Writing for weirdos, dreamers, survivors, & the dead

I’m here for weirdos, dreamers, & survivors (and, frankly, the dead, the lineages).

When I drafted a Patreon profile four and a half years ago, this line was included. Upon the page’s completion, I saved the draft, set it aside, and didn’t look at it again until yesterday. I’m someone who dreams up plans and schemes and projects and ideas all the time, but haven’t been able too see all of them through (yet), due to a complex mix of illness, self-doubt, poverty, and difficulty with the long-term, with committing to long-term plans. Then, too, a lack of access to ongoing, meaningful health care and other resources impact my creativity, my healing, and my ability to connect. This is one of multiple things I hope my Patreon page will help me to change.

Please click here to take a look at my new Patreon page!

I’m asking for financial support from those who are able to offer it to help me with the basic costs of living & eating & breathing, access to meaningful bodymind health care, & creating a life worth living within the difficult barriers and limitations built by poverty, chronic pain, and recovery with complex-PTSD and fibromyalgia. As my biography notes, I’ve been writing and self-publishing for over fifteen years, and I have no intention to stop. I have meaningful contributions to continue offering to queer, poor, mad, cripple, misfit communities – it’s one of my purposes or callings, and I know this even at times when I’m fatigued and dissociated with deep despair.

Over the years, I’ve written more than fifty zines, dozens of blog entries, a handful of essays, three novels, 10,000 tweets, provided countless Tarot readings, and most of what I’ve done has been low-cost or free. Once upon a time, I was able to tour and to give readings in public, but illness and inaccessibility changed that. Hundreds of people have told me that my work has been life-altering for them, and has even prevented them from attempting suicide. I’ve never had access to institutional learning or support, to grants, to mentors, to traditional avenues for publishing, etc… I still don’t have wifi at home. Everything is DIY and likely to remain so. However, the work does become less sustainable as I continue to struggle with fluctuating illnesses and mobility, with the ever-rising costs of living that come without an increased income, with food insecurity and housing precarity, and with heightening online and IRL surveillance culture. Writing, and writing as vulnerable as mine, is always a risk, and there’ve always been consequences. But I refuse to quit.

I want to write longer-form work. I want to write more fiction of varying lengths and genres, I want to study, I want to write about the books I’m reading and the feelings I’m feeling, and I want to continue providing low-cost Tarot readings that offer insight and guidance and concrete suggestions toward decision-making, healing, and fighting, and I want to be able to share it with those who need it. I want to rid myself of all the stuck and stale energy accumulated in my bodymind and home and soul that mere survival has given me, and become more soft, slow, skilled, vulnerable, protected, supported, and embodied.

I want to keep as little of my online writing behind a paywall as possible. While the occasional locked entry is probable – especially for drafts of fiction, or other words or sensitive information I’m not ready to make so visible – my writing is for poor people, especially those who, like me, are on social assistance, and thus considered nobody, considered disposable.

I’ve decided to use a monthly payment schedule on Patreon in the hopes that I’ll be able, eventually, to rely on something steady and predictable, rather than stress myself out about ~productivity~ and completion and end-goals. Also, although the ‘rewards’ could change over time, I’ve intentionally chosen not to include too much physical stuff. This has been the case with past crowdfunding efforts of mine, too, because I want to focus on the writing and the process, and not making merch-like stuff one can hold in their hands, as it feels extremely unnecessary to me. When I’ve contributed to similar projects over the years, it’s been the artists and the works themselves I want to support, and not the souvenir sent in the mail that’s enticed me to send some cash. I hope my readers will understand and feel the same.

Also, one reason I’ve stopped printing my zines was that my chronic pain and reduced mobility made getting to and from the copy shop, carrying the papers and assembling them, literally impossible for quite some time – while I’d like to make more zines in the future, I don’t want it to become a chore or an obligation, don’t want it to become something I do with resentment or painful, unseen labour.

Money-wise, my hope is that those who cannot afford to make a monthly contribution will continue to read/feel the work, and that those who can afford to make a monthly contribution – anywhere between $3 – $100 – will understand not only how valuable their support and appreciation are, but that their contribution isn’t solely on their own behalf, but to keep the work as accessible as possible for others, too.

This is a new experience for me, and as such, an experiment. I’m not sure what to expect, but I’m feeling comfortable with that uncertainty, and curious about the future. In Autumn, I made a Twitter poll to anonymously ask readers if they’ve be willing to contribute to such an endeavor. In that thread, I emphasized that it’s true that poor people often get by with the support of other poor people, and that while I don’t expect every reader to have much to give, I do think it’s possible to find a way to make this work more sustainable, and I hope that with a monthly income, I’ll no longer need to worry about urgent crowdfunds, etc. I also made note that as I contemplate this project, I’ll do my best not to allow numbers and economics to impact my own feelings of self-worth. Though I’d been considering making a Patreon for quite a while, the timing hadn’t felt right until now.

Writingly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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What I Was Thinking About the Day Elizabeth Wurtzel Died

{content notes: death, grief, porn}

The night before, I’d taken my bedtime meds, plus an extra half of a sleeping pill, at 8PM, in the second night’s attempt to rapidly-ish reset my body-clock to awaken in the morning. I hoped to be up at sunrise, making coffee, making plans. The current wave of depression had been happening for maybe a week, since New Year’s Eve, or maybe a month, since my Poppa’s memorial in my hometown on the first of December, or maybe two weeks longer, to the day he died, or maybe since my thirty-fourth birthday back in mid-October, when my friends stood me up, or maybe since Pride weekend back at the end of June.

I was still coping with the pinched nerve in my right shoulder, an injury from carrying five bananas in my totebag two weeks prior, plus two bouquets of convenience store flowers I bought for my partner / boyfriend / baby / etc, a red totebag reading, in Gothic script, black screenprint ink, Capitalism Ruins Everything Around Me. I was thinking about how to make money. I was thinking about going out to pick up some groceries, including another bunch of bananas. I was sitting on my purple swivel chair, SAD lamp on. With my right hand, picking at the dry skin on my face, exacerbating the pinched nerve pain as well as the acne scars. With my left hand, picking at the dry skin on my right shoulder, risking pulling more ink out of the tattoo I’ve had for nearly fifteen years. When I had it done, it was the artist’s largest piece, took two sessions, and she and I were both proud. The tattoo had an age-tinged banner with black script, a quote from one of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s books.

Although I’d been on something like a social-media-hiatus, but not quite, I briefly logged into Twitter to tell my followers about an upcoming Total Betty show in Hamilton. My twin sister’s band. When I logged in, the top of my feed was audrey wollen writing about sad girl literature, and of course I paused to read. I read her tweet three or four times before I began to understand that she wasn’t just writing about Elizabeth Wurtzel, she was writing about Elizabeth Wurtzel’s death.

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A writer can write about suicide, depression, cancer, and illness her whole life, and still have a death that comes as a surprise.

I was thinking about all my unfinished writing projects, and my finished writing projects that remain unsatisfactory. I was thinking about reading an essay even though I’d already narrowed it down to sixty-eight windows open in one browser on my phone, twenty-three windows in another browser, mostly unread. I was wondering whether or not I should take a painkiller (an hour later, I did). I was wondering if I’d make it outside before the sun set (no), or if I’d make it outside at all (I did, at 7:30pm, three hours after the sun set). I was wondering if I should write the thing that had just sprung up in my head, or if I should go out and run errands, if I should clean the litterbox, or if I should finish writing something I’d already started.

