Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween?

Let's play dress-up.
Dress like princesses;
long hair, flowing,
to cover handprint bruises
shadowy wings unfurling
around our necks.

Sparkling tiaras meet no reflection
in the ghost towns
of abandoned mines,
dank shafts nestled behind
moist contact lenses.

Eat daintily, for the memory
of flesh intruding in our mouths
makes the stomach, the
esophagus spasm
while the tongue flatlines.

Silk gloves hide the blood
the tangled, creeping vines
etching crimson scars on stone.

Dresses are a shield; so complex
their hands must walk a labyrinth
to find us inside.

Perfume masks the scent
of the place inside, where
serpents visit, swallowing,
swallow, just swallow,
swallowing everything,
leaving only the peel and
the core to rot (slowly, sweetly).

Stand tall; walk gracefully
eyes up, smile and wave.
Stand tall on your feet
shackled and devoured.

Stand tall, princess.
Stand tall; they'll never know.

Skirts don't cause rape. Rapists do.

A series of sexual assaults at the University of British Columbia are all over the news this week, and tonight some students held a rally to speak out against rape culture, and protest how police responses focus on women's actions (I did not attend this event, so I won't be speaking about anything that happened on campus this evening).

The comments on the event's Facebook page, however, are troublesome. In responding, yes, I fed a troll. Sometimes, though, the trolls dig up the skeletons that people with privilege hastily and improperly bury; we might as well dust off and reconstruct those skeletons, and have them out in the open.

"What if the sexual assaults were actually murders? Would we be mad at UBC telling us to be careful? Absolutely not. We would be vigilant and would see it more of just trying to protect ourselves."

I firmly believe that if these assaults were murders, the campus would be in lock-down mode by now, until the perpetrator was found. Security would be exceptionally visible. At present, it is not - I went to UBC for a concert on Saturday evening, and never once saw a police officer or security guard. Police telling students to be careful is unhelpful. Students know to be careful, but many of us have learned the hard way that being careful is not enough to prevent rape. 

One young man posted an article that pointed out the commonalities between all the victims thus far. According to, "all the victims were women, they were all wearing skirts, and they were all approached from behind." The man who linked to this article used this information to encourage his peers not to wear skirts, for the time being, and vehemently (albeit ineffectively) defended his position against the numerous people, myself included, who objected to this.
"If black people wearing hoodies, and only them, were being targeted and beaten by a random attacker, would you criticize someone who said "wearing hoodies for the time being is a bad idea"?"

Newsflash to this man - people did make such suggestions after Trayvon Martin was shot. But those suggestions, like his point about skirts, miss the point entirely. Trayvon's murder was not about his clothing, but how a violent man perceived his clothing in connection with his race. These sexual assaults are not about women wearing skirts (and indeed, that detail could just be a coincidence), but about the assumptions that a potential rapist makes about women wearing skirts, and about women in general. If everyone executed by a prison firing squad was wearing an orange jumpsuit, surely we would recognize that the problem was not the uniform, but the prison system itself.

"Sure, we should educate men not to rape. But what do we do with the mentally unstable, who can't be taught? What should the women do during the time in which education is still being applied and the unstables are still out at large?"

I am concerned about the implication that "unstables" "at large" are generally responsible for sexual assault. People who have mental illnesses are, by far, more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crimes. As well, many rapists do not necessarily have a mental illness, but instead grew up in a culture that normalizes sexual assault. Or they may have a mental illness, but that illness is not likely the cause of their violence. That being said, someone who attacks strangers certainly has a problem.
We need to support one another. We need to check in with our friends, and make sure that they are safe. We need to create a safe space for survivors of violence who are triggered by these events. Women walking at night don't need to be told to stay vigilant - most of us already are. And note that the women who were attacked fought back. Women are going to keep on fighting back, but we shouldn't have to fight alone. Yes, this man may have a mental illness, and this is exactly why there need to be better social supports and community services. It's unlikely that this was someone who was never troubled before and then, out of the blue, started attacking women. We need an infrastructure that will notice warning signs of people who might become violent, and intervene before they hurt somebody.

“Often being vulnerable is one of the characteristics. Maybe if they were intoxicated? That’s another way of a person being vulnerable.”

So says psychologist Bill Coleman. What he ignores is that an entangled rope of rape culture and misogyny make women vulnerable. I don't know if the women involved in the assaults at UBC were drunk, but intoxication is beside the point. Being intoxicated makes everyone vulnerable - but without rape culture, that vulnerability would be an increased risk of choking and accidents, not violence.

