Cannery Row Magazine
A Literary Journal . . . with Benefits
by Tanja Rabe
by Roger Nash
Poetry & Musings
by Mat Del Papa
by Rebecca Kramer
by John Jantunen
by George Miller
by John Jantunen
by Randy Eady
by Katerina Fretwell
Poetry & Musings
by Rebecca Kramer
by Tanja Rabe
by Gregory Patrick
Born in Kingston - Made in Canada
by Tanja Rabe
You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
It's that time of year again and, as I rake the leaves in my backyard on a gorgeous, early-November day infused with a belated touch of 'Indian Summer', Christmas songs already dance like syrupy-sweet sugar plums in my head.
Is my memory slowly succumbing to the ravages of age or are we getting inundated progressively earlier each year with seasonal tunes, permeating not just the frenzied malls but also hounding us on our weekly trips to the grocery store? I distinctly remember sales of Christmas decor popping up as soon as the end of September neared, wrestling for space with spooky fare and bite-sized candy as stores initiated the customary grab for our wallets before the first leaves even hit the ground.
As I watch the last colours drift from the trees and savour the spicy aroma of fall, there's a feeling of sadness mingling with the fleeting charm of the autumnal season, a nostalgic farewell to light and nature's abundance as we face the cold, dark days of winter ahead.
And every year there is a longing in many of us that this December holiday will be different from the previous ones. We promise ourselves we won't be dragged into the mass hysteria that seems to afflict everyone around us, that we will spend more time with loved ones, be kinder to others and ourselves and, above all, trade in the madness and trappings of the season for some peaceful contemplation and self-care. Then the eggnog-flavoured Kool-Aid kicks in all around us. We get sucked back into the melee and that inner voice of yearning gets drowned out to the ringing of cash registers and the incessant refrain of Jingle Bells blaring from mall speakers.
There is so much wrapped up in the holiday season for many of us and, as we grow older, more and more baggage tends to accumulate. With the days growing shorter and the darkness taking over more of our waking hours, we feel a vulnerability and closeness to death that likely harkens back to a time in human history, when the cold and gloom of winter was habitually riddled with life-threatening perils - unimaginable to us now with modern conveniences providing a comfortable bufferzone from what lurks out in the cold, dark night. At the same time, as we've insulated ourselves so effectively against nature's seasonal bite, we have also, over time, lost the need to come together as supportive communities during the inhospitable months, progressively cutting ourselves off from each other as a consequence.
Thus, isolation has become one of the major challenges for many, particularly when incessantly bombarded with advertised versions of what a perfect holiday celebration is supposed to look and feel like, exacerbating the loneliness that many are already struggling with long before the dark days hit. And with seasonal disorders adding their own knock-down punch to the bargain, it comes as no surprise that more people frequently say their last farewell during this season than at any other time of the year.
Sadly, my father happened to be one of the holiday's casualties. He passed away, prematurely, around Christmas at the turn of the century, alone in a rundown apartment where his body lay for a full two weeks, before his landlord noticed he was late with the rent. Cause of death could not be determined at the time but there is a succinct possibility that loneliness moved his hand in the end.
Like many people who've lost a loved one during this "most wonderful time of the year", there will inevitably come a spell every December, when I feel a slow wave of sadness wash over me, inexplicable except for the memory of his untimely passing during the holidays. Over the years, I have learned to take a break from the bustle around me and give myself space to remember and mourn him, until that bitter-sweet echo from the past recedes on its own and releases me back into my life.
In a way, this seemingly innate practice of paying our dues to sad events in the past as the days get shorter reflects our mourning over the loss - or temporary death - of light as we approach the winter solstice and, while passing through this transformative period, there is a kind of cleansing that should occur within us, a ritual that finds its seasonal twin in celebrating the return of the light as we head into the New Year.
It is a true shame, then, that rampant consumerism has so insidiously hijacked this season of reflection, offering a myriad of costly distractions as a pseudo-panacea for what ails us this time of year and feeding off our need to reach out and share of ourselves. As we frantically try to fill that lonely void with purchase after purchase of (mostly) useless junk and stress over creating that illusive, picture-perfect Christmas experience, we sabotage the very thing we so deeply yearn for.
As an antidote to this maddening paradox, our family has developed its own traditions - or rather 'coping mechanisms' - over the years, mostly by way of boycotting this economic and environmental insanity. Since the kids are of an age where a Christmas tree has lost its magic, we let go of that ritual easily, using the old tree lights to decorate the front window and replacing the needling pine with a reusable wreath, courtesy of a crafty friend. Taking evening walks through a snowy, seasonally lit neighbourhood always works its charm, often indulging our need for community as well.
Regarding presents, we've given up on surprises, which all too often backfired in the past. Our teens each get a gift or two of their choice (within reason) on the traditional European celebration of Christmas Eve and have a stocking filled with their favourite, cavity-inducing fare for Christmas Day as a nod to the Canadian custom. John and I keep it low key on gifting each other (see "surprises") but partake in the stocking tradition to appease our own sweet-tooth.
Despite the common-sense restraints we've imposed on the holidays, I have to confess there's one affliction I splurge on relentlessly during the Advent season - though I'm inclined to blame it on my heritage.
There appears to be sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that German females are born with a specific gene, which lays dormant up until the first snowflakes drift from the skies. As much as we might try to resist this seasonal urge in favour of our waist line, out comes the rolling pin, the tin of cookie cutters gets dug from the back of the cupboard, baking supplies dominate the grocery list and specials on butter and nuts unleash the enthusiastic hoarder. My mother might have been a mediocre cook at the best of times, whose favourite seasonings included a good amount of char, but Christmas baking was serious business during my childhood and I don't recall her ever burning a batch of cookies. This tradition has been passed down from my late grandmother, who could still whip up a an amazing tray of apple-streusel cake in her nineties.
So, towards the end of November, my kitchen turns into a veritable battlefield, with a light dusting of flour covering all surfaces, as I stir, pound, grind, whisk, melt, roll and chop away for two weeks straight, snarling at anyone who dares intrude into my sanctuary and slapping greedy fingers trying to sneak a taste. Samples are judiciously doled out to test each batch which is then stored away till the day, when the kitchen returns to its former communal designation after a good baker's dozen of airtight containers fills the raccoon-proof bin on our back porch (for lack of a cool, indoor space).
In a way, this yearly ritual somewhat resembles a kind of spiritual exorcism, since there appears to be a decidedly therapeutic upside to this manic bake-out.
As the season turns and the scenery succumbs to desolation before the first snow drapes across the land, my kitchen offers an aromatic refuge from the dismal weather, with baking a welcome distraction that lightens my mood and keeps me from getting too deeply affected by the seasonal downturn. And the added benefit is a treasury of treats that doesn't just spare us from purchasing sweets until we fill those stockings for Christmas Day, but also provides plenty of fodder for gift baskets to be dispersed to all those on our "Nice List", a convenient way to avoid the shopping craze.
In the spirit of the approaching season, I'd like to share the benefits of my particular affliction with our esteemed readers and delve into the merry and, at times, challenging world of the German Christmas Backstube with a few of my favourite creations.
I tend to try out a couple of new recipes every season to spice things up, but the following cookie started the ball rolling about 15 years ago and has been at the top of my list ever since. Not just a family favourite, the recipe for this chocolate and icing-covered cake cookie filled with ground nuts and mixed peel has been passed on to fans more than a couple of times. I used to indulge my nostalgic taste buds via its imported version as soon as it hit the grocery stores every year, before realizing I could save money and spread the joy by rolling up my own sleeves.
The following treat belongs to the Lebkuchen family which ranges from cake-like varieties to decorated cookie cutter versions often compared to Gingerbread, though quite dissimilar in taste/texture and a great alternative for those who love the tradition of making Gingerbread creations with their kids, but don't care too much for the flavour/crunch itself. I will cover both ends of the Lebkuchen spectrum that we've enjoyed over the years.
- 4 large eggs (separate yolks from whites)
- 1 cup yellow or white sugar (not brown)
- app. 300 gr. melted milk chocolate (batter & frosting)
- 100 gr. ground hazelnuts
- 100 gr. ground or finely chopped, blanched almonds
- 7 tbsp. roughly chopped, candied orange-lemon peel
- 1 tsp. cinnamon, pinch nutmeg/allspice/cloves
(or Lebkuchen spice mix if available)
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups flour & 1 tsp. baking powder
- icing sugar & liquid flavour of your choice
Oven temperature: 360 degrees F
1. With an electric hand mixer, beat egg yolks and sugar in a large metal bowl until creamy.
2. With a wooden spoon, stir ground almonds, hazelnuts, 150 gr. of melted chocolate and mixed peel into the egg mixture.
3. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently stir into mixture (pull-under method/wooden spoon).
4. Mix flour, spices and baking powder in a separate bowl and slowly stir small amounts into the wet mix until very thick (if your arm hurts, take a break, then back at it; or enlist a strongman in the family).
5. Drop tablespoon-sized, roundish chunks onto a baking paper-lined cookie sheet, leave room for spread between cookies.
6. Bake for appr. 10-15 minutes on the middle rung of the oven with a sheet of aluminum foil on the lower rung to protect the cookie bottoms from burning.
7. Leave cookies to cool on sheet for 5 minutes to harden their bottoms, then carefully remove from baking paper with a thin cookie spatula to keep them intact (easier to spread chocolate over a smooth surface).
8. While still warm, brush tops with icing (not too drippy), decorate with almond slivers or sprinkles (opt.), let dry and cool completely. Then brush bottoms with melted chocolate. You can use a water bath for melting, but I wing it with a small pot on the lowest heat, turning the burner on and off during brushing to prevent the chocolate from drying up in the pot. Start with 3/4 of a bar and add more as needed. (Btw: Chocolate chips tend to be less creamy and melt a tat too thickly, so I get affordable 100 gr. bars of Selection brand Swiss milk chocolate. Don't use bars that have been sitting in your cupboard for a while (months), since they do dry out and clump even if sealed.)
9. Store Lebkuchen in an airtight container in a cool place.
When my kids were young and still clamouring to 'help' with holiday baking, this was the perfect recipe to appease them and it would keep them out of my sanctuary for the rest of the bake-out. Each got a nice-sized chunk of dough to cut out and decorate, at least whatever hadn't found its way into their mouth before hitting the oven. They had their own batch to enjoy, which generally lasted until my 'affliction' had run its course and I'd filled all the requisite gift baskets for friends and family.
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup yellow sugar
- 1 heaping tbsp. cocoa powder
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- pinch nutmeg/allspice/salt
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine
- 3 cups flour & 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 fork-beaten eggs
- icing sugar, sprinkles, nuts, food colouring
Oven temperature: 380 degrees F
1. In a large, preferably non-stick, pan stir together honey, sugar, margarine or butter, spices and cocoa powder on low heat until sugar is dissolved and butter melted, forming a thick, liquid mass.
2. Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a large, low bowl (or deep tray), make a well in the middle and add the slightly cooled honey mass and beaten eggs.
3. Stir with a fork, pulling the flour mix into the mass until almost mixed, then finish kneading by hand to a soft, smooth, slightly sticky dough (add more flour to hands if necessary). Cool for 15 min.
4. Roll dough out in small batches on a lightly floured surface to about a 1/2 inch thickness or less (dust dough surface and rolling pin with flour to keep from sticking) and cut out into desired shapes.
5. Place on paper-lined cookie sheet in the middle rung of the oven and protect bottom of pan with aluminum foil on lower rung. Bake for appr. 10-15 min. until bottoms have slightly darkened.
6. Cool and decorate with icing and toppings of your choice (frost the cookies with a brush and sprinkle or, for designs, fill thick icing into a sealable Ziploc baggie with a small exit hole cut into a corner). Let dry and store in a cool place. (Lebkuchen softens nicely if stored in airtight containers for more than a week and the thicker the dough, the softer the cookie after the rest period)
Anyone, who has ever visited an outdoor German Christkindl market, will be familiar with this popular variety in the shape of large, whimsically decorated hearts you can string around your neck, offered at Christmas stalls amidst an abundance of warm candied nuts, fresh-spun cotton candy, soft Magenbrot (another Lebkuchen type), roasted chestnuts and the obligatory spiced Glühwein (mulled wine), served hot to keep off the chill while browsing for handmade, seasonal crafts.
I'm a huge fan of German Christmas Cake (Stollen), which is quite unlike the traditional, often maligned British Fruitcake. Since Stollen is a bit labour-intensive and needs to be prepared at least a month ahead of time to ensure that full flavour and a moist texture develop during the rest period, I was pleased to discover this little treasure on the web. It ties me over conveniently until after Christmas, when the commercial Stollen can be snatched up at half-price, like so many other seasonal goodies. I have added marzipan (almond paste) to the original cookie recipe to imitate my favourite kind of Stollen. (Recipes for homemade marzipan are plentiful and it has many creative uses in the Backstube.)
Christmas Stollen Cookies
- 4 tbsp. finely chopped candied peel (orange/lemon)
- 4 tbsp. chopped raisins
- 2 ounces dark rum or whiskey
- appr. 3 cups flour and 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. vanilla flavour & a good dash of cinnamon
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup soft butter
- marzipan (opt.)
Oven temperature: 350 degrees F
1. Soak raisins and candied peel in liquor overnight and pat dry with paper towel before use.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, vanilla, salt, cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and make a well in the center.
3. Add fork-beaten eggs, candied peel & raisins to center and place butter cut into small chunks along the edges.
4. Mix with fork, then knead by hand to a soft dough and roll into 3 strands about 1 1/2 - 2 inches thick.
5. Flatten strands and run a thin strand of marzipan along the centerline of each, then fold dough over marzipan and roll into a strand again. Chill for 30 minutes.
6. Cut into 1 inch-thick slices, place on papered baking sheet mid-rung with alu foil protection on lower rung and bake for 10 - 15 min. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while warm. Seal and store in a cool place.
Despite the fact that I'm still a good two weeks away from delving into the Backstube, my hands already itch for that rolling pin with the first hint of snow chilling the air. This year, though, I will have to contend with an eager sidekick in the holiday kitchen, since my younger son has discovered a passion for the Culinary Arts and made me promise to initiate him into the family tradition of Christmas baking. His assistance will, most certainly, come in handy when we whip up that first batch of wrist-breaking Lebkuchen batter . . .
In any case, wish us luck and may the Christmas Angel grant this mother the gift of infinite patience.
All the best wishes of the Season to our wonderful contributors and readers near and far.
Stay calm, avoid the malls and enjoy the Journal!
Tranquil (Tanja Rabe)
by Roger Nash
Times of Transition
If the new hasn’t begun,
or the old ended yet,
where do the sentences
we are start or full-stop?
We’re words both borrowed
from the future, lent to the past.
And time stutters fast.
Where Did Our Language Go to?
Call a spade a . . .
catalogue number 134.”
The Newest New Math
Kids in the school for refugees
are taught to do sums
and construct circles, but pencil in
of lines that run out
of both childhood and paper.
The whistle of a train in the night.
Both train and night on time.
The whistle of a sailor on leave,
so tanked up, he can’t tell
train from night from time,
and tries to catch midnight
from the station to his early childhood,
that’s now asleep on Platform 9.
Fretting Over the Impossible
by Mat Del Papa
I know a tween who saved up all her allowance and babysitting money in order to buy something special: an axe. She wasn’t the outdoorsy kind or a budding lumber-jill. No, she was prepping for the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’.
This otherwise smart and capable girl not only believed that zombies were possible but that their civilization-ending arrival was inevitable. Worse, she was convinced that she, all of twelve-years-old, needed to be ready to fight for the survival of humanity.
I, of course, applauded her forethought.
Given the unpredictability of the world and the media saturation of the current zombie craze (movie, TV, music, video games, and comics all push this plot point), it shows a certain practicality for this young woman to plan ahead. She didn’t stop with the axe, either, but readied a complete post-apocalyptic wardrobe, complete with hiking boots, pocketed cargo pants, and a bite-resistant jacket. There was even a backpack ready and waiting, stuffed with various camping supplies ‘liberated’ from her parents, not to mention a ton of granola bars and water bottles.
It was her choice of weapon, however, that showed the most brains. Short-sighted people, when presented with the ‘What would you do?’ scenario, go with guns or samurai swords when preparing to battle zombies. While both are prominently featured on screen - and look ‘cool’ when wielded by the hero(ine) - they have some serious drawbacks in fighting the undead in the 'real world'. Guns are too loud and require appropriate ammunition. A samurai sword is a high maintenance work of art and surprisingly fragile if misused (it takes a lifetime of dedicated training to master).
Unfortunately, this girl bought into the ‘more is more’ philosophy and so ordered a mutant axe capable of doing a hundred different things . . . none well. This abomination came with so many attachments welded on that it became useless as anything but a piece of non-functional art.
The truth is that - even if zombies were real and not the overused villain of lazy screenwriters - living in the North makes us almost immune to those manic chompers. Winter would stop these undead invaders cold. Our climate would literally freeze zombies in their tracks for weeks or months on end. Immobilized, the no-longer-walking dead would be easy prey to all of nature’s many carnivores. Few of these brain-seeking monsters would survive their first extended cold snap . . . at least not whole. Between the weather and predation, not to mention their surviving human prey actively hunting them down, these horror movie tropes would not fare well in the Great White North.
And if you’re wondering how much time I’ve dedicated to this particular thought experiment, the answer is: a worrying amount. Figuring out ways to survive an apocalypse-level event is my happy place. I’ve planned my tactics down to the letter. And for my weapon of choice? I’d carry a solid iron crowbar. Something capable of smashing zombie skulls and popping open doors with equal ease. I just hope I never live to see society crumble . . . at least not any more than it already has.
(The Capreol Express, November 1, 2021)
by Rebecca Kramer
Created by no human hand
To find you here melting
Could not have been planned
You cry in your glory
In gothic dismay
The mountain stream carries
Your dreams far away
But tears are your essence
When frozen your shape
When melted by spring sun
For you it’s too late
To stay an ice sculpture
Forever’s your dream
That’s why I’ve a photo
I carry with me
A Question of Maintenance
by John Jantunen
During the court case, which would span an unimaginable nine months, Reg managed to say one thing that stuck with Dan. She said it in response to a question posed by his lawyer, although Dan hadn't been paying attention during much of the discovery session, so he'd missed what the answer was in regards to.
The session had been going on for three hours and Reg was getting visibly testy about having to put up with Dan’s lawyer’s disjointed and repetitious line of inquiry. It was a thoroughly one-sided affair, given, and mean-spirited to boot. What Reg was required to answer about her former relationship with her daughter’s father was certainly demeaning and necessarily implicating but, as Dan’s lawyer had explained, was thoroughly required if Dan wanted to get out of paying support for a child that was not his own.
By now, both parties had found out that there were mitigating circumstances; Reg was on social assistance and she had two children at home, one of which was Dan’s. Even though she was under court order to reply to every question posed to her, the punitive measures for refusing to do so were unenforceable. No judge was going to fine her for her unwillingness to cooperate, nor would she be threatened with time served. Her disadvantaged position effectively gave her impunity within the law, a point which made Dan smile and his lawyer shrug his shoulders as if to say “What can you do? Now I have to get nasty.”
The only means left at the disposal of Dan’s lawyer was to get Reg angry enough, so that she would blurt out some form of self-incriminating statement. She was predictably easy prey in that regard and it only made matters worse. What Reg would say, in the long run, had little relevance since the discovery session, Daniel later realised, was nothing more than a pretence for escalating Legal Aid expenses (two months later, the judge gave it a once-over and passed verdict - without so much as a consideration of what it noted).
Her anger, on the other hand, proved highly consequential. She said, “He likes being poor.” On the surface, this statement seemed an absurd form of condemnation to Dan. He sensed that the stenographer, and both lawyers present, thought so, too, but there it was nonetheless, etched in print as the defining standard of their conflict.
“You’re not a man. That’s what your problem is.”
“And you’re a fucking psycho!”
The plant just missed Dan’s head, smashing instead against the wall. On his hands and knees, Dan surveyed the damage, looking for something that he could use against her. (He'd kicked a hole through the bathroom door just two weeks earlier. In his defense, Reg had refused to come out, same old story, and he’d become over-zealous. His concern for her had quickly turned to panic and his knocks had become kicks. One had been too hard, nothing more, and he’d been hearing about it ever since.) There was a lot of dirt, the carpet was screwed. No, it could be repaired. Another Saturday spent with the damn carpet cleaner. And on the stairs too. But the wall was fine. Soiled, yes, but without even a hint of chipped paint.
Dan turned back to Reggie. He was way over his head on this one. Just run or, better yet, surrender. Get it over with. Put up the white flag. Her last comment weighed heavily though and didn’t put him in a conciliatory mood. Might as well just wade in deeper. “You’re cleaning that up!” And so it continued.
It had started like it always did: With a question.
“What did you say!?” Reggie had already turned her back on the skinhead and started to walk away, when she stopped dead in her tracks. Dan knew what was coming. Reg had been in that kind of mood all night. You couldn’t call it angry (though Dan most often did); she was far too happy to be angry. There was this unmistakable glow about her that made her eyes shine and sent her out into the streets in search of whatever would offer a suitable mark for her general state of acrimony.
Cloaked in the oversized leather coat Dan had given her a few months ago when he realised how ridiculous all that studded chrome was, she'd been prowling through mostly empty streets for the past three hours, looking for, in Dan’s best guess, a succession of mostly empty streets. A couple of blocks back, Reg had tried to bum a cigarette from a fifty-year-old Chinese man, who seemed to be waiting for a cab. He said he didn’t smoke and that should have been the end of it.
