Small Kindnesses

Blue woven basket full of stones

When my mom died, we asked people to bring rocks (she liked this Jewish tradition of remembrance) to put in a basket in her memory. Some folk painted rocks, some folks brought little ceramic knickknacks and gewgaws, others brought rocks from their gardens or farms, or maybe just from out in the parking lot.

I don’t really like boneyards and columbariums; these places are soulless and strangely anonymous. Burial grounds can be places of power, but most of the graveyards and memorial grounds I’ve been to are more like poorly maintained gardens. I understand that for some folks, it’s comforting to go to a graveside to mourn, or to pray, or to grieve, or to commune. For folks whose families have lived all in one place for many years, this makes a kind of sense. I scattered my grandparents’ ashes in the Bay of Fundy; my great uncles’ at the museum he built. My paternal grandparents’ ashes are buried in the cemetery of the town they lived in. I’ve been to it once; the day we interred them.

I visited my great grandparents’ graves in Manitoba once (and left small stones for them), and I don’t even know where my other set of great grandparents are planted. Probably in the same cemetery as my grandparents. Nobody’s left who remembers them.

A blue woven basket full of small stonesI actually don’t know where my mum’s ashes are; I suspect Dad has them out at the farm somewhere. I may find them some day, I may not. Maybe this sounds harsh, but they’re just ashes (oddly appropriate for my mum, who smoked a pack a day for over 40 years, and yes, that’s what killed her). There’s nothing left of my mum in them. There’s nothing left of my mum anywhere, except in the hearts and memories of the people who brought these stones to her funeral.

The stones are the kindnesses and hard-packed grief her friends and community brought for her, and I don’t really know what to do with them. Part of me wants to bury them in front of the house she lived in, treasures for someone else to find some day. Part of me wants to take them home with me and build a fountain with these stones at the bottom. The remnants of her family are scattered through the prairies, and Dad is living with dementia in a retirement facility, so I don’t know a) if I’ll ever find mum’s ashes, or b) if a memorial headstone would ever be visited. The saddest thing I can think of are forgotten or abandoned memorials. But I also think it’s important to honour these acts of remembrance.

Displacement

When I was in high school, I had a friend whose family home was just a few blocks from mine. Three generations of their family had lived there, which, to me, was wild. Nobody in my family had lived in the same house (or even on the same land) as their parents. I remember meeting my friend’s mum and dad, and thinking it must have been very cool for them to have lived in the mum’s childhood home, with her father.

It was a super small little house, too. Like, I think it had maybe one bedroom upstairs, and a small living room, a dining room just big enough for the table and chairs, a wee kitchen, and then this basement that I think is where my friend’s family lived while granddad lived upstairs? I don’t remember how it worked. I remember the basement had a rumpus room and a tiny bathroom and a work room that doubled as the laundry room.

Anyway.

The first time I went to the house, my friend showed us all around, and I remember going down in the basement (where my friend had taken the rumpus room as their room) and thinking how awesome it would be to have a whole basement pretty much to yourself. At our house…wait. We need context.

*wavy remembery lines*

Waaaay back in the 1980s, the provincial government offered homeowners grants to renovate their homes. Most folks bought hot tubs and built pools (according to my father), but my folks decided they’d gut the suite in our basement (there’s a basement walkout that had had renters in it when my parents first bought the house) and fix it up with a big rumpus room, a spare bedroom, a wet bar, and a big work room for my father. It was exciting! Dad and a neighbour moved the stairs, tore out walls, capped off plumbing, and rewired the whole place.* Dreams being what they are, and reality getting in the way, my father wasn’t able to do the finishing work on the basement, so half of it is framed in and drywalled, and the rest is just this big, open space with a lot of potential.

So the draw of having a *whole basement* to yourself had a weird draw for me.

My friend’s ‘room’ wasn’t especially big (it was probably not much bigger than my bedroom), but there was a TV and a phone and a foldaway bed/Chesterfield…it seemed magical to me. We walked by the work room, and my friend ducked inside and invited us in.

carving tools and a saw hanging on a board above a work bench
Photo by Philip Swinburn on Unsplash

I remember standing in the darkened hallway and looking in and just…I don’t know how to describe this. I wan’t wanted in that workroom. My friend had just invited me in; their folks had said we could take a tour of the whole house, and had even invited us to look through their bedroom upstairs (weird, but what did I know?). All that was fine, but I just knew I wasn’t wanted in that workroom. I stood out in the hall and listened to my friend talk about their plans to turn it into a little guest room, and I was intrigued.

How the hell could anyone sleep in there? It had a small window, seemed dry and comfortable enough, but…did they not feel that? Like when your gran tells you not to go mucking about in her ‘junk cupboard’ because even though it’s a mess she knows where everything is, or when your father tells you to stay the hell out of the shop because you never put the tools back where they go. So I pretended I needed to use the loo and waited until they were out of the work room, then I joined them as they went back upstairs.

a small, bright kitchen dining room with a small wooden table and four chairsMy friend’s mum invited us to sit down for some iced tea and cookies, and I had the *same feeling*. The chair at the back of the table was off limits. It was a perfectly fine chair, that faced the kitchen. It wasn’t the head of the table or anything like that, but as soon as we were invited to sit, it was like something in my brain just noped. NOPE. Again I wondered how my friends could just sit there at the table and not feel the same thing. I didn’t say anything. I figured I was just having a weird day.

Instead, I followed the dog into the living room. It went to sit under the piano bench. There was a loveseat with a sleeping bag on it on one wall, an easy chair on the other wall, and a folding chair near the dining room. I plunked myself down on the floor near the piano, with my iced tea and cookies on the coffee table. My friend’s mum came in to ask if I was okay.

