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

November is never my favourite month, but this one’s gonna get more fucked up than Novembers past. On November 8th, the recently elected conservative (read: fascist) government in ontario is expected to announce changes to social assistance: ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program, ie disability) and OW (Ontario Works, ie welfare). While initial cuts were made in early-Autumn, with the scheduled 3% increase to our monthly income canceled and replaced with the usual 1.5% increase, more cuts are expected to be announced.

[EDITED TO ADD: On November 7th, the government postponed their announcement of what the changes and cuts to social assistance will be until November 22nd, adding to our stress, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty.

Read the official statement (and try not to have a total rage-attack) here.

See also: Ontario welfare reforms to be unveiled Nov. 22, and Flashing danger signs all over Ford’s social assistance review.

On a personal note, yes, my mental health has been much more precarious and fragile these days. During yesterday’s New Moon in Scorpio, I devoted much of my evening to crying at the doctor’s office, crying in the waiting room, re-assessing my mental health with the realization that I’m not doing as well as I thought I was, and I began the process of obtaining another diagnosis and another prescription. The delay of the announcement throws me and many others into a dangerous state of limbo.]

The government has yet to comment with any specificity on what these cuts will look like, what the “overhaul” will look like, and when they’ll happen, but I’m expecting – and preparing for – the worst. A short article on CBC News, Widespread uncertainty ahead of Ontario’s social assistance revamp, remarks upon this more-than-justified anxiety and fear, noting that multiple changes that would’ve been beneficial to those of us on social assistance have already been canceled, and that politicians are reluctant at best to talk about more impending changes in the near future.

Yes, there are lots of rumours. The feelings of anxiety and fear can be vague, underlying each of our moves, or specific, as we contemplate our worries and see tangible and intangible evidence that we, as disabled and poor and unemployed or underemployed, are loathed by many. I have some very specific fears about particular changes and cuts, and while I’ve discussed them with a few friends, haven’t wanted to make them public for fear of appearing paranoid or catastrophizing (or, hell, giving them ideas for more disastrous decisions). If you’ve been in similar situations, or witnessed your friends and community members through this kinda stuff, you know that self-harming thoughts and suicidality are common.

{image description: A wide, concrete set of stairs leading to church doors, traditional architecture of large wooden doors with a bolt lock. The stairs are cracked, broken, with weeds growing through them, rendered useless. Falling apart and crumbling. To the right of the church doors is a small white sign with white script on a bold black arrow. In allcaps letters, it reads: “MAIN ENTRANCE AT RAMP.” I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of staircases over the last few years, and have developed a particular fascination with those that are falling apart and deteriorating in some way. It felt like a political and poetic comment on in/accessibility. Often, it’s ramps that are hidden around the corner, not at the main entrance, if they are present at all.}

For the last year and a half, I’ve been writing a column on LittleRedTarot.com, See the Cripple Dance. In this column, I explore Tarot cards through a lens of madness, disability, and poverty. A few weeks ago, I published When the Four of Cups reminds us to resist apathy & cynicism even as we’re being attacked, using the imagery from four different imaginings of the card to discuss attending anti-poverty marches and protests. Small ones. The kinds you wanna see thousands and thousands of people at, protesting injustice, being part of us or in solidarity with us, screaming, but instead, find a handful or two, stand around unsure of what to do or how to feel, who to connect with.

I wrote:

“The 3% increase initially scheduled to happen in September was scaled back to 1.5% – a mere $18 per month [ODSP]. What intrigued me about this particular march was that the call to action on the fliers demanded not a 1.5% increase, nor a 3% increase, but a 100% increase. 100%! That’s the kind of brazen audacity I’m into! And of course I don’t expect such a request to ever ever ever be taken seriously, but this kind of bold, unabashed shamelessness in demanding what we actually need is totally my style. The thing is, it’s not really that absurd: a 100% increase in social assistance rates for disabled people would only raise us to the poverty line. Knowing that, consider how ridiculous the 1.5% increase is after all. Despite changes being made to the provincial social assistance program after a 15-year review (how many recipients and those who’d been denied do you think died, or got sick sicker sickest during that time?) just beginning to happen over the last year or two, the newly elected conservative government is now overhauling the program again, holding a 100-day review in which no welfare or disability recipients are being consulted, and on November 8th, we’ll find out what’s next. Realistically (oh, how I loathe that boring but necessary word!), more cuts. We just don’t know exactly how much yet.”

I wrote:

“Yeah, I’m tired of this question, but: How are we gonna care for one another?”

{image description: A stack of notebooks on my pillow, purple frilly purple case, with dusty rose lace curtains visible and a lavender wall. The notebook at the top of the stack is thin, with a cardboard cover and orange spine. On the cover, I’ve written the word “PLANS” four times, in different fonts and shades of purple.}

{image description: Illustration of a cutesie femme with floofy hair and wide eyes and a heart-shaped barrette drawn in black ink onto a United States Postal Service Priority Mail sticker, pasted to a grey mailbox. Below the image is written, allcaps, “SAFE ENOUGH.”}

And then I wrote in my planner again and again to get to work answering this question, but I was so busy (poverty is time-consuming) and so tired (poverty is tiring), that I didn’t start until November had begun.

Actually, no. I started. I’ve been having conversations with friends. Those on social assistance, others not. Some who are organizing, others who are not. Writers, artists, students.

But I haven’t been writing it down. Because it’s exhausting to need to do this again and again. And as you know, I’ve been let down many, many times when asking for care and support.

This time feels different, though. Maybe because I’m not having a nervous breakdown, because I’m not being personally let down and left behind. Maybe I can feel the collective rage (or the potential of collective rage) now that I’m not bedbound and despairing – even if, for so many crip mad broke struggling working reasons, our bodies aren’t (yet) visible in the streets.

A Cope Ahead Plan is a strategy that employs multiple DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) skills, and guides us through exactly what the name suggests: When a stressful or potentially triggering event is on the horizon (a party, a difficult conversation, etc…), we strategize ahead of time for how we will take care of ourselves before said event happens, and throughout. We do our best to stay alive, and mitigate harm to ourselves and to others.

I’ve used Cope Ahead plans to cope ahead (ha) with tough interactions with family members, break-ups and (fear of) abandonment, stressful medical appointments, socializing at art/lit/zine events, etc. It’s much more helpful to write it down and keep it with you than it is only to think about it. As November 8th looms, I worry about responding to the news with despair, rage, self-injurious behaviours, and isolation. Since I know those are my tendencies, I can plan beforehand to Do the Opposite (another DBT-ism).

