Cannery Row Magazine
A Literary Journal . . . with Benefits
by Tanja Rabe
by Mat Del Papa
by Katerina Fretwell
Poetry & Musings
by John Jantunen
by Rebecca Kramer
by Rebecca Kramer
Poetry & Musings
by John Jantunen
by Chris Nash
by Roger Nash
Poetry & Musings
by Randy Eady
by Matthew Del Papa
by Tanja Rabe
by Craig Matheson
Poetry & Musings
by Matthew Del Papa
Born in Kingston - Made in Canada
Over the Rainbow
by Tanja Rabe
“And always, if he had a little money, a man could get drunk. The hard edges gone, and the warmth. Then there was no loneliness, for a man could people his brain with friends, and he could find his enemies and destroy them. Sitting in a ditch, the earth grew soft under him. Failures dulled and the future was no threat. And hunger did not skulk about, but the world was soft and easy, and a man could reach the place he started for.”
- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
First off, I’m going to come clean here . . . I AM AN ADDICT.
Likely, in some minor or major fashion, so are you and anyone else out there. And before you tie your knickers in a knot and start deflecting at those poor sods roaming our streets like the Walking Dead, let me clarify: In this editorial, I don’t intend to discriminate between legal and illegal drugs, fixations or habits. I don’t care what gets you out of bed in the morning, keeps you functioning during the day, helps you sleep at night or serves to fill that lonely void inside you. If you shudder, baulk or outright panic at the thought of having to quit a habitual behaviour that offers you a certain amount of comfort, pleasure or a temporary break from reality but has dubitable side effects, then you are dealing with an addiction.
That glass of wine (or two . . . oh, just leave the bottle) at the end of a long day, the smell of fresh brewed coffee perking you up in the morning, those impulse shopping sprees that routinely max out your credit card, the thrill of checking your lottery numbers every week, the chocolate bar or donut you always crave during the afternoon slump, the compulsion to constantly check your social media feed(s), play hours of video games or binge watch TV shows, the refuge you find in the image of some benevolent higher power - or, for that matter, the drugs you swallow, snort, smoke or inject - essentially all serve the same, basic purpose: to increase the level of dopamine in your body which, in turn, gives you a sense of gratification, relaxation and some measure of relief from what ails you - if not, in the extreme, a numbing escape from the torments of your existence. (And, no, the word ‘dope’ is not a short form, though that’s certainly where my thoughts strayed)
For those in need of a refresher, dopamine is “an essential neurotransmitter and hormone produced by the body and released by the brain that plays a major role in many important body functions, including movement, memory, pleasurable reward and motivation. High or low levels of dopamine are associated with several mental health and neurological diseases.” (Think ADHD, depression, mania, insomnia, anxiety, aggression, libido, etc.)
Therefore, we are all intrinsically dependent on and, in a way, addicted to this neurohormone; although, you might argue, that’s like saying we’re addicted to water, air and food. I get it, but bear with me. The point is not so much how the 'average' person gets their daily dose of this feel-good hormone. I’m certainly not one to judge since I am hooked on nicotine, caffeine, sugar, the screen, a bit of cannabis before bed and likely a host of other, often unconscious, routines and habits that I’ve adopted over the years to relieve existential angst and stressors in my life.
But let me rewind a few decades.
I had my first encounter with a ‘drug addict’ as a young child, although I had no idea what that implied at the time. When visiting my grandparents on my father’s side during the late 1970s, I noticed a rather generous collection of medical prescriptions in their bathroom cabinet and my grandma’s large purse was always littered with loose pills. Nothing out of the ordinary for an elderly person, I assumed, until I overheard my mother speak with derision about granny’s ‘bad habit’.
“Your mother pops meds like candies - uppers in the morning, downers with a drink at night. And she should know better than to mix them with liquor. How many doctors does she have to go to for all those prescriptions? You can’t tell me this is normal!” she’d snark at my dad one night during one of their ‘hushed’ arguments.
As it turned out, my grandma had been a ‘pill popper’ from the age of forty till the end of her life at 89 and I’ve often wondered what led her to ‘self-medicate’ so copiously. Was part of it due to having lived through the horrors of two World Wars? Was it the fact that my grandparents hadn’t been able to conceive and the first child they adopted - a little girl with curly blond locks - ended up drowning in the Rhine, just down the street from their house?
They took in my dad as a toddler shortly after the girl’s unfortunate death. He had been the ‘accidental’ outcome of a (consensual?) liaison between a French Occupation soldier and my natural grandmother in 1945. We’d find out, down the line, that she already had two young mouths to feed by the end of WWII and either couldn’t afford to care for another one or was trying to hide the evidence of a shameful transgression. The details gleaned by my younger self remain blurry at best, but the beginning of my grandmother’s ‘habit’ seemed to coincide with the trauma of losing their first adopted child. My father ended up being raised in an environment of barely suppressed grief - even misplaced resentment - which reared its ugly head the day my grandad revealed to him in anger over some minor transgression that he wasn’t their real child after all, but 'only' adopted because his own mother didn’t want him.
Decades later, I’d watch my Paps slowly drink himself into a lonely oblivion - leading to his untimely death in his mid-fifties - after my mother left him for, what she considered, a ‘real man’.
Looking back, I can see that the main reason for his escape into the bottle was a deep and despairing sense of abandonment and feeling unloved - being told in so many more or less subtle ways from early on that he wasn’t worthy of love.
His own mother gave him up while keeping her other children and his adoptive parents, respectable middle-class citizens, were already in their mature years, dealing with grief that rendered them cold and unaffectionate. Marrying my mother - a run-away from abject poverty and a domineering, rage-prone father (with a violent upbringing himself) - my Paps would enter into another loveless relationship that constantly reminded him he wasn’t ‘good enough’ because he innately lacked the requisite confidence and ambition to provide her with the lifestyle she so desperately craved.
My mother, on the other hand, tried hard to banish her own, somewhat traumatic and destitute, childhood not by way of substance abuse (she was a fiercely self-righteous abstainer), but via a compulsion to find fault with anyone and anything but herself and a single-minded drive to improve her station in life; hoarding 'antiques' from rummage sales, owning a large, immaculate house and property, having successful children and a well-earning husband to show off and ever-striving to keep up with or, better yet, surpass the Joneses. Her ‘love’ ( i.e. approval) has always come with a price tag and we’ve had frequent fallouts over the years due to her incessant barbs. I have since come to realise that she suffers from obsessive-compulsive and narcissistic disorder.
Now, I am not telling you this to garner sympathy; dysfunctional family relations are a dime a dozen and mine was certainly not unusually traumatising. No overt violence, physical neglect or abuse in my upbringing that would warrant an alert to Child Services and, yet, I have regularly indulged in certain behavioral fixations that clearly demonstrate a need to compensate for some deficit in my early emotional bonding - from chewing my nails, bingeing on sugar and escaping into fiction during my childhood to other forms of dopamine-inducing and, on occasion, self-sabotaging habits as an adult.
It is far from my intention to play the ‘Blame-the-Parents' game with these rather intimate confessions. As I frequently say in jest, we all ‘mess up’ our kids one way or another - it supposedly builds character. I firmly believe that most parents do the best they can, even if their best might fall, at times disastrously, short due to a basic lack of nurture, love and support, if not outright traumatic abuse, in their own lives, passed down from one generation to the next in some shape or form.
Blaming is, of course, so much easier than trying to understand where someone’s, often unintentionally, hurtful actions and words, if not outright abandonment, originate from. I personally oscillate routinely between one or the other, anger at my mother turning to guilt that compels me to reach out in tentative reconciliation, only to have those old wounds open again as the unhealthy patterns in our relationship inevitably resurface. The pain, once more, turning to anger with its necessary disconnect and, thus, our dysfunctional merry-go-round whirligigs in a never-ending loop of hope and hurt.
As a former neighbour of ours - a man well into his fifties who had a narcissistic parent - once confessed: "When my mother passed, I didn’t know what to feel; sadness, relief or anger over the way she always made me feel like a failure. I’m worried that I will never have real closure, now that she’s gone. I did grieve in a way, but I seemed to grieve the loss of a relationship I never had and, now, never will have.”
His way of coping, from what I noticed over time, took the form of drowning himself in his business and seeking solace in a bottle of red wine at the end of each day.
Now, substance (ab)use to manipulate dopamine levels is certainly not a new thing. It’s been around since the beginning of humankind through the consumption of naturally occurring plant chemicals that have body and mind altering properties - some used for rituals, others for healing purposes - and dependencies to intoxicating stimulants (i.e. opium, alcohol, cocaine, mushrooms, cannabis) have developed right alongside without, in general, majorly crippling societies in the past.
What begs the question then is, how did we end up in the midst of a global opioid/drug epidemic that's wreaking havoc across whole continents. Has a large part of the world’s population mysteriously succumbed to a complete loss of willpower, moral turpitude and extreme dopamine gluttony over the short span of just a few decades? Obviously, there’s a whole lot more at the base of this wildfire scenario.
One of the main culprits I have to point a finger (or shake a fist) at is our modern, industrialized way of life that has increasingly isolated us from each other, with the root of this division firmly anchored in our current economic system (capitalism built on colonialism) where rampant greed and company profits routinely trump the wellbeing of the individual, if not the population at large. Our history over the past few centuries leading to the 'here and now' poignantly reflects this trend. As Johann Hari notes in his highly insightful book 'Chasing the Scream - The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs':
"The native Peoples of North America were stripped of their land and their culture - and collapsed into mass alcoholism. The English poor were driven from the land into scary, scattered cities in the eighteenth century - and glugged their way into the Gin Craze. The American inner cities were stripped of their factory jobs and the communities surrounding them in the 1970s and 1980s - and a crack pipe was waiting at the end of the shut-down assembly line. The American rural heartlands saw their markets and subsidies wither in the 1980s and 1990s - and embarked on a meth binge.”
Now, the first thing I need to address here is a common misconception - one that I used to subscribe to as well. Namely that certain 'traditionally abused' drugs have such heavily addictive chemical qualities, they are guaranteed to ensnare you with prolonged exposure, and the physical pain and suffering experienced during withdrawal from these substances explains why their ‘victims’ have such troubles quitting for good. And if one does manage to unchain oneself from the drug’s shackles, the substance has altered the user’s brain chemistry to such an extent that the inherent siren call will irresistibly draw many back into its clutches, with only death offering a final release.
This assumption has, for decades, fuelled the War on Drugs, a prohibitionary policy that has done nothing to stem the tide of misery we now see in the news, on our streets, in overcrowded emergency wards and our cities' morgues every day, with drug lords of all ilks making a killing (pun intended). All it appears to have achieved is a continual increase in our cities’ police and prison budgets, obscene profits for legal and illegal ‘snake oil’ peddlers and the stigmatisation/criminalization/expiration of an ever-increasing number of citizens.
If street drugs alone have really been the main offender in this scenario, then how does one explain the fact that, up until the 1990s, ‘only’ about 10% of people regularly using illegal substances at one point in their lives succumbed to permanent dependence till death did them part? During the Sixties, experimentation with various hallucinogens were all the rage and, yet, most users emerged from that period relatively unharmed to lead productive lives unencumbered by debilitating addiction.
Another compelling example can be found in the Armed Forces involved in the Vietnam War. Ironically, cannabis was at that point considered a greater evil and prohibited in the Army, while heroin was plentiful and tolerated for recreational use amongst soldiers to offer relief from the terrors they found themselves complicit in and dextromethamphetamine ('Speed') was liberally handed out to keep soldiers on the alert for days, leading to widespread, habitual use amongst those deployed overseas. Upon returning home, the majority of veterans struggling with addiction issues managed to quit permanently through support initiatives and only a small number succumbed to continued dependence despite treatments offered.