I was trying to remember a) if I’d sent a photo of my tattoo to Elizabeth Wurtzel via Twitter once upon a time, and if yes, b) if she’d acknowledged it. I was remembering talking about Prozac Nation with my LiveJournal friends when I was 17, 18, 19. I was remembering bringing them with me the first time I moved out, already broken-spined faded torn. (The books, but the friends, too.)

I’d forgotten about an article that referred to Elizabeth Wurtzel as “Sylvia Plath with the ego of Madonna,” until, in searching Twitter, I found myself commenting that it was ‘too perfect’ and should become her online bio. Clicking to her profile now, I was reminded (or learned anew?) that she had indeed made this her online bio at my suggestion. I thought about sharing it (I did), and I thought about that feeling of possession so many of us have when it comes to our favourite writers, musicians, etc (I still am). I thought about how we criticize people when they’re alive (yes, I’ve written on how frustrated and enraged I eventually became with seeking out crazy people memoirs and finding books almost exclusively by wealthy, educated, (mostly white) women, almost always women attending prestigious universities and having their parents fly to them or fly them out when they had a nervous breakdown, pay for professional care, etc), and love them when they’re dead. I screencapped it (the bad review as online bio) and tweeted it (the bad review as online bio, the day she died, and the frustration and rage, a few years ago, but then again, it is moreso a criticism of genre and access and ableist racist capitalist hellscape, right? and not a criticism of the individual, who I hold within my mad lineage). Wouldn’t you?

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In my diary, I’d been attempting to write about “this current depression.” Maybe it began with the first snowfall, when I was unprepared and couldn’t pick up my new prescriptions for a whole week, and couldn’t have them delivered because “narcotics,” because narcotics give me the ability to walk? Maybe it was when I tried to talk about unresolved issues around mistreatment within an organization, or maybe it was shortly thereafter, when I quit said organization? Maybe it began when my toilet tank broke during the snowstorm, flooded my bathroom multiple times, and my landlord took three days to drop by and take a look, fixed it but broke another part? Maybe it was a few days afterward, when the snow melted, and my kitchen ceiling leaked, and I awoke to my reading chair soaked, pile of laundry soaked, meditation cushions and restorative yoga cushion soaked. And as I pulled my reading chair back from the mess, I threw out my back and, yet again, couldn’t walk. And I stopped riding my portable exercise bike because my kitchen was ruined, I was in too much pain to clean it up, and I was too lazy or too depressed to bring it into the next room.

Maybe it was everything I was reminded of each time I tried to label the beginning of a wave, the consequences of each moment, the way my thoughts branch out into too many thoughts, and I can’t write because there’s too much to write about, and I can’t describe why I’m depressed because there’s too much to be depressed about. And I’ve been writing about depression for twenty years.

And I’ve been writing about depression for twenty years.

I was noticing that each potential “beginning” of “this current wave” was also part of one or more unfinished creative projects.

I was thinking about how Marilyn Manson had just turned 51, and how I’m afraid of him dying. I was thinking about how I’ve been spending too much time in bed because it feels like all I can do. I was thinking about how I haven’t been able to go outside for days. I was trying to figure out the littlest things I could do to keep going. While I was in the shower, I thought of all kinds of little things I could do, and by the time I’d come out of the shower, they all seemed too big again.

I was thinking about the body parts that hurt.

What parts didn’t hurt when I started reading her, what parts hurt now.

What parts I didn’t feel at all when I started reading her, what parts I feel now.

What didn’t hurt when I started writing and does now. What I didn’t feel and do now.

*

I dreamed about Girl, Interrupted and Brittany Murphy, as if my brain spilled reference tabs in the night and reshuffled them as it tried to get the stories back together. I also dreamed about my abusive mom. I dreamed about being on a road trip in Girl, Interrupted, the van with the hippies, making out with girls, but it was Brittany Murphy instead of Angelina Jolie, like my mind remembered Christina Ricci as Elizabeth Wurtzel. I was following them around, wondering why they liked me, why they let me into their inner circle. Me and Susanna Kaysen and Brittany Murphy went swimming in a bright aqua pool. Elizabeth Wurtzel was somehow all of them, somehow me too, and at the same time, not there. Missing. Not there to speak her own lines, to be in conversation with us.

In my waking hours, I’d been contemplating re-reading Prozac Nation. Wondering if I’d have time. Or make time. I’d thought about it a few days before she died, unknowing. I used to not own a lot of books, and I was too agoraphobic to walk the aisles of the small town library where I grew up, or learn how to use their computer retrieval system. I read each book I owned at least five times before turning twenty-one. I read Francesca Lia Block, and I read books about vampires, witches, call girls in the 80’s and 90’s, and old Hollywood. Now I have too many books and too many books to read, too many books I want to re-read, too many stacked up library books with fines owing. To re-read Prozac Nation would be a sacrifice on multiple levels. Let alone More, Now, Again, the book that inspired my tattoo before I’d even left Lindsay, but as I was approaching double-digits of psych med prescriptions.

I make porn. In some of my porn, I read out loud. I read out loud, strip, masturbate. I thought about shooting a quick clip reading Prozac Nation out loud the night she died. Would she appreciate it? Maybe (a younger?) Merri Lisa Johnson would, or (a younger?) Stacey Pershall. The Strange Grrrls. Am I too old to be doing this, to even be contemplating this? (No.) Too immature? (No.) Too self-absorbed? (Elizabeth Wurtzel would say, not self-absorbed. Absorbed. Absorbed.)

I didn’t make Elizabeth Wurtzel porn. Or I haven’t, not yet. I went to bed early. The following evening, I did make porn, I did make book porn. I dressed in a vintage tweed jacket with an odd cut, a strapless black lace bra, PVC garter belt with silver studs, black lace thigh-highs with vertical stripes, and I hid my fuzzy cat slippers under the camera frame, read Edna St. Vincent Millay, poverty and death, The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, stripped, slowly. Holding open my copy of Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford. Ran out of storage before I could take off my bright violet scalloped-lace underwear. Sometimes I don’t like my face at certain angles. But I like my voice. Or, I like listening to my voice.

On the day Elizabeth Wurtzel died, I was wondering if I’d ever write again. I hadn’t felt so uncreative for more than a decade. I was scared there’d be no more words, no more new ideas, nothing, no one. Abandoned, unfinished drafts. “I used to write.”

I wouldn’t have made my Edna St. Vincent Millay porn if I hadn’t been invited out for an unexpected coffee date. I wouldn’t even have gotten dressed. When I arrived at the café, the sun was out. Half hour date, dark by the end.

Memoirishly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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Magical Concoctions for Sober Witches (And a Deadline, Too!)

It’s been a little while. It’s not ~officially Winter~ yet, but it’s Winter. Snow on the ground, almost-bare branches, reduced mobility for crip-bodies, and fingerless gloves to type. I feel like it should still be Halloween. But my sense of time, date, month, season, has been deeply skewed. Dissociation and detachment, etc. Med changes. You know how that goes.

