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The Handbasket » Posts in 'Herstory' category

Winter Transplant 1 comment

Cue, huge intake of breath … and … WHOOSH!

*cough*

That was me, blowing the dust off this blog. It has been a while.

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Confession: I love winter.

supermoon

Supermoon over Coby

I love the crispness of the air, the freshness that new snow lends every vista. I love having a vista, of sorts.

I love the challenge: staying warm, balancing system heat with wood heat, the work of shovelling, snow-blowing, stacking, sweeping. God help me, I even like winter driving. That is to say, I’m not put off by it. Bring it on.  A “supermoon” hung over the east sky a few nights ago, as I was piecing my way through a few squalls to get home. Like a huge bauble, dangling just above the horizon.  Gorgeous.

I love the coziness of a fire when the temperature is plunging outside, the sound of a hockey game on the tv as I go about other tasks. The happy riot at the birdfeeders when I’ve just re-filled them.

The eagerness on Big Dee’s face when he can see me going through the steps of getting ready to go outside: boots, scarf, coat, hat, go back inside for something (my phone), come back to the door, go back inside again for something else (treats), open the door, close it again, grab my mitts, open the door, close it again, go back inside for something (coffee) … eventually, we get outside. He has learned patience.

Up here, the silence is extraordinary. I’m not really one to judge, given that my world seems to get more silent, or muffled, every day. Maybe silence isn’t really the word – stillness.

This is my second winter up here on my own, and it certainly came on quickly.  I thought I would have a bit longer to wrap up my outdoor projects … but, no … the shed isn’t finished and the raised beds still stand. Oi.

The plan, for those who are still following along, was not for me to be here on my own. Yet, here I am. It has, in fact, worked out. I want to say something about the journey up here as part of a couple in 2011, the rapid deterioration, the frantic yet dismal attempts at repair, the denouement late summer of 2015. But … what to say? It did NOT work out.  Anger, hurt, blaming – all the old standards.  I did not blow the dust off the blog to re-visit the minutia of the hash we both made of it.

The fact of my life at the moment is that each season up here is a gift. I wouldn’t have moved up here, independently. It doesn’t make a ton of logistical or financial sense. I had to be given the context to step back into a non-urban life. The fact that the context evaporated pretty quickly left me with a choice:  stay by the river or return to the city. Every cell of my being said, unhesitatingly, “stay”.  So I am grateful for the context, if you will, dragging me up the road and depositing me by the river.

The first four seasons on my own were, quite possibly, the happiest I’ve been for so many years. The absence of tension was palpable. I’d come home from the city and just stand on the landing between the kitchen and the living room, looking out over the deck, and marvel at the opportunity I have to re-invent myself. Re-plant, perhaps. A transplant, happy to find herself in a place that restores and nourishes.

Dachau 1 comment

The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial site is set up to educate with as much clarity and sensitivity as possible while also IMG_2232memorializing the tragic brutality that this ground witnessed. There are multiple sculptures, plaques, monuments, etc. that commemorate the victims and the crimes perpetrated. Newer buildings are on site as memorials, sponsored by multiple faiths that had clergy/leaders/members in the camp, including obviously a Jewish representation but also Catholic, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox. One of the buildings is currently in use as a nunnery.

There is no minimizing, dodging or obfuscating the role of this camp, the first concentration camp, in setting the tone for other camps. Everything that was done elsewhere started here. Given all the things I saw as testament to the crimes and death that occurred … what is really a struggle for me is understanding how vast the network of camps and sub-camps was. We were shown a map of the territories held by Germany at the peak of the war and the map was filled with literally hundreds of locations where versions of this place, in smaller and larger scales, were located. We have heard only of a handful of the usual names – Auschwitz-Birchenau, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau. But there were literally hundreds of camps and sub-camps. I was aghast at the breadth and scope of barbarism undertaken across such a wide geographic area.

Grave to mark ashes of thousands of unknowns (Jewish Memorial)

Grave to mark ashes of thousands of unknowns (Jewish Memorial)

During my visit, it was (mostly) quiet.  People were respectful and clearly there to learn, to try to comprehend, to absorb. Entrance to the site is free. I’d estimate there were a few thousand people there while I was there, so it is well used. There are lots of trees around the exterior of the camp proper, and thus lots of birds singing. That seemed out of place, as if the birds should know better. It poured rain, on and off, and that seemed entirely in keeping with the mood. Our tour group had 15 high school kids from Indiana and it was interesting to watch them go from being “too cool for this” and sort of detached to being really quite sober. I overheard discussion of the use of this memorial site for school groups and it appears that schools from all over Europe and North America make stops here. That feels like a good thing, but it does make it a bit of a challenge for maintaining the appropriate decorum when pre-teens and teens are responding to what they see with humour or (feigned) apathy. I think Dachau has an impact on everyone who visits and I think it is important for as many young people from as many different backgrounds as possible to see it – and I also think that kids don’t always know what to do with their emotional responses “in the moment”.