After some research into this puzzling incongruity, it turned out that those service members unable to quit not only suffered from trauma inflicted during their time overseas, but almost all of them had a host of underlying factors in common: they’d come from lives of often abject poverty and/or severely dysfunctional family situations; violence, neglect, abandonment, rejection, shame, overt hatred, sexual abuse . . . a toxic cocktail further compounded by the atrocities they had to witness and commit in this highly controversial war. It is hard for me to even fathom the trauma and self-loathing that must have been devouring these people from the inside out, with the only escape found in the oblivion of an all-consuming drug high.
As I contemplate the drug user's struggle to escape a tormented mind (and body) further though, it becomes clear that it’s not solely about the, at best, temporary relief from reality and a euphoric dopamine high. No, a large part of the addict's life also revolves around the frantic hustle to procure that next trip over the rainbow by whatever means possible; a cyclical lifestyle - if it can be called such - that is at least as habit-forming in its preoccupation as the escapist qualities of the drug itself. Granted, suffering from physical withdrawal is no walk in the park, but those pains are generally, at worst, akin to having a bad case of the flu. Every chronic user experiences some level of side effects on a daily basis but still manages the pursuit of their fix despite the agony.
Johann Hari comes to the same conclusion in 'Chasing the Scream':
“If your problem is being chronically starved of [positive] social bonds, then part of the solution is to bond with the heroin itself and the relief it gives you. But a bigger part is to bond with the subculture that comes with taking heroin - the tribe of fellow users all embarked on the same mission and facing the same threats and risking death every day with you. It gives you an identity. It gives you a life of highs and lows, instead of relentless monotony. The world stops being indifferent to you, and starts being hostile—which is at least proof that you exist, that you aren’t dead already. The heroin helps users deal with the pain of being unable to form normal bonds with other humans. The heroin subculture gives them bonds with other human beings.”
Another issue which hasn’t been much addressed in studying the low success rates of rehabilitation is the fact that, as soon as the pleasantly mind-numbing effects of the dopamine rush wear off, those feelings of despair and self-hatred - let alone the barrage of traumatic memories - resurface with a vengeance on top of the body suffering the pains of withdrawal; the main reason why quitting is such a horrifying proposition for most. Thus taken into account, the all-consuming chase after the next magic bullet serves just as much to distract from those inner demons haunting the mind as the chemical reward of escape into that magical Land of Oz after a ‘successful’ day spent hustling in the streets.
Come to think of it, these dynamics seem suspiciously similar to the phenomenon of 'workaholism' mentioned earlier, the drive to throw oneself into a constant, obsessive state of ‘busyness’ in an effort to silence one’s own inner disparager, coupled with the dopamine-inducing acquisition of status and wealth to prove one’s worth. I don’t have to tell you which one is admired and which is condemned.
To quote Van Halen’s David Lee Roth: "I used to be a drug addict, now I make enough money.”
Of course, narcotics such as those derived from poppies (opium/codeine/morphine/heroin), coca leaves (cocaine/’crack’) and amphetamines (e.g. ‘Speed’), just to name a few, have been around for decades, if not centuries. Initially hailed as ‘wonder drugs’ by the medical and scientific community for treating physical and mental disorders/pain (including, I kid you not, diluted opiates for teething babies), the ability of these substances to skyrocket dopamine levels in an instant not only rendered them tempting to those simply looking ‘for a good time’, but also made them utterly irresistible to persons struggling with various forms of trauma. As Johann Hari notes:
"When [...] Billie [Holiday was] born [in 1915], drugs were freely available throughout the world. You could go to any American pharmacy and buy products made from the same ingredients as heroin and cocaine. The most popular cough mixtures in the United States contained opiates [and amphetamines], a new soft drink called Coca-Cola was made from the same plant as snortable cocaine, and over in Britain, the classiest department stores sold heroin tins for society women.”
Oddly enough, the liberal access to these drugs in the days before Prohibition did not generally result in rampant, debilitating consumption amongst large parts of the population, as one would expect. In fact, it wasn't until the War on Drugs was in full swing that substance abuse became a notable issue, with distribution of now-illegal drugs passing straight into the hands of crime syndicates who upped dosage strengths and cut other harmful ingredients into street drugs to draw users ever-deeper into non-functional dependence. (There is now enough evidence that this 'War' was, above all, racially motivated to intimidate and persecute Black and Mexican people in the U.S.)
At the same time, as profits through the sale of illegal substances increased in the underground market, Organized Crime actively 'lobbied' corrupt politicians to crack down even harder on legal drugs - and the physicians that prescribed them - in order to push more users their way. The rest is infamous history. (For more information I, again, highly recommend Hari's book 'Chasing the Scream')
Enter . . . the Modern Age of 'Big Pharma'.
Now, I’m liable to step on a few toes here for holding the medical-industrial complex and government policy to task, but there is such overwhelming evidence of their direct complicity in the humanitarian shitstorm that presently engulfs North America that I would be severely remiss in omitting the vital role they’ve played in exploiting their clients’ and citizens' mental and physical afflictions to the tune of exorbitant profits, particularly over the past few decades.
Although let me be clear from the start: This is not directed at the doctors and nurses desperately fighting to keep our crumbling Health Care system from complete collapse; the majority of those have the best interests of their patients at heart and risk their own health and sanity on a daily basis. Besides, as I do consider their part in this predicament, it is with a decided nod to the fact that they have generally been unwitting accessories, if not duped victims themselves, having to rely on the, often ‘doctored’, research (i.e. biased test results and intentional misinformation) provided by drug companies. At the same time, they are required to trust in and comply with the guidelines and recommendations set by regulatory agencies, while having limited access to health-promoting, 'costly' therapies. As James Morgan states in his book 'The Orphan Conspiracies':
“Big Pharma needs sick people to prosper. Patients, not healthy people, are their customers. If everybody was cured of a particular illness or disease, pharmaceutical companies would lose 100% of their profits on the products they sell for that ailment. What all this means is, because modern medicine is so heavily intertwined with the financial profits culture, it’s a sickness industry more than it is a health industry.”
It’s a point that has become increasingly evident over the past few decades, glaringly exemplified by the U.S. drug industry's profiteering from extortionist pricing of common, life-saving medications; an industry that we in Canada are closely linked to as well. I mention it here to illustrate the ruthless mindset of those we entrust our bodies to and who don’t care if medical expenses drive us into debt and bankruptcy while their products are often designed to do little to, ultimately, improve the quality of our health.
Worse yet, it is imperative for their bottom line that we enter into a permanent state of dependency - physical, mental and financial - with the damaging side effects of medications creating a profitable feedback loop by increasing the number of costly prescriptions we require to function.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current opioid crisis. Whereas, in the past, drug addiction was mainly linked to a tortured mind or chronic physical pain, the whole gambit changed with the development of synthetic opioids such as Oxycodone and Fentanyl.
In 1996, the U.S. company Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, an Oxycodone preparation that claimed its sustained-release feature reduced the chance of addiction to this opioid to almost nil (less than one percent). This ‘miraculous achievement’, coupled with one of the most aggressive marketing campaigns in the history of medicine, would be the infamous launch pad of the zombie show that now plagues every single municipality in North America and has been spreading like a malignance around the globe.
During the first year of the drug's release, Purdue strategically conducted a host of all-expenses-paid conferences to ‘educate’ (brainwash) more than five thousand doctors and nurses on the amazing ‘benefits’ of OxyContin for pain management. The company flooded physicians with visits from expertly trained sales agents, lavishly offering free samples and, when necessary, costly bribes - even going so far as to threaten lawsuits against medical professionals who, over time, had misgivings about the drug’s claims and refused to prescribe it to their patients soon after the opioid crisis started wreaking havoc in their communities. Doctors who filled the highest numbers of prescriptions were, in turn, rewarded with special 'perks'. (1)
For the sake of keeping this editorial at reasonable length - and already failing miserably - I highly recommend the drama mini-series Dopesick, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Michael Keaton in an outstanding performance as a duped family physician in a Virginia mining town whose professional and personal life hit rock bottom after the opioids he prescribes destroy the lives of many of his patients, their loved ones and nearly his own.
The show - based on Beth Macy's book 'Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America' - proved almost as enthralling as the drug it warns about and has strongly influenced my choice for this editorial. I mention it here in lieu of the Screenshots recommendation I usually offer. It was an eye opener of the most harrowing and enraging kind, exposing the callous disregard for human life necessary to ensure ever-increasing profits and the complicity of our institutions and elected political representatives in this manufactured tragedy. As Beth Macy explains:
“To help burnish its image in the face of so many [ensuing] legal, financial, and public-relations problems, Purdue hired former New York mayor and Republican insider Rudy Giuliani and his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners. Just a few months after his lauded response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Giuliani’s job was to convince public officials they could trust Purdue because they could trust him [...]” and “[...] Purdue told its representatives to tell doctors that only persons with an ‘addictive personality’ became addicts.”
Yes, victim blaming was a major tool in their campaign to detract from the highly addictive properties of a drug which did, in fact, not much differentiate between a trauma-linked ‘predisposition’ to drug dependence and patients with a ‘normal’ level of mental resilience. Doctors concerned with easing their patients’ suffering were instructed to liberally write out prescriptions, increasingly for even minor levels of pain, with the assurance that the health risks of OxyContin were ‘minimal’ and the drug supposedly offered ‘incredible' improvements compared to traditional opiates. It came to light later on that Purdue had illegally accessed confidential patient data to specifically target doctors who tended to over-prescribe medications, which turned into a revolving door for black market sales. Highly paid sales agents for the company were themselves kept in the dark about the drug’s true nature and supplied with fudged documents to render their promotional efforts more convincing.
Time would tell all about the dire effects of this deadly conspiracy. Oxycontin prescriptions required consistent increases in dosage that started initially at 10 mg per pill but soon went up to 80 mg doses as the body quickly developed a tolerance and the assured 12-hour pain relief fell way short of its promise. The (rather ineffective) slow-release feature was easily circumvented by simply crushing the pill before use to achieve an instant, tremendous high (followed, down the road, by a mind-bending and physically excruciating low), making it irresistible to street drug users and, at the same time, extremely addictive - and ultimately deadly - after often just a short period of use.
It comes as no surprise, then, that this synthetic opioid soon spread like greased lightning through the vulnerable population, at first disproportionately affecting blue collar communities working in resource extraction and manufacturing that had high levels of workplace-related injuries, then flooding economically depressed regions suffering from widespread unemployment and poverty. As Beth Macy notes:
“The real perfect storm fueling the opioid epidemic had been the collapse of work, followed by the rise in disability and its parallel, pernicious twin: the flood of painkillers pushed by rapacious pharma companies and regulators who approved one opioid pill after another. Declining workforce participation wasn't just a rural problem anymore; it was everywhere, albeit to a lesser degree in areas with physicians who prescribed fewer opioids and had higher rates of college graduates. [...] The economic collapse was the kindling in this epidemic, the opiates were the spark that lit the fire."
When Health Canada approved OxyContin in 1996, it stated in the product's monograph that the drug was safe and effective for chronic pain. Looking around our own country at this point, in particular at northern mining centres like Sudbury and inner city ghettos such as East Hastings in Vancouver which are getting consumed by the hell that is opioid addiction and, consequently, skyrocketing crime and homelessness rates, this claim with its lack of (intentional?) oversight is, in retrospect, nothing but a perverse joke.