“Sure,” I said, and thanked her for the snacks.

“You got something against furniture?” she asked.

I laughed. “No,” I said. “But I can’t sit in that easy chair.”

She glanced from me to the easy chair, to the loveseat, to a folding chair, and back to me. “You want me to move all this shit off the couch?” She asked. “You could just put it on the floor, you know.”

“Oh, that’s okay! I also wanted to pet the dog,” I said, shaking my head. The dog that was literally cowering as far away as it could get from me.

a bright, sunny living room with a full wall of south facing windowsGood thinking. Quick cover. Brilliant.

She had a funny look on her face, and she went back into the dining room/kitchen where all the other folks were hanging out. When we went to leave, I thanked my friend and apologised for weirding out their mom.

“What do you mean?” my friend asked.

I mentioned the interaction I’d had with their mum. My friend thought for a moment and then asked why I couldn’t sit in the chair.

I said, “I dunno. I just wasn’t wanted to.” I shrugged. “I can’t explain it, but that chair, and the one in the kitchen by the cupboard, and the workbench…I don’t think anyone’s supposed to be there.”

My friend nodded like they knew EXACTLY what I was talking about.

“Those were my granddad’s places,” my friend said. “His favourite chair in the living room and dining room, and the workroom was his. He didn’t like anyone else in his space.”

I don’t know if places have memories, or if ghosts care enough about their before-lives to continue to be territorial, but all I can tell you is that I have rarely had a stronger…it wasn’t even a “feeling”. It was like a knowing. Like the idea that I wasn’t to be in those spaces was just plopped down into my brain.

That’s how I feel now. Not in my childhood home, which always feels like some version of “home”, but in the whole area. The city, the region. All of it. I’m just not…I’m not supposed to be here. This time, I don’t think it’s my friend’s dead granddad trying to be persnickety from beyond the grave; it’s likely a combination of my own experiences and memories, and struggling with letting go of all of that. It was just strange when, last night, I went for a drive (which usually kicks me out of the grumps pretty fast) and I just had this overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t meant to be *here*. In this area.

*shrug*

Can’t explain it.

*As an aside, whenever I go back to my childhood home I am in absolute apoplexy with greed over how many gorram power outlets there are. There are, like, two outlets on every wall. EVERY. DAMNED. WALL. We live in a 125 year old house, and have four power outlets in our ENTIRE UPSTAIRS (three bedrooms and a bathroom). We have 21 power outlets IN THE WHOLE HOUSE. So. Whatever. I have power envy.

School’s Out

I was going to make this big ranty post about the SK provincial government’s attitude toward education, citing the absolute farce of our premier scolding school divisions for instituting or increasing school fees for parents while at the same time his government has been underfunding primary and secondary education (and likely post-secondary as well) for the past decade, but then it occurred to me, as it has occurred to me many times over the past number of years, that complaining about this government is like farting in the wind.

The truth is it doesn’t really matter what this government does. They’ve made it abundantly clear they don’t give a rat’s arse about the people in this province, but considering there is no viable alternative to their lack of transparency, and downright underhanded bullshit, we’re stuck with them. Just like we’re stuck with Uncle Doug, who, every Thanksgiving puts on his favourite sports team jersey which he hasn’t washed since the team won the pennant in 1962, douses himself in Brut, and shows up for sit-down dinner having already drunk a 26 of Wild Turkey while driving from Smuts in his $70,000 truck that he parks in four spaces because he has the god-given right to do so owing to how he’s white, male, and old.

You know he’s going to piss himself at the dinner table again (which is why there’s now plastic on the floor and chairs in the dining room) and probably fall into the fire again (although the scuttlebutt is that in 2004, it was actually Aunt Myrna who pushed him into the fire because he kept flicking marshmallows off her roasting stick. Uncle Doug thinks he’s a laff riot). It doesn’t even matter if you don’t tell Uncle Doug where Thanksgiving is being held this year because some codependent dinglefuck always spills the beans. He shows up drunk, gets drunker, messes himself and pukes in the bathtub (or sometimes the kitchen sink) before yelling “fuck you, you fucking fucks” and somehow makes his way to the bar after supper.

You can’t get rid of Uncle Doug, and we can’t get rid of the current government. We are in a dangerous place; unopposed governments do not make good policy. Unopposed governments do not legislate effectively. It doesn’t matter if the government is a monarchy, an oligarchy, a communist regime, or a democratically elected one; if a government governs unopposed and unchecked, it becomes unwieldy, plagued with narcissism, nepotism, croneyism, and ultimately corruption. These aren’t my rules; this is what history has taught us.

So rather than linking and citing sources, let me just say that until someone stands up and tells Uncle Doug his antics are unacceptable and that we won’t tolerate harmful behaviour anymore, we’re going to have to keep putting plastic on the furniture, stocking ozonol in the medicine cabinet, and explaining to a sigh why that guy in the family photos has no eyebrows.

Burnt Out

I woke yesterday, or maybe the day before, and heard the Radio Doctor (as in, the physician who is often interviewed on radio, and not the person who repairs ailing radios. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter; radio repair is a noble profession. It’s just that in this instance, it was the physician who…oh look what you’ve done. You’ve got me stream-of-consciousness rambling again. Clever you!) talking about seasonal allergies and how to deal with them. Apparently May and June are, as Bumblebutt the Dog would say, “tarebubble” for pollen, and, in Saskatchewan, snow mold.

