crip self-defense: every instance of fighting back is beautiful

{image description: A large white and blue sign affixed to a chainlink fence, a City notice with the familiar refrain: A Change Has Been Proposed to This Site. A corner lot on Queen West in Parkdale, overgrown grass, wildflowers, and cracked concrete, is rumoured to become another condo soon. The sign has been graffitied with multiple tags, ‘ACAB / DEFUND THE POLICE’, and a spraypaint-stencil hand holding a red rose. Only a few days later, I walked by again and saw that the sign had either been scrubbed clean or replaced.}

Violence and shame are often intertwined for me. When I am the one who seems violent, I mean. A few days ago, I wrote about suppressing my emotions, ignoring my needs, and then witnessing how that shows up in my body: as shallow breaths, a feeling of tension, sore hips, locked joints, fatigue.

What happens when that tension is released at an inopportune moment?

The city is volatile. People in the city are volatile, I mean. Volatile and petty.

On Wednesday the 22nd, I’d scheduled an appointment to pick up a library book. Books I’d placed a hold on back in February and March have slowly been coming in this Summer, an email alert with a link to book a pick-up showing up in my inbox. At 1PM, I was picking up a book my twin had recommended me in Winter: Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me: Depression in the First Person by Anna Mehler Paperny. Yellow pink red cover screaming. The book was handed to me in a brown paperbag with twine handles, just like the other post-shutdown library book I’d signed out several weeks earlier: McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality by Ronald E. Purser. I sat down on nearby concrete steps to rearrange my backpack and make room for the book, wiping sweat from my brow with a vintage floral handkerchief. My plan next was to sit down at a park and write letters. I’d brought my zippered pouch of snail mail supplies with me, but when I double-checked it on the steps, I realized that though I’d brought a stack of letters to respond to, and postage stamps and blank envelopes stamped with return address, too, I’d forgotten my stationery at home. It was too far for me to walk back, so I decided I’d drop by the nearby Salvation Army. I didn’t want be inside public places, but the last few times I’d walked beyond my garden to work on correspondence, my plans had been interfered with by elements outside my control, so I was more determined this time. They’d have vintage stationery, they always do. It’d only take a minute.

Observing volatility does not exempt me from feeling it, from acting hostile, reacting with rage.

I found the stationery I was looking for. A retro floral set from the 80’s, still plastic-wrapped, a Japanese set with illustrated cats, a red set with butterflies and roses. I grabbed a stack of old envelopes, too. Dilly-dallied and found a pair of black lace shorts with big pockets, then joined the line-up. It had become longer than I’d seen a line-up there before, especially with physical-distance stickers on the floor, and I was waiting back at the shelves of shoes and lingerie. (I love digging through old lingerie and finding the rare piece that fits.)

A noisy family who’d been shouting their conversations across the distance of the entire store was now at the front of the line, carts overflowing. Their voices still raised, interrupting each other, they put each item on the counter, argued about whether or not they needed said item, haggled the price – which the cashier was having none of – and on and on. People waiting in line were clearly growing irritable and impatient. Sighing, rolling their eyes at one another, checking the time, tapping their toes. Everybody was wearing a mask, holding an item or two.

I wasn’t feeling impatient yet – I was feeling sympathetic for the cashier. I’ve been a cashier and I know how it grinds you down. In my cashiering jobs, I was constantly catching colds, sick at least once a month for weeks at a time, customers constantly condescending. Crying behind the counter, etc. But after a while, one person in the line confronted them, and then someone else was yelling, and someone else. Multiple line-ups had formed, despite the stickers on the floor indicating where to stand, and the signs posted to shelves with directions – when the man in front of me told a woman next to him that she was supposed to wait behind me, not alongside him, and we simultaneously gestured toward the red stickers on the floor, she became upset with both of us. I shrugged and kept out of it.

The noisy family, angry now at being confronted, started shouting louder, addressing everybody in the store. Things like, Shut up! I’m a nice person! And, when getting too close to other customers, I don’t need distance! God loves me! Then others were shouting, exasperated: We don’t care about god!

I was trying to imagine the scene from each person’s perspective. Each member of the noisy family. Especially as one adult daughter kept asking her mom to calm down, calm down, Mom. Imagining the mind, the life, of the person in line who spoke up first, and the next. The young cashier, trying to be as kind as possible, not wanting confrontation, conflict. Telling the family they’re a dollar short. And nobody reaching into their pockets to offer change for the remaining cost.

Finally another staff member emerges, and another, attempting to deescalate the situation. Not raising their voices, not threatening anything. Asking them to stop yelling, asking them to pay for their items and leave. One of them starts yelling that the first woman in line who confronted her has been stealing. Nobody reacts to this. And they are finally shuffled out the door and into the parking lot, carrying multiple plastic bags, still arguing amongst themselves.

When the next woman in line checks out, she waits inside the store, says the family is still in the parking lot and she doesn’t want to go outside until they’ve left. Somebody else checks out and then I do, too. Outside again, I realize that my five-minute errand to the thrift store has now been closer to forty-five minutes.

A few blocks down, I sat on the ground of a parkette where a community garden is planted, abundant with raspberries and sunflowers, marigolds, tangled forget-me-nots close to the ground. I held a coffee from Jinks, one of the last places I’d been pre-shutdown – this had been my first time returning, and they’re doing take-out orders. When I took out pen and paper, it was much later than I’d planned. I ended a letter to my twin telling her I hope I don’t get caught in the rain. And then it was raining before I’d sealed the envelope.

{Selfie taken that afternoon. My shoulders are bare, with the black floral straps of my jumper visible, as well as purple-plum bra straps, and the purple suede string of an amethyst necklace. I’m wearing a floral mask with petals of purple and yellows and pinks, with black, round tortoiseshell glasses. My green hair is in pigtails. There’s a concrete pillar behind me, and a set of heavy brown doors with a sign that reads, PLEASE NO LOITERING.}

For a few minutes, I sat in place, thinking I’d wait it out. But it became clear that it was gonna become more than a quick moment of light rain. Packed up and walked to the nearest streetcar stop, having not been on transit for four months. Within only a block, the rain became much heavier, the skies and streets more grey. The stop, although without seats, did provide a narrow shelter.

As I waited, I was alone. A moment before the streetcar approached, a woman joined me under the shelter. Despite the space provided, she stood directly beside me, so I stepped down a few feet. She was dressed in a designer yellow blouse with small florals, shorts, sandals, shiny red lipstick, no mask.

I carried my backpack, a red totebag, my cane, and my coffee. Encumbered, knowing there’ll be unavoidable consequences for my body. The streetcar stopped and the doors slid open. A TTC operator stepped inside to talk to the driver. The four or five steps to the entrance – off the platform, to the ground, up to the vehicle – were a bit of a struggle, and the woman behind me with the yellow blouse began muttering for me to hurry up. She stepped closer and closer, as if she could push me onto the streetcar and get to her destination faster. As I lifted my right foot up the step, she leaned her right hand against the outside of the streetcar, her body pressing toward and her face nearly peering over my shoulder, and continued, in a sarcastic tone, telling me to hurry up. I paused there, turned around, face-to-face.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I said. “Stay away from me.”

I don’t remember what she said, or if she responded, but she definitely did not take a step back. Her unmasked face was in mine, and we were both being rained on. Obviously we still have a six-foot distance requirement, and masks are mandatory on public transit and inside every business. I was pissed off, but I know myself, and I know I would’ve been equally pissed off regardless whether or not we were experiencing a pandemic.

“STAY AWAY FROM ME, STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME,” I continued shouting. I wasn’t coherent enough to tell her that threatening to push a disabled person on public transit (which has happened to me countless times) is unacceptable in the very best of circumstances, so I was just screaming, trying to get her to give me some space, to see the absurdity of her impatience.

She was yelling now, too, two or three feet from me. In my exasperation, I threw my half-full cup of coffee in her face. First it sputtered through the sippy-cup, and then the lid fell off and the remainder of the coffee splashed across her yellow blouse and dripped down the pavement.

I threw the empty cup at her, still shouting. She reached out as if to grab me or hit me, but I blocked her with her my right arm, hand now free, and then I grabbed onto my cane and raised it like a baseball bat, strength in my aim.

I have a fear of my own violent outbursts, of making an impulsive decision, harming someone, likely a total stranger who caught me at a bad time, and all the consequences that might entail. At the same time, I have a fear of dying due to somebody’s careless or neglect, ie a car accident or a fire. My cane is not the strongest weapon, but it’s what I’ve got. I could imagine bashing her face with it, but I also knew that hanging out in a jail cell during a pandemic wasn’t how I wanted to spend the rest of the day / week / month / whatever, and I also knew that she wasn’t worthwhile; perhaps I’d scared her enough, adequately emphasized my point. It wasn’t until I swung my cane toward her that she finally backed up, backed toward another of the open doors where she could board the empty streetcar.

Through it all, the TTC operators remained silent. For the most part, they were out of my line of sight, and I suppose I imagined they were too stunned to respond, too caught off guard to know what to do.

I didn’t want to get onto the streetcar. Especially the same one as her. I’d swung my cane close to her shoulder and face, but I’d also let my arms fall weak, avoiding any impact at all. As she backed up and began to enter the streetcar, my body became less tense, and I decided to walk away. As I went back to the concrete platform and waited for the crosswalk light to turn green, the rain became heavier. I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk home like this, that I’d have to find somewhere to duck into and wait it out. Waiting for the light to change, I became thoroughly soaked, and I walked one block until I found the hidden recess of an empty storefront. I stepped into the cozy alcove, stood behind the unlocked black iron gate between the step and the locked glass door, and took a deep breath. Watched the downpour over Queen West.

After a few minutes, it occurred to me that someone could’ve called the cops. Or at they might’ve called TTC security, or warned the next driver about the screaming weirdo assaulting fellow passengers. I couldn’t get on another streetcar, and I worried about cops poking their heads around the corner of the alcove, asking me questions, wondered whether or not they’d keep distance, wondered if I’d be able to act less agitated and pissed off. I texted my twin and close friend to let them know what was up. In case something happened. Also to process, and/or laugh about it. I noticed that this was one of few public altercations that hadn’t resulted in tears, and hadn’t resulted in suicidal thoughts. I told myself it was probably because I’ve been so detached lately. Things don’t hold the same meaning as they used to.

And as I described the situation through multiple texts, answered questions, made jokes, I realized I didn’t have much to fear: this wasn’t assault. It was self-defense. Crip self-defense.

I remembered an incident a few months ago, the end of Winter, pre-shutdown, when a man on the street began harassing me as I and my partner walked by – I tried to ignore him at first. He seemed drunk, and he was yelling at me that my cane isn’t real, I’m too young, my illness isn’t real. I know these are thoughts that people think, and I’m far-too-accustomed to being accosted by strangers on the street who wanna talk to me about my body, my pain, my cane, my trauma. But they are not usually screaming at me, not usually screaming that I’m a liar. He, too, became among those I’ve turned toward and raised my cane as a weapon – I will always remember the astonished and frightened expression on his face, the way he physically backed off. I did my screaming, strangers witnessed our interaction, and I walked away, cane in one hand, my partner’s hand in the other. And the man continued yelling, yeah – he’d stepped out into Queen West, and I told him I hope he gets hit by a streetcar and survives to experience disability firsthand – but I was through, and I only wanted to go home and recover.

I also remembered when, a few months ago, my partner and I had picked up some gardening supplies at the Home Hardware in Parkdale. As we exited the store, a longer line-up had formed, and some people were standing side-by-side, reducing the width of the sidewalk, thus reducing access. As we loaded the car, someone using an electric mobility scooter was trying to get by, but between the two people standing side-by-side, and the garbage can at the curb, there wasn’t enough room – to the disabled person scooting by, who nobody would acknowledge or step aside for, simply ran over one woman’s foot to get through. I gave them an imaginary high-five.

After I threw my coffee in her face, after I walked away, I hid under the alcove of an empty storefront for over and hour. At some point, I decided to text my partner to see if he was nearby – he’d been in the recording studio for the afternoon, but if I caught him at the right time, he’d be driving by my cozy hideout on the way back. After mixing one more track, he was on the way.

As I ducked into the car, indeed I noticed a cop car parked across the street, but I couldn’t read the license plate, and the view through the windows remained obscured in the storm. On my street, parking, a similar cop car slowed down as it passed us, but again, I couldn’t read their info, and felt it must only be a coincidence. I know their threats and intimidation, but I’m also prone to paranoia, so.

{image description: Gladiolas in shades of hot pink and pastel pink bloom and grow tall along the base of power lines on a sidewalk corner, red brick wall to the right. Tigerlilies, bright orange, bloom, too. In the distance, an empty road and some orange and black construction pylons.}

I recently learned about DBT-based Six Levels of Validation, as practiced between therapist and client, explained here by Kelly Koerner, paraphrased below:

1. Show interest and be awake.

Literally the most basic, ordinary form of listening to someone: don’t fall asleep. Don’t check-out. Don’t check your phone or the time, etc. when someone needs to be listened to.

2. Accurate reflection.

Akin to active listening. Accurate reflection is a way we show the other person we understand what they’re saying – if we’ve misunderstood, or they want to provide more clarity, this is where that happens.

3. Imagining yourself in their position.

Beyond accurately reflecting what one person is saying or feeling, this is where the listener goes deeper, develops a better sense of what the other is feeling, and from there is able to ask more thoughtful questions and have a better idea of the thoughts and emotions arising in a given individual in a particular situation.

4. Validate based on history.

The listener has retained information about the individual’s past experiences, and is able to call this up in conversation as a way to make sense of the current situation, encourage the individual’s self-reflection, and show that their current feelings or worries are understandable given their history and context. Remembering information from the past also creates a sense of object constancy.

5. Validate based on current circumstances.

This is where the listener actively validates someone’s emotions regardless of their past, of their known or unknown history. “It totally makes sense that you’re upset about x, y, z, and that you responded the way you did.”

6. Radical genuineness.

Being a real live human being, and communicating as equals. In a therapeutic setting, the therapist becomes open and non-defensive, truly hearing and understanding the client, and responding almost like a compassionate friend would. The client is not a patient, not “disordered,” and not somebody who is “less than” the therapist. Examples look like: allowing tears to fall, swearing or using explicit language, laughing at a client’s joke, self-disclosing a small piece of personal information to relate to the client, or calling out bullshit.

Though the link is focused on the therapeutic relationship, I’m thinking of the Six Levels of Validation in interpersonal and romantic relationships, too. There are forms of validation that are more active, functional, beyond listening, that fall into the categories above – for example, knowing when a friend or partner needs time to process, and knowing when a friend or partner would feel supported by being given a snack, a cup of tea, or a hand on their shoulder, etc. Relational discomfort is unavoidable – we can’t always know what to do in the moment when someone is experiencing distress. Sometimes we feel distressed with them and cannot act, or sometimes we don’t know what they’re feeling, we’re misreading them, or we’re projecting our own thoughts, feelings, and fears onto them.

An example: While texting Dean about needing a ride home in the rain, I offered small details about the incident on the streetcar, but I was non-specific, and reassured him that I was okay. When he picked me up, he knew that that wasn’t the right moment to ask me what happened, to get me to dredge up my angry feelings; what I needed was a safe ride home, and a warm drink once we got there. It’s an uncomfortable situation, but shows functional validation: it might be Level 1, 4, or 5. (He is awake, he knows not push me to elucidate when I might be distressed, he knows a bit about my history of angry altercations with non-disabled people, and he’d be pissed off if he were in a similar situation, or were with me when it happened.)

{image description: Camera aims upward at the top floor of a grey stucco building, and a clear blue sky. Three windows are visible. One has a sign for Psychic Readings with a phone number. The other two are split into six panes, each one with a golden decal of a zodiac symbol. Affixed to the wall between the windows are two large signs: One is the shape of an open hand, the palm, wrist, and fingertips decorated with astrological symbols. The other is the shape of cards beside one another: one card has a shining sun, and other shows the head of a psychic with her hands around a crystal ball.}

It may not have been an inopportune moment after all – to respond to my feelings of rage and annoyance by throwing a cup of coffee at a non-disabled person. Although I was alone, I felt supported once I’d texted and processed with friends, especially because they asked me to keep in touch to ensure them I was safe. From there, I was able to get home safely. The level of detachment I’ve felt over the last few months is not ideal – it’s frustrating beyond language – yet it may have protected me from causing further harm to myself or to others, and ensured I didn’t alienate the people who love me.

Almost three years ago, in See the Cripple Dance, I wrote about losing my temper, about public meltdowns (On Temperance, bravado, and wanting to change the world).

“My behaviour, under remission and mania, had been verging on dangerous over the last few months, and occasionally irresponsible, but I’d managed to keep myself relatively under control, safer than I’ve been in the past. It’s not that I felt invincible – I felt/feel extremely vulnerable. But I did feel brazen and bold. I know the worst things that can happen. I want/ed to gather, steal, hoard as much magic as possible before the next disaster.”

I wrote about escalating conflict with the managers of an all-natural grocery store in a gentrifying neighbourhood when they caught me dumpstering, and dumpstering plenty. I had an opportunity to retreat, even to keep what I’d gathered, but I was triggered, and I responded by retaliating at them for approaching me, screamed at them about capitalism and waste until they changed their tone and began berating me, threatening to call the cops (they didn’t) and lock the dumpster (they did, but it’s been locked and unlocked multiple times by other trash-gatherers), etc.