I write with fun news, though! I was recently invited to participate as a Tarot consultant with Temperance Cocktails – they’re rad folks who make non-alcoholic cocktails, truly magical concoctions. If you’re sober, like me and like so many of us are, you’re probably sick of ginger ale and Coke, of the sugary Shirley Temple when you’re feeling fancy. These days, I’ve got eight and a half years sober. When my body can, I like to go out and dance, and I like to write in dark bars. But there are so few options of yummy things to drink, and I can only hang out for free for so long.

Temperance Cocktails have a really cute story.

“A year and a half ago, I (Audra Williams, noted online emoter and lifelong non-drinker) fell in love with a bartender (Haritha Gnanaratna, fastidious drink inventor and infrequent drink-drinker). Our first date required me to leave my house and go to a bar, both things I think are pretty overrated. But when someone tells you that they carry cat treats in their backpack in case they see any cats throughout their day, you obviously have to meet that person.

A week later, the bar where Haritha was working closed without warning on his birthday. Three days after that, I asked “Do you think cocktails need alcohol in them?” He looked off into space for a few minutes and replied no. Six weeks later, we launched our non-alcoholic beverage company, Temperance Cocktails.”

They’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign – it’s been successful so far, with multiple rewards added along the way, some of which have sold out. As of tonight, we’ve got five days left to raise the final $11,000. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but we’ve already raised $26,000, and I really believe we can make this happen! This campaign is all-or-nothing. Please check out their page, share with your friends, and consider making a pledge!
Temperance Cocktails are making drink recipes based on the Major Arcana, with illustrations by Cindy Fan, consultations by me, with a whole lot of other excellent people involved. Among the rewards are Tarot readings with me, along with the book of recipes, the deck of cards, and more.

Of note: This is a rare thing for me. I love to collaborate with other artists, writers, and creators when I have the chance, but just as I am a solitary witch, I am also frequently a solitary artist. Not only is this a lovely opportunity for connection and creativity, it’s also – as long as it’s fully funded – a paying gig, and y’all know how rare and cherished those can be, too! It means a lot to me that Audra Williams, a local pal of mine, had my name in mind for this project, and reached out at just the right time. I’ve been re-connecting with the Tarot more frequently these days, writing about the Tarot online again (like in my recent blog entry, Toronto Forget-Me-Not, where I visited addresses in Toronto where my nana received love letters in 1950), and teaching my partner about the Tarot as well. For two years, I wrote See the Cripple Dance, a column where I explored Tarot through a lens of disability, madness, poverty, and anti-capitalism. I’ve been revisiting some of those pieces during this current period of Mercury Retrograde, and it’s still giving me so much to think about. Consider this one: The Six of Swords and Celebrating Sobriety.

Temperancingly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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Toronto Forget-Me-Not Part One

After having found a heart-shaped box filled with love letters exchanged between my grandparents in 1950, two years before they were married, I decided to visit the places they were addressed to. My nana, my mom’s mom, was in her late-teens, working at Woolworth’s in the Eaton Centre at Queen and Yonge, living in a series of short-term rentals, rooming houses with other girls her age. She’d told me about living at Queen and Gladstone, but none of the envelopes in the heart-shaped box contained that address. Instead, there were two other addresses: one in Regent Park, the other in Parkdale. Both places I’m at frequently, so it wouldn’t be difficult to find the homes of her youth, of her romance.

{image description: Close-up of the inside of a heart-shaped box, frayed and stained with age. My nana and poppa have signed their names in blue ink, dated February 14th, 1950.}

{image description: Heart-shaped box, laid flat and open, letters revealed. The box is red with a sot pink ribbon tied across the lid, wrapped in a flattened bow. To the left is a stack of white envelopes, postage stamps 4 cents. To the right, an unfolded letter from my poppa to my nana, from a time when their relationship had become long-distance. His handwriting is right-slanted and difficult to read.}

I didn’t read the letters. At least not all of them. Or, I read a few of them, but didn’t take enough pictures to retain memory, and I didn’t tell them that I read some of their letters. My grandparents have been together about seventy years now (!), and this Summer, they sold the little wartime house where they’d been living for twenty-five years. They brought a small amount of belongings with them to their room at a retirement home a few blocks away, and invited their children and grandchildren to see the house one more time and take what we wanted. While it was still in their possession, they referred to it as “The Cottage Up North.” Three blocks North. When they got married, they had almost nothing – a green trunk they used as a couch, and a few orange crates re-purposed as shelves.

Seeing the house sold and slowly emptied out was a devastating process – I’m still heartbroken, frustrated, and discontent. As small children, my twin and I planted twin pines in the backyard. We watched them grow from saplings to taller-than-the-house. We watered them when we visited on Sundays, and ate fresh peas and beans from the vegetable garden, admiring the poppies and tigerlilies that grew around them. This house was the only stable place – our mom moved a lot, and once we moved out, we continued moving, too – evictions, break-ups, breakdowns, etc. Nowhere to plant our own roots, and a fascination with plants that we also could not root – small pots of herbs and jades and succulents that would dry out or rot and die too soon.

With the vegetable garden no longer tended to in their older age, the property, the land, became overgrown. (But what does overgrown mean? What is undergrown, what perfect-grown?) Flowers taller, stalks thicker, the ground hidden beneath the so-called weeds. Wildflowers no longer only on the edges of the house, the garden, the fence, the borders of the so-called property, but everywhere. Forget-me-nots and harebells. My poppa, a quiet and crafty person who’s acquired most of his belongings from yard sales and discount racks, proudly told me that he purchased none if his plants – instead, he transplanted them from roadsides while on short day-trips on the outskirts of town, re-rooted and cultivated them at home.

{image description: Portrait of me holding onto a small bouquet of wildflowers I’ve been collecting in the backyard. I’m standing in front of and between the two pine trees my twin and I planted as small children. My eyes are bright, hazel, looking upward, smiling, my hair is green, greasy and curled in the humidity, glittery barrettes of purple bows, round glasses. I’m wearing a Hole t-shirt. The bouquet I’m holding is mostly made of forget-me-nots and pale purple asters. A handmade birdfeeder, which I brought home that day, hangs in the tree to the left.}

Had I more time at the house before it was out of our possession (now I am in its possession, I think, through dreams and rumination), I would have done the same thing, transplanting my grandparents’ wildflowers to my home in the city. Instead, I picked a handful and let them dry. I was late to my arrival in my hometown, my partner and I having rented a van and then daydreamed out loud on the road until I realized we’d missed our exit an hour ago. Pull over, turn around.

*

In early-August, I set aside an afternoon to visit the addresses from the love letters. Both were in neighbourhoods I find myself often, neighbourhoods I have a connection to, have my own memories of, my own histories and knowledges, live on the edges of, write, organize, trashpick. Neighbourhoods I saw on the news when I was growing up, not knowing my connections. Referred to as “troubled” and then referred to as “revitalizing” or “up and coming” or other terms that mean, We’re Getting Rid of Poor People, Please Come Shopping Here. We’re Demolishing Homes and Hearts and Souls, Please Come Live in Luxury On Top of the Remains.