{image description: Close-up of the bottom half of a page from Marsha Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets spiralbound book. My left hand is visible holding the page, thumbnail painted a shade of red called Red From Cover to Cover.

Text reads:

Cope Ahead of Time with Difficult Situations

1. Describe the situation that is likely to prompt problem behaviour.
– Check the facts. Be specific in describing the situation.
– Name the emotions and actions likely to interfere with using your skills.
2. Decide what coping or problem-solving skills you want to use in the situation.
– Be specific. Write out in detail how you will cope with the situation and with your emotions and action urges.
3. Imagine the situation in your mind as vividly as possible.
– Imagine yourself IN the situation NOW, not watching the situation.
4. Rehearse in your mind coping effectively.
– Rehearse in your mind exactly what you can do to cope effectively.
– Rehearse your actions, your thoughts, what you say, and how you say it.
– Rehearse coping effectively with new problems that come up.
– Rehearse coping effectively with your most feared catastrophe.
5. Practice relaxation after rehearsing.}

Here’s a short list of recommended reading on the subject of social assistance:

From OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty)

Response To The Ford Government’s Changes To Social Assistance

“The scheduled 3% increase passed by the Liberals was woefully inadequate, but it would have marked the second time in almost a quarter century [italics mine] that social assistance income would have risen above the rate of inflation. Instead, the 1.5% cut will yet again plunge social assistance below the rate of inflation, making social assistance recipients even poorer.”

Fight the Doug Ford Tories

“A creature like Ford will not be stopped by moral arguments or token protest. A movement that creates serious economic disruption and a political crisis is what is needed. The Tory agenda must be blocked by a struggle that makes the Province ungovernable… Ontario is about to became a key site of struggle… [W]e must be ready to fight to win and bring together a movement that can empty the workplaces and fill the streets.”

Op-eds:

Social Murder and the Doug Ford Government

Contributor Dennis Raphael uses a quote from Friedrich Engels’ 1945 work, Condition of the Working Class in England, to make connections to today’s current austerity regime.

“When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live — forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence — knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.”

In No One is Coming to Save Us, journalist and activist Desmond Cole, writes:

“Historically in Toronto, small but powerful groups of people have disrupted business as usual in response to government injustices. In recent years, Black Lives Matter Toronto, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, and No One is Illegal, and Idle No More, and their many respective supporters have fought for marginalized Torontonians by blocking city streets, interrupting public meetings, occupying government buildings and challenging the notion that on balance, our political institutions are doing more good than harm.

For their bold actions, these groups have been met with overwhelming scorn. Ironically, many who condemn public disruptions and dogmatically call for resolutions within the political system are now recognizing the limitations of reasoning with unreasonable people and institutions. Welcome, we’ve been trying to tell you. But even we troublemakers cannot save you from the system you’ve been rationalizing to us, nor should we have to.”

Referenced: Black Lives Matter Toronto, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, No One Is Illegal Toronto, and Idle No More.

From ISAC (Income Security Advocacy Centre)

100 Days: Take Action Before November 8!

This page includes helpful information and documents on Five Principles for an Effective and Compassionate Social Assistance System, Myths and Realities of Social Assistance in Ontario, rates sheets, and more.

According to this article in Digital Journal, the Five Principles are:

Income Adequacy: Providing enough money in basic benefits to cover the true costs of regular living expenses, which would allow people to stabilize their lives and act as a springboard to participation in the economy and community.

Economic and Social Inclusion: Prioritizing practical, individualized, trauma-informed supports and services that allow people to participate in community life as well as the economy, ensuring strong employment standards to encourage good quality employment opportunities, and improving employment supports.

Access and Dignity: Ensuring anyone in need can access the benefits they require and are entitled to, providing supports and services that respond to immediate and longer-term individual needs, and treating people who are in need with respect.

Reconciliation: Prioritizing better social and economic outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Ontario and recognizing the right of First Nations to design and deliver their own services.

Human rights, Equity and Fairness: Respecting internationally recognized rights and recognizing that systemic disadvantage and structural racism prevent some people from equally accessing life opportunities.

There is nothing compassionate about Minister MacLeod’s announcement: Ontario’s cuts to social assistance will hurt the most vulnerable in Ontario

““The way forward for social assistance reform is already comprehensively mapped out and low-income people in Ontario have been through enough reviews about reform,” says Jennefer Laidley, Research and Policy Analyst at ISAC. “Community members and advocates fought for these changes for many years and Minister MacLeod’s announcement betrays their hard work and their expectations for a better future.””

Referenced: Income Security: A Roadmap for Change

{image description: Akin to previous image, my left hand is visible holding onto an earlier page of my DBT workbook. This page includes more DBT-isms, the acronyms ABC PLEASE. Text reads:

“Emotion Regulation Handout 14
Overview:
Reducing Vulnerability to Emotion Mind –
Building A Life Worth Living

A way to remember these skills is to remember the term ABC PLEASE.

A: ACCUMULATE POSITIVE EMOTIONS
Short Term: Do pleasant things that are possible now.
Long Term: Make changes in your life so that positive events will happen more often in the future. Build a “life worth living.”
B: BUILD MASTERY
Do things that make you feel competent and effective to combat helplessness and hopelessness.
C: COPE AHEAD OF TIME WITH EMOTIONAL SITUATIONS
Rehearse a plan ahead of time so that you are prepared to cope skillfully with emotional situations.

PLEASE: TAKE CARE OF YOUR MIND BY TAKING CARE OF YOUR BODY
Treat PhysicaL illness, balance Eating, avoid mood-Altering substances, balance Sleep, and get Exercise.”

Yeah, the PLEASE acronym is all over the fucking place, but useful if you can remember it.}

There are multiple dates to plan for and look forward to throughout November:

Thursday, November 8th

The end of the 100-day review. If you’re worried not only about the cuts, but about where you’ll be and who you’ll be with when the news comes in, there’s still time to come up with Cope Ahead strategies, and talk to your friends online and off.

Sick Theories: A Trans-Disciplinary Conference On Sickness & Sexuality, with a keynote by Johanna Hedva, in conversation with Margeaux Feldman.

