Necessary Noise: Divest UWinnipeg protest a punctuation point on a broader movement

img_20170220_142005.jpg

I wrote a short article for The Uniter on Divest UWinnipeg, a student-led group organizing to get the University of Winnipeg to pull out their investments from the fossil fuel industry. Their campaign has involved a variety of tactics – from participating in consultation to staging protests – which are all clearly linked in a cohesive strategy. It’s impressive work in light of incredibly unequal power dynamics between students and administration.

Will upload the full article when I have permission to, but for now you can read the full article here.

january 23, 2017

img_20170123_174812.jpg

I’m trying to describe that emotional mixture where you feel deeply content and deeply unsettled at the exact same time.

It’s like walking all day across icy sidewalks that constantly beckon you to your death, then – arriving at a fabric store where you can buy large quantities of colour – so much colour! – and you buy $76 worth of this stuff, this large colourful pattern to hang on your living room wall, and you’re so happy with it (though a little stressed about spending this much of your tiny paycheque) – and then you return out to the cold, grey ice-covered death trap of a sidewalk in attempts to bring it home. Will you make it home??? You just want to transport like 13 feet of semi-loud bird-patterned fabric safely to your personal abode, and it’s requiring every muscle of your body to steady you, every bit of attention on the ground, every step meticulously placed. Has no one in this town heard of salt??? This bird fabric becomes brighter and more precious with each step.

And I’m like, yeah, this is definitely worth my time, energy and money. Donald Trump is actually president and in the process of doing deeply irreversible damage to humanity as a whole as we speak, and here I am with my fucking pinterest project. Here I am clinging to my bird fabric. I feel so small and powerless, yet also a small amount of transcendence. Fuck the world that through inaction actively seeks my undoing, that could care less about me and my path, my goddamn hopes and dreams. I will find and keep my joy in the middle of this wasteland.

I’m at a Holy Fuck show at a venue called The Good Will. I’ve been looking forward to it for awhile – I haven’t danced in a long time. The venue is absolutely perfect and soon becomes a swimming pool of sound washing over me. It’s absolutely wonderful. It welcomes me home like I’ve been away for too long and it’s glad to see me.

I grin like I’m falling in love. And like love, it takes on a religious tone, and I swear I hear organs echoing in a cathedral, reminiscent of some hymn I knew a long time ago. My hand is over my forehead and I’m crying now, but totally try to keep it under wraps.

And then the sound becomes turbulent, carrying me with it, and for once in my life I understand the appeal of hardcore music – I was sadly way too repressed to let myself enjoy it a teenager. I want to throw down, I want to scream, and the music welcomes my anger and pain with a warm smile and says “Yes, go ahead.” I go ahead.

I wonder if anyone thinks I’m on drugs because I’m like, very into this whole concert, but I don’t even care.

And then the crowd-pleaser, Lovely Allen, with its upward marching arpeggios and screaming jet engine synthesizers, building and building into a celebration of what is and can be – if only you go forward – farther, farther than you think you can go, only if you don’t stop.

The show closes with sounds both human and alien, beckoning towards more, to be more, to feel more – to envision beautiful worlds that have not yet become.

I walk home and barely notice the ice this time. Maybe my body has acclimatized to it. For some reason a strain of an old hymn runs through my head and I find myself singing it out loud:

Be thou my vision, O lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save that thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Thou and thou only first in my heart
High king of heaven, my treasure thou art

The words both haunt and comfort me as I sing them. What is this feeling? It’s been with me the entire day. And then it hits me.

It’s the feeling of home.

Michelle Rempel’s Feminism Doesn’t Add Up: Why Infrastructure Funding is a Feminist Issue

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-11-52-00-pm

Here We Go Again

So Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi probably shouldn’t have told reporters “Apparently, math is challenging” in reference to Conservative MP Michelle Rempel.

The context for Nenshi’s comment is a Twitter dispute between him and Rempel over skyrocketing property taxes for small business owners in Calgary. Rempel quickly called Nenshi’s comments sexist – relating them back to former PC Leader Jim Prentice’s infamous “Math is difficult” comment during the 2015 Provincial Leadership Debate.