The night is marked in my memory for several reasons. One, as my then-boyfriend and I walked back to his place together in silence, as he made me a cup of peppermint tea and gave me a chance to breathe and to cry before asking if I’d like to discuss what had happened, I felt held in some way, and vulnerable and scared and apologetic, too, but eventually somewhat understood and forgiven. It meant a kind of healing for me, and though we had an uncomfortable conversation and disagreement about the situation afterward, I still felt cared for, and this night often came up as a particular phase of healing for me. However, two: when we broke up eight or nine months later, he cited this night as a reason not to trust me, a reason to worry not only about my violent outbursts, but about when he might become a target, too. I became especially enraged after having attributed a totally different meaning to that incident, and even now, it acts as a kind of rumpled page in the long history of my healing process, and continues to come up as fear in current relationships, as well as a topic in therapy sessions and journal entries. (“One day I’ll scare everybody away for good!”)

I bring it up to show that functional validation, regardless of future outcomes, can still be healing in the moment, and can result in a felt sense of validation and comfort – rare for so many of us. Also, I bring it up to show that one moment of attunement doesn’t indicate a perfect partner or a perfect relationship, but one step of many in a non-linear healing process. Now I can connect these two moments in two very different relationships, and draw different lessons and meanings from them.

I don’t think I was over-reacting in the current situation, and I didn’t endanger anybody but myself (although I did feel smug self-satisfaction as it occurred to me that the woman in the yellow blouse might need to explain the coffee stains to someone upon arrival at her destination, might even need to be tested for COVID-19, and that in both these situations, sure, she could say, “Some crazy person on the TTC threw their coffee at me,” but she’d have to know in her heart-of-hearts that that’s not the full truth; she’d have to know, ‘I told a disabled person to hurry up multiple times as they struggled with pain, inaccessibility, and rough weather, and when I got too close to them, they retaliated.’)

As time passed, I felt less ashamed.

Another friend of mine texted: “That sounds like self-defense to me. I’m glad you got home safe and that you could access your power in that moment. I have a warm fuzzy feeling in my chest from hearing that story.”

I said: “I worry I’ll be written off as a violent weirdo one day.”

And they said: “Best kinda weirdo.

…But what I really mean is that low-grade violence is the everyday norm and every instance of someone fighting back is beautiful.”

Violently 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! ALSO! I have a Patreon now! Please join me.

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Messages from Pigeons, and Three Days of Collapse…

Messages from Pigeons

{image description: A five-foot tall watercolour painting of a pigeon, cut-out in the shape of the bird and laminated to protect the image. The happy pigeon is ziptied to the outside of a chainlink schoolyard fence and has four speech bubbles around their smiling face. They read: “THANK YOU GROCERY STORE WORKERS.” “THANK YOU DELIVERY DRIVERS.” “THANK YOU SANITATION WORKERS.” “PLEASE PROTECT THEM AND PAY THEM WELL.” Each message has a pink heart at the end of the sentence. In the background, a concrete schoolyard with a few pigeons walking about, a red brick school in the distance, some dark trees and hydro wires, and grey clouds gathering in the sky. The art is displayed on a corner well-known for its dozens of pigeons gathering everyday, unafraid of passersby, and a set of benches where people often feed them as they sit and watch the busy street by the subway station. Also on this corner: the beauty supply shop with the hot pink sign where I buy my colourful hairdye, which was also the first place I went when businesses started to slowly re-open in Toronto. I hadn’t realized until recently that the two colours I choose the most, deep violet and forest green, are the two jewel-like colours of pigeon plumage, amethyst and emerald.}

On Monday the 13th, I went for a rare walk. I’ve been less mobile these days, pandemic-times, and I’ve come back to one of those points where I will try anything to manage my pain (anything that doesn’t involve an appointment at the doctor’s office, referrals to other doctors and more doctors and specialists and more hospitals and medical environments and all the indifference disbelief belittling dismissiveness, and reminders of past traumas that would entail). Digging out books on bodies movement yoga trauma pain I read years ago, and finding more. Re-visiting works on herbalism and aromatherapy and Ayurvedic medicine, notes I’ve taken in classes and workshops… Monday I mention because it’s resulted in, (at the time of writing, mid-July), three days in bed to recuperate.

What I carry in my backpack when I go out: A book to read, my diary, my planner, a thermos of water, various pens in black and purple, my wallet, a travel-size deck of Tarot cards, a zippered pouch with a whole bunch of meds, hand sanitizer, a smaller notepad, essential oils, a handkerchief, moisturizer, etc. I’m using my debit card as much as possible, unusual for me as I prefer cash, it can’t be declined, but I’m still trying my best to keep cash on me to give to people who need it. I’ve been reading a big book about aromatherapy, The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood, used bookstore find, and wanting to get back into making my own recipes. I have at least thirty bottles of essential oils here at home, but there were a few I wanted to gather for my collection, specifically for easing pain, digestive issues, and insomnia, plus I needed carrier oils for my concoctions. Also, an excuse for (masked) fresh air. It was one of few days that wasn’t a heat wave. And I had a list of dried herbs and a lil tincture to pick-up and drop-off for some friends, too. It still makes me feel useful to be able to do a small task like that.

As I wrote, I had a floral blend in the diffuser at my bedside: ylang ylang, orange, and patchouli. All my writing done in bed that week, laptop on a wooden tray purchased two Summers ago for this purpose. The pain was: the usual places, hips and pelvic region and thighs, which I won’t elaborate on, and lately it’s spread to places that didn’t used to bother me: shins, ankles, and tops of my feet. As I wrote, it was also: the finger joints of my right hand, pricks on my right wrist, inner and outer right elbow; general soreness of the muscles of my upper arm, and the tendons and muscles where my right shoulder connects to my neck. The vertebrae of my lower neck have been bothering me for at least a month, to a point where I would often wake up unable to move that area of my body. My lower back burns.

Two pinched nerves have been aggravated this Summer: the first, my right shoulder, which was pinched back in December or January, as I carried five bananas in a totebag for three blocks (I can’t ever know when the tiniest most ordinary task is gonna continue debilitating my body eight fucking months later), and the other, my neck, middle of March, shortly after the shutdown, when I scrubbed my stove while medicated, not realizing in my painkiller haze how roughly I was treating my body until I woke up the next day unable to turn my head. Again, five fucking months later, debilitating pain due to a task that I wish could be ordinary, even thoughtless.

For three days after my walk, pain like this, as well as full-body fatigue rendering me barely able to move, definitely not able to get out of bed, weighed down by heavy feelings in the flesh, muscles, tissues, a feeling of feet and legs too heavy to lift, arms too heavy even to scribble at my bedside with my head on my pillow. After nearly a decade of this, it still sometimes surprises me, infuriates me.

I gathered the ingredients I needed for myself and two friends at one place, and then I walked toward their apartment, observing changes in the city streets, empty storefronts, stickers on the ground indicating six-feet, which addresses have recently become new franchises of chain businesses, who keeps their distance and who pretends this isn’t happening.

{image description: I took a picture of this do-your-part-stay-apart sign because of all the variations, and all the alterations I’ve seen to those variations, this is the only one I’ve seen that a) portrays the presence of disabled people, and b) uses the more recently created and more accurate portrayal of a disabled person moving of their own accord, controlling their own wheelchair, not sitting static in place, not waiting for help (I have stickers of this symbol at home, to cover up the old design). Image is a laminated white sheet of paper on a white-washed wall, which says, MAINTAIN PHYSICAL DISTANCE, and has symbols of people in the classic (groan) bathroom-door format, a “man”, a red arrow indicating two metres between one figure and the next, a “woman”, a red arrow indicating two metres again, and a disabled person. Beneath these figures reads: STAY AT LEAST 2 METRES APART, and “Prevent the spread of COVID-19 to our employees and our community.” There are more laminated sheets on the wall around this one, with similar messages about hand sanitizer, physical distance, masks, etc.}

If you’ve entered any businesses this Spring and Summer, you’ve noticed changes. A staff member at the door to limit the amount of people who enter, hand sanitizer (sometimes gloves and masks, too) offered/required at the entrance, etc. At Herbs & Nutrition, the place where I made my Monday walk, one noticeable difference is the now-empty wall of testers where essential oils used to be displayed. I wish I had taken a photo. The customized wooden shelves with curved spots at measured intervals that hold each bottle, hundreds of them, so you can sniff before you buy, or sniff just for fun, for respite from the city streets. Testers of lotions, etc., are gone now, too, of course. But the empty essential oil shelves are still labeled with brand, plant, size, and price, and the closed bottles were always kept behind the counter anyway… Now you just ask for the bottle you want, no sniffing beforehand.

I chose white thyme, clary sage, and clove. The one at the top of my list, chamomile, I had to leave behind. I understand the hows and whys of price differences between different essential oils, but I didn’t know just how much that varies… Where most 30ml bottles cost between $7.99 to 19.99, a 30ml bottle of chamomile costs… SEVENTY DOLLARS. Also, tea tree oil is recommended in many recipes, but my skin has painful reactions. Red, burning patches that feel like scalding.

I dropped off the dried herbs at my friends’ place, and while I thought I wouldn’t see them – I’ve done multiple drop-offs to their place during the pandemic, but hadn’t seen them since a couple weeks before the shutdown, and I’d been a crying mess for unrelated reasons – we had a short conversation at the door anyway, each of us masked, them standing by the open door, and me sitting on the outdoor stairs. Sometimes we couldn’t hear each other over the traffic, but we got by.

Afterward, I sat down at a nearby parkette and wrote a short letter to my nana and a short postcard to a friend. Then I walked home and began my three-day collapse.

{image description: A billboard in a large field along a highway, portraying a painting of a natural landscape, coniferous trees lining each side of a long, wide river, a river that reflects the sky. The image is taken at such an angle that the painting is shown against the sky, one sky blending into another.}

When I asked on my Patreon if anyone knew that these billboards are about – I’ve noticed them around the city and on rural drives – somebody sent me this link.

The paintings are by the national creative director of the company who owns the billboards, which they rent to advertisers – billboards with unpurchased ad space were printed with paintings instead, and as less companies advertise/d during COVID-19, there was that much more space. I find most ads to be depressive eyesores at best, and the cynic in me was glad to learn that the painting weren’t part of a mysterious campaign; it makes me wonder what else could be done with billboards in the meantime… DIY-style.

After my three-day collapse…

{image description: A pink poster with purple screenprint ink pasted to a shopfront window. In a psychedelic, allcaps font, the poster reads: END POLICE BRUTALITY. NO JUSTICE NO PEACE. BLACK LIVES MATTER. BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER. To the left, the shop window displays vintage cowboy boots with steel toes, a pink scarf, a black leather bag, and a pink leather bag.}

After my three day collapse, I wanted to be outside again. Once again, I’ve been trying to think of different words and different concepts for “pain.” One term I’ve been using is “strong sensations.” I’m in pain and this hurts might still be true, but they’re also limiting. Pain itself is limiting (and being limited is not necessarily wrong or bad), of course, but language and visions let me be more playful and imaginative with it.

I haven’t been sleeping well the last couple weeks (scratch that – months), which obviously impacts my body and my mental health. Often, when I do sleep, I dream about my grandparents and/or their old house that they sold last Summer. In at least two recent dreams, my poppa, who died last December, is alive again. I say ‘again’ because even in the dreams, we’re aware that he died last Winter, that it’s unusual for him to have returned, to be present, but at the same time, it feels like a normal, natural thing to occur, for us to be hanging out.

In one dream, he asked me if there are any clothes of his that I’d like to keep now that he doesn’t need them anymore. When I visited my nana in June, she asked me the same thing, so that must be why it was on my mind. In another dream, I cooked him a pancake breakfast as a surprise. I was sitting on a couch in an old Victorian house, waiting for him to come home. I’d arranged the breakfast on a vintage plate only used on special occasions, and placed it on the porch so it’d be the first thing he saw when he returned. But I heard a noise and a clatter, and found that somebody had stolen most of the breakfast, as well as the plate. A single cold pancake remained, soaked in his favourite kind of maple syrup, which I ate myself, disappointed.

When I can’t sleep, I lay in bed feeling pain, thinking about pain, and wishing I didn’t need to have a body to be alive. In my three days of collapse, I wished I could enjoy the rest – instead I felt frustrated, half-dead, despondent. One night, in a daze, I murmured to my half-asleep partner, “What if I could cut out my hips and replace them with a bowl of goldfish?”

Over the years, when the pain rises in intensity, I’ve had a series of dreams where I am not-at-home, and I’ve misplaced my cane, forgotten it somewhere. My body freezes, and then I cling to whatever’s around me – a wall, a countertop, a tree – afraid to take a step forward, afraid of falling. I once dreamt I was in Montréal, lost, past midnight, and forgot my cane on a subway car, where a creepy man laughed at my folly. In many of my dreams now, I’m attempting to reclaim my grandparents’ old house, but I’m being kicked off the property.

{image description: A small, temporary art installment, one of many around the city. A wooden box, approximately one and a half feet tall and one and a half feet wide stands at eye-level, painted turquoise. The front of the box is a Plexiglas window, and inside, the words I AM SECRETLY SUCCEEDING are affixed in silver glitter. Old maple trees and brick houses are behind the box as well as reflected in the window.}

{image description: A yellow poster wheatpasted to a grey electric box on a street corner. Screenprinted in red ink: A classic anarchist cat, back arched, fanged mouth overturning cop cars. To the left of the car, silhouettes of people holding protest signs and cheering. Poster reads: COPS AREN’T WORKERS. NO POLICE UNIONS. NO COPS IN LABOUR. In the background, a red TTC streetcar goes by, and the wheels of a couple of locked up bikes are seen.}

{image description: A further back shot of the shop window shown in the first image. A white banner with black letters is a backdrop to the window display of vintage boots, purses, and other items. It reads: TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER. Sky, clouds, and three-story brick buildings are reflected in the window. A snake plant and other potted plants with large, long green leaves are sitting in the left corner of the window display.}

Laying in bed, thinking about pain, feeling pain, I was also observing pain. When I was observing, I could ask myself questions like: Is this pain? Is this pain? Are there other ways it can be described, be felt? Strong sensations. Pressure. Pinching, poking, bruising, twisting. Sometimes I had a feeling of wanting to cry. And maybe that’s what makes me tired – or moreso fatigued than tired. The need to cry. I know that I suppress my emotions, and I know that one way that suppression shows up is through strong sensations in my body, and a sense of detachment in my psyche and my heart. I cope day-to-day, I lose time, I lose creativity. I have tough feelings that have been stifled and smothered.

I recently wrote “commitment to healing” in my diary. But I haven’t felt committed at all. At the same time, I know that resting or sleeping means I’m healing. Even pain indicates change indicates healing. I know all too well that healing is not linear and it never will be, and that my illness is not from which I can seek a ‘cure’.

.After three days in bed, I had one short day of less pain. I walked some more and I wrote. I made all kinds of lists in my journal, and I pressed more flowers between the pages. I wrote about reading some of my childhood books to my partner’s kid, and I wrote a list named “The Need to Retreat, Which Cannot Happen, But What Would You Do Instead? ie What Compromises Can You Make as a Poor Disabled Person at Home and Sick During a Pandemic?” I wrote a list of how to prepare for another possible shutdown. I wrote about the possibility of keeping another pain diary, and a list of everything each documented day would contain – eighteen items on the list, meaning the pain diary would take a lot of time and energy each day. Is that part of a commitment to healing? I drew the Nine of Wands.

{image description: Selfie taken outside. Left corner shows glare of the sun. I’m standing in front of a mural of clear quartz crystal points and monarch butterflies at an angle such that I appear as if I have my own set of wings. I’m wearing a sleeveless black dress, round glasses, and purple lipstick, slightly smiling. My long green hair is pulled back in pigtails and I’m wearing purple plastic barrettes. Graffiti font on the mural to my left reads: ART.}

And after the one short day of less pain, I woke up unable to move my right arm or hand, my dominant side. As I was getting out of bed, I bent my arm and it locked at the elbow, sending quick waves of pain upward through the tendons toward my shoulder. I couldn’t hold onto a cup or a book, and I couldn’t write, which was my only plan that day. I cried, frustrated. My partner made my breakfast smoothie for me, which I usually do on my own, and gave me a straw instead of a spoon. Once again, I stayed in bed all day. Labeled my feelings as exhausted, despondent. I tried to describe the pain to Dean when he asked: This is what it feels like when my elbow locks, this is where it spasms through my shoulder, up my neck, and through my right side ribs, this is what each finger feels like, and this spot on my wrist, and this spot, too, and this is where my fingertips are tingling and numb.

Later, he told he worried that his own depression and anger were showing up in my body. I also learned that my nana had the lost the use of her dominant arm and hand at the same time I did. A few weeks later, during another two and a half day migraine, I also learned that my mom had a migraine the same time and duration as mine.

{image description: Two alleyway garages, side-by-side, each with a portrait painted on them. Left garage shows a Black femme with long, wavy turquoise hair, frizzy sides pulled up and back into symmetrical buns above the temples, decorated with pink hearts. Figure wears pink and purple eye shadow. Their smooth brown face is shaded with deep orange, and their pupils are heart-shaped. Background is hot pink. Right garage shows a woman of colour from bare shoulders upward, wearing fuchsia lipstick, her dark, wide eyes glittering, mascara thick. Figure’s head is tilted, and in her middle-parted black hair, she wears a glowing golden-orange sun and moon on one side, painted with its eyes closed, restful; on the other side, the earth resides, held by two flowers the same colour as her lipstick. Background is blue with orange rays of light.}

A question I come back to now and then is:

How much pain must be endured? How much discomfort must be tolerated?

