hope

The dumping zone

Nothing in my house is new. I wonder if I could live among objects that don’t carry stories. Would I feel welcome at home? Or like I’m walking through a museum with blank placards, peppered with sticky notes of prophecy? You’ll have wonderful and awful conversations on this couch. Breakfasts will happen at this table, and here, maybe, you’ll rest.

This short telephone table here, it holds my keys and detritus, it’s the dumping zone. But before this, it sat in a living room with one purple wall. It held up a tacky blue lamp, next to the couch that was the only new thing in that house. My sister’s glitter-speckled nail polish spilled onto the tiny table as we piled together on the couch and floor, tangled dog and human limbs, laughing and arguing about movies over milkshakes.

This tiny table sat next to those moments of assemblage I remember as possible home – doors fully open but not mine every day. There were beds I could sleep on. Sometimes it was my sister’s, under the abstract floral curtain. Sometimes it was my brother’s floor, on a spare mattress, staring up at the shadows of a Lego pirate ship.

Sometimes I found myself on the hide-a-bed in the basement, in later years, in those times when I was banished from my main home.

From my own bed, I watched treetops sway out the fifth-floor window. I’d crack it open in the middle of the night and blow secret cigarette smoke out, looking up at stars and down at police cruisers, watching them while they waited for our apartment doors to open. And maybe the next day I’d be banished, grabbing a few dresses in a plastic bag before stomping out into the uncertain world. I’d bounce around other beds, and then finally back to my most possible home.

I’d never known such darkness as there was in that stony basement. I’d lose myself in Sims, building imagined fantastical homes suspended over pools, designing little lives that fit into neat patterns. I found a secret hack to refill the bank account. It was so impossibly simple on that screen, a dream I lived until 4 or 5 am before crumpling into the hide-a-bed.

Early morning felt no different than midnight. I’d stumble upstairs anyway, accept the offering of a sandwich in a brown paper bag and try to live the Sim-perfect routine, the one I’d mastered in the dark basement, except in the daylight world. Go to school, go to work, study. Find a home, go to it.

The basement could have been my home too. It was an offer to get away from the too-soon onset of adult life, from fighting. Just go to school and be a kid, they said. You don’t need to maintain home just yet, just live. Just live here.

But I fought and begged for my tiny corner, my room on the fifth floor. I pleaded, why can’t I just pay some rent and call it even? I wanted a door I could lock, a window I could quietly smoke out of, an explosion of branches reaching up into the sky, pulling me out of this mess on the ground.

Long after we left the fifth floor and the others moved away, I searched for new possible homes, for places that could hold the possibility of tangled dog and human limbs on a couch. I held onto what was left, bits of furniture and scraps of stories, patched them together, and called it home.

The dog lived out her years here and died on the kitchen floor, and I cleaned up a bit, then a bit less. I quit smoking and looked out the windows at the one spare treetop. And I pulled out this old table again, rickety but still holding steady. It greets me when I come home. It’s the dumping zone.

The Luxury of a Long Table

None of the other blog posts I planned to write today can possibly come to the fore, not after another announcement of a flawed justice system failing, not after watching waves of heartbreak ripple through my friends, both American and Canadian.

As the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict news came in, I was sitting in a room full of feminists. It was a long table conversation, with many voices at the table. Women – feminists, activists, women of colour, queer women, trans women, and more – spoke of their experiences living under patriarchy. They spoke of sexism, but more than anything they spoke of racism. They spoke of the ongoing legacy of colonization, here in Treaty One Territory, of institutionalized racism, of the subtle “polite” racism. They spoke of violence, their missing and murdered kin. They spoke of violence in threats and violence in words. They spoke of so much that I couldn’t possibly capture here, and that is not the point.

The point is that we are not so far away, and we are all connected to this. Maybe there are other white women sitting in Canada, like me, and other white men, and they can’t see the connection. The heartbreak, how crushing this verdict is. This is more than theory and a discussion, even if, as an ally, sitting and listening and maybe helping out a bit is the role to play at the moment.

We cannot forget that racism, entrenched institutionalized racism, does not exist in the vacuum. The system is upheld by individual people. People who exist in the world with each other and who uphold racist, white supremacist systems with their words and actions. Silence is an action. Using words without considering their meaning, without seeing the harm that can be done on the spectrum of violence, that’s an action too.

Standing up and saying something is also an action. That happened too, here at the long table. When tonight’s conversation wound down, I felt hopeful, optimistic. I felt that people had listened, and people held each other through the difficult parts. I thought that hey, there are some pretty fantastic people in this city working to make it better, and I want to be a part of that. Maybe we can change the world, albeit slowly.

Then I pulled out my phone, checked the news, saw #blacklivesmatter all over facebook again, still. This theory, and the violence of language is part of it. But the actual visceral acts, of racialized physical violence, of murder, of protesting because there’s no other way to say that this is wrong, that’s the real consequence.

Tonight, in Ferguson, and elsewhere across the US, many folks will not have the luxury of coming to a long and open table to do the first step, to simply talk, to find kinship and build connections through dialogue, like we did in Winnipeg tonight. I only hope that those of us who are out here can support them in some way, whatever that is. Hold on to the hope when you find it, and reach out to those who are running low. Make space for the outrage. There is every reason to be angry.

If we’re talking about this, talk louder, talk more, talk to those who don’t quite get it yet.  And for some of us, those who have a disproportionate share of air space, talk less, and listen more.