I’m disappointed not to be attending this, although they’re hosting a livestream for those who can’t make it (I’m not sure if the videos will be available afterward, or if they must be watched live). I’d signed up for the waitlist to attend after the free tickets were gone quicker than expected, and a larger space couldn’t be found and booked on time. But then I realized that, for many reasons, despite (hopefully) being surrounded by sick and disabled queers, it was unlikely to be a space where I’d feel “okay” to receive more bad news about my disability income. I’m a high school dropout who was already alienated from academic conversations and spaces (I’ve written much more about this in Telegram #’s 40, 41, and 42, and throughout my body of work), and then became moreso after being abandoned during the worst of my fibromyalgia years (see: a whole bunch of my previous work). I do, however, hope that those in attendance will be talking-&-doing-something-about the significance of the date, whether or not they’re (you’re?!) also on social assistance. All this stuff is interconnected.

Potentially attending Sick Theories began as part of my Cope Ahead plan, but like many plans, it’s changed. Right now, beyond where I’ll wake up (my bed, alone), I’m not sure where I’ll be. I know I need to leave my apartment and avoid endless scrolling through social media feeds, of course. The friend I’d feel safest being with that day will be working, so I need to move on to other strategies for place. I’m considering watching the livestream, but I’m worried that holing up in my apartment on a shitty day to listen to a bunch of folks talk about sickness & sexuality might be too depressing for me. It could be inspiring, too, yeah, but you know. Maybe I should invite some pals over to watch with me???

Friday, November 9th

Toronto ACORN are organizing a gathering, Save Social Assistance! No More Cuts
11AM – 12PM.

The Facebook event page reads:

“The Ontario Government is wrapping up it’s 100 day review of ODSP and OW on November 8th. They already cut the 3% increase in half, we can’t take any more cuts!

ACORN members across Ontario are coming out to fight to save social assistance!”

Wednesday, November 14th

Townhall on Cuts to OW & ODSP hosted by OCAP Toronto
6PM – 8PM

Facebook description reads:

“[Dinner Provided. Wheelchair Accessible Venue]

The Ford government is getting ready to announce a series of changes to social assistance. The announcement, due by November 8, is widely expected to introduce sweeping cuts to OW and ODSP.

Since coming to power, Doug Ford has already cut the rate increase to OW and ODSP in half and suspended a series of beneficial changes that were scheduled to come in this fall.

When the announcement comes, it will likely be designed to create confusion and sow division. So join us to make sense of the proposed cuts, to break the isolation, and to talk about how we’re going to fight back.”

Thursday, November 15th

Book launch!

CARE WORK: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
with disability justice arts / activism / futures conversation with Leah, Syrus Marcus Ware, and Wy-Joung Kou.

Event info on Another Story bookstore’s calendar.

Also, Bani Amor recently wrote a review of Care Work on Autostraddle: “Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice” Draws Real-as-F*ck Maps of Justice and Care.

They write:

“Disability justice acknowledges that civil rights for disabled folks is important, but that relying solely on the state to care for us doesn’t always work because care is not really what the medical industrial complex is good at or what any nation state is designed to do [italics mine]. It’s also aware that working within overwhelmingly white cishet disability rights groups is not cute, at the very least, and impossible at worst. The book is a capsule of Piepzna-Samarasinha’s experiences in disability justice work and care collectives in a handful of cities across Turtle Island, as well as online. Through these memories, she gives us an honest look at the circumstances that led up to folks naming and claiming this work, the stumbles and struggles of pulling it off, and introduces (some of) us to crip-positive care models that can — and must — shift to shape the conditions in which Deaf, chronically ill, and disabled folks are trying to live in.”

Italics mine because, as we protest cuts to social assistance, we must also remind one another that the system is not built to care for us, and that’s why we need to continue developing models for care for ourselves and one another, to remain critical and supportive and imaginative and engaged. The cuts will happen, poor and disabled people will die / are dying, and we have shit to do.

Saturday, November 17th

Stick it to Ford: Defend Our Communities organized by OCAP Toronto
1PM – 2PM

From the Facebook event description:

“[Lunch Provided. Register for Buses: https://goo.gl/forms/LnkYOMDpCqYgsNzq1%5D

On November 17, the Ford Conservatives will further their gruesome vision for Ontario at their party convention. Their government “for the (rich) people” has already attacked social assistance, job protections, minimum wage, healthcare, education, and environmental safeguards. They’re not finished. In two weeks, they’ll announce a series of sweeping cuts to Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.

Ford’s vision for Ontario is a grim one for ordinary people: where we are paid less but must pay more for services; where business executives and owners get richer by forcing the rest of us to work with fewer job and unemployment protections; where the rich unite in their quest to exploit and pit the rest of us against each other in a struggle to survive.

On November 17, we will demonstrate that attempts to “open Ontario for business” on this basis will be blocked. To make sure Ford gets the message, we’ll start with an action at Ford’s own business: Deco Labels and Tags.

It’s time to defend our communities. Join us.”

In my column quoted earlier, I wrote:

“When I see what’s happening to social assistance, what’s already been happening and what’s looming, I want strikes and protests and riots. I want real, consistent, dependable alternatives to the system, new ways to survive and care and love. I want enough of us to show up that we cannot be denied, and I want us to get so much more skilled, consistent, and trustworthy at building alternatives to the system… I want every political candidate, elected or otherwise, every landlord, boss, techie start-up bro, every rich and famous actor, to live in our so-called homes on our incomes, no savings, no safety net, no rich family, no inheritance, and see what happens to their bodies and minds, see what happens to their social lives, their imaginations, their sense of self.”

My wishes feel absurd – not in that they’re “too much.” They really aren’t. More in that if they happened, we wouldn’t get the changes we wish for anyway. Wishing for insensitive, cruel, harmful, unimaginative people to change their minds, to change at all, is an absurd waste of time and energy. I’ve spoken to people who felt comfortable enough with me to say, “I don’t care [about x, y, z] because it doesn’t affect me.” Those aren’t the kind of people I’m trying to reach. If it happens inadvertently, cool, but what I do isn’t for them and never has been.

Many disabled, mad, and chronically ill folks cannot show up for marches and protests. Who will show up on our behalfs? For each individual attending in spirit, I want dozens more attending in body.

{image description: My left hand holding onto a Tarot card, the Seven of Wands, from the Spolia Tarot, but Jessa Crispin and Jen May Description of the card is below.}

On the first of November, I drew the Seven of Swords. Jessa Crispin writes: “This is a card about figuring out what you want by having to fight for it. We don’t really see the enemy here, because the enemy is unimportant… When things come easily to us, do we ever really value them? Sometimes we need to see someone else desiring something before our desire awakens…”

This, here, feels like the aforementioned attack(s). The fight, the struggle, the mess, the rage. The colours in this card are bold and sharp – our figure is in flight, dressed in skirt and boots, weapons in hand,a starburst corona alight around their head. They’re being attacked from multiple sides, and they’re not backing away.