The Original Pink Triangle

The Original Pink Triangle

It felt oddly synchronous to be looking at the actual original pink triangle symbol, as deployed to identify a homosexual “enemy of the state”, the day after World Pride had  wrapped up in my home city of Toronto. There is no more clear reason to justify the existence of an event like “World Pride” than standing in an original building at Dachau and looking an original wall chart of symbols used to identify people, one of which was a pink triangle. Interestingly, there is a committee of survivors that has a crucial role in determining the types of memorials that will be allowed. A memorial focusing on homosexuals is absent because, in the hierarchy / social structure of the camp at the time, homosexuals were at the bottom of the barrel along with known criminals and other “asocials”. The committee of survivors isn’t comfortable acknowledging the targeting of homosexuals by approving a memorial for this group. When I spoke to our guide about this privately, he suggested that people were waiting for the committee of survivors (which is quite small now) to hand over their legacy to perhaps a more current committee with a more current perspective.  I would have liked to have seen something there as an acknowledgement that gay people were one of the many groups identified as “enemies of the state” – and I also think this can wait until the time is right.  Homosexuals are identified within the part of the exhibit that describes all the targeted groups, and our situation is given as much detail and focus as most of the other groups.

I took only a handful of pictures. It didn’t seem … seemly.

Dachau is just outside of Munich and the typical journey one takes to get there is from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Munich. It is a short 10-15 minute ride. German citizens in Munich are extremely sensitive about people coming to visit to learn more about Nazis and about concentration camps. I knew about specific laws around giving an Nazi salute (even in jest, this will get you arrested) and I didn’t realize Mein Kampf was still a banned book. It was odd to be taking a tour with a group to specific sites relevant to WWII and to be scrutinized by the locals. They will listen and try to be sure the guide isn’t Munich-bashing or sensationalizing. Locals are also concerned with Neo-Nazis using specific sites as touchstones for their own purposes. As much as they don’t want their quite beautiful city associated with the rise of the Nazi party, as it happens, this is now a key part of the city’s past. Never mind that the PLO leveraged this association with the murders during the Olympics in 72, which adds another horrific piece to the global perception of Munich. I don’t want to suggest that Munich has had a bad rap – it is what it is – but it is a pleasant place, rich in layers of history beyond the 20th Century, walkable, reasonably friendly – I quite enjoyed it.

There are lots of very subtle, slightly subversive, commemorative elements in Munich. Many bullet holes and other types of damage have

Dodger's Alley

Dodger’s Alley

been left, on purpose, unrepaired, in the architecture, like reminders. Scars. You have to look for these, but they are there. A more deliberate, striking example is a metallic (gold? bronze?) shimmering trail down the cobblestones in an alleyway known as Dodger’s Alley. In the 30’s/40’s, citizens of Munich who walked by a specific Nazi plaque on the corner of one of the main squares had to give a Nazi salute or be arrested for not doing so. There were lots of people who didn’t want to give a Nazi salute. So, to avoid walking by that plaque, many would take a detour down Dodger’s Alley. Nazi authorities caught on to this and started policing the use of the alley, interrogating people found in the alley as to their purpose for being there. If no satisfactory purpose was offered, a person would be thrown immediately into Dachau. Just for taking a detour to avoid giving a salute. Even these people were “enemies of the state”. As to the metallic trail, there is no plaque or explanation. You need to just know, or be told, why it is there and what it signifies. Apparently, there are lots of these sorts of things all over the city, commemorations of resistance. I didn’t have time to go find more, unfortunately.

Four Heros You Need to Know About

Four Heros You Need to Know About

I will close by noting this plaque. It is almost hidden behind a door that leads from the gas chamber into the crematorium. (Please don’t imagine that I typed that sentence with any degree of casualness.) There is a railing in place, making it harder to get a straight on, close photo.  Since it is hard to read, I’ll type out what it says here. They gave their lives – the least I can do is try to get this right.

Here in Dachau on the 12th of September 1944
four young Woman Officers of the British Forces attached to Special Operations Executive
were brutally murdered and their bodies cremated. They died as gallantly as they had
served the Resistance in France during the common struggle for freedom from tyranny.