This is a conversation I have with myself everyday. When is the right moment to allow myself to take a painkiller? Which one should I take? How long will I have access to this prescription? What alternatives are available to me? Can I wait another fifteen minutes? Half an hour? Would pausing and making time to stretch be helpful? When was the last time I took this pill? What have I done to relieve pain and anxiety in the meantime? How much more can I tolerate?

Also: How much pain do others with similar diagnoses endure? How do they navigate their own levels of tolerance, discomfort?

If this prescription label says take once every four hours, do I need to try so hard to only take that pill once every two or three or four days?

Do I wait until I’m unable to walk to take this pill, or do I take it earlier to prevent an inability to walk? How much activity can I do while medicated without destroying my body and becoming bedbound anyway?

{image description: Camera aims down at my feet, concrete sidewalk. Lavender cane held in my left hand, seam of my purple shorts barely seen at the bottom of the frame. Hairy, tattooed legs, black sandals, toenails painted a shade of hot pink called Toying with Trouble. I’m standing by a dark blue circle-shaped sticker on the ground that reads PLEASE WAIT HERE above an outline of footprints, and 2M/6FT APART below.}

And each time I ask myself these questions, I vacillate between: Not yet. It’s not that bad. Not yet. I’ve survived worse. It’s not awful. It’s not quite debilitating, not quite intolerable. Not yet. Versus. I don’t need to test my endurance of pain, of immobility. I don’t need to hurt this much. I will take this pill right now, regardless of urgency. I am allowed to feel okay, I am allowed to feel comfortable. I am allowed to not be in pain each and every moment.

Exhaustedly 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! ALSO! I have a Patreon now! Please join me.

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Invisible and Targeted at Once: Social Assistance Art, Dreams, and Solidarity, or: CRIP RENT CRIP FOOD

A few months ago, I was hanging out with a friend of mine, and on my way out, she told me to bring a bag of potatoes home with me. One of her roommates had purchased their weight in potatoes as part of a performance art project, and now that the performance was over, there were hundreds of potatoes in their home. I didn’t see the performance, but I appreciated the way that their art had also become a means of distributing food to hungry friends.

crip food

These are the kinds of moments I come back to each time I see these stories of wasted food during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the photos commented on frequently was that of thousands and thousands of potatoes destined for the garbage now that restaurants aren’t buying them. I wondered: How come there isn’t an infrastructure either already in place or currently being created, to ensure that these potatoes, and all the other wasted foods we keep hearing about (not to mention those we don’t hear about) are redistributed to those in need? Why let them rot when you could give them to people who’ve lost their jobs and lost their incomes, lost their homes, give them to food banks and other free food/meal programs, what about building larger-scale Food Not Bombs collectives, etc etc…? In a society where profit weren’t priority, what would the possibilities of food become?

Questions like these have been asked for generations. But the old maxim, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, remains true. (What about the rich get eaten and the poor get fed?)

When restaurants, cafés, and bars began to close down, one of the first things I thought about was how dangerous dumpsters would now be, and then, how empty they now are. A couple years ago, most of the food I ate was rescued from dumpsters. The city has thousands of free meals on offer every night, as long as you know when and where to look, as long you have the right mix of courage and desperation to go out and dig, and as long as your body can perform this labour. Living on my own in Toronto, this became a frequent ritual for me. When I lost my ability to carry anything, and then my ability to walk, I also, of course, lost access to those dumpsters, and I didn’t have friends or a community who’d do that weird but necessary labour of reclamation for me. During a state of remission, after I’d lost handfuls of friends, and eased into a different sense of self, I returned to the dumpsters. Ones I’d known in the past, and unknown ones I continued to seek. As I entered a new relationship, I found that skulking about at night in search of free food was a favourite activity we shared, and so we became raccoons together at night, learning the alleyways and trash bins of multiple neighbourhoods, and keeping ourselves well-fed. Occasionally, we’d encounter others. Share a few words, share food, move along.

There is always some risk in this activity. And in recent months, dumpstering came with the possibility of contracting a severe and potentially deadly illness. The last time I took home food from a dumpster was my last time for a reason. The state of remission I’d been in, which feels like a longer time ago than it was, had been dissipating. My body was holding more pain, which meant I couldn’t carry the weight of food, nor do the labour of digging, cleaning, organizing, storing. My lactose-intolerance had worsened, so I had to avoid dairy again. The thrill of gathering free food wasn’t the same when I knew how sick it’d make me, and on a more personal level, I had so many memories of dumpstering with my now-estranged-ex, that often the activity would leave me feeling unbearably melancholy. There were neighbourhoods I wouldn’t forage anymore, and risks I’d no longer take.

When I brought home my last bag of dumpstered food, which was heavy and awkward to carry, I was alone. I’d dumpstered at the same place many times before and never had a problem. But this was my night of bad luck. I happened to have brought home the bag that had been poisoned. I’ve always known this could happen – this aversion to giving people food for free, choosing to leave it in trash bins instead of donating it, is not news to me. The food in this clear garbage bag, which seemed ordinary and familiar at dusk, I realized at home, had been made toxic with an uncoloured cleaning product that wasn’t obvious to the senses until I’d really dug in. The pain in my body, and the sick-headache-feeling, the gagging, the vigourously brushing my teeth three times to rid my mouth of the chemical-taste, wasn’t a risk I wanted to be forced into anymore. While a kind of despair has always come to me through trash, there was pleasure and joy, too. Those feelings had diminished, though. While I didn’t and don’t want food to exist for profit, this alternative felt less tolerable, too. The act itself, the ritual, had been nourishing, if exhausting. Now there was a lack, an emptiness, a different kind of worn out.

***

I’ve been having most of my groceries delivered for years. At my sickest, when I was unable to walk or to go outside (I couldn’t even cross the street on my own; I needed my then-partner to help me, and this meant slowing down traffic even on the one-way residential street where I live. I could also barely cross at intersections with lights because the walk-light wasn’t long enough for my slow, crooked body), I made countless agonizing and crazy-making phone calls to food banks, CSA’s, and the like, asking about food deliveries. This was a service that was not available. I found absolutely nothing and no one. I remember the infuriating frustration, the trapped feeling. I remember feeling so enraged and fucked up, wanting to burn everything down, screaming alone in my apartment.

Now these services are (temporarily…?) being offered, but I can’t get an order through because all the time-slots are taken. Between big-box stores like Walmart, which I frequently rely on (wah wah), and local services with a focus on social justice making boxes of fresh, local produce, I either can’t get through, or am waiting up to two months for food and other basics to arrive. I have a (different) partner getting groceries to me, but we’re stuck making more trips outside than we ought to be during a pandemic.

At my sickest, it took me hours to get my delivered groceries from my own door to the kitchen. At my sickest and most debilitated, I didn’t enter a grocery store for OVER A YEAR. Sick and disabled people are being left behind again.

In so-called canada, those of us on social assistance are paid the final day of each month. That means the second last day of each month is when we’re the most broke. Sometimes I imagine a world where small facts like these are known and considered and respected. That in the early days of each month, people who weren’t on social assistance knew to stay the fuck out of our way.

{image description: Green grass takes up the entire frame, with a white circle spraypainted through the middle. These social distancing circles have been painted throughout Trinity Bellwoods Park, the neighbourhood where I live. The first time I saw them, I imagined altering them to pentacles, anarchist circle-A’s, etc. The next time I went out, somebody had! Image shows a single circle which has been redone with more white spraypaint to make a pentacle large enough to lay down and spread out within.}

{image description: A green and white square-shaped sticker on a sealed cardboard box, close-up. After writing this entry, I was able to connect with FoodShare and signed up for weekly deliveries of produce delivered to my door. $18.50/month. Sticker reads:

“FoodShare. Good Healthy Food for All Since 1985.

Let’s talk about why this happens daily.

13% of Torontonians experience food insecurity.

27% of racialized communities experience food insecurity.

1 in 6 children do not get enough to eat.

1 in 8 Torontonians lack the income and resources to access nutritionous food.

At FoodShare Toronto, we believe this isn’t how things should be. That’s why we’re modeling a food system that works for all. Learn more at foodshare.net or @FoodShareTO or just say hello!

*Percent daily values are based on research from PROOF and Toronto Vital Signs.”}

{image description: A handmade Black Lives Matter banner affixed to the fence surrounding the tennis courts in Trinity Bellwoods Park. “Black Lives Matter” is stitched patchwork-style, black letters on white fabric, and various symbols are illustrated around the text: a Black Power fist, a burning candle, a cop with a pig’s head behind bars, angel wings, rainbows, hearts, flowers, etc. In the background, the sky is pure blue, cloudless.}

{image description: A Parkdale storefront, Black Diamond Vintage, with BLACK LIVES MATTER large paper-letters taped to the window, surrounded in Black Power fists of various colours. Brick walls are painted black, orange, and pink.}

{image description: Next door, another Parkdale storefront, Bone & Busk, has red letters in Gothic script painted on the windows. GOTHS AGAINST FASCISM. Beyond the glass, three otherwise nude mannequins wear black fabric face masks that read BLACK LIVES MATTER. On the right, a lavender door hangs open.}

{image description: The large intersection of Queen West and King / Roncesvalles in Toronto. Roads are much emptier than usual. Brick buildings on the corner with large billboards on the rooftops. Usually these billboards show what movies are currently in theatres. Now they are blank. One billboard is white, the other is black. Above the intersection, electric cords connecting the streetcar system criss-cross in a tangle mess. Skies are pure blue.}

{image description: Close-up of a black and white poster taped to a hydro pole. Three black flags read in allcaps: END POLICE BRUTALITY. BLACK LIVES MATTER. NO JUSTICE NO PEACE.}

{image description: A wide, squat brick building painted with a gorgeous portrait of Frida Kahlo with the wings of a monarch butterfly. She wears dangling earrings shaped like hands. Background is painted sky blue with cactuses. Black letters to the left read:

“Pies para que los quiere,
Si tengo alas para volar.”

Google translate says:

“Feet so you want them,
If I have wings to fly.”

Which is actually:

Feet, what do I need you for
When I have wings to fly?

The mural artists are MSKA and Anya Mielniczek.}

My time in Toronto has taught me that I’m unlikely to survive an apocalypse. I know we cannot be self-sufficient – I cannot be self-sufficient – but its opposite, interdependence, hasn’t been consistent enough to be relied upon. Multitudinous apocalypses have occurred – consider Black people being enslaved, consider genocides of Indigenous people, consider histories of eugenics and forced sterilization – and continue to occur – consider what that previous list has led to today – and someone in my socio-political position is sometimes but not always a target, directly or indirectly. Sick and disabled people are frequently left behind. Those of us on social assistance are forced to starve, forced into social isolation, forced into underground economies and other crimes-that-shouldn’t-be-crimes to ensure our own survival.

I still imagine what would be needed to survive, what could be created. I imagine wanting to be in the mess.

What makes you want to stay in the mess?

***

As always, my thoughts are turned toward those of us on social assistance, including those involved in underground economies, and those who aren’t or can’t currently be engaged in said economies – be it sickness, self-isolation, danger and risk, etc; and those who continue to work, at heightened risk, for lack of choice. As benefits and bail-outs are announced (and altered and struggled with and fought for and and and), we find ourselves forgotten and left behind again and again. Like workers, and yet so unlike workers, too, we are the expendable, the discarded.

{image description: Me, standing in front of boulders that are taller than me. The boulders have mosses growing all over them, various shades of green spreading over rocky greys. My left hand reaches out to hold one, while my left hand holds my cane. The forest floor is covered with dead, browned pine and cedar sprigs and bare, fallen branches. Dozens of said trees grow behind me and the boulders. I’m wearing a below-the-knee black & white floral dress, plum tights, black boots, and a brown-ish plum tweed blazer with a wraparound scarf of black & violet damask. My hair is below-the-shoulders, long, purple. I’m smiling.}

{image description: Camera aimed down, showing my feet on the ground, dead leaves scattered. My left hand holds my cane, as well as a collection of bones, belonging to a deer. Found amongst another gathering of mossy rocks.}

{image description: Another view of my feet and my cane. This time, I’m standing in line at a grocery store. The floor is grey. I’m wearing loose-fitting high-waisted black shorts over black tights with black boots. There’s a round blue sticker on the floor with the shape of a set of feet in white. It reads: “Social distancing. Please stand here.” A red line is taped to the floor.}

{image description: Empty branches of vines grown across an unpainted wooden fence. An old, clear Christmas tree bulb hangs from the vines in the centre of the frame. The thin branches behind and around the bulb look like an anarchist circle-A.}

crip rent

On ODSP, we receive a maximum of $497/month to cover rent, forcing us to forfeit our so-called ‘Basic Needs’ allowance to landlords rather than our own safety and well-being. As calls for rent strikes were/are made, one of my first thoughts was how this could impact those of us on social assistance, what solidarity with us would/could look like, and what our solidarity with workers suddenly without jobs or wages would/could look like. A rent strike for folks on social assistance, especially those of us with mental illness and/or chronic pain and limited mobility, poses different kinds of risk than it does for working people, than it does for non-disabled people. We are under a different form of surveillance, relentlessly scrutinized, constantly under threat. On social assistance, the threat of review, of cutbacks, is ever-present. We are frequently required to re-apply for benefits already granted, to make doctor’s appointments, check-ups, to have the same forms signed again and again – many of us have lived through medical trauma, trapped in an inadequate system, ours bodies and minds examined and re-examined by countless specialists, countless machines. To be in constant approval-seeking mode in such an invalidating system, while attempting to resist the same system is an almost untenable paradox.

In my experience with organizing, including with anti-poverty groups, as well as my witnessing from over-here, in my day-to-day life, people on social assistance, especially sick & disabled people, have been forgotten and/or left behind again and again (I’ve said it so many times, and it never feels like enough, trying to communicate the emotional physical psychological spiritual impacts of this continual wish others have that we cease to exist, cease to remind them of our existence). Rarely acknowledged, rarely listened to, including and especially by working-class communities and organizations (who often don’t want to talk about ableism, don’t want to fathom the non-working, and will prioritize workers over sick and disabled folks, regardless of the obvious-to-some connections between capitalism, how capitalism can sicken and disable workers and others, how those of us on social assistance can and do embody the idea/ideal that labour enacted does not equal value of said person etc etc (run-on sentences on difficult to articulate things, yes please), and how some of us, through our illnesses, have managed to, in some ways, escape a system that only values us as labour performed, hours worked, and are now building our own worlds. I watch it happen and feel it happen. Try to notice when I am being left behind, and when I am choosing to leave of my own accord.

Anyway, as April 1st approached, I wondered how or if to participate in the rent strike. I’ve been in unstable housing situations much of my life, and lived in a lot of neglected little corners. I’ve been illegally evicted, I’ve been threatened, I’ve had homes that cave in and flood and remain in disrepair. I’ve had homes that grew moldy and made me sick, I’ve had screaming matches with landlords, I’ve had landlords who tried to tell me I couldn’t have overnight (I accidentally wrote ‘organized’) guests and couldn’t even burn a candle. I’ve been in shelters, I’ve been a teenage and even pre-adolescent runaway… The building I currently live in has a number of tenants on social assistance – some of us are pals, some won’t make eye contact with me, blah blah. Organizing would be made difficult due to the fact that one of the “tenants” is the landlord’s son. I rarely call about having repairs done to my home because a) I try to avoid my landlord and avoid confrontation as much as possible, and b) the contractor who works for the landlord has asked me out on dates in gross and inappropriate ways, so I’m uncomfortable when he’s around.

I had a few conversations with friends of mine on social assistance, including one of those who lives in the same building as me. What came up most often was support for tenants striking, with the knowledge that we can’t be included because we know we won’t be supported, we know the risks are more severe for us, and we don’t trust organizers or striking tenants to have our back – not in a significant or material way. (Actually, in the time it took me to complete this piece, one of those tenants left because she could no longer cope with the state of disrepair, the broken plumbing, the cockroach infestation…)
W
hen I brought up these concerns and more with one organizer, who asked for my input after reading some of my tweets on the #KeepYourRent hashtag, I received no response. That was almost a month and a half ago (I write on crip-time. As I finish this piece, we’re three months in, no response). When friends check in with me to ask if I’ve heard anything, if any kind of conversation has happened, I tell them no. Obviously they’re not surprised. We are familiar with this kind of let down.

One way to participate in the strike that occurred to me was: since ODSP offers a maximum of only $497 per month for rent, we could pay this much to our landlords, and keep what remains. In this way, we’d be in solidarity with other tenants on strike, and we’d be making a point not only about how unliveable our social assistance income is, but how absurd it is that what little money we have must be forfeited to landlords – the wealthy, the owners of property, those who profit on the human need for shelter, those who neglect the maintenance of the buildings we reside in while taking more and more and more, ensuring, for some of us, that we will be too sick and tired to fight, and too afraid to fight.

I’m not sure how effective this tactic would be, and like I said, I don’t trust anyone to have our back. I mean, I don’t trust anybody to resist our landlords with us, to fight for a raise to social assistance rates to the actual cost of living, to come to court with us if needed, to make sure we get fed and cared for in the meantime, etc. It’s difficult to imagine sustained support, especially beyond slogans.

