Disability, Freaking Out, & Marilyn Manson

{content notes: abuse, assault}

Shortly before Marilyn Manson’s so-called “meltdown,” publicized through multiple music blogs in short pieces that lacked much insight at all (not gonna link them, fuck it), and seemed to be written by music journalists who were not familiar with the last fifteen or so years of his career, I saw him perform in Toronto, on an evening spent with my twin, who had come here from Montréal to be at the show with me. Attending shows as a sick and disabled person makes me nervous – accessibility varies, and I never know what to expect. I prepare notes on access in my head, hoping for clarity, brevity, and assertiveness. I try to be patient. I often have to guide staff through various accessibility requirements (and laws) because they tend to be unfamiliar with them.

Seeing Marilyn Manson onstage using a wheelchair, his leg in a cast, was akin to a spiritual experience for me. I’ve written about concerts as spiritual experiences before, and the meanings I assign to live performances as someone who was unable to see the bands I love live when I was (and they were) younger, and how I do this while resisting nostalgia and the commodification of nostalgia.

{image description: Marilyn Manson sitting in the wheelchair described throughout this entry. Pink and purple spotlights are glowing. He’s holding his microphone with one hand, and controlling the electric wheelchair with the other.}

At some point within the last year or two, I started referring to various mobility aids colloquially as crip contraptions. That’s what I thought of when I saw Marilyn Manson’s wheelchair, a personalized electric model with a tall back, black and silver, of course, the most goth wheelchair I’ve witnessed thus far. Chrome footrests, one holding his right leg in a stiff grey plastic cast, with his left foot in the usual black heavy boot, laced tight. The term “crip contraptions” came to me when I was in a silly mood, getting excited about the way us disabled folks modify our mobility aids to give them more personality, let them become more a part of us, our bodies, than a separate object.

A few of Marilyn Manson’s roadies were dressed in hospital-green scrubs and surgical masks, helping him to and from his mic. It was a beautifully theatrical way of coping with pain and disability while performing. I admired his creativity in turning disability into a kind of performance art, the way his pain and sickness, rather than being hidden, something to be ashamed of, were instead integrated into the show, made more visible. Although he might not be familiar with this word/concept, he and his roadies seemed to have been practicing access intimacy. He had one gowned-&-gloved person on each side, guiding him to and from the stage and the mic by holding onto each arm, another hand placed on the small of his back. I imagined a sense of love and care passing between each of them, imagined boundaries being negotiated, Marilyn Manson, that strange creature, asking for help.

I was supposed to see him in October – Amber and I were celebrating our 32nd birthday, and I was celebrating the publication of my latest novel, told from the point-of-view of a genderless teenager obsessed with Marilyn Manson – but the show was postponed after he was injured while onstage, crushed by prop guns towering over him as part of the stage set for the Heaven Upside Down tour. At this show, the one I attended with my twin, as he stood at the microphone, his wheelchair was parked below the crossed guns. I have often imagined my cane as a weapon, so this configuration brought me a particular disabled-glee.

The accessible seating had changed since the last time I’d been to that venue, which was for another Marilyn Manson concert a couple years ago. The first time I saw him there, which was the first time I saw him at all, I called ahead about accessible seating, and when I arrived, security led me to the foot of the stage, the right side, where I sat on a white plastic lawn chair, absurdly close to Marilyn and Twiggy’s feet, my cane by my side, my body protected from the crowd by black steel barriers. And I felt immense joy and magic, such intense aliveness, sitting at their feet, embracing the noise, the presence, screaming along with my favourite songs. In the past, I’ve talked about concerts and karaoke being some of the very few socially acceptable spaces within which to scream. It’s still true.

This was the view I was looking forward to experiencing again, the view I’d gushed to Amber about. Close enough to see the stitches on the ruffles of Twiggy’s black tights, close enough to see the snot dripping from Marilyn Manson’s nose when he had a cold. Almost close enough to touch.

{image description: A classic photo / TV screenshot of Marilyn Manson and Twiggy Ramirez sitting beside one another as they’re being interviewed on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. They both have long, black hair and a slumped posture. Marilyn Manson is on the left, wearing a buttoned-up peacoat, and Twiggy is on the right, wearing the classic Twiggy-the-model style mod dress that became so infamous and beloved.}

Shortly after the injury that resulted in postponing the tour, Marilyn Manson announced that when the tour resumed, Twiggy Ramirez would no longer be joining him. His status makes it unclear whether Twiggy was kicked out of the band entirely, only for the length of the tour, or some other undetermined amount of time. He was kicked out after Jessicka of Jack Off Jill and Scarling fame told her story of being in a relationship with Twiggy twenty years ago, and of being abused and raped by him. It surprised me that Marilyn Manson responded so soon, and that he responded by kicking Twiggy out of the band (because I’ve come to expect men not to give a shit about the realities of victims and survivors). But it came to feel disingenuous when he began to talk about the possibility of bringing Johnny Depp, somebody he’s collaborated with multiple times, and who’s become known publicly as abusive, on tour.

I’m a survivor of rape, too. For a long time, I wouldn’t use that word, survivor, because I didn’t think I was gonna survive. Jessicka’s story wasn’t surprising to me in any way – there are tiny snippets of her time with the Manson Family contained within the pages of Marilyn Manson’s autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, published after Jessicka and Twiggy had broken up, but before Jack Off Jill had been pressured into touring with Marilyn Manson in 1999. There’s also a story about stalking an ex and planning to murder her. As a teenager, I romanticized and venerated their relationship (and that of Marilyn and Rose, too, and then Marilyn and Dita…), even if only through images and a few lyrics, the actuality of their experiences with one another totally unknown to me. A goth girl with scars in love with a goth boy in a dress, both making strange, angry, uncategorizeable music, was enough to capture the attention of my young, lonely self, and to project whatever meanings I wanted to onto them from my own safe distance. Since then, I’ve come to believe that just about any man is capable of abuse, and that includes the gorgeous, talented weirdos I grew up in admiration of (and with my first celebrity crushes on).

Visibly sick, medicated, and in pain, I was hyper-aware that Marilyn Manson was performing without his usual support system, without his best friend. I wondered what that felt like for him, and how different the show (and the rest of the tour) would be had Twiggy remained. I wondered if Marilyn Manson genuinely wanted Twiggy out of the band at this time, and whose interests were in mind – I wondered if it was for some form of good publicity, of making himself appear to be a ~good ally~, or if he was pressured by management, or whatever. I wondered if it was a form of punishment for Twiggy and solidarity with Jessicka, or maybe a way of apologizing for having been on estranged terms during Daisy Berkowitz’s / Scott Putesky’s illness and subsequent death. I lamented the probable impossibility of finding a replacement for Twiggy who wasn’t also just ask likely to have been abusive of a so-called lover in the past or present (or future).

As an isolated teenager who left school very young, I had a lot of time to develop total obsessions with celebrities, to feel a pretty crazy special connection with them, and as an adult, some of those obsessions remain close to me, and I find myself contemplating the personal lives of strangers more than I care to admit. While it can feel absurd and embarrassing at times, it’s also been a fun, useful exercise for my imagination, for my writing, and for developing a sense of compassion (and sometimes empathy). And this situation has given me a way of theorizing friendship and support through celebrities, in ways that might help myself and my readers apply these questions and ideas to our own lives.

The friendship between Marilyn Manson and Twiggy Ramirez has also been a friendship that has fascinated me, a friendship that I’ve romanticized and admired. From watching them make-out in the video for Dope Hat circa 1994, to watching their playful onstage interactions as an adult, and reading interviews with them discussing friendship and sobriety, their images and personas were among the first visions of some of kind of queerness that I had access to when I was young and isolated in a small town, days before the internet and before I could explore my own sexuality beyond watching Velvet Goldmine on repeat and writing fanfiction about Brian Molko and Jarvis Cocker making out (yep!). They served almost as a kind of avatar of who I could become, of what my possibilities were (I both identified with and was strongly attracted to girlish, feminine men as a teen, while struggling with my own gender and sexuality, with very few outlets for expression and almost no adequate language at all).

When he had a cold at the first concert of his I went to, I remember feeling charmed by Marilyn Manson’s human fallibility – he is such a larger-than-life performer and character, a rock star haunted by all kinds of strange myths, and it felt oddly wonderful to see him not only as that, but also as an ordinary human being – somebody who could be sick, somebody fallible and flawed. Toward the end of the show, he danced and thrashed until he injured his leg. But he continued the performance. This Winter, I watched him perform using his gothed-up wheelchair, an electric model rolling him across the stage. Each time he looked in my direction, I wanted to raise my cane in solidarity with him (I had a similar feeling when I saw Slipknot on tour with Marilyn Manson recently, and at least one member was using a cane). Sometimes, as he was singing, he would amble to the back of the stage, and from there, he’d continue screaming into his personalized microphone, the one with brass knuckles clutched in his hand. And while he screamed, he had his other hand, the other side of his body, leaning into the wall – he was obviously in pain and having difficulty standing. I wanted to tell him he wasn’t the only one. I really, really had this strong urge to hug him.

I haven’t watched the videos of the so-called “meltdown.” I don’t want to. If I freaked out in public (and I have many times), I wouldn’t want it broadcast without my consent. It’s not difficult to imagine myself on a stage, demanding the crowd tell me they love me. When I read headlines about him doing this, I felt another kind of affinity with him – the artist in pain, the artist who wants to feel loved, the artist who is witnessing themself lose control of their body, feeling helpless.

{image description: A mid-1990’s promo shot of the full band, with Marilyn Manson sitting in a wheelchair, and other band members gathered around a hospital stretcher. Twiggy’s white dress is reminiscent of a retro nurse’s uniform.}

When my twin and I arrived at the venue, our bags were searched and our bodies were patted down. I’d called the venue multiple times that day, and reached out to them via Twitter, attempting to get in touch with somebody about accessibility as I always do before attending a show, but I hadn’t received any response, any acknowledgement. So I was plucked from the line-up and asked to step aside and wait for security. The person at the door seemed unaware of accommodations for disabled folks, and suspicious of the meds in my backpack. I’d brought two apples with me to eat after the show, but they were confiscated.

It’s awkward and uncomfortable to be searched while using a cane. It can be awkward and uncomfortable to do anything one-handed, stressed, and in pain, but I find line-ups and searches particularly distressing because the guards always seem unaccustomed to interacting with disabled people or understanding that our bodies move differently, and then there’s an impatient, often pushy, crowd behind me, who just wanna get their tickets scanned and go get a drink. I can’t unzip and unpack my backpack with my cane in my hand, nor can I empty my pockets.

Another security guard arrived and asked me to show him my meds, and to tell him why I needed an accessible seat. “I have fibromyalgia,” I said. “And I’ve got a backpack full of painkillers.” No, I’m not gonna get drunk and OD, I assured him. I’m a recovering alcoholic. No, I’m not gonna sell ‘em, I assured him. I need them. (I’m not opposed to sharing my meds and selling my meds, we do what we can to get by, but that wasn’t my intention that night, and I wasn’t gonna get into a conversation about harm reduction and survival at just that moment.) I know I don’t owe anybody any answers as to what my disability is, or why I need to sit down, but I don’t mind doing so. I usually hope it’ll help them ‘get’ that young people can be disabled, and that they’ll ask less intrusive questions to the next disabled person they encounter. Also, yes please to making non-disabled people uncomfortable.

He didn’t know anything about accessible seating, so I told him about my previous experiences at the same venue under a different name and different management, and I directed him to the same corner security had guided me to in the past. The place had been redecorated, rebranded. After the guard led us through the crowd (and only one person tripped on my cane, and another simply stood on it so that I had to ask them to step aside so I could keep walking), we reached my familiar corner, but he was told by staff that there wasn’t accessible seating there anymore. Instead, it had been moved upstairs (yes, there’s an elevator, but we took the stairs when he asked if we were able) to the balcony at the opposite side of the stage.