So many people are painting this as a matter of one violent man and a handful of unfortunate, vulnerable, or careless women. There seems to be this myth that rape culture is only applicable for things like "date rape" (I hate that term), or parties where young men "take advantage" of intoxicated girls. Rape culture is more than that. Rape culture is when men make suggestions about women's behaviour, without offering tangible support, joining us in resisting, and asking what they can do to help. Rape culture is pretending that this is an individual issue, rather than a systemic one, and ignoring where systems of privilege intersect. Rape culture is when trans* voices are pushed out of the conversation. Rape culture is when people argue that attempted rape, or non-penetrative sexual assault, is "not as bad." Rape culture is when white men ignore black women's experiences of their gender and race intersecting and contributing to violence. And rape culture is not abstract. Rape culture does perpetuate rape. If you are laughing at it or denying it, you are part of the problem.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I used to come home from school and watch Matilda. I was eight years old, and enthralled by her intelligence and social charm. The magic powers were a cherry on top.

At twelve, Matilda became a bedtime companion, hidden away under my pillow waiting for me to thumb through it each night. Reading Matilda's experiences, I'd travel back through my day, imagining how different it could be if I were her. This was my survival strategy, and a lifeline to earlier in my childhood. It was when I was "too old" for Matilda that I needed her powers the most.

Agatha Trunchbull was a formidable villain. She was, for me, more than just a caricature; she was genuinely terrifying. Agatha Trunchbull was alive, darkening the doorways of my education in the form of my grade six teacher, Ms. B---. While Ms. B--- never threw students across the playground (to my knowledge, she never laid a hand on a student), emotionally she was willing to throw students in the trash. She was, like the Trunchbull, vindictive and terrifying. Years later, I can bring myself to say that she was abusive.

Ms. B--- and Trunchbull are easy to hate as villains. But I wonder, now, how that complex characterization formed. Could Trunchbull have become hardened by some of her own trauma? Did she act so tough, using her physical strength as a shield to protect something softer inside? And what, then, shaped Ms. B--- into the figure I so feared? As children, we laughed at her weight; her appearance and mannerisms made her seem like an archetypal villain, not a real teacher. Was she once a caring teacher? What was her own childhood like? Did she hate children after years of bullying? Was she a bully from the start? Was she as afraid of us as we were of her? The only thing she admitted a fear of was, peculiarly, butterflies.

One scene in Matilda shows the children discussing whether they told their parents about Ms. Trunchbull's latest escapades. "They wouldn't believe me," says Hortensia. "I mean, would your parents believe it?" They cemented my decision, for some things, not to tell. And there are things I never told. At a sleepover the following year, my former classmates laughed about Ms. B---. War stories from her classroom are told as a neighbourhood comedy. I cannot quite laugh. So many years later, it still hurts.

My adult thoughts and attempts at analysis feel like a disservice to the twelve-year-old inside me, who hated feared school and cried each night, dreading each day as a teacher's bulls-eye. After finally breaking free of the worst of the tormenting that met me when I first moved to that school, now my teacher was worse than any of the other children had been. The furtive cuts grew wilder and deeper as I wondered why Matilda so seldom cried.

I cried, as silently as I could, at school. I could not stop. I sat in the front row, where my classmates could not see my face. I hope they know me as more than the girl who cried.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Today I attended a writing workshop entitled "writing from the ugly." Somehow, this was the result.

Futuristic dinosaurs
rusty metal, broken glass
crashing crosshatch.
It's a way out,
lifting boxes that dwarf us
lego bricks of giants
the stones in a corporate fort.

Fortitude; walls so high
we cannot know them.
Firewalls. Robocalls.

We are, perhaps, every one of us a fraud.
I often proofread to realize I've misspelled "privilege"
painted on a box
held aloft, then dropped
by futuristic dinosaurs.

Plastic dinosaurs; the
offspring, reincarnated
the devolution of evolution
figurines without revolution
stoic and immobilized
spectators of our fear.

If I dig,
perhaps I will find fossils under these lines
some formation of bones
to fracture the silence.
Fissures, scratched
in invisible ink.
Shining in sunlight,
white skin in ridges
upon white skin.

Last week, I think, someone told me
that a triceratops was never real,
but simply a combination of disjointed bones
mistakenly reunited.
When they reconstruct our bodies
how will they weld together
the skeletons of survivors?

