no more silence, only song

#metoo, she said
he said
they said

they do it 4 teh money

all that sweet they-fucked-me money
someone went to town on me
flannel nightgown down on me

…and all i got was this ptsd
and all i got was no family
and all i got was homeless
and hopeless
and shamed and named and still i came and said
#metoo

y didn’t they come out sooner? #lies

but we did
we did since words were words
and no one heard
we shouted into broken mics
we got no likes

we burned our flesh
and hoped the smell
the smell would tell you
might compel you
to our side
i never lied

and artemisia and ms. maya
and a hundred hundred hundred
like a storm unleashed
we thundered
in our songs and books and verse
with the weapon in our purse
we said me
and me and me

but you didn’t see with hands on eyes
and now it’s such a great surprise
you’re shocked, you never knew
till you saw the words #metoo?

another 1 jumping on teh bandwagon

yes, the wagon’s very full
so the horses have to pull
just to gain a little movement
after all this standing still

the songs we play are all the same
a different night
a different name
but harmony
in all the shame
and loss and costs
and silences
cause violence is
a silencer
and silence is like death
all our songs are bated breath

and we haven’t started yet
when we fucking kill regret
when we live, and don’t forget

and the static of the mics
we’re turning on

no more silence, only song

no more silence, only song

no more silence, only song

no more silence, only song

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From #MeToo to #WhatNow? – After You Share Your Story

Hello fellow #MeToo human. It’s been a tough year, right? I mean, after years of dealing with something that seemed pretty hopeless, there’s this light. This organic light created by people like us who have been hurt and fought to be heard and finally said NO MORE SILENCE. It’s…

Well, that’s the thing, it’s SO many things. It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting. It’s emotionally wrenching. It’s impossible.

It’s a lot like surviving in the first place.

I’m not here to tell you what will work for you, because 1/6th (or more) of the planet has been here and I have no illusions that I know the different factors that make up your life. I’m going to tell you what worked for me. (And if you want to skip all that and just get to a list of resources, click here.)

Me: I’m a person who was abused, assaulted and harassed, both in childhood and as an adult. I told the first person what happened to me more than 20 years ago. I’ve been very open about it since the late 90s and, probably more often than most folks would care for, it’s the focus of this blog.

I did tell people. I did try to make a police report. It didn’t work. I have complex PTSD, which I deal with pretty well, except sometimes when I really don’t. I keep trying to “fix” myself, which I realize is both problematic AND what is expected. I lean more towards depression than anger. I am held together by planning and sticky-tape.

That’s me. That’s not you.

So with all that in mind, here’s what I’ve learned from my 20+ years of saying #MeToo.

It Will Normalize

I say this rather than it will get better, because better is a lie. The body longs for homeostasis. The brain wants you to make sense of things. It takes a lot of time and it’s hard on the system, but there has been, for me, a normalization of the experience. It’s not gone, but it lives deeper. I’ve piled stuff on top of it. I’ve given my brain other experiences to pick from. I’m sure the right meds helped, but honestly, it’s just time. Which is shitty, but worth holding on to. Time doesn’t fix it, but it dilutes it.

Get Help but BE CAREFUL

Get help. You probably hear that one a lot.

But also, be cautious. If you are hurting, it’s easy to jump at anything that promises relief. If you’re not careful, though, it can cost you a lot of money and sometimes make things worse. Anyone who claims they can cure you for a cost is probably lying. There’s no cure for this. It’s not something you can leach out or fix with something you buy in a health food store. We are a big demographic. There’s a lot of money to be made from our desperation to feel well again. Lot’s of folks promise to make it all go away. Before you spend your money – before you tear off a scab and expose your wounds to someone – consider this:

  • Does this approach match who I am as a person?
  • Does this approach cost so much that it puts my well-being in other areas in danger?
  • Is it regulated? Do some research. See what folks are saying.
  • What are the results? Don’t trust their stats. Places like MedLine are set up to offer vetted medical information, so consider searching on there for another POV on the treatment you’re considering.
  • Am I safe? This is a big one. Are you comfortable with the neighbourhood the treatment is in? Are you comfortable with the staff? Are you trusting your alarm bells or silencing them just to get through it? Let those bells ring.
  • Is the person just well-intended or are they well-qualified? This is a big one. Lots of folks want to help but their desire is not the same as qualifications. You are not someone’s project.