*

505 Dundas bus Eastbound.

Tense hips, thighs holding my cane steady between my knees, pain on my mind. Since learning the house is gone, my the pain in my body has increased – the old, familiar feelings of sore, bruised thighs, of pelvic region joints that lock and snap and glitch, spasms of electric shock through the backs of my legs, raw burn on my lower back.

Heavy backpack on my lap, book open. I’m reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I’m sitting at the front of the bus because I want/need to be close to the exit. A woman is resting her bags on the Priority seats, talking on her cell phone. At Spadina, an older white woman enters the bus, sits beside me, rests her bag on my lap. I’m still passive-aggressive in these moments. Ordinary moments on public transit can fuck me up, dysregulate me. I wiggle my leg until she picks up her bag and rests it on her own lap.

A few stops later, she exits the bus. But the woman who takes her place also rests her purse on my lap, shopping bag against my thigh. She adjusts her things, her purse taking up more space on my own lap, and this time I politely address her. “Can you please not put your bags on my lap?” I point at her purse, her own empty lap. I’m not furniture, I’m not nothing.

The bus is noisy, busy. Two o’clock in the afternoon. Two or three people with rollators. Kids, strollers, Cell phones. Bus exhaust, exhaustion of buses. I’m mostly looking down. My book, my cane, my feet. Not looking out the windows. Losing track of where we are except for the robot voice that announces each stop, a computerized system that mispronounces nearly every name.

Greyhound station, Denny’s.

A cab driver once told me the Canadian Tire kitty-corner to the bus terminal was once a park, and that’s where he met his wife.

I sit close to the exits on public transit because my crip-body will not be able to push through the other bodies to find a way out, the bodies standing in the aisles, distracted, headphones on, dissociated, wherever they’re at.

Yonge is always a nightmare. Yonge and Dundas, an intersection I avoid as much as I can. Sometimes the traffic is so jammed, the bus doesn’t move for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. People become more cranky, more frustrated, more aggressive. But I’ve always got a book, a Xanax, a mantra, a meditation practice.

An older homeless person sits across from me, wearing a pin that says ASK ME ABOUT MY PRONOUNS, trans flag behind the text. The woman beside me adjusts, rests her purse on my lap again. The bus follows the curves of Dundas, passes a strip club, the condo development across the street where I’ve graffitied their signs once or twice, wheatpasted posters for protests. A man offers a seat to a woman carrying heavy grocery bags.

I exit the bus at Parliament.

{image description: A small green bin with the Toronto city logo in white, with long-stemmed trumpet-shaped red flowers overflowing beyond the lid of the container. For more on the meaning of flowers in dumpsters and why I adore them, read my essay in Becoming Dangerous, Trash-Magic: Signs and Rituals for the Unwanted. Behind the small trash bin is a large green and white For Sale sign, with a name and phone number in bold type. A few old, tattered mattresses lean against the sign to the right. To the left, an electric mobility scooter is seen parked beside the brick wall. The ground is exposed dirt, dry, with scattered trash and petals.}

I’m near the intersection of Dundas East and Parliament, where there’s a new FreshCo, the Regent Park Community Health Centre, and the Toronto Council Fire Native Centre. There’s a burger place, a pizza place. Plenty of buildings with plenty of stories, histories, lives, futures. Cops are present, as they too often are. Slightly North, the CHC, where OCAP hosts their monthly Speakers Series. My nana’s old address is only a block or two away, around the corner.

{image description: Looking down at my feet. My lavender cane is visible to the left. Along with the handle, I’m holding onto a small spiral-bound memo pad, with a purple pen hooked to the open page. I’ve been taking notes. I’m wearing an above-the-knee dress with yellow, black, and white vertical stripes, overlaid with a floral print of clusters of roses in various shades of purple. Opaque purple knee-length tights, tattoos peeking out. Hair legs, pale. Purple socks slightly visible above my classic black Blundstone’s. Sidewalk, bright sun. The shadow of my cane crosses my feet.}

{image description: When I look up, I see the wide road with streetcar tracks, and old brick buildings on each corner. Dundas East and Berkeley. A one-way road with red and white Do Not Enter signs. The building on the Northwest corner is old red brick and three stories tall, like so many in Toronto. The building is overgrown with lush, deep green ivy, but clearly maintained by somebody, trimmed in straight lines and corners around windows that look shiny and new. The main floor is floor-to-ceiling windows, white blinds closed. It’s unclear if it’s a storefront, home, or office. The building has been all these things and more, I’m sure. The skies are cloudless, aqua. The building across the street, the Northeast corner, is old red brick, with trim and awnings painted forest green, large windows on the main floor, bay window on the second floor, and a black iron railing containing a small balcony on the third floor, accessible via the attic-alcove.}

Turn left, walk South, look for numbers on the buildings. They’re similar to the old houses on the corner, but smaller, more narrow, still containing homes, not storefronts. Only a few doors down, I see the number I’m looking for. The house my nana lived in as a teenager is still here! It hasn’t been torn down, nor built around or over. There’s no sign indicating ~a change proposed to the site~. The house is set back from the street, and a garden has been planted, blooming over the entire yard. Stakes emerge from the ground where tomatoes are beginning to grow, and there are all kinds of plants, flowers, rose bushes. I don’t know how to name all the plants, but some of them are labeled.

The flowers are planted not only for beauty, but for bees and butterflies, too. Princess Lilies, Majestic Louis Lilies, violets… Cabbage White butterflies, Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Little Yellows… They’re fluttering amongst the flowers, and all over the city.

The house still has six doorbells. I don’t want to intrude (or, I don’t want to be caught intruding, I don’t want to be seen as suspicious, I’m never quite sure how strangers read me…), but I want to be closer to the house, examine the details. The garden is separated from the garden by a series of wooden beams, neither a fence nor a curb, but a kind of elevated border, which I’m able to sit on. All the blinds are closed. Maybe I’m just a stranger resting my hips, my legs – I’ve got my cane, maybe they’ll know. If anybody sees me, wonders what I’m up to, why I’m here.

{image description: Selfie, Summer 2019, taken as I sit in front of the rooming house where my nana lived in 1950. I’m shown from the chest up, wearing a black cord necklace with a heart-shaped shungite crystal, my asymmetrical below-the-shoulders hair dyed clover green, wavy, no bangs. Round, mauve tortoiseshell glasses, unsmiling and many feels, lipstick a shade called Spellbound, bright magenta. Purple plastic flower barrette, roots growing out golden. Pale skin, zits always visible under make-up and sunscreen. Outside of the frame, my elbows are resting on my knees. The dress described earlier, yellow, black, and white vertical stripes, overlaid with a floral print of clusters of roses in various shades of purple, it’s sleeveless, shoulders exposed, a golden zipper following the collar. Behind me, orange flowers, red bricks, green leaves, everything glowing in the sun.}

Since the blinds are closed, I decide I might as well walk up the brick path, might as well climb the four cement steps to the wooden porch. The door is one of the most beautiful details of the house. Wood. Oak? Naming polished woods in/on buildings is not within my skillset (yet), but I like to imagine oak. It could be pine, it could be maple. I don’t know. It’s a split door, narrow, opens in the middle. There’s a mail-slot on the left side. I aim my camera. If anybody comes to the door, I’ll be honest. Maybe ask if I can look inside. I could also ring the doorbell, see if anybody’s home. But I won’t.