“Well, you got a light then?” Reg had been saving a cigarette or, maybe, she'd just found one while warming her hands in her pockets. She'd stuck it in her mouth with such casualness that it gave the guy pause to consider. Dan watched with interest as Reg stood glowering, waiting for a response. Under her glare, the Chinese man’s restraint was starting to buckle. Ten seconds passed and silence didn’t seem to be doing the trick. He leaned away, almost imperceptibly, and turned slightly to the right. Dan waited for him to check his watch, maybe even feign frustration at the lack of a cab and, in a huff, start walking home, but he’d misjudged. He let another couple of ticks go by, then pursed his lips and no more than breathed: “I said I don’t smoke.”
“Well, what use are you then?” Reg spat at him and walked away, Dan following a few steps behind.
Did we scare that man? Was he nervous? Did he get the joke? Dan wasn’t sure. He looked back from a half-a-block away. The man was still standing there, conspicuously not looking their way. Hard to tell. Dan imagined a checked glance thrown at their backs as they walked on and it made him smile, like when old ladies clutched their purses and crossed to the other side of the street as they saw him coming. He didn’t think he looked menacing in any way, but sometimes that was what he suspected upon reflection.
A bat sends out radar and it bounces back to it, but does this give the bat any impression of the effect it has on people? Do they sense fear? Snakes do. Dogs as well. Do bats get the same intuition or do they only get what their radar tells them. Large, grey-haired object directly ahead. Now moving, crossing the street - pursue or disregard, depending on the mood. No judgement inferred. Simply two masses encountering one another, causing an inevitable chain of reactions.
Dan wasn’t thinking straight. Reg was having a few problems of her own. The cigarette in her hand was now broken. Little tufts of tobacco were falling all over the street from its frayed edge as Reg was trying to fix it without losing any. Dan had a sudden impulse to grab it from her and get the fixing over and done with but he resisted, hoping that she’d figure it out eventually.
Instead, she crumpled it between her fingers, then tossed it to the side, mumbling something about hating broken cigarettes. Dan caught little bits. He was finding it hard to keep up and, every time he fell a few steps behind, her hair flapping thickly about her neck in time with her pace would muffle her words.
Her argument, from what he could gather, was a simple one. You can’t tape a broken cigarette. You have to smoke it delicately - and no waving your hands around in the air either. It took the fun out of smoking. You ended up having to smoke another right afterwards to make up for it, Reg continued, and since that was their last cigarette, there was no point to it. The only problem was that it still required them to get another smoke, so it wasn’t a foolproof plan.
Luckily, a block and a half over at Memorial Park, they ran into some chronic who looked like he’d just woken up a couple of minutes ago (which would explain his full pack). He’d parted with one for free and Reg threw in fifty cents for another two. While she was scoring a light, Dan stood back comforted by the shade of the hedge, which all but blocked out the glare coming from the street, and tried to get his bearings like he’d done so often since his arrival in Vancouver, three years ago.
This was the park he’d been trying to remember. Had to be. It was where the city bus had let him off. He’d asked the driver to direct him to the local Greyhound station, where he could stash his stuff until he'd reached one of his three contacts. It had seemed a lot busier then. Dan distinctly recalled the sense that he'd been crowded in by more greenery as he'd made his way along the narrow pathway. There was some sparse growth here now, a few trees and a tasteful garden decorating the war monument with a steady hedge spanning the perimeter, but, otherwise, there was enough space for a game of pick-up football.
They’d played on less spacious grounds back home. A fifteen meter stretch out back at his best friend’s place where a three-men game could be set up. They’d used the same space for playing a kind of handball, if there was only two of them. The purpose of both games was relatively simple. Killing time. Or rather, spending time together without the inconvenience of conversation. It was the kind of personal space that you found only when with close friends. You could scream, swear (depending on the proximity of one's parents) and pretty much act like Simians engaged in a fight for supremacy, without the concern that others would get offended.
In fact the game, the real game, never quite got underway until someone - most of the time Dan - went off half-cocked, screaming “Motherfucker!” as the ball took an odd bounce off a rough piece of turf and careened inches out-of-reach from diving fingers. The immediate response from the opponent was 2-up of 17-15 (the handball games would last to twenty-one), followed by a whimsical grin as the defender retrieved the ball and flipped it to the server. After first blood was drawn, the gauntlet would be thrown down and a new strategy - beyond that of merely winning a point - crept into the play.
You’d look for any way to force each other into positions that were liable to cause bodily harm. Snubbing one close to the oil tank resting against the brick wall so the ball took an odd dive was always a safe bet. And you’d give it your all to get there in time too. If it accidentally caught an odd piece of plank discarded there (the grounds were never cleared before the game began), the ball would come right back at the charging player and his feet would fly off the ground while his hands grappled to get control of the ball. A half-second later, he’d be lying flat on the 'court', quick bursts of pain like nails shooting up his back. The point’d be called and the opponent's smirk would be just enough of an excuse to get himself back on his feet.
There wasn’t a wall in this city park, save for the public toilets off to the west side, but the ground was even enough for football. Not too alluring, though, as the only recreational users one was likely to find here were of the decidedly non-sportsmanlike variety.
Funny, Dan thought, how that kind of activity doesn’t pass for scratch in this city. Most of the people he’d observed, even young ones, never seemed to consider finding a wall somewhere and just chucking a ball around. It was almost demeaning. In the city, passing the time meant an entirely different thing to the financially under-endowed than where he came from.
Time seemed at the heart of the matter. Here, time appeared to be the only element in one’s environment that one could adequately control; and it was pounced upon, wrestled to the ground, with a vigour that Dan found disconcerting. There was a frenzy to the city, it had to be admitted, but that only crested the surface. Underneath it all, at the core, time was forcibly slowed, not savoured mind you, just subdued. It became a preoccupation, a field upon which a kind of mental tug-of-war was played. Lack of activity, which was a death blow in a small town and had to be combated at all cost, did not inspire boredom here, but was a desirable state of mind. It was the only way to attain some kind of mastery over one's surroundings.
There had to be a sort of scientific or, in the least, some pseudo-scientific explanation for this phenomenon though, at present, Dan was unable to figure one out. Maybe something to do with heightened neural exchanges or with the amount of exterior stimuli in the city. Even when the body or mind was doing nothing, one was unable to actually be bored. It was a constant rush. The struggle to suppress the level of nervous excitement, characterising so many people in Vancouver, itself acted to eradicate boredom, to wipe it from its very existence. Relaxing took on a whole new meaning and was very nearly impossible to achieve without some kind of succour.
Dan shook his head, trying to quell his rambling thoughts, and noticed Reg had turned back to the chronic. He’d said something to her and she had taken offence, but Dan hadn’t caught his words, or he had heard and was now unable to remember what was said. It must have only happened a moment ago, since it wouldn’t have taken Reg that long to turn around and here she was, facing the guy. She looked him over heel-to-toe. Shaved head, black combat boots with white laces, black jeans and a flak jacket.
He'd said something about chinks. What was it again? Oh, yeah . . . a roving gang of chinks. Coming from a skinhead, that kind of made sense. Chinatown was just a few blocks away.
As they’d passed through the ethnic area earlier, he'd remembered the first time he had taken the city bus through there on the day he'd arrived in Vancouver. It was the colours, which had left an impression on his mind, more so than the Chinese characters painted over rough-hewn signs, noting this and that kind of establishment. There was no order to them. Random splashes here and there fighting with one another, no symmetry whatsoever.
Initially, it had appeared completely non-unified, a mish-mash of vibrancy which paid no heed to what came before or after. It was almost impossible to discern even the bricks of the buildings, although no effort was made to conceal their facades. It was truly chaotic and he hadn't got used to it ,until the bus had crept and crawled a few blocks down the line, slowed down by road crews repairing the streets. Then it was just more of the same, something faintly exotic, its power diluted by the stark decrepitude under the surface, and it became more interesting to turn to the passengers to catch, say, a quick glimpse of a woman’s cleavage, as she bent to check if that transfer on the floor was worth a longer ride than the one she had in her hand.
Now Reg and the skinhead were both yelling at each other. Kids had come into play and, even on the best of days, this was an incendiary topic. Here it became a detonator.
Dan quickly strode over, grabbed Reggie by the sleeve and dragged her out of the park. She didn’t give much resistance as her curses carried little weight and, within moments, she was safely beyond the stretch of trees that circled the grounds, standing in the cold glare of the street lights.
“Did you hear what he said?” Reg barked.
Dan had not. He had, however, noticed how the Skinhead was staring at him, which was more than enough. Regardless of the state a guy like that was in, he wasn’t going to hit someone else’s woman. That was her man's job and, if Dan wasn’t going to put Reggie in her place, then he, himself, became an open target. There was no doubt in Dan’s mind as to how close he had just come to getting the shit kicked out of him. His heart was racing and he reached into Reg’s pocket, searching for the cigarettes she had just bummed.
“The nerve of that asshole. He said I shouldn’t be allowed to raise kids. He said, if it was up to him, he’d have my kids taken away from me. I’m going to kill that motherfucker!” Dan grabbed her by the arm and began dragging her up Pender Street past the Catholic Church sitting next to the Post Office. The whole while, Reg was yelling and doing loops backwards, trying to break free from his clutch. Her attempts were half-hearted at best and Dan had no real trouble keeping her going in the direction that he wanted which, incidentally, was towards home.
“Racist asshole.” Then she turned on him. “Why didn’t you do something. You should’ve kicked the shit out of him. You should have -” and then she growled, which was the only way she had of verbalising the fate which should have befallen the skinhead. She stomped her foot on the sidewalk a few times, as if to say she would have finished him off, if only Dan would have got him on the ground.
“He just bummed us a cigarette.” Dan held it up, as if proof were needed, and Reg snatched it.
There’s just no reasoning with some people, Dan thought.
“He was a racist asshole and we should have kicked his head in. And then, we could have taken his whole pack.” Dan was no longer listening; only walking. Reg followed, puffing away at the smoke, which was the way things generally turned out. Reg liked an audience and, if Dan had given up and actually let her go back, she would have lost all interest like she had now. Besides, Dan was thinking, it’s past one o'clock, the time when I told the babysitter we’d be home. I have twenty bucks left in my wallet and that equals a pack of smokes at Seven-Eleven with enough left over to pay the sitter, so we don’t have time for this shit.
It had taken three months to regain the trust of anyone suitable enough to watch over Dan and Reg’s two-year-old son and Reg’s eight-year-old daughter. In the Co-op where they lived, a few missed deadlines and a bounced cheque got around pretty quick. The girl he’d wrangled at the last minute had been burned by them before and Dan had to hand over ten bucks as a downpayment to get the night off.