{image description: An alleyway garage painted forest green, peeling, revealing brown paint on old clapboard. A sign is stuck to the door with black electrical tape. It says, “YOU ARE ON CAMERA. STOP DUMPING.”}

{image description: An alleyway brick carriage-house, bare branches of vines creeping across the walls. A yellow sign affixed to the brick reads, “NO DUMPING. Offenders will be prosecuted and a fine imposed.” The bottom of the sign is obscured with graffiti and ivy.}

{image description: A close-up of the old brickwork of said carriage-house. The right side shows details of the corner of crumbling bricks, the leafless vines, the brown metal drainpipe screwed to the wall. Left side shows the concrete alleyway stretching ahead, lined with garages. A figure is seen from the back, walking ahead – my partner, thin and tall, dressed in all-black. Black skinny jeans, black boots, black leather jacket, black hood against the collar, carrying a black totebag. He has long, wavy brown hair, about shoulder-length, side-parted.}

{image description: A brick wall at the end of the alleyway, painted first with a mural, then with graffiti, colourful layers. The mural has a butter-yellow background, with a figure standing in the middle, head unseen, wearing a pink party dress with a purple bow around the waist and matching purple knee socks. To the left of the figure, a bunch of pink and purple mushrooms are growing, with black-and-white-striped stalks. Swirls of graffiti tags in black and blue have been painted over and around the mural. White letters in a black bubble read: FUCK THE WORLD.}

{image description: Clusters of sweet violets growing low to the ground, little petals of bright purple with round green leaves. Grass, bare dirt, and dead leaves fallen last year, are visible. The flowers are of the ‘volunteer’ variety, likely transplanted from the mouths or paws or beaks or scat of local squirrels or birds.}

Beyond the risk of harassment, intimidation, eviction or attempted eviction, another risk of my idea re: how to rent strike on social assistance, is this: If an individual’s caseworker became aware that a recipient of social assistance were withholding rent, they’d be required to pay it back to the Ministry of Social Services. This doesn’t happen voluntarily, and I don’t know what a refusal to do so would look like or entail. Instead, the amount withheld from the landlord would be garnished in monthly increments from one’s paycheque until the full amount has been returned. Assuming the difference was spent on food and basic necessities – or spent on whatever, regardless – the recipient would now be even less able to afford rent and basic needs during the time their cheque is being garnished. I’ll let you imagine the consequences…

To clarify, I’ve watched this happen to friends of mine. It’s despairing, infuriating. I’ve also come under review in the past, and had my income abruptly suspended, which staff later realized was due to misfiled paperwork, not a legitimate disqualification for resources. I was forced to crowdfund what I needed to get by, during a time when I was mostly immobile and obviously in distress, but most people don’t have that option. I’m likely one of very few ODSP recipients who has a small following through their writing, art, or activism, as well as friends near and far made through half a lifetime of writing zines and corresponding with pen pals.

For myself and so many others, countless others, the next steps after eviction are homelessness and death. That’s it.

We’re accustomed to “choosing” shelter over food. We’ve been forced into this life with little chance of exit without a real revolution.

In the late-90’s, under the Mike Harris government, social assistance rates were drastically reduced. People died. In the time that I’ve been on social assistance (Winter 2007 – present), our income received a 1.5% annual increase, equal to about $8 – $12 / month, significantly below the rate of inflation. In 2018, we were due for a 3% increase for the first time – but the Ford government, now in power, scaled it back to 1.5%, and then canceled the raise altogether. Now, not only are we are at a standstill, but this Spring, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ford government also cut back the public transit allowance that some of us, including myself, receive by $50.00. Poorer and poorer as the rich get richer, forced to eat less, access less, suffer more.

As so many cuts were made under the Ford government, mass protests were organized. Thousands and thousands of people showed up. Except for when we organized against cuts to social assistance. Then we were lucky if twenty people showed. We are nothing and nobody – I understand that those of us on social assistance are seen that way. Nothing and nobody. Waste, worthless.

To the reader who doesn’t relate, who doesn’t know what this life is – what I say is not meant in an accusatory tone, but merely to offer a brief glimpse into my/our well-earned weariness and wariness around community support and solidarity. Our cynicism. Reasons we talk to each other, poor and broke sick and disabled folks, rather than to those outside our worlds, those who lack the experience and perceptions that we do, the knowledge that we do. We’re used to being left behind, especially during the crucial long-term.

Friends have been supporting #KeepYourRent, #RentStike, #CancelRent, etc., as they can – sharing on social media, printing posters for their windows, etc… But I’ve encountered no one who feels safe enough to participate on April 1st (nor, as of this writing, May 1st… or June, or July…). It’s unsafe for everybody, of course, and there will be long-term consequences for everybody. But it’s important to emphasize that those consequences are uniquely dangerous and potentially deadly for social assistance recipients. We are also concerned that we can’t actually confront, so to speak, our landlords in groups, not only due to COVID-19, of course, but also due to aforementioned sickness and disability, inaccessibility, etc. Myself and many of my friends are also at a higher-risk, due to our compromised immune systems, malnutrition, and other ordinary hazards and humiliations of being sick, disabled, and poor. Our instability and precariousness – of home, body, mental health, income – is shared with working-class folks, but also uniquely and excruciatingly different.

There’s a lot more that could be said, more questions to be asked. I do support strikes, and I hope they lead to long-term change. Over the years, and especially in the organizing and art-making I was/am involved with since the Ford election, when there were calls for general strikes, I often asked questions like: What does a general strike look like for people on social assistance? Who cannot or do not work? And what would solidarity with us look like? At the same time, as more and more people were calling for a general strike, the cuts to social assistance were still rarely, if ever, mentioned. We wondered who would strike on our behalf, and how. Concrete answers to these questions never came about. All the dreams that come from the questions are necessary, too, but tangible, direct action and support has been rare.

When I ask about solidarity, and dream about solidarity, I don’t just mean during the coronavirus pandemic, I don’t just mean during elections – I mean during the everyday, and into futures. Long-term, unimaginable futures. I mean through climate chaos and economic collapse. Solidarity must be creative and can’t be done begrudgingly. What are we upending? What are we building?

{image description: My cat, Lily, taking a nap on the accessibility chair in my bathtub. The chair is grey. Lily is a pale ginger, quite chubby now, so that his body takes up the entire seat. To the left, the shower curtain is visible – clear with purple, pink, and green polkadot pattern. To the right, white tiles.}

Though my writing is not meant to convince non-disabled people or working people that I have a right to exist, that my life is worth living, that I want to live, I do encourage those who are not on welfare or disability to consider those who are, and to consider the possibility that they might one day be, too. (In fact, that is one of the many possibilities happening now for so many people during the pandemic, and it will continue afterward.) If you don’t know anyone who’s on social assistance, or you don’t know what our lives look like, I invite you to ask yourself why. If you are on social assistance, I love you.

These are conversations that can be dangerous to have in public, by which I mean, online. Those of us on social assistance, those of us who refuse subjugation and refuse to be disregarded and discarded, are already both invisible, yet targeted at once. What options, what possibilities, do those places afford to us?

I dream of worlds without landlords. Worlds where nobody profits from the human needs of shelter and food – especially on stolen land. I imagine construction workers going on strike, urban planners and architects and public transit operators going on strike, refusing to work until all new homes built are accessible and affordable to very-low-income people, until public transit is free, until social assistance rates are adequately raised. I dream of each person finding a role and purpose within these kinds of strikes, and I imagine all of this happening in solidarity with LAND BACK, a call that has been made for generations, and happening in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, too.

I’m writing and living in solidarity with sick and disabled queers who’ve devoted time, even years, to attempting to build mutual aid networks and wound up with little, or with scraps, or with literally nothing, watched as their friends and communities faded away. Solidarity with those who are incensed and irritated when they hear/read well-meaning advice on self-isolation from people who aren’t sick, people who haven’t experienced limited mobility, chronic pain, the ordinary isolation of a disabled life. Those who now cringe when we read terms like ‘mutual aid’, terms like ‘support’. Those overwhelmed with memories of our struggles met with silence and indifference. Those, like me, re-visiting feelings of anxiety, anger, loss, and alienation. Those grieving. The unrecovering.

Those with few, if any, avenues for catharsis, for healing. Those in complex situations, those who will never receive apologies or resolution.

Nobodyingly 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! ALSO! I have a Patreon now! Please join me.

Posted in Uncategorized

Daffodils and Strange Persistence: Crip City Walks, Pandemic Feelings, & Signs of Ever-Unknown Futures

{image description: A thin red notebook, closed, atop my purple writing desk. My left hand touches the notebook, beginning to open it. Cluttered on my desk are stickers to the left of my notebook, a black pen above, and a Ziploc bag of more stickers to the right. ‘CARE’ tattoo visible on my left knuckles, and deep violet nailpolish, scratched up, on short nails. Top left shows the corner of my fuchsia laptop peeking into the frame. Most of the stickers are from pen pals.}

Walking with cane in hand, and a mask on one’s face, exhalations fog up one’s glasses, tangle the bodymind system, as so many tasks do, in ways unseen but felt. A kind of disorientation. The thing where you walk into a warm café in Winter and your glasses film over so you can’t see if there’s somewhere to sit, can’t read the chalkboard menu; since one sense is wonked up, another one is, too. Like, you can’t hear the person talking to you either, can’t orient yourself in space, stumbling over a chair as you unwind your scarf, struggle out from your coat, your hoodie. Now do it with a medical mask so facial expressions can’t be read, and your breathing is muffled and laboured, shortened, your hips sore, gait crooked. Re-arrange the scene. Now you’re being accosted by a security guard at the entrance to the drugstore.

“Gloves,” you say to him, holding up one hand. He’s in uniform, spritzing hand sanitizer with consent of each customer entering the store. He’s misheard you and he’s holding up his hand, now, too. A wave. He’s mistaken you for friendly.

“Gloves,” you repeat. “Should I use hand sanitizer on gloves?”

“What’s up with that?” he asks, pointing with his head, you’re not sure where.

“What? Vinyl gloves,” you repeat. You’ve come to the drugstore to see what’s on sale in the grocery section, hoping for bananas, avocados, and discounted peanut butter. You used to gather the pre-made sandwiches and sushi with 50% off stickers, back when you couldn’t prepare food, when your lactose-intolerance wasn’t so debilitating. They slapped the stickers on after 6pm. Then they caught on and switched to only 30% off. He’s younger than you, small, standing straight. He seems to have forgotten the hand sanitizer. The automatic door slides closed behind you.

“The cane. Why do you use that?”

Oh, fuck.

A heavy sigh (further fogging your lenses). You give him a blank stare of exasperation, but he can’t read you. Not with the mask. He’s still smiling. He imagines you’re smiling, too.

“It’s forever,” you say. Refusing this conversation, this conversation again. The space is narrow, cosmetics on display. It’s impossible to keep six feet apart, even though there are red decal reminders on the floor, cardboard signs sticking out from the white shelves.

“What’s forever?”

“This.”

“You walk so well!” He looks delighted. Like he’s encountered somebody’s adorable pet wearing an even more adorable sweater, or a child brushing the dust off their knees after falling, then hopping back on their training-wheeled bike.

Another man enters the store, strides between the two of you, now with a gap of only two or three inches between his body and yours. You could trip him with your cane if you were more aware of your surroundings. But the senses are dulled, cognition waning.

Continue the blank stare. If your brows furrow, your frames hide them.

“You don’t know me,” you say. “You don’t know anything about me, about my body or my history or my life.”

He doesn’t understand.

“But you look good!”

You’re wearing a purple hoodie and pale-brown-plum tweed blazer over a size large Marilyn Manson t-shirt, Holy Wood era, black denim shorts cut just above-the-knee, frayed, and leopard print tights. You’ve never not been followed by security in drugstores, especially this one. A hostile environment, especially this one.

Even with the mask on – it’s lavender, you’ve used medical masks to navigate the world for a long time – you need to get the fuck out of the perfume section, always located at the goddamned entrance, if you wish not to be forced to return to bed when you get home.

Now the expression on your face is questioning, perplexed. The two of you are participating in entirely different conversations with one another. You want him to feel embarrassed, but he doesn’t. You want him to see the way you’ll be limping if you’re even able to find the food you need, but he won’t. You want him to see the array of prescriptions, the revelatory therapy sessions, the x-rays & MRI’s & surgery & vomit. The years in bed. Everything you wrote.

You accept the hand sanitizer, spritz!, make sure to put some on your cane – that weapon, that middle finger, that begrudging character in so many stories. And you wander off, dazed, almost forgetting why you are here.

{image description: Photo framed as above, but now my left hand holds the red notebook open. ‘body’ tattoo visible on my lower left fingers, handwritten. Corners of the cream pages are rounded. No writing on the pages yet. On the left page, I’ve stamped my name and mailing address, and on the right, top corner, I’ve stamped the date – 11 APR 2020, my trusty librarian rubber stamp. Rectangle-shaped stickers with violet-hued photographic images are on each page. The stickers on the address page show dried blossoms in glass bottles, jewelry draped over a person’s collarbones, a stucco motel at dusk with the windows lit up, and a sign that says, ‘Elevator’. Sticker on the dated page shows a hand holding a round mirror, a face softly reflected, arms held over a cross-legged body.}

***

In mid-March, I went for a long walk. The city was shutting down. The streets were empty. Businesses that are closed now were still open, offering take-out and delivery, and some people were wearing masks, but not many. I had yet to dig out my lavender medical masks from my closest, buried under boxfuls of paperwork and zines and snail mail and other heavy things. I’d purchased a box years ago, when I could barely breathe and was mostly housebound, environmental illness, allergic to everything. Even at home, inside, I had to wear a mask. The cigarette smoke of my neighbours, the exhaust of passing and idling vehicles, polluted my lungs, my head, and caused days-long migraines. In my bachelorex, there was no escape. Only masks, blankets, essential oils, pills, desperation. I have the same allergies now, the same sensitivities, the same symptoms – but they’re less intense. Mannequins in storefront displays were wearing masks, too. I was wearing a thick pinstripe scarf tied around my head and across my face.

“They’re gonna become fashionable,” I told my partner.

We tried to keep an adequate distance from the sparse parade of pedestrians – sometimes they tried, too. Then, as now, the worst of these encounters have been couples who refuse to walk single file for a sec, and joggers. I’m not sure where their sense of entitlement comes from. I feel agitated when me and someone else make distance on the sidewalk, and then a jogger or two breeze right between us, as if we were clearing space for them. No. No we were not.

I try to follow my thoughts and my urges. Angry thoughts, violent urges. And compassionate thoughts and friendly urges. Of these two poles, and the complexities between and around them, I do not lack. I’ve been kind, and I’ve been passive-aggressive, too. I’ve muttered sarcasm under my breath – like when I was physically shoved in a produce market while gathering fresh greens and bananas, by somebody who was purchasing a bouquet of flowers. And I did feel judgemental in that moment, inwardly criticizing how essential these flowers were, how essential being out and refraining from physical distancing was, to acquire a bouquet of flowers. Despite knowing damned well flowers are important at the best of times and at the worst. Despite not knowing if they were buying flowers for themself for the hell of it, or flowers for a suffering or dying friend. Foolishly, I’d hoped that my cane and my mask might indicate illness, might indicate the necessity of physical distance.

This has never been true for me, so I don’t know why I’d have such high expectations now.

{image description: A bright neon neon sign, which spells out: COFFEE. Hot pink letters glow through the window of a small café with a lavender-painted exterior. Sign is at the top of the window, camera pointed upward, showing a flat roof and a corner of the sky. In between the drainpipe and the wall, a small teddy bear hangs in the balance, waving.}

{image description: It may’ve been on that walk that I found two plants to bring home. Two cactus in small planters sit on my desk, a chunk of amethyst beside them, and a small plastic gold star, found on the floor of the yoga studio I was attending until the shutdown. The smaller cactus on the right is a Moon Cactus, hot pink on top. The taller cactus on the left is a variety I don’t know the name of, thin and green cluster with purple on top.}

{image description: Photo taken in Kensington Market. A building under construction, fenced behind blue tarp that’s been graffitied with spraypaint. One half of a splt house turned storefront has its guts exposed after the other half has been demolished. Beams, plywood, drywall, and insulation are visible. To the right, the edge of the building next door is seen: brick painted black, a security camera mounted to the wall. Condos rise in the background: stark, glass, grey, blank.}

{image description: Another storefront, closed and left behind, but not empty quite yet. Behind the glass, bare white chairs are visible. Turquoise letters on the window, all caps. in a branded design that irks me every time I see it, declare: TORONTO IS FOR EVERYBODY. Everytime I see this logo – mostly on t-shirts and sweatshirts of city residents on busy sidewalks – I think, No. Toronto is not for everybody. Toronto evicts everybody. Toronto hates everybody. Toronto is a hostile, unkind, unaffordable, and inaccessible city. One must have a certain kind of wealth, affluence, a certain kind of obliviousness, to read a slogan like this and feel it resonate. There are three red signs propped up at the bottom of the window. One says ‘FOR LEASE’. By a company simply named, ‘LandLord’. The other sign shows a name and contact information. The third sign says, ‘No smoking in this area’. When I was walking by and spotted the nigh empty space, the real estate signs, I was amused by the idea of ‘Toronto is for Everybody’ facing eviction, or being pushed out by increased rent.}

{image description: Another construction site. Photo taken at Bloor and Bathurst, where Honest Ed’s used to be. Foundations dug twenty feet deep with scaffolding and other construction in-process throughout. To the right, exposed brick walls of the building next door where, potentially, the facade of old Toronto architecture is being maintained. Behind the foundation-in-process, the backs of the old houses that were the galleries, cafés, bars, the crystal shop, etc of Mirvish Village, are exposed. Torn up walls, graffiti, etc. Two walls of the foundation are lined with orange tarp. A crane rises from the site, extending beyond the frame of the photo.}

{image description: Nearby, bouquets of synthetic white flowers are wrapped around a hydro pole at the side of the road. Daisies and other blooms, green leaves. Road and skies are clear and grey. To the right, the walls of a yellow brick trick renovated into a theatre, are visible. There’s a large poster for a performance of Cabaret.}

{image description: Camera aims upward, showing a yellow ‘NO EXIT’ sign on a silver-grey hydro pole. In the background, a grey, cloudy sky, and the bare branches of a few trees. On the left, a three-story red brick building, with a café on the main floor, and apartments above. The storefront is painted white, with doodles of teapots, cheesecake, baking utensils, etc. Shortly before I’d walked by here, I’d read an article about how the owner, struggling to get the new business open at all, had been engaged in a fight with the city to use the corner sidewalk as a private patio for customers only, instead of as a public, communal space. The owner won. It’s private. I decided I would never go there. Love of cheesecake be damned.}

{image description: A series of storefronts in Kensington Market, each with For Lease signs, walls tagged with spraypaint. One wall is beige stucco, the other is brick painted black. Two of my most-despised Toronto aesthetics. Between the two storefronts is a wooden gate blocking entrance to the alleyway. Layers of messy paint, graffiti, etc.}

***

In March, I realized I’d been on disability for thirteen years. One of those magical numbers. I no longer refer to any anniversary in my life as good or bad. At least, I’m trying not to. Over the years, I’ve had practices of noting/noticing those dates on my calendar, and making Cope Ahead plans – dreading the date in some way due to the meaning I’d attached to it. I was often contemplative, wanting to take in the changes that had happened between then and now, wanting it to add up to something. As if the math of a calendar days passing by could mean something, something I could know and remember and hold onto. Only last Autumn was it suggested to me that these dates are neither good or bad. They just are.