{image description: Close-up of the door described above, with a focus on the mail-slot. It’s aluminum-plated steel, the silver peeling back from weather and age. It’s unlikely to be the same one my nana received her letters through, but I like to imagine it happening that way anyway. In one of her letters, she mentioned that if a letter from my poppa was delivered while she was at a work, a roommate would call her to let her know, and then she’d have something to look forward to when she was finished her shift. The doorknob and lock to the right are bronze and aged.}

{image description: Close-up of a series of doorbells to the right of the door. Most seems to have been installed at different times, mismatched from the others. Some are round, black rubber, others are rectangular, white, etc.}

I brought the Next World Tarot with me, Cristy Road’s deck. Visions of radical futures. Packed my backpack with a plan to draw one card on each property.

Here (back at the edge of the garden, no longer on the porch), I shuffle the deck and draw a card. See how I feel, absorb the image, watch my thoughts.

King of Cups.

“The Throne of Movement.”

I like the juxtaposition of stillness and motion, power and action.

The figure in this card holds a blooming lotus flower in their brown hands, sits in an electric mobility scooter on a small precipice over the sea. They are barefoot, an orange mug of tea to their right. They wear a leis, their long black hair entranced by the breeze, blowing in thin tendrils reminiscent of the vines of morning glories or other delicate plants that vine. When I hold the card before me, as in the image below, the figure’s outfit and accessories match the garden where I sit.

{image description: My left hand holds the card described above, with garden and shadows in the background.}

Cristy Road writes: “The King of Cups is the space between gentle and tough love. She runs on awareness of logic while maintaining a soft open heart. She is a healed healer who fights through unlimited access to her highest self… She can navigate intellect and emotion without demeaning her own, or anyone else’s, humanity. She asks you to articulate your wounds and vulnerabilities in order to watch them heal.”

Sounds of birds and traffic, sounds of pedestrians but only a few, lots of trees.

What does it feel like, holding the card in my hand, imagining what happened here seventy years ago, everything that’s passed since, and what’s come to be?

I’m not a healed healer. And that’s not necessarily somebody I want to become, but the idea of a healed healer is still somebody I can learn from, learn with. There is a ceiling to healing under capitalism, and I come from a traumatized family with a pattern of miscommunication, non-communication, passive-aggressive communication. The figure on the card is somebody I see in the city often, the same as the butterflies, the trash bins filled with flowers, used up mattresses, old houses renovated to convey wealth…

My highest self doesn’t always feel accessible to me. Then again, sometimes I forget to look for them. Especially this Summer – I was vaguely dissociated much of the season, but couldn’t recognize it until something in the world drew my attention to where I was, that my mind was elsewhere from my body. The next stop would be called, the public transit robot voice, and I’d be going the wrong way on a route I know and take frequently. I would lose myself with other people, not know how to answer simple questions, not know what I needed. I wouldn’t realize I was hungry until I was starving and nearly fainting. Everyday, it felt like it was three or four hours later than it was, kept losing time. I wanted mornings to last all day. Quiet mornings, when life feels possible. I couldn’t keep track of what day it was, sometimes not even what month.

Early days of Autumn, as I write this piece, the same dissociative states continue. An example: When Kink Boutique, a local queer sex shop, announced they were going out-of-business after three years and having a clearance sale, I dropped by to pick up a few things. One of those things was a silly-sexy costume, cheap, $9. The worker behind the counter mentioned it’d be a good costume for Halloween.

“Yeah, you’re right, too bad Halloween isn’t coming up,” I agreed.

Except it is, of course. My brain thought it was Spring, maybe May. It’s mid-September.

*

After sitting in contemplation for some time, I walked South, wanting to move my body before getting on the streetcar and looking for the next address. I took pictures of murals painted on brick buildings, fliers for local events, feet on the ground. At Moss Park, security cameras and warning signs, public space hostile to the people who need it.

{image description: A squat, two-story building of yellow brick, paved pathway and square, grass trimmed short. A mural is painted on the first-story of the wall, cherry blossom trees in bloom, silhouettes of cityscapes. Beyond the building, small trees, silver skyscrapers, too many condos, a clear sky.}

{image description: Close-up of the brick wall, pink puffs of cherry blossoms blooming, with a sign posted in the centre: Black allcaps on white: WARNING. NEIGHBORHOOD CRIME WATCH AREA. White allcaps on bold red: WE CALL THE POLICE. Street-sign style illustration of mysterious figure in black, crossed out in red.}

{image description: Corner of the same building, a locked door on the right, a painted door on the left.}

{image description: Close-up on detail of the mural, looking up toward the sky, now in view. Bright pink cherry blossoms, black branches, clear skies reflected in second-story windows.}

{image description: The same corner, looking up. Security camera affixed to the right. Ivy growing over a painted tree to the left.}

{image description: Turning to the left, standing in the same place. Another corner, another locked door, the cherry blossom mural, windows painted on the wall. Another security camera keeping an eye on the scene.}

Wander onward. I see another mobility scooter parked on the sidewalk, labeled Fortress 2000. Moss Park is the closest park to my nana’s old home, gold lions guarding the Rec Centre. I think about mobility aids as bodies, as homes. As depicted in the card, a cozy place from which to organize, to breathe, to create. My own, my fifth limb. How I’ve slowly taught my grandparents to be okay with their own canes, to actually use them. Like me, my nana covers hers in stickers. She also attaches a label with her name and address, prone to forgetting it places.

Down the street, a series of homeless men, of disabled men, are sitting along the edges of the sidewalk.

“YO, THERE’S A WOMAN COMING,” one of them says.

I pretend not to hear, as I so often do. Stroll by, they catcall. I don’t look in their direction, but I see their heads turn my way.

501 Queen streetcar, Westbound. Hundreds and hundreds of storefronts, less indie, more chains. I like watching poor people jaywalk in poor neighbourhoods, in used-to-be poor neighbourhoods where we haven’t been fully pushed out yet. The way poor people own the streets, know the traffic, become invincible. Regent Park and Parkdale are two of these places. Long, long histories, resisting gentrification, refusing to be pushed out, resisting racism, fighting the BIA’s and local businesses and city officials who put spikes on benches or remove them altogether, resisting landlords, real estate landlords, the bigots and capitalists and white supremacists in and out of office.