Oh, and Rempel has a degree in economics. She’s written this exchange into another page of her career narrative as a feminist challenging the “Old Boys Club” status quo.

It’s definitely important to challenge the sexist tone political conversations often take in a male dominated arena. But – while she’s building a career under the banner of feminism – it’s also important to talk about her economic policies to see if they’re more than self-serving talking points. Unfortunately, her municipal funding policies don’t actually break down any barriers for women – especially immigrant and refugee women.

Syrian Refugees in Canada – in Cities

One of Rempel’s most significant critiques as Immigration Critic last year was that Canada could not bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees because we lacked the proper services and infrastructure to support them.

Food bank usage is one symptom of this [as is] access to affordable housing and access to language training, which helps people find jobs — these are all things that we know are lacking,” said Michelle Rempel, the Conservative critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship, who now lives in Alberta and is the MP for Calgary Nose Hill.

One year later, this is still a legitimate concern. Our public services like health care can’t even adequately support our own population, much less thousands of refugees fleeing a war torn country. They will require years – not just 365 days – of support from cities, provinces and the federal government to recover from trauma, adjust to new languages, cultures and locations to lead stable, healthy lives.

We do lack the proper resources to integrate refugees and immigrants into the workforce, and it makes immigrant women especially vulnerable. Contrary to what Rempel would like to infer, this is not a solely Liberal failing, but one her party must own up to. One report from 2012 addressing Immigrant Women in the Labour Market notes:

“As a result of budget cuts, employment programs are being amalgamated. Consequently, many immigrants have to move from one program to another, often with long waiting periods between programs. These delays and associated changes in schedule and location can have severe impacts on women whose childcare responsibilities often make it difficult for them to change the time and location of their programs. Women may not be able to travel to different service locations. Asking women who are already isolated in the home and who often have sparse social networks, to move from one program to another and redevelop social networks is also detrimental to their progress.”

Let’s not forget how difficult it must be for these women to establish themselves in a country where cultural warfare against Muslims was a significant part of Conservative public policy during Harper’s reign. Take the paternalistic niqab ban, which Rempel defended last year. Or Jason Kenney’s spousal sponsorship system, criticized for exacerbating power dynamics in abusive relationships and isolating women from their family and support communities. Or Kellie Leitch’s current Trump-applauding immigrant-screening campaign strategy.

These policies certainly do little to negate the rise of white supremacism and anti-Muslim sentiment among Canadians.

It is no surprise then, that immigrant women earn significantly lower incomes than immigrant men and white women born in Canada. Poverty is the result – the material manifestation – of social oppressions like racism and sexism.

So how does this all relate to Michelle’s Twitter dispute over rising property taxes in Calgary?

Well, quite a bit, when you realize how all this social oppression plays out in cities. A Globe and Mail report on poverty in urban centres highlights:

“Immigrants tend to concentrate in large cities, where they can find other people from their home countries and forge a quick network. And immigrants also tend to be low income, especially when they first arrive in Canada, says Andrew Sharpe, executive director of the Ottawa-based Centre for the Study of Living Standards.

It used to be true that immigrants arrived in Canada poor, then worked hard and quickly moved up the income ladder. But more recent studies have shown they’re stuck at the bottom of the ladder for longer periods of time.

“There’s a deterioration there,” Mr. Sharpe says.”

Sexism Manifests Materially – Requiring Material Remedies

Funding municipal public services and infrastructure in cities directly affects the health and wellbeing of refugee women, immigrant women, indigenous women and other women who experience poverty.

Municipalities rely heavily on property taxes to fund these essential services and infrastructure – such as public transit, water treatment, snow clearing, recreation centres, and after-school programs. It’s not perfect, but simply one of the few funding options available.