I kinda like when accessible seating is cordoned off from the crowd in some way – it makes me feel like I’m part of a secret club. And I get to see other disabled people so that I’m not the only one at the show. At yet another Marilyn Manson concert a couple years ago, I met other disabled folks who didn’t know there was more accessible seating until they heard me demanding security lead me there, and they came with me, having a much better experience of the concert than they would have otherwise.

On the balcony, we had black leather couches instead of white plastic lawn chairs, and low coffee tables for drinks, with storage underneath for our backpacks and cardigans. There was an elbow-height glass barrier with a view of the stage and soundboard, and we were just as close to the band as we had been in the past, but higher up. We were no longer on Twiggy’s side of the stage, but obviously Twiggy wasn’t there anyway. None of the original members were.

As Amber and I sat down on a couch and took off our coats, a few people gathered in front of us at the glass barrier, drinking and talking. Before I had a chance (thankfully, because I am not always so patient about this stuff), somebody using crutches approached them and pointed out to them that they were standing and blocking the entire view of the stage from a bunch of disabled people who couldn’t stand up for the concert and they should move out of the way. They apologized and left, and we thanked this wonderful stranger for having the confidence that we don’t always have.

But when Marilyn Manson entered the stage, I had the ability to stand. I’d taken a painkiller and a Xanax on the way to the show, hoping maybe this’d be the first Marilyn Manson show where I could actually dance along with my favourite songs. One of the things I’ve missed the most while coping with fibromyalgia is dancing – especially with my sister, because we used to dance together at shows all the time, always the first ones out on the floor to encourage everybody else. Whenever I went to a show or a bar and didn’t dance, I’d regret it (same with karaoke – now I know to sign up early and sing as much as possible). So Amber and I went to the glass barrier, and I held one hand on the railing, one hand on my cane, and danced through the entire show. It hurt, and I knew I’d be sore for a week, but it was worth it.

In We Are the Weirdos, Indigo steals a Mechanical Animals t-shirt, wishing they could have Marilyn Manson’s genderless, sexless body as their own. In real life, I fought with my mom about that t-shirt when I was 13, but I didn’t steal it, nor did she buy it for me. Instead, I never saw it again until I was 31, when I searched for it on Etsy and found it for sale as “vintage” (ha). I paid a silly amount for it, and wore it while finishing my book. And I wore it to the concert, imagining the sequel, imagining bringing Indigo to the show with me.

Before the tour was rescheduled and before Twiggy was kicked out of the band, Alice Glass was the opening act. At that time, she’d gone public about how her bandmate in Crystal Castles, Ethan Kath, had been abusing her for their entire career. Once upon a time, I was familiar with him as Ethan Cawke, the name he used in his band Cheerleader, also known as Kill Cheerleader and Cheerleader 666. I went to their shows when I was underage, I taped their videos and interviews and danced in the living room, and I joined their street team / fan club, receiving stickers and fliers and stuff in the mail to decorate my small town with. Reading Alice Glass’s story, and those of other girls and women who found themselves in similar situations with the same man, it wasn’t difficult to imagine myself experiencing something akin to what they were going through. Like Alice, like Jessicka, and like so many other women whose names are or are not public or well-known, I could’ve been there, too. Alice Glass quit the tour when Jessicka’s story of being raped and abused by Twiggy became public.

Though they may seem unrelated at first glance, this piece is to be read in tandem with my previous blog entry, Poverty and Isolation Are Killing Us: More (Unending) Thoughts and Conversations on Suicide, Criticism, Responsibility, Purpose, Care, and, Love. Although there’s much I could criticize about Marilyn Manson, I’m choosing not to do so here. Instead, I’m examining him through my crip-sick lens, as somebody else who, on a much smaller scale, exists as someone who has something like a public persona, and has experienced loss of support through living with pain and sickness.

Being booed on staged while demanding love is an experience Marilyn Manson has survived, and a pertinent metaphor for my own crip-sick creative work and need for care. In some accounts, he was described as “incoherent.” This was likely was a result of prescription meds and/or self-medication. I’ve been incoherent on meds, too. And I’ve been self-conscious of using particular painkillers around pals because of a) how I might act, and b) how they might judge me for how I appear when I’m medicated. Even though those moments are often when I’m at my best.

Imagine how it must feel to do the best to take care of yourself, to perform, to stay alive and stay working, and listen to your fans boo you and heckle you. Imagine how it must feel to have this happen when your long-term, trusted friends are no longer alongside you onstage. Imagine how it must feel to age, to change, to suffer, and watch as the people who claimed to love you – or at least love your art/work – leave. Imagine the shame of these incidents happening in public space, and being discussed publicly by people who refuse to consider the complexities of the situation or the experience of becoming disabled. Imagine feeling internalized ableism throughout this process, and not necessarily knowing those words. Imagine how you’d want a crowd – or an individual – to respond if you were in excruciating pain and desperately trying not to give up.

“Long-term” has been on my mind in various ways. I think about how musicians become no longer ‘cool’ or ‘relevant’ after a certain age, or a certain brief spotlight, and how, once I become interested in an artist, I tend to follow their work long-term. So that often, when I talk about my favourite bands, people respond with things like, “Oh, I didn’t know so-&-so was still around, still recording, still touring.” Marilyn Manson has never stopped recording or touring, never taken a hiatus. He tours all over the world and seems never to rest. Placebo, another one of my favourite bands, a band who I love seeing live, are another who’ve never stopped, but people are often surprised they’re “still around” when I bring them up. Similar to asking “Where do you think we go?” when you abandon sick and disabled friends and peers, I ask of musicians who are no longer consider popular, cool, or relevant: Where would they go? Why are you surprised when they’re still making creative work?

I’ve noticed that if I stick with a band long enough, they’ll start writing songs about recovery. By then, they’re no longer ‘cool’, but their work resonates with me on a new level. (Courtney Love is among these artists, too.)

As I’ve worked on this piece, the visions of three concerts have become melded together in my mind – the one I attended, observing his experience of crip-time; the next one, at which he was booed and heckled and left the stage; and the following one, in which he returns triumphant and his performance impresses the crowd. For the shows I wasn’t at, I imagine how I’d respond – how I’d feel separate from the crowd while I’m in accessible seating, and how I’d feel closer to Marilyn Manson for the same reason.

Between songs, as Marilyn Manson often exited the stage, the speakers were silent, and the crowd seemed mildly confused. I thought it was clear what was going on – he was hiding backstage, taking meds, catching his breath (hell, maybe he was doing yoga, I don’t know). But unless one has been or currently is sick and disabled, the pattern might not have been recognizable. I might’ve been one of very people in the crowd who was glad he was disappearing from the stage for longer and longer periods between songs. It was a sign that he was taking care of himself. The rest of the crowd probably thought he was old, tired, drunk, high, fucked up.

Occasionally, he’d return with a lit joint, the stage blacked out and only the burning tip of the joint visible, slowly floating toward the mic. I imagined him smoking backstage and finally admitting it wasn’t enough – he needed to have his medicine onstage, too. And I thought about which forms of meds are seen as acceptable, or even cool – drinking onstage is common, weed is applauded (as it was at this, and other shows of his I’ve been to), but what if an artist uncapped a prescription bottle while bantering with the crowd? How would the crowd respond? How would the show be reviewed?

I wanted to give Marilyn Manson a copy of We Are the Weirdos. I’d brought one in an envelope, imagining gifting it to him by placing it on the edge of the stage between songs, or handing it directly to him – it seems like a dorky, childlike thing to do, but I am into dorky, childlike things. Instead, I hung around after the show, not interested in getting trampled by TAB’s rushing the exit, and I watched all the roadies pack up. Since I’m someone who regrets not dancing when I can, not singing when I can, not approaching somebody when I can, I knew I’d regret not getting my book onstage if I left without trying. So I got up the guts to call a polite hello to the one of the roadies below, who looked up and listened. I handed him m envelope, Marilyn Manson’s name written with a violet Sharpie. The man took the book, thanked me, and packed it away in a tour case. I turned back toward my twin, but then I heard him calling me back. He’d delicately crumpled up a setlist and tossed it up to the balcony. I’m clumsy – it bounced off my glasses first and then into my hands. I felt like that squealing girl who Christian Bale gives his used press pass to in Velvet Goldmine. This useless, but tangible souvenir.

{image description: Me from the waist up, standing at the edge of the balcony, overlooking the stage, which is being packed up by roadies. On the left, I’m holding my cane. On the right, I’m holding my crumpled up setlist. I’m wearing a large black t-shirt with the cover of Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals and a grey wool miniskirt. I’m not wearing lipstick because it fell out of my coat pocket and got temporarily lost in the the cushions of the black leather couch, ugh, fuck.}

A few nights after the concert, I karaoked Marilyn Manson’s Disposable Teens at a local bar. Karaoke was one of the many social activities I lost access to when I was too sick to go out, to stay up late, when I was too sick to trust my pals to care for me in such a space. For a while, I wouldn’t let my friends talk to me about karaoke because I was angry about being left out and didn’t want to know anymore about what I was missing out on. It felt like an appropriate song to choose when I’d been doing so much writing on disposability. It felt fucking amazing to scream.

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

content notes: suicide (thoughts, attempts, prevention, etc), youth incarceration (mine)

An accomplice of mine recently asked me if I had any advice to give or ideas to pass along as he was preparing to facilitate a discussion on suicide and support for queers, activists, and weirdos. He was feeling stressed by expectations placed upon him to “fix” things, and was trying to decide where to focus his attention. Criticism and self-blame were mentioned first, as crucial issues suicidal friends were dealing with – I’m among those who’ve attempted suicide while feeling both overly-criticized by others and hyper-critical of myself, so I recognize some of the ways in which criticism without care and constructive support can make one feel hopeless and disposed of, ineffectual and alone. It’s a dangerous place to be, and unfortunately, it’s pretty much inevitable that we’ll find ourselves, our friends, and our peers there again and again.

Now that a few years have passed since my most recent suicide attempt, I feel like I can re-examine it with a form of detachment, or at least a shifted/shifting perspective – although the issues that led me to overdose into a coma are still not issues I’ve resolved or reconciled, it does help to have some distance from the actual calendar-date (not to say that time heals, because no, time doesn’t always heal; sometimes it compounds and infects the wounds, but you know). I’ve taken one more overdose since then, and although there’ve still been times afterward when I’ve considered killing myself, I’ve become more skilled at resisting impulsive actions in despair, and I’ve come to understand that I do want to be alive, even if I sometimes feel neglected and worthless.

Poverty and isolation have been constant triggers for me. My immediate response to my accomplice’s questions about suicide and support: “Poverty and isolation are killing us.” When I read his email, I had this instant reflex, this anguished rage at being used, abandoned, broke, doing so much work in sickness and not being able to access what I really need to thrive, to create, to feel loved, and to be able to love. I wrote back that isolation almost killed me and I haven’t recovered. (In my late-20’s and early-30’s, my suicidal feelings were often triggered by chronic pain, but that might’ve been mitigated had I had more solid friendships.)

I was reminded that after moving to Toronto only five years ago, most of the friends who were there when I arrived have since left, and many of the friends who are present today are people I’ve only met within the last six months to a year. I don’t have any friends who aren’t talking about leaving, who aren’t being pushed out.

I told my accomplice that the first things we need are stable and accessible housing for very-low-incomes, a desire and an ability to commit to long-term friendships and relationships, and to do daily work against disposability. I was having this conversation with someone who’s also attempted suicide, so I knew my words would not be revelatory to him, but hopefully – at least – a reminder of what we need to keep dreaming of and fighting for.

And he said, “I’m afraid people aren’t being helped and loved the way they could be.”