For those readers who’re also on social assistance, what are you doing to cope ahead? What are your self-care and collective-care strategies for the day the news arrives? And for the season ahead? For those readers not on social assistance, same questions. What are your plans for November 8th? Do you have friends on social assistance? Have you been talking to them/us? Do you know what they want, what they need? Have you asked?

Maddeningly 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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telegram and see the cripple dance are ending stop

Though I haven’t written a zine for two years, now is the time I’ve decided to retire the Telegram title. I’ve written forty-two issues within fifteen years, devoting half of my lifetime to the project. These last two years, my unexpected early-30’s, are the longest I’ve gone without making a zine since the day I began. I’ve brainstormed multiple issues within that period, but eventually realized that the title and the form are no longer what I want to be creating within (working under? confined to?).

Quitting is hard to explain, especially since I am certainly not considering quitting writing, but the zine just feels over. Writing Telegram no longer challenges me, nor does it bring me pleasure or have much of a positive impact in my life. The topics I’ve covered in my zines don’t feel like they have anywhere else to go right now, at least not in that form. And I feel uncomfortably bound to the identity/ies I claimed through my zines that cannot wholly represent me anymore (not that they ever quite did). I’ve learned multiple times that working within particular labels can feel liberating at first, and then restrictive after all. Also, since becoming too ill for zinefests and the like to be accessible to me, and too ill to maintain correspondence, Telegram no longer connects me to the various friendships, cultures, or conversations that once sustained me. While I’m in remission from some of the worst aspects of fibromyalgia, the spaces I was previously operating within are not spaces I feel a desire (or a welcome) to return to. Such is the rift caused by ableism and inaccessibility.

Telegram #41 is about revelations, expectations, support and artivism, living through my fears, filling out forms, Mercury Retrograde, reminders, resistance, waitlists, crip-feelings, and a green candle.

More specifically, this zine is a text-heavy exploration of what happened with my body & psyche when my disability benefits came up for review and were threatened with being cut off, how it felt to be forced to crowdfund rent & food, casting spells to cope, applying for access to alternative transit for disabled folks when I could no longer use public transit, trying to make myself at least semi-comprehensible to social workers, hysteria, sickness, & haunting spaces while I’m still living.

Telegram #39 is about examining the ways poverty, trauma, and chronic pain shape & alter & distort my perceptions of myself, my body, and my imagination. It’s about being okay with not-belonging; chronic instability of home and health and communication; coping, caring, dreaming. Making connections. This is a zine about sickness, pain, and isolation, the damage poverty does to one’s psyche & body & soul, and surviving under capitalism. It’s a zine about falling & praying & breathing. Cards & candles & the irrational. Affirmations for crazy & sick & disabled weirdos. Magic as coping skills. Story-telling, story-exploring, storying. Asking questions.

Telegram #28 is about about publishing two books, book launches, tour-feelings, crying, changing, sometimes not-relating to my own writing vs. sometimes still relating too much, capital C Crazy identity, What I Really Mean When I Say “I Hate Myself,” friendship, Tarot & witchcraft, hating landlords forever, and leaving town.

Shortly after I decided to end my zine, I received an email from Beth Maiden at Little Red Tarot, letting us, her freelance columnists, know that she’ll be retiring the blog at the end of October, which means the end of See the Cripple Dance, my bi-weekly column exploring Tarot through a lens of disability, madness, and poverty. Somehow, the timing feels right.

Over the last year and a half of working with Beth and Tango as my editors as I wrote See the Cripple Dance, I’ve often struggled with how much of my personal life to share. Although I’m known for writing about vulnerable experiences and emotions, I also have a deeply private interior world, and ways of engaging with other creatures, and with the environment I live within, that aren’t covered in the writing I’ve done thus far. Maintaining privacy has always been important to me, but/and as someone who has documented their life so publicly for such a long time, it’s become an unsolvable struggle.

The personal in my writing is something I’ve intentionally chosen not (only) as a(n often inadequate) coping mechanism and means of survival and meaning-making, but as a way of providing specific examples of how a given individual life can play out within broader systems of societal organization and expectations; not only those of capitalism and ableism (to name the ones most often addressed in my writing) but within multiple more specific lived contexts, too: of writing as a high school dropout; of being psychologically-minded but with both a resistance to and a reclaiming of pathologization; and as a solitary creature who insists on finding the value and magic of my day-to-day life and imaginings, and having the audacity to publish those internal and external wanderings as if they mean(t) anything beyond my own psychebody.

While endings often provoke a form of bitterness and disappointment within me, lately I’ve been feeling sentimental. And relieved. I think I’m more of a sappy and romantic person than I’ve been able to recognize or allow myself to feel – I was gonna say moreso than I’ve been given the opportunity/ies to feel, but maybe I’m the one who has to make space for those kinds of moments. When I talk about undoing my habit of self-deprecation and sarcasm (which I often employ as a way of invalidating myself before somebody else can), I think about ways to invite my sentimentality and sappiness (a form of reverence?) to be unearthed and revealed.

Then, too, I’m approaching my thirty-third birthday, and I know this is the time of year when I want alterations and adjustments to how I live; reorganization, reconfiguration. I’ve been grieving a relationship that ended two months ago, and have spent that time recuperating from a hysterectomy as well. These two experiences would force a kind of reckoning on their own; that they’re happening in tandem seems oddly providential. I’ve felt a shedding of skins happening, or an emergence from a kind of cocoon. Meanwhile, I’m a Libra-baby with a mid-October birthday, so these kinds of endings on the witches’ calendar are synchronized with my own personal New Year.

For the sake of transparency, I will note that, yes, ending See the Cripple Dance will impact my income. When I was initially invited to write the column, I was paid $25 US per entry, and submitted two entries a month, except for when illness hindered my creativity, and for a couple months when I was burned out and took a hiatus. After a while, my payment was raised to $35 US per entry, and then $50 US. While no longer working on the column or the zines frees me up to work on the longer-term projects I’ve always got on the go but often neglect, I’ll no longer have these regular and irregular payments to supplement social assistance.

The best way you can support me and my writing is to buy the zines that remain, and tell yr friends about them; buy my books and review them; and compensate me for my writing via Paypal. Right now, my annual fee of $200 to keep my P.O. Box is due, I haven’t been able to dumpster food as often as I had been while my body recovers from surgery, and I’ve been trying to see my acupuncturist more regularly after not being able to go for several years (mainly seeking treatment to cope with irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, and grief). (If you contributed toward the costs of recovering from surgery, thank you! I wasn’t able to respond to each reader individually, but I was able to buy food, return to community acupuncture, (partly) process the un/expected upheaval of this Summer through Chani Nicholas’s astrology courses, and purchase a foldable laptop tray to write in bed, a dreamy tender point / acupressure massager, and a few much-desired and appreciated books.)