Mrs. YOLANDE E M BEEKMAN (née Unternahrer)
Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Auxiliary Air Force seconded to Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)

Miss MADELEINE DAMERMENT
Légion d’Honneur    Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)

Miss NOORUNISA INAYAT KHAN
George Cross Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
Mentioned in Despatches Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Auxiliary Air Force seconded to Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)

Mrs ELIANE S PLEWMAN (née Browne-Bartoli)
Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)

“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall be no torment touch them”

Bravery, compassion and a complete and utter focus on their missions, to the exclusion of all else, including their own lives.  This was a surprise find towards the end of my visit to Dachau – but it shouldn’t have been. I feel like I should know these names and that I should know more about these stories.  Their world, a world in which their skills and dedication were needed at extreme cost, is not that far removed from our current time of social media, popular culture, ridiculous fads and trivial pursuits.

Do not forget.

Today, It Is All About The Light Click Here To Comment!

Today seems to be all about the light.

I have just pulled away from having my headlight bulbs replaced in my car as they were inadequate for deep, dark, rural nighttime driving. While that was being done, I managed to find a powerful rechargeable spotlight/flashlight on sale which will allow all of us to go owling in our deep, dark, rural winter evenings. As I’m driving into the city this morning, it feels like a beautiful spring day although, in fact, it is a beautiful January day. The  quality of the light hitting the vistas before me makes the world seem to glow. This type of day reminds me of the kind of spring day I remember growing up on the farm, with the sun thawing out the soil. You can smell everything loosening up and getting ready to grow.  I loved this kind day as a child and I’m looking forward to experiencing this yet again when real spring hits in a few months.

Today is also about the light because I am on my way to a funeral. We have lost a bright and beautiful colleague to cancer and it has taken us all a bit by surprise.  Although I didn’t know her well,  Sue struck me as being one of the most positive people I know at work. She was upbeat, always, and the picture of health and wellness. Most of our conversations revolved around diet, exercise, living well and loving life. It is a bit of a shocker that cancer claimed her so quickly and completely. It feels important to respect and acknowledge this very bright light having left our particular corner of the world although, knowing Sue even the little bit that I did, I don’t think she would be interested in having us wander around in despair. I think she would want us to have a glass of wine, a good meal and a good dance party.

This light we have lost makes me reflect on the kind of legacy that I might be leaving behind one day, hopefully far in the future. I pause to wonder whether everything I’m putting the world is as positive and as straightforward as it could be. I wonder if I allow my inner demons to shout down my better angels.  I fear that the answer, all too often, is “yes”. I over-think things, I over-analyze, and I make situations far more complicated than they need to be. I get lost in it sometimes, as one might in a deep, dark, rural night without good headlights or a decent flashlight. I don’t think it is possible for me to be a relentlessly positive and cheerful person, and I think my analytical skills are valuable at times, yet I think I can do better at not getting so lost. At curbing my tendency to wallow with my demons rather than celebrating with my angels.

Although I didn’t make specific New Year’s resolutions, I am going to take this opportunity to commit to dancing more and wallowing less. To celebrating that which is right in my world rather than highlighting that which is not right.  To remembering that light exists, somewhere, even when I’m lost in the dark.

On Becoming Visible: The Perpetually Unfinished Post 3 comments

I’m on a bit of hiatus from my weight loss endeavours, holding relatively steady at a loss of about 69 lbs since June, 2007. A slow and steady loss. I’m 21 lbs away from my ultimate goal. It has been quite the journey over the past couple of years.

For my entire adult life, I have identified as a feminist, even before I was really clear on what was meant by this. I was quite the activist in the 80’s, ramping up a few local movements in the Niagara Region where I was living, serving on the board of a rape crisis centre, being part of a large coalition that founded the Women’s Studies programme at Brock University, being a T.A./lecturer there in the first three years the programme ran.

There are many schools of feminist thought. I disagree with some and wholly embrace others. At this stage of the game, feminism has served to instruct me on the myriad of intersecting systems that I live within, am bounded by. None of them – from the economic/monetary system and its weaknesses that are now becoming clearer to our food production and delivery mechanisms to the values used within business to interact with either the labour force or the environment to the very rules, most unspoken, that guide our interpersonal communications – none of these systems were influenced in any meaningful way by women, or by people with the deep cellular knowledge that women and men are equal but different creatures on this earth. We swim, all of us, men and women, in a world designed from the perspective of those who hold the most power in our society – white, straight men. Those who thrive within these structures, male or female, are those who can best adapt to these systems.