The streetcar passes by places with memories, places that have been erased, some which still stand but nobody knows for how long. The streetcar passes the hospital where I had my hysterectomy. 20-somethings hug each other on the sidewalk at Queen and Yonge, where my grandparents met. City Hall, tourists and protests. Non-disabled men sit in the accessible seats again. Sometimes I sneak photos of them, not their faces, but the space they take up. A thin, non-disabled man in a suit often chooses to use three seats – one for his body, one for his leather satchel, one for his hand holding onto his cell phone. The streetcar passes my home, passes Trinity Bellwoods, passes the places where the good dumpsters are. Starbucks logos don’t plaster every corner anymore. They’re going under, too. There’s a punk with lilac hair, a man playing googlemaps directions with no headphones. Black Market’s still here but moving, moving across the street. Torn down buildings. The empty parking lot that housed weekend fairs with jewelry and Tarot readings and crystals and buskers has been built upon. Now it’s a MEC. An ugly cube, members only. Pop-up galleries, construction sites. Legendary venues like Horseshoe Tavern and Cameron House, still here. Cranes in the distance on Spadina. Craft supplies, beads, fabrics, ghost signs under fresh signs. Velvet Underground, always read the marquee. The windows of Call & Response, where I’ve admired outfits and never gone inside. A new café with Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album art painted on the wall. Red umbrellas on patios, is it intentional? Do they know what it means? The convenience store is being replaced with a place that sells “gourmet nuts.” The place that used to sell lingerie, used to have a portrait of Bettie Page painted on the wall, I love her because she stabbed her landlord, it’s been new-in-business and out-of-business more than once since I moved to the neighbourhood, I walked by when they painted beige over Bettie Page. But she was still there when I moved here, a landmark to find my place. Lipstick and Dynamite, classic Queen West, and the free art gallery for crazy and disabled and mad people. At Dovercourt, a Starbucks went empty then became another café then went empty. Now it houses the headquarters of yet another condo development. The sign says something like “The first and last luxury experience on Queen West,” UGH. The Beaver, always wish it were open during the day. Security cameras all over the streetcar, everywhere, every angle.

Arrive at my destination. My nana’s old address is around the corner from the Parkdale Library, my home branch. Much of my writing has been done there, essays and diaries and letters to friends. The place I pick up every book I reserve online, sign out books when I’m wandering the aisles or see something interesting on display. There’s an elderly couple fighting with one another by the Polish church. And old man is pushing an old woman, likely his wife of many, many years, in her wheelchair. Her hair is a poof of lavender tint perm. We pass by one another a few times, and they’re arguing each time.

It’s becoming evident as I check the number of each building that the one I’m looking for is no longer there. I search for it on googlemaps to see if the address still exists. It does. It’s a park now, and a community garden. Of all the things demolished homes can become, this is among the best. I’m glad one of my nana’s teenage homes has become not a condo, not a chain, but public space, gardens, free food, reclaimed land for Indigenous gardeners, teachers, seekers. Free community space. A vegetable garden named HOPE, established with the local Tibetan community in Parkdale.

{image description: Looking down at my feet again, standing in the grass, same outfit described in previous photos, my left hand holding my lavender cane. One sticker on my cane says EVICT THIS, illustration of a middle finger with sharp nails. Another sticker is the classic yellow Nirvana face. I’m standing in the park, between the community centre and a church. My notepad is also in my left hand, along with a card I found on the ground.}

It’s another one-way street, cars parked on one side. Small children play on a swingset, splash in a nearby wading pool. There are old brick houses across the street, near Milky Way Lane. Many of them are under construction, in a process of renovation, renoviction, one surmises. Some are boarded up as construction happens. Another tree-lined street. Sounds of children at play, the water fountain, planes, homeless people pushing shopping carts of their belongings. The elderly couple returns, still fighting. Her wheelchair is not the self-propelled sort, but the kind built to be pushed by somebody else, often used when disabling situation is temporary. He arranges the wheelchair beside a bench, sits down. They light cigarettes together.

{image description: Close-up of a card in my hand, held between thumb and forefinger, nails painted deep violet, short. I found the card on the ground as I recognized the address I was seeking out no longer held a building. Illustration of a stingray, labeled STINGRAY in bold black allcaps.}

{image description: Close-up of the back of the same card. Description reads: STINGRAY. Fish. The stingray is a flat fish with a long tail. The tail has two spines with teeth on their edges. From glands beneath these teeth, the stingray can eject poison. The stingray swings its tail upward to wound its prey, releasing the poison. The longest stingray lives near Australia and can grow to be as long as 14 feet. Stingrays live at the bottom of the ocean in mud or sand. They are also called “stingarees.”}

Sit on the ground, draw another card.

Torontoingly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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A Mix Tape for OLIVER A LOVER ALL OVER – to listen, to cry, to daydream…

Two weeks ago, I announced that pre-orders for my fourth book (third work of fiction), Oliver A Lover All Over are now open. Thank you so much to those of you who’ve pre-ordered my new novel, and shared the link with your pals! Right now, I’m finalizing the tiniest little details of the interior design and getting ready to order my proof, and then order a boxful (and maybe more boxfuls after that). I told myself I’d have this part over with by the first day of Summer (I don’t like spending so much time indoors with computer screens on sunny days), but as with many of the books I’ve made, I unexpectedly fell in love as I was writing, and delayed my own deadlines (I haven’t determined if this pattern means I should write more books or less?! I love being in love, and I fear total abandonment isolation crushed spirit & soul annihilation etc etc). Like this novel, we’re approaching August again, and it’s still heatwaves and thunderstorms, climate collapse and emergency, gentrification and housing crises. Like Magenta, the main character of this novel, I still feel suicidal sometimes, and dreamy creative internally imaginative at others – or simultaneously. Like Magenta, I wander the city when I can, contemplating love and friendship and purpose and activism and survival and solidarity and art.

{image description: Crooked angle view of an outdoor brick wall that’s been painted over many times. Layers of shades of white and yellow, ghost remnants of graffiti-past, tags and messages. Bold red stencil in serif typewriter font says: “I want to walk freely at night.” Windows on either side have been spraypainted over. Under white paint is another layer of white, which reads: “ANTI-FASCIST ZONE.” There’s an orange pylon on the concrete, against the wall, with green weeds growing out from behind, through the bricks and concrete.}

{image description: Brick wall with tall-ish trees nearby, dappled sun and shadows on the grass. Mural on the wall portrays a turquoise-skinned face with a single black teardrop, the expression resolute. Hair is a swirl of curled colours, greens and pinks, spiraling along the brick wall.}

As I was working on Oliver A Lover All Over, I did not yet know I was working on anything at all, let alone a novel. I remember being in my kitchen, washing the dishes and drinking coffee, and a single sentence coming to mind. I knew I needed to type it out, so I dried my hands, opened my laptop at my reading chair by the window overlooking the alleyway, and opened a fresh, blank Word document. The sentence became a paragraph became a project.

As you know if you’ve been reading my fiction, music is pretty crucial to my story-telling. I’m not a musician, not a critic, not a musical-anything, but obvs I’m a fan, and I’m sometimes, er, frequently, an obsessive fan – lyrics stay with me, and often inform my characters’ psyches, their questions and (in)decisions. In Oliver A Lover All Over, Magenta keeps the radio on all day and night, a comforting presence between each streetcar ride, and there are particular songs that stay with them as they cope through a break-up. Those songs form the mix tape I made to accompany the novel. (Actually, this is the first mix tape I’ve ever made that’s not on a cassette.) (Two Summers ago, I wrote about the last mix tape I made, in my See the Cripple Dance column on LittleRedTarot: The Seven of Cups and the Pleasure of Sadness.)

Sadness is pleasurable. We have physical, emotional, chemical responses to sad music. And often, we intentionally listen to sad songs to evoke particular feelings. It’s like poking at bruises or pulling your own hair. What are the ones you listen to on repeat?