After all that's come to light about the destructive effects of these drugs, it is inexcusable that they have remained the preferred go-to prescription medication for pain. In fact, while living north of Sudbury five years ago, my partner John suffered from sciatica and the nurse practitioner at the local clinic didn’t hesitate to recommend OxyContin for pain relief. John knew well enough to decline the offer and opted for a topical analgesic and oral muscle relaxant instead which, coupled with a natural joint supplement, rest and self-taught physio, relieved the injury over time.
Later on we’d learn that these opioids are still routinely given out for workplace injuries sustained in the local resource extraction industry without much concern for patients’ struggles to withdraw from the grip of the ensuing addiction after their prescription runs out and they're cleared to return to work.
Many would still be in pain since this type of drug actually lowers one’s pain threshold and destroys vital organs with prolonged use, requiring higher doses while encouraging chronic dependence. It also masks symptoms/pain to the point of sabotaging the body’s ability to heal itself properly. Consequently - in order to function and get back to earning a living - affected workers end up self-medicating via black market opioids that are often laced with other deadly chemicals such as fentanyl or rat poison. Returning to work, they end up failing random drug tests, lose their job and, all too often, their home, family and support systems as the addiction completely takes over their life.
If you ask just a few homeless persons how they ended up on the streets and addicted to drugs, you will quite often hear a similar storyline that starts with an injury or surgery, prescribed opioids thereafter, ensuing addiction and a rapid decline leading to the aggravating trials of homelessness - a quicksand of misery that its victims are kindly advised to pull themselves out of by their ‘bootstraps’. Failing to do so, they get discarded as spineless human detritus and society washes its hands of all responsibility. As Gabor Maté states in 'Chasing the Scream':
"If I had to design a system that was intended to keep people addicted, I’d design exactly the system that we have right now. [...] I’d attack people, and ostracize them. [...] the more you stress people, the more they’re going to use. The more you de-stress people, the less they’re going to use. So to create a system where you ostracize and marginalize and criminalize people, and force them to live in poverty with disease, you are basically guaranteeing they will stay at it.”
Now, you may ask, what about all those drug rehab clinics out there offering (free) treatments? As mentioned above, getting off any drug is only the first step. In the case of synthetic opioids and their brain-altering, strongly addictive effects, it is a major doozy indeed and it often takes years of battling the all-consuming mental draw before finding a functional level of relief from its grasp.
By that point, you also have to face the devastating fall-out from your addiction; the alienation of loved ones you traumatised during your downward spiral, financial destitution, shame, guilt, self-loathing, social ostracisation, likely a criminal record that bars access to jobs and housing, besides struggling with extremely debilitating physical and mental exhaustion. So it should hardly come as a surprise that many of those who manage to go through ‘rehabilitation' return right back to where they feel accepted, understood and supported: the dysfunctional community of homeless encampments, the company of fellow addicts, the familiar daily hustle and the seductive embrace of a ‘lover’ that whisks all those pains away.
Taking into account that addiction is so much more than ‘simply’ a chemical drug dependence, I highly doubt those new initiatives in Western Canada calling for forced institutional rehabilitation of street drug users will have the desired outcome. Treating the physical symptoms without addressing underlying causes is a habitual failure of our system which runs on costly, short term band-aid solutions, ignoring and, thus, aggravating the social, racialized and economic inequities at the root of its many crises.
For those of us inclined towards dystopian scenarios (and these are certainly the times), thoughts inevitably stray to heavily policed camps for the homeless/drug dependents. Coupled with the current controversy around offering MAID (medically assisted death) to pretty much anyone who despairs of life, even for reasons of financial destitution and loss of shelter, the image of 'death camps’ down the line inevitably rears its ugly head. Call me paranoid but, as a German, I am wont to draw connections to the Third Reich’s concentration camps which also served to exterminate citizens with mental and physical disabilities, amongst other social outcasts.
And, please, don’t tell me this could never happen here in Canada - although these draconian measures would obviously be sold to the public under the benevolent umbrella of 'merciful life terminations to benefit sufferers and society as a whole'. Canada has already instituted police-patrolled detention centres for its migrant labour force and, via shelters, its homeless populations, so is it truly too far-fetched to suspect that, as our economic system creates ever-increasing numbers of vulnerable citizens and our society burns through support and harm reduction workers at an outrageous rate - many of whom end up (self-)medicating as well - this 'end solution' may have, in the very least, occurred to those in charge of the 'public welfare'?
Look no further than the callous disregard that all levels of government have displayed for elderly citizens crowded in for-profit retirement ‘centres’ during the pandemic. You really refuse to believe that the high death toll amongst those elderly residents might have been secretly hailed as a way to open up beds for the flood of baby boomers already knocking at their doors, in addition to the public purse saving huge amounts on old-age security and healthcare costs for the prematurely diseased? Maybe this is a cynical view to take, but in a profit-obsessed world that cares less and less about people - and even scapegoats and vilifies its victims - we need to be on constant guard against dehumanising bigotry becoming the accepted norm.
Another major issue I need to address that has encouraged the rampant spread of drug addiction over the past couple of decades is the commodification and stock manipulation of ALL our ‘simple, bare necessities’ - in particular that final frontier: the housing market. I surely don’t need to educate anyone on the current, artificially-induced housing crisis where mass evictions and escalating rents have become the unfettered norm - a travesty I’ve addressed to some extent in a previous editorial (Abandoned Objects - Issue 7).
At this point in time, the very real possibility of becoming homeless not only affects pretty much anyone on low income who depends on real-estate conglomerates and their strong arm, property management companies, for a roof over their heads. An ever-increasing number of middle-class citizens are also at risk of losing their house to the bank due to rising interest rates and overextended mortgages. Needless to say, defaulting on a housing loan kills the equity you’ve worked so hard to build and tanks your, now-invaluable, high credit score, so good luck trying to get approved for a lease as you scramble to find anything halfway appropriate in this housing sharknado.
For those of us skimming along the poverty line who routinely have to gear 50% or more of our meager earnings to exorbitant rents, the fact that many property companies require you now to only allocate 30% of your income towards housing to get approved for a lease strikes true terror into our already angst-ridden souls. And what if you are a racialized minority, on government assistance (incl. E.I.), a senior on fixed income, a single parent with young kids, disabled in any form, previously homeless or released from prison . . .? Yep, that may be the end of the line for you in a nutshell.
Homelessness, and all it entails, is one of the most frightening and harmful calamities people are threatened with these days and it creates a straight pipeline into the drug-riddled shelter system and encampments. The reality is: if you live through the trauma of being without proper housing long enough, the drugs will eventually, and inevitably, find you to offer sweet oblivion from your shitty life. Being treated like human waste will do that to the best of us. Personally, I doubt I would be able to resist their allure if I had to face such harrowing trials of destitution. As usual, it’s easy to judge until you’re forced to walk in someone else’s broken shoes.
The solutions to this crisis seem ridiculously simple and straightforward. As Beth Macy states in Dopesick:
“Portugal, which decriminalised all drugs - including cocaine and heroin, in 2001, adding housing, food, and job assistance - now has the lowest drug-use rate in the European Union, along with significantly lowered rates of drug-related HIV and overdose deaths. In Portugal, the resources that were once devoted to prosecuting and imprisoning drug addicts were funnelled into treatment instead.”
Another example is Finland, a country that managed to virtually end homelessness, as a recent opinion piece in The Toronto Star illustrated so poignantly: (3)
“Instead of abandoning the homeless, they housed them. And that led to an insight: people tend to function better when they’re not living on the street or under a bridge. Who would have guessed? It turns out that, given a place to live, Finland’s homeless were better able to deal with addictions and other problems, not to mention handling job applications. So, more than a decade after the launch of the “Housing First” policy, 80 percent of Finland’s homeless are doing well, still living in the housing they’d been provided with — but now paying the rent on their own. This not only helps the homeless, it turns out to be cheaper.”
In juxtaposition, the article references that our Canadian ingenuity has been hard at work as well, implementing measures to shelter more people by further reducing the number of inches between shelter beds and squeezing in more cots.
Unbelievable, when you consider that homelessness costs the taxpayer seven billion dollars annually (and rising), a fraction of which would easily remedy our current dilemma if invested in social housing and services to get people back on their feet. Sadly, this goes against the tenets of our economy which rewards the unfettered greed inherent in a Capitalist system where people are either a resource to be exploited (labourers/consumers) or a burden to be discarded when they’ve become ‘unprofitable’. Canada’s conceit of presenting itself as a socialist nation has long been at odds with the reality of increased privatisation and stock market speculation preying on all our basic needs.
Here in our beautiful province of Ontario, Premier 'Thug' Ford, himself, reflects those predatory practices flagrantly in his support of profit-driven housing developments, steps to effectively privatise our Healthcare system (remember for-profit retirement homes?) and cuts to Social Services so essential to supporting the lives and prospects of low income citizens. At the same time, he pumps more and more taxpayers' money into police budgets to forcibly contain the fall-out from his nepotistic policies.
What it all essentially boils down to, though, is the fact that we - as a nation and as a species - have become increasingly disconnected from each other - no matter how much time we spend with 'friends' virtually. Supportive, face-to-face bonds with our fellow kind are paramount in sustaining mental and physical well-being (it takes a village, remember?) and they are being eroded on a continual basis within the trappings of ‘modern’ society. If there is anything at the root of what truly ails us, it is our lack of community, first and foremost, and our willingness to let the system divide its people via instilling an ‘us versus them’ mentality through fear-mongering and scapegoating, resulting in a paucity of compassion for the humanity inherent in those around us.
As it pertains to illegal addiction, measures that effectively isolate, stigmatise and punish drug dependents only serve to further aggravate traumatic injuries and escape into substance abuse; a point that became glaringly apparent during the lockdown period of the pandemic when even ‘well-adjusted' people cut off from friends and family started to struggle with mental health issues - as statistics on soaring rates of depression/anxiety, domestic aggression, substance dependence and suicide have acutely demonstrated.
Meaningful connections to others and to the natural world around us while being able to meet our physical needs in a dignified way are the key ingredients to managing our dopamine requirements in a life-sustaining manner. Unfortunately, the economic struggles required of a large part of our citizenry to uphold the current, inequitable system serve those in power all-too-well as they render the majority of people too preoccupied and worn down with the desperate hustle of making ends meet to engage in protests and actions for systemic change. The ever-present fear of falling - or, rather, getting pushed - through the cracks also acts as an effective deterrent to keep ‘the masses’ from revolting, leaving them too intimidated to stand up to those who, literally, run their lives into the ground. In the meanwhile, an anxious Middle Class has been turned into unwitting collaborators, worried about facing economic repercussions/destitution themselves if they advocate for the victims - another useful tactic in the game of ‘Divide and Conquer’ that prevents people from coming together as a community.
As Dorothy so fervently intoned in The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home”. This deceptively simple notion is at the heart of what we all innately yearn for: a place where we are loved and accepted for who we are, a place that offers us unconditional support and encourages us to grow, a place where we can find meaning in life and a worthy purpose, a place that offers shelter from the storms rattling our earthly existence; a place where we feel we belong. Most of us are looking for that home in all the wrong places, distracted in so many ways from the essence of what fundamentally sustains us.
To paraphrase Johann Hari: Addiction is a disease of loneliness. Its opposite isn’t sobriety. It’s connection.
So, before we find ourselves judging someone for their addiction, we may instead want to ask them about their pain. It might just hold up a mirror to the tragic beauty of our own, imperfect humanity.
As always, my deepest gratitude to our wonderful contributors and readers near and far across the globe.
Stay well, keep engaged and enjoy the Journal!
