Category Archives: Non fiction

Within yelling distance

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Peel memory one billion and one: having the first overwhelmingly gigantic meal (RED MEAT) in Dawson City and drinking an overwhelming amount of red wine and doing the nasty sourtoe shot thing (tequila, natch) and being surrounded by new people and a whole new set of social requirements (I actually used the men’s washroom, considering the urinals only briefly and then dismissing them before surprising a man on his way in and remembering oh, yes, society=gendered bathrooms, as opposed to the equalizing magic of an utterly neutral hole in the ground) and needing so desperately to escape from everyone for a second and remembering that yes, off the Peel I was technically able to make my own decisions and be my own person.

And so, breaking away from the group in what felt like a huge explosion of rule-breaking, groupthink smashing self actualization, but was actually just walking about fifty steps down the boardwalk, I sparked up a joint that I had been gifted post-Peel, inhaled deeply, dramatically deeply as if my performance was being evaluated, and exhaled every fucking worry, ever. Exhaled into a sky made strange by streetlights and multi-story structures, but with enough stars to still feel like (the latest incarnation of) home.

And yes, when the group, equally bonded to me as I to them, recognized that one of their own was missing and came out the door and called my name, I was, as required on the trip, within yelling distance. And actually pretty relieved when they came down the boardwalk and surrounded me again. Relieved that they would still come looking.

Phew

CanoeCanoe trip vs. urban grind. So many “I cannot possibly keep this up” moments, way beyond the point where “just power through” seems like an option, so I have to go easy on myself, be a little soft (which feels counter-intuitive), wait and see (which I HATE), and suddenly it’s like “Hey, remember an hour ago, when I couldn’t possibly go on? Phew.”

Not gonna lie, the grind is fairly challenging right now. Here’s a little scene from the memoir for days like this:

“Straighten out,” I say. “Face the ledge.” That’s what we were taught to do, face the ledge head on, and if you miss the V, the sweet spot for getting over, you power through. We should straighten out, but there isn’t enough time. Or maybe we aren’t trying hard enough. So we go over the ledge sideways.

“Wooooah,” We both yell, like we’re on the log ride at the PNE. “Woooooooahhhhh.” The decent isn’t a big one, only a few feet, but it works my stomach over like a freefall. Somehow, we land  upright, but the water at the bottom is forceful and confusing. I don’t know what it wants from us.

“We got this, Bakes, we got this, Bakes, wegotthis,” Daniel says.

I’m trying to remember, there’s one direction you’re supposed to lean in this situation, and it’s counter-intuitive. That’s what they told us. It’s either up river or down river, but it’s counter-intuitive. But my intuition is just reacting to the boat. We tip left, so I lean right.

We got this, Bakes.

I lean too far, so it tips right, so I lean left.

We got this, Bakes.

I realize what I’m doing, and try to feel my core muscles and sit straight. There’s this move, I can’t remember what it’s called now, where you slap your paddle down on the flat water like a beaver tail to keep yourself from tipping over. But there’s no flat water at the bottom of the ledge, only boil and froth that wants to wrench my paddle from my hand.

We got this. We have to get this. No, we haven’t go this. Capsize protocol runs over my field of vision like the Terminator: Target=water. Objective=get out of the spray skirt, head above water, locate your partner, signal that you’re okay. Get upstream of the boat. Swim to shore. Keep your feet in front of you, so they don’t catch on anything and leave you pinned under the water. Bowman takes the paddles, sternman takes the boat to shore. This is happening. When the boat tips again, I practically dive in.

Radio star

I’m going to be on Smithers community radio today, CICK 93.9, around 2pm to talk about the Peel Project and how artists draw inspiration from their environment. You can livestream from the website, or I’ll be able to share it as a podcast later on if you miss it! 

Anti-social media

Island puppies!