I wanted thirteen years on Disability (and a season on welfare preceding) to mean something. It didn’t. Maybe fight or survival or outcast. But nothing coherent came to me, and that’s all right.

Anyway, it was shortly after those thoughts that the COVID-19 crisis became more visible in the city, self-isolation was recommended, and everywhere began shutting down. That’s meant something to those of us on social assistance, too. Outcasts fighting for survival, always. And I/we became observers (and victims of) non-disabled people’s terror of sickness and disability, their terror of lack, of food insecurity, their terror of physical and social isolation. Ordinary daily experiences for us since fucking forever, but new and novel and frightening to them. The way they hoard, the way they panic. Their entitlement. The way they break down at a change in routine – a change in meaning, in purpose. Haunted by the spectre of disability.

But I am friends with ghosts.

I happened to have stocked up on most of the groceries I needed shortly before the usual deliveries I ordered became impossible. I’d also ordered a small box of my favourite pens, since the art supply store had been out of stock for a while, and my compulsive collecting of blank notebooks has been a useful survival skill, too. Postage stamps are always on hand. Then schools were closed, which resulted in drastic changes to daily routines – although I haven’t been a student for twenty years, my primary partner is a full-time father with a former wife who works as a school teacher, so they’ve been directly impacted in myriad ways. For me, it’s indirect. I’m at home as often as ever, and I’m obligated to nearly no one but myself.

Like most, my exposure to how people are responding to… *vague, sweeping hand gestures* …All of This has been through social media feeds. Throughout March, I was triggered frequently. “Legitimately Triggered,” I sometimes say, a term that began as a joke with a friend many years ago, and stuck. To make a distinction between the way a trigger happens with someone with c-(p)TSD, and the way the word “triggered” can be overused when a more accurate term might be more like: agitated, irritated, upset, angry, enraged, sad, depressed, grief-stricken, or, like, having a memory I’d rather not just now, etc. vs. experiences of dissociation, self-harm, out-of-body, numbness, etc. (This, too, is why I use content notes rather than trigger warnings in my writing.)

I was thinking about trauma and grief – and experiencing trauma and grief (many of us are right now, though our nervous might be responding in radically different ways from one another, and we may be coping in radically different ways, too). The grief of disability, chronic illness, and madness in and of themselves, and then the grief of loss and inaccessibility, too. They come to me in waves. I don’t know when or how I’ll be reminded, or when and how I’ll be triggered or otherwise activated. When that happens, I remind myself of what I’m grateful for, too; what I like about being disabled, sick, poor. Alienated or outcast. (I like the way the words alienated and outcast function as both verbs and nouns.) I think about what I’ve learned through being housebound, bedbound. What words, images, politics, emotions, literature, embodied-knowledge, etc. I’ve come to connect with. When I couldn’t access food, transit, love, care, friendship, library books. When I had to crawl. The skills I’ve learned. Everything I know that non-disabled people can’t. Crip wisdom. You know what I mean.

It’s been distressing to witness so many individuals and institutions suddenly able (and excited!) to provide the kinds of accessibility and mutual aid they’re now organizing, when so many are historically and continuously reluctant to do so, avoidant, ignorant – when they’d so constantly refused to become accessible to and supportive of disabled comrades.

As I witnessed this, one observation of note I made was on the experience of sickness and disability, vs. the spectre of disability. I wondered if (and strongly felt that) those individuals and institutions who were now offering forms of accessibility they hadn’t been willing to devote their resolve and energy to in the past were/are doing so because they hate sick and disabled people. We were cast out, and then when those individuals and institutions casting us out saw their own risk of becoming sick and disabled, accessibility gained importance. Within days, they made changes some of us had been demanding for generations.

Again, I remind myself of everything I’ve learned and continue to learn through lack of access, through being left behind. (What does that lack of access make space for? What takes its place? Where am I left behind? Left behind with what, with who?)

As it happened, as I began to learn about the coronavirus and COVID-19, I was reminded of some of the ways my own illness happened, what certain phases looked and felt like. There’s no true beginning to my illness – physical or emotional – because I was never a person in optimal health, never a person considered “well-adjusted” or “well-behaved” and because there wasn’t single event that injured me or traumatized me. Complex, chronic, you know. But there were, and continue to be, stages throughout my experience of fibromyalgia, of chronic fatigue, and of environmental illness.

In my early-20’s – a so-far lifetime of poverty, food insecurity, social isolation, and institutional trauma had already caused me to develop chronic pain and fatigue. While I was traveling via Megabus – the magical $1 tickets were still available and not difficult to stumble into – I contracted what was either a flu or mono, and I was unable to access adequate care. I was traveling from Guelph to Toronto (bus transfer) to New York City (Feminist Zinefest 2012), back to Toronto, then to Chicago (Chicago Zinefest 2012), then Toronto, then the outskirts of Lindsay (my hometown), then back to my current home in Guelph. By the time I reached New York City, I was becoming symptomatic. I may’ve brought the illness with me from Guelph (although no one I’d spent time with in those days got sick, and I’d been making out and playing and dancing and stuff)), or I may’ve picked it up on the Megabus or in New York. I’ll never know where it originated, and back then, I also didn’t know that I would not recover.

I didn’t know what I was sick with and I couldn’t find out because I was in the so-called states. The onset was sudden: I was so fatigued that I could barely walk, barely stand. And when I tried to do those things, I’d become short of breath – not briefly winded, like when you run to catch a bus, but literally unable to breathe. I lost my appetite and I lost my voice. I bought bottles of cough syrup and drank them like juice. People walked too quickly, way ahead of me, and when I tried to tell them to slow down – it was my first time in NYC, and it was before I had a smartphone, ie a map – I didn’t have the voice, nor the breath. I remember that enraged feeling of being left behind and being unheard, and I didn’t know it wasn’t gonna be just a particularly lousy week or so.

That was eight years ago. In between NYC and Chicago, I began craving meat – I’d been vegan for a few years – and when I finally decided to eat meat again, it was a chicken sandwich from a past-midnight convenience store on a rural highway. I’d become physically weak in a way I hadn’t before, and my energy never returned. I was already sick and crazy, and I’d already been writing about it for a long time. But this impacted Everything Forever.

Contemplating this sickness-process, that it became chronic in a way I couldn’t have predicted at the same time, I found myself pondering those who will contract COVID-19, get tremendously and unspeakably sick, and then recover. Sorta. But who’ll also notice at some point that they haven’t fully recovered. Their lives will marked by their unexpected illness, and they’ll remember their pre-COVID years as they adapt to their post-COVID years.

We’ll be welcoming newly sick and disabled people into our worlds.

Queer crips, notably queer crips of colour, talk about the idea of ‘crip doulas’. People with lived experiences of sickness and disability who can welcome those newly sick & disabled, guide them into these realms, offer care and support and trusted people to rage with, offer ideas and politics and dreams and ways of living that were not available to them before they became sick and disabled. It’s something I didn’t have as I became more sick, and as my mobility because significantly limited. The kind of trip I was able to do in 2012 is not one I’ve been able to do since, and it’s not likely one I’ll regain the ability to do.

When I was traveling, I was with my twin, and we stayed in the beautiful apartments of zinesters and artists I hadn’t met before – some I’d been corresponding with beforehand, some not. I became bedbound in their homes, voiceless, exhausted, and hopelessly disoriented. I worried about being the very worst guest. But there was nothing I could do about it.

{image description: Another empty storefront of beige stucco with a For Lease sign in the window. The front of the building is plain. Big windows, sliding glass doors, concrete. The side of the building, where there’s a small gravel alley, is painted with a mural of a blue-skinned femme, profile shown, wearing black sunglasses, flowing dreads tied up behind a pair of goggles repurposed as a headband. Down the road, a series of A-frame houses with porches, shrubs, trees with bare branches.}

{image description: Close-up of a note written on a sheet of white paper and taped to the bottom corner of a storefront window. “CLOSED DUE TO FiRE UNTiL FURTHER NOTiCE. Twitter @kensingtonfruit.” Windowframe is painted green. Window is blocked with brown paper.}

{image description: The view when I turn from the window above and look across the street. Another independently-owned produce market in Kensington Market, on a corner, also closed. Boarded up, painted black, and freshly tagged. Real estate signs are wrapped around the awning. An empty sidewalk wraps around the building, with a No Parking sign and a yellow fire hydrant. A row of A-framed houses with porches lines the street. At the left of the frame, the back of a delivery truck is visible, silver.}

{image description: Another brick storefront painted black, another For Lease sign in the empty window. Behind the window are black bars and a black curtain. The storefront has been tagged with white spraypaint.}

{image description: A red brick building on a concrete corner, with a step to the glass door entrance, and a step to the sidewalk patio, black gate open to the space, where there is construction equipment rather than tables and chairs. The floor-to-ceiling windows are hidden with newspapers taped to them. Newspapers also cover the front door and windows. There are gaps where bricks have fallen off the building, and discolouration where old signs have been removed. Toward the back, remnants of a past mural.}

{image description: Another empty storefront, white bars and white curtain behind the window, with a red For Rent sign propped against the sill. Storefront is otherwise various shades of brown, with glass doors. Graffiti tags everywhere, including, in red paint above the rent sign, ‘GHOST’.}

{image description: Another empty storefront on another city corner. This place used to be a cash-only used bookstore with an interesting but generally-cranky old lady behind the counter. I say that without disdain – her crankiness is valid, I’m sure she earned it and then some. Red brick building with entrance on a diagonal, and a pillar painted blue in front, with a step to the doors. For a long time, there was a going-out-of-business sale in the window, with all books 50% off. One day, when I went in to gather discounted paperbacks, I heard a fellow come in and ask the old lady something like, ‘How’s it going?’ Her response: “You saw the sign outside. Whatta you think?” Now, in the photo, all the signs are gone, the name of the bookstore is gone, and the tall windows have been painted, blotted out with solid brown. Next door, attached: brick painted black, a black door, an empty window. Bikes locked to an empty bike rack. A small amount of snow melting on the sidewalk.}

{image description: A commissioned mural on the side of yet another brick building painted black. Once a storefront, it’s now a real estate office. The mural shows a woman with pale brown skin and long, flowing purple hair riding a bike, a vintage cruiser. I think the mural has been here for a year or two – but I don’t fully trust my memory with placing it on a timeline. Anyway, it’s something I noticed one day and felt drawn toward, until my eyes gazed upward and read the Re/Max logo installed above, thick red and blue allcaps, with gallery lights above, aiming downward to keep the logo lit up at night. Then I became enraged, especially as I imagined the consultation process: the idea of real estate agents and advertising / marketing professionals collaborating with artists to develop an aesthetic that’d somehow resonate with downtown yuppies considering home ownership. And they came up with a purple-haired punk in a violet crop top and blue jeans, purple Converse-style shoes with lavender socks merrily biking along the Toronto city skyline, her bike basket filled with… HOUSES. Then, too, I noticed the white, round security camera installed on the black brick, watching the scene. These thoughts become repetitive each time I walk by… and it’s close to home, so I see it often. To the left side of the frame, faceless pedestrians stroll by.}

{image description: A closer view of part of the mural: the girl on the bike, the basketful of houses, the logo for the real estate agency. Also, the security camera. Cloudy skies above, high-contrast.}

{image description: Close-up of a sign in the window of the main storefront, around the corner from the mural. The sign is red and white. It reads: SMILE. YOU ARE BEING FILMED.}

***

As noted in previous writings, some of the ‘allowances’ on my monthly disability income are being reviewed. I applied for the Special Diet allowance, citing lactose-intolerance, and was approved for another $30/month, but my travel allowance, which typically covers the cost of a monthly Metropass, was scaled by $50. That means that even though I was approved for an allowance I didn’t have before, my monthly income is still slightly lower than it was in December 2019. If one does not agree with the decision made in a review, there’s thirty days in which we can file an appeal. With the appeal forms unavailable to me (no wifi, no printer, no walk-ins with caseworkers), I wrote a letter.

“[caseworker’s name],

I am writing to request an internal review. For several years, I’ve been receiving the travel benefit, which covers the cost of a monthly Metropass. Despite the cost now being over $150.00 per month, my benefit was reduced to $110.50 when I was due to reapply. I think this reduction is unjustified, absurd, and cruel.

Having to reapply for benefits when the conditions I live with are permanent is humiliating enough – being forced to live on less is that much worse. Not only during this time of isolation and increased food insecurity and lack of supports for disabled people, including the need for transit rides, cab rides, etc., to access basic needs, which were already so difficult to begin with, but in general – to reduce my already unliveable income is a cheap and callous thing for somebody to make the decision to do. Please reinstate the full travel benefit immediately.

Thank you.

P.S.: Without an internet connection or printer at home, due to the shutdown, I cannot access the Appeal Form. Please accept the letter enclosed.”

Years ago, before I had a doctor in the same city where I lived, I was granted this benefit every few months to cover traveling to and from my hometown to see my family doctor for prescriptions and refills. It was inadequate back then – they covered the cost of travel to my hometown, but not the return to where I lived – but at least it was something. And again, still, at least it’s something. But reducing such an income is so unnecessary, and the process itself, as noted above, as detailed in so much of my writing, is not only tremendously tedious, but humiliating, too. And even though I’d recently been accepted for the Special Diet benefit, my total monthly income is still reduced from what it was in December 2019.

The letter is in the mail. I’m awaiting response…

{image description: The P.S. written above, handwritten in black ink on the back of a sealed white envelope. The envelope is laid flat on my purple desk, my left hand holding it down. Envelope is sealed with squirrel-and-acorn-themed deco tape.}

***

{image description: A wooden bench painted green. Long, built before hostile design had become so ubiquitous in Toronto. In all caps black Sharpie along the back, someone has written, LIFE IS A HEIST. Like many innocuous ‘signs’ in the city, it’s become a point of contemplation for me. Resting on the bench is a pair of vibrant vintage leather gloves, purple. A gift from a friend, passed onto them from a now deceased grandmother.}

Recently, a friend of mine in the city texted me to tell me she’d used her new cane for the first time that day. “A lot of people stared at me,” she wrote. “Is that normal?”

Unfortunately, yeah. They’ll stare, they’ll comment, they’ll ask intrusive questions. “You’ll find a thousand ways to tell them to fuck off,” I wrote. “Most people can’t fathom why a young person would need a cane, and they have few qualms about asking personal questions.”

Two years ago, I wrote about seven years of sobriety and the Six of Swords in my See the Cripple Dance column. On April 20th, I celebrated nine years sober. Nine years sober! I celebrated by making cocktails with a kit gifted to me by Audra and Haritha at Temperance Cocktails. I mixed The Tower (containing tamarind, smoked tea, cinnamon, cardamom, and lime), and my partner mixed The Empress (containing hibiscus, rosehip, verjus rouge, and blackcurrant). Last Summer, while my grandparents were cleaning out their little home after they sold it and moved into a retirement home, they passed onto me some furniture my Poppa had built, some books and trinkets, etc. Among those items was an emerald green punch bowl set – so vintage it included a matching ashtray! The set has been sitting on top of my kitchen cupboards, looking pretty and gathering dust. On my soberiversary, I finally retrieved two glasses from which we drank.