Listen here: A Mix Tape for Oliver A Lover All Over. Let it play as you listen to the novel, as Magenta remembers a song on the radio, as you daydream, etc…

{image description: Five dark blue, scuffed up recycling bins / mini-dumpsters lined against the brick wall of an apartment building. All the bins are closed except for one in the middle, which has hot pink and pale rose helium-filled balloons emerging, tied to shiny pink ribbons. A lone black balloon is spotted amidst the others.}

{image description: A discarded mattress on a sidewalk, the underside face-forward with the stretched corners of a fitted sheet visible, tugging the edges. The mattress leans against a short, black iron fence, with a grass lawn and garbage bin enclosed. Black all-caps spraypaint on the mattress reads: “ON THE PLUS SIDE AT LEAST I CAN PAINT AGAIN.”}

{image description: A very large painting on canvas propped in a window, photo taken from out on the sidewalk. The window is clear with an arch, an old red brick building. The painting resembles those that show up in my mind sometimes, if only I could paint. Acrylic layers of bodies, shadows, motion, shades of purple, violet, bruise, burn, yellow, glow. Image of a woman with long red hair, hand to her face, turned to a left-side profile, eyes downward, in thought or dance or prayer. Trees are reflected in the window, near the top, above but not overlapping the painting.}

{image description: A bold, detailed tag or mural on a wooden fence in an alleyway, with intestines forming the shapes of letters. Weeds and ivies grow along the fence and concrete.}

{image description: Three small flowerpots painted on a white door, outside. Each flowerpot has a kawaii smilie-face with rosy cheeks. The first pot is growing a pink heart, labelled LOVE.The second pot is growing a tiny green sprout, labelled HAPPY. The third pot is growing a yellow star, labelled LUCKY.}

{image description: Garbage bins lined up together at the top of a concrete staircase (not pictured), blocking the doors to a church. Bins are green and blue, closed, with stacks of busted up furniture and scrap wood piled behind them, and a small black iron fence to the left. Two sets of double-doors, under peaked awnings, are behind the garbage, stained glass panels on and above each door. Alcoves are old red brick, outer walls have been renovated with beige stucco.}

{image description: Red brick garage in an alleyway, with the side of the garage painted, and a sewer grate visible on the concrete path. A chainlink fence is closed around an empty yard. The painting shows a black fist held up with an eye tattooed on the inner wrist. There’s a lop-eared puppy on the left, an owl on the right, and scattered tags spraypainted in white. The sky is clear. Weeds grow through the cracks in the concrete.}

{image description: Close-up of a sticker on a metal pole at a city intersection. Bold black all-caps letters on a pale rose background read: “MAKE GENTRIFIERS’ LIVES UNLIVABLE.” Pale rose background framed in green and black, with credit to GAY SHAME (& more here).

Mixedupedly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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PRE-ORDER a paperback copy of my new novel, OLIVER A LOVER ALL OVER

New Moon in Cancer, yes. I wrote another fucking novel! Oliver A Lover All Over is a psychogeographical exploration of intimacy and betrayal, repetition compulsion, open relationships, empathy, therapy, and art. You can pre-order a paperback copy of my new novel at schoolformaps.etsy.com.

Look at this gorgeous cover! The photo used for my book jacket is one I took last Fall, walking along Queen West. The cover and interior design are by Caligula Caesar, a long-term creative co-conspirator of mine. Paperback copies will be printed and snail-mailed Mid-Summer 2019. Pre-orders go toward living expenses, printing expenses, and paying for all the beautiful design skills and time devoted to the work.

♥ ♥ ♥

When their partner leaves them a week after their hysterectomy, Magenta becomes determined to resist suicidal despair by leaving the stale solitude of their downtown apartment, with a plan to ride every streetcar, bus, and subway line in Toronto. Instead, they ride back and forth along romanticized and mythical Queen Street, from Parkdale to The Beaches, from the first to final day of August. The city is heatwaves and thunderstorms, empty storefronts and chain businesses, suffering the paired crises of climate change and gentrification.

An unemployed fiction writer turned sex worker, and compulsive consoler of the lonely, Magenta ruminates on the desires they feel ashamed of, on poetry and books and lyrics, and on their fear of being used as a muse, while Oliver, a comedy school dropout turned gardener who’s abandoned them to live on an isolated farm, struggles with existential ambivalence and his contradictory desire to build a life and a home in the forest vs. the city. As they ride the streetcar, Magenta becomes fixated upon poverty and melancholy, mood-dependent behaviours, disability and remission, and literary clichés and lazy metaphors, obsessively documenting their thoughts and memories of a relationship that lasted thirteen months.

A psychogeographical exploration of intimacy and betrayal, repetition compulsion, open relationships, empathy, therapy, and art, Oliver A Lover All Over is a work of present-tense stream-of-consciousness and self-consciousness, a novel in the form of a mix tape, a collage of the languages of autofiction, songs on late-night radio, journal entries, therapy sessions, and messages exchanged through online dating apps. In their third novel, Maranda Elizabeth employs lyrical experimentation to analyze perpetually lost, unestablished and anti-establishment, alienated thirty-somethings on the cusp of self-awareness.

♥ ♥ ♥

Want some related reading while you wait for your order to ship?

Last Summer, I wrote a long-form piece, Surgery As Initiation: A process of experiencing, witnessing, & sharing my hysterectomy. It’s labelled Part One, as I’d intended to write a follow-up after healing, but I became distracted and avoidant, and then wrote this unexpected novel instead. Other parts may happen yet.

Eight months ago, I wrote Messy November: we’ve got a lotta care work protest conversations dreams to do together, let’s go. Notes, ideas, and strategies for taking care of ourselves and one another as poor, disabled weirdos surviving austerity and fascism under the current Ford government, relevant always. And in May, I wrote The speech I delivered at The People Phone Ford Rally, with notes on care, rage, disposability, & solidarity, organized by No One Is Illegal and co-sponsored by Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

Thank you, as always, for supporting my work in whatever ways you’re able to!

Fictionally Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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The speech I delivered at The People Phone Ford Rally, with notes on care, rage, disposability, & solidarity

The following is a speech I delivered at The People Phone Ford rally on May 14th, 2019, organized by No One Is Illegal (@nooneisillegal) and co-sponsored by OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) (@OCAPtoronto). This was the first time I’ve spoken in public for a long while – it was a deeply emotional experience for me, not just because I hadn’t spoken in public for a few years, but because I was present to speak on some of the issues that have the utmost urgency and significance to my own life, and that of my friends, co-conspirators, and readers. It’s rare that people on social assistance are invited to speak on our own experiences, and I was very grateful to take part with a handful of others, who were speaking on the impact of cuts to legal aid and social assistance on refugees and migrants, including their families, and on poor, disabled, and mad / mentally ill folks, especially those impacted by other forms of oppression, such as racism, anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, etc.

{image description: A photo of me taken after the protest, crouched on my knees to converse with the pinky-purple tulips in bloom. Taken in profile, my long hair ruby-violet, right hand on a tulip and left hand holding onto my cane. I’m wearing my purple SPK (Socialist Patients Collective) t-shirt, which reads, TURN ILLNESS INTO A WEAPON. Behind me, the greenhouse at Allan Gardens is visible.}

With a special thanks to my pals and fellow OCAP organizer, Cat Chhina, for holding the mic for me while I used one hand for my cane, the other for my speech!

{content note: mentions of suicide}

*

My name is Maranda Elizabeth. I’ve been writing about poverty and disability for half my life, and it can be tough not to feel like I am repeating myself into a void. That I’m able to have an audience today is not something I take for granted.