Last year, I wrote about art and social assistance, asking, Is there such a thing as art about social assistance? By people on social assistance (whether it’s welfare or disability)? I connected it to my Wishlist, gathering books as part of a longer-term project that’s not exactly an answer to these questions, but a provocation of further thoughts and questions. Since then, the province of Ontario elected a Conservative government that, among other things, has been making cuts to social assistance incomes that will further harm (and honestly, sometimes kill) those of us who are poor, disabled, and/or mentally ill or mad. This, too, deeply affected my mental health this Summer, resulting in a new process of naming my values, what I love about myself, and who I want to share my time, mind, and body with. I keep a note above my desk where I’ve written: “Poverty is not a moral failure. It is a tool of political violence.” Always a necessary reminder.

I’ve still got a boxful of zines in my closet, and I’ve marked them down from $3 to $1 in an attempt to clear space, both physically and psychically. They’ll remain $1 until they’re gone. And I’ll be writing a few more See the Cripple Dance columns, after which they’ll be archived and remain available online. Also, I’ll continue reading Tarot for misfits and outcasts. Thanks so much for supporting my work!

Endingly 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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Surgery As Initiation: A process of experiencing, witnessing, & sharing my hysterectomy

Part One

content notes: surgery, hysterectomy, hospitals, menstruation, suicidality, self-injury, sex and masturbation /// also, images of bruises, scars, stitches, needles, & vials of blood, all mine, not self-inflicted

I began writing this piece after I’d been home from the hospital for a week, and my prescribed bedrest felt (feels?) akin to a retreat. I’m accustomed to pain, to staying in bed, to watching the world happen through my window and my cell phone, those magical rectangular structures acting as portals and barriers at once. But to be given a timeframe, to be given a predictable outcome, is new to me. To feel pain lessen day-to-day is new to me.

Early mornings are when I feel best. I live a quiet, loner life, and I like to be out of bed by 8:30, listening to the birds and feeling the potential of the hours ahead. One of the most satisfying feelings to me is waking before my alarm and being ready to get up. Since surgery, I’m only able to sleep on my back. For most of my life, I haven’t been able to sleep on my back without having nightmares and sleep paralysis. I don’t know what it is about that prone position, but it feels unsafe. I worried that because of this, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all, and my body would refuse to heal.

Instead, with minor interruptions, I’ve been sleeping through the night. Sometimes I wake up to pee, and I stumble crookedly, medicated and disoriented, to the bathroom and back. It takes longer than usual because sitting up and getting outta bed while refraining from engaging core muscles is difficult, and I’m not awake enough to be mindful of what my body can and cannot do, and how slowly I must navigate these movements. One night, my throat was so dry I woke up choking. Coughing is one of the most painful things post-hysterectomy – it feels like organs and flesh are being torn apart, threatening to rupture. There’s risk of hemorrhage, so I’m being exceptionally delicate with my body.

{image description: My first portrait post-hysterectomy, resting in hospital bed. The head of the bed has been raised, holding me in gentle repose. My eyes are closed but my purple glasses are still on, and the expression on my face is one of rest and relief. I appear to be naked under my blankets, as my loosely-tied pale blue hospital gown has slipped, exposing my bare shoulders. The walls are beige and the bedding is various shades of blue and white. A breathing tube is inserted in my nostrils, and multiple needles are piercing the tops of both of my hands, held down with multiple layers of clear medical tape, with cords trailing along my arms, over the grip-handles at the edges of the bed, and connecting to a portable trolley of multiple machines and IV bags filled with clear fluids. My arms are resting across my chest and stomach, with multiple tattoos visible, including my ‘TAKE CARE’ knuckles. Lilacs peek from the edges of the slipped hospital gown. There are three plastic hospital bracelets affixed to my right wrist. I’m allergic to the laminate, so my wrist will soon be red and itchy. My closed diary, softbound with rounded corners and a lavender elastic holding it shut, the cover of which shows colourful, abstract-ish purple, pink, and red florals, is placed on my lap.}

This post-surgery hospital-bed portrait, taken by my mom at my request, is one of my favourite photos of myself. Altering my body – be it through appearance (hairstyle, tattoos, cosmetics), shape (how my clothes fit, my various postures as I sit or walk), movements (holding onto my cane, practicing yoga asanas, being mindful of facial expressions), or what-have-you, when done with a sense of autonomy, presence, and desire, always brings me closer to feeling more like myself. This is the first form of surgery I’ve experienced that holds considerable meaning for me, that alters the way I experience and interact with my own body, and alters the way I feel inside of and about my own body. I’ve known since the moment I awoke in the middle of the night at age eleven soaked in the surprising, disturbing, copious amount of blood of my first period that this set of organs did not belong within me. That this wasn’t supposed to be happening.

After that, it took me a decade to find the courage to ask my then-doctor for a hysterectomy (though it’s possible I “joked” about it beforehand as a passive way of assessing his reaction), and another decade until a different doctor would refer me to a gynecologist who’d perform the operation I’d dreamed of since childhood. I was a suicidal and self-injurious since single-digit-ages creature, and experiencing menstruation worsened my yet-to-be-verbalized dysphoria, substantially increasing the severity of my yearning to die or disappear. Aside from a six-year gap in which I was prescribed Depo-Provera, a form of hormonal birth control that’s injected every three months, and which exacerbated my chronic pain condition to a degree in which I was no longer able to walk or to experience one second without excruciating pain, the dysphoria of menstruation persisted without alleviation until my final period, when I felt delightfully celebratory, knowing it would be my last.