Photo by cottonbro: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-allergy-medicine-bottle-6865181/

Now, I never used to have allergies. Or if I did, they were so mild as to be nearly completely unnoticeable (other than the allergy to peppers that made my throat close up at a night of beer and nachos. I noticed that.). Then I got pregnant. Now, I have allergies. I don’t know what I’m allergic to, other than dust (dust is a jerk; I remember the exact moment in my pregnancy when I developed a dust allergy). I assumed I’d “get over” my allergies once I “got over” my pregnancy. I also thought my feet would go back to their normal size, my boobs would deflate, and my memory would go back to normal.

To sum up: none of that happened. After The Captain was born, I remained an absentminded, Goddess-shaped sneezer with gigantic feet. After The Nipper was born, my boobs had their own gravitational pull, I developed allergies to snow mold and *something else*, and my hips acquired their own postal code. Note: I am fine with all of this – do not let the terrors that pregnancy inflicts bar you from acquiring your own children if you so desire. Nothing wrong with adoption, either.

Anyway, the point of this post isn’t actually “I Had Two Babies And You Won’t Believe What Happened” clickbait. The point of this post is about nasal lavage.

“Oh good,” you say. “That sounds completely revolting. Why, cenobyte? Why.”

Back to the Radio Doctor. He said that rinsing out your sinuses during allergy season will help alieviate your symptoms. As I had been dealing with Horrible Pressure Headaches and flonky eyes and the whole nine yards, I thought, hey, yeah, I do neti pot stuff periodically! I should fill up my skull holes with saline and then snork it all out into a clear bowl so I can examine the crud that accumulates in there and then disgust everyone in my immediate “vinicity”, as the CFL Refs say, as a “sinus and nasal detritus raconteur”. It’s the job Mom always wanted me to have.

So, I mixed up my saline per the instructions on WebMD, boiled my water and let it cool, mixed everything together, and confidently burned out my nasal and sinus passages by using FAR too strong a saline solution. Turns out there must have been a typo on that page because holy fuck do human sinuses not like 3tsp of non-iodised salt + 1tsp of baking soda per cup of water. I remember thinking “that seems like an AWFUL lot of salt”. YES SIREE. Boy howdy that was uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing, dear reader: I HAVE DONE EXACTLY THE SAME THING BEFORE.

Now, before you go on with helpful suggestions like “you know you can buy pre-mixed packets of saline solute”, WHICH I ALREADY KNOW, let me assure you I have SEVERAL of those little packets in a VERY SAFE PLACE (re: I looked for them for three quarters of an hour). The point here is that when you rinse out your face holes with suuuuuuper salty water, your eyes run and you drool and you gag and everything that might have though about living in your sinuses just immediately dries up and dies. I now have snot liches. SNOTLICHES.

After I recovered somewhat from the burning, I added what was left of the SUPER STRONG SALT SOLUTION to nearly a litre of water, and redid the rinse and that saline solution was like flushing my sinuses with roses and satin. Only there was a problem.

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-rodent-and-person-160411/

I couldn’t smell anything. I completely burned out my olfactory factory. Which sent me into an immediate panic. Friend, the depths of my lizard hind-brain were convinced I had somehow, in the half-hour it had taken to sear the innards of my sinuses, given myself COVID. I couldn’t smell, I couldn’t taste, I couldn’t see, and I was coughing up ropey drool. FUN.

Rest assured, dear reader, after the second flush (with solution more akin to tears rather than to the Dead Sea), I began to feel better. Last night, I had a lovely, snore-free sleep. This morning I flushed again (with the tears solution, not the Dead Sea solution). Today, aside from slightly watery eyes (which, admiteddly, could very well be the result of FILLING MY SINUS CAVITY WITH PURE SALT, an activity even the ancient Egyptians do not recommend, rather than due to seasonal pollens and molds), I feel great! My nose is clear, not runny at all; I can breathe; I can smell; I can taste, and my chronic throat-clearing/coughing is much tamed.

The moral of this story is: don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark – Book Review

cover of the book Iskoces Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark, by John LanganHave you ever had one of those experiences where something comes at you out of the dark and ends up being a pleasant surprise? A time where you weren’t expecting anything but something happened anyway? Or when a complete stranger found you and you ended up kind of grokking each other? I think of the story of the woman who called her friend or her kids or something and was asking them what their Thanksgiving plans were, but she dialled the wrong number and the fellow she ended up talking to was at the other end of a misdial…she ended up inviting him to Thanksgiving, and he ended up accepting and it was kind of a big deal a few years ago. A real feel-good kind of story where you remember how cool it can be to be a human who interacts with other humans. 

Earlier this year, someone I’d never met – never heard of – contacted me and asked if I’d like to review his book. This kind of thing isn’t completely unheard of. You know I love books, and I think you’ve probably read some of my book musings, but a lot of the time when someone contacts you out of nowhere to ask if you’d like to review their book, you have reservations. It’s a bit different if the publisher asks, or if you know the author, or if your International Fiction Writer Boyfriend Neil Gaiman shows up on your porch to beg – no to PLEAD – with you to do so. Sometimes, when a writer you’ve not heard of asks you to review their book, you don’t know what you’re getting into. 

So when John Langan emailed me and asked me to review Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark, I was a little trepidatious. I hadn’t heard of John, nor of the book (it was pretty new), but somehow, we found each other. I dove in. 

Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark is a tender, difficult, hopeful memoir about the first part of John’s life journey, from his family’s roots in Keeseekoose, Cote, and One Arrow First Nations, to several cities and towns in Saskatchewan (including Canora, Regina, Prince Albert, and Saskatoon). In reading John’s book I began to feel like I’d known him. It starts amid the tumult of powerful storms, with the author praying and shouting and yearning, and steers the reader through relationships and teachings, through hurt and troubles and loss, through accomplishment and pride. Underpinning this very personal, very raw tale is a strong spirituality and an intense devotion to ceremony, culture, and honour. 