Canada's Dirty, Little Secret
by Mat Del Papa
Al Capone. That name should ring a bell. 'Scarface' was only the world's most famous Mafioso. Back when the mob was a going concern, 26-year-old Alphonse clawed his way to the top of that blood-covered heap (google 'The St. Valentine's Day Massacre'), and Canada helped him along.
It started in 1920, when the U.S. government - swayed by vocal and well-organized special-interest groups - passed the Volstead Act. The '18th Amendment to the United States Constitution' brought about Prohibition, a law banning the public sale and manufacture of alcohol within America's borders.
Religious groups, amongst the strongest proponents of the 'Temperance Movement', were - ironically - immune. And they weren't alone in flouting the Volstead Act. Famed journalist H. L. Mencken criticised the law in 1925, saying: "Prohibition worked best when directed at its primary target: the working-class poor." The sad fact, as historian Lizabeth Cohen wrote, was that "a rich family could have a cellar-full of liquor and get by, it seemed, but if a poor family had one bottle of homebrew, there would be trouble."
Working-class people wanted their drinks, too, and didn't much care how they got them. Legal loopholes allowed doctors to prescribe 'medicinal alcohol'. Just months into Prohibition, over 15,000 physicians and 57,000 pharmacists were issuing scripts for booze. Others eschewed the medical profession and purchased grape juice. Unrestricted by the law, grape juice ferments if left to sit for sixty days, becoming wine with a 12 percent alcohol content. Thus, grape juice output, not surprisingly, quadrupled during the Prohibition era.
Seeing a growing demand - and opportunity - organized crime stepped in to do their 'civic duty' and supply thirsty people with hooch . . . at a considerable markup, of course. However, Al Capone and his cronies - enterprising entrepreneurs to a one - needed access to larger quantities of product. Backcountry stills and bathtub gin simply couldn't keep up with demand. So they looked north, towards Canada. Our nation had already flirted with Prohibition at the provincial level (the 'War Measures Act of 1914') before gradually coming to their collective senses. Although, even during the time that the Act was enforced, Canadian Prohibition allowed distilleries and breweries to produce for 'foreign markets'. And, before long, Canadian spirits were readily available to desperate American buyers - again at a markup. Unfortunately, the American government did its best to put a stop to the highly lucrative crossborder booze trade.
Smuggling alcohol into the States became big business. All sorts of clever tricks were used to facilitate this profitable trade and several occurred in Northern Ontario. Canadian booze - mostly whiskey and beer - was run through secret tunnels in Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay. There are still, apparently, remnants to be found in many Canadian cities: hidden entrances, concealed storerooms, and the like. Capone and his gang loaded ships from these tunnels with government officials none the wiser or, frequently, on the mob's payroll. The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Revenue Service all fought a losing cat-and-mouse game, touting their few successful raids even while tonnes of booze flowed south every day.
Unpopular in the extreme, Prohibition bled supporters with every passing year. The arrival of the Depression in 1929 meant the U.S. government needed to find new tax revenues and bringing back legal alcohol was the answer. In 1933, the law was repealed and Canadian liquor exports plummeted. American distilleries and breweries were allowed to ply their trade once again.
Capone, however, missed the 'Wets' win ('Wets' were known as drinkers, teetotallers as 'Drys'). He was sent to jail in 1931 on charges of tax evasion and died a sick and broken man.
(The Capreol Express, 2019)
by Katerina Fretwell
Human life is an oceanic offering – our primordial
amoebic progenitor, dwelling in our gut,
came to life to me long ago in grade school,
a visible thrill under a microscope,
its magnified wall pulsed like gills, lungs –
in, out, in, out, its own metronome!
And within its primal wall are the same
mitochondria that enliven my cells.
But Seventies shows: the Bionic Woman,
and the Six Million Dollar Man,
stoked the race for fake parts –
versatile stemcells paled beside silicone,
only the rich could augment their brains, beauty, brawn.
And now, Covid yearns to swim in our blood,
a swan song to healthy cells, with its narcissistic:
O what a Big Bang am I!
by John Jantunen
Upon the matter of what his life should amount to, Ronald had never given a great deal of thought.
He had grown up in a respectable, suburban neighbourhood at a time when people had sought such living arrangements so as to take full advantage of what a modern lifestyle had to offer - that is, a safe, clean and stable environment to raise a family in. As far as he could tell, his parents were not running away from anything and they did their best to make sure that Ronald and his sister had access to as many points of view as several wall-sized bookshelves could handle. There was no shying away from political discussions at the dinner table, nor was any topic considered too uncomfortable that it shouldn’t be brought up in due course. Both of his parents were well educated, yet not so much that they didn’t still have faith in the TV news announcer; although any opinions found there, Ronald was made to understand, could be cross-referenced with a trip to the library.
It is more important, his Father would say, for a young man to find out things on his own than to simply trust his ears.
Ronald took this message with him to University and promptly dropped out half-way through his second year when his girlfriend announced that she was pregnant. She had her sights set on marriage, refusing his offer to pay for an abortion, and Ronald found himself in the unfortunate position of having to leave the province in a hurry.
Using the money that was earmarked for the summer term's tuition, he’d made a hasty retreat and, in no time, found himself almost penniless in a small logging town in the interior of British Columbia. This suited him none-too-fine but, as in most small logging towns in BC, many people there likewise found themselves almost penniless so, at least, he was not alone in his predicament. Nobody seemed to mind, except himself and the loggers. With the constant threat of losing their livelihood hanging over their heads, the loggers, it was said, took to the roads at night with twelve-gauge shotguns angled out of their brand-new pick-up trucks, in case anyone who might be interfering with their illegal ‘side hustle’ appeared in the headlights.
His main source of information about those kinds of things was a woman named Lulu. She was the reason for his extended stay in the small town and it wouldn’t be stretching things to say that she was, in fact, also the cause of his dire financial straits.
He had originally planned to push on through to Tofino, an ex-logging and fishing community on Vancouver Island that had strung a few wooden planks through the forest and remade itself into a tourist destination. He had heard a classmate refer to it as a ‘Mecca’ of some sort or another. Ronald wasn’t sure exactly what a Mecca was, but his classmate had also mentioned that you could lay on a beach that stretched for miles upon miles and stare up at a sky so dark, you could see the entire universe spiralling into infinity. To Ronald, having narrowly avoided seeing his own life spiralling into the reverse, it sounded like as good a place as any to start on his journey.
Lulu had picked him up hitchhiking just outside of Calgary where she had been visiting her father. Ronald told her of his plans and she listened with, what appeared to be, general interest. After a half-hour of him prattling on, she interrupted him with an invitation to stay at her place for the night.
“If you like to,” she added, “you're welcome to stay for as long as you want.”
Ronald was wary of the offer. She was well over thirty years of age and had two kids to her credit, both staying with her “ex-son-of-a-bitch-husband” for as long as it took her to appeal the decision. After she had remarked that the “no-good-bastard-son-of-a-bitch” had convinced her to get her tubes tied before taking her kids and kicking her out, he was a little more relaxed about her proposition. Then she described the town she lived in as being as isolated as it was beautiful and he decided that it couldn’t hurt to lay low for a while.
By nightfall, they were pulling up to a squat, little house just out of view of the other 150 odd houses scattered around the lumber mill by the river below. Lulu’s house wasn’t much to look at, even in the dark. It was one-and-a-half story with a sagging porch roof and seemed to be supported by three thick pieces of rope wound around the entire structure, then tied around a tree trunk which was counterbalanced with a length of cable attached to an old VW van. Ronald was awe-struck that such an arrangement was even possible.
“Oh, it’s possible all right,” Lulu said “just stay away from the walls.”
The first impression Ronald got of the interior was that it had a dirt floor and that there were burrowing rodents living in it. He soon discovered, though, that the layer of topsoil was only superficial and that the large gopher by the door was a present from the dog.
“He’ll take it away as soon as I’ve seen it.” Lulu explained. She proceeded to get down on all fours and sniff at it, poking the carcass with her finger. On cue, the dog - a huge, yellow-brown beast that looked like a cross between a Saint Bernard and a small buffalo - wandered over from the next room. It scooped up the gopher in its drooling maw and disappeared into the rear of the house.
“Is there a backdoor here?” Ronald asked. Lulu, now in the kitchen cubby searching for a suitable container for tea, replied, “No, would you like there to be?”. Ronald said he didn’t really care one way or the other and Lulu nodded, as if trying to figure out what he meant. She then armed herself with a bread knife to test the resolve of a layer of baked-on beans at the bottom of the pot she had pried loose from the tangled mess in the sink.
When tea was ready, Lulu joined Ronald at the table. He stared across at her, wondering what his responsibilities for the night would be. There was a mist of patchouli surrounding her at a distance of five feet. A former roommate had told him that patchouli was an aromatic aphrodisiac and, by this, Ronald had taken to mean that women who wore it were easy. Lulu, he was sure, fit firmly into this category.
Out of pure desperation anyway, Ronald affirmed to himself. She had the requisite dreadlocks and wore no makeup. Her face was dotted with blackheads and her fingernails stained with dirt and nicotine. A fine layer of skin grew along the rim of her nose ring, reminding him of those urban trees that, for some unknown reason, were equipped with their own halogen lighting systems and whose trunks engulfed the electric cables stapled to them. Her teeth, from the few glimpses he'd caught, were streaked with vertical, brown lines. Lulu seemed to be quite self-conscious of these stains and chewed incessantly at her lips to keep them from parting.
She threw sheepish smiles at Ronald the entire time she sat at the table, her head bent to the task of breaking up a large marijuana bud into smokable fragments, which gave him the impression she was waiting for a sign from him to proceed in this direction or that. Ronald sipped at his tea and scrutinized every nook and cranny of the room. Then he stood up to get a better view of the rest of the house.
“Do you mind if I take a look around?” he asked.
“Why should I mind?” she countered aggressively, as if insulted by the thought that there might be something in the dark folds of the house she didn’t want Ronald to see.
Standing at the cusp of the adjoining room, he squinted at the silhouetted forms in what, in any other house, might have been the dining room, until Lulu informed him that the light was on the left. He cautiously leaned over and, trying to keep his balance as his hands probed along the wall lest he bring the entire house down upon him, managed to locate the switch.
Illumination sent a chill through Ronald. Swathes of multicoloured fabric hung on nails blanketed the walls and several mannequin torsos leaned against one another, looking dejected; some half-dressed in pleated skirts or ruffled blouses, others naked with garments crumpled at the foot of their stands. There were three sewing machines in view, two of them wheel-driven, with all showing signs of rust and disrepair. Jars of buttons fought for shelf space with small cabinets - most of their drawers open as if waiting for the return of needles and bobbins. In the centre of the room sat two large tables crafted out of sawhorses and particleboard. On each were layers of sketch paper thin as skin, tattooed with the ghostly-faint pencil outlines of dresses, elegant in the simplicity of their design. A wicker frame at the far end of one of these tables wore a gown of green-grey canvas, with pins in place of stitches, that at first glance seemed to have the three dimensional quality of velour. When Ronald ran his hand along the surface of the material, the velvety texture left a stain on his fingertips that smelled pungently of mildew.
Embarrassed at the discovery, as if he’d unearthed a secret of Lulu’s and did not want to reveal one of his own in return, Ronald backed away and peered up the staircase leading to the second floor. It curved into cracked plaster and even the thought of ascending it was heavy enough for Ronald to hear the house shifting.
“Is the bathroom upstairs?” he called to Lulu. There was no reply so he went back to the kitchen.
Lulu stared at him bug-eyed when he returned, looking like she was choking on something. Then, after several quick gasps, she expelled pungent-smelling smoke through her nose and mouth.