{image description: My left hand holds onto two small glass bottles with gold lids. Each bottle has a wraparound label with a Tarot card, illustrated by Cindy Fan. One bottle is The Empress, a figure painted white with rosy cheeks, dressed in deep fuchsia, a monarch butterfly and pale blossoms over her shoulder. The other bottle is Fortitude (aka Strength), a brown-skinned figure with a long, black beard flowing over his shoulder, wearing a white turban, with almost-bare branches in the background, and a tiger at his side. In the background of the photo, my rumpled sheets of violet florals and plum damask is seen, out-of-focus.}

{image description: Framed as previous photo, but bottles are The Tower and The Fool, left and right. The Tower shows a stormy scene, a clock tower struck by lightning. The Fool shows a futuristic figure, a painted human body holding a fan, preparing for adventure, for new worlds and experiences.}

{image description: A selfie! I am seen from the shoulders up – wearing a black & white v-necked floral dress, a lavender cardigan, and no jewelry. One hand is held to my pale chest – I’m wearing a pinkish-red shade of nailpolish called Mad Women. My hair, deep-purplish but faded, has grown longer than it has since childhood, a few inches below my shoulders, and I’ve got a fresh sideshave. I’m wearing an old pair of glasses from my mid-20’s, black frames with a silver heart to the edge of each eye. In the background, a lavender wall, and plants on top of a bookshelf – a butterfly lavender plant in a purple pot, and a cactus. On the wall, a screenprint of a hand holding onto lilacs. From the top of the frame, the bottom of a poster from The Collective Tarot is seen: Seeker of Bones, aka Page of Pentacles. I am unsmiling, soft purple lipstick, chin up. Hazel eyes, no eye make-up.}

It was when my friend texted me about her new cane that I realized my cane-anniversary was happening, too – I forget the exact date and I’m not in the mood to dig out those journals (oh! April 15th, according to my blog, when I wrote just another genderqueer femme with a cane), but I do remember buying my first cane at the drugstore in April. Six years ago, a couple months before I deactivated my Facebook account. I’d needed a cane for a long time and I knew it. As a form of self-accountability, I posted a status update telling anybody who cared to read it that I PROMISE TO FIIINALLY GET A FUCKING CANE TOMORROW NO MATTER WHAT. Being obligated to update when I did so was the motivation I needed. I don’t remember who or how many people commented, ‘liked’, and encouraged me, and as I type this out, I wonder who among them are still in my life today, still a friend.

When I deactivated my account, I didn’t know I was making a permanent decision. I’d deleted my account before – usually when I was distressed, activated, and/or suicidal. This time, my mental health was still a factor, of course, but I think back then I had ‘self-care’ on my mind moreso than ‘pure rage’. It was meant to be for a month or for a season or somesuch, I think. Anyway, I never felt the urge to reactivate my account, and the more time goes on, the more I know that doing so would be a disaster.

{image description: In the centre of the paved parking lot of the laundromat around the corner from my place – which I haven’t been using since the shutdown – lies a classic black witch hat, pointed tip aimed at the sky. In the background, a scuffed up wooden bench painted blue and white sits against a yellow brick wall. That day, I’d stepped out of my apartment briefly and encountered an inquisitive black cat who often makes appearances in the alleyway behind my home, who I hadn’t since Autumn. I have fed this cat on occasion, let it nuzzle against me. The cat was wearing a red collar, peering at me from around a corner. It felt like a sign, as these things do, and when I turned another corner and spotted the witch hat, I just had a good feeling, a feeling of comfort and silliness – much-needed right now.}

A couple years ago, I was commissioned to write an essay for an anthology called Becoming Dangerous: Witchy Femmes, Queer Conjurers and Magical Rebels on Summoning the Power to Resist, and I chose to write about such signs. Envisioning myself as a black cat, a visualization that helps me cope with being outside and in the world, especially when I’m in pain, when I’m anxious, when I’m sick, etc. Crossing the paths of the people around me, good luck to some, a curse to others. I wrote about my slow, crooked body, and about dumpsters. I named the essay Trash Magic: Signs & Rituals for the Unwanted. I learned a few days ago that the small press that published this anthology, among others, is closing. Fiction & Feeling, like so many, cannot afford to stay afloat during the pandemic. Until May 2nd, you can still purchase their books – which I very much encourage you to do – and then, no longer. If you already have a copy, consider ordering another to add to your local library, or to give to a friend or a partner. Trash-Magic is one of my pieces that I love the most. Some of the authors who’ve contributed to this collection are: Catherine Hernandez, Avery Edison, Gabriela Herstik, Mey Rude, Larissa Pham, Sophie Saint Thomas, Kim Boekbinder, Leigh Alexander, and more.

{image description: A hydro pole slashes through the middle of the frame, the bottom and the top outside the frame. Camera is aimed upward, showing bright blue skies with fluffy white clouds. A yellow traffic sign with bold black letters is posted on the hydro pole. It says: SLOW. When I started using a cane, I also started taking pictures of signs that urge slowness, as well as lanes and parking lots where SLOW is painted on the concrete. The top of a garage is visible to the left. I took this picture while walking through an empty alleyway on a sunny but chilly day.}

{image description: The lavender plant that appeared in my selfie above, closer-up. Butterfly lavender blooms in a purple pot, with aforementioned cactus plant and lilac print. To the left, sun shines brightly through a dusty-rose lace curtain. One of my sure signs of Spring is the first day of the season when I bring a lavender plant home. Garden centres et al are closed right now, but there are some nearby convenience stores that sell plants, seeds, and soil, for which I am grateful.}

There are certain flowers that have become particularly important to me right now because they show the passage of time – they embody the passage of time. I’m someone who often relies on tangible evidence of intangible things as a way to place myself, to hold memories and processes, to dissociate less, have anchors to return to when I am unmoored or adrift. A kind of orientation around objects – be they found rocks, florals, bones, etc. Taking pictures helps.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been watching the daffodils that grow under my window. I didn’t plant them. The bulbs of daffodils and tulips were planted before I moved here, and during my six years in this apartment, the ground between the windows and sidewalks has been neglected and ignored, consisting of so-called weeds, some not-very-healthy-looking boxbush shrubs, garbage, always garbage, dog shit, broken glass, and cigarette butts. Once, while afore-mentioned friend-with-a-new-cane were cleaning up the garbage, I found the skull of a squirrel! Then the daffodils and tulips, perennials, and sometimes scattered sweet violets and star-shaped pale purple flowers low-to-the-ground. Last year, I started planting a garden. Herbs, vegetables, and berries. Also neglected at times, but with dreams and futures and more time to devote, especially now. There’s always the first day that I notice the tiniest little green shoots emerging from the ground. Yes, I take pictures. And then I check on them everyday from then on.

In my rare and brief excursions around the city – small trips to check my p.o. and send mail, ordinary errands turned that much more stressful, etc. – I noticed everybody else’s daffodils blooming first, bright sunshine mango butter petals opening to the sun, the sky, stalks held upward. At home, my daffodils had grown tall, but drooped downward, their petals still cocooned, melancholy and morose.

It was on April 20th, a Monday / Moon Day, my soberiversary, that the first daffodil opened up. I saw it from my window first, the only open flower among the bunch, and I smiled.

{image description: A close-up of a bright yellow daffodil. I’m holding it in my left hand to show off its petals – otherwise, it droops back to the ground, refusing to face me, let alone the camera. Even daffodils can be goth, yes. Bright yellow, pointy petals (I accidentally typed ‘portals’), layered and lush, turned slightly to the left. In the background, dirt, tall green leaves, and closed tulips, not ready to be seen just yet.}

The next day, I awoke to bright sun. But as I sat at my desk, gazing out the window, unsure where to focus (creatively, emotionally), the atmosphere turned grey, and suddenly: hail! The second hail I’d witnessed in the early days of Spring, gathering on the damp-dead-leaf sludge at the edges of the road, glowing white against the rot, and then whistling winds sending the hail sideways. This lasted only for a few minutes. Over before noon. Sunshine again.

A cliché to compare weather to moods. Twelve or thirteen years ago, when counselors leading group therapy at various hospitals made this observation, I heard it as invalidating. It felt over-simplistic and limiting. Their comparisons had been drawn from workbooks and modalities influenced by Buddhism 101, and then shared without context – to say the least. No wonder it didn’t resonate. No wonder I was labeled ‘non-compliant’ and couldn’t hear these analogies without eye-rolls, laughter, intense disagreement. They tried to teach us the difference between feelings and action – but I was unable to make much of a distinction back then. They tried to tell us that ‘suicidal’ was a thought, not a feeling. I still disagree. It’s both/and both/and both/and.

But the weather thing. The clouds in the sky, the leaves on a river, you know. Sometimes it resonates. It wouldn’t have, for me, without knowledge gathered and observed and felt through therapy, through somatics and yoga and meditation, through disability and madness and strange persistence, through study and practice and alienation.

Isolatingly 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! ALSO! I have a Patreon now! Please join me.

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Chaotic Fatigue, or Ordinary Humiliation of Disabled Bodyminds

{content note: suicidal ideation}

{another note: I wrote most of this piece before the COVID-19 global health crisis was being taken seriously within so-called canada. Meaning, the following exploration of the tedium and humiliation of disabled bodyminds, of moving through the city, through waiting rooms and appointments, and through unwanted conversations, happens before our late-Winter & early-Spring & however-long experiences of recommended or required self-isolation began. That’ll be explored in the future, though I can say now that the tedium, humiliation, unwanted conversations have increased, as well as the actual pain, and the rage and alienation I often feel with regards to non-disabled and non-sick people.}

{another note again: Interspersed throughout this piece are slightly-edited versions of shorter works I’d originally published as locked entries on my Patreon page.}

{and another note again again: I thought about words that convey the opposite of ordinary, and the opposite of humiliation, but I just haven’t been feeling it these days, so it seemed disingenuous to pretend that I am.}

At the pharmacy, I was thinking about the role of humiliation for disabled bodies, the unavoidability of humiliation. The day before, I’d called to have prescriptions refilled. They asked which ones. I told them whatever refills are on my file, but the two most important ones are Cymbalta and Seroquel, which I take every night. If I miss a dose, withdrawal happens immediately – I don’t sleep, pain increases, appetite diminishes. Then I become nauseous, then migraine, then bedbound. Then two or three days of sickness and recovery during which I am barely functioning.

Last time I’d seen my doctor was mid-December. I’d been instructed to return in a month; I’d been given two new prescriptions after a pinched nerve in my shoulder (after finishing this piece, I also pinched a nerve in my neck!), and my doctor wanted to know how the meds – Lyrica and Naproxen – had effected me. During that appointment, I’d told her that even when I’m mobile, even though her office is close to home, one reason I have a hard time making appointments and maintaining emotional equilibrium while I’m there is that there’s only one route to take, and the route begins by passing empty old rooming houses from which tenants have been or are being evicted, and then a long series of condos in the process of being built, altering the skyline, casting shadows, longer shadows each time I walk through, pushing out people who belong in the city but now have nowhere to go. I’ve been walking (or taking public transit, or taking WheelTrans) to her office for five years, and the neighbourhood becomes more hostile, more depressing, more frightening, every time.

{image description: Looking downward at my feet and cane on the ground. Concrete sidewalk, grey. Black boots, black tights, lavender cane. On the ground is a fallen flier. The Monopoly Game Man holds a piece of paper and a hammer. He stomps on houses. Text reads: I’VE SEEN THE FUTURE. I CAN’T AFFORD IT.}

She knew what I meant. I had a feeling I wasn’t the only client who’d told her this. From what I can observe from the waiting room and the pharmacy, the building she works in serves a variety of queer and trans clients, poorer people, and then a larger multitude of straight yuppie couples with babies and young children, too. The business next door sells furniture designed exclusively for new condos, and then there’s an overcrowded and underfunded dome-style homeless shelter two blocks away that the wealthy new residents complain about. One direction takes me to the financial district – the other direction takes me to the ODSP office.

{image description: Taken at the ODSP office. A corner, white walls. A notice that we’re on camera, under surveillance. To the right, a green and white poster for a scent-free environment. Text reads: “HELP US KEEP THE AIR WE SHARE HEALTHY.” Symbols below indicate: no body spray, no perfume, no scented hand creams or skin care products, no laundry detergent, no scented hair products, no air fresheners.}

Now almost two months (three months?) have passed, and I haven’t returned to update her on the med situation. As a doctor, I like her. She hasn’t been perfect, and she’s made decisions about my care that I occasionally resent, but she’s one of very, very few doctors who’s listened to me, affirmed my knowledge of my own body, and hasn’t shamed me or condescended to me. She also appreciates my strange sense of humour, and asks me about my creative work. Because it’s queer Toronto, we even have a few friends and acquaintances in common, though we rarely discuss this. My file is flagged for thirty-minute appointments instead of the usual fifteen because my bodymind can’t squish all our issues into fifteen minutes, I often spend a good chunk of time crying, and I can’t cope with health care spaces that push me out or require me to hurry and to show no emotion. She encourages me to take notes and to bring notes – something I’ve actually had professionals actively discourage, which is so dangerous, irresponsible, and invalidating. She’s seen me when I can barely walk the thirty feet from the waiting room to her office, which is more than most people in my life have witnessed.

She usually remembers my pronouns, and frequently corrects others.

{image description: Photo taken on a grey day. To the left, bare-branched tree lining the street. To the right, the edge of a grey building with a wheatpasted poster of a face emerging from a triangle, looking up as if lying down. Lips, nose, and eyelashes extend beyond the frame. The wall around the poster drips paint in rainbow stripes.}

{image description: A boarded up brick building. The small yard is contained behind a blue metal fence to deter trespassers. Red brick, two stories tall. A bit of snow left on the ground. Empty storefront next door. Black leather loveseat with polished wooden arms on the sidewalk. A black bag of trash in the snow.}

When I went to the pharmacy the next day shortly after noon, after having been assured my prescriptions would be ready in the morning, the pharmacist told me they couldn’t find them. I suggested they look under both M and E because often people don’t understand that Elizabeth is my last name, and things get misplaced or misfiled. They searched more and the meds weren’t there.

It’s a body-feeling before words that happens within me during moments like this. The frustration of how often it happens yet how unpredictable it is, how I see a task on my to-do list, Pick-Up Meds, and I forget to think ahead for potential mishaps, to prepare myself, to rekindle some kind of emotional fortitude before these kinds of interactions. To take a fucking Xanax. Meditate? When I’m unprepared for something so banal, so common, in a disabled life, I find myself blaming myself.

*

On an earlier night…

“Why are you here?”

The night before the Full Moon in Leo, I went to a show. A friend from Montréal was staying with me for a few days, and after parting ways for the evening, we were meeting at the show late at night, with other friends invited, my partner at my side. Earlier in the day, I’d had an allergic reaction at the drugstore, so I was still coping with a headache, weakness, and a touch of nausea. Medicated, scamming a ride partway to the venue and walking the rest of the way. Along Ossington, another old building was boarded up and hidden behind a thin wall, the usual bold and austere branding printed on the boards. “You have PERMISSION to tag this wall.”

The structure was new – tagged only twice.

LANDLORDS ARE PARASITES.

PROPERTY DEVELOPERS ARE SCUM.

And I reached for the gold Sharpie in my coat pocket.

MURDER LITERALLY EVERY LANDLORD.

NO CONDOS ON STOLEN LAND.

At the venue, security at the door, two men.

“What happened?” one of them asked me.

“Open your backpack,” the other said.

My mouth dropped open, but I was silent. My cane. There were a lot of stories I could tell. I wanted to. I wanted to tell him stories and scare him away. Early childhood trauma, I could say, sexual trauma, long-term poverty

I’ve provided these answers before, these answers and more.

My brain was scrambled at the nuisance of it, the obliviousness. Words wouldn’t arrange themselves into a coherent order. Instead, I was seeing these thoughts in shapes, colours, and scenes. Not words.

He searched my backpack.

“You don’t have to answer,” he said.

“I KNOW,” I snapped back.

One was silent, watching, the other uncertain what to say next. I think he apologized.

“I’m used to it,” I said. “It’s forever, if you need to know. It’s not one thing that happened.”

He told me to be careful – for the second time. The slippery floor. Be careful. I know.

Inside, I walked through gathering crowds to find the chairs lined up along the wall, to sit down and take off my Winter layers. My partner sat beside me. We put our handknit scarves, my earmuffs, into my backpack, already full of notebooks and pens and meds, etc.

My friend who was staying with me found us, and we hugged. She’d changed her outfit, make-up, hair. We talked about all the cute goths.

“I left my lipstick at home,” I confessed.

“Use mine.”

Earlier, we’d been talking about cheap make-up. At the drugstore, the drugstore where I had an allergic reaction, I’d purchased a different brand of liquid and powder foundation than the cheap Cover Girl I’d been using since I was thirteen. My blemished skin had improved within a day and a half. My friend lent me a tube of MAC lipstick with a matching lipliner, a shade called Sin, and I applied it in the dark bathroom. Truly higher quality than what I’ve been wearing the last twenty years or so. I only have one tube of MAC lipstick of my own. The last time my friend was in town, she told me she’d found her fancy purse in a dumpster. I told her I dumpster a lot, but I’d never found anything as fancy as her purse. Then I went downstairs to the basement bathroom at the bar we were at, and somebody’d forgotten their designer make-up bag filled with designer cosmetics. I swiped the lipstick and lipliner, classic red, a shade named Cherry, barely used. When I came back upstairs, I showed it to her.

I admired my reflection in the small, grimy, graffitied mirror.

{image description: Selfie in a dirty mirror, in a tiny bathroom painted black. My reflection is obscured by shadows and white Sharpie, though a light bulb glows down on my face, my pale forehead, my dark lips. Black floral dress, round glasses, unsmiling, looking to the side, toward my camera, half of which is also reflected in the small mirror.}

The first band, dregqueen, who my friend told me were friends with my twin, started their set, and I emerged from the bathroom, ambled back toward the chairs where my partner was waiting. We stood up and held one another. I could see my friend dancing and I wanted to dance with her, but my body didn’t have the capacity that night. One hand on my cane, the other on my partner’s back, underneath his women’s leather jacket.

Black, lace, leather, florals.

The singer and I had similar Hedwig and the Angry Inch tattoos. I mean, so many of us do. I appreciate these sightings.

I sat down between sets, rested. Sore hips, as always. Inner thighs feeling bruised.

When the second band, Cloud Rat, started, we stood again, dancing vaguely. I held a firm but flexible stance, space between my feet, swaying my hips, cane to the ground, holding hands.

One person tripped over my cane, passing from behind me to find a place to watch the band close-up. The singer was screaming.

No apology.