All of this is not to say don’t seek help. Over the last 20 years I’ve had some success and some stuff that set me way back, emotionally and financially. Filter from the get-go. I understand wanting to feel anything but what you’re feeling, but the system isn’t in place for a perfect path to help and healing. We have to navigate some really gross waters to get to the other side. Be safe. Be picky.

Be safe (it was worth saying twice.)

I’ve include a list at the bottom of this blog of places that are considered reputable. Some may work for you. Some may not. Feel free to explore them, but trust that part of you that’s telling you “this one isn’t for me.”

People Will Say Shitty Things

People will say you should have said something sooner. They will say you shouldn’t have said anything until there was a trial. They will say you are looking for attention. They will say you should get over it. They will say that you are ruining lives.

They will say it can’t have been that bad. They will say you asked for it. They will say you are lying. They will say it is not fair to make them choose between you and the person who hurt you.

They will ask what you were wearing. They will tell you what you could have done to avoid it. They will tell you what they would have done had it happened to them. They will tell you that your abuser seems like a nice person.

They will tell you it happened so long ago and wonder why it still bothers you. They will tell you that they find your pain inconvenient. They will tell you that you are too intense. They will tell you that you seem fine. They will tell you that you aren’t special. They will tell you that they don’t believe you. They will say “innocent until proven guilty.” They will say “due process.”

They won’t say anything at all. They’ll pretend they didn’t hear. They will give you the look. They will stop calling. They will unfriend you. They will forget to invite you to things.

People will say shitty things.

DON’T TAKE IT IN. I mean, you will. It will hurt. That can’t be helped. But know that we ALL hear these things. We hear them because people are new to not being shitty about this. Write them down and throw them out. Have a bonfire of shitty things people say.

But also, write down all the supportive things people say and carry them with you. Pull them out of your wallet every time someone says something shitty.

I know that these things are like repetitive strain, like water torture. One hurts, a hundred makes you want to die. But seriously, fight this. Repeat truths until you drown them out. Sometimes, because I am a geek, I just say “I am one with the force and the force is with me.” I mean, it’s not perfect, but it works for me. Find what works for you.

And friends of people going through this – call out folks who say shitty things to your friends so they don’t have to. It helps.

Don’t Hurt Yourself

This can mean a lot of things, but first of all, survive. Seriously. It can get that bad. It might get that bad. It did for me. I wish I could say there was a safe place to go, but there isn’t always. Call friends. Call helplines. Make someone help you survive.

Don’t be around people who aren’t determined to help you survive.

For a long time, I carried this comic by a friend around in my wallet and I pulled it out whenever my brain forgot survival was better. Find your talismans. Find your songs. Find your humans. Find a chocolate bar that is worth surviving for and go buy it. Find a movie. Find a smell. Find something. And if you can’t find anything, talk to a doctor. It will probably suck and won’t feel like surviving and the system is a mess, but YOU NEED TOO SURVIVE. That is literally all that matters.

As to the rest of it, remember what I said about normalizing stuff? Well, sometimes our brains try to normalize pain by keeping it going. This can mean self-injury, dangerous decisions, punching things that are harder than our skin.

We all have scars and sometimes it feels good to make them external.

Our brains can take that experience of someone hurting us and decide to pick up where they left off. If they said shitty things to us, we keep up the narrative. If they hurt us, we hurt us. If they made us feel unsafe around sex, we jump into unsafe sex. We can use all kinds of substances to obliterate feeling anything at all.

It’s hard to stop that pain train once it’s in motion. It’s exhausting. It’s not a simple thing to just say “don’t do those things.” For me, it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of the time, standing in my own way and saying, “nope, not cutting today.” 20 years and it’s still a fight. But I’m still fighting.

Fight that shit.

Again, if it’s too much, I’m posting a bunch of resources at the bottom of this. If they help, use them to survive. If they don’t, find other ways to survive. Please survive.

Find an Outlet

This one is super personal. It’s about finding a way to exorcise the overwhelming nervous system/emotional response that can feel like Schrödinger’s bomb in your body. I like to write. Sometimes I smash things in a semi-controlled way. Then I make art out of the smashy bits. I have a friend who boxes and another who weight-lifts. Neil Gaiman recommends making good art.

If you’re low on cash, it can be hard to find an outlet. After all, axe-throwing costs money. I think that’s why writing was my thing. Paper was cheap. And after you let it out, pamper yourself. Go to a park. Swing on some swings. Get your hands in some dirt. Take a bath. Whatever works for you. Soothe your system.

