chair still faces the long dead fire. 

How it must have once looked. You can see the underlying care, the tidiness that brings pride and permits efficiency, the homeliness that encourages rest and quiet times. The icons that invite protection of those who dwell within.

It is too easy to see this photo as something beautiful, kind of funky, supportive of our own poetic self-excitations. It is easy to see it as a trigger to my own sorrow over impending and long-cooled losses, now all hot again. But it is hard to know who sat there, and if he or she was happy, if he or she watched family, one by one, die or leave forever. If he or she was quite content and well cared for by family and friends. If a book ever sat upon the hearth. If songs were regular visitors there. If anyone remembers that once warm, once living room, anymore.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Housing - Guess who pays the price?

A letter I just sent off to as many relevant and irrelevant actors as I could think of:

Dear Politicians.

I live in an apartment building on the Grandview Cut in East Vancouver. I have lived in one room here for thirty years. It is my home, and my roots in the community--including the community of this building, where numerous neighbours have lived for decades--are deep. My income, however, is low. I am on CPP and Persons with Disabilities Income Assistance, totalling a little over $900 a month.

With the new zoning my building has been sold and will be destroyed. Some people are making a nice bit of money off of this, and good for them. The housing they will create has to be offered to us, the evictees: how likely do you think it is that I or most of my neighbours will be able to afford to accept? At my income, there is no way I can find market housing in Vancouver, a city where I have lived for most of my fifty-nine years. Even the worst and most insecure rooms in the Downtown Eastside are skyrocketting in price.

I voted for Gregor Robertson. Twice. I believed there was a vision there that I could get behind, and I trusted him. But I have been deceived. I agree that we need greater density in our cities, just as I agree we need to be more environmentally responsible. But what happens to the vulnerable? What happens to me?

There is a lot of noise about affordable housing coming from all levels of government, but where is it? There are over four thousand seniors on waiting lists for subsidized housing in B.C., and Lord knows how many other folk are clamouring for help. Why are you allowing developers to destroy our homes and not forcing them to include actually affordable housing for low income people? Yes, in the same buildings. We would love to live in them, too.

What is your vision for the city? That all the poor are corralled into blocks built only for them, and those that can't find even that just go away? I have never wanted to go into BC Housing. I have chosen instead to stay in a mixed building, where there are old, young, children, pets, students, workers, disabled, pensioners, even a little backyard wildlife, all together the way a community is supposed to be. You are breaking my heart.

If I want to stay in this neighbourhood where I have lived for thirty-five years, I must finally try to find subsidized housing. The waiting list, I am told, is two and a half to three years on average. How long will it take for the permits to be granted so they can tear my building down? Eighteen months to two years, the landlord says. And so where do I go, where do we all go, all of us all over the Lower Mainland, all over the country, who are having our homes destroyed because it is a great market to make money in, but not, apparently, a great market to provide low-income housing? If you don't want to build enough good, safe, community-oriented, integrated subsidized housing, then why do you keep the CPP and Welfare rates so low that we can't afford to live? Do you care at all? Do you really want to turn your back on the reality and just make yourselves look good by promoting one or two new facilities while we are facing the workhouse, here?

All right, I am getting overwrought, you are right. I know that is not how we are supposed to behave. But how would you feel, Gregor, Christy, any of you, if suddenly and for the second time you were about to lose your home, with nowhere to go and no money to get there, because somebody else thought it would benefit them?

The thing is, you have probably (and I hope it is so) never known that kind of fear. You have probably grown up in safe housing, and always known that if you didn't have the money now to get the kind of living arrangement you wanted, you soon would. Patience and hard work would get you there. In such worlds it is hard to even imagine the terror and grief that wash over those who have not been so lucky, and who face losing everything.

I, too, have been patient. I have cultivated patience of necessity to a degree I could not have imagined when I was young, because so very often in my life I have simply had no choice--no choice about illness, no choice about poverty, no choice about loss. I have grown that patience like a tender plant, so that I could live with equanimity in spite of all those lacks, and focus instead on the bounty in my life.