Many acknowledge the flaws of this model, including the Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

“Unlike many of their international counterparts, local governments in Canada were left to rely on the slow-growing municipal property tax, a regressive funding tool that hits middle-and low-income people hardest, including working families, senior citizens, and small-business owners.”

So what are the other options? Provincial and federal funding are usually grant-based, doled out for specific projects – and only those projects. Meaning municipalities can’t use that funding for any other purposes than its designated use– it can’t be redirected, even if there are extenuating circumstances, like a flood, or an influx of refugees.

So cities are constrained by the sources of revenue they have access to. Ergo, property tax.

The FCM also emphasizes predictable, long term investments from the federal government are essential to remedy alarming infrastructure decline. This would make it a lot easier for cities to budget, plan and invest in their long-term needs –  and support their most vulnerable citizens.

What was Michelle Rempel’s solution to this when she was Harper’s Minister of Western Economic Diversification?

Public-Private Partnerships, known as P3 projects.

This is an operating & financing model in which the public sector partners with the private to deliver vital infrastructure – anything from roads, bridges, transit, schools, water treatment plants and hospitals.

Governments like P3s because, on paper, it looks like they’re keeping costs low by letting private contractors shoulder a portion of the upfront costs. Additionally, the private sector shoulders the risks, meaning the government has a scapegoat if anything goes wrong.

But just because it’s good for government bookkeeping PR doesn’t mean it’s good for women.

Nenshi’s been wary of the model, but hasn’t been presented with any alternatives. One group even claims city councillors in Edmonton were pressured into P3s by the federal government to fund their new transit line, despite concerns.

The cautionary tales of contracting out a public service to a profit-driven company are well documented. If that company goes under, it leaves cities, and ultimately taxpayers, in a lurch – paying more for less reliable infrastructure delivery. With profit being the underlying motive – as opposed to providing a reliable public service, -it’s all too easy for private contractors to cut corners, suppress labour wages, and increase user fees.

For example, several cities have utilized P3 partnerships for water treatment plants, with lackluster and even disastrous results. Hamilton, Ontario saw a huge wastewater crisis in the 90s when a private corporation’s downsizing and cost-cutting measures lead to a massive sewage backup, causing significant damage to homes, small businesses and the environment. Moncton, New Brunswick turned to a P3 model for their water treatment when federal funding fell through, resulting in increased water rates.

The National Network on Environments and Women’s Health documented these cases in a  report titled Women and Water in Canada, noting:

“Here in Canada, perhaps the most important consideration is that women tend to make up a large percentage of low income households, and privatizing water, which can lead to consumer price hikes, more disconnections from the water supply, poorer water quality, and increased health risks will disproportionately impact women in a negative way. Faced with no choice, poor women “may be forced to use contaminated water that they get for free rather than clean water, which they cannot afford” (Brewster et al, 2006: 14).”

Another concern is that P3 projects don’t actually save the taxpayers more money than publicly funded projects. As a recent study of Ontario P3 projects has shown, they frequently cost more.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concludes:

“…privatization tends to increase inequality by driving down wages and ramping up user fees, while eroding the capacity of our public sector. That’s why many cities across Canada and around the world have begun bringing services back in-house after failed experiments with P3s.”

We saw this happen in 2014 when Alberta returned to building schools through public funding, and in Hamilton, Ontario after the city’s water treatment crisis.

The detrimental effects of privatization hit to low income women the hardest. The Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women provides further insight in a 2010 factsheet on restructuring:

“The city of Vancouver privatized its bus services in 2008, which has significant and disproportionate impact on women, poor people, people with disabilities and seniors who rely extensively on public transportation. The Bus Riders Union in Vancouver argues that ―Women are a majority of these bus riders. Many women, particularly women of colour, need public transit because they are concentrated in low-wage, night shift, temporary, part-time work, and have a lot of family responsibilities. They need reliable, affordable, and 24 hour public transit.”

Infrastructure Funding is a Feminist Issue

screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-12-07-47-am

It is entirely possible to say some funding models are more “feminist” than others based on whether they will remedy or exacerbate inequality for women. Rempel’s P3 model doesn’t do cities – and the women who live in them – any favours. It not only furthers reliance on regressive property taxes, but limits how cities can support their most vulnerable populations.