With a strong sense of duty and honour, John Langan found meaning and purpose in the armed forces; he pushed himself to complete his education, at times struggling to do so, but always with the guidance and wisdom of his family, often when they themselves were struggling. He has gone on to complete post-secondary education while raising a family and beginning a new career with the City of Saskatoon Police. To say John’s “mundane” life has been a whirlwind is likely an understatement, and I don’t use the word “mundane” lightly; he also speaks of the profound influence of Elders, and his own devotion to Spirit and Ceremony. 

This is where Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark diverges from what you see in a traditional memoir – alongside the sometimes turbulent early life John recounts is a swirling, powerful underpinning of the external forces that have shaped who he is and how he moves through this world. He shares teachings, not only what they have been, but how he came to find and learn them. He shares the part of his life that has led him not only to embrace Ceremony and the lifeways and traditions of his Ancestors, but to learn them. Not only to understand, but to pass on these teachings and to help others to find and experience them as well. 

At the end of each chapter, John expresses gratitude, and directs his thanks to those people and forces that have ushered him on his path. He encourages us to find ways to do the same. And none of this – this is the artistry of John’s skill as a raconteur – none of it feels put-on, or hand-wavey, or trite. From the beginnings of his own introduction to Ceremony to his continuing devotion to knowledge and understanding, Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark is a book well worth your time. I guarantee you will learn something. 

John’s is an authentic voice that presents – with vivid images and full-frontal honesty – the story of an Indigenous man learning to hear, to see, to think, to feel, and to be. It is the story of a young boy who found his way, lost it, then found it again, through the traditions and knowledge of many generations. It is a story of family, of spirit, and of duty. But most of all, Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark is a book about what it means to be vulnerable. 

I was left, not just with the sense that I’d kind of come to know John Langan – son, brother, grandson, lover, cop, soldier, student – but that I’ve been given the great privilege to have a glimpse inside what’s really important. Not just to him, but to all of us.

Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark is available from Amazon.

Who puts the ‘D’ in….”Dystopia”?

Okay first, right off the hop, let me just say that yes, like a twelve-year-old, I have been snickering at the question “who puts the ‘D’ in ‘Dystopia'”.

Dystopian fiction used to be among my favourite genres …styles… of fiction. I still do love me a well-crafted dystopian tale, but lately I’ve been approaching this genre the way one might approach a wolf caught in a leg trap. I’ve found myself drifting more to a style of fiction I haven’t usually been fond of – fantasy adventure. Before I get too far down this rabbit hole, I will say this: I enjoy fantasy adventure roleplaying games (RPGs), lighthearted satirical fantasy (Terry Pratchett, Robert Asprin, Spider Robinson, et al), and there’s an aspect of supernatural fantasy that I find absolutely riveting. So many works of fantasy adventure though are bloated, enormous beasts of things that, if you start in on a book (or, Glob forbid, an X-volumed series, where X is the square of the fourth fractal hypoteneuse of a topological conundrum), you may be leaving that story to your children’s children. There are ways of doing worldbuilding and fantasy that really work (Katherine Arden’s “Winternight” series; Catherynne M. Valente’s “The Orphan’s Tale” books; Laini Taylor’s “Strange the Dreamer” series), and there are ways of worldbuilding and fantasy that don’t work for me at all.

The things that didn’t used to work for me still don’t (needing a farging flowchart to figure out who the cast of characters are; needing to constantly refer to a map to figure out where the hell anything is happening; characters that are so similar to one another as to essentially be the same character in different gowns (yes, it’s usually female characters who get this treatment – but not always); a staggeringly homogenous cast; pages and pages of slogging through [insert description of landscape here]….I could go on, but I didn’t intend for this post to be a “why cenobyte is super choosy about fantasy adventure fiction” post). The point IS, I more or less stopped reading fantasy adventure in my teens, opting instead for dystopian, horror, suspense, sci-fi, and weird fiction (yes, I know “sci-fi fiction” is redundant; lists are hard, okay?). Lately, I’ve been reaching for different works.

Some is literary work (this goes in part with my work and in part with what I enjoy reading), but more and more, I’m hesitating before cracking the spine on a dystopian novel. Why? (And why do you care?)

Elements that shape and define a dystopian work are: envisioning a world where potentially comfortable, even idyllic lifestyles just aren’t possible for the majority of citizens, if any of them. This includes: overreaching government control or pure anarchy; loss of individualism (usually tied to the former); environmental disaster and the struggle for survival; technological extremes (either total control or near-total loss); cultural destruction; an overarching sense of desloation. Of course, the real hook in a good work of dystopian fiction is that single thread of hope that, like the one left in Pandora’s box, can act as a beacon through the chaos and usually serves as the characters’ call to action.

Some of my favourite works in this genre leave me with such a profound sense of bleak hopelessness that every small gain is an enormous victory. Maybe that’s part of what I enjoy – the triumph of hope over despair, and learning to rejoice in the little things that work out in your favour. There’s a problem, and maybe this has as much to do with being a GenXer who developed coping strategies through the tail end of the Cold War, but buddy, we’re *living in* a fucking dystopia.

Sure, some of us have nice homes, clean water, employment income that allows us to feed ourselves fairly well, and maybe even with a little left over for a vacation where we go somewhere else where we enjoy amenities just as nice as the ones we have at home. But the majority of people don’t have access to all of these things, and the divide between the people who do and the people who don’t is shrinking. Which is to say, among developed nations, the middle class is shrinking. And maybe it’s just that only the shitty stuff gets reported, but it sure feels like any gains we made toward breaking up bigotry and hate in the 80s and 90s has gone out the window; people are shooting each other in schools and streets and nobody seems to think that’s a problem; people are couching hate and intolerance in thinly veiled statements about “freedom” (thus showing a fundamental misunderstanding of what freedom actually is); and this idea that it’s okay to just treat people like crap.