I’ve spent twelve years on ODSP, welfare before that, and countless depressing minimum wage jobs before that. I dropped out of school at age fourteen, got my first job at age fifteen, and paid my mom rent and groceries until I moved out on my own and started paying greedy, neglectful landlords for their own profit, which is what I’m still doing today. In my early-teens, I was in and out of juvenile detention centres and group homes, a shy and quiet troublemaker hiding behind books and coping unskillfully with the violent impulses I developed growing up in a chronically chaotic, poor, and invalidating environment. When I left school, I began self-publishing. I come from a family of depressives, alcoholics, and traumatized women, raised with my twin by our single mom in low-income public housing.

I say this to note that I’m speaking from experience, and not from a professional or academic background. I’m an anti-capitalist and a prison abolitionist, a writer and an artist, and an organizer with OCAP. I’m someone who’s trying to survive in a city, province, and world where poor people are always under attack, and where place, home, and community become less and less accessible.

I’m wary of asking the government for protection and care when their job is to hoard and wield power and wealth, to surveil and punish. The state will never save us – that’s not its purpose, not what it was built for, despite the way public relations and mainstream media skew language to profess otherwise. Poverty is not a personal failure, but a political tool of violence. To rely on the government for care, for compassion, is misguided at best, disastrous and deadly at worst.

Rather than reiterate the confusing and frightening numbers, as many speakers have done and will continue to do, I want to focus on what poverty looks and feels like, on the necessity of caring for one another in our daily lives, and envisioning what solidarity could – and must – look like for those of us who are on social assistance.

These cuts not only harm our day-to-day lives in the here and now, but they are certain to have long-term consequences as well – to our bodies, our minds, our homes, and our relationships. I’m still sick and alienated from being raised by a single mom with underpaid and undervalued jobs in the era of Mike Harris, someone who couldn’t afford childcare, decent, healthy food, new clothes, vacations, or to have us or herself participate in any form of social activity.

I remember the feeling of hearing the election results last year, nearly a year ago now. Telling myself I’d get a good sleep, read the news and see the results in the morning, but then staying up late, laying on the edge of my bed, scrolling through Twitter all night. I felt rage and despair, I felt a desire to be out in the streets, and I felt especially afraid that, for those of us on social assistance, no one would have our backs. Not friends, not workers, not students, not teachers, not health care professionals, not artists – and that due to the isolation of this particular form of enforced poverty, we’d never be able to find one another and keep each other safe, fed, and loved. I want to be proven wrong. I want to be surprised.

In that moment, I sent texts to friends of mine on ODSP. I promised we’d get through this alive. I wondered who’d remain in my life during the next four years, and who’d be gone.

Until recently, I wasn’t able to come out to protests and rallies, to memorials or actions or marches or die-ins. I became too sick, I lost my ability to walk, and in the worst days of my illness, I lost most of the friends I had. They stopped calling, or they were pushed out of the city when they could no longer afford rent, or they discarded me when my presence was no longer useful to them. I needed a wheelchair but couldn’t afford one, nor could I afford a physically accessible home. I became housebound, underfed and malnourished, and suicidal. I became further isolated and deeply embittered.

I think a lot about how poverty, gentrification, illness, and disability affect our day-to-day lives and interpersonal relationships, and how these things affect our friendships and romantic relationships, our ability and wherewithal to fight, and how we show up for one another, how these things affect our ability to be visible and noisy and present.

I can only speak for myself, but I do so with a true need to acknowledge those on social assistance, and everyone who’s poor, disabled and/or mad, who can’t attend actions like this: because they’re sick, they’re having or will have a panic attack or an asthma attack, WheelTrans is late again, they can’t afford the TTC, they’re busy earning under-the-table cash in underground economies such as sex work, they’re having a flare-up, experiencing too much pain, they’re vomiting with chemical and environmental sensitivities again, they’re stuck in a waiting room or an appointment, exhausted and overwhelmed, they’ve got kids or parents or grandparents to care for, they can’t risk injury or arrest, they’re intimidated by activist spaces or by the presence and therefore threat of authorities of the state, they feel unsafe or anxious coming alone, sick of their mobility aids being touched or tripped on in crowds, they woke up with another migraine, they’re too depressed and despondent and despairing to care, they couldn’t get a pass from the psych ward, or they are rightfully too angry and bitter about every time nobody showed up for them in the past.

Or they don’t even know that this action is happening.

I’ve been thinking about crisis prevention and management, suicide prevention and management, about building networks of care. According to stats on the website for the government of Ontario, people on social assistance have a suicide rate of 18% higher than the general population. These numbers rise even higher during times of especial distress and uncertainty, such as when cuts are announced, when housing situations become unstable and unreliable, and when we’re held in perpetual limbo as to the specifics of the cuts and when they’re scheduled to take effect.

The more marginalized someone is by their experience of systemic oppression as upheld by White supremacy and capitalism – such as racism, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigenaeity, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny, and whorephobia, to name only a few, including the ways these oppressions intersect – the deeper these cuts will be, the greater the damage.

To my knowledge, a list of those who’ve died by suicide while on social assistance, or while waiting to be accepted onto social assistance, has never been kept, but those mostly untold stories are on my mind everyday. I’ve survived multiple suicide attempts, and so have most of my friends. Each time I’ve tried to kill myself, the feeling that I was unable to afford to stay alive has been at the core of my crisis. I am sometimes not sure how I’m still alive, except that I refuse to leave my apartment empty so the landlord can double rent for the next tenant, and I refuse to save the government $13,000 a year by ceasing to exist.

I support calls for a general strike. I do believe that care and compassion, reclaimed by those of us on the margins and fringes, and those of us who love us, can be radical tools of resistance when cultivated intentionally and consistently, with shared goals of disability justice, liberation, revolution, and decolonization. I invite you to imagine a city, province, and world where people on social assistance are loved, valued, well-fed, cared for, and listened to – even when we’re at our worst, even when we’re angry and ugly and incoherent.

I invite you to envision a world where each of us who are disabled, sick, mad, and poor, live in comfort and pleasure in homes that are accessible and affordable to us, where we don’t have to constantly decide between one basic necessity or another, where we aren’t left behind when we become inconvenient, where we are seen as indispensable rather than disposable, and where we are offered not charity, but solidarity.

Thank you.

{image description: I took this photo amongst the series of art on the wall over the staircase at the Queen West location of BMV, but couldn’t find the artist’s name. Illustration shows a small body dressed in shades of blue and grey, curled up in a napping position, hands by their face. Their resting body is held within an enormous pair of hands, shaded yellowish-brow. Springs and petals of lavender surround the tiny body held within the set of hands.}

Related to this, I also recommend readings these previous pieces by me:

Messy November: we’ve got a lotta care work protest conversations dreams to do together, let’s go

Disability, Freaking Out, & Marilyn Manson

Poverty and Isolation are Killing Us: (More, Unending) Thoughts and Conversations on Suicide, Criticism, Responsibility, Purpose, Care, and Love

I also recommend reading:

8 Steps Toward Building Indispensability (Instead of Disposability) Culture by Kai Cheng Thom

Legal Aid Budget Cuts Will Hurt Ontario Tenants

Visibly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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