As A.W. Schaef says, and I am paraphrasing, the white male system is not reality. It is just a system. Once you can identify it all around you, you can see that it isn’t reality at all. After you have your “a-ha!” moment, you can step outside it and observe. And, to an extent, protect yourself and, if you are clever, you can be more conscious of maneuvering in and out of the system and being less damaged by it.

In a way, by revealing the systems we operate in, feminism helped me to understand form and content. So has music. Mozart could write a kick-ass concerto, yet it is still a concerto. The form is intact. He rocked the form. The 20th century saw revolutions of new form as blues and jazz musicians punched holes in pre-existing structures to create brand new ones, on the fly. Phillip Glass comes along and says “fuck the form” and writes whatever sounds good to him. When you can see, touch, feel and deeply experience the “form” as a separate construct, as “not a given” but a choice, you can choose to operate within it, partially within it or to exit it altogether.

Another more pertinent example has to do with the ongoing, fascinating and irritating discussion of “butch/femme” as identities within lesbian and queer circles.  Notions of maleness and femaleness, the “rules” which govern these as forms of existence, do not originate with the women who live their particular slant out, or are at least conscious of this gender dichotomy as they go about making their choices about how they present to the world. We didn’t create gender constructs – a society that is governed by the male gaze did. So, once you understand you are being asked to play a game that erases your natural identity and replaces it with a version acceptable to the male gaze, you can decide whether to play along and ruffle fewer feathers, to rebel and scream bloody murder at being shoe-horned into someone else’s definition of your gender … or make up your own gender twisting game. (Gender twisters have more fun, in my experience … but I digress …)

Power – or as feminists are more comfortable stating, “empowerment” – exists in understanding the form, the rules, and thus understanding that one has choices about how to relate to the form.

Choice. Choices. Options. As I look back on so many years of thinking about all of this, I can see that feminism has programmed me to build my own life, according to my own rules, and to seek to always operate from a position in which I have the greatest number of choices. I can choose to play along. I can choose to rebel within the context of any given situation. I can reject entire frameworks and circumstances and re-create new ones that are more life-giving. Ultimately, I think this is what our feminist foremothers had in mind.

Parallel to being a feminist for my entire adult life, I have also always been large-ish. Each year, I’d add a few more pounds. Mostly, this didn’t bother me much. I felt healthy and reasonably fit. Aside from my weight, I’ve never much cared for what I look like, thinking I was rather odd-looking and knowing that there was not much I could really do about that. Besides, as an out lesbian feminist hanging out with mostly other out lesbian feminists, we all were so much above the white patriarchal rules that equate physical appearance with having value. Pshaw. Beauty emmanates from within and rises above any notion of physical self, right?

Along came a series of events, including some weight-triggered health issues experienced by a member of my immediate family, that made me look very closely and carefully at my choices around my particular physical form. Changes needed to be made, and I am the only one able to affect them. And so it began.

I need to state here that, as of June 2007, I also strongly disliked how I looked. My external “heavy set” presentation to the world did not reflect my internal sense of self. There was a disconnect.

I used the support of an excellent commercially available system which I’m not willing to promote here but will happily chat to anyone about if you’d like to contact me privately. The weight started to come off as soon as I made some significant changes to portion sizes, upped my fruits and vegetables and eliminated vast quantities of carbs. I realize now that I’m actually in a life-long struggle with carbs.

As the weight came off, it became easier for me to be more active, and to be more motivated about being active. In 2008, I started to do some strength training.

Right around the half-way point, almost exactly at the loss of 35 lbs., I became visible to others in a way I’d not experienced before. Men, and women, were suddenly more interested in engaging in conversation, flirting and otherwise noting my presence. I found, and continue to find, this fascinating, flattering, and disturbing. With almost every drop in weight – and I do tend to drop five pounds at a time, and then plateau – the ratio of visibility has risen.

I like the experience of being “seen”. It makes life a bit easier in some ways.  It feeds my confidence which adds more positive energy to the mix. I certainly like the changes that strength training has created although I can’t say that I’m particularly enamoured of the activity itself. I like feeling strong and healthy – I think this projects something out to the world beyond simply that my body is smaller and a different shape now. I adore how my cardio levels have improved to the extent that I don’t feel like I’m coughing up a lung every time I come off a hard shift at hockey. I seem to be skating a bit faster, as anyone would if they were stronger with fewer pounds to heft about.

This experience of being “seen” is a mixed bag, though. It makes me angry that men who work in the same office as me now stop by my desk to chat, for no reason in particular. I was never acknowledged before in this way, at all. Women who had never taken the time to chat me up before actually make the effort now.  If I may cut to the chase, our Western, male-programmed view takes for granted that “smaller, fitter” means “hotter” … yet, this has always been something I’ve questioned and very consciously rebelled against.  Surely, our collective programming around responding to a particular “form” and making assessments about “content” from it is simply learned behaviour and not that ingrained.