My dad says that when he used to put me to bed at night I’d say “don’t forget me!” A phrase that basically sums up my current social media strategy. Short, glib, sometimes moody Tweets and status updates strung together like daisies to crown the heads of friends, family and followers. Whether they want a damn daisy crown or not. But in September I’ll be paddling through the Peel River Watershed from Whitehorse to the Arctic Circle, a long way from Wi-Fi. Awesome things will be happening every day, and I won’t be able to tell anyone about it. Not in real-time. Thoughts, images and emotions will have to be recorded and banked for later use. This process isn’t new to me, but I usually have the readily available social media steam valve when I need to shoot off little personal comedies and/or tragedies into the ether. Whenever I want to remind people I exist.

Two winters ago, I travelled to Thailand for four months. I was leaving Vancouver on a high note, having finished my year at the Writer’s Studio at SFU. I also won subTerrain Magazine’s Lush Triumphant award for a story I’d honed at the studio that year. My writing mentor, Timothy Taylor, had asked me to come back to the Writer’s Studio as his teaching assistant when I returned from my travels. This position, and my cheque from subTerrain would be waiting for me. Pretty sweet deal. But then I started to wonder if I really should leave the country. Surely not when things were taking off on the home front! What if, after four months away, people forgot how awesome I was?

I went to Thailand, because I’m not that insecure. Also, the tickets were non-refundable. But while I was there, I spent a lot of time on the internet. A lot of time. The Lonely Planet my friend Ben had lent me was a few years old, and claimed that Wi-Fi wouldn’t be readily available everywhere. It was readily available, for free, from Koh Lipe on the southernmost tip of the country, to Chiang Mai in the north. Sometimes the signal was crappy on Koh Lipe, but it was always there. And every day, before the sun came up and I went on my run around the island, past the plentiful island puppies and the young monks with their begging bowls who walked in single file and awkwardly avoided my gaze, past the kilometres of early risers with their eyes glued to their cameras, and their cameras trained on the sunrise, I updated my Facebook status. Blogged. Scheduled some Tweets. Posted about events going on in Vancouver that I would miss, because I was in paradise. People sent me emails, and I responded promptly. Bitched about the heat. Bragged about the heat. Updates: I’ll be home in three months, two months, two weeks. Here’s a photo of my omelette, my sunburn, my handsome, tanned boyfriend reading a book. We’re on the bus. In the airport. Bangkok, Shanghai, Vancouver. We’re home now. Going to sleep. Here’s the bottle of wine we drank to counteract the jetlag. Sorry about that 17 hour blackout. We were sleeping.

It’s not all bad. I did tons of great writing while I was there, and that’s what I was there for. But the internet was such a big part of my trip, I really can’t sit in smug judgement of the people who go on vacay and take ten million photos, who never stop looking through their camera lens. At least a camera lens is an extension of your eye. A windshield between you and your vacay, but you’re still driving the tuk-tuk. To look at the world through the social media lens is to gouge your eyes out, hand them to your online followers, and let them drive. You never stop thinking about how you should regurgitate your experiences for their amusement.  If I had a dollar for every time I thought “Ooo, that would make a great Facebook status!” I wouldn’t still be in debt for that damn trip.

There will be no internet on the Peel River trip. Not for twenty-three days. No first gorgeous hour of the day spent elsewhere. No instant communication gratification, or rather, that gratification will come from good old fashioned verbal communication with my fellow intrepid travellers. Talk about real-time. But then there’s no control, no editing or deleting, no time to carefully consider what I want to say before I say it. I write because I’m not fond of the way I express myself verbally. It’s chaotic, unstructured, full of tangents. I tell people more than I intend to, or leave out important context. I forget names, places, dates. I’m my own worst critic, often pulling out of my body mid-sentence to watch myself from a distance and mentally roll my eyes. So it’s not as simple as a social media addiction, or whatever modern term we’re giving it. It’s also a stubborn unwillingness to just be myself. Be with my self.

“This will be good for you!” You say. Yes, I know that. That’s why I’m doing it. I kind of suspect that I’m actually pretty awesome, even without editing. And I’m way hotter in person. There’s that.

 

What kind of Métis are you? (not a buzzfeed quiz)

ProvisionalMetisGovernment

Metis Provisional Government, 1870.