{image description: Selfie. Visible from my chest upward. I’m wearing a long-sleeved black cardigan over a fuchsia floral dress with a collar and white buttons, top button left undone. My deep violet almost-shoulder-length hair is in pigtails, and one of my barrettes – bright lavender plastic Goody-brand with three flowers – is visible. I’m wearing purple glasses and smiling slightly, with my 30-something well-earned wrinkles and creases showing slightly around my hazel eyes, untweezed brows, and the corners of my mouth. The background shows lavender walls, lavender closet doors slightly ajar, blurred stacks of black and red milkcrates lined with books, and a few small shelves of found scrap wood screwed into the wall. Hanging on each knob of the closet doors are a lavender face-mask that I use for multiple chemical sensitivities on the left, and a black totebag with the classic yellow Nirvana smiley-face on the right.}

{image description: Another selfie. Similar angle and details as described above, but my body has shifted, so the background is different. Lavender closet walls behind me, a glowing washed-out brightness to the left, where the sun is shining through my open window. The top of my dark wood nightstand is visible, with a white reading lamp and various mint plants in purple pots on top, and a lavender handkerchief draped over the edge. Beside that is a small white shelf with more plants, and small wooden crates holding plants and Hello Kitty dolls stacked on top. Fake red, pink, and white roses hang from the end of a matte grey curtain rod. To the right, a black trenchcoat is hanging from a hook beside the closet doors.}

These are the final selfies from before being operated on. I wasn’t doing anything special the day I took them, but wanted to capture a chapter of my life that was finally, thankfully, coming to an end.

Now I have four incisions on my stomach, with little white stitches holding them closed. I have more stitches inside my vagina, keeping my organs from falling out of my body. With my hysterectomy, there was a risk of tearing open the edge of my vagina as my severed uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes were pulled out, thus requiring more external stitches. Thankfully, no tearing occurred. It’s not just that I didn’t want that to happen for the sake of not having that happen – it’s also that I’ve been diagnosed with vulvodynia, a chronic pain condition of the vulva, with little known cause or treatment, and I don’t want the pain to return. The pain of vulvodynia has been so bad in the past that I’d sometimes fall to the floor, feeling like fists and steel rods were punching and pummelling my labia, perineum, pubic bone, and inner thighs, as though my crotchal region were a punching bag.

Though the process of convincing doctors to allow me (and why do people who don’t know us get to decide whether or not we have permission to alter our bodies???) to have a hysterectomy was as equally invalidating and crazy-making as my history of attempting to access care for mental illnesses and chronic pain and fatigue, the day of the procedure itself was very different. Professionals were kind and considerate. They apologized for the nuisances of me being required to answer the same questions over and over, and they didn’t treat my body like an object on an assembly line when they checked my vitals or inserted needles to draw blood and hook me up to multiple IV’s. They didn’t jab needles into me carelessly, nor shrug off my concerns and questions. They didn’t try to interrupt me or hurry me up when I was answering their questions or offering further questions, thoughts, and observations. They didn’t speak to me condescendingly. When I walked slowly, they didn’t try to rush me.

{image description: My left hand resting on a warmed-up white towel draped over the arm of a chair, fist clenched to reveal my veins. A tattoo along the edge of my hand is visible. Black ink in my own handwriting, which reads do the opposite. The i is dotted with a tiny heart, and there’s a small sprig of forget-me-nots stemming from my wrist under the text. A nurse’s two blue-gloved hands are shown: one is firmly holding onto my wrist as the other grips a needle between thumb and forefinger, inserting the tip into the top of my hand, keeping steady to guide it deeper. Blurred to the left side of the image is a small brown table with two empty, transparent vials with pink lids on top, and some plastic debris from the containers the needles were sealed within.}

My view as this was happening was of the hallway behind the nurse, and other partitioned rooms where blue-gowned patients awaiting various surgical procedures were on beds or chairs, accompanied by a parent or partner. There was very little privacy – it wasn’t difficult to hear one another’s conversations with doctors or loved ones, even without trying. I’d been directed to this small space to take off my boots and all my clothes and change into a gown, tied at the back, and blue elasticized paper slippers, then instructed to pull the curtain closed to change, and open it when I was finished to let the staff know I was ready to be seen. Although I prefer to attend appointments alone, being anaesthetized and operated on requires the patient to bring somebody with us – to drive us there and home again, and to keep us company if wanted/needed. Also, sometimes it’s comforting to know there’s somebody waiting to see you while you’re knocked out and cut up.

I felt safer bringing my mom into each room with me as we wound through the space instead of asking her to stay in the waiting room because hospitals are like mazes to me, and I was afraid of becoming lost, disoriented, stressed, or triggered. She looked down at the floor as I changed, and then we spent a long time waiting for somebody to come back after she opened the curtain for me. We traded stories and advice, and I took more pictures. She told me about her own hysterectomy, revealing information I hadn’t yet known. After the nurse introduced herself and explained what was happening next, my mom exited and hid around a corner as my blood was drawn. She’s squeamish.

{image description:My right hand resting on my lap, with a white plastic sleeve clipped to my fingertip as my heart rate and blood pressure are checked. There’s a grey cord attached, extending out of the frame. I don’t know the name of this device, but it’s become very familiar to me over my years of hospital admittances. My nails are short and bare. It’s rare that my nails are unpolished, but a total lack of cosmetics is required for surgery. While staff told me this was to reduce risk of infection, my mom told me it’s so they can see if I’m turning blue. Morbid, yes! I wondered if this information had been intentionally withheld by staff, and then offered carelessly and without forethought of me freaking out by my mom, but I appreciated knowing. A couple days after returning home, I painted my nails a shade named Late Night Lilac.}

Following are five more photos from this moment, showing the needle at various stages of insertion, and vials being filled with blood. Also shown is the same small side table described above, but with an unwound blue tourniquet draped over the empty vials and torn packaging.

The nurse gave me consent to take these photos, including for her hands to appear in them.

Asking staff for permission to take photos during appointments often opens up a brief, though thoughtful, conversation around chronic pain and illness, art, and autonomy, as well as consent itself. Before I developed the guts to ask, I’d only take pictures when I was the only one in the room, and nobody else was visible through an open door or curtain, behind a desk, etc. I’d rarely use my cell phone in waiting rooms beyond sending texts and scrolling through Twitter, looking down at my lap as I did so, because I didn’t want anybody in the space to feel intruded upon, suspicious, or uncomfortable. I don’t like having my picture taken without consent, and I refuse to put people in the position of even vaguely wondering if somebody is taking their photo or filming them. If I’m alone, I’ll take selfies, but I never do so with others in the room because they can’t know whether or not my phone is on selfie-mode, nor who or what information is being captured in the background or surrounding areas. A medical and/or health care environment is not an okay place to have a camera visible, or to use one without consent. It makes people, myself included, feel anxious and exposed, and it creates the possibility for people to become distressed and triggered (which has happened to me on many occasions, and without providing specific details right now, I can assure you that it’s dangerous). Not to mention the extreme breach of privacy, confidentiality, and autonomy.