He took for granted that Reg’d never give up a Friday Night out on the town just to let him have some time all by himself. She might promise to be back for dinner, but after a couple of beers with her fellow stereo salesmen, the seed would have been planted and she’d head down to East Hastings looking for something a little harder to take the edge off the workweek. At two o’clock in the morning, he’d get her call asking, if he had enough money on him to pay for a cab and that’d pretty much spoil it for the rest of the week. After all, it was his money that she was spending. Not on the surface, of course. On the surface, she cashed her cheques in her bank account, or at Money Mart if the bank was 'mad' at her, and used her money to go out. Dan just put food in the fridge and paid the bills.
The Cambie bridge was approaching. A suitable-enough construction, though a little bleak, or rather low-lying. The other two bridges visible from the Cambie - the Granville and the Burrard - each had their charms. They both shared considerable height for a start. The Burrard seemed older, more ornate. It was a place to take pictures from, looking out over English Bay at the perfect sunset, that kind of thing. The Granville bridge was just kind of awesome. The overwhelming fact of the matter was that you couldn’t survive a fall off the Granville. On one shore was a cement factory and on the other was an acre of parking lot. The fact that there was a river running between them seemed inconsequential. It was what existed between concrete and asphalt.
From the city side, the Cambie started over - what could have amounted to - a fairly decent parking lot, if a lot of time and money were invested. Instead, it was just a weedy lot caged in by portable wire fencing. The Indy 500 thundered along there every spring, so that was another thing. That must have been a boon for someone in the fencing business. During the races, the entire bridge would be cordoned off, both sides, and guards hired to make sure no one was sneaking a free glimpse. Dan wondered, if they contracted out for that or if they’d signed some kind of lot agreement, or maybe it was some rich firm, so rich that the name plated on each fence length was obscured because they didn’t need to advertise.
His thoughts were again interrupted, this time by Reg tugging at his arm. Apparently they’d stopped walking somewhere past the first curve leading onto the bridge.
“Give me a hand.” She was already using his shoulder to climb up onto the railing.
“What are you doing?” Dan was miffed at first, but it didn’t take him long to realise, what she was up to.
“Get down from there!” he yelled.
“Get the fuck down! Jesus.”
Dan grabbed her sleeve and wrenched her back down onto the sidewalk. Reg struck out at him.
“Let me go. Stop it. You’re pissing me off. Fuck you!” Dan let her go and they walked, in silence, half the span of the bridge.
“I could've made it.” This came as a surprise to Dan because he’d really suspected she was trying to throw herself off the bridge. She'd threatened it often enough.
“You can’t even keep on the sidewalk,” he shot back.
“Yes, of course I can. Look!” Reg ran herself into the guardrail separating the sidewalk from the road and threw him a grin to assure him she was just playing. Dan disregarded her misguided attempt at humour and kept trudging onwards. He was looking forward to getting home, maybe watching some TV. He wished he’d rented a movie, something that would really get his mind off things, like science fiction or horror, but the local video store had closed hours ago. He fingered the twenty in his pocket for the hundredth time and remembered he couldn’t have afforded one anyway. Reg stepped up beside him and shyly took his hand out of his pocket. For a moment, he thought she was going for his money, but he realised she just wanted to hold hands.
The wind was whipping up and it started to rain.
Dan glanced at the clock tower over City Hall. It was two-thirty. It had been seven hours now since he’d met up with Reg at the Railway Club. Eight since their babysitter, the cute fourteen-year-old Filipino girl from next door, had shown up for the gig and he’d rushed out, leaving no last- minute instructions for her like his mother always used to when they were kids.
“There’s chips in the cupboard and pop in the fridge. Help yourself to whatever else you can find. Here’s a number where we can be reached” or “I’ll call around eight to find out how things are going.” Sometimes, she’d even leave enough money for them to order a pizza or run down to the store and pick up some snacks, if she hadn’t found the time to do so during the day. She’d be very apologetic, like it was her responsibility to have stocked the fridge beforehand. That was back when babysitting was done just for kicking-around cash or as a favour. Now, money was probably saved for college or the prospect of car payments. Made it colder. More cut throat. It wasn’t playtime anymore. You had to fight for what you got, even if it was an unopened bag of Doritos.
Reg tugged at Dan’s arm. They were standing in front of the Seven-Eleven, two blocks from their apartment.
“You got any money left?” she asked. Dan fingered the bill in his pocket.
“I want some ice cream.” After a moment of contemplation, she added, “And a Scratch'n Win.”
They went in and made their purchase. Dan walked out with a smoke already stuck between his lips. He went to light it and found that the change was still in his hand. And that was the thing that struck him as odd. It was just change. He rattled it a couple of times.
“He ripped me off,” he mumbled aloud and looked back in at the clerk polishing the spouts on the Slurpee machine.
Reg was already around the corner at the garbage can, trying to unwrap her Cornella. He sidled up to her. She was having some problems with the wrapper and was, right then, considering using her teeth, but the decision was somehow out of her reach.
“I've only got three bucks left.” Dan said and reached out, grabbing the ice cream. He ripped it open and handed it back. Reg turned, staring. “You didn’t save any for the babysitter?”
“He ripped me off.”
“Well? Go back in and kick his ass.” Reg prodded Dan’s shoulder and he halfway turned to the stark fluorescent lights casting window-sized squares on the sidewalk.
“You know what?” he finally offered, “We could give her the Scratchy.”
Cloud Racing (Tanja Rabe)
Three Thousand Years of Longing
Review by Randy Eady
Australia, 2222, R, 1h 48 min, Romance/Fantasy/Drama
Director: George Miller (Mad Max Film Series)
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba, Erdil Yaşaroğlu
Recently, in a dim theater while watching George Miller’s film Three Thousand Years of Longing, I had an experience of the mythical, poetic impact envisioned by author Joseph Campbell in his famous book on archetypes in mythology The Hero of a Thousand Faces. No surprise, really, since this film explicitly presents mythological exploration as its main cast member.
Based on The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, a collection of five short stories by British novelist A.S. Byatt, the film follows a British narratologist (actual job title) named Alithea Binnie who occasionally suffers from bizarre hallucinations of demonic beings. During a trip to Istanbul, Alithea purchases an antique bottle and accidentally unleashes a mythical Djinn (or Genie in Western lingo) trapped within it. The Djinn offers to grant Alithea three wishes, so long as each one is truly her heart's desire, but Alithea argues that wishing is a mistake, accusing the Djinn of being a trickster. In response to her accusation, the Djinn proceeds to tell her three tales of his past and how he ended up imprisoned in the carafe.
The Djinn has a long-standing history in storybooks - from the tales of Aladdin and Charles Perrault’s fairy tale The Three Ridiculous Wishes, to the (in)famous Arabic story collection of One Thousand and One Nights - and has permeated Mesopotamian and Persian literature and oral traditions since pre-islamic times. The Djinn even found a mention in the Quran which states: ". . . humans are created from the earth and jinn from smokeless fire."
The unfolding (or retelling) of this particular Djinn’s tale over three thousand years reaches beyond a simple rendering of aloneness and love. It also concerns itself with our love of story and why narrative, as an act of creation, has become so central to our understanding of mythological ideas and their importance in our spiritual lives.
To examine this film through a mytho-poetic lens would require a deeper delving into the subject matter than afforded in this sampling, besides eliciting a 'spoiler alert' in prematurely giving away those gripping moments that make Miller’s endeavor so exceptional.
Still, there's no spoiler in suggesting that metaphors relating to current motifs in our world abound throughout the film. The Djinn (Idris Elba) - in over-identifying as a servant always wanting to please - remains a constant 'masochist', relishing in the monstrous suffering he inflicts upon himself. Alithea (Tilda Swinton), on the other hand, evolves and hones her 'sadistic' qualities as she enables and reinforces the Djinn's subjugation; a power play all too prevalent in psychology.
Even the landscapes throughout the story tell a tale, describing a dying world - a post-heroic realm. In Creative Mythology, Joseph Campbell reflects on such Waste Lands by saying:
What, then, is the Waste Land? It is the land where myth is patterned by authority, not emergent from life; where there is no poet’s eye to see, no adventure to be lived, where all is set for all and forever: Utopia! Again, it is the land where poets languish and priestly spirits thrive, whose task is . . . to repeat, enforce, and elucidate cliches.
The Waste Lands in Three Thousand Years of Longing span a speculative history, but is that not like any historical rendition? Often constructed and patterned by Authority, they are neither organic nor endogenous to emergent, creative life. They repeat, enforce, and elucidate cliches; most Waste Lands are designed specifically for that purpose, something which, paradoxically, heightens the importance of a harboring, expatiating cinematic experience.
In slipping into a dreamy space of projected immersion, we can imagine a world beyond cliches, far from what lays waste to our soul. We may portalize to a place, where a face-to-face encounter with a divine Djinn is able to rend the fabrications of reality as we know it. In the darkness and stretching across time and space, whatever lies before us appears larger than anything we’ve ever seen before. It sparks the imagination and apportions an image in which the Waste Lands are reinvigorated as fertile ground, where poets are no longer condemned to languish.
Here - despite the confines of a dark cinema and the occasional candy-wrapper crunching, popcorn-chomping loudmouth - we are able to conceive of a world, where a shaft of light illumines the desolation, beckoning our parched souls towards that lush oasis nestled amidst the desert dunes.
(Bruce Plante, Tulsaworld)
The Thin Blue Line to Hell
by John Jantunen
“Show us that the myth of this country can be replaced by truth because,
frankly, we have shown you enough. It’s your turn.”
- Jesse Wente, Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance
It had been a challenging morning.
My eldest son’s sister and her dog had failed to return from a walk the previous night. “Cassy” had fled an abusive marriage six months earlier that found her destitute on the streets of San Diego and, a few months later, couchsurfing with friends in Parksville on Vancouver Island. She’d been removed from her mother’s custody in Parksville as a teenager, run the gambit of the foster care system on the Island and, twenty years later, returned to seek refuge in this seemingly idyllic tourist town.
She'd soon discovered that most of her friends were themselves mired in the waking nightmare that the homelessness, mental health and toxic drug overdose crisis has made into a daily reality for an ever-increasing number of people. With no family but my son in Vancouver and with none of her friends willing, or able, to help beyond offering a place to crash for a few days, we flew her and her dog to Ontario in mid-September. She’d been living with us in Kingston for less than a week on the evening she didn’t return from her walk and, when she still hadn’t turned up by morning, Tanja and I feared something dire must have happened.
On the surface, Kingston - Canada’s original capital and also the de facto prison capital of Ontario - is a prosperous, medium-sized city. Its four cornerstones are Corrections, Tourism, the Canadian Armed Forces and Queen's University, all of which buttress a local economy as seemingly inviolable as the masonry which has earned it the nickname Limestone City. As a result, Kingston has the most thriving downtown of any similar-sized place I’ve lived in throughout the country. But, as with all Canadian cities, the lack of political will to take any definitive action to mitigate the coalescing crises outlined above continues to exact an increasing death toll on the most vulnerable among us.