Me too.

{image description: Lavender walls in the corner of a room. A string of three hearts made of bright purple foil are hanging on one wall. On the other wall, there are two strips of bright pink light, created by a sunset in a nearby window that is not captured in the photo. The effect is hazy and ethereal.}

I think about what it would mean to have a real, felt, deep sense of care for each other. I imagine what it would be like to be able to commit to long-term friendships & relationships. “Long-term” anything felt absurd to my chronically suicidal & crip-self until recently, but it’s been on my mind more and more often. I think of what it would mean to STAY.

And I think of barriers to staying. To staying in the body, and to staying in one location, one place. I don’t know what the solution to ending poverty is except for robbing rich people, robbing banks, forcing them into a radical redistribution of wealth.

In the meantime, how do we cope?

One thing I learned at my sickest was that I don’t want anybody to feel the way I felt when fibromyalgia, complex-(p)TSD, and inaccessibility were killing me. When I went into remission last Spring/Summer, I started meeting new people and making new friends. With new friends, and with those few who had stuck around, I was excited to do what I couldn’t before – take transit to their homes and bring them food. Being able to wait at a streetcar stop or bus stop, being able to breathe once I stepped onto the vehicle, and being able to walk from each stop to my friends’ homes, felt – and still feels – entirely novel. Being able to carry my own backpack, to carry dumpstered food, feels novel, and I wanted to share as much as possible.

Food and presence are what I needed the most, and what I could not have.

Stability and reliability are deep cravings of mine. I’ve always wanted a home that feels permanent and unendangered, and friendships and relationships that feel constant and consistent. I operate on crip-time, and that gives me patience, but still. Crip-time, even with the sense of understanding engendered in that word and concept, even with the art that comes from it, can be a lonely timeline within which to build a life.

{image description: Three items on the corner of a white wicker writing desk by a lavender wall. In the middle is a white ceramic planter with a face painted on it. The eyes are closed and the expression is serene. There is a moon cactus plant, which looks like it’s growing out of a head. It’s green with a deep, deep purple spiky ball growing on top. To the left is a transparent deep violet planter with a small succulent plant inside. To the right is a deep violet candle holder with a white candle inside. The wick is white, unlit.}

Another love of mine and I have been discussing our concepts of love. For me, love is a verb, not a noun. It’s a feeling, yes, but it’s a feeling that requires action, attention, communication, and curiosity.

I’m fascinated by words in other languages that don’t fully translate to English. There’s a Swedish word I learned recently: trygghet. It translates to security in English, but with a broader meaning in Swedish: Trust, a sense of belonging, and freedom from danger, anxiety, and fear. But even those words are probably not enough to describe it.

When I wrote about what love is, or what I want love to be, the first words I wrote were: responsible, nurturing, and complex. (Okay, I also wrote lust, but that was within the context of our current relationship, and not totally relevant to what I’m writing today.) I wrote, “I want us to be able to discuss what love means and what love entails.” (Some of these conversations were happening in-person, others through emails – things are scribbled down through various notebooks and my diary because that’s how I try to make sense of my brain and my worlds.) Sex and lust aside, I then wrote a list of my desires within our relationship, including some I’d also like to transfer into my friendships:

– to challenge one another
– to grow with one another
– to have complex & vulnerable conversations
– to have a felt sense of reciprocity & exchange
– to learn each other’s psyches
– to trade books with one another

And I wrote: “I’m sure there are a thousand more things I could add to the list, or that’ll come up in the future. I need a word that means a deep sense of care and connection, but I’m not sure what that word is yet. Maybe I’ll find it in another language.”

Other words I’d add to my definition of love are: listening, vulnerability, encouragement of creativity, trust, curiosity, and exploration. And those can bubble out into a thousand other words and ideas and feelings, too.

{image description: A plastic clay-coloured planter with a bunch of succulents growing. The planter is sitting on a white ceramic plate with little pink flowers along the edges. Beside the plants is a brown paperbag folded closed, with “self heal” written in black Sharpie. It contains dried self-heal plants. These items are on top of a black milkcrate filled with books. The wall behind them is lavender. There is one book cover visible through the top of the milkcrate: Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton.}

Every time I write about suicide, I hope it’ll be the last time. I’ve written about suicide many, many times over the last more-than-a-decade, and it feels redundant, but it feels necessary, too. Sometimes I wonder what I’ve got left to say. Not only that, I wonder what I can do – to prevent suicide, to help friends and readers navigate suicidal feelings, to reverse and undo the possibility of more queer suicides.

What is the best thing to do when life feels unmanageable and unsustainable? What does daily work against disposability and ostracization look like? Where can we seek solace and comfort? What does suicide prevention look like not only in times of crises, but day-to-day? What does it mean to be responsible to and for one another, to devote time and attention to one another regardless of mood or in/convenience, to stay present, patient, and committed?

Sometimes I worry that queers treat one another as if we are products, as if we can be discarded, replaced with an upgrade, left behind after being consumed. I worry that we treat one another like literal shit, taking what we need and discarding what’s leftover as if a human being can be flushed away, as if a human being can be toxic.

My experience with mental illnesses and a chronic pain condition that often renders me immobile, was that queers left. Not everyone disappeared, but enough disappeared that it felt as if there’d been a mass exodus. Queers stopped talking to me, stopped inviting me to attend events or participate in readings or performances, never offered to share my work when I couldn’t be present or to table my zines and books for me when I could no longer go to zinefests; they very rarely offered basic help, and aside from my partner at the time, nobody committed to making sure I could access food by picking it up for me and carrying it to my home (admittedly, I was ragingly resentful of anyone who could walk without a mobility aid, and wasn’t sure if I could cope with having them in my home anyway). Aside from my partner, the only friend who helped with food more than once left the city as my condition deteriorated. They were evicted from their home so it could be torn down and replaced with condos. It was the last place they could afford in Toronto, a city that had been their home for their entire adult life.

While gentrification and poverty contributed to my friends’ inability to show up for me – average rent in Toronto is about double my monthly income – there was much that was within their control that they chose not to do.

This is how we get left behind.

And where do we go? Where do you think we go?

I’m 32. I’ve been isolated and incarcerated, medicalized and pathologized, in various ways from childhood onward, and I’ve been chronically suicidal since childhood. I never thought I’d become an adult, never thought I’d reach my 30’s. Now I imagine what it’d be like to become both an elder, and an elderly eccentric.

{image description: A big, open grey sky which inhabits most of the frame. At the bottom of the photo are the tops of fir and cedar trees, and the bare branches of a maple tree. The bare branches are coated with ice, and the firs and cedars are weighed down with ice, drooping.}

I recently read the novel As We Are Now by May Sarton. May Sarton was a lesbian feminist poet and novelist who felt unappreciated and unrecognized throughout most of her career. In May Sarton: A Biography, author Margot Peters suggests in the footnotes that May Sarton may have had borderline personality disorder. While I question the ethics of a posthumous diagnosis, I do feel a kinship with all borderline artists, including those whose mental health is further speculated upon in death, as well as in life. In As We Are Now, an elderly lesbian is abandoned to an abusive nursing home. She keeps a diary, documenting her boredom, resentment, and deteriorating memory (as well as small moments of beauty). Before she sets fire to the nursing home, killing herself and everybody inside, she encloses her diary in the refrigerator so her story will be found, told, known.

When I read As We Are Now, I was reminded of the times I’ve spent incarcerated in my early-teens and throughout my twenties – and I know that if I live into old age, I don’t want to be forced to experience that kind of confinement again. But if we don’t build alternatives, and hold onto one another as if we are the weird, wonderful, precious, complex, mysteries-worth-keeping-alive that we are, that’s the most likely outcome.

If we don’t work together and love (or like, or accept) one another as if we have futures, if we don’t act as if “long-term” anything is possible I worry that myself and so many others will become like Caroline Spencer, the main character in the novel – abandoned, alone, frightened, vengeful. It’s imperative that we re-develop our imaginations; that we learn to take care of one another, with all our flaws and mistakes and discomforts, with all our fears and traumas and pains, and with all our care and reverence and awe, too.

As a messy, imperfect anti-capitalist and prison abolitionist, I think a lot about how to practice my politics in everyday life. From an abolitionist perspective, and from my own mad-queer-poor-crip perspective, shame, punishment, and ostracization are among the most crucial issues – along with poverty, racism, ableism, and colonialism – that we need to be dismantle and eradicate if we want to keep one another alive.

To continue disposing of one another – in small, ordinary ways like not bringing food to our pals when they’re hungry, and in larger, more vindictive ways, like telling friends and acquaintances who they are and are not allowed to talk to if they want to remain in our lives – feels like tacit participation in carcerality, in carceral feminism.

A few nights ago, as I was lying in bed thinking about this piece but feeling unable to write it, I had what felt like a revelation to me: after the first time I was arrested when I was thirteen, the judge who sentenced me to a few months in a detention centre and a year on probation, gave my mom the opportunity to add the names of my friends to my probation order, making it an illegal offense for me to interact with them. I have a memory of standing in the courtroom, on the bench behind bulletproof glass, a security guard to my left, my greasy hair hiding my eyes, as my mom told the judge which name(s?) to add. I don’t know if that’s what happened, if that’s how the information was passed on to me during sentencing, or if perhaps duty counsel told me later, from a cell in the basement, but anyway, the image and the feeling are there.

When I was caught on a concrete stoop downtown, sitting beside the person I was no longer permitted to interact with, I was arrested, charged, and incarcerated again.

As an adult, I’ve both cut certain people out of my life, and had others do the same to me. And each time this happened, it wasn’t just one person – I’d notice that when I lost one friend, three or four would go with them. The situations in which this happened weren’t abusive; they were situations in which I was feeling either used, unappreciated, or unlistened to. It felt like we were punishing one another, cutting off the oxygen. Many more queers have lived through this (and sometimes died). I know queers who are so afraid of this happening, so afraid of this happening again, that they can barely form friendships at all, let alone long-term, dependable, reliable, supportive friendships, because they can’t count on anybody sticking around. Maybe they can network when they need to, maybe not, but it lacks the sincerity and trust that so many of us need. I know so many queers and trans folks who’ve lived through this, are living through this, and are slowly being killed through this.

We punish each other for being imperfect.

If the way queers often treat one another reminds me of the ways cops, judges, and inadequate parents have treated me, what does that mean? If it reminds me of literal shit, what does that mean?

When I’ve felt suicidal, or otherwise despairing and alone, it’s also been influenced by my complicated relationship with the psychological concept of object constancy. My potential for a sense of object constancy got skewed in babyhood, so that not only did I not understand that if people (my parents) were gone (or not directly in front of me), they would return, I also didn’t understand that if I were not directly within someone’s view, they would still remember that I exist, they would still think of me and wonder about me. This feeling has followed me throughout adulthood. Logically, I know I don’t cease to exist when we’re not in the same room, but it doesn’t always feel that way. And logically, I know I’m a pretty unforgettable creature, but! My psyche, my nervous system, and my crazy brain do not always operate on logic. My lack of object constancy (which I’ve been working on re-developing in recovery) has deeply impacted my health and my creativity. While it’s more than I can get into within this piece, I mention it as a reminder that many of us with mental illnesses and suicidal despondency are dealing with this or something similar, and one way to help mitigate the fear or actuality of being forgotten is to remember to stay in touch and be present with one another.

{image description: A close-up of a lavender plant, all green leaves with no floral buds or petals. It’s a large plant, and all the sprigs are growing upward and crooked, turning toward the sun. The plant is on the top of a white wicker desk, and the edge of a white windowsill is visible in the background.}

I read a lot of books about queer and trans history and AIDS activism, and I think about knowledges, stories, ideas, and wisdom lost. Not just grief and death, not just art and friendship, but: accessibility and care. I think about what queers and trans folks might’ve learned about sickness, pain, disability, ableism, and accessibility, and where that information is now that so many are gone. I think about things like adapting to chronic illness, visiting sick friends in their homes, and fighting for tenants’ rights. I think about queer men pushing their lovers’ wheelchairs in pride parades. I think about their unknown, hidden archives.