That said, I’ve come to take pleasure in these moments of discussion with medical professionals. Not only has the practice of documenting my appointments via photos changed how I experience them, and how my body and psyche cope with repeated instances of frustration, invalidation, and carelessness within institutions, but I get to witness health care workers learning new ideas and perspectives that were likely unexpected when they showed up for their current shift. These moments and shared exchanges might change the way they operate within these spaces, perceive the bodies and inner psychic landscapes of the people they’re providing care for, and conceptualize their own roles and responsibilities, and the ways they interact with patients. But even if all it does is momentarily interrupt the monotony for each of us, that’s something.

{image description:Taken in my bathroom at home. My left hand holding onto a white plastic rectangular package of SoluPrep Antiseptic Skin Cleanser, marked with the 3M logo on the top left corner, and containing black text indicating ingredients and directions for use. Seen in the background is a lavender wall, the edge of a lavender towel hanging from a hook, and an orange sheet of paper from an illustrated Dame Darcy calendar with pansies, roses, and the word ‘FEBRUARY’ in her infamous scrawl. A tattoo of a sprig of lavender growing up my thumb is within the frame, and my short thumbnail is unpainted.}

About two weeks before surgery, I had a pre-admission appointment. Not knowing what to expect, I assumed it’d be similar to the multiple consultations I’d been attending over the previous seven months. Instead, it was an intensive three-hour adventure, with dozens of sheets of paperwork (to be filled out partly by me, partly by nurses), multiple professionals consulted, five vials of blood drawn, and careful and detailed instructions given on how to prepare for surgery. It was also my final chance to ask questions.

Despite knowing for decades that one day I’d be granted this operation, and despite dozens of appointments with medical professionals about the procedure and the recuperation process, as this final appointment approached, more and more questions were coming to me. Some of them seemed so simple and straightforward, but I’d spent most of my life feeling dissociated from my body, so there were a lot of ordinary things I hadn’t even considered. Also, I’ve spent multiple, intermittent periods of my life feeling either asexual or sex-repulsed, so until recently, post-surgery questions about sex and my body either didn’t occur to me or didn’t feel relevant. But by the time the possibility of my hysterectomy started becoming more real, this was no longer true for me.

What kinds of fucking can I do and when?

What about fisting after I’ve healed?

What about clitoral stimulation and orgasms before I’ve healed / as I heal?

Will orgasmic muscle contractions effect the healing process? Will they hurt?

Will I still be able to squirt?

How soon can I have sex before surgery? The night before? The morning of?

One nurse, when I brought up sex and orgasms, said, “Don’t worry about it right now. You’re not gonna feel like it anyway.” I laughed inwardly. Um, you don’t know me. It was an offhand comment, a joke. Maybe she’d had a similar surgical procedure, or witnessed enough recoveries, that based on her own first- and second-hand experiences, my questions seemed absurd. Most people (I think, or I want to think) don’t invalidate one another intentionally, but certain comments can certainly be construed this way. Aside from that line, her answers were helpful, as were those of my gynecologist and my doctor.

Different bodies heal at different rates, and even the recovery timeline I’ve been given feels experimental. Despite the assumptions health care professionals might make about my sexuality, and their guesstimated prognosis for when I’ll wanna fuck, I was still taking nudes at the hospital both before and after surgery.

{image description:A yellow sheet of paper resting on my lap, with my knees in view. I’m wearing grey trousers with purple pinstripes. The paper is labelled ‘Preparing for Surgery’, with dates and locations filled out. My unpainted fingertips hold the sheet on my lap, with my lavender cane resting alongside. I rarely wear pants, but I have a thing for men’s trousers, and was grateful to find this pair at thrift store, with their subtle violet lines. I realized only a few days before my appointment that the tights I usually wear would be not only inappropriate, but pretty much impossible.}

One of my final memories before being anaesthetized was signing one more consent form. Permission for my gynecologist to take pictures of my uterus as the operation was performed! I was lying back as he held out the clipboard and a pen to me, oxygen mask affixed to my face. There’ve been multiple consent forms to sign throughout this process, and plenty more paperwork on top of that – this is the form that took them some time to dig up, since it’s not a request they receive often.

I’ve written about some of the reasons I take photos during medical appointments, and of talking to health care professionals about the medical-themed art I make, of which they are usually curious and sometimes even enthusiastic. Documenting my appointments through photography has changed my experience of these excursions, and has been helpful for my memory, too.

Capturing a photo of the organs being removed from my body is related, but different. Obviously I knew I’d be unconscious and inert, but I’d still been imagining this surgery from my own point-of-view, reclined on a bed/table-like contraption, looking down at my body as others leaned toward it, sharp implements in hand. In this visualization, I could see my exposed and sliced stomach, though I knew it’d likely be hidden behind a curtain, as gynecological exams tend to be. I imagined being numbed to the pain but conscious, holding onto my camera. I wanted this view held within a frame, to be able to recollect, re-visit. The ceiling, the lights, the scrubs, the flesh. I wanted close-ups, too. Scalpels, laparoscope, blood, veins. Steel, skin, latex / vinyl.

A lifetime of being told my body wasn’t/isn’t my own, of wondering what was/is happening beneath my skin, of attempting to reclaim something that shouldn’t have been taken from me, of seeing body parts only in diagrams, x-rays, ultrasounds, and MRI’s, had given me a strong longing to look directly at my own organs, to hold onto tangible evidence of them. There’d come a time when my uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes would no longer be mine, and while I wanted them excised from my body, as the operation approached, I felt like there’d be a brief bracket of time within their being snipped, detached, and removed, before ending up wherever these things end up, during which they’d continue to exist and continue to belong to me.

This felt impossible to convey. These words still feel inadequate.

{image description:An odd choice for decorative hospital art. This painting was one of many in the long hallway leading to the surgical reception area. Painting shows a man in a red uniform with a staff and metal helmet leading a young, white-gowned girl to I-know-not-where. The girl is holding her hands to her face, crying. In the background, two women look on, appearing stressed and frightened. One woman, clad in black, holds her hand to her chest, while the other, a redhead, hides behind her, hand on her shoulder, lips pressed to the other woman’s collar. Both have worried eyes.}

During my pre-admission appointment, I asked a nurse – the same nurse who told me I wouldn’t want to have sex after surgery – about the possibility of taking a photo of my uterus. She said no before I’d completed my sentence. ‘No, no, no. Absolutely not. No.’ She shook her head vigorously and responded as though it were one of the most bizarre requests she’d heard during her career. Maybe it was. I felt slightly thwarted but undeterred. I knew she wasn’t the only or the last person to ask, that this wasn’t my final chance. There was time to prepare to ask again, to ask somebody else, somebody more involved.