Next song, somebody else tripped.

Nothing, no acknowledgement.

A kick against my cane, brushing against my arm, my body not a body but an object like a pillar or a coatrack, stumbled into as if I/it were in the way. Nobody looked back to see what or who they’d tripped on. It was a surprise each time, each person tripping against me (tripping me, pushing me) before they were within my line of sight, over my shoulder, a dark, noisy space.

When the next person, fourth or fifth, turned back briefly and apologized (after their partner had not), I thanked them. Thank you, instead of my usual No worries.

A song or two later, the couple left. Somebody else tripped on me, silent still.

The couple returned. The first person, as before, tripped on me, and then their partner tripped on me again. It wasn’t a crowded show. It was dark, but there was space. Everyone was dressed in black in this dark space. My cane is lavender, not invisible.

This time, each of them apologized, only because I was startled enough to yelp, and this seemed to make them uncomfortable (actually, I’d inadvertently shout-mumbled a mantra I usually repeat in silence, internal, ELBOWS UP / ICE PICK OUT). Like being questioned at the door, when the couple apologized, again, I was blank. Thoughts forming but not words.

My partner asked me how I was feeling.

When I inhaled, when I opened my mouth to respond, I cried instead.

“I’m not okay,” I said. “I’d rather go home.”

{image description: Returning on a different day, more graffiti had been added to the so-called Permission Wall, the cringe-branding. Some of it is meaningful to me, the same anger. Others are disappointing, almost laughable. In this image, somebody has used a black Sharpie to write on top of ‘PROPERTY DEVELOPERS ARE SCUM.’ Now it also says, ‘DON’T BE MEAN.’ I imagine it written by a trust fund artist who’d call the cops on their noisy neighbours, don’t you?}

{image description: The same wall. FEELINGSBOI sits, holds their knees to their chest. Their speech bubble says, “EAT THE RICH.”}

{image description: Nighttime shot when the wall only had a bit of graffiti.}

{image description: Daytime shot from across the street, showing the wall built around a corner building, two-story brick, painted a green-y beige. More graffiti accumulating.}

Struggled back into my Winter layers, crying. Holding my partner’s hand and walking ahead of him, guiding him through the crowds and down the hall and past security and out the door. The cold, drunk night.

I waited outside while he briefly returned to the venue to explain to my friend what happened, a small change of plans. He’d bring me home to cuddle, and leave when she returned. We were sharing my bed.

Often, the feeling is I don’t belong. The feeling is I am being pushed out.

It was the night before the Full Moon in Leo. Full Moons, the day before and after, I am exhausted. It’s a pattern. I try to be alone or as alone-as-possible on Full and New Moons.

Often, the impulse is to hurt myself. The impulse is to quit.

Like, Fine then. I will never go to another show.

My usual fantasy. Stabbing with the ice-pick clipped to the bottom of my cane. On the feet. Puncturing boots, disabling those who can’t see me.

Most of those thoughts were gone by the time I came home, by the time I fell asleep.

Sometimes the thoughts are too redundant for me to knowingly choose to cling to anymore. As the weekend continued, I followed updates from the Unist’ot’en Camp, the RCMP raids, the red dresses, the solidarity protests. With traintracks blocked across so-called canada, my friend wouldn’t be returning home to Montréal when planned. Neither of us minded, both in solidarity. Friends at the camp with broken phones. We were given another twenty-four hours together before she boarded a last-minute Megabus home. She’d read the entirety of the copy of Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall that I’d lent her.

“What happened?” doesn’t mean what happened. It means “Why are you here?”

*

“My mouth dropped open, but I was silent. My cane… Stories I could tell… My brain scrambled at the nuisance, the obliviousness. Words refused to arrange themselves, incoherent. Instead, seeing these thoughts in shapes, colours, scenes. Not words.”

This is how I felt again at the pharmacy, how I responded. The familiarity of the feeling, the frustration of it, the exhaustion. Need my body always be a topic of conversation? A topic of conversation with/for people I don’t know?

They could fill my prescription for Cymbalta while I waited, but they couldn’t fill my prescription for Seroquel for another two weeks. The other meds weren’t mentioned and I wasn’t gonna bring them up. They kept reminding me about the option for free delivery, but most times I’ve used it, there’s been a similar mistake, a kerfuffle, and I have to wait at my window all day and feel crazy and angry about everything and then act very polite.

With my limited mobility, if I walk to the pharmacy and my meds aren’t there, I cannot simply come back later. How could I forget that one small task can take me days? What is it like not to have to take these possibilities into consideration? Do pharmacists know Spoon Theory? I briefly wondered.

I stumbled through language. Used words I try to avoid, like always and never. This always happens! It’s never easy! I felt irritable and short-tempered, and I felt like a rude customer, and I apologized as it happened, still unable to find the words I wanted.

“It’s not personal, it’s just that every time I come to the pharmacy, I feel like I’m not-a-person.” Exasperated. I made a self-deprecating joke about not having taken a Xanax before coming down.

I stuffed the pill bottles into my backpack, put my mittens back on, and my partner and I left, walked to his place.

Back at home that night, late, I took the bottles from my backpack. Childproof caps, despite a request/demand on file for the last five years to use easy-open caps. Wrist-pain. Usually they forget. If I’m picking up my meds at the pharmacy, I’ll check, and then I’ll ask them to replace the caps. If it’s a delivery, I’ll remind them on the phone, but they’ll still sometimes forget. This time, I felt so flustered and aggravated, I forgot to check at all. The bottles were different sizes from the previous ones, so I couldn’t switch them on my own. Instead, I poured the pills into a Ziploc bag.

Another day, when I went back for the rest of my meds, the same thing happened. But I remembered to check, asked them to fix it.

*

The exhaustion of my body as a constant conversation. A conversation that changes within myself, but not without. An understanding of my body that others can’t see, or understand, or imagine. A confrontation with my body, a confrontation with non-disabled bodyminds, with professionals, with power, with paperwork, with permission.

A week or two earlier…

{image description: Looking downward at my feet at the ground. The sidewalks are snowy. Black boots, lavender cane held in my left hand, a TTC token between my forefinger and thumb. Fuchsia floral dress below-the-knee, black & grey-striped wool socks. A deep violet and forest green checkered wool coat. Black lace tights over fleece-lined purple tights.}

I was meant to have a phone date with a friend at noon and a meet-up with another friend in the evening, but the latter was canceled due to conflicting schedules and the former forgotten, didn’t respond to my texts. I didn’t feel let down this time. I was aware of so much else that needed to be done – when I think about every task, every appointment, every sheet of paperwork, every text and letter to respond to, my breath becomes short and shallow. Aside from my social plans, I wanted to write.

I don’t forget that I have chronic fatigue (I accidentally typed chaotic fatigue, which is not untrue), but I do forget to structure my life such that I’m taking my spoons seriously, and that time, more time than “normal”, is set aside for rest.

Maybe that’s it, the idea of setting time aside, instead of being within that time. Something else I hadn’t thought until I typed.

The day before, my planner said Rest. The day before that was intense. I’d participated in a day-long Imbolc ceremony, ending with me and thirteen others gathered, burning our prayer sticks in a small fire as we stated our intentions, a distillation of messages that had come to us throughout our discussions, meditations, and prayers. A new intention I’ve been repeating to myself each day since. I knew I’d need to sleep. There’d been a blustery storm. I was glad for the snow, the beauty of the snow, as there’s been so little in the city this season, but when I walk through it, my body requires more rest. So I didn’t set an alarm. I gave myself permission to sleep.

I was in bed after midnight and asleep until 1:30 the next afternoon. I journaled throughout the day, and I did nothing. I allowed myself to absorb wordless feelings, to not think about what’s next, what’s owed, etc. I was still drinking my “morning coffee” as the sun set, and I was ready to go back to bed at 10PM.

One of the many tasks on my to-do list was to contact ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) since I’d noticed that one part of my monthly allowance hadn’t been deposited into my account – the part that covers transit fare. I could’ve called them but it’s notoriously impossible to get through. I had mail to send, so after the post office, I went to the ODSP office. I hadn’t allowed myself to overthink it the way I often do, and I’m glad I didn’t, but that also resulted in not thinking ahead to take a Xanax, which I usually need to do for appointments in hostile or otherwise stressful settings, especially institutional settings, as with the not-yet-happened pharmacy incident described above.

Short line-up. I waited with the others. I stretched my sore legs, bent my sore hips. Looked around me at the posters on the walls, the notices of surveillance cameras, the frosted glass walls and closed doors. Framed paintings of city-scenes. A streetcar at night. The pain in my hips, thighs, and the backs of my legs increased, not necessarily from walking and then standing in line, but from the environment itself. I could crouch down to the floor as I have in the past, as I had around the fire on Sunday night. What stopped me.

When one of the receptionists called me to the desk, I explained my situation to him. I asked him if I was supposed to see my doctor and fill out forms again, or if I’d be able to talk to my caseworker and have the allowance approved of an reinstated. He told me I’d have to make an appointment with my doctor, have her fill out the forms, then deliver them to the office. He asked me when I needed the money.

“I need the money four days ago,” I said.

He asked me for ID.

Apologized for the time it took him to find me in the system.

“I spelled your name wrong,” he admitted, passing the card, the card where my name is spelled correctly, back to me. “I’m used to it being spelled M-I, not M-A.”

“It happens a lot,” I said, sliding the card into my wallet. “Maranda with an A, like Anne with an E.”

He was silent, then turned back to the computer screen.

I have a friend who invites me over to her place late at night, where we entangle ourselves together in her bed and watch Anne With An E, as many episodes as we can until our eyes will no longer stay open, until I know I’ll be a little bit sick the next day from staying up too late, taking my meds too late. We’ve promised to bring our Anne dolls with us next time, hold them while we watch, go to a thrift store together to find Anne dresses to wear. We always cry.

I was standing alone in the ODSP office making an Anne of Green Gables joke that nobody understood or cared about.

The receptionist told me he was uncertain after all. I should talk to my caseworker. He left a message with her, and I retreated to the waiting room, took a book out of my backpack to keep me company for the wait.

During the Imbolc ceremony, I’d talked about how reading Anne of Green Gables as a child might’ve been my initial foray into spirituality, how the character Anne Shirley-Cuthbert is still an obsession of mine, an influence.

I read three or four pages until a nearby door was opened, and a caseworker stepped out.

“I’m looking for somebody named… Maaarrrraaandaaaa…?”

“That’s me.”

Picked up my stuff, came into Interview Room #3. Sat across from one another at a large, empty table. Explained my predicament.

I was wearing my Winter layers, my backpack unzipped on the table, a black pen and the book I was reading placed beside it. Prostitute Laundry by Charlotte Shane. Red letters.

The caseworker assured me she’d have the money deposited into my bank account within two to three days. She told me to have my form filled out by my doctor, yes, but in the meantime, the transit fare allowance would be deposited into my account for the next three months.

I was kind but I must’ve appeared stressed. Flustered. Asking questions, voice shaky, scattered. I’d been through various forms of this process with her in the past. She didn’t remember me. Understandable. At the ODSP office, we are numbers. Often, we are numbers in distress. Beside the name on our forms, we’re required to write our “Member ID.”

We’re asked for our “Member ID” before our name if we get through on the phone. I’ve been on ODSP for thirteen years, and I won’t write it down, won’t remember it.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m not here to make you feel anxious.”

“I know,” I said. I remembered meeting her two years ago, a kerfuffle over the same allowance, the missed deposit with no notification in the mail. The same old common disasters of social assistance. “It’s the building, the space, the architecture that stresses me out. It’s the system that makes me feel anxious, not necessarily the individuals I interact with while navigating it.”

After our brief meeting, I sat in the waiting room for another few minutes. Assessing the situation, my mood, the relief of not having to fight so hard this time (just kidding – after writing this, part of the allowance was denied after all, and I have thirty days to request an appeal…). I took a selfie, and I texted a friend who’d also recently dropped by the ODSP office and texted me from the waiting room, telling me they literally wanted to die. Their partner was with them for support.

From there, I walked to the library. There were more errands to do, but I needed to sit, to rest.

At home in the evening, radio on. Getting ready to go out again, this time to a Thai Restorative yoga class.
Listening to After Dark on CBC. As I reach toward the volume to turn it down before leaving, Odario Williams, the host, says, “If you need permission to do nothing, here it is. Even if it’s just for one song. Listen to this song and do nothing.”

Nothingly 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! ALSO! I have a Patreon now! Please join me.

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One Month Later: food, books, gifts, & gratitude

For the most part, I won’t be cross-posting entries between Patreon and my blog, but I’m making an exception tonight, to be transparent about the money I’m earning and where I’m choosing to spend it, as well as sending a last-minute reminder to my readers that if you’d like to support me through the month of March, you’ve got a little bit of time to sign up.

{image description: A blue payphone booth, photo taken in the night. Traffic lights glow in the background. The blue phonebooth is covered in stickers and graffiti. In black Sharpie ALLCAPS, someone’s written: THIS PHONE DOESN’T COLLECT DATA.}

On the first day of February, my first Patreon payment was deposited into my account. I earned $89 for my first month on Patreon – $10 went toward fees, which meant $79 was mine. Until I looked at my Paypal, I hadn’t realized this was U.S. dollars, which then amounted to $102.52. What a surprise!

As for other numbers: I earned $6.68 on Amazon at the end of January, $9.93 the previous month, $33 in November, and just 0.21¢ in October. Amazon makes it difficult to see exactly how many copies have sold, and which titles – it wasn’t until two years had passed after self-publishing We Are the Weirdos that I was even able to figure out how to have my earnings deposited into my bank account. In those two years, it added up to all of $200.

I plan to be as transparent as possible about where the money I earn through Patreon goes, while maintaining some form of privacy & boundaries, too.

So, here’s where the money went!

Early in the month, I spent $23 on a meal and coffee after a health care appointment. Frequently, after appointments, I need to sit down, process, write, and I’m not ready to go home, especially to the distractions of home, all the tasks calling out to be done. Also, I need to avoid public transit on certain lines and at busier times (rush hour, etc), which means a) needing somewhere to be, and b) aside from libraries, being required to spend money to be somewhere. Usually I’ll buy a coffee – rarely food. This time, I was very hungry, and I knew I’d be sitting for a long time, so I treated myself to a (vegan, gluten-free) meal with my black coffee. It’s not something I’ll do often, but it certainly felt both needed and luxurious at once. I sat alone in a comfortable booth, and I nourished myself before writing. (I’m not vegan, but I’m lactose-intolerant, and each time I test myself to see if I can eat or drink dairy, there are painful consequences over the course of several days.)

Later, I spent $8 on a used book. A paperback copy of Pussy, King of the Pirates by Kathy Acker. I’d been reading O Fallen Angel by Kate Zambreno, another paperback work of fiction, and when I opened it on the streetcar, I was much closer to the end than I realized, and there’d be nothing left to read on the way home. I allowed myself to buy one used book, with a promise to myself that I’d begin reading that day, reading on the streetcar ride home. So that’s what I did – I finished the novel a week or so later, after having attempted to read it a decade ago, back when I was volunteering at the queer library in Guelph, but feeling too lost to understand Kathy Acker’s work back then. This time, it meant much more to me, and became motivation and inspiration for one of the projects I’ve been working on, the novella about the sex club. I have a copy of After Kathy Acker by Chris Kraus, and I’d like to begin soon – but that’s how I feel about so many books. It’s hard to know which ones to prioritize.

And then I spent $42 on groceries. Nothing interesting, but certainly unavoidable. I bought a bunch of frozen fruits and vegetables (I still often eat pre-chopped produce since the labour of doing it myself isn’t doable for me with chronic pain), tofu, peanut butter, bananas, and avocados. I can’t dumpster like I had been for a number of years – again, the time, the labour, the pain, the allergies, the risk – and I’m still trying to figure out how much I need to / can budget for food. Ordinary food.

{image description: A bunch of papers and things scattered on my purple writing desk. In the centre, a small spiralbound sketchpad where I tracked my sending in fuchsia ink. To the left, a mug of coffee on a ceramic coaster with an image of lilacs. A floral envelope, a piece of the wrapping paper described in this entry, two pens, and to the right, a five dollar bill with a toonie and two loonies, and a long string of twice with wooden valentine hearts attached – to be hung in my apartment with photos clipped to the clothespins hidden on the back of each heart.}

My partner’s son turned seven this month! Aquarius! Until this Winter, I hadn’t known the joy of finding gifts for small children. I didn’t know I’d like the children’s section of the indie bookstore so much. I’d bought a few gifts for him for Christmas, and had such fun choosing them, finding wrapping paper, and then watching him open them. This time, again, I went to the children’s section with nothing specific in mind, just wandering, knowing I’d know what I want when I saw it. His son loves building Lego, and loves H*rry P*tter and St*r W*rs. I found a new-to-me book, hardcover and illustrated, about a child who’s distracted from school work because he’d rather be designing and building and creating. Iggy Peck, Architect, written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts. $21. Perfect. In a nearby bin of stuffed animals, I dug through all the characters to see what my options were, and found the sole remaining Chewbacca soft toy. $14. Done. Next door, I looked for wrapping paper. His favourite colour is red. And his dad had mentioned to me they’d been discussing the history of the ampersand – what does it mean, why and when was it created? Around all the cutesie doodles of the red paper-pattern, black ampersands were scribbled. The sheet was $4.

Writing-wise, I’ve posted two patron-only updates this month. On February 4th, I shared “Do nothing.”, where I wrote about attending an Imbolc ceremony, an example of navigating the complicated social assistance system on a stressful afternoon, friendship, and how my childhood – and adulthood – spirituality have been influenced by Anne of Green Gables. On February 11th, I shared “Why are you here?”, where I wrote about the Full Moon in Leo, access intimacy and goth friendship, Sharpie graffiti in gentrifying neighbourhoods, pain, wordlessness, and going home.