The only writing I’ve found that accurately describes the rage and loss I felt/feel as fibromyalgia, a chronic biopsychosocial condition, devastated my body and my life has been queers writing about AIDS, and queers writing about cancer. Although they’re not the same, fibromyalgia is political, and suicide is a leading cause of death for people with fibromyalgia.

I wonder what all the lost people, bodies, psyches, could have told us – could still tell us – about art, about resistance, about pain. What could they have taught us about support, interdependence, and indispensability? About commitment and presence? About friendships and relationships, housing, grief, sickness, and despair? What information would you ask for if you could? What would our queer worlds look like today if all those knowledges, skills, and revolutionary ideas had been implemented? If hundreds of thousands of people hadn’t died? If we had multiple generations of elders and we knew where to find them while we’re young? If we, as queer individuals and communities, had a sense of continuity and connection, rather than starting from scratch again and again?

I imagine more accessible worlds: physically, financially, emotionally. I imagine worlds where we don’t have to consider networking, branding, productivity, etc. to feel like we’re good, valuable, creative humans who are deserving of care.

Another word I learned recently is maieutic. From Merriam-Webster:

“definition: relating to or resembling the Socratic method of eliciting new ideas from another.”

“Maieutic comes from “maieutikos,” the Greek word for “of midwifery.” In one of Plato’s Dialogues, Socrates applies “maieutikos” to his method of bringing forth new ideas by reasoning and dialogue; he thought the technique analogous to those a midwife uses in delivering a baby (Socrates’ mother was a midwife). A teacher who uses maieutic methods can be thought of as an intellectual midwife who assists students in bringing forth ideas and conceptions previously latent in their minds.”

And:

“Other philosophers had specific uses of the term dialectic, including Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Kantianism, Hegelianism, and Marxism. Asking a series of questions was considered by Socrates a method of “giving birth” to the truth, and a related word, maieutic, defined as “relating to or resembling the Socratic method of eliciting new ideas from another,” comes from the Greek word meaning “of midwifery.”

I want my work to provoke more questions, more imaginings, more possibilities. I want my work on suicide, poverty, illness, support, and friendship to be maieutic.

Learning about the past makes me wanna live. Studying my own queer, mad, poor, cripple lineages makes me wanna live. Knowing that there’s so much I don’t know makes me wanna live. It helps me find my place in the world within particular contexts, and that encourages me to find my purpose, my multiple purposes. Becoming and remaining curious about how people lived, what they thought and felt, what they decided was worth documenting, learning about their creative practices and processes, gives my life meaning and purpose. Finding people, living or dead, who I feel a sense of affinity with, gives me purpose. Learning political and creative (psst: they’re indisputably interconnected) histories, especially those of women writers, queer and trans outlaws and weirdos, crazy people, disabled people, Black liberation movements, anarchist and anti-capitalist struggles, abolitionist perspectives and organizing, AIDS histories and ongoing criminalization of HIV/AIDS, etc etc etc, gives my life meaning and purpose. Sometimes learning is my purpose, and passing on what I’m learning is my purpose.

{image description: The same frozen trees shown / described earlier, but taking up much more of the frame now. The trees are icy, and there’s a series of ice-covered hydro wires draped in front of them, with a snow-covered winding road curving around and behind the trees.}

I’m a borderline witch. Harm none is an essential mantra for me. While recognizing there are no ethical decisions under capitalism, I try to do the least damage to people and to the planet as I can, on a daily basis. I’ve been afraid to talk about the hurt, pain, and grief I’ve survived though chronic illness, afraid that bringing it up again would be too devastating, would spoil the contentment and positivity I’ve been feeling lately. But I know it’s worthwhile to do so, I know it’s part of my purpose.

There are times when I’ve felt attacked, and times I’ve looked back on and realized I was the attacker, acting from an angry and triggered place, prioritizing my own feelings over those of others, and feeling it was radical to do so. I didn’t have practical skills for tolerating emotional discomfort or existential distress. I’m still learning those skills.

What would it look like to seriously develop the ability to apologize and make amends within queer and trans communities and cultures, in ongoing, vulnerable, constructive ways? What would it look like to be able to offer apologies and accept apologies? What would it look like to create reparative and repairitive amends? How do we carry on knowing that so many of us will likely not be offered the apologies and the accountability we need for the serious harm that has been caused to us? What if we criticized or analyzed for the sake of personal, political, cultural, and creative improvement and encouragement, rather than to reinforce our own sense of personal superiority?

What would it look like to remember ourselves when we were at our most fragile, and interact with our peers as if they have been to that place, too? As if they might be there right now?

Another word I learned recently is compersion. It does not yet have a dictionary definition, but there are several on Urban Dictionary, and when I searched for its origins, I found it was coined by a commune in the 1960’s called The Kerista Commune (communes have always fascinated me, as much as I am aware that so many of them, including this one, are not places where I’d belong). They’ve defined compersion as: “the opposite of jealousy; positive feelings about your partner’s other intimacies.”

I stumbled into it while navigating boundaries within my current relationship. While neither of us have perfected a mutual sense of compersion, it’s become a useful concept for me not only in terms of relationships, but with friendships and creative circles as well.

I’ve noticed that many of us have suicidal thoughts not only when we are triggered, not only when we are criticized, and not only when we’ve been abandoned or forgotten, but also when our peers appear to be succeeding in some way that we are not. Whether it’s through publishing a new work, or some other form of recognition, watching others experience success and joy (or appear to be experiencing success and joy) can feel like being left behind. Under capitalism, it feels like there isn’t enough room for all of us, and when one person is recognized above or before another, it can feel like a little more of that space is being taken away, rather than being opened and stretched to invite us in. ‘Vicarious joy’ is a phrase I’ve sometimes used with subjects like this; developing compersion feels like a relevant tactic here.

As well, we need to remember – and remind ourselves and our friends and peers again and again – that poverty is not a personal failure; it is a systemic, intentional, political tool of oppression and suppression. Staying alive is resistance. Taking care of one another is resistance.

Alivingly 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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We Are the Weirdos, my new novel, is now available everywhere!

I’m so glad to be able to say that my new novel, We Are the Weirdos, is now available everywhere. Following are a series of links where you can buy my new book, and otherwise support my art and my existence.

The best place to purchase my novel (i.e. the best place to ensure that most of your cash goes directly to me, and that I’m paid as soon as possible) is through my Etsy shop at schoolformaps.etsy.com. Along with We Are the Weirdos, I have my first non-fiction book, Telegram: A Collection of 27 Issues, my first novel, Ragdoll House, and a whole bunch of zines. While I usually offer Tarot readings as well, I’m currently taking a much-needed hiatus for the rest of the year.

If you can’t afford shipping right now, or otherwise wish to purchase my book elsewhere, We Are the Weirdos is available on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com in paperback and ebook formats. If you buy my book through Amazon, I would very much appreciate it if you wrote a review! Reviews are crucial for making sure the readers who need this book can find it, and are especially important in self-publishing, where our words are significantly less likely to receive the attention, consideration, and support they deserve.

You can also add We Are the Weirdos to your shelf on GoodReads – and again, I encourage you to write a review!

If you’d like to read an excerpt of my novel, I’ve shared the first two chapters here. And if you’d like to read more about its themes, and the process of making the book tangible, Cee Lavery & I interview each other here: Extra Dimensions & Misplaced Shadows.

I wrote this in a previous entry, but I’d like to reiterate it here:

“Speaking of that [the lifelong repercussions of youth incarceration], it’s also not common to find novels about incarceration, and juvenile detention centres and group homes more specifically, so I had very few points of reference for creating this story, aside from my own experiences as a teenager. Being a high school dropout as well as someone who accumulated multiple charges and sentences as a teenager is still, at the age of thirty-one [and thirty-two, and…], something that often makes me feel quite separate from potential queer community/ies and literary community/ies… I wonder where folks like us end up. I know it’s a cliché to say that we write the books we wanna read, we write the books our younger selves were looking for, but that really is what We Are the Weirdos is. Back then, and even now, I found very, very few stories that felt even vaguely representational of what I went through – the way(s) I struggle(d) with alienation, not-belonging, bodies, gender, loneliness, and isolation. I’m still searching for them. I’m still writing them. There were many times when I thought I would die writing this novel, but I didn’t wanna leave an unfinished draft behind.”

Novellingly Yours,
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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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Extra Dimensions & Misplaced Shadows: Maranda & Cee Interview One Another on Creating We Are the Weirdos

When was the last time you read a book by a queer non-binary mad disabled high school dropout and survivor of incarceration on social assistance? Well, We Are the Weirdos might be the first one?!

Although Cee and I both have unreliable internet connections right now, we managed to get together today to interview one another about our work on We Are the Weirdos. We’ve got just a couple days left to reach our goal on IndieGoGo, which you can contribute to here. We’ve intentionally kept the “stuffness” of the rewards minimal – totebags and merchandise are boring, and we live in tiny apartments anyway. Instead, all you get are books! Books for you, books for your local library, books for your friends. You can also have Tarot readings with me, and custom Tarot illustrations with Cee. And! You can read more about the novel here, including details on which Tarot cards I used to help me write the damned thing.


{image description: A photocopy of my Grade Nine school picture, age 13, and my Grade Two school picture, age 7. I’m frowning in both photos. In the Grade Nine photo, I have long, black hair and I’m wearing a Kurt Cobain t-shirt. In my Grade Two photo, I have long dirty blonde hair, wide eyes, and I’m wearing paisley overalls with a purple turtleneck. I’ve written M.E. + M.E. in black ink.}

♥ CEE INTERVIEWS MARANDA ♥

Cee: This book is about magic – the personal magic that Indigo and Grey (and their mothers) are able to wield and shape, as well as the unexpected and external forces that bend and mold the characters’ lives in wholly unpredictable ways. What role did magic play in the process of writing this novel?

Maranda: Magic is such a daily, moment-to-moment experience for me that it can be tough to suss out which roles magic didn’t play for me. I spent a lot of time reading Tarot cards while I was writing this novel, and using them for making decisions around the process of writing. The cards I drew didn’t interact with the characters or storylines as much as they guided me through making my own personal, creative decisions. For example, two years ago, I took an online writing course with one of my favourite authors, Francesca Lia Block, where I worked on a very messy draft of this novel. It was a big investment for me, not only cash-wise (I scraped the fee together by not-quite-legally AirBnBing my apartment and staying with my then-partner, something I could write an entire novel about on its own) but emotionally and psychically as well… And I waffled on my decision for a bit, reading my cards to see what to do. I didn’t feel I had anyone around who I could ask for advice in that particular situation, but I had my cards.

It was a dream come true to work on fiction with one of my favourite writers, to receive guidance and feedback and care from her, and it was vulnerable to send out drafts of my writing to others in the class, and to provide feedback for their work as well. As I dealt with those feelings (vulnerability that is a good kind of scary), I noticed that sometimes somebody would comment on something in my story not being “believable” when it was something that actually happened to me, and would then note something else in the draft as being “more believable” when it was something I’d just made up. Since believability is a major theme of the novel, and something I struggle with in day-to-day life as an undereducated crazy disabled high school dropout with chronic illness/pain, I thought that was an interesting parallel.