The CCPA reports that Calgary is one of the worst cities to be a woman in Canada. It has the highest rates of income equality between men and women, high rates of domestic violence, and unchanged rates of child poverty over 25 years- all issues which are exacerbated if you are an immigrant or refugee woman. Consider these findings along with unfunded infrastructure projects in Calgary – which Nenshi totals at $25 billion – and the picture it paints for women is a little grim.

And yet Michelle Rempel chooses to raise the alarm when property taxes go up, despite her party offering no viable funding alternatives for cities outside of unreliable P3 projects. (Trudeau, unfortunately, is not faring any better by chugging along the P3 train himself.) Stable, predictable funding from the federal government could alleviate a lot of these infrastructure issues, but that too becomes challenging when your party slashes the GST from 7% to 5%, limiting the amount of federal funds available to support municipalities.

Anyone who considers themselves an advocate for social justice needs to look at the ways oppression manifests in physical, material ways. The CRIW highlights some helpful tips for those who want to address the issue:

“You may find others interested in restructuring at your local women‘s organization or community organization. Together you could identify and share information about support services for women workers in their communities. You could map your community’s social infrastructure and share your findings and the gaps with public officials.”

Feminists should increasingly use the language of material oppression to identify and find solutions for individuals who are most in need. We should also understand the language and PR strategies politicians use to further their own interests instead of caring for the wellbeing of those they are supposed to serve. Change will come from the ground up, not through politicians duking it out on Twitter for political points.

Sincere thanks to Kate Jacobson and James Wilt for their feedback on the creation of this piece.

My Favourite Books I Read in 2016

rodeo

2016 was the year I returned to the joy of reading and learning. The anticipation of picking out a book, the pleasure of reading it quietly, the fascination of worlds opening up, and the satisfaction of finishing a book were all experiences that regained so much colour for me.

2016 was also the year I learned to weather the horror that also comes from learning. The fear that you don’t know enough, the existential crisis in realizing maybe you never really knew much at all, that everything you thought you knew is wrong, and the panic in feeling you’ll never be able to catch up, are all stressful experiences easy to avoid for the sake of comfort.

Tension. In-betweenness. This year I transgressed into emotional, physical and intellectual liminal spaces. These books were with me along the way, in no particular order.


Favourite Books I Read in 2016

Peter Camenzind by Herman Hesse

Technically, I didn’t read this book, it was read to me. I don’t think I would have ever come across it otherwise, or bothered to pick it up if I did. But there’s something simple and beautiful about reading a story of melancholy and solitude with someone – Herman Hesse’s prose was a joy to discover this way.

Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life by Vivian Gornick

This isn’t the best biography I’ve ever read, but it was exactly the book I needed to read at the time – a quick, engaging introduction to anarchist activist and orator Emma Goldman. I picked this up at a second hand bookstore in Edmonton, Alberta on a weekend excursion while the federal NDP convention was in town. So much was happening on personal and political levels, it was nice to carry around this little book about a woman who so fervently lived according to her principles.

Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Metis & Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel

A generous gift from author Chelsea Vowel, one that settlers should accept with reverence. The most striking thing about this book is the deftness of tone. Vowel weaves candid humour, anger, sorrow, and hope throughout complex assessments of Indigenous cultural and political struggles. This book is not a lecture on history, statistics, or case studies – it’s a gracious entry point into a living, breathing conversation that demands your participation.

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

My first foray into Chomsky. This book puts forward a propaganda model to assess the relationship between major American media outlets and the US government. While there was a lot to digest, it helped me think more critically about my own media consumption and better identify and understand propaganda. It’s maybe more than a little relevant skill to work on right now.

The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature by Dr. David Suzuki

This year was the year I discovered something ancient and sacred and it was intensely visceral. Some people have “out of body” experiences, but I felt like I was being pulled through the ground to the very fucking core of the earth. I don’t know, could have been the sex, or the drugs, but it made me more aware of the physicality of my body than ever before.