On my blog, I shared Toronto Forget-Me-Not (Part Two), in which I discuss the Nine of Cups with Cristy Road’s Next World Tarot, anti-capitalist self-care, and a CJ Sleez lyric I’ve cherished since my teen years: “You’ll never take away my luxury in poverty.” Toronto Forget-Me-Not is a series I’ve been writing about visiting the Toronto addresses on the love letters exchanged between my nana and poppa in 1950, when they were newly courting one another. Content note for Part Two, as I write about grief – my poppa, who I loved very much, died this Winter at the age of 90.

{image description: The top half of my old, grimy cane leaning against a bathroom stall door that had recently been painted hot pink, the familiar graffiti now hidden, but slowly gathering more. My cane is lavender with a small Hello Kitty plush toy hanging from the handle. The lock is slid shut. Brown brick wall visible to the right.}

And that’s it! I spent bit more than $102.50 but I made it work. Just as we turned from Aquarius to Pisces Season, the money was gone. These things: a good and nourishing meal, groceries to last a couple weeks, and birthday presents for my partner’s kiddo, wouldn’t have been possible without the first deposit earned through Patreon, through you. So, thanks so much for being a patron! In the future, I’d like to be able to put more of this money toward regular health care sessions and food, as well as savings for for future expenses or potential emergencies. But this has been a promising start. On the last day of each month, I’ll share a similar update. It really is an adventure and an experiment. I’m glad each of you are here with me. Gratitude!

Fundingly Yours,

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

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Toronto Forget-Me-Not Part Two

Read Part One Here.

{content notes: coma, death}

In Parkdale, sitting on the ground by the garden, I draw another Tarot card.

NINE OF CUPS

“Happiness.”

JUPITER IN PISCES.

Expansion, dreams, emotions, desires. Poetry, joy.

Those are among the first words to come to me.

But it sounds vague. This card dares me to be more specific.

{image description: My left hand hold’s onto the Next World Tarot’s Nine of Cups. Behind, the leaves of morning glories are visible, with green vegetables growing behind a fence in the background, and a tall apartment with beige balconies slightly in view beyond. The figure in the card revels in comfort and pleasure. Their hands are full of sweet and nourishing things, mouth wide open, ready to take them in, and their tattooed shoulder shows a stitched and mended heart. They wear a necklace of peaches and jewelry with spikes and rose quartz, protection and self-love. Their body is held above a flood through a neighbourhood similar to the low-income neighbourhoods where I reside, where I’ve been visiting my family’s past. Brown brick low-rises with curtained windows. Skin almost mauve, sky yellow, drinks pink. Bejewelled cups overflowing, tipsy and dancing. Toenails painted pink, barefoot outdoors in the city.}

This card reminds me of a CJ Sleez lyric, a line I learned as a teenager and continue to repeat to myself: “YOU’LL NEVER TAKE AWAY MY LUXURY IN POVERTY.”

For me, it means and also means beyond ‘poor people deserve nice things’ – which is very true, of course. And the nice things aren’t just things – they are also feelings of contentment, of emotional fulfillment, inhabiting moments of joy and pleasure, food that is fresh and nourishing, a sense of belonging (in place, body, environment, worlds), self-confidence, generosity, and meaning. Feelings of safety, stability, structure. To feel joy without the oft-accompanying guilt and shame.

The first time somebody said to me, “You’re allowed to want nice things,” it was a revelation. It still is.

{image description: Selfie in Parkdale. I’m wearing the same yellow & black dress with purple florals and a zippered collar described in Part One, and my heart-shaped shungite necklace. My hair is the same shades of green as the gardens surrounding. I’m wearing round glasses and I am unsmiling, chin held high.}

{image description: close-up of a pansy violet. The petals are open wide, deep purple on the inside and pale lilac on the outer parts. A tiny burst of yellow in the middle. The single flower is surrounded by green leaves of various sorts, low to the ground. To the bottom-right, there’s a thick exposed root that looks like it’s been pulled from the ground, tiny veins reaching outward}

I think about the way I have created my home, Amethyst Cathedral. My need for and focus on physical comfort, natural light with old filigree mirrors to reflect windows, tangible / visible reminders of who I am, what I do and why I do it, the air purifiers and essential oil diffusers that make my musty old apartment breathable, never-ending collection of books, alive plants & dead or dried plants & fake florals, small candles, branches I’ve gathered, colours and textures, my assorted collected of oft-mismatched bedding from thrift stores so I can make and re-make my bed to encourage certain moods (or not run out of pillowcases when I haven’t done laundry for a long time), drawers to tuck my messes away in, fuchsia and violet rugs to pretty up my home and reduce sound/noise between apartments, little altars everywhere…

Cristy Road says: “The 9 of Cups reminds us of the revolutionary role of self-care.”

When Audre Lorde wrote about self-care, she was being treated for, and eventually dying from, cancer. She was a Black lesbian writer articulating the meaning of her place, her life, her body, her illness, her desires, her role in her communities and in the world. Her work on self-care has often been co-opted, capitalized upon, detached from context, and diluted or, in a way, gentrified – I conjure the spirit of her work here in an imperfect effort to connect the necessity of self-care and the meaning that holds for me as someone who struggles to care for themself as an anti-capitalist sick crip writer on social assistance who will never ‘recover’ and cannot rely on others, professional or otherwise, for adequate and meaningful care; and the role of care and self-care in my home, a place that is a place where I am often sick, often debilitated, a place where I’ve experienced severe loneliness and fear, and also a place I am in love with, grateful for, where I’ve experienced love and connection, too. A place that is a home, and the place I have lived the longest since birth, as well as a place that is built on stolen land, and a place where the threat of eviction, of climate catastrophe, is ever-present. Self-care is meant to be anti-capitalist.

Amethyst Cathedral is both a place that has made me sick, and a place that has protected me. A place where I’ve been in danger, and a place where I seek safety, too. A place where I’ve wanted to die, and a place that’s kept me alive. Because I live here alone, it’s also the place where I can be the most “myself.”

{image description: One of many corners in my apartment, named Amethyst Cathedral. The wall is painted lavender, and to the right is a radiator painted silver, chipped. A floating shelf installed on the wall holds a series of jars containing pieces of natures, leaves, flowers, dead butterflies & moths, birch bark, birds’ eggs, feathers, etc., found on the ground over many years, as well as a teacup with lilacs painted on it, animal bones, amethysts, broken chuncks of concrete, and other such trinkets. A narrow blue vase contains dried remnants of some of the plants plucked in Part One. Below is a sturdy pine bookshelf holding many books, a bookshelf built by my poppa shortly after my grandparents were married.}

I learned recently that when my nana was living in the rooming house in Parkdale, she was living in a shack built onto the back of the house, a storage room repurposed to make a bedroom. This was the first time, at the age of eighteen, that she had her own room, the first time she had her own bed. This is where she was living when she got her job at the Eaton Centre, where she met the man who would become her husband, my poppa. When I initially learned about the house, and heard some of her stories, I mistakenly assumed it was a rooming house for young working women. It wasn’t until recently that I learned, or was reminded (I might’ve already known when I was much younger, and then forgotten) that her parents also rented a room in the house, and her sisters rented rooms there, too, which they shared with one another. There were other women renting rooms of their own, and a few older men, at least one of whom was retired. It would’ve been a tough place to start anew, especially after growing up on a farm in the Prairies, but would’ve been a very exciting adventure, too.

Returning to the Nine of Cups, I think about how my dreams are constrained under capitalism. I’m reminded of my fear that my creativity and dreams have a ceiling, that living in poverty = less access to basic needs, less access to learning environments (institutional and otherwise), and less autonomy to write what I need to write, and make and distribute it the ways I want to. I remember how trauma can be described as an injury to the imagination, and how chronic poverty is sustained trauma (then again, wealthy people are not particularly imaginative, huh? To make a generalization…).

I think of my imagination as injured, as in recovery.

Marilyn Manson sings: “I’m in recovery / I’m in recovery / I’m in recovery / from America.”

This card reminds me that other worlds are possible, and that we can find them, create them, as we survive the current state-of-things. That we’re building them and living them right now. This card reminds me that there are no ethical choices under capitalism, but I am allowed to experience pleasure and joy without explanation or apology. Also, that I don’t have to earn these feelings – I can just feel them.

{image description: The camera turns to the left, showing another corner of my apartment. The walls are lavender, art hangs upon them, and another solid and polished pine bookshelf is shown, once again containing many books, as well as a small but loud set of speakers my previous neighbour gave me to me when he moved out. To the left of the bookshelf is a stack of milkcrates, yellow & turquoise & black, containing a stereo I found on the ground, and a whole bunch of CD’s. The top shelf holds three candle holders made with reclaimed branches, prayer candles, books, and a ceramic vase/pitcher designed as a tree trunk with a small brown squirrel hunkered in under the handle. To the right, small elements of the kitchen are hidden in the shadows, with the stove visible on the other side of the wall, a heart-patterned tea towel hanging from the oven handle.}

From where I’m sitting, I see a row of brick houses across the street, many of which are under construction, shielded with scaffolding, yards dug up, renovations (and renovictions?) in-process.

{image description: A three-story duplex house painted down the middle, left side white, right side red. There are fir trees in front of the left side, hiding the porch. The red house on the right is exposed, lawn dug up to bare dirt, a green dumpster planted atop, half-full with debris. Yellow, red, and white scaffolding is built along the front of the house, building permits pasted in the window. Upstairs windows are torn out and boarded up.}

{image description: Camera turns to the right. The red side and the green dumpster are still visible, as well as some of the scaffolding. Next door is a similar house, detached, red brick, trim painted grim black, all windows shut up tight with white, a freshly paved path leading to a small concrete porch with three steps. The door is painted black. A once beautiful home now plain, austere, lacking character. To the right, another red brick building is boarded up, empty.}

{image description: Front-facing view of the empty house on the right of the previous photo. Five steps lead to a porch, with half a dozen skids piled alongside and nearby. On the porch, several unhinged doors lean against one another, blocking one half of the front window. The house has been split into apartments, two doors still in tact at the front, though one wonders if, under renovation, this’ll remain true, and/or how much the place will cost (if rented) afterward. The second-story is fully board up with fresh plywood, with a contractors’ company sign hanging in front.}

{image description: Milky Way Alley. This alleyway would’ve been across the street from my nana’s Parkdale home, a pathway behind the Parkdale Public Library. Red brick buildings on each side, yellow speed bump sign. Walls have been painted with graffiti over murals – the heads of a brown horse and a white horse are seen, with colourful tags everywhere else. At the end of the alleyway, trees are visible.}

{image description: Green green green leaves everywhere, with a wooden sign painted with black letters in Tibetan, information about the garden, with a local phone number.}

{image description: Golden-mango and blush-coloured flowers growing tall amongst a whole bunch of green, with a thin metal fence barely visible.}

Before I was able to finish writing my Toronto Forget-Me-Not series, my poppa died. I’d set the project aside for various reasons, some emotional, others practical. My hard drive crashed. I thought I’d lost everything. When much of it was retrieved, I didn’t want to look at it anymore. Other work distracted me. My birthday came and went. The landscape of Toronto continued changing, and I had frequent panic attacks. As Winter set in, I became more fatigued. Screens hurt my eyes, my brain. I read too many articles about surveillance, gentrification, criminalization of nearly all means of survival, and felt powerless beyond (sometimes) fiction, and I dissociated more often than I had been. I lost my concentration and I could barely read. I helped friends in crisis, and some friends left the city (again). I organized, and then I quit. I pinched a nerve in my right shoulder, limiting the use of dominant hand and arm.

Toward the end of his life, when my poppa was in a coma but still breathing, I was able to visit him at the hospital in my hometown. He was in the Palliative Care Unit, with my nana visiting him and sitting at his bedside everyday from 9am-4pm, when she went back to their retirement home, ate dinner, and went to bed. She told me she’d make sure to go to bed right away. When I arrived, I heard my nana singing to him. Though some had tried to insist he couldn’t hear from inside his coma, I knew this wasn’t true since I’d also been in a coma, but I couldn’t tell them because it wasn’t an appropriate time – in fact, I grappled for quite a while with whether or not I should share this information. When my nana told me on her own that she knew he could hear her, and hear us, I decided only to tell her she was probably right, and not say how I knew. She had a small, portable CD player at the bedside, which was turned off. My poppa looked more small and frail than usual, and his white beard, usually shaveds had begun to grow out. He was breathing on his own, but unmoving, and connected to morphine and nothing else. There was a large window near his bed where birdseed was gathered, and sparrows were fluttering about. My poppa was a birdwatcher, so we knew he’d appreciate this.

I sat at his bedside and described the view to him, the birds. I told him a bit about my current life, and some of my memories of him.

{image description: An expanse of of dusty rose carpet. My feet, in black sandals, are visible, toenails painted magenta, the edges of my purple shorts visible at the bottom edge of the frame. The corner of a white wall juts out on the right, and the edges of a stack of books are visible at the top right, and the tiniest piece of fabric of my poppa’s reading chair to the left. Most of the pink carpet is the same shade, except for a long rectangle to the right, where one of the shelves that’s since become mine has been moved, revealing a deeper, fresher pink underneath. The carpet was laid in the early-90’s, professionally cleaned a handful of times, and the furniture had remained in the same place all this time.}

I know it’s ordinary, but I’ve loved this carpet since childhood. It always felt soft and comforting beneath my feet. Sometimes my nana would lend us slippers to wear. I used to sit on the floor and play with Lincoln Logs and other toys, building tiny cabins and making stories with plastic Fisher Price figurines. I’d drink tea and try not to spill it. There were dinner trays painted a similar shade of pink.

{image description: My left hand holds onto a sheet of paper, which reads, in handwriting, blue ink:

This box of letter’s [sic] go to [sic] Maranda Elizabeth (1950 Feb 14).
Don’t burn
Tear up
Dont [sic] destroy [in] anyway

Norrean & Bob

The note is framed by a red heart-shaped box sitting on the bed where I’m sitting. Corners of aged white envelopes are sticking out.}

When I showed them the box of letters, I thought they’d feel embarrassed about it – and I definitely knew my poppa would tell me to destroy them, even if he were joking or pretending to. It was the first thing he said, of course. So I asked my nana to write this note and enclose it within the heart-shaped box. They told me they didn’t even remember the collection of mail, the valentine box.

{image description: My nana and poppa sitting beside one another on their bed at the retirement home, holding hands with one another. My poppa is on the left, both hands clasped around my nana’s right, while her left hand holds onto the heart-shaped box, now closed. A faded pinkish-red ribbon with a bow encloses the box, more decorative than functional. My nana and poppa, not knowing I’d be bringing them this valentine, had inadvertantly both dressed in red, matching. My poppa wears a red short-sleeved polo shirt and blue jeans. My nana wears a pink, red, and beige short-sleeved button-up shirt with a patchwork floral pattern and pale beige pants. She’s leaning over to kiss my poppa on the cheek as he leans toward her. In the background, one of my nana’s many handmade dolls rests against the pillows, as well as a stuffed brown and white dog. A turquoise rollator is seen to the right, and a wooden cane leaning against the wall behind them.}

I didn’t know this’d be the last time I took a photo of them together.

{image description: Another very purple corner of my apartment. One of the beautiful, polished pine furniture pieces my poppa built – an unfolding desk and dresser, currently folded closed. On top, prayer candles, a fuchsia essential oil diffuser, floral teacup and saucer, and a wooden document tray holding planters and ceramic animals with pens and pencil crayons, etc., stored within. Crystals and notes hang on my wall. My entrance door is to the left, locked, lavender, with a few empty totebags hanging from the doorknob.}

A piece of furniture I’ve always found romantic.

My twin and I often had morbid interests when we were growing up. I’ve written about this is in the past, but: as children, we would “call” items we get to keep when they die. One of the items I “called” as a child was this folding desk. My poppa used it to store files and documents, small containers with smaller toys, pictures. When the desk unfolds, smaller nooks and crannies are revealed. I forget what he kept in there except for his cigarettes and lighters, pens and paper, and small pieces of leather in various shades of brown – he made small leather crafts, which I always liked the smell of. It’s one of the skills I wish had been passed onto me. (But it’s not something I asked to be taught.) On top, ceramic trinkets, my nana’s camera, red and grey.

Now that the furniture is mine, it holds pens and papers, too. It holds a collection of snail mail supplies, old mugs re-purposed to hold writing and craft supplies, a few books, some trinkets passed onto me from my grandparents, and some of my poppa’s small leather-working tools. Other semi-organized things… The drawers hold vintage fabrics, knitting supplies, envelopes to re-use…

When it squeaks open and closed, when the handles gently clang against one another, the tiny sounds are so familiar and comforting. Almost out of place, though, or renewed somehow…

To be continued…

Pinefully Yours,

P.S.: Did you know that I recently launched a Patreon?! You can read more about my reasons for doing so, and my intentions, at Writing for weirdos, dreamers, survivors, and the dead, and you can take a look at the page itself at patreon/MarandaElizabeth.

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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Writing for weirdos, dreamers, survivors, & the dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writingly Yours,

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

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What I Was Thinking About the Day Elizabeth Wurtzel Died

{content notes: death, grief, porn}

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

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

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

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was thinking about the body parts that hurt.

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memoirishly Yours,

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

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

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

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

Temperance Cocktails have a really cute story.

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

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

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

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

Temperancingly Yours,

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

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