Eight Words

Things I cannot say in eight words:
I love you like plants, voracious,
Love soil and sun and summer rain.
I hold you like a nest holds eggs,

Tenderly so you will not break.
Things I cannot say in eight words,
I try to say in hundreds more,
But you prefer a soundless kiss.

You prefer me, my eyes closed tight,
Contemplating you and I and
Things I cannot say in eight words.
You tell me that I am enough

And that you know, you always knew
That my love is voluminous
And so I say with nothing, the
Things I cannot say in eight words.

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

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Breaking Up With The Mall

One of the wonders of my poorer childhood was our love affair with the mall. My family lived in the mall. I called us Mall Walkers. We didn’t buy much (perhaps food one day, cheap plastic shoes the next, toilet cleaner, a coffee, a pack of large Du Maurier king sized, a bag of milk that, when carried home, left plastic bag marks dented into our hands like a temporary stigmata.) Most mornings, we would gather there. “We” meant aunts, uncles, grandparents and about a half dozen kids. As a family without money, we visited the shrine to it like hopeful disciples. We split our time almost equally between the house of god and the house of inexpensive plastic toys that smelled like Christmas in their newness.

While the parents sat in the food court and coupon swapped, we, the children, were free to walk around the mall. We usually bee-lined for either K-Mart or Woolco, both department stores. K-Mart had three toy aisles and an old fashioned sandwich counter that served “choc on the rocks” – chocolate milk over ice – for fifty cents.

Since fifty cents was a high order some days, we usually skipped K-Mart and all its temptations for Woolco which had, rather than three measly aisles, a full toy section. Up the middle escalator we’d ride (the ride was part of the fun, of course) to the second story of Woolco. Around a corner and straight to the back, where My Little Pony Shrinky-Dinks and Wrestlemania figures were on display, like cardboard sheathed works of art. Well trained critics, we trolled the aisles, examining the art, but never touching (as long as adult clerks were around, anyway.) Our eyes and minds were full of colour, scents, the sound of music not allowed in our conservative Christian household.

The mall was heaven. I mean this literally. When I imagined heaven, I imagined a golden version of Woolco, with diamond encrusted blenders, escalators of silver, and God at the counter, telling us all of it was free. Even choc on the rocks. Drink up, my good children, for you have been saved!

This love of the mall carried over into my teens. The mall was one of my many escapes, along with school and the library. Baby sitting jobs, camp counsellor gigs at the church, a McJob – suddenly I had money when I went to the mall. I became, much like my mother and aunts and grandmother, an expert bargain shopper. Cassette tapes missing their case? They still played. Shirts with a button lost to too many try-ons? I could mend a button in seconds flat. After Christmas, Halloween and all the holidays in between, I scoured the just-out-of-season bin for things I squirrelled away, filling my room with books and dolls and music, precious only to me. I could enter the mall with ten dollars and leave with my arms full.

Even as an adult, I loved the mall. For my birthday, my husband, who grew up in a farm house and understood the value of quality, would take me to the mall and help me bargain hunt. We’d pick up treats and buy overpriced coffee. He’d picked up on my habit of calling it mall walking and almost every year (save the one in which we were homeless and a few where we had other plans) we would visit a mall and tour just for me. At the end of the day, bags of two for one t-shirts and fifty percent off books clamoured for space on my lap as we bussed back to our apartment. I loved it.

I loved it less and less every year.

As a child, we did not go to museums. We did not take day trips to see the wonders of the world. We did not go to the cinema. We did not, usually, go to cultural festivals or performances. We went to church. We went on yearly trips to the beach. Mostly, we went to the mall.

As an adult, I worked as a nanny. Being a nanny has challenges and it has perks. One perk that changed my life was that the children of monied people do not go to malls on quiet days. They go to museums. The family I worked for had memberships; they had memberships to places where history and art and ideas were revered and organized and placed behind glass. Much like my childhood, I was able to walk aisles and look at brilliant things that I could not touch. There were colours and sounds and so many lovely things. The children and I visited museums until we had them memorized. We did art based on what we’d seen. We cooked meals inspired by civilizations. The fact that we couldn’t take the shiny objects home wasn’t sad because no on could. They were in their home, waiting for us to visit again and again.