“Is the bathroom upstairs?” he repeated. Lulu shook her head and offered him a toke. Ronald accepted the cigarillo-sized joint and took short, sporadic inhales that scratched at the back of his throat, begging him for a glass of water.
“Do you have to take a dump?” Lulu asked, after rubbing her eyes and cracking her back.
“No,” Ronald answered, coughing into his hand.
“Then you can piss off the porch.”
Ronald passed back the joint and stood there awkwardly, looking at the door.
“You have to take a piss or not,” Lulu inquired raspily. Ronald pulled his chair out and sat down at the table. Lulu had just said something that required an answer. He was sure of that. He jerked his head towards her abruptly.
Lulu eyed him suspiciously. “You don’t smoke a lot of dope do you?”
It was true, Ronald did not, and he could already feel a vague sense of unease washing over him. Lulu seemed far away, but her voice rang like sharp barbs in his ears.
He remembered feeling this way once before. He'd been in a professor’s office discussing his idea for a term paper. The course was on popular music. Ronald, inflated by the knowledge of Arthur Koestler’s Sleepwalker trilogy, had proposed a paper on the relevance of Pythagoras’ notion of the harmony of the spheres via the mathematical formulation of stringed chord progression. His professor had given him the same look that Lulu was giving him now, before leaning back in his worn leather chair - a distance which seemed measured in minutes rather than seconds - and frowning, “Well, I don’t think I can help you with that. Tell me, what kind of music do you listen to?” Ronald had been gripped with the undeniable urge to flee, but the steadied, tired gaze of the professor fastened him to his seat, begging him for a quick and easy answer so he could get to the next student in line.
And here Lulu was asking the same of him. Ronald took a deep breath and wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve. “I’ll be alright,” he assured her at last.
“Well, that’s a relief,” she shot back at him. “Are you hungry? I’m famished.”
Ronald mumbled something that even he couldn’t make sense of. She must have understood because, before Ronald had a chance to blink, there was a sandwich overflowing with sprouts and cucumber slices on multi-grain bread in front of him. The thought of eating did not appeal to him at all though. In fact, the mere thought of any bodily function caused him considerable grief. The sandwich reminded him that he had a stabbing pain in his abdomen (That’s right . . . I have to pee), but standing on the porch and unzipping his pants seemed far too complicated.
If I had a proper bathroom with sterile lighting and toothbrushes arranged in a ceramic cup by the sink, it would be all right, his brain offered. But I don’t have that, he countered. I feel dirty. And my penis has shrunk to the size of a cocktail wiener. Standing on the porch with nothing to aim at, I would probably piss all down my leg, or at least all over my hand. When I come back in, I’d have to wash my hands in the sink and that would be far too conspicuous. I’d have to move things out of the way and there’d be noise and I’d apologise and Lulu would see how nervous she made me. And where am I going to sleep tonight anyway? Will she lead me towards her bedroom, then turn out the light as she undresses? She likely won't have any condoms because she’s been fixed, fixed like a dog, and what would I say? Who knows what she has growing underneath her frock.
Ronald crossed his legs and picked at the crust of the bread. Lulu rolled a cigarette from a pouch of Drum tobacco and yawned.
“I only have one bed,” she explained, as if she could read his thoughts, “and I have to tell you that I’m celibate, but I hate sleeping alone so I want you to come and join me when you’re ready.” She stood up and touched his arm in a gesture of mutual understanding.
“So, I’ll see you upstairs then?”
That night, Ronald slept little and fretted much. When he came upon Lulu in bed, she was reading by the light of a candle, her back towards him. She was wearing only a green, translucent halter top and matching bikini underwear. Her figure, unencumbered by the heavy sweater and burlap skirt, looked to be supple, yet firm. The shadows dancing about the porcelain whiteness of her arms pleaded with him to reach out and touch her.
The thought skipped through his mind that she wasn’t really celibate and was waiting for him to make the first move, but he held back, deciding to wait for a sign when the candle flame was blown out. He undressed to a T-shirt and briefs and slid in beside her. When the darkness cut the space between them to a hair’s breadth, their breath and warmth mingling under the covers, Ronald’s foot accidentally brushed against hers. She was wearing socks, thick wool workman’s socks.
So much for that, Ronald conceded as he dug his hand underneath his pillow to keep it from straying.
Dawn found Ronald sitting on the steps of the porch. Though he'd never smoked, he took pleasure in the short puffs on the cigarette he had spent fifteen minutes, and three papers, rolling at the kitchen table. Upon first creeping from the house, the crisp air and the gurgle of the stream running along the perimeter of the yard had immediately struck him as lacking something. The burning of tobacco seemed to fill that void.
Here I am, a new man waiting for the sun to rise over mountains that yesterday were only in the distance, he reflected. Nothing I have done before matters here. The money I stole from my parents, so trusting, and the girl, who wasn’t even a student but a waitress whose advances I didn't turn down, have no substance.
After an hour or so of waiting for the sharp green of the stand of cedar trees bracketing the creek to come into clear relief, an antsiness crept into his legs. Ronald stood up, thinking he’d roll himself another cigarette, and was disappointed when a clattering of dishes sounded from the house. He answered their call and bid a good morning to Lulu standing rigid and grim-faced in the middle of the kitchen.
“This place is a fucking pigsty!” she exclaimed with a voice shrill enough to stop Ronald’s good mood in its tracks.
“Let me help,” he offered.
“No. Leave it alone, I’ll get to it later. Well, sit down, you're making me nervous.”
Ronald obeyed, eyeing the pack of Drum tobacco.
“Don’t mind me, really,” Lulu sighed, her anxiety breaking as if it was a force she had fostered in solitude and now seemed out of place with Ronald there. “I’m always like this in the morning. Coffee?
“I thought you’d left,” her voice was even, not seeming to care one way or the other.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Ronald replied.
“Oh.” Lulu’s hand paused above the switch on the coffeemaker, as if her body itself was trying to synthesize what he meant.
“How long are you planning to stay?” she asked cautiously.
“I haven’t decided yet.”
Lulu’s hands started working again and she dumped a spoonful of ground coffee beans into the filter. “I don’t mean to sound too forward, but how much money do you have?”
“Don’t be coy with me. I hate people who are coy with me.”
“A couple thousand. Give or take.”
She finished with the coffeemaker and turned to face Ronald.
“I want to show you something.” Lulu motioned towards the far side of the kitchen. An unassuming doorway with an old-fashioned latch - like on a barn or shed - led into the basement. Ronald followed Lulu into the cramped quarters, shielding his eyes against the ferocity of the stark, fluorescent light bulb. The musty smell and humidity were enough to tell him what was growing down there before his sight confirmed the four rows of stalks in plastic pots which took up all but a few feet of the cellar.
“They’ll be mature in two weeks. Well, sixteen days. I’ve already got a buyer and I should net close to fifteen thousand. To make a long story short, I was involved in a traffic accident last week with a guy in town and he said that, if I don’t pay him three thousand dollars to get his car fixed, he’s going to call the insurance company and, since I don’t have any insurance, they're probably going to put me in jail. That’s why I went to see my father, but he wouldn’t help me. So it looks like I’m screwed, unless you can help out?” Taking a deep breath, she glared up at Ronald with a combination of spite and sincerity that Ronald found strangely disarming.
“I can loan you two thousand,” Ronald offered, immediately wishing he hadn't.
Deep breath out: “Then I’m screwed. Shit! Lulu, you’re a fucking idiot.” She swatted at the plant closest to her, then stood staring at the floor. The stair underneath Ronald creaked ominously as he shifted his weight, waiting for her to look up. If she looks up at me and smiles, I’m done for, he thought. Instead though, she stood below him in bitter resignation, frozen like one of her mannequins, as if she had long since given up on the hope that perseverance alone would amount to anything.
“Okay, three thousand, but that’s all I have,” Ronald finally relented. He’d expected at least a smile of gratitude from Lulu, but she only considered him a moment, then blurted out, “This still doesn’t mean I’m going to fuck you.” Ronald raised his hands, as if absolving her of any responsibility, then turned around and marched upstairs, feeling like a world-class mark.
With business conducted, Lulu became rather distant. She promised to give Ronald an additional thousand dollars in return for his loan. She would have liked to give him more, but the rest, she said, was tied up in lawyer’s fees. Ronald consented and that was that.
For the next two weeks, Ronald spent most of his time watching his host from the porch or sitting on a wooden skid secured to the limb of an oak tree in the back.
Every morning, she got up at seven, stormed around the kitchen until coffee was ready, then sat at the table and smoked a joint. Until she had her first toke, Ronald was careful not to speak to her or even look in her direction. After that, she calmed right down and made a play at washing some of the dishes or became distracted by a chore, real or imagined, in the yard. She spent most of her days puttering around in her garden or trying to repair the water wheel in the creek that Ronald was meant to believe would supply her with enough electricity for her basement crop.
A number of things became apparent to Ronald through his constant observations. First and foremost, he determined that Lulu’s industriousness was an act, played out for his sake and his sake alone. When he had first arrived at Lulu’s, the yard was almost impassable. Brambles, burrs and other nasty shrubs and low-lying bushes made walking around a daunting proposition at best. After a week, using only a scythe and hedge clippers, Lulu had cleared the entire expanse of the property and tilled her garden into uniform rows of soil, ready for planting.
Ronald toyed with the idea that, perhaps, this was an annual ritual and it was only a coincidence that he was there to witness it. He might have gone on believing this, had he not come upon evidence to the contrary in the form of three large black garbage bags. Lulu had discovered them strewn along the western perimeter of the yard and had cursed and complained about how disrespectful neighbours could be as she lugged them towards the road.
One of the bags had split open and Ronald rushed to help. He picked up a milk carton and noticed that the expiry date was three years previous. And wasn’t three years ago the last time she had a male guest in the house? He gleaned this piece of information, incidentally, because it was the man who had stayed with her three years ago that had suggested she harness the creek as an additional hydro supply. He’d built the water wheel and had been in the process of rigging it for electricity when, for reasons Ronald could only guess at, he'd abruptly fled.
Ronald had no idea what this meant but, owing to his vanity, he deemed it important and, from then on, he derived a great deal of enjoyment watching the frenetic pace Lulu set for herself.
To his dismay, he also discovered that Lulu didn’t eat much and rarely went shopping. This meant he was responsible for procuring his own food supply. He only had four hundred dollars left which he’d hoped to keep secretly tucked away in his army issue knapsack. Every time he felt the pangs of hunger that neither Drum tobacco nor coffee could completely relieve, he had to dip into his emergency fund and head to the one diner in town that served hot food.
“I thought, you didn’t have any money left,” Lulu confronted him after one such expedition.
“A couple of bucks, that’s all,” Ronald explained, hating to have to justify his need to eat.
“Well, next time you run into town, pick up a pack of Drum. That stuff don’t grow on trees, you know."
It was plainly obvious to Ronald that Lulu would never acknowledge how much she appreciated his company during the daytime. With every sideways glance she threw his way when she thought he might not be looking (though he almost always was), he saw this appreciation revealed. He did think that, at least, she might finally drop her guard at night. They did, after all, share the same bed and, while never touching, their warmth mingled intimately under the covers.
It was an agonising time for Ronald. While never going so far as to admit that he was attracted to Lulu, he couldn’t deny that lying quietly beside her - alone in the isolated house with only the creaking of the walls to distract him from the rhythmic pulse of her breathing - required more restraint than he thought was healthy for such a young and virile man as himself. It was a constant battle to keep his mind from concocting the sordid fantasies of conquest and submission that so quickly set upon him when he closed his eyes and drew his hand to his stomach, tempting it to go further.