A lot of little coincidences happened to me while I was writing We Are the Weirdos as well. Birchwood Centre for Youth, aka Bitchface, is based on a juvenile detention centre where I was incarcerated multiple times in my early teens. I’ve never named the actual place out loud, though I’m sure many who were or are incarcerated at the ages of sixteen or under in or around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) would be familiar with it, whether by experience or stories. I remember one day last year, I was walking to the Parkdale Library (where I’m writing this interview from!) to work on the book, and there were two teenage girls walking behind me, discussing the very same detention centre. It felt really eerie, as it’s a place that resides in my mind almost as if not-quite-real. It was the first time in my adult life that I’d heard the place named out loud. They were talking about some friends who were there. This afternoon, while walking to the library, I saw a lone black pointy witch hat sitting on the ground, and nobody was claiming it. A lot of the magic in my life comes in these small moments of just moving through the world, being quiet and observant, noticing these odd symbols and coincidences that arrive, and making my own meanings with them.


{image description: One of Cee’s illustrations! From a chapter called “PUKE.” Black ink on white background. Vomit on a cop’s boots! To the left are a few freezies and a pair of scissors to cut the plastic packages open. To the right are a few roses.}

Although Milthorpe, aka Milcorpse, is a fictional place, it’s obviously based on my hometown of Lindsay, Ontario, which I re-visited several times while writing We Are the Weirdos. Like listening to the music of our youth to return to a particular emotional space, to conjure memories and feelings, I spent a lot of time in Lindsay doing the same. When I write of tangible objects having auras and stories, this is how I feel about physical space, buildings, and land as well. In We Are the Weirdos, there’s a corner downtown where the misfits gather, sometimes misfits among misfits, sitting alongside one another on the same benches but rarely speaking to one another. And I write about these shy, angry queer and trans teens hanging out at the same corner as older teens and twenty-something men who were nazi punks, because that’s how it was in my hometown. I remember stitching an embroidered patch of a crossed-out swastika to my backpack to differentiate myself from them, and I remember the tiny hippie store I bought it from, with my group home allowance, dropped off for the afternoon to keep myself amused and get some fresh air. Well, I went back to that corner this Spring, shortly after the snow melted, and I sat on one of the benches, allowing myself to feel. I took selfies, I took pictures of my feet and the tip of my lavender cane against the cobblestone, I got stared at by passersby the same way I did back then. The red bricks were crumbling. I took a piece for myself and a piece for my twin, who was often by my side at the corner, when we had nowhere else to go, when we walked each other around on heavy metal chains hooked to pet-store dog-collars. Those are the kinds of found objects I like to keep in my pocket for the day and then add to an altar.

I thought about invalidation a lot, especially self-invalidation. All the jokes I’ve made about being a teenage goth, being a cutter, being obsessed with Marilyn Manson, practicing witchcraft. I’m pretty sure I have a zine where I tell a story about my teens and say, “back when I thought I was a witch.” I think I said that as a way of distancing myself from some of the embarrassing and painful memories of my early-teens, but that that’s no longer the kind of distance I need, and I’ve been a witch all along. But anyway, I sat on that corner and had a conversation with my teenage self, showed them that we were still alive. Indigo and Grey are 13 in We Are the Weirdos, and I’m intentionally publishing it at age 31 because the reversed, symmetrical numbers feel meaningful to me.

Also, some of the crystals I got when I was 13, I still have. I have this tiny, pointy clear quartz that was probably the smallest, thus cheapest, one available at the time, and I use it to connect with who I was back then, to remember what it felt like to find witchcraft, which was the only thing I felt could give me any sort of power – it’s so interesting to me that witchcraft is so often considered irrational, fake, immature, embarrassing, when so many of us found it because everything and everywhere else made us feel hopeless and helpless. So I hold onto that object as a 31-year old now, and marvel at the fact of my survival, and of so many of my spells and wishes and dreams coming true despite everything I’ve endured and continue to endure. I keep it with silver sequins that fluttered over the crowd at a Marilyn Manson concert I attended as a grown-up, which was a gift to teenage and adult selves, and other such junk. It feels like time-travel. And I did/do the usual things, working with the Moon, working with Mercury, doing my own inner recovery stuff while working on the novel, much of which led to little revelations in my own life that impacted the way I wrote the novel, and the choices I made, such as finding books whose pages change and warp and fade, letters with no responses to fill in the blanks, a multitude of loose ends, etc…


{image description: Illustrations from my diary last Summer. Black ink on white paper. Multiple renditions of my adult self hanging out with my teenage self, holding onto their metal leash. There are some notes about the joy of being a loner in public, eating messy food, panic, meds, and sensitivity.}

Cee: One thing I really love about this novel is that the characters feel intensely familiar and lifelike yet are always kept an emotional arms’ length from the reader – we rarely know what Grey is thinking, for example, or the breadth of the experiences that have led Caroline to make the parenting decisions she does. How do you balance intimacy and mystery in the development and portrayal of your characters? Did any initial drafts of this book do this differently?

Maranda: It’s interesting that you bring up intimacy, because that’s always been a tough one for me, in reality and fiction alike. I’m reading more self-help about it right now, ha. It’s a word that used to make me cringe, but it doesn’t anymore. It wasn’t until a few days after I finished the final final final draft of We Are the Weirdos that it occurred to me that nowhere in this book do any characters hug one another. Friendship and family are major themes of the novel, yet nobody hugs anybody else. Once this dawned on me, I tried to remember if I had hugged anybody at that age, and what it felt like (I did, but somehow these moments never came back to me while I was creating Indigo). Then, like now, having a flesh-body felt alien and bizarre to me, and if I could have retained consciousness to think and dream and read books, but not have a body, that’s what I would have done. Those kinds of alien-body feelings and lack of physical intimacy are part of why Indigo and Grey connect so deeply to the Mechanical Animals incarnation of Marilyn Manson. At a time when I had almost no language for my feelings of discomfort and disconnection from my physical body and from my gender, that album, and Marilyn Manson’s transformation to the character of the androgynous alien fallen to earth in a strange drug-fuelled Hollywood, heavily influenced by David Bowie, totally captivated me.

To have created characters who feel familiar and real, yet are kept at a distance, was partly my intention (actually, I wasn’t sure about familiarity all along – I was worried about the characters seeming petulant and whiny, which was one reason I began trying to unlearn self-deprecation, so they could move beyond that tone), but partly something else… I think my own experiences with lack of intimacy, and with not feeling embodied with where or who I am a lot of the time, are what led to that kind of distance between my characters, whether it’s in their own friendships, or their distance from the reader. I wonder how much of that was intentional, and how much was inevitable. Intimacy is something I want to write more about (and am actually feeling in real life sometimes!), but with their age and circumstances, it didn’t feel quite possible for Indigo. Mystery, also, was both intentional and inevitable. For a long time, I wanted to know more about Caroline and Madelaine, Indigo’s and Grey’s mothers, and I did have previous drafts that contained more of their pasts, but something about it just didn’t jive, so I scrapped it. I was thinking about how long it took me to even fathom that my mom had a life before I was born, and I wonder how much of this would have occurred to Indigo at 13. There are moments when Indigo wonders about their mom’s past, but they’re not able to learn much, and almost never ask questions directly.


{image description: Another of Cee’s illustrations! From a chapter called “STEAL.” Black ink on white background. In the centre is an unzipped backpack. On the left is a debit machine and on the right is a cash register.}

Another theme in this novel is the incomprehensible scope of what we can’t know about the people around us. We can’t fully grasp their thoughts, their pasts, their internal worlds, or their concepts and perceptions of who we are. With that in mind, I also tried to capture one of the ways trauma impacts memory – to jumble it all up and scatter it, move things out of order, delete entire conversations, for memories to contradict themselves. I’m not sure how much of that comes across the way I want it to in the novel, and how much looks like me, the author, fucking it up a little, but that was one of my intentions. And while doing so, I also chose to refrain almost entirely from using diagnostic language.

Cee: In our process of developing the illustrations for We Are the Weirdos, it was important to you that there be no depictions of the characters (save for one glimpse we get of Indigo’s middle finger!). Instead, the visual emphasis is placed on a multitude of objects. Why did you make this choice? What significance does allowing readers to visualize the characters on their own hold for you? And what called you to make the decisions you did for the chapter headings?

Maranda: Cynically, for a while, I had a tough time imagining something that wouldn’t look cliché. Sometimes the popularity of witchcraft and magical symbols, etc., in recent times felt like a barrier to making the kind of work I’m trying to do, because I was having a tough time watching my traumatic teenagehood be rebranded as cool. I didn’t want to participate in the odd, but understandable, witchcraft nostalgia machine, or for my work to be misconstrued as being related to nostalgia. I questioned whether or not complete the project in its current forms many times, and even considered ridding the story of references to The Craft altogether, because I was actually just getting sick of seeing all those .gifs. Ha. There were all kinds of directions the novel could’ve gone. Obviously I chose to keep The Craft, and keep the title, but I think my readers will be smart and thoughtful enough to ascertain what the novel is really about.

The characters struggle so much with their bodies in this book that the idea of trying to make them visible seemed almost disrespectful. I’ve written a lot about feeling like I am being looked at but not seen – whether that’s through my body or through my work – and the idea of creating images of my characters made me worry that they would somehow feel the same way. Instead, I wanted to capture the world around them, to place emphasis on the importance of what was around them. I also wanted the reader to visualize the story in a multitude of ways. While all the flowers and plants in the novel have magical meanings known for centuries, I rarely elaborate on them. For the chapter headings, I read and re-read the novel and observed what stuck with me the most, what felt important. Sometimes these images were beautiful – I was seeing flowers and swirls and vines and stars – and other times they were what one might consider ugly – vomit on a cop’s boots, a speculum, a windowless van. I want the reader to have their own associations with these objects, their own memories, and to imagine them from Indigo’s point-of-view, too. Which objects feel protective or useful, which objects feel frightening? How come?

♥ MARANDA INTERVIEWS CEE ♥

Maranda: When I began working on We Are the Weirdos, I wasn’t initially imagining illustrations, but as time went on, I realized that the novel felt very visual to me. I was writing about emotions and powerlessness, the confusions and restrictions upon small town misfits in early adolescence, but it was often objects and tangibility that became important to the characters. Poverty was one reason for this, and magic was another. Back then, and today still, objects have felt to me like they have their own auras, their own stories, and they’ve also served as safety objects, something to keep me grounded and present during uncomfortable times. In your bio, you describe yourself as a scamp and a big kid, and your art as containing curiosity, delight in details, and a disregard for rules. You use words like amateur and play. How would you connect these particular words to your process of creating illustrations for We Are the Weirdos, an experimental novel that also shows that same delight in details and disregard for rules, albeit through text rather than image? Your illustrated work is often non-fiction, depicting meaningful moments in your adult life. How did it feel to use your artistic gifts and skills toward imagining and rendering the lives of fictional teenagers?

Cee: One of the chief joys, and also pains, of working on the illustrations for We Are the Weirdos, was allowing myself to retreat deep into my adolescent consciousness while I worked. I had a very different experience of childhood and teenagerhood than Indigo or Grey, but I felt it necessary to approach getting to know these two characters from the closest place of reference I had. These characters immediately felt very dear to me, and I wanted to be closer to them before I tried to illustrate their world. And I wanted to do that as a kid, not as another adult who claimed to understand them while really not actually getting it. So, I listened to the music I listened to in high school while I began the sketches – a way to warm up and get back into that headspace; really to feel in my body the sensations and emotions that permeated it about 16 years ago. I thought and reflected a lot about what 13 felt like to me while I worked. Once I was inking, I was listening to Grey + Indigo’s (and your!) adolescent favourites – Hole, Marilyn Manson, Garbage, Nirvana, etc. That helped me feel like I was hanging out with them and conspiring with them. So, really, I was playing in my brain, letting myself be a kid again, sometimes a different kind of kid than I really was.