Cassy had been quite open, both about her past drug use and mental health issues, so it was natural that Tanja’s first thoughts strayed towards the very real possibility that she might have overdosed and was either in the hospital or lying dead in a ditch or an alleyway. My first thought, mind you, was of the Kingston Police.
In A Tale Of Two Kingstons (Cannery Row Magazine - Third Issue), I wrote an account of how four large, male officers responded to a frail young woman in obvious crisis by wrestling her to the ground, handcuffing and then carting her off to the police station, so I won’t belabour the point here, except to say that I’d warned Cassy about the threat they posed by way of relating the same story to her.
So, it didn't come as much of a surprise when, around nine o'clock the next morning, Cassy returned to inform us she had, in fact, been arrested for public intoxication by four large, male police officers, who’d handcuffed and carted her off to the 'drunk tank', though from what she told us about her frame of mind just prior to her arrest, it was obvious she herself had been experiencing a severe mental health crisis. In addition to locking her up, they’d impounded her dog, a registered American Service Therapy Animal, and her mental state that morning was veering towards outright hysteria.
None of the arresting officers would tell her what they’d done with the animal. When she’d asked the cell monitor, she was told that the dog was going to be put down and there was nothing Cassy could do about it. I immediately put in a call to the police station and, when the watch commander told me her dog was, in fact, alive and well at the SPCA, I drove Cassy over to the shelter, posthaste. While she was filling out the requisite paperwork, I chatted with the amicable young woman at the front desk who’d agreed to release her pet, even though we’d arrived two hours before the facility opened to the public. I suspected the cops had mistaken Cassy for a homeless person, hence the rough treatment, and asked the woman, if it was common practice for the Kingston Police to seize pets belonging to the city’s unhoused population. She answered that it happened frequently. Given the cost of reclaiming a 'lost' pet was $150, I suggested that such a practice seemed punitive in nature, to which she responded vigorously in the affirmative.
Later that day, I related the incident to a fellow employee at the local bar where I’d been working part-time for the past ten months. I ended by lamenting to her that the arrest and seizure of Cassy’s therapy dog had really only served to further distress an already deeply traumatized woman, given that all it would have taken to diffuse the situation was a kind word, a sympathetic ear and someone willing to see her home safely - the last an easy enough proposition since the cruiser had to drive right past our house on its way to the station. My fellow bartender’s response to my account, though, was a tad more visceral.
“Those macho assholes!” she spat. “Motherfucking bullies! I’d strangle every last one of them if I could!” Her eyes had become pits of black hate and her face flushed with rage as she clenched her hands in front of her chest, like she was indeed imagining herself strangling the life out of someone. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine, who that particular someone might have been, since she’d previously told me that her ex-husband, a now-retired O.P.P officer, had beaten and terrorized her and her children for decades before she’d finally found the courage to leave him.
The violent abuse, she said, had been especially acute during, and after, so-called 'shift parties'. These involved her ex and his fellow officers convening at one of their homes at the end of every shift, so they could get “shit-faced drunk”. When it was her husband’s turn to play host, she’d hide out with her kids in the basement, lest one of her young ones inadvertently did something to earn her then-husband’s wrath; although, once his fellow officers were gone, I was taken to understand, their mere existence proved ample enough reason to unleash what she called "the Beast" inside of him.
Afterwards, the officers would drive - often falling-down-drunk - home to their own families, some of whom would then, no doubt, be subjected to similar abuse as she and her children endured whenever her husband returned home after a 'shift party' at someone else’s house.
Her confession, however disturbing, didn’t come as much of a surprise.
As a 'crime' novelist, I’ve spent considerable time over the past decade researching Canada’s police services. The most recent book I’d read on the topic was former Toronto Mayor John Sewell’s Crisis in Canada’s Policing, in which he provides this quote from a report by the Battered Women’s Support Services of Vancouver: “Two studies have found that at least forty percent of police officers’ families experience domestic violence, in contrast to ten percent of families in the general population.”
This would mean that, of the over seventy thousand police officers currently employed in this country (at a cost of almost sixteen billion dollars a year), no less than twenty-eight thousand are criminals themselves - a number which, in itself, fails to account for all the officers who don’t physically abuse their wives and children, but who have knowledge of those that do, legally making them accessories to those crimes. From where I sit, it’s hard not to view this culture of domestic violence as particularly villainous, since the perpetrators - and their accessories - have all sworn an oath to 'prevent offences' prior to committing their own, with their most heinous crimes often committed against supposed 'loved ones'.
The above numbers alone should suffice to erase all trace of reasonable doubt in any rational mind that the members of our police services have already caused far more harm to our communities than they could ever possibly have done good, even before factoring in their central role in the historic and ongoing genocide perpetrated against Indigenous Peoples and the systemic nature of police brutality committed disproportionately against Peoples of Colour (as documented in books such as Robyn Maynard’s Policing Black Lives and Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In). Yet, even the more progressive elements among our citizenry not only conveniently overlook such violent criminality within our law enforcement agencies, but increasingly favour politicians who take a 'tough on crime' stance by promising to increase police budgets.
The all-too-predictable result has been that between 2000 and 2021 the number of active police officers throughout the country has risen by almost twenty-five percent. In practical terms, this has meant that over the past twenty years our politicians - and our electorate by extension - have enabled an additional six thousand domestic abusers to commit their crimes with impunity.
Given this deplorable reality, it is hardly a wonder a recent report into Canada’s national police force found that “the RCMP is regularly violating the human rights of the women it employs and the women it is intended to protect” (theglobeandmail.com) Nor should it come as a surprise that only an estimated twenty percent of victims of domestic abuse in this country are willing to report to the police at all. What is mystifying though is, why we, as a nation, not only permit this criminal behaviour to continue unchecked, but insist on rewarding it, regardless of how many reports, articles or books have been written about the harm it continues to inflict.
Of course there was that singular moment, after George Floyd's execution was captured on camera, when the idea of 'de-funding' or, to use Sewell’s word, 'de-tasking' the police began to not only seem viable but, in some communities, imperative. Among our lawmakers, though, that notion appears to have had about as much resilience as a soap bubble floating over a sea of broken glass (“De-task the Police, Says Former Toronto Mayor”, an interview with John Sewell in The Tyee, Feb. 16, 2022). It’s no wonder, then, that so many BIPOC activists across the country are justifiably calling for the outright abolition of our police services or, for that matter, that Jesse Wente would choose to end his memoir Unreconciled with the quote above, demanding that it’s white people’s turn to replace the myth of this country with the truth.
My own journey towards understanding the reality behind Canadian policing began as early as grade ten. That year, I was bullied by a former friend for reasons that are still unclear to me. His campaign of fear and intimidation climaxed, when 'Corey' paid a fellow classmate to threaten me with a knife on the front steps of the Secondary School we attended. Shortly thereafter, an odd thing happened: I stopped seeing Corey in any of the classes we shared. After he’d been gone for more than a week, I asked a mutual friend, whose father also happened to own the local newspaper, about his absence. He'd learned from one of his dad’s sources that Corey’s father, an O.P.P. sergeant stationed in Bracebridge, had been transferred to Timmins and taken his family along with him.
Apparently, my friend continued, the sergeant had pulled over a speeding car on Highway 118 and found that both the teenage driver and her equally underage female passenger were drunk. He’d offered, allegedly, to let them off without charges in exchange for a blow job. The girls had refused and, after their parents filed a complaint, Corey’s father had been demoted and sent to Timmins by way of disciplinary action (a story, I'll add, that never appeared in his father’s newspaper).
Several years ago, when I asked another mutual friend about Corey, I was told he had since killed himself. Whether his father had anything to do with him taking his own life, I’ll never know.
During the intervening years, I’ve not just personally witnessed off-duty officers proudly displaying tattoos related to the Aryan Brotherhood, while harassing peaceful Indigenous protesters in Regina at a Vigil for Oka, but also observed a casual act of police brutality in Surrey, BC, and two O.P.P. officers 'shaking down' the Middle-Eastern owner of a pizza restaurant just after midnight on North Bay’s Main Street. Furthermore, I've heard seemingly endless first-hand accounts of police brutality and corruption in every one of the six provinces I’ve lived in - corruption that includes collusion with criminal organizations throughout Northern Ontario. And that, of course, is in addition to the highly publicized accounts of police brutality, up to and including murder and rape, that have become an all-too-common feature of our daily news cycles.
Meanwhile, every single time I myself have called the police, the only outcome was to provide me with more evidence that to report a crime is, at best, a pointless waste of time, regardless of what issue I contacted them about; my son's stolen bike, an incidence at the youth center I was running where one of the kids held a knife to a young Syrian refugee’s throat or the time a meth-crazed father threatened me with violence for banning his teen daughter from the same center, as a result of her bullying other kids and staff.
Mind you, my own encounters hardly hold a candle to the story a fellow employee told me, while I was working as a PSW at a group residence in Sudbury. She was having a breakdown when I arrived for my shift one morning and, joining me on the back deck for my pre-work smoke, she muttered, “Fucking pigs!” angrily under her breath. She’d go on to relate that, some months earlier, her ex had kicked in her front door on his way to brutally raping her in front of their preteen son. After calling the police and explaining what had happened, the male officer who’d responded told her to go inside and get undressed, so he could take photographs of her injuries. When she’d demanded a female officer, as was her legal right, the officer told her that none were available and, when she refused to let him take naked pictures of her after she’d just been sexually assaulted in a brutal manner, he’d responded, “Then there’s nothing we can do for you.”
She’d, subsequently, filed a complaint with Sudbury’s Chief of Police and ever since, she asserted, was being followed and often stopped by police when driving around the city. The harassment, in addition to her trauma from the assault, must have reached a breaking point for her that day, because the only word I heard about her after she’d finished - what would turn out to be - her last shift, was that she’d fled out West with her son, destination anywhere but Sudbury.
This shouldn’t, of course, come as news to anyone with even a cursory understanding of Canadian policing, but what I find most egregious - apart from the stalwart, and cowardly, refusal of our political leaders to confront the dire realities outlined above - is just how rarely police officers themselves speak out about the deep and widespread entrenchment of this violent culture within their services. It is eminently clear that they - and their families - would have as much to gain from a complete re-imagining of how law enforcement operates in this country as anyone else.
To put a face to where that change might begin, I don’t have to look much further than 'Gary', an ex-RCMP officer I’d become friends with while living in Vancouver in the late 1990s. I was introduced to Gary through a friend, who’d met him while both were working as background actors in the bustling film and television industry, which has earned the city its nickname 'Hollywood North'.