Yeah, I know how it sounds. Whatever. I ended up reading this book and it was so perfect in addressing why I always had such a difficult time registering any sort of emotion over environmental destruction. I knew it was happening, but I was too alienated from it to care. Now I care, and it’s probably too late. Fun! But. Check it out anyways.

Slumming it at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada’s Right Wing Revolution by Gordon Laird

Hi, this might be one of my favourite books of all time. Like, if my house was burning down, this would for sure be a possession I’d save (it’s sadly out of print!). It’s probably because it so brilliantly captures the spirit of the Alberta I grew up in – it almost feels like a part of my personal history. To be honest, it inspired quite a bit of my last essay about leaving Calgary. So, thanks to Gordon Laird for inadvertently helping me figure my life out.

The Woman Destroyed by Simone De Beauvoir

Reading this made me want to like burn everything I had ever written and climb into a volcano.

This short story is told through a white woman’s diary as she discovers her husband’s affair, sparking a reevaluation of their entire relationship. This subsequently results in an identity crisis, being unable to define herself outside of her role as wife and mother. Beauvoir criticizes and yet holds an incredible amount of empathy for her tragic protagonist. It’s mesmerizing and haunting and hey, do you know which volcanoes are currently active right now?

Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown

I didn’t realize I would be moving to Manitoba at the time I read this, but maybe I had a feeling. This graphic novel was a great entry point into the history of Louis Riel, the province of Manitoba, and the intertwining development the Canadian Pacific Railway with the formation of Canada.

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

It was always one of those book I said I’d read, but never actually had the courage to pick up. I finally ended up reading it for a class and it is harrowing – not just because of the subject matter, but the power behind Spiegelman’s defamiliarizing illustrations. A single panel kept me up all night.

Black Power: The Politics of Liberation by Stokely Carmichael

Here Stokely Carmichael lays out the framework for black nationalist movements like the Black Panther Party. Reading it feels like a march, every word carries into the next with precise determination, every argument a militant stomp towards black liberation. If you are white, it’s essential for understanding the complexity and depth of anti-black racism, the context and history of black liberation movements, and the work needed to find your place as an ally. It was an honour to be able to read these words.

Honourable Mentions (AKA I started them in 2016 but haven’t finished them yet)

The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin

In a world of formulaic cash-grabbing nostalgia-mining space movies, it’s so refreshing to be reminded of what science fiction as a genre can actually offer. Le Guin builds a world based upon anarchist principles, assessing the forms industry, education, personal relationships might take under such a model. She then sends a protagonist native to that world off to interact with capitalist and socialist societies. It’s quite possibly one of the most memorable novels I’ve encountered.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Okay, I made it half way. HALF WAY. I lost track of it during the move, but I swear I’ll finish it this year. Either way, I wanted to include it on this list because I don’t even know how this book exists. It is like, one of the wonders of the world. It also really, really fun to read too. Imagine taking a trip into an almost alien psyche – everything is mostly the same but askew enough to feel you’re perpetually off-balance. Exploring entertainment, addiction and suicide in the world of Infinite Jest has been a challenge I’ve enjoyed immensely.


 

Oh my god writing summaries of this many books is hard. I don’t really think I did them all justice (I clearly need to expand my adjective vocabulary), but I hope some of them piqued your interest. To more reading in 2017…

memory: sufjan stevens alive and well

jellyfish2

i want to remember
the night sufjan stevens created a volcano
the sky is deep and he is in colours, bright colours
feathers and neon and mirrors glowing in a chaotic conjuring
in the centre of a sprawling canyon: Vesuvius! Fire of fire!
and he is small, and we are small, and the sound in the canyon is large
he’s not fucking around he’s not fucking around he’s not fucking around
and it’s magic

photo via eyesplash on flickr

This City Has Fangs: Reflections Upon Leaving Calgary

img_20160804_224324.jpg

When someone says they love a city—or hate it—they are often telling you what they think of the version of themselves they see reflected in it. They love—or hate—who they are in that city.”