After a couple hours of not sleeping, he would throw the covers off and pace about the room or go downstairs to have a cigarette. Upon returning to the bed, his body quivering with the demand that he take action, he would remove his underwear and inch himself as close to Lulu as decency would allow. There he would rest, drawing in her scent, until her sleeping form shifted away from him and he would slip back into his briefs, hateful of the strain she was putting him through.
It was no surprise then that, more than once, he was awakened by a cold wetness between him and the sheets. Embarrassed, he lay frozen, the dry, musty smell of his nocturnal philanderings making him fearful that he had moaned her name and she had stirred, turning to him as his body spasmed before collapsing into a few hours of restful sleep. He saw her there hovering over him, smirking, telling herself with no end of satisfaction that she was the cause of this. Yes, this boy is thinking of me, he wants me but he will never have me, except in his dreams. Dream on, my pretty little boy, dream on. Such was Ronald’s conceit as he pried himself loose from the cloying, damp spot and went in search of a piece of toilet paper to eradicate any sign of the guilty desire he had for her.
When first light brought Lulu downstairs, he would follow her movements through the kitchen, thinking: She disgusts me. Look at the bitter expression she wears on her face, the lack of respect she has for herself, all the while living here alone, refusing to believe she needs someone with her. How could I have even wanted to touch her, much less wrap my arms around her and kiss that mouth with its cracked lips and brown-stained teeth. She is repugnant. Not so much a woman as a hag. The kind of person that children point at in the supermarket while whispering ‘witch’ under their breath.
He tried to maintain this sense of revulsion for the remainder of the day, but knew that he could not. As the sun went down and she brought out an old cribbage board (he had seen it on the shelf his second day there and mentioned that he used to play with his sister), they would sit and, if not exactly enjoy each other's company, then at least enjoy the diversion. Not wanting to raise suspicions about her basement crop, Lulu was against the use of electricity whenever possible so their only light was that of a candle. In the dim glow, the harshness in her face was muted and Ronald saw traces of what she might have looked like when she was younger. Not exactly pretty, but not plain either.
While playing, there was a lightheartedness in the way she contemplated every card she threw into the crib and peg point she claimed that further elevated her. She took her cards as they came and always played out each hand with a mischievous zeal. If Ronald brought the count to thirty and she only had one card left, she would hold it back a moment before playing an ace to make thirty-one for two points or exclaiming "Pass!" The act of revealing her cards was only important in so much as they drew attention to the ones she still had. She derived more satisfaction from holding the last card in any given hand, it seemed, than winning the entire round. Every deal was made to be a near-mystical occasion as she brought order to the combinations - the fifteens and the runs of three or more - that renewed her sense of purpose.
I may not know what you have, her eyes twinkled, but you don’t know what I have either and that’s my advantage.
Her relentless exuberance gave the game an intensity that absorbed Ronald. His style of play was fast and furious. He was extremely competitive by nature and always played to win. Soon though, he found himself savouring each point as she did, not at all concerned that she was against the tabulation of wins and losses that had been the raison d’être in matches against his sister.
Over the course of these evenings, Ronald became privy to certain facts about her life. He listened to the tidbits she threw out at him and felt regret for the loathing he had for her in the morning. She’s had a hard go of it, he thought, and this has fostered a mistrust in men. She longs for someone to confide in who will not judge her. In these moments, he saw that she would like nothing more than to give her love freely to him, but that she knew from experience where that would leave her in the end.
The details were sketchy but, from what Ronald gathered, she had spent much of her adolescence on the streets of Regina. Her mother had died when Lulu was quite young and her father had sent her to live with her grandparents. When she was twelve, her father had remarried and had two children with his new wife, all the while refusing to allow her to return home. Her grandmother was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, leaving little time for the attention Lulu demanded.
Ronald discovered that Lulu wasn’t even her real name - she wouldn’t say what it was - but a name she had adopted when she was sixteen. At that point, she’d become involved in certain activities, never disclosed to him, and spent some time in juvenile detention. When she was eighteen, she had a torrent love affair with her court-appointed social worker, resulting in the first of her two children with him. He was forced to quit his job and ended up marrying her. His father was an accountant and gave him a place at his firm while he returned to school to get his diploma. Lulu, much appreciating the normalcy of her newly-forged, suburban lifestyle, took an active interest in raising her kids.
When they were in school full time, she studied fashion design by correspondence, a childhood dream of hers. She was well on her way to realising her goal of gaining a foothold in the clothing design industry when, suddenly and inexplicably, her husband had filed for divorce, claiming that she was having an affair. The details of her past were brought to air in open court and she lost everything she had worked so hard to achieve.
Six months later, four years ago by Ronald’s estimation, a friend had offered her the use of this house. Her friend had made a tidy sum using it to grow pot and wanted to move to Vancouver to study acting. Lulu accepted, hoping to rekindle her career, but lost interest when her designs were rejected by a number of companies. Now she was hoping to save enough money to hire a lawyer and regain custody of her children.
Ronald knew that this would never come to pass. She hadn’t visited her children for almost five years, even though she had the court-appointed right to do so, and it would be easily determined that she was without sufficient means to raise them, both now entering their teens.
Ronald considered the series of events that had brought her to her current situation. He arranged the sparse information she released as best he could, filling in the blanks with his own ideas of what had likely happened, and came to the conclusion that Lulu was a very lonely and confused woman. She existed in a sort of limbo, sustained by pot smoking and the underlying belief that there was no real recourse for people like her.
While, at the same time, Ronald felt ashamed by his own bitterness towards her behaviour, her disclosures only made his night time passions run deeper so that, in the morning, his animosity towards her grew in leaps and bounds. He forced himself to make promises as he lay beside here and these, too, fuelled his feverish and entirely irrational desires.
I will stay with her, he told himself, if only she will assent to let me touch her. I will show her how happy she can be. I can never love her, perhaps, but I will make her believe she is loved if only she will let me. We have much in common. Much to teach each other. We are both running away from something. Why not run towards each other? Why fight it? We can be good for each other.
Ronald wrapped himself in these thoughts, letting himself become lost in their single-minded allure. He could have her at night without thoughts of the consequences because he knew what they were. He would face them and it would be worth it. If the morning came afterwards and he still looked upon her as grotesque and unworthy of his affection, much less his enduring companionship, he would then decide what had to be done. It was as if his body was searching for a loophole in his better judgement. Looking for a means to satisfy both his craving and the reservations that reason thrust upon him.
She is using me, he convinced himself one morning as he sat on the porch watching her bang nails into fence boards that had come unfastened. She was alone and I provided her with company. I gave her everything I had and what do I get in return? A place to stay. A lean-to would be as much shelter as this wreck of a place. And I wouldn’t have to put up with her. What a beast.
Then that night: She invited me into her home and how do I treat her? As good as a piece of meat with a slit in it. I must show her that I do care. I will be gentle with her. I will be that one exception.
After two weeks of these tumultuous upheavals, Ronald had reached the end of his tether. He decided, flat-out, that during cribbage that night he would speak his mind to Lulu. The games were an anchor for him and he was sure that what he really wanted to say would come out, if he simply started speaking. He would begin by telling her he could not sleep with her anymore, that he would sleep on the cot he’d seen in the shed. And from there it would progress.
He was amazed at himself for not having thought of this before. She couldn’t very well throw him out, she did owe him money. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings but he also knew that, if he kept up this facade, he would do something or say something that he would regret. He simply wanted to know what she expected of him. With her crop almost mature, it was likely that she expected him to be leaving soon. Better to talk this over now than have a scene later.
With eager resolve, Ronald anticipated sundown. Late in the afternoon, Lulu passed him going into the house. He smiled at her and she returned a smile of her own. Ronald followed her inside and sat at the table, his eyes resting impatiently on the cribbage board. After pushing a broom around the kitchen for a few moments, Lulu walked over to him and stood, pensive, waiting for him to look up at her.
“I thought I might make sandwiches and watch the sunset from the lookout tonight,” she said as Ronald finally glanced her way. “Do you want to join me?”
Ronald was stunned. Not by the question or by the break in their routine and his own plans for the evening, but by the way she stood before him, her hands clasped, her lips slightly parted and her head cocked to the side. Like a mother asking a finicky child if tuna fish would be alright for lunch, or a bashful schoolgirl summoning the nerve to ask the captain of the soccer team for a dance at the formal. A decidedly feminine pose and one that, at the same time as it revealed her weakness, made that weakness seem like unfathomable strength.
Ronald nodded his head, deliberating, then answered that he would be happy to join her.
The climb up to the lookout point took close to an hour. Upon reaching the top of the narrow, winding path which, several times, disintegrated into a rock face that had to be scaled with the help of branches and roots, Ronald was pleasantly exhausted. He sat on a ledge of solid granite and stared down at the valley below. Aside from a stretch of hydro wire, no signs of human interference were visible. Lulu handed him the water bottle and half of a cucumber sprout sandwich and he ate and drank in silence. When he was through, Lulu passed him a rolled cigarette and held out the flame of her lighter. He drew in the tobacco, the first drag still able to make him lightheaded, and exhaled the smoke into the air where it hung suspended over the ground some four hundred yards below. Lulu finished rolling herself a cigarette and nudged closer to where he sat.
“The crop is going to be ready tomorrow,” she said.
“I guess you’re going to leave as soon as you get the money.” Ronald brushed some ash off his pant leg and responded that he thought he probably should. After a few moments of silence, both absorbed in the spectacle of the reddish-peach sky slowly turning purple in front of them, Lulu breathed in a hushed voice, “I wish you wouldn’t.” She reached over and put her hand on his leg. They sat like that until the sun dipped below the crest of the mountain on the far side of the valley. The gentle pressure of her hand on his leg brought back the last two weeks in a jumble of images and warring emotions. Outside of himself, he looked at the way he'd acted with a strange sense of awe.
The trepidation, so overpowering as he lay next to her in bed each night, he now saw clearly was that of a child. He had made much ado about nothing and now the natural course of events, the inevitable, was finally playing itself out. So long had he waited for a sign from her that, when it came, the tension holding his body in its grip vanished and he went limp.
If it weren’t for her hand, he thought pleasantly, I would probably drop right off the ledge.
After what seemed like hours, Lulu stood up and said they should be getting back, darkness was settling onto the path. Ronald hoisted himself off the rock and followed her descent without comment, certain of what he could expect back at the house. Together, they walked up her steep driveway and, when Lulu’s feet stopped moving unexpectedly, Ronald stumbled, trying to stay beside her.
“Oh, shit!” Lulu exclaimed and started at a run for the house. The dog was barking on the porch and Ronald noticed that the kitchen light was on. He watched Lulu disappear inside. He was halfway across the yard when she burst out of the house and viciously kicked an old gas can.
“Those sons of bitches,” she screamed and struck the side of the house with her fist. She turned to Ronald. “The motherfuckers stole everything.”
“What are you talking about?” Ronald asked.
“They . . . stole . . . everything!” Lulu slowly spelled out for him.
Ronald leapt onto the porch and hurried through the kitchen to the basement stairs. Ducking his head into the cellar, he stared, aghast, down at the cut-off stalks protruding from the rows of pots.
When he returned to the yard, Lulu was sitting on the grass with her head buried in her hands. He slung his bag over his shoulder and walked past her.
“Where are you going?” Lulu called after him.
Ronald crested the top of the incline that separated her yard from the driveway. The crunch of his shoes against the gravel almost drowned out Lulu’s sobs behind him.