The more I visited museums, the less I loved malls. The museum gave me everything the mall had, but without the jostling crowds, the garish ads, the push to purchase. Instead of hunting for bargains, I hunted for stories. I found them in the Print Shop at Black Creek Pioneer Village. I found them in the Moore Gallery at the AGO. I found them in the textile section of the ROM. I found them in the 30+ museums and galleries that fill up the city I am lucky enough to call home.

Last week I was Christmas shopping for my niblings when, exhausted, I called my husband.

“I think I’ve fallen out of love with malls.” Hiding in the back of Toys, Toys, Toys, crushed by strollers and listening to Disney teens massacre Little Drummer Boy, I couldn’t keep the sadness from my tone.

“Woah!” He was, after 20 years of knowing me, genuinely surprised.

“Right? What’s happened?” I tried to find the joy in rows of plastic and cardboard, in bargain bin Spongebobs and half priced Barbies.

“Maybe…” I could tell he was thinking because he went silent for almost a full minute. “Maybe now that you have most of what you need, now that you’re free to get the things you want, maybe now you’ve found you don’t want everything anymore?”

My husband, the man with an engineer’s brain and philosopher’s heart, was right. My world had gotten bigger. It had grown and changed and left something I used to love behind. It had happened before with religion and family and even my need to live far up off the ground in apartments. I had left so much behind, but I was clinging to the mall, one of the last bits of nostalgic joy I had, well past the point of actual happiness.

I extricated myself from Toys, Toys, Toys tightly packed aisles and walked out of the Eaton Centre and on to Yonge Street. Preachers and Imams and the newly converted shouted into the air, trying to save my soul. A musician played plastic tubs with broken drumsticks and a masked man did breakdancing for five dollar bills. All around me was art and noise and history.

I dropped a five in his bucket and watched an artist dance. It was the best bargain I’d found all day. Worth it, as the ads used to say, at twice the price.

A Small Bit of Good

I made a decision early on that when it came to my writing on this blog, I wasn’t going to ask for money. Partly, I made that decision because I suck at fulfilling obligations and as soon as someone has paid me, I feel obligated.

Don’t worry, I’m not asking for money now.

But I am telling you about somewhere a small part of your money could go that would do a huge amount of good.

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The chicks love him

First, some history: I am a gosh-mama. A gosh-mama is like a godparent for folks who don’t believe in anything (except our mutual ability to do good things.) I am gosh-mama to a wonderful kiddo who I love very much and don’t see nearly enough.

Part of the reason I don’t see him is because his wonderful parents, Nick and Deni, moved out to the sticks to start a homesteading and educational facility.

I love the city. I love being able to stumble out my door and see at least three convenience stores. Nick and Deni wanted something a little different for their brood. They wanted to discover sustainability in a world of waste. They wanted to learn to grow their own, while raising their own. They wanted to reach out to a community and pull it close and help that community’s kids learn about food and sustainability and the ways we were, are and could be as a Canadian society.

It was noble and pretty and, well, they’ve been hit by every possible piece of bad luck one could imagine, from basement flooding to spinal surgery (kid you not) to a neighbour who decided to off their livestock.

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Apparently not pigeons.

Here’s the thing about Nick and Deni, though. They are more stubborn than all the bad luck in the world. They are more loving than all the fates can chuck at them.

I am cynical as f*ck, but when I’m with these guys, I feel hope. So I’m hoping that maybe you can help.

If you can spare even $5, go to their Go Fund Me page and chip in. If you can’t, share this blog or their Go Fund Me page and hopefully we can help them restore their homestead and grow it to include a whole community of kids who will be able to learn about farming. There are way, way more details of their plan on the page. It’s pretty kick-ass, just like they are.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

I promise to go back to complaining about injustice and moping about crappy life stuff very, very soon.