– Chris Turner, Calgary Reconsidered

I’ve been feeling downright insolent towards Calgary lately. Insolent! I’m finally moving out of the province, and I feel like a teenager storming out of the house and slamming the door. I’m trying to sort through all my incredibly negative feelings towards this place. I feel like this city has rejected me. I feel like no matter how hard I try, there just isn’t space for me here, space for me to feel valued, love and live to my full capacity. And why? Why do I feel like this? Then it hits me – Calgary and my father have become interchangeable in my mind.

This isn’t exactly an arbitrary allegory. As I’ve been preparing to leave, I’ve also been reflecting heavily, trying to understand how this damn place works, how I work. So I’ve been reading history, Alberta’s history, as much as I can. And everywhere I go, I see traces of him, my father. And by traces, I mean like entire paragraphs and pages highlighted, neon signs flickering, “You’ve been here before.”

Preacher’s Daughter

Alberta’s seventh premier, William Aberhart, was a radio preacher known as “Bible Bill” in the 1930s, not too different from the preachers I would listen to in the 90s on AM 1140 in my Dad’s station wagon.

Much like my father, Aberhart believed in the Rapture. Both were convinced the world would be plunged into divine fury at any moment, with only the righteous saved, caught up into Heaven and given immortal bodies in a blink an eye.

Aberhart used his radio platform to promote Social Credit theory (don’t ask me to explain it, I barely know, although at some point printing money was involved), which became wildly popular in the middle of the Depression. And so, Aberhart, “Bible Bill,” became the Calgarian patriarch of Alberta’s 36 year Social Credit dynasty.

My father’s politics and religion were similarly entwined, facilitating parenting style that always placed me on the edge of personal, political and religious apocalypses. If I didn’t turn out the right way, it was only just that I be cut off, like a branch that produces no fruit, and cast into hellfire. There was never any in between with my father, you had to be either hot or cold, lest your lukewarm body be spit out.

I guess that sounds pretty dramatic, but I hope it goes without saying that fundamentalism has zero chill, measured in Kelvin. At one point, my Dad stopped talking to me for an entire year because I briefly attended public school and got a boyfriend in Grade 8.

This tense emotional state was a norm, and the blurring together off all authority figures in my life – God, my father, our Conservative leaders – facilitated major anxiety over my oscillating status between physical and spiritual heavens and hells.

Signs of the Times

So I’m in my Dad’s basement apartment, fidgeting as the 2000 federal election results come in on TV. We’re rooting for Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, who, like my father, is a fervent young earth creationist. In that same apartment, I would watch video seminars on creationism by Kent Hovind and Ken Ham, filling pages and pages of notes. I strove to emulate my father in any way I could, learning as much as I could about creationism, Bible prophecy and politics.

My Dad’s a writer too, you know. He would always encourage my writing also, even going so far to make me my own website using FrontPage 95. This served to be a sort of “by a kid, for kids” resource on Christianity and creationism. When I was a teenager, we would travel together to Bible prophecy conferences in Saskatoon and Winnipeg, and I would write summaries of each seminar for my blog. By now, I had decided I wanted to pursue journalism, and so he helped buy me a video camera so I could make my own videos in addition to writing.

Bible prophecy, or eschatology (the study of the end times), is heavily political. It relies on keeping track of and analyzing current events alongside prophetic scriptures found in the books of Daniel, Isaiah and Revelation. Secular acceptance of same-sex marriage, abortion and “feminazis” were seen as “signs of the end times.” This world was where I felt closest to him, engaging the realm of gods and kings, the unseen powers and principalities that ruled this world. Politics was a spiritual battleground. Here, my Dad and I were a united front. We stood together here even though we were apart in so many other ways.

Who is this King of Glory?