Update: This is a terribly naive post. Naive is a polite word. I’m leaving it up because it’s an important part of my learning process, but my attitude has changed a lot since the starry-eyed days of thinking I could step sideways into a community I know so little about. I’ll be writing more about this: my mistakes, arrogance and ignorance. I’m not claiming to be enlightened now, either. Hopefully I’m a little further along the learning arc. 

I’ve been told more than once by well-meaning friends that I should be a natural for the Peel River Watershed trip because hey, I’m Métis! Some are joking, some aren’t. Some really want to believe that the vestiges of Cree and French voyageur circulating in my blood might make me a superstar with a paddle. Maybe I want to believe it, too. Is portaging a genetic trait? I doubt it.

To give the commonly accepted definition among non-Indigenous people, being Métis means that at some point in your family tree, a First Nations person married a European. To many it’s more specific than that, the Métis are a distinct Indigenous people who originate from the plains of Canada. My Métis family comes from St. Boniface, though most of them now live in BC or Alberta. My dad belongs to the BC Metis Nation, and I’ve applied this year. But since I’ve started learning about my family lineage, I’ve been feeling like I’m not Métis enough. The kind who doesn’t really count. That’s because my grandmother, Marjorie Carrière, wanted no part of it.

Marjorie hid her French accent unless she was drunk, which was often. Then she would swan around, sing Edith Piaf songs, call me chérie. But what she always hid from others was her Cree background, even though other members of the family celebrated, or at least accepted it. She never married her lifelong love, Jordy. He was Eastern European, the kind of cleansing ethnicity Marjorie wanted to build her children with. Instead she married someone her Catholic family approved of, a navy man. My grandfather. He was pretty darn white, too. English background. They drank their way through most of their marriage, and separated when my dad -an only child- graduated high school. Jordy had married someone else, and he and Marjorie carried on an affair through several marriages, not even bothering to commit to each other when they were both single later in life. Nobody’s sure why that happened. They loved to drink together though, everyone’s certain of that. And so did other members of the Carrière family, who I saw once or twice when I was a kid. Uncle Felix sticks out in my memory, he had a pompadour and wore actual hawaiian shirts and smoked actual cigars and drank actual martinis. He made them by the pitcher. I’d never seen anything like him, and I’d never see him again because Marjorie’s family didn’t talk to us much. Because they didn’t speak to her at all. Eventually, most of the Carrière family went sober, but not Marjorie. She kept on drinking, and she lived a long time. Most of her later years, she spent alone.

After Marjorie died, the family communication lines opened. At her funeral, my dad spilled her ashes into the Alouette river in Maple Ridge -the river he grew up on- and we sang Amazing Grace for lack of anything better. The reception was at the Maple Ridge Ramada. Three of my dad’s aunties cornered me, then tried to act nonchalant when they asked what I remembered most about my grandmother.

“Her wiener dogs,” I said, “she always had like, three.” I laughed. And then oh, the embarrassment when I realized what a stupid answer that was. “I uh, didn’t know her very well.”

Their faces opened to me. “She was hard to get to know,” one aunty said. Everyone nodded. I won their provisional trust by being painfully honest, and painful honesty would become the family currency. There were years of silence to fill. We talked about my grandmother’s youth and they hinted at familial skeletons: abuse, Catholic shame, neglect. I can’t yet say where exactly the shame came from that caused my grandmother to drink, run from love and try to erase both her French and Cree background. And I may never know, since family secrets, personal bias and the decline of memory winds history into knots.

“She was always so angry,” another aunty said. All three nodded. “She was the angriest of us.”

And really, that’s what I remember most about Marjorie. Not her anger, but the anger that surrounded her. The anger between my parents after she called the house drunk and rambled on to me for an hour before Mom asked me who I was talking to. Mom’s anger when she learned Dad wanted to attempt a provisional reconciliation after many years of silence. My selfish, sulky anger at the lack of grandmothers in my life who baked cookies and took me to the park to feed the ducks. Why the hell didn’t I have one of those?