{image description: Another of Cee’s illustrations! From a chapter called “RITUALS.” An open spiral-bound sketchbook with a cassette of Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals atop the pages, and a scribbly circle-A anarchy symbol. There are pens and Sharpie scattered across the pages, and lit tealight candles surrounding the notebook. There are also multiple crystals and a Ouija planchette pointing in multiple directions.}

When I first read the novel, I immediately felt a very deep affection and protectiveness towards Grey. Part of it is that she is a very lovable character in her own right, and part of it is that Indigo’s love and admiration of her is so palpable in your writing. The way Indigo is so astonished by Grey’s drawings, how they’re so impressed with her skill, is so sweet and perfectly conjured for the reader. That way we who had few friends or connections had so much reverence and awe for the love we did get to have, and so much respect and pride for our beloveds. I really wanted to honour the everyday magic of amateur art, of the miracle that a teenage girl’s scribbles in her sketchbook can perform for her best friend. So I tried to draw with the same principles, or lack thereof, that shape a teenager’s art. What was important was creating stuff that was recognizable, that had details that maybe were extraneous and silly and “not realistic” but that showed a love of the tiny hidden things and small magic of the mundane, of the everyday. I think that’s how Grey would draw. Everything having an extra dimension, or a misplaced shadow – because that is how Grey and Indigo’s lives are.

How did this feel? Like an honour. An honour to connect to these two beautiful fictional humans, and an honour to bridge and build something with you. It felt like a collaboration between your and my childhood selves, too, who had never met before this book.

Maranda: You and I have been friends for a long time. Each of us have been witnessing the other as we become more skilled at what we do. We often have conversations about things like imposter syndrome, feeling like our work is misunderstood, having dreams and ambitions that we feel like we’ve earned but are somehow still beyond our reach, etc. You’ve made zines for a long time, you’ve designed tattoos and typography, you keep an illustrated diary that is a wonder to behold, and you’re currently working in graphic memoir. In your wildest dreams, where would you like to see your art? Who do you make art for? What are some further skills you’d like to develop in your practice (be they technical or emotional)?

Cee: Like you, I think, I’d really love to see my work in libraries. I want my art to be free and easily accessed. I make my art as a way to manage feeling so thin-skinned in this very scary world, as a way of arming myself for the battle we are all called to every day. I want people who feel like they are too much, feel too much, want and need too much, to feel contained and held by my work. I want the stories I tell to be felt deeply, and I want the people who read and identify with my writing and drawing to say, ok, I can do this too. They did it and I can do it. I don’t have any formal art training and I really try to talk about that as much as possible. I loved to draw as a kid and as a teen, but I didn’t think I could draw until I was 19 I think. I wasn’t exceptional at art growing up, or if I was, so were lots of people. I want to destroy the narrative of talent. I want the idea that you can only be an artist if you were committed to drawing in the fifth grade to be laughable. Or that you need to study anything institutionally in order to do it well. Fuck that! I’m so bad at photoshop. I’m constantly learning how to do stuff as my paid work has skewed towards the design end of thing (posters, book covers, logos, etc), and I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent asking friends to walk me through something or watching tutorials online or frantically googling how to do a specific thing. My friend, the incredible artist Morgan Sea, was once watching me design a poster in photoshop and had to leave the room because she was so stressed by how few shortcuts I took! She was like, “you’re doing everything the long, hard way!”. So I guess I’d love to learn how to do things the best way and get way better on the technical side of things.

Interviewingly 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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We Are the Weirdos – a crowdfund pre-order for my next novel!

Long time no write! Despite all the notes I’ve been taking, I haven’t completed anything I’d intended to write for my blog over the last few months because most of my attention has been devoted to finishing my second novel, We Are the Weirdos. And now, it’s done! On the New Moon in Leo, my BFF Cee Lavery and I launched our IndieGoGo campaign to make this novel tangible and get it into your hands. The novel itself is complete, I finished editing the final draft on Courtney Love’s birthday, and it’s nearly 90,000 words long (which, yeah, I cut back from 100,000)! Now we’re working on the layout and design. Cee is illustrating the book cover as well as header images for each chapter, and each of us are offering Tarot readings (from me!) and custom Tarot card illustrations (from them!) as rewards.

You can support We Are the Weirdos here!

We’re hoping (and spellcasting!) to raise $3,613. Yes, it’s quite a specific number! As well as the costs of printing and shipping my novel, and acquiring more copies of my other books, I’m also paying Cee for the time, skills, and magic of creating custom illustrations. If (well, when!) we’re fully funded, this’ll also help cover the annual fee of maintaining my P.O. Box. Etc etc. Along with the boring, practical stuff, the numbers three, six, and thirteen were chosen for multiple reasons. Over the last few years of working on We Are the Weirdos, the Tarot cards that became the most meaningful to me were the Three of Pentacles, Six of Cups, and Death.

marandaelizabethwearetheweirdostarotcards

While each of these cards have a zillion meanings, in terms of the novel (and of the writing process itself), the Three of Pentacles keeps me feeling encouraged to conceptualize my writing as a contribution, a valuable, tangible, and spiritual contribution to mad & queer & crazy & cripple literature and art; the Six of Cups is a card I use to interact with my past selves, which is something I’ve been doing a lot as I created teenage characters who, although this is obviously fiction, are also very directly related to my own selves and based deeply in personal experience; and Death is Death, you know that one. Indigo Carson, the main character in We Are the Weirdos, is a 13-year old goth struggling with gender and poverty – they are one of the creatures who came to me as part of my process of making magic outta trauma, showing my past selves that we’ve survived, we make art, many of our dreams are coming true. We’ve survived more than we know how to tell you, but this is one piece.

♥ ♥ ♥

In this work of experimental fiction and magic realism, Maranda Elizabeth writes a vulnerable tale of perpetually misunderstood and powerless teenagers in a small town. We Are the Weirdos is an exploration of trauma, gender, poverty, invalidation, and memory, as well as themes of trust, abandonment, confinement, and revenge. The characters encounter one another, as well as authority figures and ghosts, at home and through institutions: school, court cells, a detention centre, and a group home, dreaming of magic and escape.

Indigo is a 13-year old goth and teenage criminal with a history of antisocial tendencies, shoplifting, destructive impulses, cutting, and dysmorphia/dysphoria. When they start bleeding petals and flames along with their blood, they make connections between alienation, magic, and survival.

Grey is Indigo’s best friend, a shy trans girl with stolen Sharpies and heavy sketchbooks whose illustrations come to life and make spells come true.

Both are the only children of poor, depressed, single moms in a small, mostly-white town in Southern Ontario. In 1999, their favourite movie is The Craft, their favourite band is Marilyn Manson, and their favourite activity is spell-casting. When they find a book about witchcraft hidden among a series of letters written to and from their mothers, who claim not to know each other and refuse to speak – one is mostly-absent, the other is obsessed with a talk show hosted by a psychic and Saturday night episodes of Cops – they choose to communicate with ghosts, and each other, instead.

As the two are separated, and Indigo is charged with crimes they barely remember committing, each of them continue casting spells – or trying to – in dangerous and painful attempts to stay alive. Shuffled through the juvenile injustice system, Indigo encounters Sea, a clumsy and curious social worker who hates her job and feels complicit in the pain of teenagers, and Mint, a 16-year old Black girl with a stick-and-poke tattoo of moon phases on her wrist, rage of her own about isolation and incarceration, and a longer sentence for a non-violent crime.

Each of them wants to be believed, to be real, and to create their own form of justice.

♥ ♥ ♥

I’ve shared the first two chapters of We Are the Weirdos for free online! Please read it here! I’d really appreciate it if you set aside some time, maybe curled up with a yummy drink and your diary, and if you could share it, that’d really help make my spells keep coming true! Please note that I’ve included the novel’s content notes with the excerpt, and they’ll be published inside the e-book and paperback as well. I know it’s not common to print content notes in fiction, but it felt necessary for this particular story, not only because it deals with abuse and youth incarceration, but because those experiences are still (forever) so close to me.

Speaking of that, it’s also not common to find novels about incarceration, and juvenile detention centres and group homes more specifically, so I had very few points of reference for creating this story, aside from my own experiences as a teenager. Being a high school dropout as well as someone who accumulated multiple charges and sentences as a teenager is still, at the age of thirty-one, something that often makes me feel quite separate from potential queer community/ies and literary community/ies, and sometimes I wonder where folks like us end up. I know it’s a cliché to say that we write the books we wanna read, we write the books our younger selves were looking for, but that really is what We Are the Weirdos is. Back then, and even now, I found very, very few stories that felt even vaguely representational of what I went through – the way(s) I struggle(d) with alienation, not-belonging, bodies, gender, loneliness, and isolation. I’m still searching for them. I’m still writing them. There were many times when I thought I would die writing this novel, but I didn’t wanna leave an unfinished draft behind.

As I write this, ten days after launching the crowdfunding campaign for We Are the Weirdos, we’re already 47% funded, thanks to you! Cee and I have been spending a lot of time together, working on a cover design so dreamy I’m definitely gonna get it tattooed to celebrate the completion of this project, and now we’re working on approximately forty (yes, forty!) more illustrations, one per chapter. This novel is about 90,000 words, forty-ish chapters, and told from multiple points of view. It’s been an intense process, to say the very least. But it’s done. It’s written, edited a thousand times by me, a few more times with some friends, and yet again by me. It’s done. I’m writing my acknowledgments now, something I didn’t do with my other books, and some dedications, too.

I also wanna ask y’all a quick lil favour: Will you please share our IndieGoGo on your social media, with your friends, and maybe even with your pets? And let them (and me!) know why you’ve chosen to support We Are the Weirdos? As you know, writing can be lonely, vulnerable work, and it would mean a lot to Cee and I if you could pass along this novel and share your encouraging words. Thank you again! To spells coming true!

Novellingly 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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Won’t You Celebrate With Femme Cripples and Other Storybooks

content notes: incarceration, suicidality, charcoal, cops, racism, colonialism

Last November, I tried to go to as many workshops and panels at Naked Heart Festival as I could – these things are extra tough for somebody who is in such tremendous pain that I am often-housebound and usually need a few days or more to recuperate from attending a one-hour appointment, but I felt that I needed to be there, and I was determined.

One of the events I was looking forward to the most was Hannah Harris-Sutro’s Femme Lineages writing workshop. The description read:

“How do we channel creation through our bones and blood, to keep our momentum and confidence as creators? This is a workshop for femme-identified & femme-adjacent* folks of all genders to come together and write within a lineage of femme creators and ancestors. A writer is someone who writes; no previous experience is necessary! Together, we will explore and build narratives of our own lineages as creators and artists, grounded in the revolutionary work of femmes who have come before us.

Participants will have opportunities to co-create a writing lineage altar, to ask for knowledge and support from their bodies, to play with the glosa form as conversation with and invocation of a femme ancestor or mentor, to create new work using a variety of concrete and evocative prompts, and to give and receive feedback on that work (if desired) in a powerfully vulnerable and supportive environment. Please bring something that invokes your lineage for our shared altar, and a piece of writing by someone you look up to. Please wear clothing that makes you feel right and comfortable.

*by “femme-adjacent” i mean that intentional femininity of some kind is part of how you understand yourself, even if you do not identify as “femme”.”

I arrived a little cranky because ten or fifteen minutes between events that were being held in different buildings was not enough time for my crip-body to take a pee break, get to and fro, and settle in, especially as we were experiencing a bitter cold snap. I’d just dug out my collection of fleece-lined tights from a box in my closet the day before. And I’m a hyper-vigilant creature who usually arrives at least forty-five minutes early for everything to ensure… I’m not sure what. That I’ll find my way, have a chance to look around, take meds, breathe, adjust to a new space. Thankfully, there were comfy chairs, and a mix of familiar and new-to-me femmes sitting around the long table.