We’ve pushed the environment to (and possibly past) its breaking point by continuing to choose profit over planet, but somehow we’re *also* bitching about the price of oil and gas? Even though we in the west are living in a culture that predicates the majority of its public spending on revenues from that sector? Marine reefs are bleaching and dying; glaciers are melting; ocean levels are rising; weather patterns are changing because of the change in ocean temperatures – this is causing more frequent and more severe storms. Flooding, fires, and drought plage the Americas, and heat records approaching the hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet are being broken in India. There are folks who claim none of this can be attributed to human activity, but we also have an entire island of garbage floating around the Pacific Ocean, and my friend, dolphins and sharks didn’t create that. Marine animals are starving to death because their guts are full of plastic. Moose don’t make plastic.

The weird decrease in government regulation and oversight for many industries and activities, coupled with an increase in monitoring and decreases in privacy are warning bells that, as a consumer of dystopian literature, made me nervous enough. Now the radicalised religious right want to dictate how and when people are allowed to access medical and health care. And this is actually a *debate*. All the work done by generations of people advocating for equality and equity is circling the drain.

*CUE THE RUSSIANS*

On the one hand, reading dystopian fiction is an exercise that forces you to realise “well thankfully we’re not THERE. Yet.” But on the other hand, we’re, like, 3/4 of the way there, and that’s bad. Real bad. I thought reading dystopian fiction would prepare me for a life that fell somewhat short of the ideal, but I never thought I’d be living in a society that seems not only hell bent on creating that dystopia, but super excited about it. So I reach for these books less frequently, even more rarely if they’re about pandemics or totalitarian and/or cult-of-personality government leaders. I think it’s about sustained mental anguish from the last few years. And that makes me sad.

(Some of my favourite Dystopian novels: Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, The Girl Who Was Plugged In, Swan Song, Red Clocks, Snow Crash, Neuromancer, Children of Men, 1984, The Time Machine – there are many more in this list, but these are some of the ones I’ve gone back to more than once.)

 

Separate and Distinct?

The Premier of this province has been bumbling around, talking about how his party wants to create a distinct “nation within a nation” in Saskatchewan, and that they want to somehow create a more autonomous province. There’s media out there today about how a good chunk of folks who live in Saskatchewan think that’s a weird idea. Primarily, this is because it’s a weird idea.

First, let’s take a look at what a “nation within a nation” really is. If we take it to mean an area defined by not only its borders but its people and culture, which are distinct from its neighbours, it’s incredibly difficult to see how Saskatchewan could, in any way, shape, or form, be considered distinct. The Premier has stated it’s related to “being a Saskatchewan cultural identity within the nation of Canada”. What could possibly define Saskatchewan as a distinct cultural identity? Pretend rhomboid borders? Truck nuts? Racism? Drinking and driving? One can only assume the Premier is suggesting Saskatchewan cede “crown” land to Indigenous stewardship.

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

This suggestion is not only ludicrous, it’s completely asinine. The Premier is *clearly* pandering to the radicalised nitwits who think “the West” should “secede from Canada”. As if we could just pick up our skirts and go.

WE CAN’T AFFORD MORE AUTONOMY.

The current government has frittered away our surplus, has managed to spend its way into a SIZEABLE deficit, even *before* the pandemic hit, and continues to blame everyone – the Opposition, the Feds, the weather, geese, etc., etc., etc.. The idea that they could manage the needs of a province as geographically extensive and as population-challenged as Saskatchewan *with less support from the feds* is mind-boggling.

What does provincial autonomy look like? What does “taking greater control of [Saskatchewan’s] own economic sovereignty” mean? How does the current setup leave our province “threatened by actions and policies of the federal government”? We’ve managed for over a century to work together within confederation. Sure, it hasn’t always been easy, and there’s certainly a reason to consider Saskatchewan “the gap”, both in terms of federal policy and of the relative equity in fiscal and economic programming. However, this government has in no way demonstrated it is at all capable of taking greater control of a fucking COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY, much less its own ‘economic sovereignty’. Whatever that means.

So, what, we have a serious case of wizened beans because the feds don’t, I dunno, just give us all the money we ask for? Because we don’t like the equalisation formula (THIS GOVERNMENT derailed that entire discussion when they took office, so if that’s the case now, what the fuck)? Because we have our innards in a twist over the price on carbon?

In what way does Saskatchewan warrant a ‘special society’ status? We are the FURTHEST thing from distinct, and are PROUDLY so. What’s the one thing that unites Saskatchewan? The one thing that makes us different from the rest of the country? Perpetual disappointment. That’s no, as Dennis the Muckraker would say, basis for a system of government. Making claims that Saskatchewan is distinct because football, farming, and old white dudes is just really sad.

But realistically, what, exactly, would we be doing to “take control of economic sovereignty”? And if we DID manage to come up with an even tangentially workable way of doing that, whose money are we going to manage? Is the suggestion to segregate federal income tax from Saskatchewan workers? And to then use that revenue to provide shitty two-tier medical services and shittier P3 infrastructure with no federal oversight or regulation? We ditch the RCMP and hire a shitload of mall cops to patrol the Greater Metropolitan Smuts Region? We bin the Immigration Act and just kind of make shit up as we go along? Because if we’re “taking control” of our “economic sovereignty”, that would seem to indicate we don’t want federal money, right? Because we hate all those pesky rules about spending it the way we say we’re going to spend it and transparency and being responsible to the people of this country?