I’d written a screenplay loosely based on a recent undercover operation I’d heard about, whereby two young O.P.P. recruits had posed as wealthy tourists in Muskoka in order to infiltrate its thriving drug culture. The region had the highest rate of teen drug use in the province at the time and, during the sting, several of my former classmates had been caught unwittingly selling a gram or two to the undercover agents. I’d thought it was a story rife with cinematic potential, especially after one friend told me that the female officer of the two rookies had been impregnated by a former classmate of mine, resulting in an abortion. All of the charges against the 'double offender' ended up dropped to keep things under wrap.
Gary had offered to give the script a look-over and, while he never voiced any criticism beyond disliking the title, I had my doubts he was overly impressed. Still, he seemed to appreciate my efforts enough that he agreed to meet me several times over coffee, so I could pick his brain. His insights into policing still influence my own creative efforts to this day, though nothing he told me would have as much impact as when he recounted his very first and last day on the job.
His initial posting was to Dawson City, Yukon, in the 1970s. He'd arrived a few days early - an eager recruit fresh out of the RCMP academy in Regina - and, when he'd checked in with his commanding officer, he was told that, to be effective as a Mountie, he’d have to make his presence known. Gary was then advised to go into a certain drinking establishment that Friday night in his civilian clothes and have a few beers, while reading the room to find out who was the “toughest son of a bitch in town”. Once he’d figured that out, he was told to go up to the guy and “beat the living shit out of him”. He was then instructed to go to the same bar the very next night, but this time wearing his uniform. “You do that,” his commanding officer assured him, “and you’ll get along just fine.” So, that’s exactly what Gary did.
His last day on the job happened twenty-two years later. One evening, shortly after his wife had left him for their lawyer, Gary was out on patrol and pulled over a speeding car on a dark, deserted road outside of Powell River on BC’s Sunshine Coast. As he approached the vehicle on foot, he realized that the car belonged to none other than said lawyer. When the man opened the window, Gary had his hand on his gun and he said that he came to within a split-second of shooting him in the face, before returning to his senses. He handed in his badge and gun that very morning.
The latter account was the only time Gary ever mentioned his wife at all, so it’s been left to my imagination as to whether domestic violence played a part in their marriage imploding, as was the case with my fellow bartender’s. From the way Gary lowered his eyes, obviously ashamed, while recounting his last day on the job, I suspect it very well may have been the case and, I also suspect, that he told me both stories consecutively, because he wanted me to understand that the man he’d become on that dark and lonely stretch of highway wasn’t the man he truly believed himself to be, and that it was the job which had demanded he remake himself so.
In the twenty-five years since Gary confided in me, I’ve come to understand that, unlike the proverbial road, the thin blue line being paved to hell has nothing at all to do with “good intentions”. It’s been rendered so by design and, then, endlessly resurfaced by a staunch unwillingness on the part of our politicians to even consider, what a radical reimagining of society might look like in which our police services have little, or no, role to play. (To get a better idea of what possibilities lie within such a radical reimagining, I’d strongly encourage you to read Robyn Maynard and Sahra Soudi’s A Road Map To Police-Free Futures at www.buildingtheworldwewant.com)
What’s equally clear is that for us to reach a critical threshold, where real change is not only possible, but inevitable, will require a great many of us, as James Baldwin observed in The Fire Next Time, “to re-examine [our]selves and release [our]selves from many things that are now taken to be sacred, and to discard nearly all the assumptions that have been used to justify [our] lives and [our] anguish and [our] crimes for so long.”
Our police services would be the obvious place to begin this journey. It will certainly prove a daunting task but when the only other real option is continuing to consign so many of our fellow citizens to their own personal hell - be they incarcerated, in homeless encampments or, as in my fellow bartender’s case, in the 'safety' of their own four walls - it has become increasingly unavoidable to reach any other conclusion except that we, as a nation, really haven’t left ourselves with any feasible alternative.
Night of the Krampus
by Randy Eady
When the threat of St. Nicholas leaving a lump of coal in their stocking isn’t enough to turn naughty children nice, it’s time for a demonic intervention.
Enter . . . the Krampus
In most Western countries, Christmas invokes nostalgic images of festive get-togethers, presents, lights and holiday cheer delivered courtesy of a jolly, old elf clad in red velvet. Yet in central Europe - especially in parts of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic - another, much less benign figure, takes center stage during the traditional Advent season, which ranges across the four Sundays (Advents) prior to Christmas proper.
Here, St. Nick's helper is neither little nor cheerful, but rather a terrifying creature that haunts the nightmares of children and adults alike; a beast with fangs and devilish horns covered in ragged fur wielding thick bundles of willow sticks (Rutenbündel) to whip all those on Santa's 'Naughty List'. Strapped to his back is a leather bucket, or woven rush basket, for carrying incorrigible miscreants off to his lair and around his waist drapes a stout leather belt hung with large cowbells and chains.
The fact that the Krampus can be heard before he can be seen makes him even more frightening - replacing the joyful sound of sleigh bells with something far more sinister: the menacing rattle of rusty chains accompanied by the eerie clanking of cowbells.
According to folklore, the Krampus roams towns and countryside as Santa's sinister sidekick the night before December 6; the traditional St. Nicholas Day, when children look outside their door in the morning to see if the winter boot they'd left out the night before contains candy, nuts and fruit (nowadays presents) as a reward for being good - or a symbolic rod, bunch of twigs or coal as punishment for being naughty.
The Krampus, whose name is derived from the Middle High German word krampen, meaning claw, is said to be the son of Hel, who rules the realm of the dead in Norse mythology. The monster also shares characteristics with demonic creatures in Greek mythology, including satyrs and fauns, is reminiscent of the bogey man and ties in with traditional German fairy tales and stories like The Struwwelpeter and Max und Moritz. Many of these gruesome tales feature disobedient children who come to a bad, if not fatal end - a theme that runs through the centuries and was widely told to keep children in line.
The appearance of the horned beast ties into a rich legacy of winter darkness, seasonal fear and pre-Christian traditions involving demons, harvest spirits and wild men, celebrated extensively during Carnival, which lasts from mid-November to February and culminates in a host of parades and events taking place during the last week before Ash Wednesday. (Re: Carnival)
"In smaller towns, St. Nicholas may appear with a gang of four or five [men dressed up as] Krampuses. In others, you have 'Krampusläufe' with up to a hundred Krampuses running around in the streets,” says Britta Bothe, an associate professor of German. “They are wild and it can get pretty boisterous.”
In 2008, more than 1,000 Krampuses participated in one of the biggest Krampus runs in St. Johann, Austria.
"The Krampus tradition also has an element of maintaining social order," Bothe adds. “It wasn’t until the 17th century that it evolved to become more focused on children. In its earliest incarnations in pagan societies, if adults were greedy, indecent or too strict, they were also visited by Krampuses, so it definitely had an underpinning of general social control.”
“It’s a very old custom,” Bothe continues. “We know Krampus dates back to before the Inquisition, because it was banned then. Anyone caught dressing up as a Krampus faced the death penalty, because it was perceived as a devil figure.” Interestingly, the Nazis also banned Krampus for its pagan origins.
More recently, concerns have been expressed in Austria about whether the tradition is appropriate for children. However, the huge popularity of the Krampus myth lives on and is now enjoying an epic resurgence, even stretching out those sharp claws across the Atlantic into North America.
As with many masked rituals and celebrations around the world, the rites of Krampusnacht are transformative. They allow participants to abandon the conventions of daily life and indulge a wilder and darker aspect of their personality.
Another example can be found amongst one of the nine Hopi tribes in the form of the Koshare Ritual Dance at the Pueblo of Santo Domingo, just north of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Here, Koshare (sacred clowns) come out among the crowds with their black and white bodies, whitened faces, dry corn-husks, and rabbit-skins, all serving as reminders that they are the spirits of the dead and will provoke children (and some less-than-mature adults) to encourage social order and balance. A Koshare's chest and arms are typically covered in bunches of pine twigs which also represent life everlasting.
In the Hopi tradition, the Koshare are tricksters found in the Kachina religion, ritualistically personified by the Pueblo Indigenous Peoples of the southwestern US. These sacred clowns perform in a sequenced way throughout the celestial seasons. The Pamuya dances initiate the cycle to bring forth elements of life: sound, water and light. In the world, the Hopi thus bring into being each season through both a spiritual and physical form of balance by honoring the Kachina (spirits). These ceremonies give shape and substance to the awakening - the growth, the maturation and, finally, the transcendence. It is an essential process to preserve harmony with the world around us - not only with humanity, other animals and plants, but with objects in nature such as rocks, clouds and sky - through ritual performance in sacred spaces.
Though the Kachina season begins in late December (around winter solstice) with the Soyal ceremony as several Kachinas wake and emerge, this event occurs out of sight and underground in a sacred location called Kiva. A Kiva residing in the bowels of the earth is vital to translate the pulse of life (via roots that have been active - though unseen) through the conduit of water (introduced in Pamuya), the flow providing access from and to the Underworld. These ceremonies sustain and improve the bonds and well-being of the community, ensure the blessings of moisture and fertility, and reinforce the gratitude of living in harmony.
The Koshare (like the Krampus to St. Nicholas) act out the exact opposite of what is considered to be 'proper' in their culture. The 'clowns' often mock fornicate in public, eat their own feces and drink their own urine. They might walk backwards, on their hands, or perform shocking, horrific or humorous pranks.
The Koshare wear the black and white stripes to elicit a consciousness of the opposites contained within all of us. We are not merely light or dark - we are a fusion of both sides. In this image, the Koshare hands over a stinky skunk in one hand while offering flowers in the other. Do we turn away or thank him?
Bringing our shadow out into the open is something that ultimately connects us, rather than isolates us, from each other. A major function of these sacred clowns is to expose this dark, subconscious side of our personalities; the part of us that's incompatible and deemed inappropriate in our socially-conditioned, public 'personas'.
In this aspect, it closely relates to the court jester, the Fool, who is positioned closest to the King in myth and fairy tales of old. In fact, it is only the Fool who can get away with pointing out the King's own backside. The King often goes to his jester for advice, since even the mighty need an honest peek in the mirror every so often and - amongst the ingratiating flattery of the King's entourage - only the Fool can be relied on to tell the truth.
The Koshare similarly enables us to see our lives from a radically different perspective, since they provide that precise amount of corruption necessary to disturb old patterns and open new pathways to creative interpretations. In other words, the Koshare can break us from any illusion or addiction to perfection and the predominant status quo.
The sacred clown liberates our integrative capacity, as it carries out this role, by showing how threatening the trickster can be to an established order and how far its influence can spread: people that don't live out any trickster function in society, particularly when its institutions are in dire need of change, merely end up protecting the beneficiaries of the established order, while insulating those that deeply fear any form of change.
In either case, this is a double-edged sword: a protected ego feels no pain, but also won't take any risk for the sake of safety; an ego undergoing breakthrough is confronted with paradox and can never return to its former state, as its narrow boundaries need to be shattered to spur further psychic development.