I’ve been obsessed with Ralph Klein lately, and I think it has a lot to do with my Dad’s laughter. That’s how my Dad responded to all of Ralph’s antics – laughter, sometimes tears rolling down his face, when he recalled Klein’s quip about “eastern bums and creeps” coming into Alberta looking for jobs. He would joke about “basement dwellers,” which referred to anyone with tattoos and weird hair in our neighbourhood – basically, anyone who didn’t look like they had a ton of money. He was fervently of the belief that people shouldn’t rely on the government for anything, and those who did were using the money to fund immoral lifestyles. When he laughed, he laughed deeply.

This was a perplexing thing for me to deal with. My mother, whom I lived with for most of my life, had divorced my father when I was two years old and my sister was just an infant. She did all the heavy lifting of raising and providing a home for us. But if there were any words I learned early on, “government subsidy” and “family allowance” were at the top of the list. As soon as I was old enough to understand the concept of welfare, I realized that we were on it. How could I reconcile this with my beliefs, the ones that kept me in favor with my personal, political and religious fathers?

I learned to resent my mother.

Now imagine living with a child who disparages you for doing the very things you need to take care of her. That became my mother’s life. I made her feel like she was never good enough, that she was a failure for needing government assistance. I remember one time being angry that she had brought home food from the food bank. Imagine, your own child guilting you for getting food from the food bank so she could eat. And that’s not the worst of it, the rest is far too awful for me to type.

I was a piece of shit child. I wish I could take it all back.     

But I also hated myself. I hated myself for being poor, for having divorced parents, for not having nice clothes, for not having proper lunches, for not being able to afford all the extracurricular activities other kids could do, like dance and, hell, even baseball. Visiting friend’s houses for birthday parties was a nightmare. Giant signs saying Edgemont, Hawkwood and The Hamptons signified entry into a land of ease and comfort I could only visit, but never stay. I was hurt, I was angry, I wanted answers.

Ralph Klein gave me the answers.

The Children’s Teeth Are Set on Edge

I’ve been told I’m one of the few that has actually been born and raised in Calgary today. According to a 2015 report titled The Changing Face of Calgary, it’s not an inaccurate assessment. Over the next twenty five years, it’s estimated that ⅔ of Calgary’s population will be made up of migrants. The report also states we have the youngest population of all major cities in Canada, with many young families moving to the Alberta for work.  To reflecting its youthful demographics and position as one of the world’s energy capitals, Calgary rebranded its slogan from “Heart of the New West,” to “Be Part of the Energy” last year. 

The city itself is also young and, as many point out, slowly coming of age, eager to prove its “world class” status. Is it any coincidence then that one of Calgary’s biggest boosters, Mike Morrison, the man behind Mike’s Bloggity Blog, is from the east coast? There’s a lot of room to make a name for yourself here, and it can be exhilarating to play a part in Calgary’s cultural growth.

But this has played a part of a sort of political gentrification of Calgary’s history among progressives. Just like we pave over old buildings, we’ll pave over our cultural roots, eager to say, “Calgary’s more progressive than people think it is. Calgary’s changed a lot, it’s growing, it’s different.” And all that may be true in some capacity – thankfully, I don’t think anyone has called Mike Morrison a bum or a creep for moving here from the east – but in many ways, this rhetoric is just window dressing.

The roots of Calgary’s past run deep, found in policies, family dynasties, university classrooms, in the very bodies of those who have been here long enough. The effects of such history – astronomical income gaps between the rich and the poor, between men and women, high rates of domestic violence (and climbing higher), sprawling urban development, precarious employment, unchanging child poverty rates, lack of affordable housing, a struggling health care system – all must be addressed with the same intensity in which we celebrate Calgary’s “cultural growth.” Will newcomers, the young families in Mahogany or Legacy, be compelled to engage with and atone for the sins of our fathers? Calgary is not a blank slate.

The energy in Calgary is enticing, though. For me, coming from homeschooling into the campus environment was almost like arriving on a different planet. There were so many people! And things to do! And so many people who were ready to provide channels for my youthful enthusiasm. Campus media, communications, activism, politics – there was space for me here, though I had to go through a little culture shock in the form of an existential crisis first.