“But don’t you see?” she cried out. “I’m the real victim here.”
by Rebecca Kramer
Waterfall whispers sanguinely serene
On wind machine whistle and moon tambourine
Morning birds twitter igniting their hymns
On triangle cowbell and old tire rims.
Water explores all the sounds all the rhymes
Of sleigh bells and sand blocks and bamboo wind chimes
And gently sends melodies drifting afar
On dulcimer zither recorder and harp.
Water explodes over sharp mountain rocks
Like steel drums and cymbals and musical saws
Curious pebbles fall briskly through cracks
Like marimba maracas and castanet clacks.
Gravity causes the silence to rip
With jawbone and guiro and log drum and whip
And orchestrates songs for the skilled and astute
On piccolo clarinet oboe and flute.
Rocks clank together in riverbed clocks
Like bongos' djembes and red temple blocks
Water engulfs them in silvery wares
With thunder sheet rainstick deep drum rolls and snares.
Low hum of sadness obediently snaps
To flex-atone xylophone ratchet and claves
Each droplet each pebble has stories to tell
On fine crystal glasses and orchestra bells.
Waterfalls guiding the musical mind
Unveil the sweet sounds of the higher pitch kind
Each bright overtone realigns us within
As waterfall wisdom stirs cortiles and strings.
Beat Poetry and Freudian Slip-Ups
by Rebecca Kramer
During my last semester at Toronto's York University, I took both a Psychology and a Poetry course side by side and was amazed to learn the same thing in both courses.
In the Psychology course, we studied the works of German psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and I was most intrigued by his teachings on Freudian slips and dreams. In his book Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), Freud speaks of slips in our everyday speech, which tend to be words that rhyme. These words have meanings that uncover hidden values deep within our subconscious minds and, therefore, these 'switches' - as he calls them - are relevant and insightful in analysing the psyche.
These switches indicate to us the fact that everything we have already encountered in our life is meticulously stored and processed in our minds. Thus, Freudian slips are subliminal bursts of awareness that can embarrassingly pop up in our everyday speech while we are conscious; for our subconscious mind is seeking to alert us to important information that we can then reflect upon.
Here is an example of a Freudian slip: I said to my friend, “We just had an ice storm. I don’t want to flip on the sidewalk.” What I obviously meant to say to her was, “I don’t want to slip on the sidewalk”. The words flip and slip rhyme. Why did I make this mistake? As I analyzed this Freudian switch, I realized how traumatized I still felt from a serious injury in 1994. I had a winter jogging accident where I broke my hip; and then I had to walk another mile home in severe pain. I had been running down a steep hill covered in snow and at the bottom of that hill, under the snow, lay black ice. I was running full tilt and, when I hit the black ice, my legs flipped five feet up into the air and I landed hard on my right hip.
This accident caused me to walk with a limp for six years; and, since then, I have given up jogging altogether. Therefore, my use of the word flip instead of slip now has a definitive meaning and was no silly word accident - just as Freud suggested.
A year earlier, Freud had also written a book called The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). He set forth that our dreams reveal to us personal values hidden deep within ourselves; the same way Freudian slips work. The only difference between the two is that dreams occur during sleep while slips happen when we are awake. Therefore, dreams play an important role in psycho-analysis and, when their possible meanings are carefully explored, they, too, can play a significant role in reshaping our lives.
Since the time I took this Psychology course, I would, quite frequently, interrupt my usual daily routine when I've had a vivid dream the night before and spend two or three days just analysing its meaning. Often, I'd find myself changing direction in life entirely, sometimes as drastically as ending a relationship or moving to a new city.
With this interesting information about Freudian slips and the invaluable insights of dream analysis, I am beginning to contemplate a new way of life for myself. If I pay heed to my subconscious in observing the details of my vivid night dreams, and if I pay heed to my conscious mind in regards to the rhyme words within my Freudian slips, then I could potentially become aware of the values lying latent deep within me. I could achieve a higher level of self-awareness and reach closer to my full potential. Therefore, I do not fear my subconscious mind. Instead, I defend it and I welcome its messages as they are offered to me in my dreams and Freudian slips.
Later in life, because of my rigorous attention to them, my dreams became so vivid that they began to predict future events; they became premonition dreams. I also began to have visions while I was awake. These were premonitions, as well, for they warned me of future events and I explored those in another piece of writing.
In 2021, I was to experience a subconscious awakening of profound significance. I had a nightmare about a wolf and, the moment I woke up, a Freudian slip bolted out of me. Never had I considered that both states of mind could work so closely together, back to back, to alert me of real danger. This experience has been a turnkey warning for me to drastically change my approach to life by examining who represents the 'wolf' in my waking environment.
Thus, my rigorous self-awareness was inspired by Sigmund Freud. But I am not the only person to have made heavy use of his teachings, especially in the use of Freudian slips. There was a poet/writer who made Freudian slips a way of life, and his name is Jack Kerouac.
In the Poetry course that I took concurrently with the Psychology course, I studied Jack Kerouac - a famous poet in New York City during the 1960s who used Freudian slips heavily in his 'Beat' poetry. He became a master of allowing his slips to carry his stream of consciousness in completely new directions; and he was so seamlessly skilled in this that he could stand up in front of an audience and improvise poetically while jazz musicians accompanied him in the background.
What he had actually accomplished, and what amazed his audiences, was that he allowed his subconscious mind the freedom to slip effortlessly into his conscious speech. He would then take it as a cue to set a new path and the musicians followed his lead.
Therefore, in that semester, two major historical characters became inextricably linked in my mind: Freud and Kerouac - the one who had taught about Freudian slips and the other who had made use of them to entertain his audiences as a well-known artist. So inspired was I after learning about Jack Kerouac, that I made it my ambition to write poetry and perform it to music I'd compose as well.
I was unaware at the time that my love for photography would lend itself perfectly to creating a multimedia fusion of art/music/words. This visual addition to my poetry and sound compositions began catching the attention of people around me. My work proved relaxing and pleasing in enjoying solitude and reflection.
Jack Kerouac’s goal was of an entirely different nature. He entertained and roused evening guests at New York jazz lounges over drinks but, I believe, he would have been intrigued with my slant on subconscious excitement and maybe even Freud might have found my take of interest to his research.
Here is my first poem - Driftwood Hut.
by Rebecca Kramer
Making something out of nothing
Is the impulse of beginnings
It’s the motivated middle
And the celebrated end
We make something out of nothing
For the thrill and for the hustle
We exert our mind and muscle
Satisfied we walk away
We make something out of nothing
When we dream and then we prove it
Make a door & then walk through it
For the pleasure of hard work
We make something out of nothing
When materials are meagre
Have the vision of a beaver
See a dam in every log
We make something out of nothing
When we draw unique connections
Finding use for odd collections
Things that others would ignore
We make something out of something 'Cause we don’t believe in nothing
We believe that all has value
All the driftwood everywhere
by John Jantunen
ECW Press, Fiction, June 13, 2023
An electrifying mash-up of the western, sci-fi, and horror genres set against a backdrop of the housing, mental health, opioid, and climate crises.
Ex-police chief Mason Lowry is hell-bent on retribution. Ten years ago, he arrested outlaw biker Clarence Boothe for selling a bad batch of illicit narcotics that killed 37 people. Boothe’s gang retaliated by killing Lowry’s teenage granddaughter and, ever since, Mason has been biding his time, waiting for the moment when he can exact his revenge. But unbeknownst to him, Clarence has been laying plans of his own.
In this-all-too-near future, addiction to the drug Euphoral has become epidemic. Withdrawal causes a violent psychosis, and on the night of their leader’s release, Clarence’s gang unleashes a waking nightmare by withholding its supply. Seeing the city he once swore to serve and protect descending into madness, fuels Mason’s fury and he launches a one-man assault on Clarence’s compound. During the midnight raid, he’s saved from certain death by Meghan, a teenage captive with a violent past of her own who may just hold the key to something Mason had thought he’d lost forever: a chance at redemption.
“A grimy, dripping fever dream freshly splattered across the cracked windshield of Ontario’s sputtering future.”
— Andrew F. Sullivan, author of The Marigold and The Handyman Method
"I’ve been in awe of writer John Jantunen’s immense talent for some time now. His latest novel, Mason's Jar, stands head and shoulders above all of his previous books, so I’m out of any proper adjectives to describe this work. He has joined the ranks of Cormac McCarthy and Michael Punke. Mason's Jar felt more Southern Gothic than Canadian and that’s not a slam of Canadian writers. It’s a work created by a towering talent of uncommon vision. He’s reached a place of rarity — a place occupied by genius."
— Les Edgerton, award-winning author of Adrenaline Junkie and Hard Times
Author's note: Mason's Jar presents the third book in a thematically-linked trilogy, with each novel standing on its own. The timeline is as follows: Mason's Jar (pre-apocalypse), Savage Gerry (mid-apocalypse) and A Desolate Splendor (post-apocalypse).
by John Jantunen
ECW Press, Fiction, 2021
“John Jantunen’s Savage Gerry is a savage and thrilling apocalyptic tour de force with echoes of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and George Miller’s Mad Max series. Its gripping anti-hero has a true beating heart that will keep you rooting for him all along the way. Read this book!”
— Lee Matthew Goldberg, bestselling author of The Mentor and The Ancestor
“A rip-roaring post-apocalyptic story told with passion and skill. But, for those willing to read a little deeper, there is another, much more disturbing layer to the book, with Jantunen eviscerating the illusions every one of us holds dear.”
— Cloud Lake Literary Review
“Savage Gerry is a gripping work of speculative fiction set in a spirited landscape that’s often neglected or ignored in Canadian literature. Northern Ontario is much more than just a vibrant setting in this story; land itself takes on the complicated and conflicting traits of the characters who move through it. Jantunen skilfully compels readers to both empathize with and loathe the people who inhabit this dystopian realm. It’s a thrilling novel about outcasts and survivors navigating a harsh world, much in the same vein as works by Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King.”
— Waubgeshig Rice, bestselling author of Moon of the Crusted Snow
A Desolate Splendor
by John Jantunen
ECW Press, Fiction, 2016
“John Jantunen has written a fierce, intelligent, and heartwrenching end-of-days saga. While I had pleasant flashbacks to Robert R. McCammon's masterful Swan Song while reading A Desolate Splendor, what Jantunen has done in these pages is distinct, galvanic, and very much his own.”
— Craig Davidson, bestselling author of The Saturday Night Ghost Club and Cataract City
“A Desolate Splendor is a bleak and luminescent elegy, a frontier novel masquerading as post-apocalyptic fiction and vice versa. One of the most intense CanLit novels of all time.”
— Clifford Jackman, author of The Winter Family
“Jantunen is a storyteller in his own right, with a real gift for describing the richness and magical qualities of the natural world . . . A forceful, visionary novel written in passionate and sensual language.”
— Quill & Quire
In the Beginning
by Chris Nash
Excerpts from Life Happens - An Autobiography
Pebbleridge Press, 2022
My Parents Met - and so . . .
After the mine roof crushed the life out of her man in the Rhondda, my Ma went to live with her mother, my Mamgu, in a tiny house on Union Street in Bideford. She often told me the magical tale of meeting Da.
At the September Fair in 1937, she consulted 'The Great Madame Santori' (Mrs. Robinson from Barnstaple) in a yellow-and-green-striped tent by the River Torridge. The dark shadows in the crystal ball showed violent deaths, more than one perhaps? Yes. Yes. And a funeral? Well, a funeral usually follows a death. Sensing scepticism, Madame Santori sought firmer ground, the Future. There would be better times. Romance, maybe. She saw a boat, water, a man by the water. . .