Hannah taught us about the glosa form of poetry, and read us a few examples. Before that, she offered us a few prompts related to lineages: of femmes, of writers, of family. I scribbled a few notes about my dad dropping outta high school, my nana not going at all, of me and my twin dropping out, too, and of the teachers who didn’t know what to do with us. As a child, I worked a few grades ahead until teachers ran out of work to give me, and then I wrote self-directed book reports instead. I also wrote down the names of some writers and artists who I consider part of my lineage(s), past and present and future: Lynda Barry (especially Cruddy), Rebecca Godfrey (The Torn Skirt is my favourite novel and has done much to inform the ways I write fiction, what I write about, and how I write it – among other things, it was the first novel I read with an incarcerated teenage girl as the protagonist, which gave me permission to tell my own stories), David Wojnarowicz, Audre Lorde, Michelle Tea, Anaïs Nin, and adrienne maree brown.

Although there were also somatic exercises as part of the workshop, I skipped them this time because I was having the kind of day where I didn’t feel like being in my body. I scribbled notes and drew pictures of bones and pill bottles instead.

In my bones is pain, a history of fibromyalgia that nobody told me about. In my bones is tenseness & avoidance & the times they could not keep me safe. In my bones are cancer & pills & not-knowing. In my bones are amethyst & trauma & loneliness.

{image description: A ripped piece of scrap lilac-coloured paper. In purple ink, I’ve written:

“ATTEMPTING to PLACE my WORK within a CONTEXT(S) & LINEAGE(S)

– seeing my influence in others but feeling undervalued (NOT JUST FINANCIALLY)”

In the background, my Virginia Woolf mug and the keyboard of my pinky-purple netbook are visible.}

One of my BFF’s, Erin, was with me, and both of us were multiply-sick, taking different pills every half hour or so, and I think we were both feeling foggy and ill but/and ready to write. Several poetry paperbacks were scattered along the table, and I reached for a book I hadn’t read, feeling like there was something special in there for me. The book was Not Vanishing by Chrystos, an Indigenous two-spirit poet, writer, activist, and warrior. When I opened their book, the first poem I found was I Walk In the History of My People. At the first two lines, I knew I was in the right place, in the right room, and that I wanted to write my glosa with this poem.

There are women locked in my joints
for refusing to speak to the police
My red blood full of those
arrested, in flight, shot
My tendons stretched brittle with anger
do not look like white roots of peace
In my marrow are hungry faces who live on land the whites don’t want
In my marrow women who walk 5 miles every day for water
In my marrow the swollen faces of my people who are not allowed
to hunt
to move
to be
In the scars on my knee you can see the children torn from their families
bludgeoned into government schools
You can see through the pins in my bones that we are prisoners of a long war
My knee is so badly wounded no one will look at it
The pus of the past oozes from every pore
The infection has gone on for at least 300 years
My sacred beliefs have been made pencils, names of cities, gas stations
My knee is wounded so badly that I limp constantly
Anger is my crutch
I hold myself upright with it
My knee is wounded
see
How I Am Still Walking

I didn’t stick to a true glosa structure because rules are for breaking, and I was grateful that Hannah insisted that none of our writing had to be perfect, and that we were here for encouragement and expression, not criticism. I used to be intimidated by poetry because I thought I had to get all the lines and syllables and rhymes just right. Now I know I don’t.

In terms of feedback, we were asked to answer these questions: What’s strong? What stays? What resonates? We give no advice and ask no questions. Rough drafts!

I wrote:

There are ghosts in my joints, and
I refuse to be in my body but I
want to listen to them, their
complaints & questions & sharp points
After being in so much pain, I
could not roll over in bed or
adjust my blanket, the mere word
“WALK” makes me feel irate & bitter
If there are women locked in my
bones my ribs my knees my
blood for refusing to speak to
police / for speaking to them and
being told I’m lying I’m just
trying to cause trouble because I’m
bored
I want to keep them with me –
if I have no listeners, I’ll be the
listener / Bruises tattooed on my knees
Even when I write about the messages
from the ghosts & I am told, “I love
your writing about loneliness.
See you next year, maybe,”
I will press my pen so hard it rips
my paper / a needle that paints
flesh & knife that cuts planets & razor that shears fleece
I limp constantly, my cane
sings hymns on concrete and no
one else can remember the words.
The city abandons me again & again
because my crooked bones are,
well, lovely in words but
inconvenient in person flesh plans time
But concrete & pills give me the
will to live / dead without meds
I’d kill without pills
my body is a broken lease
How many more evictions until
the girl femme creature who
cannot talk to police
refuses to say, “I’m sorry my
body can’t do that but I’m not sorry
There are ghosts locked in my joints.

{image description: My diary opened wide to scribbly notes of the poem above. Swirly black ink. My diary is on top of a retro turquoise table at a diner with my left hand holding it open. My nails are painted deep violet and are absurdly long. A tiny silver teapot and a fork & knife are visible at the edges of the photo.}

I read my poem out loud. I used to be much more quiet, but now I feel like with all the time spent in bed, spent housebound, spent alone on WheelTrans rides and medical appointments, all the readings & workshops & zine fairs & everything I’ve missed out on / am missing out on, I’ve earned some time to talk in workshops, to read out loud, to ask for feedback.

The next day, I drew The Magician as my daily Tarot card. It was November 13th, the ten-year anniversary of my first suicide attempt, a day always marked on my calendar – not that I need to write it down to remember, but I set it aside as a self-care day and usually choose to be alone. But this time I had a friend with me, and plans, and that felt very special.

Before returning to Naked Heart, I brought Erin to Trinity Bellwoods Park in hopes of showing her the infamous white squirrel. Some people don’t believe the white squirrel exists, but she hops over to me nearly every time I’m in the park, and I’ve even captured photos of multiple white squirrels hanging out together. I can tell them apart, too. The one I see more often has pale blonde patches and is a little chubbier than the other one.

Sure enough, we found the white squirrel! I had white chocolate peanut butter cups in my coat pockets for good luck. She came right up to us and kissed our hands, shuffling through the fallen leaves. Before we left, I left a piece of white chocolate at the bottom of a tree as an offering.

{image description: I’m standing under a maple tree surrounded by fallen yellow leaves. My hand is reaching toward the tree trunk, and a white squirrel is clinging to the tree and kissing my fingers. I have the most gleeful silly smile! I’m holding onto my lavender cane, bending slightly. I’m wearing a purple coat, purple backpack, black boots, and floral socks. This is one of my all-time favourite photos of myself, and one of the only ones with a big, big smile.}

I missed the next reading I wanted to go to because my WheelTrans ride was late (again!), and nearly missed the Crip Writers on Representation, Publication & Transformation panel as well, which would have been a funny but painful story to tell. But I got there and I kept scribbling.

{image description: My diary held open again. Messy black ink of notes on poetry, a doodle of a bottle of pills, and thoughts during panels.}

{image description: My diary held open again. I’ve scribbled notes like:

“What do you fear most in sharing? (My fear = indifference)

WE CAN’T EVOLVE IF EVERYBODY AGREES WITH US

triggering grief while writing out loud

EMBODYING DISSOCIATION

YOU CAN DIE

IMPOSTOR VS. UNDERAPPRECIATION

Sometimes language is limiting

Enabling others’ art

IMPERFECT PRESENCE BETTER THAN ABSENCE”}

In February, I attended Hannah’s Femme Lineages workshop again, this time from home. As usual, I’ve been thinking a lot about art & poverty & access, and how to continue learning and developing my writing skills when it’s becoming more and more rare that I can attend anything at all. I’m always looking for different kinds of writing workshops, but so often, the ones that speak to me are not ones that I can afford, and/or not ones that I can otherwise access. When a friend of mine saw that Hannah was offering her workshop online with a pwyc sliding scale, they sent me a link and offered to pay for me! It was one of those moments of feeling seen not only as who I am and what themes arise in my writing, but also like I was being listened to when I talked about various forms of support, and like someone might actually have my back when I talk about this stuff. So I gratefully signed up!

Because I was alone in a comfy place, and because the online workshop was longer and more in-depth, I was able to participate in the somatic exercises this time, which deeply changed the way I wrote, the ideas that came to me, my confidence in the messages I was receiving from my body and from the prompts, and my feelings of connection with the other participants and with the facilitator herself. And it felt meaningful, like real queer magic, that I was able to participate from bed while the Moon was in Taurus.

Also, I was grateful that because the workshop was online, I didn’t have to a) write out my long long long list of access requests, b) cry while doing so, and c) show up just to find out they’d been fucked with anyway. The only thing I was really worried about was that my glitchy internet would disconnect, but it didn’t.

I brought Anne Sexton with me. Another friend of mine, Heather, lent me their copy of The Collected Poems of Anne Sexton as winter survival reading, and I searched it specifically for poems with cripple in the title. I feel like she might seem too obvious a choice to bring, especially as a crazy femme, when there are thousands of other poets to choose from, but I was thinking of her also as agoraphobic and as a cane-user, details that I haven’t heard mentioned so often. She’s also a writer who didn’t go school but ended up becoming a teacher. And on the theme of lineages, it made sense to me to choose a book a friend lent me, to note that connection, too.

I had a teenage photo of myself by my side (time-travel is real), and I worked with Amber Dawn’s Where the words end and my body begins, and the tenth stanza of Anne Sexton’s Cripples and Other Stories.

The surgeons shook their heads.
They really didn’t know –
Would the cripple inside of me
be a cripple that would show?

{image description: My so-called Grade Eight Graduation photo taken in Spring 1999, the portrait repeated four times on a sheet of photostock. I have freshly died ruby red hair, sad eyes, and an expression of exhaustion. I’m wearing heavy black eyeshadow like a raccoon, deep violet lipstick, a black and gold graduation gown, and holding onto a bouquet of fake red roses. My head is tilted, my lips slightly parted. The camera-person told me to smile. My lips are parted because he took my photo while I was literally saying to him, “I don’t want to smile.”}

I wrote a poem called Cripples and Other Storybooks:

Dear Maranda,
In this one, you are
13-years old
one week out of the detention centre
dying your hair in your boyfriend’s mom’s kitchen sink
Féria Ruby Red
preparing for a graduation photo for
a class you could not attend
a year of probation
and summer school filling out photocopies of
homonyms & antonyms
The surgeons shook their heads.
Dear Amber,
In this one, you are
standing at the microphone at Glad Day
the stage at the top of stairs & stares & stairs
reading a poem with an open book fracture
that I almost missed because I was harassed
on the way to the reading
and wanted to scream and go home
You asked if we knew Lucille Clifton
And I felt ashamed at the silent response.
On the landing of the bookstore,
somebody with purple hair asked me for my name
and cried as they realized it was my book
that they stole from their wife when they
divorced and ran away
They really didn’t know.
Dear Anne,
In this one, you are
agoraphobic, clutching your cane after breaking your
hip, you’re really 36 & I’m really 31
talking to your ghost at the used bookstore again
and carrying you home, medicated and dissociated
in a WheelTrans cab, a bandage hiding
my 29th tattoo, my skin a storybook
Would the cripple inside of me
be a cripple that would show?

(I imagine this as a poem-in-process, where I’ll keep naming everybody who’s contributing to it – a stanza for Hannah, another for Lucille Clifton, and the title will keep growing, something like, Won’t You Celebrate With Femme Cripples and Other Storybooks…)

Once again, I read my poem out loud. I’ve written four poems in adulthood. One of them was in Oliver Bendorf’s How to Make It online creativity workshop, and the other three were at Hannah Harris-Sutro’s workshops. I’ve been realizing more and more that not only do I want to read more poetry and write more poetry, I also want more opportunities to have friends read me poetry (or fiction! anything!) out loud. There was something so cozy and special about both the online space and physical space(s) of the workshop, and of talking to all the other participants who were cozy in their own homes, seeing what quirky mugs they were drinking their tea from, listening to all the different stories we dreamed up and shared.