Had I asked earlier, I might’ve signed the consent form before I was on the operating table. Still, it was another victory to celebrate.

Entering the operation room was the moment my hysterectomy began to feel real. A very brightly lit room with machines and screens everywhere. Since I couldn’t bring my cane into the operating room with me (objects are a contamination / infection risk, as are cosmetics), my gynecologist and my anaesthesiologist let me hold onto their forearms to guide me there. I felt vulnerable without my cane, dressed in a hospital gown, housecoat, and paper slippers. I also felt like this was an initiation.

I was directed toward the operating table in the centre of the room, and shown how to position myself and slowly lean back and lay down. I’d been introduced to each person involved in performing my hysterectomy, and now there were a handful of us gathered: the anaesthesiologist, multiple nurses all gowned and gloved, my gynecologist, and me. They let me wear my glasses until I was sinking into unconsciousness so I could see and understand everything that was going on around me.

I didn’t take any meds beforehand, yet I felt a distinct lack of anxiety. Before medical appointments, I usually take Tylenol 3 and Xanax. But this was one of very few times I’ve been in a hospital because I wanted to be, and since I’d wanted my hysterectomy for so long, I felt totally okay with being so exposed, with being examined, poked at, knocked out, cut up, sewn back. It was a joy.

My appointment was booked for 7:45AM, with a requirement to check in before 6. That meant my mom picked me up at 5, after I’d set my alarm and gotten outta bed at 3:30. Thankfully, although unable to consume food after midnight, I was allowed to drink water-based fluids up until a few hours before surgery, so I drank my usual black coffee. Heavy rain began to fall while I slept, and persisted most of the day. My mom had come from out of town to accompany me, and spent the night with a nearby friend. She brought me extra pillows, as I’d be required to hold them against my tummy during recovery.

It grossed people out when I told them that post-surgery, I’d have to hold onto my stomach each time I got out of bed to prevent my organs from rearranging themselves or rupturing. I thought it was pretty cool, even though I’m sure I winced the first time a nurse brought it up (and subsequently, as it came to be). And it’s true. I’ve been holding onto my belly not only when getting outta bed, but at most waking moments, and through my sleep as well.

I’ve noticed my organs shifting, an odd feeling. I can’t bend at the waist or engage any of my abdominal muscles. When I accidentally do, it feels like I’ll be torn up and bled out. So I hold onto my tummy when I shift my body, when I stand up or sit down, and I do not twist or turn to the side. When I’m sitting, standing, or laying down, I gently rub my belly, comforting the surface and hoping to heal my innards. My mind is constantly focused on the most infinitesimal feelings happening within my stomach. The way things roll, ripple, shift. What breathing feels like. Noticing when I’m tense, and slowly releasing.

My gynecologist, after the initial period of confirming my name, birth date, location, reason for my hospital visit, etc., required to be repeated once more before the patient has lost consciousness, and as the anaesthesiologist began to inject me with what he referred to as “happy juice,” asked me about my tattoos and encouraged the nurses and assistants to take a look as they prepared the room, my body, and themselves for surgery. Maintaining a conversation in the final phase of set-up is, I think, mandatory in these situations. I’m not sure why, and I’m sure it serves multiple purposes for each person involved, but I wonder if it has to do with reassuring the patient in case they’re feeling anxious, or assuring one another that no damage is being done as the anaesthesia is being administered. I wasn’t asked to count down from ten or anything like that. I remember feeling talkative and kinda giddy, telling stories about some of my tattoos, thanking each person around me for their work, signing one more form, and then blank.

Actually, one more moment before blank. I was asked if I had anymore questions. I thought for a moment, as responded. “Um, nope. Have fun!” They laughed at my suggestion/wish, and then I was gone.

{image description:Close-up of a handle on the side of the hospital bed. The label on the handle reads ‘Care Grip’ in white letters on a blue background. Unfocused backdrop of the photo shows my purple backpack atop a hospital table on wheels, and blurry aqua-tinted skyscrapers through the window.}

The initial stages of my recuperation were tremendously painful. There was searing pain throughout my abdomen, inside and out, and I was unable to move my body beyond wiggling my toes and turning my ankles. Though I could move/bend (but not lift) my arms, and I could use my hands to write, to hold utensils, and to press buttons to adjust the electronic bed, these actions were hampered by the multiple needles and tubes piercing my hands and connecting my body to the contraptions holding the drugs and other substances being injected into me, and the monitors announcing my vitals and calculating how many self-injected doses of morphine I’d administered. For most of my day/night/day at the hospital, I was unable to adjust my body. I couldn’t even adjust my pillow.

When I awoke, I remember the sounds of multiple voices around me, but not much of what was said. I was aware of having survived, and of having felt nothing during the process. I hadn’t had any dreams. It didn’t feel like I’d slept or like time had passed. Just like I’d blanked and then come to. The multiple voices turned into bodies, wheeling my bed out of the operating room, through corridors, into an elevator, around another hallway or two, and then into another room, this one much more bare than the operating room. I remember thinking this bed was so much more comfortable than other hospital beds I’d been in, that this bed felt much more sturdy and supportive than the stretchers I’d been wheeled on in the past. Where stretchers felt bumpy, wobbly, and weak as they were pushed and pulled over bumps, stairs, and the ridges of automatic elevator doors, this bed held firm. And it was a new experience to me to be laying in a bed in motion, returning to consciousness rather than losing it.

{image description:Close-up of a part of the IV caddy beside my hospital bed. Thick black plastic, round with four spokes around the metal base of the contraption-on-wheels, and labeled ‘Patient Pal’ in white letters. I thought it was a cute name and turn of phrase, something silly and memorable.}

To my surprise, I was assigned to a private room. I thought it must be either temporary, a mistake, or both. As I realized they were bringing me to where I was meant to be, I momentarily wondered if I had a secret wealthy benefactor or patron, covering a coveted, private respite that I couldn’t pay for on my own. I also wondered if the wards were full because they were covered, and private rooms remained empty because they were not, and if that led to overcrowding, thus moving uninsured patients to rooms they would not see otherwise.

My mom came into the room with me, sitting in a chair in the corner by the window. I’d told her to please join me as soon as possible after surgery, to dig around in my backpack and make sure I had pen and paper at hand the first moment it was permitted. I wanted to capture everything.

Hysterically Yours,

P.S.: If you’d like to know how to support me through my hysterectomy recuperation, please read this.

P.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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