Let it out safely and treat yourself kindly afterward.

It doesn’t make it go away, but it can go a long way to helping with the last bit – the not hurting yourself bit. It can calm the bomb.

That’s it. That’s what I’ve got. I wish I had more. I wish I could make this anything but a shitstain of an experience. I can’t. You can’t. It’s the fucking worst. I’m sorry you’re hurt and I’m proud of you for dealing. I’m proud of you for surviving. I’m glad I lived to see the #MeToo moment and sad that we need it.

For a bit of help with #WhatNow? here are some resources. Remember, be picky. None of these make it go away, but one of them may help you deal. Be as well as you can.

#MeToo,
Heather

American Psychological Association
Getting help, what you can do, news, etc.

Assaulted Women’s Helpline (Canada)
“The Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY crisis line to all woman who have experienced abuse.”

Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
We are a Pan Canadian group of sexual assault centres who have come together to implement the legal, social and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent, and ultimately eradicate, rape and sexual assault.”

Edmonton Police (Canada)
“What you can expect when reporting a sexual assault”

FORGE
“FORGE has published four guides specifically to address the needs of transgender and non-binary individuals who have experienced sexual abuse or assault; loved ones of trans survivors; and facilitators of trans support groups.”

Kid’s Help Phone (Canada)
“Remember: sexual assault is not your fault and no one has the right to touch you sexually without your permission. You can call Kids Help Phone 24/7 if you need to talk at 1-800-668-6868.”

MedlinePlus (USA)
A site of vetted medical information with links to other resources.

Men & Healing
“We are one of Canada’s leading agencies in a male-centred approach to psychology and therapy.”

Multicultural Women Against Rape (Toronto, Canada)
“TRCC/MWAR run a variety of peer support groups throughout the year. Groups are available to those who have experienced sexual assault.”

Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC)
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Métis women within First Nation, Métis and Canadian societies.”

Ontario Human Rights Commission
“Sexual harassment is against the law. The Ontario Human Rights Code Code prohibits sexual harassment in employment (and in services, housing, and other “social areas”).”

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (USA)
“RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.”

Toronto Police (Canada)
“A guide for sexual assault survivors.”

Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (Toronto, Canada)
“The Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (SA/DVCC) available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a comprehensive service that assists women, men, and trans people who are victims / survivors of sexual assault and domestic / intimate partner violence.”

There are more resources out there. This is a starting place. If you know of any good resources I missed, or any that are useful internationally, please let me know. I’ll add them.

And remember:

SURVIVE.

The Two Definitions of Wonder

 

2016 has been a tough one, no denying. Still, I keep hope, because the alternative is too depressing to bear. In the spirit of sharing hope, my gift to you is one of my favourite holiday memories. Enjoy.

daviesvalValentine Davies was serving in the coast guard in 1944. He had a shy smile, a receding hairline and an impressive nose. He also had a story that started as a question. What would the real Santa think if he entered a department store and saw how commercial his season had become?

Writers know that speculating outcomes to impossible scenarios is a great substitute for inspiration. It’s more reliable too. From Valentine’s question came a short story and then a movie, Miracle on 34th Street. It was a childhood favourite of mine; a film where a young girl was allowed to be clever, a film that confirmed my existing bias that miracles were real.

I was living in a group home in 1996 when I met a boy. He had a shy smile, a receding hairline and an impressive nose. He had captivating hazel eyes and a wonder that he applied to every pursuit. He carried hope like it weighed nothing at all. We met in a mall. My newly minted cynicism and his unqualified optimism slid comfortably together

In February, we saw the re-release of The Empire Strikes Back. He was so excited, he shook the whole row of theatre chairs. By the end of it, we were dating. By that evening, we were living together.

screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-2-57-41-pmOur Eglinton walk-up apartment, shared with a roommate, was my first safe home. We painted our bedroom bright yellow and squeezed in to a single bed. I bounced my madness off his serene strength, painting goddesses on the wall next to his posters of punk bands and space cowboys. I sidled up to happiness and flirted with it, wondering if we could put our differences aside.

By June, we were homeless.

I had experience with scarcity, but for him it was all new. Still, when family offered to take him in – if he was willing to leave me behind – he refused. I convinced him to use what money we had to rent a storage room for a year.

“Take everything that matters and pack it up. That way, when it’s all done, we won’t be starting with nothing.”