There are tales we tell
a land before time, that
sugarcoat the past.
The pink smiles of cartoons
buried in the sand
metamorphizing and jailed
in liquid crystals
that distort their screams.

Deafeningly silent applause
of arms too short for action
a flailing distraction
from garburating jaws.

Hollow plastic, bobbing
herbivorous heads
intermittently visible
perpetually vulnerable;
a neck so fine is always on the line.
A body too big to be hidden
whispers "no" like it's fierce
and forbidden.

One day,
will our compacted remains
and the detritus of our veins
be fossil fuels
historic tools
and lifeblood for the dinosaurs?

Friday, October 18, 2013

I will be honest here; this poem is 100% about a cat.

It was.
And you might be a cloud
silently shifting
a soft shadow in the night.
Your silky backbone
under my thumb
that traces circles,
never spelling out
what was.

It was.
And it shattered your energy
drawing it up
as a shape in the atmosphere.

It was.
And you are a cloud.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Triumph Street

I've been working on writing more poetry lately (most recent one before this is a love poem that is frankly too sappy for public eyes!). This poem arose during a writing workshop at A-Camp this past weekend; I have edited it significantly, although I do still feel like it is too rhyme-y for what I would like it to be.

Bag with a beer can
tossed in the trash
leaking; dented
a kick in the ass
Legacies of neverland
crumble slowly in my hand.

Head out of the sand.
Head into the sand.

Tinkerbell drowns in a wishing well.
Her daughter crowns
with a decaying smell.
This woman's hell;
no hope in hell.

Emotions wane.
           Emotions wane.
Chilling rain pounds a dulling refrain.
Exposure makes grotesque mundane.

Clattering re-homed shopping carts
gather the seams
of broken hearts
that seldom matter
around these parts.

Bleeding starts.
Bruising smarts.

Heels glistening
Have I stopped listening?
Dulled to the beat
of blistered feet
working this street
behind my street.

In plastic bags
the bottles clink,
collide, and deride
her brink; his drink.
Do not meet eyes; it makes you think.
Don't blink.

A severed shoe.
An upturned cart.
No money for glue
to heal the heart.
Wheels spin on an upturned cart
singing the dissonance of a world apart.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thoughts after camp

This was not how it was meant to be. In May, the mountain was a haven, and a place of understanding, more or less universally. This camp was largely that way, but for one fellow camper who shattered my sense of safety.
Everyone else said she is a good person who merely said inappropriate things and has a crass sense of humour. And yes, of course she is a good person. Good people, however, do fucked up things sometimes. When I saw her bothering another girl about her introversion, her facial expressions, her looked more to me like bullying than horsing around. But it was the rape jokes that were hardest to hear. The threats were not genuine, but they were still disturbing. Oddly, the girl who was the target of those words insisted she was not upset; perhaps she was too drunk to recognize how bad those words sounded. Perhaps because we are women, it did not seem so serious. She saw herself as a bystander who should have intervened when the noise of their conversation kept me awake, and she apologized. But I saw myself as even more implicated, feeling too vulnerable to stand up and stop the hugely problematic things that were being said.
The others in the cabin were supportive, and fabulously so, totally there for me when I panicked and felt triggered. It was jarring to feel that triggered in what is otherwise a safe space, but I was relieved that most people there were focused on helping everyone feel as safe as possible in our cabin. I told a counsellor (for those unfamiliar with A-Camp - yes, we have counsellors, even though we are adults. And this is why we have counsellors. The staff are part of what makes this camp so safe, and so cohesive). She intervened, and the jokes stopped, but my sense of safety did not fully return. I cannot trust someone who says such things, even in jest, while intoxicated. I am saddened that none of us had the strength to discuss, in that moment, why this was problematic. I am worried that we see such "jokes" as commonplace, as innocent, rather than as a manifestation of rape culture. And it hurts to see this happen in a space that is otherwise so focused on safety, and that has otherwise been nothing but affirming to me as a survivor. The laughter and joy and pride and love at camp was there, but had to coexist with the vigilance, analysis, and fears that I had hoped to leave at home.

[I could easily write a gushing post about everything that was absolutely right about camp, and that I loved. I did overall have a wonderful time! But this here is my safe space to talk about things that aren't ok; people who know me in the real world have undoubtedly heard me pontificate about the good stuff almost endlessly, but I have not been as vocal about this part of the weekend]