An internal apocalypse, if you will, that shook my faith and sent me hurling away from my father and into the arms of the city.

My foray away from fundamentalism and into feminism is documented here and here.so I’m not going to spend too much time recapping it all, but let’s just say it landed me in the realm of “progressives who do things” in Calgary. I dived in and learned everything I could about who was doing what, especially when it came to sexual health. I made this world my home, and I gave it my all, working with amazing people to get some shit  done that I’m very proud of.

All the while, I would go for dinner occasionally with my father, staying mostly silent, having to hide my life and accomplishments from him, as he continued to laugh his deep laugh.

Obey Your Earthly Masters with Sincerity of Heart

There are plenty of neat things to do in Calgary. Whether anyone will pay you for it is another question entirely. Students are a great source of enthusiastic, and most importantly, free labour who rarely feel empowered to ask for actual wages in exchange for that labour. Many of my friends and I got our incomes, then, from the service industry, working restaurant and/or retail jobs, in addition to attending classes and volunteering for those sweet, sweet resume pads.

University teaches you a lot of things, like normalizing getting overworked and underpaid, chasing invisible carrots that you hope will one day be delicious enough to be worth it.

After years and years of underpaid and/or free labour, I finally had an interview for my dream job. I would be doing work that I found personally fulfilling, utilizing my entire skill set I had developed in university. All my hard work was finally paying off. Through the fire and brimstone of family poverty and trauma, I had come out the other side, ready to start a career and a life for myself, one where I could finally stand on my own.

But as the interview progressed, my soul felt like it was being put into a compactor. I was told explicitly I would be expected to do unpaid work outside of the regular hours and always be on call. I would also have to get a car. (Remember Nenshi’s stint about using transit to get everywhere during his first mayoral campaign? Works great as a gimmick, not so much in real life.) They also noted the person in the previous position left because it was too overwhelming.

This job would own me. I would be working around the clock, earning just enough to keep me technically alive and able to work, like some sort of neo-feudal serf. I guess I was  a little naive in thinking employers who claimed to be cognizant of oppression and exploitation would engage in it so unabashedly themselves.

I withdrew my application – even though it would have no doubt launched my professional career.

Had I come this far only to be wrung out and hung to dry, my body dry and shrivelled? How much longer would I have to prove myself worthy before anyone gave a shit about my wellbeing, my ability to take care of myself? Was this the best Calgary had to offer, after I had given it so much?

Much like my father, Calgary only seems interested in me when I’m doing exactly what it wants, the way it wants. Only then will it give me an inch to breathe, which seems like a consideration, though it merely draws out the suffocation process a little longer.

The walls are closing in. I have to get out. I have to get out.

Why don’t you love me?

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Matthew 7: 21-23 (KJV)

in which i contribute a feeble human attempt at articulating the sacred

img_20160327_184439.jpg

a resting
on the shores of horror
bodies become and are becoming
poetry
deteriorating
and also
brimming with electricity
in what should and shouldn’t be
a holy visitation when we transgress the Holy
wading further and further into waters that burn
a jawless scream speaks in tongues of angels

the drum strikes my heart and i quiver from the inside doubling over as life rises up in me and i am moved by the simultaneous yearning and discovery of the force of life that refuses me stillness as joy takes hold of my body and i cannot refuse its presence or its effect that causes my steps to turn to dance and i am possessed by freedom from the streets upon which i move that have taken me so many places but never here and here in the street in this moment i have found everything i have ever sought.

and my footsteps take me in the only direction i can comprehend at the moment
which is to you
which is forward
which is across a bridge
which is up a hill
and i’m climbing forward on stairs that take me up a hill to where you are and i turn back to see where i’ve come.
my vision has not turned to salt just yet,
as if this city in all its greed has been redeemed by a love that exists in spite of it

squares of brick and cement and glass
crush the ground
but
this hill cannot be leveled
and so
trees and brush and animals make their home here in defiance
between the high and the low
looking on with ancient eyes
waiting