{image description: My hand holding onto a white mug that says in yellow letters: “At a diner, a cup of coffee is never half empty.” I stole it from Denny’s.}

I was also reminded of something Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha said on a panel at the previous year’s Naked Heart fest. To paraphrase from memory, she talked about how poetry can be more accessible to disabled and crazy people, and broke and working-class / hustling-class queers, etc. because it can be written in short snippets between pain flare-ups, during long rides on public transit, scribbled on lunch breaks from shitty underpaid jobs, etc. And because you can complete a work in a shorter amount of time than, say, a novel, which makes a difference when you’re struggling with suicidal feelings, and/or lack of so-called productivity, or visibility, and/or not being able to commit to larger projects if you can’t see a future as well.

On a similar note, Sassafras Lowrey, who I met at the same reading at Glad Day documented in my poem, and who read from hir novel Lost Boi that night, talked about doing most of hir writing on an iPad while taking transit to and from work, and taking lunch breaks at hir favourite local bubble tea shop. Although clock-time is something like a form of privilege to me, as I don’t have work or school to organize my life around, both Sassafras’s and Leah’s words resonated with me as someone who needs to write to stay alive, and someone who does so without seeking permission, and someone who knows the necessity of self-publishing and and and…

Later in the workshop, I wrote:

In my bones is everything
that has failed to kill me.
A decade of disability cheques
has failed to kill me.
Lack of access to formal
education has failed to kill me.
Jail cells, detention centres,
endless court dates, the psych
wards I’ve lost count of
have failed to kill me.
Crying in public
has failed to kill me.
Bike crashes
Alcohol
Perfume
Has failed to kill me.
33 homes, 20 diagnoses
X-rays, blood tests, brain scans
Overdoses
Doctors have failed to kill me.
Knives and razorblades
Loss loss loss
Jealousy
Suicide has failed to kill me
Evictions, landlords, mouldy apartments
Have failed to kill me
Stairs have failed to kill me.
Brittle bones of amethyst & snowflake obsidian
Charcoal brought me here,
And magnetic resonance imaging
3 drops of columbine
Essence plus 1 Oxy-
Codone are in my
Bones and carrying me here
If my cane is a limb,
Then so is my pen,
A bone, ink marrow
Behold the three-legged three-armed cripple
A crooked cauldron of

After the workshop, I felt totally revived and revitalized, and even felt the same kind of hunger that would traditionally arise from physical exertion. It felt strangely invigorating and definitely memorable. I’d drawn the Knight of Pentacles as my daily card that morning, and now I see it in terms of embodied writing, of carrying lineages and continuing them as a form of respect, responsibility and reverence.

As I’d been thinking/writing a lot about disposability lately, and beginning work on tracing various lineages of mine, the Femme Lineages workshop arrived at just the right time, and got me dreaming more about ways to resist disposability, particularly as disabled crazy chronically ill crip weirdos who can’t be everywhere and do everything, and whose presence and access are so often not prioritized. As someone who has often felt used and discarded by queers, glosa poetry feels like a way not only of tracing our lineages, of naming them and passing them on, but also of resisting disposability culture, and being creative in the ways we find to survive and make sure we are seen.

Writing is lonely, and often feels like a void, but glosa poetry and acknowledging lineages gives us a way to name and credit our influences, cite the work we love, and make art against erasure. It means acknowledging past incarnations of artistic resistance and finding ourselves among them.

I need poems and essays and evidence, of cripples and borderlines and witches and crazy people and and and supporting each other. Maybe you do, too.

Poemfully Yours,

P.S.: Hannah has multiple online and offline workshops this Spring, and as you might surmise, I very highly recommend attending if you can! In April, Hannah will be facilitating her Femme Lineages writing workshop in-person in Montréal, and everywhere else online. And in May, she’ll be facilitating two new workshops with online and offline variations. The first one is Embodied Tarot, a workshop for tarot readers of all experience levels to explore using their bodies as a tool for reading and learning from tarot. And the second one is Writing Our Monsters, a workshop for queer writers of all experience levels to explore embodied practices of working with the parts of ourselves we find ugly or shameful. And then in July, Hannah will be offering a six-week workshop for queer writers that brings together writing, somatic practice, and shadow/monster work!!! Multiple exclamation marks for multiple enthusiasms! Mark your calendars, please! And I’ll ‘see’ you there for the online versions!

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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What is art about social assistance?

Is there such a thing as art about social assistance? By people on social assistance (whether it’s welfare or disability)?

I’ve been dreaming up an art project. I’m asking if art about being on social assistance is a thing (not looking for definitive answers, just putting that question out into the universe, and making some of my own). I’ve been reviewing a lot of my writing, and trying to place it within different contexts. One of those contexts is Art About Surviving Social Assistance (specifically, without the goal of getting off it & ‘making a living’). Last Spring and Summer, I desperately documented the process of coming up for review. In May, I was forced to crowdfund rent and food, and at the end of Summer, I wrote a zine about how I survived. While I was initially cut off due to misfiled forms (the worst Mercury Retrograde), eventually my benefits (but it’s hard to call it that) were restored and I was given permanent disability status.

During that same period, I wrote about having yet another discussion with a mental health worker about how writing what I’m writing, doing what I’m doing, isn’t quite giving me the feelings I wanna have, or the life I wanna have. That’s still true. It was one of those absurd, exasperating “Have you ever tried writing or journaling?” conversations. This conversation happened in the context of me having to quit the first (and only, thus far) complex-(p)TSD group therapy I’d had access to, since others were consistently breaking the scent-free policy despite reminders via phone, email, and mail, and signs on all the doors and mirrors. Instead of just rolling my eyes at the system, I’ve been contemplating these questions ever since.

marandaelizabethpillsforever

{image description: My left hand holding onto two small glass vials of pills, and a silver blister pack of pills. The pills are white and the wall in the background is purple.}

One of the things that helped me get through the disability review process was reading stacks of disability studies and mad studies books from the library. As a broke-as-fuck high school dropout, these are texts that, in various ways, are not accessible to me – whether or not they are meant to be (and even when they’re about me). I spent a lot of time googling seemingly innocuous words like pedagogy and temporality that a lot of people use everyday and take for granted. I found ideas that made me want to stay alive. But the books prompted so many more questions: Who gets access to information that makes their life more liveable? Who gets to participate in conversations about disability and madness? Who is invited to participate and who is left out? Whose knowledges are valued, prioritized, listened to, paid for? Whose knowledges are left behind? What happens when maps and theories about your own brain body psyche daily-life and survival are not accessible to you?

marandaelizabethdisabilitybooks

{image description: A stack of books I read last Summer. They all have library code stickers on the spine.}

They are:

Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer
Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability by Robert McRuer
Disability Theory by Tobin Siebers
Disability Aesthetics by Tobin Siebers
Rethinking Normalcy: A Disability Studies Reader edited by Tanya Titchkosky and Rod Michalko
Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies edited by Brenda A. LeFrançois, Robert Menzies, and Geoffrey Reaume

marandaelizabethwinterreading2016

{image description: Another stack of books I’m reading.}

They are:

Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex, Blood, Loss, and Selfies by Margaret Christakos
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom
Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration by David Wojnarowicz
Problems by Jade Sharma
milk and honey by rupi kaur
Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of A Movement by Angela Y. Davis
Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Volume Two by Nia King, edited by Elena Rose
bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
When the Sick Rule the World by Dodie Bellamy

Now that it’s March 1st, I’ve been on ODSP for a full decade. Average rent in my city is almost more than double my entire monthly income. And if my income doubled, I’d still be living well below the poverty line. While it’s a miserable and frightening income to try to live on, in a weird way, it’s a bit of a dream come true, too. I grew up scared of growing up. I left school when I was fourteen and started working when I was fifteen. I quickly built a reputation for crying while serving customers, having panic attacks at work, and quitting by either storming out or not showing up at all (well, that was my reputation at school, too, but a little more violent). However. I hoped that somehow, by the time I was an adult, if not sooner, I could find a way to stay home, get my rent paid, and read and write whatever I feel like. I didn’t know I’d puke my way through these years, or dissociate, or lose my ability to walk, etc etc etc – maybe I wasn’t specific enough when I burned candles and drew sigils on my teenage bedroom walls with greasy lipstick and wrote short stories about escape, but the spells came true.

marandaelizabethsurvivingillnessselfie

{image description: Selfie taken in a dusty used bookstore. Although you can only see my face, I am on my knees, with my purple cane handle beside my face. I am expressionless, not-quite-frowning. There are bookshelves and books behind me. The shelves are labeled SURVIVING ILLNESS and ADDICTION/RECOVERY.}

The next chapter of my social assistance art project (or the can art about social assistance exist? and what is it? project) is this: My Wishlist (click! click! click!). To celebrate the fact that though the provincial government has been trying to kill me, I have survived a full decade. All I wanna do (is have some fun) is read more, write more, share more. And I want to do that knowing that my contributions are appreciated and valued, and that I am being supported, not merely consumed. Most of the books on my wishlist were chosen as part of my current focus on learning about and naming mad and crip lineages, politicizing borderline, unlearning white supremacy, and continuing to develop my writing skills and (re-)develop my imagination.

(And if yr feeling gross about Amazon, just remember that many of us can’t afford the full-cost of books and can’t get our bodies to bookstores and and and. Sometimes being poor or oppressed in other ways necessitates compromise and participating in the systems that are hurting you so you can stay alive. Criticize systems without abandoning individuals, please and thank you!)

marandaelizabethkathyackerquote

{image description: A quote from Kathy Acker’s Blood And Guts In High School that I’ve written in all caps black ink on unlined paper. It says: “POVERTY IS BAD FOR HUMANS BECAUSE IT MAKES THEM PERPETUATE ALL THAT IS OPPRESSING THEM AND GOOD FOR HUMANS BECAUSE IT HELPS THEM TO BE WILLING TO DO ANYTHING – THE WEIRDEST ACTS POSSIBLE, SUICIDAL – TO STOP THE POVERY.” My long purple glittery nails are visible in the photo, holding the page flat.}

If you buy something from my wishlist, you’ll also be participating in my weird social assistance project with me. I plan on documenting this in multiple ways. If you buy me something, please consider answering these questions in the snail mail note that gets delivered with your order. You can choose whether or not to remain anonymous.

Why did you choose the book/item you chose?

Have you read this book? Do you intend to?

How long have you been following my writing?

Is there anything you’d like to share with me? A word, a story, a mantra, a secret?

marandaelizabethbooksimreading1

{image description: Another stack of books.}

They are:

Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch
No Exit by Annie Mok
salt. by nayyirah waheed
Having Faith In The Polar Girls’ Prison by Cathleen With
The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism by Kristin Dombek
The Right to Narcissism: A Case for an Im-possible Self-Love by Pleshette DeArmitt
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Y. Davis
Laid Waste by Julia Gfrörer
When the Chant Comes by Kay Ulanday Barrett
About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews by Samuel R. Delaney

Part of this experiment is also to see if readers will celebrate crip wisdom by buying me books specifically about poverty, madness, disability, and incarceration as a form of valuing my work and showing a desire for more. Incidentally, you might notice that many books on these topics cost more than ordinary books. I wish this weren’t so, but here we are. A few of the books are ones I’ve already read from the library, but want my own copies of so I can reference them more often. Most of them are books I haven’t read yet.

You know that feeling when you have (a) severe mental illness(es) and debilitating chronic pain condition(s) that make you wanna die, but you keep dreaming up art projects that’ll take years to complete? That’s where I’m at right now. Actually, this is where I’ve been for a few years, but it’s tough to even begin those projects when everyday, in multiple personal and political ways, feels like it could be the end of the world. But I’ll keep trying.

Experimentally Yours,
blogsignature

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,