In My Room

*This essay contains spoilers – oh and abuse, but more importantly: spoilers*

Last night, with my husband out of town visiting family, after a long day of work and transit, with very little in my emotional tank, I went and saw Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. That is, Lenny Abrahamson directed it, but in truth, it’s Emma Donoghue’s Room, since she wrote the book and the screenplay. It is also Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay’s Room, since they so ably played the leads. 

Wow Ma! I'd have thought you'd have more jaundice!

Wow Ma! I’d have thought you’d have more jaundice!

What it isn’t, I realized, is my Room. When I read the original book, I connected with it. Though it felt a bit exploitative (a la Flowers In The Attic) something rang true. Whether Ms. Donoghue has well-honed writer’s empathy or whether she has had her own traps to escape, I found some decent mirrors in the book. Moments where, internally, I said, “Yes! That’s it!”

The movie had none of that.

A bit of history: I was not kidnapped (phew, right?) I did grow up with a massive amount of religious restriction, abuse and a lot of psychological fuckery. For a while, I had my own “room”. By way of putting me in my place, I was housed in the pantry of our apartment. To be fair, it was pretty big, for a pantry, but I could touch both walls standing left to right.

That was the wall my bed was on. Since a bed did not fit, I actually had a mattress made of foam on an old folding table. Over the table-bed, a few shelves were hung on which I banged my head most mornings. I actually liked the table-bed because I could hide under it and still be sitting up. I wrote many a teen-angst tome under there, pressed in between all my possessions in boxes. That’s one of the things the book Room communicated so much better than the film: the nostalgia for bits of the prison; the parts that one loved. When your choices are limited, you still need to love something best. I loved under my table-bed.

There was an entry to the kitchen from my room, but it was boarded over with plywood. There was a space of about a foot left off the top so I would get fresh air. There was a curtain there for privacy, but anyone could move it and peek in on me, so you can see why hiding under the table-bed was useful. Because of that one foot gap, I needed to be silent most of the time. If I played music, it was heard in the kitchen and living room. Any sound brought questions about what I was doing. I learned to move quietly, though never delicately. It’s just not in me.

On the wall opposite my bed was a door. It was about 8 feet away from the wall with my bed. (I can’t be sure of the exact room measurements, because when your old apartment is featured in stories like this, they tend not to have very good layout archives available.)

There was one shelf, along the wall with the plywood. I try to remember what was on it, but I can’t. Books, most likely. I think there was a fan, for when it got hot. I know I had a plastic drawer that I called my despair drawer. It had homework and papers on top, and underneath, a cigarette, a rope, some broken glass – classic and useful symbols of my teenaged desperation. I used the glass the most.

The room had no windows. I sometimes took seeds from fruit and tried to grow things in there. Nothing lived because all living things need sunlight and we weren’t getting any.

Let me be clear: I understand that, in the world at large, lots of people, heck, even families, live in 6×8 rooms. I get that. If there had been no other choice, it may not have fussed me over much. But there was an empty room being used as a den. Instead of putting me in the den (which had windows) they put me in the pantry. I choose to be bitter about that.

Unlike in Room the book/movie, I was able to go to school. Sometimes to church (though church was social for me, therefor it could be taken away if I disobeyed.) I did horribly in school and most teachers mourned that I wasn’t living up to my potential.

I wasn’t. I’m still not.

Things the book got very, very right about living in a small, externally-imposed space:

Things the book got right: Books make all the difference.

Things the book got right: Books make all the difference.

Boredom. I loved the boredom in the book. I taped a locker mirror up under the shelves over my table-bed. I would lie on my back on my table-bed and stare at my own face without blinking until my eyes took to playing tricks. My face would morph and mush and sometimes I would look like other people. I would pretend those were my past lives and I’d write stories about them. I read a lot. Thank all that’s good that I had a school library card. I read so many books, sometimes two a night. I’d read and ignore my homework.

Adaptation. In a small space, you make it work. There was almost no floor space in my room, so I did most activities on the table-bed. I’ve already mentioned my privacy hiding space. To do homework, I pushed up the mattress and pulled a box out from under the table-bed and voila! A desk! To lock my door (which, of course, had no lock) I sat with my back against it and pressed my feet up against the shelf, which pressed up against the table-bed. Unless they could break my legs, no one was getting in.