Sure, I understand that the SaskParty wants to court the radicalised far right because who DOESN’T want support from the handful of people who think it makes absolute sense to oust its own leader without letting them know about it. Who DOESN’T want support from a handful of yokels who not only can’t figure out simple hyphenation, but who think that it’s possible to have a smaller government while at the same time taking over everything from taxation to transfer payments to education reform to building, funding, and efficiently running a provincial police force. Nothing says “this is a workable party platform” like having a *website* where, at any time, “the People” can force a referendum on any elected post. One of those totally secure, unhackable, uncheatable websites. From a group that don’t know how to use the word “the”. These are the people I want in my camp.

Our government can’t even responsibly handle a land sale/purchase without getting embroigled in enormous scandal. What part of their performance over the last ten years in any way indicates they’d be capable of THINKING autonomously, much less managing part of the federal economy?

It’s fucking stupid, is what it is. It’s stupid, and it’s laughable, and buddy, if you don’t want to be paying between 5% and 11% more income tax and 4% more sales tax, you may need to reconsider things. I’m sure some of the same people who advocate seceding from Canada are the same buttmunches who drove across the fucking country to wave Canadian flags from the antennas of their trucks.

 

 

The Kids are Alright

It started out fairly inocuously; Kid the Younger and their paramour, a few friends we haven’t seen in a while, and a few of KtY & P’s friends just hanging out and watching movies, playing games. Some of us were upstairs in my childhood home and some of us were downstairs. There was a bit of strangeness when some of us went to bed in my mother’s bedroom, which had the Big Bed (that apparently sleeps four or five) and a double bed in a corner that doesn’t actually exist; and some of us went to bed in my old bedroom, which was appointed more like a hotel suite, complete with a room divider and a big screen TV.

Mysteriously, my father’s bedroom was nowhere to be seen; the house had swallowed it up, closed off that entire section of the house, walled it in. Somewhere in my subconscious version of that house is a secret room with drawers full of old coins, unused wool sweaters, a silver chalice, and the head from a manequin. (The remainder of the manequin my father took a chainsaw to out in the yard. It was the weirdest, and the most fun, experience with a chainsaw we’ve had as a family since the Great Chucking Experience of 1988.)

Photograph of instant photos, empty glasses, and other party detritus scattered across a wooden table.
Photo by Inga Seliverstova: https://www.pexels.com/photo/wine-glasses-and-pictures-on-table-3394266/

In the basement, music played quietly and someone was doing laundry. This is par for the course for every party I ever had in that house (that number being 2). But as the sweet cloak of Eerebus sheltered us and Hypnos himself emerged fully formed from the shadow behind the door to heavy our eyes, there came an unearthly racket from the kitchen. Bolt upright I sat, glancing first at the double bed in the where-corner, to see a half-child half-dream giggling there, scrunched up at the head of the bed against the wall.

“You,” I said, pointing at it. “Out.”

It didn’t leave so much as it winked out of existence. I rose from the group bed, tucking in whichever attendee I’d been curled up with, and padded over to the door. The sounds from the kitchen were growing more raucous, and it was time to ask the revelers to tone it down. Then I was in the kitchen, just like that – I thought about it, and I travelled instantaneously. The kitchen was full of young folk, some of whom looked familiar but many of whom were strangers to me.

“Time to turn it down,” I said. “People are trying to sleep. You’re welcome to stay, just stay quieter, if you please.” They were accommodating. Kind. Understanding. Gracious.

Then the half-child peeked around the corner from the living room. It lives in corners, I suppose, in the places where light meets shadow, where dust gathers unnoticed for weeks, where nothing fits quite right, where paint drips and paper doesn’t quite meet wall. This time I did not instant-travel, but strode to the living room purposefully, my head whipping around to the corner to see the half-child there, its emaciated limbs much too long for its wire-thin body. The misshapen head lolled on a shrivelled neck, then clicked back into place, five degrees at a time. Its eyes sucked up the shadows around it, its mouth a cracked, hard line slashed across its face. The half-child began to open its mouth.

The sound that emerged was the cracking of chintnous carapaces, the skitter of rats’ feet inside walls, whispering children’s voices, and a hollow, continuous wind.

“You,” I said, pointing to the front door. “Out.”

This time it did not wink away. It sidled, its back pressed to the wall, leading with its legs – feet first; the toes of its left foot crawled their way 90º to be parallel to the wall, then the arch of the foot rose up, then the knee pulled itself perpendicular to the foot. Its left leg was bent at a right angle; its right leg trailing behind, almost lifeless. Next, the half-child’s head lolled back between its shoulderblades. Its chest moved then, pulling itself to a position against the wall above the left knee. Then the hips, and finally the right leg sloughed along. The momentum of this strange, segmented dance flopped the half-child’s head forward on its neck, its chin touching chest. Yet still those eyes remained fixed on me; the thing’s face remaining upright as it had been, as if affixed to a gyroscope inside its flesh. 

Stark overexposed photographic image of the top half of a face with stringy hair and dark, hollow pits of eyes against an equally stark, overexposed white background
Photo by Elīna Arāja from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/creepy-eyes-3413812/

In this manner, the half-child skittered and inched and angle-crawled its way across one wall, then the next, to the large window. There it paused briefly before it…sucked itself out through the glass into the yard. Its hands stayed planted on the glass, the small starfish hands of a toddler, fat-fingered, knuckles hardly formed, splayed out against the huge pane, first at half a metre off the ground, then two metres above, then updside down, crawling sideways toward the door.