In a similar vein, the Krampus is positioned as a trickster opposite the eternally pure virtue of the symbolic Christ/Claus figure. The shadow world of the demon which, by way of its duplicity, can never be seen as pure - except maybe as pure evil - functions to throw a new light on life. As C. G. Jung explained: Only through experiencing our own evil can we recognize that "the highest and the lowest, the best and the vilest, the truest and the most deceptive, are often blended together in the inner voice”. A necessity of partially succumbing to our own diabolic tendencies lets us participate fully in human endeavors and realize wholeness and, he adds, “if we do not partially succumb, [...] no regeneration or healing can take place.”
Thus, the trickster's ghastly embodiment is a disruptive force which opens up a wellspring of creativity and, in order to access that creativity, it is often required to surrender the halo of the divine Christ Child and delve into the shadow just beyond its crown of light - past its infantile appearance of omnipotence. In knowing we've already let down our defenses and given the dark in us its due, we are consequently able to surrender to the Season's message of peace, innocence and rebirth.
This collective encounter with our shadow through the humor (or terror) of the demon/sacred clown functions as a source of healing within society. When we only identify with the light side of ourselves, we are out of balance. The Fool provokes us to move beyond our taboo thoughts by shouting, "HEY! I am going to show YOU to YOURSELF, so you can move past your shame. In fact, I’m going to invite you to actually LAUGH at what you're so desperately trying to hide."
We are given permission to exist as complete human beings and not just hollow carbon copies of each other, which presents an enormous gift to our shared humanity. The ability to laugh at ourselves is truly essential for our individual and communal well-being.
by Katerina Fretwell
Lost souls wail, wandering in empty ether,
finally heard, finally broadcast,
unmarked graves weeping,
genocidal wrongs wailing to be righted.
Children are ripped from loved ones,
schooled in a white culture's god, whose proxies
rubbed their privates, lashed their backs,
trained them to lower caste jobs.
Culture whipped out of them, they're made to pray
in an alien tongue to this white god –
that strikes terror if they slip up.
Murdered by overlords for god and country
that ignored Indigenous burial rites,
too many beloved sons and daughters
were stuffed into mass, unmarked graves.
A peacekeeper nation, accused of crimes
against humanity, called them savages!
I beg my white culture that we bow down,
lose arrogance to become right-sized,
and acknowledge our inhumanity,
driven by hatred and hubris, fear and folly.
No more twisted words,
let the mouldering truth be heard
to allow restoration.
Lost souls wail, wandering in empty ether,
overwhelmed by tears, needing to be named
and properly laid to rest, guided by Elders,
and in so doing, heal our climate, culture, country.
(Image credit: Little Butterfly Girl by Donald Chretien)
My Brush With Suicide
by Rebecca Kramer
There I sat, all alone, under shrill fluorescent lights in the windowless backroom of our store.
It was Christmas Day, 2005. There was no turkey dinner with stuffing and pumpkin pie to enjoy this holiday. I was neither giving nor receiving gifts. No decorations hung festively anywhere in this dismal place. And there was no merry laughter, warm hugs or friendly chit-chat. Worst of all, for the passionate musician in me, no Christmas carols filled the stale air in the room, only a deafening silence. Even Thieffer, my spouse, was nowhere to be found.
Why, you ask, was this Christmas so utterly bleak and depressing for me? What had gone amiss? It had all been started earlier by this ruthless Grinch of a husband, who had not only stolen this particular Christmas from me, but every Christmas and holiday from this moment forward; that is, if I made the choice to endure them.
We had been married in June of 2005 and I became pregnant right thereafter. When I was six months with child, Christmas was approaching and I had asked my husband, if we could get together with family and friends to celebrate the season.
He'd answered, quite sharply, “No. You’re not getting together with any friends or family over the holidays. No days are special; every day is the same. That’s the way it is, and that’s the way it is going to stay from here on in. Get used to it!”
As I watched him storm away, I thought, “Yes, there are special days in every country around the globe. I have seen the way they are celebrated, even read and wrote extensively about them at school.” I knew he was well aware of how irrational his argument sounded, but deliberately cancelled any enjoyment I might derive from the holidays, just to cause me pain in the deepest way possible.
Over the few weeks leading up to Christmas, I pondered upon the following:
While earning my Masters of World Arts degree, I had studied cultures around the world and how they expressed themselves through the arts. Culture can be defined as the practices and rituals of any group of people, including the different ways they celebrate their special days. All countries distinguish between normal days throughout the week and celebratory occasions; when work stops and celebrations begin, such as on weekends, holidays, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and even funerals.
Like an epidemic wave, more and more 'special days' have been creeping into our calendars over time. It seems we, as a species, look high and low for a reason to celebrate anything under the sun. Festive get-togethers keep us happy because we have something fun to look forward to on our calendar; somehow we can better tolerate the humdrum days and ride out the lows in our lives when special days are a regular part of our existence.
These specific days are steeped in the Arts as a unique exhibition of each cultural group of people; expressed through music, dance, film, theater, concerts, festivals, fine arts, sports, culinary creations, decorations, costumes, creative writing, speeches and readings from culture-specific holy books. Diverse offerings make special days beautiful, heartfelt, memorable, and, of course, fun.
I had also studied how important it is for every society to cultivate the Arts, because they are incredibly useful in strengthening social bonds between communities and their members. Unity is always the pleasant outcome when we celebrate the seasons together. After much exposure and study of cultural practices worldwide, I have boiled down my insights into one philosophical statement: “Cultures thriving in the Arts bring much needed unity to communities.”
All my hopes of celebrating with fellow Canadians died that Christmas of 2005. Thieffer had succeeded in trapping me into the life sentence of a cruel marriage; living with light deprivation, social isolation, and financial abuse so profound, I realized that my previous fear of lifetime lockup on a psych ward was Mickey Mouse in comparison to my present circumstances. At least windows brighten mental institutions and there are other patients to talk to.
And to pile even more heavily onto my woes was the nagging reality that I was in the advanced stages of pregnancy; and I was completely unprepared to raise my son because of the warped abuses that my mother had subjected me to as a child. I knew nothing about raising children; nothing at all. I was going to hold a newborn baby for the first time at the age of 35 and felt absolutely terrified. How could I raise a child completely alone in the windowless backroom of a store with no contact to and from the outside world? I couldn’t bear the thought.
And so I considered my options of escape. The only family I had left were out of reach. My father had recently moved to Iowa and the only brother I had left was living in Pennsylvania. Women’s shelters denied me a safe haven; their organizations refused to take in abused women who had been diagnosed with a mental illness. And I couldn’t move out, since my husband denied me any access to my own CPP pension or disability income.
To make matters worse, the stigma of my mental illness had caused former friends to abandon me whenever I was in crisis. A fake, “Hi, how are you, I’m fine,” was all they tolerated from me. Telling them, “Hi, I need your help. Thieffer has stolen this Christmas from me; and all future Christmases as well. That’s every holiday with no celebrations ever again. I want to kill myself!” would have been a pointless exercise. I knew I had nowhere to go and no one to talk to.
I began to realize that suicide had become my last, and only, option. Curiously, it dawned on me that this had been the same option that three of my brothers had found themselves left with in the end. Now I understood, why they had chosen to take their own lives. Now it all made sense to me. Someone’s reality can be fated in such an unbearable way that people are forced to pursue any means of escape they feel would put an end to their torment. But, after sifting through all of their options, no safe escape presents itself. Then, for whatever reason, if they carry too much pain within them and have lost their endurance to continue on in their struggle, they arrive at a juncture where only death can bring them much-needed relief.
Now it finally sank in: I had arrived at the same low point that had made them choose this last way out. I also realized that I could now answer the two burning questions I had posed myself, while I was sitting in the back of that police cruiser, escorting me handcuffed into my first hospitalization back in 1997. I had been wondering, how long it would take the Mental Health System, with all its trappings, to wear me down until I, too, would feel desperate enough to commit suicide. It was now 2005; therefore, it had taken eight long years for me to finally bottom out.
Also, a personal question, I'd been exploring, had been: “Is suicide a sign of mental illness, or a reflection of the poor treatment of patients in hospital psych wards?” How interesting it was to me that, though I was presently not having a bipolar episode of mania or depression, I found myself feeling decidedly suicidal. Profound loneliness and isolation without hope of belonging had fueled my desire to die; not my illness. I decided that suicide was an escape from a life of constant stigma; suicide was not a sign of mental illness. And what was stigma? As I had experienced it, stigma could be defined as the subduing or banishment of people who have a socially unacceptable mental illness.
Social deprivation not only robs people
of options when they are in crisis,
it is the very factor that delivers people
into crises to begin with.
Stigma manifests itself on psych wards so insidiously, one could consider it to be actually manufactured there and, then, it easily spreads into the attitudes of 'normal' society. During my first 21 institutionalizations, in conjunction with receiving accumulated cruelties in my various home environments during three abusive marriages, as well as having been raped, excommunicated and expelled, I was subjected to the sting of stigma. I had to discover, first hand, that stigma was primarily an overt social ostracism.
The opposite of social deprivation is social connection, which endows people with support from their peers when they are in crisis; or, because of their rich social cushioning, they may never experience severe crisis at all. I strung my logical flow of ideas along like this: “Mental illness causes stigma; stigma causes social deprivation; social deprivation leads to a lack of options in crisis; having no options in crisis leads to suicide.
It was nonsensical for me to accept the psychiatric conviction that “All suicide is caused internally by a mental illness. External forces, such as life circumstances and social connectedness, are all insignificant factors in a suicide case." This I would counter with the question: “Then why do so many people, who commit suicide, have no previous history of mental illness?” And, to that, the psychiatric stance twists its position the following way to suit its purpose: “When a 'normal' person commits suicide, they have expressed a mental illness the moment they become suicidal: something has gone wrong in their mind at that instance; period. Every last suicide case is, in essence, always an example of a deranged mind.”
In response, I'd argue: “The belief that suicide is a mental derangement leaves those, who choose suicide as a last resort, to be easily stigmatized and shrugged off by all 'Normals'. Therefore, those who have attempted suicide (successfully or unsuccessfully) are criminalized, demonized, or left to rot in religious purgatory for their decision; and there is no compassion awarded them - none.
I believe three aspects interplay during a suicide attempt, not just one: Suicide is circumstantial and it is social, which leads to an understandable suicidal thought process; therefore, we need to respect the person who is caught in this three-way trap.
My insights offer a ray of hope. If suicide is just a mental disease, then little can and will be done to stop it. But, if suicide is a sign of ill-fated circumstances and social disconnectedness, then these realities can be altered; and, subsequently, lives can ultimately be saved. The secret to living a happy life lies directly in how we secure supportive social connections. All external circumstances and internal thought processes are extensions of our belief that we have a legitimate place in our society. This must be taught from an early age onwards.