Normalization. I still like small spaces. Sometimes I sleep on the couch, because being pressed up against the back makes it feel small and cosy. I pile a nest of pillows and I feel safe.

All of these ideas come up in the book in a way the movie missed. Everything happened too fast in the film. Everything was way, way too easy. He learned steps in moments, while in the book he butt-bumped down them for weeks. The first trip outside in the book is a trauma, while in the movie, he skips along like he totally has seen grass before. The breast feeding was treated as a throw-away in the movie, while in the book, it was dwelled on. Literally, main character Jack had to accept that he couldn’t get sustenance (physical and emotional) from one person (Ma) any more. And she couldn’t give it. The de-normalization of that idea was like a one-two gut punch. Saying goodbye to the thing that sustained him because the world is bigger now? That’s beautiful. Skipping that entire story (save three small moments) because breast-feeding icks out American audiences and full-term feeding even more-so? Dirty pool, old man!

Maybe, as much as I was frustrated at the movie, I was even more frustrated at the audience. There were times I wanted to stand up and shout, “You’re emoting all wrong!” The cheesy music didn’t help. It basically told them when to feel, much like a laugh track tells you when to laugh, even when it’s not funny.

There were moments that gutted me. When the kid cracks a joke, you don’t laugh! That shit is poignant, not funny!

Watching this film with an audience made me feel like our lives, our trauma, are entertainment. And they were entertained in a way that told me that they just don’t get it. Maybe I don’t hate Room, the movie. Maybe I hate how very isolated the reaction of the audience made me feel. When they oohed and aahed and giggled as instructed, I sat silent. I even moved seats away from a woman who hit every emotional cue like she’d been paid by the producers just to feel in public.

I wanted to stop the film and give a master class in empathy. I wanted to take Lenny Abrahamson and Emma Donoghue and Brie Larson and the entire audience at the Varsity Cinema and be all like:
f5ff8bbf2baedef02048f6de48f8b821ad10334a9747e5bf630d78775c0dd61fIn the end, Room the book is the sort of starter guide that abused kids stumble across that gives them some idea that they are not alone. It touched me on that level, because kid-me has not matured past needing that yet. Still, as I got older, I moved on to biographies and stories that were true and featured honest semi-survivors and finally on to telling my own stories, because no one but me will ever get me right. 

The movie wasn’t even that. The movie was a lifetime movie of the week that dipped vicariously in to our suffering and painted it on a pretty canvas. I am not a film critic. I am not a book critic. I am a girl who lived in a room and I did not like this film.

Now if anyone wants me, I’ll be in my room.

Why I Can Not Wear The Poppy

I should start by saying that I do not write this to be controversial. I do not write it to be contrarian. I do not write it to counter what others feel deeply about.

I write it because it is true for me and for no other reason.

I do not wear the poppy.

I do not wear the poppy – not because I think less about what it means, but because I think about what it means a lot. I don’t wear a poppy for the same reason I don’t pretend to pray when I go into churches for weddings or funerals. I don’t do it because I do not want to play at something that means a great deal to people when I am so deeply conflicted by it.

I am conflicted. I do not have an easy answer. I do not have a stance. I do not think I am right and you are wrong.

I don’t wear it because I wonder if we understand, fully, what happened on November 11th, 1918. That was a moment of armistice. Not a moment of war. I might wear a poppy if I felt it stood for the end of fighting, but I feel like it may stand for the continued fighting and that makes me sad for our entire species.

That may not be what it means to you. I get that. I respect that. For me, I can’t celebrate the people who died to procure peace or profit or ideology until we are far less lackadaisical about doing the same now. For me, a poppy would be a celebration of our desire to stop sending humans to fight one another, but, whether it’s impractical, impossible or just not in our nature, I don’t see that happening.

For me Remembrance Day is a day of mourning. Mourning is personal. I may not do it the way everyone else does. I’m okay with that.