The party in the kitchen was getting out of hand again. I returned there, turned down the music, levelled a Stern Glare. “Quiet, please. If you want to stay.”

From the basement rose shouts of inebriated exhuberance, voices raised in sauce-assisted aggression, squeals and peals of smoky laughter. Down the stairs I trod, ire piqued.

“Okay,” I hollered. “Enough. Everyone out.”

There were some groans, some protestations, and some people stumbling off to the rollaway cots that seemed to have multiplied since last I’d been in the basement. People began filing out the basement door, grumbling and grumping as they went. But, they went.

Then a crash from above. I muttered expletives and took the stairs two at a time back to the kitchen. This time the back door was wide open, a clutch of thirty-somethings who looked vaguely familiar, as if my subconscious mind had conflated my own friends from a few years back with how they might’ve looked as teens, but also aged them appropriately but also blended into one another. “The party’s over,” I said. “I asked twice nicely, and now I’ll invite you to take the celebrations elsewhere. Also, your bong is broken.” The shards of glass at their feet tinkled as they shuffled away.

More voices rose from inside. I made my way back through the kitchen, this time grabbing a couple of revellers by the throat and pushing them out the door. At the end of the long hallway there were three police officers removing people I’d never seen from rooms that have never been. In the kitchen, somehow the party-goers had multiplied, like angry ants, burbling up and out from somewhere unseen. I began pushing, throwing, and otherwise person-handling folks out the door, reminding them to “mind the glass” on the way out.

Just before I woke, the half-child scampered back in through the open door. I caught it by its skinny little neck.

“You,” I said. “Out”, and out it went, tossed, unceremoniously, as far as it could go.

I’m positive it will be back.

 

Foot Fish and Fetishes

The beach sand was hot; it felt good on the bottom of my feet. Felt like it was scouring off layers of thick, dead heel flesh; the heat in it permeated my skin and warmed and released the striated muscles and tendons. Phalanges, metatarsals, cuneiforms and cuboid, calcaneus et al., all in perfect alignment, ready to walk the world.

It became suddenly too hot, as if the skin the sand had scoured away had been a shield, protecting the tender, younger epidermal layer from harm while it cured. As if the true motive of the beach, if beaches had motives, were to lure you to it with promises of relaxing, romantic walks, only to be consumed by the heat of it. Millions of tiny shards of volcanic glass and mountains worn down by the sea, absorbing heat and pretending to be just an innocent stretch of shingle.

photograph of an ocean beach, blue water lapping against warm brown sandThe ocean there was cool, but not cold – salve for weathered soles. Oddly, I wasn’t going to swim or bathe; I just wanted to wade, to soothe my accidentally enthusiastic pedicure. The brine became a complement to beach burnishment, bubbling up around toes, around ankles, around calves. I was convinced I’d have the feet of a newborn child, the sorts of paws one could display, to photograph, to become the Platonic ideal of feet; that which all want but none may have.

As I left the water I felt something odd. A kind of tugging, a pulling, an irresponsible and unfamiliar flapping about. There on my foot, something flashed in the sun. Something nearly transparent, glittering as it…flopped and flexed? More than just one. Dozens. Little fish, no bigger than my thumb, attached everywhere that had been in the water. I tried to brush them off, but their jaws were clamped in. I tried to pull them free, but doing so was painful; I’d have had to have pulled out clumps of my own flesh.

The doctor in the nearby village told me they were witzerfan fish, and once they clamp on, your best bet was to wait until they die, then pinch their jaws to release them. She said you want to release them soon, because after the witzerfan fish dies, its jaws continue to burrow in to the flesh. In deeper water, these fish consume necrotic tissue; the whales and sharks and seals and halpless surf enthusiasts who fall to the bottom of the sea once their spark has winked out – these are the usual prey of the witzerfan. In mating season, the witzerfan clamps on to flesh in this manner, the doctor said, and waits for a mate to fertilise the eggs that fill its belly. Whether or not the eggs become fertilised, once attached to a host, the witzerfan begins the process of dying. As it dies, it burrows, creating a sort of nest for the incubating eggs.

What a ride, I said, glancing at the fish bodies still flapping around all over my feet. It seemed like I could feel them gnawing their way through my flesh. I asked how one goes about removing them.

Oh, the doctor said, we freeze the bodies with nitrogen to make sure they’re good and dead, and then you have to squeeze the jaws together and pull them straight out. If you don’t get the jaws all the way out, there’s little danger because we’ve frozen the bodies and removed them, leaving no chance any tissue remains.

So I won’t be a spawning ground for tiny horrors?

No, she said. We treat the area with betadine and topical antibiotics and the worst that will happen is some localised irritation. Itching. That sort of thing.

Then she came at me with a canister that sported a lever and a long spout.

Now hold still, the doctor said, we don’t want to freeze off what’s left of your skin! She thought that was funny. I held still.

photograph of an ivory coloured fish skelton on black backgroundAs the fish froze, their bodies fell away from my feet, dropping to the floor like little crystal tree ornaments, cracking and smashing into hundreds of tiny frozen fish-flakes. It made a sound like the breaking of crackly ice in the spring, or like a tiny crystal glass bursting into a million pieces with the slightest tap. When she was finished, she demonstrated how to pinch and pull, pinch and pull, always straight out.

It was an odd afternoon, sat on the corner of a chair on the sunny balcony of our room, pinching the jaws of tiny fish heads and yanking them out of my feet.

Later, much later, but also earlier by decades, I was packing up my instruments following a wind ensemble workshop, and this fellow walked in the room. He was older than I, his face acne-scarred and leathered. His eyes were piercing blue, his hair either straw coloured or grey. He stood beside the table where I was packing up and attempted to make small talk.