For a bet, Da had his tea leaves read in Treorchy. His first wife had died of consumption. He had one boy left at home and he was almost 15. Madame Jones - Mrs. Jones the Wash - said his tea leaves showed a new woman in his future. He would meet her near water.
In May the next year, Mam waited on the quay for my Auntie Eirwen to arrive on the boat from Swansea for her annual holiday. On the run round the coast from Ilfracombe, Auntie Eirwen had met Da. He was stopping in Appledore with an old friend.
"There's my sister in the blue hat. Hey love, over here, this is . . . Sorry, I don't know your name . . . We met on the boat." Mam couldn't believe it. A man, a boat, water . . . They were married in 1938.
When Did I Begin?
Most of what we 'remember' is hearsay, what our parents, our parents' friends, complete strangers have told us. Yet some 'memories' seem so vivid, they must be real.
I was standing at a window in a house, not our house. I see flames shooting high into the sky from terrace houses across an open space. The black-out curtains are burning in the tall stairwell windows. Someone shouted, "Incendiaries!". Arms grab me around my waist to carry me down into the urine-damp concrete air raid shelter. I know now I was almost three at the time. The burning houses were in Edinburgh. We went there for the birth of my nephew - August 1942.
I think I remember standing in a forest of legs in the corridor of a train clacking through the night - the smell of damp khaki and smoke in the tunnels. I don't remember pointing to the sky and saying, "Plane, plane", over and over at the sound of the bombers droning towards their targets. My Mam told me that. Was it annoying or cute? She didn't say.
Evacuees spent the War in Bideford. Then came the VE Day parade, the brass band, Navy Cadets and the Legion, and the free ride on the 'Bluebird' power boat downriver to Instow. The War ended for us when Uncle Bert's ship came home, bringing the Prisoners of War from Singapore, and for us, bananas and dress-making silk.
"I remember, I remember . . ." the Ropewalker's house built in 1630, where I was born in 1939. On the Rope Walk, men and boys twisted hemp and guided the rope through iron posts.
In 1946, Mam bought the house from our landlord for four hundred pounds, the small fortune left her by her older stepbrother, my Uncle Will. She renamed Number Five Rope Walk, 'Goodwill Cot'. She felt so proud to own a home. All I felt was the cold sealed in by the three-feet-thick stone walls. Even in summer, the shadow of the tall, former factory across the alley kept the sun in its place, far above us.
In winter, I dressed in bed, wriggling into my school clothes under the patchwork quilt. I crept down the stairs when I smelt the driftwood kindling in the old iron stove. The smoke blowing back under the corrugated iron sheet below the mantle condensed into a layer of soot on the Welsh Dresser, the skew (a wooden settle with storage for miners' clothes) and the gaslamp mantle. Mam coaxed the flames to boil a kettle to make tea to moisten my shredded wheat and refilled the kettle for my stand-up wash at the stone sink in the scullery.
Saturday nights, I had my bath in a little tin tub in front of the fire. She added more hot water for her bath after mine. Outside the scullery door was 'the lav', When ice formed on the seat from the cistern's drip, I would squat over the hole so as not to get stuck. In term time, I waited to use the indoor toilet at school.
A stair door led to two bedrooms. More stairs led up to the attic, a long, low, narrow room with daisy-patterned wallpaper where I played for hours with my older brother's rubber Lego set. He was off in the War. There was a crawl space under the roof with a concealed door from the stairs. Mam said it had once been a priest-hole.
Penguins and Pain
Sometimes our favourite 'memories' are just stories our parents tell us. But those are still a precious part of who we are - like the penguins at Edinburgh Zoo in 1942. Mam said that I somehow got into the Penguin enclosure. I can't say I remember it. She said I was wearing a black oilskin coat and sou'wester and yellow boots. Perhaps that's why the Emperor Penguins just seemed to accept the tiny intruder. The Zookeeper was not so accepting. My mother was frantic. So I was extracted, probably protesting. Birds are supposed to imprint on humans. I must have imprinted on penguins, because I've always loved the smelly, little seabirds. Kids can't get into the Penguin enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo now. I've checked.
Back in Bideford, the War was in the newspapers. Only a couple of bombs actually fell near us, and mother said that wasn't deliberate. Food was rationed but my mother got half a pint of milk daily, and orange juice concentrate from the Health Office, just because she had me. We picked wild blackberries in the woods, and loganberries and strawberries out our back. I was almost four when my Mamgu (grandmother) died, the only time I was left with a babysitter, my cousin Claude, Uncle Bert's son. I must have been angry. I bit him repeatedly, leaving red marks on his arms. I remember believing it didn't hurt him because he was grown up. I told him so. We must both have been really glad when the family came back from the cemetery. We were in my grandmother's little house, which I do remember, because Cherry, my school-friend and later wife of Julian Luxton, lived there years later.
Temperance Lloyd's Cottage
It was 1944, a cold and hungry wartime in England, precious little to buy in the shops, and rationing. I was four-years-old when I looked over a tiny wooden gate at a moss-covered, broken path leading to the door of a cottage. The well was in the back garden. Mam said the owners were called 'witches' - a very long time ago, before Mamgu was born. Really, they were just poor, old women. Like us, they picked firewood in Appledore woods. We went there early of a morning so no one would see us.
"They were just old women who grew herbs to help the town people, 'specially the women. They were better than the doctors then. Maybe better than them now." Mam and Mamgu grew herbs out the back. Mamgu's kitchen always smelt of the herbs. Sunlight filtered through the jars of liquids, green, brown, pink, purple, on the window sill. She would smell when the medicine was ripe through the tiny holes in the lids. My Mamgu still knew the old ways.
The Rectory was on the road near the witches' house. In St. Mary's Church, the list of rectors includes Michael Ogilby, the man who helped get the witches killed. Mam said he didn't mean any harm. He was afraid of the King. And a book told him what he must do. Mam said the Bideford witch, Temperance Lloyd, could read. She read the Latin, too. A woman who could read was the devil's daughter. They say . . . They said . . .
Standing by the cottage in 1944, I could feel how they lived. Hunger and cold feel the same, whatever century you land in. The records show that the Bideford Witches' cottage burned down in 1894.
by Roger Nash
When I proposed to my wife-to-be, a lifetime ago,
I knelt down at her feet in a romanticism as careless
as it was full of ideals. And knocked over
a plug-in kettle on the floor that she was boiling
to make some moderately well-behaved tea.
My urgent proposal leaked all over
the carpet, so she couldn’t ignore or overlook it.
Thus it was I bungled and blundered into happiness,
a cock-up, balls-up and booby of excitement.
I knew myself then, and ever since,
as a dog’s breakfast with a pig’s ear
– a rare mutation for Darwin; but evolved
remarkably well for success in stumblings.
And this poem, in respectful memory,
is a s-p-r-a-w-l, a sta er, a tott
gg er of words.
If you’re reading this, watch
out for a wet patch on your carpet.
by Randy Eady
One of the few rock art locations in Canada to be designated a National Historic Site, Ontario's Petroglyphs Provincial Park is a sacred space of global importance that exhibits the largest known concentration of Indigenous rock carvings in the country.
Created over a thousand years ago by Algonquin-speaking societies that widely traversed the Canadian Shield, Kinomagewapkong (the Teaching Rocks) is situated on a worldwide magnetic meridian of earth energy, also known as ley lines. This grid of invisible lines has been found to link prehistoric mounds, stones, sacred sites, temples/churches and geographical features all around the globe and individual lines can stretch across hundreds of miles.
Indigenous cosmological worldviews and spiritual belief systems found expression in paintings and carvings of plants, animals, human figures, spirit beings, tools and boats along with significant symbols relating to fertility, sacred geometry and characters from oral traditions that are depicted on a monumental ridge of crystalline limestone.
Red ochre was applied to the carvings, an ancient igneous pigment used for illustration purposes and to consecrate sacred sites throughout the Americas.
Perhaps the most intriguing Algonquin image is the one depicting a 'Symbolic Womb' carved above a fissure in the rock, which can be interpreted as an entrance to the underworld or the sacred womb of our Earth Mother. A carving below the female figure likely represents Mishipeshu, the underwater lynx that acts as a counter-force to Animikii, the Thunderbird.
To the Indigenous Peoples it was obvious that women, with their regenerative cycles, performed the same functions as the Earth - the source of all nourishment, protection and procreative power.
The mammoth stone outcropping - a rough rectangle measuring nearly 100 by 180 feet - is covered with well over 900 petroglyphs. More than 300 of the rock carvings are very distinct and decipherable, including the prominent figure of an Algonquin shaman.
Shamans used the site as a blackboard to teach new generations mythology and history and to conduct rituals. After ceremonies were concluded, the petroglyphs would be covered with moss and branches to protect them from the damages of freeze and thaw during Canadian winters.
It is thought that the visual literacy encoded in the carvings communicated tribal myth and memory, individual dreams and visions, thus offering cultural teachings and guidance to the First Nations who travelled across great distances to this wilderness sanctum. They also served to indicate territorial ownership and to commemorate special events among a People that otherwise relied solely on oral traditions.
The Algonquin People appear to be the latest creators - dating from about 800 to 1400 AD. It is curious to note that some carvings seem strangely out of place and closely resemble ancient art found in Scandinavia, which invites speculation that Vikings might have made it this far inland or, in the very least, come in contact with Algonquin tribes during their travels.
Additionally, two images closely resemble the hunchback figure of a Hopi Kachina flute player named Kokopelli and may be attributable to ancient migrating Hopi travelers passing through the area.
Locations for rock art carvings were chosen carefully and almost always centered within places of power or mystery – areas where the forces of nature were believed to be especially strong, often marked by natural features such as waterfalls, rock formations or caves, with preference given to locations near bodies of water.
In 1984-85, a large glass enclosure was built over the main concentration of rock art on the site as a barrier to the elements, offering protection from deterioration by algae built-up*, frost and acid rain. And, while the building is believed to be an intrusive element which detracts and separates from the site’s relationship to its natural setting, there's suggestion the structure may amplify sub-earthen, infra-tonal frequencies.
Petroglyph Park is located less than an hour's drive north-east of Peterborough and was originally established back in 1976 to preserve the carvings for future generations. 'The Learning Place' - an interpretive and educational centre within the park - offers an amazing storehouse of videos, information, hands-on activities and exhibits based on Anishinaabe history and culture.
On the other hand, it has since been claimed that the intermittent underground stream which conveyed the 'Voices of the Spirits' in Indigenous lore has gone silent with the protective glass enclosure built over the area.
Acoustic Heritage of the Ancients
Exploring the soundscapes at ancient sites via Archaeoacoustics - a study of the relationship between people and sound throughout history - may help explain why many ancient societies were drawn to places with certain acoustical properties.
Since all cultures express themselves through a variety of sonic components, applying sound-centered research to archaeological sites (architectural acoustics in buildings, caves etc.) and artifacts (musical instruments/tools) can help reveal new insights into past civilizations - their psychological as well as material characteristics.
The sacred site at Petroglyph Provincial Park perfectly exemplifies this marriage of space, sound and culture.
An underground stream flowing below the rockshelf manifests in both an audible 'gurgling sound' - associated with the voices of the 'Manitous' (benevolent or evil spirits) dwelling there - as well as subtonal vibrations/echoes which have shown to offer unique healing properties, especially in the field of microbials/antivirals.
This likely compelled frequent visits to - and embellishment of - the site and thus certainly connects to a growing base of archaeo-acoustic data collected on resonant bio-harmonics, including the effect of trance inducement for meditation and ceremonies.