And I have worked very hard, if almost never for pay. I have worked to serve the vulnerable people around me, family and neighbours, I have worked to preserve my health, I have worked to try to make this world a better place. Now I face my coming old age with a gnawing in my bones. 

So no, Gregor. I will never vote for you again. I expect nothing from any of you, much as I wish and pray for it--not even that you will ever read this letter. But I had to speak.

And I can't quite extinguish the hope that I will find, somehow, a place to live where I can feel safe, and happy, and at home, without losing everything I have in the meantime because I and it have no place to rest. You had better wish me luck.

Casey June Wolf

Image: Home (2015)

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Creating—Don't Do It!

MacDonald Beach by William D

I found this note I had scribbled to myself on 2 December 2013. On reading thought, hmmm. Good point.

Two thoughts emerge as I explore MacDonald Beach in Richmond. (Herons in clusters; mountains against a blue sky; the brush of Southlands, concealing Vancouver—illusion of not being in a city; snow geese gathered on the foreshore across the river from where I stand; underfoot, abundant moss and tiny lichens, pebbled with beach grass and crowded with broom; thin ice in puddles: I press to hear it squeak.)

1) Creativity is not important. The clamour to be creative is another trap, another pressure to produce.

2) What is valuable about it is its root: the moment of stopping, of enveloping the world around you in your awareness. Stay with that and don't create—unless the urge is a flood that brings you joy.

Image by: William D.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Be Like a Dragonfly

I just listened to a lovely segment on Quirks and Quarks (CBC Radio One), one of the many wonderful science podcasts I get to listen to thanks to the World Wide Web.

This piece was about a plain old dragonfly that is found in many parts of the world, not just the same species but a single, mobile population that floats over oceans, eating aerial plankton along the way. I thought the method this being uses for such great flights was a good metaphor for hominid existence, too. So I made this little graphic to point it out.

Listen Here.

Dragonfly study by Dr. Jessica Ware.
Image by Greg Lasley.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Flickers: Henry, AIDS, and Aiding

My Scottie lamp is flickering beside me, in need again of a switch upgrade. The lamp features a brass mother dog, her beard nicely combed, her body squished impossibly into a basket brimming with pups. I was smitten when I saw it, stunned that I could afford it; I have glanced at it happily thousands of times since, always on some level reminded of the day it came into my possession, the life I was living then, and the people I knew and loved. In a way that no other object does, this friendly-looking little lamp, with all its kitsch and charm, represents a period of my life and a dear companion, and all the adventure and sorrow those times bestowed.

I picked up this lamp with my friend Henry at a store in Toronto's Kensington Market sometime around 1979, for eleven dollars. The store was called Courage My Love, of a sort common now but then unique in my experience, with quirky and comely clothes and knicknacks filling all available space. I bought a couple of old tuxedo pants, as well, the ones with the narrow satin stripe up the side, black on black. I’m not sure what my look was exactly, in those days—there are few photos of me. But I do remember being thrilled with those pants, the most handsome clothes I had ever touched.

Henry introduced me to the store, as he did many things. I tried to persuade him to get a pair of tuxedo pants for himself, but his own look was very well established, and he shook his head mutely and walked away.

They were strange and wonderful times, those two short years in Toronto. I worked in a gay diner, washing dishes and bantering with the other employees. I was one of three women; the rest was all dark moustaches and well-defined baskets, or at least, that’s the way you would picture it if you only heard the talk. It was actually a teeming narrow world of high hopes and healthy hormones, creative aspirations and silent spiritual quests, terrible puns, wounded feelings, and camaraderie.

 I was back in Toronto this month for the first time in several years—the first time, I believe, since my best friend from those diner days lost his life to AIDS, and I went to Casey House to mourn.