Unsure whether his awkwardness at doing so were due to language challenges, as he spoke with a thick European accent of some derivation, or whether he was just naturally an unsettling sort of fellow, I told him we were busy and I was leaving soon.

He said he was the security.

I said I didn’t need it.

The smile he attempted did not reach his eyes; it was stuck somewhere between a leer and a grimace. He bowed slightly and backed up two paces before pivoting on his heel and marching from the room. I felt a shiver run up my spine as I finished putting instruments and music in bags and loading up for the long walk through the University halls to the bus stop.

The halls were filled with the sounds of music students warming up, noodling through scales and arpeggios, tooting and hooting and squawking and squeaking. I glanced in to one performance hall to see a gaggle of primary students sat on colourful plastic chairs, each with a wind instrument at the ready. I was expecting an off-key, slow and dragging rendition of “Three Blind Mice”, but they embarked on some Bach chorales and had clearly been paying attention in their lessons because it was lovely.

I turned around and headed back up the hall toward the main double doors when I saw the guy. He was marching toward me with a strange, strained look on his face. He took me by the arm and in a conspiratorial whisper said the police were looking for me; something about traffic tickets. He marched me right past a couple of bike cops at the door to the band room and into a warm-up green room just past.

He seemed very pleased with himself. I, on the other hand, knew I had no tickets and no police were looking for me. I told him to let me go, and that all interactions between us were officially complete. No need to approach me further.

I watched myself leave through eyes that weren’t my own. I looked in the mirror and saw the man’s face there. A brief flash of panic washed over me before what had been the me I’d been became him. His thoughts were labyrinthine; devious. He liked watching. He had **plans**. His mind was like a kinetic sculpture in constant motion, made entirely of bear traps and sharpened blades. Everyone who wasn’t a target was a threat.

A whirlwind of confusing montages cascaded through the scene then; a simultaneous broadcast of the man’s entire life, and every decision he could’ve made, expanding outward into infinite possibilities, then collapsing back to himself, sitting in the snow outside an alpine ski lodge. There was a sculpture planted in the snow about 20 yards in front of me/him of an angel with the tail of a fish and the wings of an eagle, mounted on a spike that had been thrust through its chest. Its face bore an expression of serenity, except for the eyes, which had been crafted from porcelain. The eyes told a very different tale, one of torture, of exquisite suffering.

photograph of bird footprints in snowIn an area around the sculpture were bird tracks in the powdery snow; every two feet or so a number of bird tracks made the same pattern – two ovals at approximately 45º angles to each other, with trailing paths at the top of each oval. Like a human heart. At the tips of the delicate footprints were tiny trails of blood, as if the bird who’d made them had gouged out a perch on something skinless. Between the bird-track hearts I had left trails of my own urine, forming an uneven border.

I, the man, wore nothing but a short kilt of tanned leather. My torso was a pattern of scars layered one on top of the next. I sat in a pit hollowed out of the snow, up to my waist, watching the sculpture, waiting. Someone would approach, speak to me. I would draw from beside me a harpoon gun, shoot them through the chest, and drag their corpse to a growing pile beside me.

“This is how it is done,” I said, my voice like wet pebbles dropping against one another in a bubbling stream.

Feast

A house in the middle distance seen through trees, beside a river, and the corner of a shed visible in the near distance with small Canadian flags attached under a window box
Photo by Roberto Nickson from Pexels

I dreamed a dream of a place I’ve dreamed before. A small house on the riverbank, the street-facing portion obscured by what once was a barn and now looked to be a shop. In the Before-dream this then-barn was a labyrinth of pipes and steam and ruddy, greasy water puddles. Angle iron stairs and painted-over windows. This time, though, the barn was a workshop and gallery and styled for this night as a feast hall.

There was a warmly lit tiled walkthrough between barn and little house, where cats curled up beside kilns and sparrows flew by (but not in. Clever birds).

The host, a friend I haven’t seen in many years. The guests were mostly his family and people, Elders and aunties and cousins and deadly uncles. I don’t know how we’d got an invite – I think His Nibs and I and a couple of our peeps were perhaps in a game with the host.

Our plates were filled by little cousins and nephews and nieces. Elders at every table laughed and we laughed too, until tears rolled down our cheeks and our bodies were joy-warmed. The aromas of beef and venison, onion, fresh fry bread and berries filled the air and condensation clung to the windows. Strings of white lights hung from the rafters where the shadows of crows moved with whispers where no one watched.

Hearty food laid out on a table for a feast
Photo by Kaboompics.com from Pexels

It was time to queue up for roast Turkey, gravy, and bannock over at the far table, and I was happy to wait behind the little cousins who slapped playfully at each other. Then it was my turn, only a few stragglers behind me (mostly the rest from my table), and the Turkey stores were running low so a self-declared deadly uncle ran for more.

The uncle at the serving station apologised, but there was a mountain of bannock in the centre of the table so I was happy to adorn my plate thus.

“Want some dates?” The uncle asked. He pointed to a small bowl of puréed dates and raisins.

“I’m married,” I said, “but I’ll take some berries.”

He winked at me, laughed. “You had bannock before?”

“Yeah,” I said. “There used to be feasts at the student residence by my house. My friend Joey used to take me.”

As if the only place to have bannock is at a feast. As if my other friend’s auntie hadn’t taught me to make it myself. But this is the way of dreams.

“Ya fuckin’ Indian!” He hollered, then bent over, overtaken by laughter.

“Only if we have a good talk first,”I said, which sent him over the edge.

This was a good dream. A warm dream. It was a home-dream, a place dream. An embrace. A gift. A feast.

*Thanks to Coyote for helping*

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