And now that I’ve been writing for a few years, I find myself wanting to write about Marjorie. I want to build stories around her, a collage of fact and fiction. I don’t want to add happy endings. But I do want to fill in the blanks to create my own cohesive narrative, for better or for worse. I took a workshop with Lee Maracle at the Aboriginal Writer’s Conference last spring. She drew a stickwoman on the chalkboard, and then drew arrows pointing away from her in both directions. She said something like: You belong to all your family, all the way back, and they belong to you. And you belong to your future family. And then, because Lee is such a powerful speaker and because I was ready to listen, I realized how badly I wanted to belong.

And I do belong, for better or for worse. I belong to my difficult Métis grandmother, and she belonged to her difficult history, even as she turned her back on it. I belong to my still-living family, and as I get to know them, I’ll get to know the pride they feel in our story. I’ll be the kind of Métis who just gets it

Canoe

 

Ode to Lis

AAaAAAAAAAaaa

My friend Lis is moving home soon. She’s been in Montreal for a million years getting all corporate: wearing power suits, making sales, skiing in the Laurentians, becoming the kind of person I admire and envy while I become the kind of bohemian flailer she admires and envies. I do suspect the grass is greener on the corporate side. Downright manicured, even. But that’s how perception works. It fools you into thinking you’re less awesome than you are.

Lis was the friend you lived with in your twenties, in a one bedroom apartment, who slept on the floor in the living room. Her student loan hadn’t come in, and she was just going to crash for a few weeks, but you didn’t want her to leave. So she stayed, and every morning, with a cup of coffee in hand, you tripped over her prostrate figure on the way to the futon to light your first cigarette of the day. By the time you got around to packing the first bowl of the day, she would come to, mutter something about just needing five more minutes. She’d take a swig of Coke from the two litre bottle she kept next to the bed, close her eyes, and wait for the caffeine/ sugar to take effect. When it did, she’d join you in your wake and bake. Then, after another smoke and an Italian shower (douse yourselves in perfume) you’d drive out to somewhere nice: the waterfront or Sooke potholes or Metchosin, to be outside. You’d bring beer. She’d have impractical shoes. You’d talk about stuff you were writing, and plays you’d both read. She’d tell stories so beloved, you’d ask for them by name. “Tell me Don’t Drink The Bong Water, Lis!” She’d always seem surprised you wanted to hear it again.

The details may be different, but I hope you’ve all had a friend like this.

Lis and I lost touch after university and then found each other again at Burning Man. Twenty thousand people, and she was camped right across from me. This is the kind of thing that happens there, there’s a Burning Man saying: the playa provides. The playa gave me Lis.

Lis is the friend you re-connect with in your early thirties, who takes you out into the deep empty playa and when a sandstorm blows up, tells you to keep walking. You know how dangerous this is, there are crazy vehicles ripping around everywhere: two storey giant birthday cakes and steampunk attack snails, and you can’t see two feet ahead of you. Lis tells you to keep walking. You’re pissed off, but you keep walking. The sand abrades your exposed skin, but you keep walking. And then some dubstep wafts in from somewhere unseen and you and Lis start dancing, slow-mo dancing into the unknown. You’re wearing a princess crinoline and motorcycle goggles and bunny ears and a Darth Vader chest piece over a silver bikini and you think “Thank god I’m here, doing this, right now.” The knot in your chest, the one you started feeding with your control issues when you turned thirty, unwinds. And you know you wouldn’t be doing this at all without Lis.

Your own details are definitely different, but you know what I mean. That kind of friend.

But a lot of this stuff happened a long time ago, and we’re not the same people, and that’s probably for the best. So now Lis and I get to forge a different kind of friendship. One that’s based on healthier, less destructive adult stuff, I suppose. It’s more in my nature to tell stories about the “good” old days, but Lis likes to look ahead. And she downplays all the lessons she’s taught me, and all the good she’s responsible for. That’s okay, I won’t forget. That’s how good friendship ages.

 

LIS 2