When Henry and I met, he was the terse, surly, very efficient cook in whose kitchen I worked washing up. I was not a great dishwasher, but I tried hard to do the job well, I worked as fast as I could in that busy place, and I was friendly with the waiters who hurried back in anxiety for glasses, plates, cups, and cutlery. In the other half of the kitchen Henry was swiftly and masterfully assembling the Paris Burger, the Hawaiian Burger,  the New York Burger, the spinach salads and  other savoury delights our diner was famous for. He was a looker, our Henry, with his smokey eyes, his well-shaped brown locks dropping across his forehead, and his white apron folded neatly around his waist. (I went more for the long dangling shapeless look in aprons, myself.)


Saturday, 16 July 2016

Wavy Lines

In the room next door to me my mother lies sleeping. (Or wishing she was sleeping.) In the room beside hers, my sister and her husband lie, awake but drowsy. Scattered around the house dogs and cat settle in for the night, and here I sit, typing away when I ought to be snuggling in, myself.

It is my last night of fourteen in their home, my first visit to them in many years, and it will be a long while before I can come again. So I want to stay awake. I want to stretch out these wavy lines of sleep-deprived connection with my family, want to keep them close while I can.

Now, above you see the close-cropped head of my great-nephew. He lives in Australia, and visited Canada for the first time in May. He loved that squirrel. It was wonderful spinning around Vancouver with him and his brother and their parents and grandmas, but so short a time, so short a time, and they were gone.

Long ago in the days before The Internet my mother and I did a whack of genealogical research. I was surprised to notice that every forebear we had information on had raised his or her children thousands of miles from where he or she had grown up. I'm not sure why this surprised me. We ourselves had skipped from house to house for the first ten years of my life and then decamped from Winnipeg for the west coast, and since then both parents skedaddled back across the continent, to different destinations, and my siblings are flung across country and globe.

There are many sad and touching tales in there, most of which I am not privy to, some of which I hold close in my own heart. A whole nother brother came into being while I lived far away, and I wonder if we will ever see each other again, let alone live near to one another, as he, too, has travelled abroad to make his home.

I can still come to tears over these partings, so many years after they came into effect. I wouldn't will us all back into the shape we once held, when I was young and my parents and all their kids lived under the same roof. I wouldn't unlearn what I've learned, or undo what we've done, our growing and our explorations, not at all. But there is something lost when people spread so far apart. Some of it we are happy to say goodbye to. Some of it, in parting, we may never get beyond.

My sister told a story tonight of a man she met in Scotland in the 1980s. He was semi-scandalized that his adult son had left their town (not by far at all) for a job. Who would do that? he wanted to know.

Our people would. For a living, for adventure, to escape unhappy situations, for many reasons. And the lines of kinship are stretched farther and farther until they shimmer along the horizon and grow hazy, wavy, disappear.

I would have loved to be a real aunt to all of my nieces and nephews. The ones too far for me to drop in on more than once every few years. But I was not. I would have loved to be a real sister to my siblings, the ones that live so far away, who I now barely know, yet still so deeply love. But I was not.

The segment of the family who live close to me have gotten more of the annoyance and more of the pleasure of knowing me, not because they were better, more beloved, more important than the rest, but because they were there. I have gotten the ever-deepening pleasure of knowing them. Even when we were really really miffed at each other, things shifted over time. We sat through it. We knew each other more, and hence, grew easier in each other's company.

Before I was born, before my father was born, his family came from Scotland to Canada, forced to leave behind one son. That part of the family, the part that came down from him, is unknown to us. His heart was broken, ours broke away, drifting over the seas, gone from him.

Tomorrow I am packing up my suitcase again and moving on to a few last visits before my flight back home. And I am sad. My mum gets older as I while away my time in Vancouver. My sister's life is lived while mine is lived elsewhere, and we get older, too. Years flash by. Friends, family members keel over dead and I go to memorial service after memorial service, and I think, not yet Mum. Not yet, sister. Don't die yet. One more visit. One more letter. One more act of love.