With our possessions homed, though we were not, we discovered the city. Some nights we stayed up, wandering Toronto’s PATH system like priests in the Roman catacombs. Vagrancy in Toronto, like burial in those ancient city limits, was illegal, so down we went, hiding from the elements, walking until our legs ached. The tile echoed our voices back, a call and answer with each whisper.

Friends took us in for a day, a week, when they could. We carried two backpacks each, one on the front and one on the back, with clothes, food, notebooks for my poetry, whatever we might need. My experience proved less valuable than his buoyancy, as he made a game of washing our hair in the park or resting in primary-coloured climbers behind schools. He declared the sidewalk to be lava and made it from the Eaton Centre to CityTV without touching down once.

For my birthday, he took me to an outdoor movie, playing for free at Nathan Phillips Square. We stretched out on the cement, our disheveled appearance easily mistaken for grunge cool. He gave me a Blues Traveller CD.

“For when you have a place to play it.” He said it like a promise.

Untitled 2.pngFor his birthday two weeks later, I bought a box of powdered mini-donuts and put a candle in each one. I gave him a twenty-five cent vending machine toy for every year he’d been alive, with a note slipped in each enumerating the ways I loved him.

We tried to find work, but without an address or a phone, it was difficult. We tried to get welfare, but seeking help was a rat maze with no promise of cheese at the end.

If homelessness during a Toronto summer is hard, homelessness during a Toronto winter can be deadly. As November’s gloom crept in, we relied more heavily on friends with empty couches and floors, finding the edges of generosity. His college acquaintances proved our most consistent benefactors. Many nights we ended up at the Parkdale rental of Alex, a computer programmer, and Zeus, a TV tycoon in the making.

We were occupying their couch when Santa came to Toronto. Despite having lived in the city my whole life, I had never seen the parade.

eatonsannexcommons1“Let’s do it!” He cast off our circumstances with a speed I could not match.

Using precious tokens, we traveled downtown. The streets were full of children stuffed into snowsuits, parents hopping foot to foot against the cold. He found us a perch atop a fence and we cuddled close, borrowing seasonal spirit from the gathered crowd.

“Look!” He shouted with each new float, pointing out details, flaws, bits of whimsy.

We laughed at the creepy upside-down clowns, boogied to the marching bands and clutched hands in anticipation of the man himself. When Santa finally came, we cheered through chattering teeth, caught up in the shared fairy tale.

After the parade, we pooled our change for hot cocoa and walked through Queen’s Park, teasing squirrels and making up stories about statues. I kissed him a hundred times, wanting to set the moment, make it official with a stamp that said “This we get to keep.”

It took one day for our sugar plum visions to crash up against reality. Sucking on candy canes tossed out by minor celebrities and city politicians, we attended our last appointment at YouthLink. We were aging out of their counseling demographic, something I had experienced before. I cried, always finding easier access to sorrow than he did. He ground his teeth and flipped through newspapers in the waiting room. He zoned in on the Help Wanted and For Rent sections, assuring me that one of us would find work soon.

Out of ideas and seeking some extension of the previous day’s fantasy, I opened one of my notebooks to a blank page. He read over my shoulder as I wrote.

i_am_santa_clausDear Mr. Santa Claus,

My name is Heather. I’m not a kid, but I do have something I want. My boyfriend and I are homeless right now, so I’m writing to ask for a home for Christmas.

I figure, if it can work for the kid in Miracle on 34th Street, it can work for me.

Merry Christmas.

We asked the receptionist, a sympathetic woman with a cigarette-stained laugh and seasonal nail art, for an envelope and stamp.

“I hope you get what you asked for.” She patted my hand.

We walked back to Alex and Zeus’ apartment, dropping the letter in a mailbox on the way.

It was Alex, who had patiently accepted our intrusion on his orderly life, who helped me find a job. When his work was looking for data entry clerks, he made sure I was one of the first people interviewed. Though my pay was small, it was enough for us to start looking for an apartment.

Our Christmas day was spent as our summer had been, wandering the PATH system, enjoying empty shops still lit up for the holidays. The sparkle had outlasted the celebration.

On New Year’s Day, we found a place. It was a basement under a Chinese food restaurant that had roaches and mold and ground level windows that drunken passers-by peed through if they were left open. The buzzer still said Meryn Cadell, proof that I was not the first poet to live there. It was $500 a month. We took it and made it ours.

old-post-office.jpgI opened our mailbox close to Valentine’s Day to find an envelope with a white bearded man on the front. The return postal code was H0 H0 H0. Inside was a standard form letter from Santa Claus, as created by Canada Post. On the back were a few lines, hand-written in blue ink.