This is the centerpiece in my theory of disassembling suicide. It, therefore, logically follows that people, who have a mental illness and have, nevertheless, achieved a satisfying social network, will find themselves in favourable life circumstances and will easily refrain from ever contemplating the possibility of suicide, much less resort to it as a last option. As I write this in 2022, peace of mind has finally found me. Back then though, three days before New Year’s Eve at the turn of 2005 into 2006, any sign of social connectedness to brighten my own, grim situation was utterly out of reach for me.
My last episode in this life was about to begin. On December 28th, 2005, I had picked up my fully refilled prescription drugs. My husband was aware of this. I'd said goodbye to him and left for my weekly women’s AA meeting, which had succeeded in helping me quit my six-year-long addiction to alcohol. But rather than head to the meeting, I ventured out onto the highway heading towards the house where I'd grown up in Greensville: the house my father had just recently sold.
It was 7:30 in the evening. Along the way, I began to have car troubles; in particular, my muffler was scraping noisily on the road. I was terrified. What if a cop pulled me over and asked me, “M'am, where are you going?” What was I supposed to say to him, “Oh, right now I’m just looking for a convenient place to kill myself!?”
So, I pulled off the highway and drove into a deserted survey area. I stopped my car to investigate. There lay the exhaust dangling by a thread of steel. With one easy yank, I pulled the muffler free and dropped it onto the ground. Much relieved, I continued on with my mission. I drove close to my dad’s old house and looked for an out-of-the-way place to park.
It had begun to rain heavily and I stopped the car behind an industrial building out of sight from the road. I thought, “If I venture into the woods in the dark, I will most likely never be found.” So I chose, instead, to sit in the comfort of my warm car for my last moments. I took the 120 pills with a bottle of water, watched as the torrents of rain made rivers down my cracked windshield and I waited to fall into my final, much-needed sleep.
In the meanwhile, Thieffer was at home, panic-stricken. When I had failed to return from the women’s AA meeting, it dawned on him that I had picked up my full prescription of meds that day. He immediately called 911 and urgently demanded, “I need a search to be made for my wife. I suspect she is attempting suicide.” He was told, “A missing person’s report, when filed, requires 24 hours to pass until a search party is sent out.” But he'd insist, “You must search now. In 24 hours it will be too late; she will already be dead.”
My then-husband was aware of an interesting fact: that those, who attempt suicide, tend to seek the comforts of familiar surroundings. He, therefore, advised the police, “Search up in Greensville. She may be around the area of Cramer Road: it's the address of her childhood home.”
A police officer finally found me unconscious in my car at midnight and brought me to the Critical Care Unit at McMaster Hospital - the same hospital I had been trapped in on a psych ward in 2002, three years earlier.
For the next few days, Thieffer did not leave my side while I lay in a coma. When I awoke, there he was; this twisted man, who had stubbornly put my future to death, had just successfully saved my life. My heart sank. Now what? Right then I discovered just how embarrassing it can feel to have failed your own suicide attempt. At first, I vowed never to attempt it again, because I couldn’t bare the embarrassment of failing a second time. As the years passed, though, and as I grew in my ability to improve my circumstances and secure social connections, I knew that the option of ending it all would never again find its prominence in my life.
The fact that I had attempted suicide while being pregnant was considered a serious act of child abuse by the Children's Aid Society. Therefore, the organization determined that my son was to be taken away from me after his birth. I had to resign myself to their judgement; this was yet another unavoidable and sad reality in my life.
On the other hand, the CAS ended up stepping in and forcing my husband to make improvements to my living conditions. First, they required a support system to be established for me, insisting that a pregnant woman should not be expected to carry her child in isolation, lacking any social contacts. Ironically, as I began to receive visitors, they turned out to be the very same people I had so sincerely wished to celebrate Christmas with. How pathetically sad the whole scenario turned out to be! Now, since their support was coerced by the authorities to ensure I wouldn’t attempt suicide again, our friendships ended.
And, secondly, the CAS insisted that a pregnant woman should not be subjected to poor living conditions at the windowless back of a store set in an industrial area. After a year of subsisting without sunlight, the day finally arrived when we moved to a proper house in a residential area of Hamilton Mountain. I was, at long last, able to bask in the morning sun with my cup of coffee and to contemplate life to the waning evening light peeking through the windows.
And my situation did indeed improve slightly - if only for the time being.
Autumn Serenade (Tanja Rabe)
King's Town Splash
The Last Chieftain of Molokai
by Gregory Patrick
“It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream . . . making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams . . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence . . . that which makes its truth, its meaning . . . its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live as we dream - alone.”
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
The affliction, the leprosy, eats away slowly and inexorably. For one accustomed to the mad fury of wading into battle and striking down two warriors at a time with one sweep of the koa club, the wasting of my body was terrible to endure. It was a day as black as the ashen skies in the steaming aftermath of an eruption, when I could no longer wield my club. First gaunt . . . then emaciated.
To be slain in battle would have been honourable, redeemable in the eyes of gods and mortals.
I think back to my exploits. I remember, when I cast off from shore to defend my chieftain's honour. I arrived with the dolphin-escorted wake trailing my outrigger canoe and stood at the coral atoll, a dark shrine of volcanic rock that was only above water in a tense interval between tides. This site, where rival champions did inter-island battle, was exposed briefly before the submerging tides would roar in, drowning out final groans and battle cries under circling scavenger birds, their shrill cries like harpies.
The rival champion's sail could be seen like a crimson banner against the cerulean sky. I awaited, the waves lapping at my soles. Sharks sensing death sailed with him and tagged the wake of his canoe, heralded by a conch horn's sonorous brays. As his sails drew nearer, I could make out the tattoos and adornments boasting of his accomplishments in hunt and battle.
Cupping sand into my palms to enhance my grip, I allowed the dark volcanic grains to sieve through my fingers. Below me, amidst the choppy, sapphiric waters, the crab-picked bones of our predecessors littered the sharp, blood-red coral. My rage a force of nature, like those that consumed ships and men, made me bare my teeth in a haka and brandish my club in eager anticipation.
I confronted my rival under the punishing sun, the besieging waves roaring to the shrill screech of gulls and, with a stroke of my shark-toothed koa club, I eviscerated him, then struck him with the back of the club into the sea. Sprayed blood wept down my face like red warpaint. He looked up at me from a submerged perspective, a crimson trail ascending from his sunken form. The sharks insatiable . . .
The water had risen to my shanks, yet proved still too shallow for their serrated teeth to reach me. Maddened at its elusive quarry, impatient to strike and ravenous, one reared at me and fell just short, lacerating itself on the jagged rock as it trashed its way back into deeper waters. The others turned on the wounded shark as a consolation. It writhed in its final throes as it was devoured alive, an explosion of red blooming at my feet. It met my eyes, jaws gaping, baring its teeth in futility.
I lingered there awhile after the feeding frenzy subsided, chest heaving, then slumped into my canoe before the waters would rise to envelope me. I did not trouble with the paddles, allowing the ocean to bear me whichever way it desired. I closed my eyes into the sensation of floating in ghostly passage. Like a dark melody, the eternal sigh of the waves caressed my soul as I passed over the sunken wrecks of whaling ships, their torn sails swaying in the deep currents like phantasmal banners.
My eyes awoke to the myriad stars, the aerial charts by which great mariners navigate. I recognized the beckoning constellations, caught the aromatic scent of flowers. I was being drawn back to my island home. Torches lining the shore, drums throbbing in the night . . . I was expected.
I waded ashore triumphantly, steeling myself to stride rather than stagger towards them. The chief's daughter draped my neck with a lei, the allure in her eyes sweeping through me like a dark wave smiting the night shore. I knew again the maddening intoxication of basking in their adulation. I felt invincible then, immortal . . .
For this arrogance, perhaps, the gods ultimately sought to humble and punish me as, several months later, a chance cut from an enemy would cross my guard in battle and, vexingly, I would feel no pain. Recoiling in horror that the dreaded affliction had me in its fatal grip, my world spun in kaleidoscope. Filled with a terrible rage, I lashed out at my opponent then, severing his head clear off his torso.
When my raven-haired beauty grasped the menace I posed and recoiled from me in horror, that proved my true death, though I would linger on in body for an excruciatingly long time. The look of revulsion in her dark eyes scathed me more than any wound suffered in battle. My spirit was crushed and left me. I have been a corpse warrior ever since.
So I sought the maddening, desolate isolation . . . the forbidden places where none ventured. Heights of cliffs overlooking the crushing brink of sea and far reaches of remote coral reefs, in exile from the tribe that once hailed me as their champion.
I remember when the Tiki idols were vandalised and defiled by the missionaries' decree not long thereafter. I felt the axe blows on them tangibly, like a phantom pain. My eyes smoldered by the torches and the blood-chant of my heart in synchrony with the splintering blows, whose echoes followed me into the dark forest.
I implored the gods, seeking them in the windswept heights of dormant volcano craters, towering above the clouds, and in the depths of spirit-haunted forests. Yet, my cry appeared to merely echo unheeded in the void and amid the darkness of the trees. Even the cold, black fathoms of the sea did not know their equal of my sinking despair.
One day, I found myself standing at the crushing brink of a remote, tide-exposed reef within sight of shore, jagged coral biting into the soles of my feet, creating crimson pools of my blood. Like a sacrificial offering, I awaited the rising tide to claim me. Dark shapes attracted by the sanguine aroma circled impatiently. I closed my eyes, arms spread wide, welcoming the waves and unrelenting will of the gods while chanting my people's sacred songs . . .
A double-masted ship appeared on the horizon and, upon approach, hailed me . . . a missionary ship. They 'rescued' me off my rock, unbeknownst that my affliction would claim them further on along their voyage.
I now stand looking out at the red horizon, defiantly, as I ever stared down enemies across the dark volcanic ground of battle. The vermillion sunset like a reopened wound reflects into the sea as a mirror cast down to a fire goddess' vanity. Eerie cloud formations, resembling the art of a mad god, reveled across the skyline of fog-enshrouded mountains. My grim face lit in intervals by spurts of volcanic eruptions. The sea behind me steams cauldrenously as red veins of lava flow into the waters, a sinister plume of smoke rising towards the sky.
I close my eyes to escape into the realm of dream as a last harbour of refuge. I envision her beauty next to me, eloping together towards a horizon cloaked in mysterious shadows. To imagine thus is deemed 'kapu' amongst our people, yet under the spell and intoxication of her dark eyes, whose fires enshrine in pools of blackness that rival Pele's, I caress ash from her sweep of raven hair like an endearment whispered to the night.
My eyes open and the cry, in realisation of my true plight, sounds disembodied. It seemed so real. I stand at the helm of the doomed ship looking back at the island beyond the biolumined wake, a sultry gust sweeping my lament that sways the palms under the star-speckled firmament, beacons of the great seafarers who dared reach for distant shores.
One last horizon over the silver-crested waves like a procession of dark horses drawing an Atlantean lord across the sea.
One last horizon . . .
One last horizon . . .