I hope you find a home for Christmas. Maybe there’s a service that can help? I am thinking about you and hoping for the best.

Be well,

“Santa”

I showed it to my love, who started to laugh.

“I guess we did get this place right around Christmas, didn’t we?”

But I am a writer and writers know that speculating outcomes to impossible scenarios is something like inspiration. Somewhere out there, a person had written a response and had held on to it until we popped up in the address book. That person had answered our letter, despite the fact that it had no return address.

He grinned like a kid who’d just seen a very convincing mall Santa.

I smiled, imagining a person opening our letter, reading it with compassion and picking up a blue pen.

1280px-merry_christmas_1

I Posted a Picture

I have 18,000,000 assignments and almost as many work hours, but I will post poems. Because I can. 

Smiley Smile

Smiley Smile

I Posted a Picture

I posted a picture, and in it I smiled
All teeth
With lips pulled back
And eyes wild

An image
A creature
Of vigor and glee
Which all of you wrongly accepted as me

It was not a lie in the strictest of senses
I was
And I could be
If I played with tenses

If science and magic were no longer fighting
If I got a haircut
Or played with the lighting

If doctors were mothers and kisses could cure
Then she could be me
And I could be her.

by Heather Emme

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

NACI and the Knife

Yesterday I posted my straight up gut feelings about the situation at North Albion Collegiate Institute and in Rexdale. I realized, while writing it (over and over) that I had more than one story to tell, more than one idea fighting for precedence in my head. This is the second part of that blog, the part where I tell you about the time, in my first year of high school at NACI, that a knife was pulled on me.

The sense memories tied to this image are overwhelming for me.

The sense memories tied to this image are overwhelming for me.

I was a very awkward ninth grader. Still just under five feet tall, I was also deeply dorky. I was religious and could kindly be described as pudgy. I preferred the imagined world of LM Montgomery to the real world. If I could have escaped on the Starship Enterprise, I would have. I look back at my ninth grade picture and see someone so insecure that I wonder that she even made it through the foreboding front doors. Still, school wasn’t an option, so I went.

In the end, school was something of a haven for me, because it wasn’t my home. I learn in a way that compliments our current school’s system. Even while floundering due to personal challenges, I excelled at school. I didn’t make friends easily, but I was sociable and smart and I always found people to click with.

There were, as one would expect, people I didn’t get on with. One girl – a pretty, girl with perfect skin and teeth and a doting boyfriend, disliked me almost immediately. It wasn’t anything particularly egregious on either of our parts, we just found ourselves thrown into competing roles in shared interests like the newspaper or the steel band. She saw me as a usurper, I saw her as inflexible. We didn’t mesh (her teeth are scribbled out in my year book.)

What would be a mere annoyance in adult life was, not unexpectedly, drama in high school. One day, perhaps in an attempt to impress her, her boyfriend chased me through the school and out the back door. He was holding a knife.

It was genuinely frightening. He was twice my size and he had a razor’s edge personality that could slip from sweet to scary in a hairsbreadth. I ran like my life depended it on it. It may well have.

If one of my friends hadn’t said “He has a knife!” when he was still a good distance from me, if I hadn’t been a pretty fair runner, if he had been angrier or I had been the type to turn and confront rather than run and hide, my story might have ended like the one so recently in the news.

It didn’t. I went home. I didn’t tell anyone (parents or teachers or anyone in authority) what had happened. We avoided each other the rest of the year.

Then the next year, he and I had drama class together, and we became friends. A boy who had chased me with a knife became, while not a close companion, certainly someone I would sit beside on the bus and chat with. I found out that his father was not in his life in a way he wanted. I found out that he was often angry and he hated himself for it. I found out that he and the girl had not lasted, and that he felt like an idiot for chasing me through NACI with a knife.

I found out that he was a person.

This, I think, is the real tragedy of what has happened. There is no chance for the students lost that day (the one who lost his life and the one whose life will never be the same.) One moment that could have ended so many ways ended the worst way imaginable. Now we will never know who those young men could have been. They will be names thrown around when people want tougher laws or more busts. They may be names used to get services brought to a neighbourhood that sorely needs it. Still, they will no longer be just themselves. They are now tied together forever by a horrible second that cannot be undone.