And herein lies the real kicker. This experience has taught me that my own deep internal programming matches that of the men and women now taking the time to acknowledge me. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think I look “better” now. I can’t tell you how conflicted this makes me when I consider this issue, and how it takes the punch out of me being really truly angry with anyone for chatting me up. It happens early on, this programming, and it runs deep.

Perhaps part of what people are “reading” differently is that the disconnect I experienced before – the outer self not reflecting who I felt I actually was – has been addressed. This body feels more “me”, and perhaps that is what people are responding to, more of a sense of wholeness. Apparently, the revised “me” also has much longer hair … and that requires a blog entry all of its own.

I see that I actually started writing this post in the first week of March 09. And here I am, about to hit submit in mid-May 09. There is so much more to say on this issue … and I hope you will join me in the conversation.

Ain’t Life A Brook 1 comment

I was informed a short while ago that I’m soon to be spending some time with the person responsible for the greatest lesbian break-up song of all time.

Snippets of these lyrics go through my head with great regularlity and have since I first heard the songwriter perform them on a Live ’85 – the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival album – back when there was vinyl.  They are firm, direct and heart/gut-wrenching … depending on when you hear them in the cycle of a relationship.

I’m particularly fond of this part:

“… life don’t clickety-clack down a straight line track … it comes together and it comes apart.”

Do have a listen, someday, if you can manage.

Ain’t Life A Brook

I watch you reading a book
I get to thinking our love’s a polished stone
You give me a long drawn look
I know pretty soon you’re going to leave our home
And of course I mind,
especially when I’m thinking from my heart
But life don’t clickety clack down a straight line track
It comes together and it comes apart.
You say you hope I’m not the kind
To make you feel obliged
To go ticking through your time
With a pained look in your eyes
You give me the furniture, we’ll divide the photographs
Go out to dinner one more time
Have ourselves a bottle of wine
And a couple of laughs
And when first you left
I stayed so sad I wouldn’t sleep
I know that love’s a gift, I thought yours was mine
And something that I could keep
Now I realize that time is not the only compromise
But a bird in the hand could be an all night stand
Between a blazing fire and a pocket of skies
So I hope I’m not the kind
To make you feel obliged
To go ticking through your time
With a pained look in your eyes
I covered the furniture, I framed the photographs
Went out to dinner one more time
Had myself a bottle of wine and a couple of laughs
And just the other day
I got your letter in the mail
I’m happy for you, its been so long
You’ve been wanting a cabin and a backwoods trail
And I think that’s great…me…
I seem to find myself in school
It’s all Ok, I just want to say
I’m so relieved we didn’t do it cruel
But ain’t life a brook
Just when I get to feeling like a polished stone
I give me along drawn look
It’s kind of a drag to find yourself alone
And sometimes I mind
Especially when I’m waiting on your heart
But life don’t clickety clack down a straight line track
It comes together and it comes apart.
Cause I know you’re not the kind
To make me feel obliged
To go ticking through my time with a pained look
In my eyes
I sold the furniture, I put away the photographs
Went out to dinner one more time
Skipped the bottle of wine
Had a couple of laughs
And wasn’t it fine….

Big Butch Woman Click Here To Comment!

Back in the day, I sang in a choir that sang this song. It was SUCH good fun … and resulted in me re-claiming my beloved flannel shirt wearing self. For ages, I’ve wanted a copy of the lyrics and props/kudos to G for forwarding them – thanks! Sadly, I don’t have the lyricist/composer information handy but if it does become available, I’ll update this post.

Big Butch Woman

It used to be in the good ol’ days, you could tell a butch from a femme (butch from a femme)

When you checked out a woman, you knew right away “was she one of us? or was she one of them?” (one of us? one of them?)

You’d see the butch at the bar with her hair slicked back and then her pretty wife in heels by her side. (good wifey, oohhh)

But now those days are gone.  You can’t tell us apart.  It makes me just wanna lay down and cry.

(Chorus)
I want a Big Butch Woman in a flannel shirt, who drives a pickup truck and who smells like dirt.

I want a big strong mama who will cooch and coo, someone who’ll roll in the hay ‘til my face turns blue.

Don’t want no pretty girl with her hair so nice, who puts her makeup on and wears her jeans too tight.

Give me a Big Butch Woman in a flannel shirt to keep me warm through those cold winter nights.

So many women.  So little time.  You can’t afford to make a mistake. (can’t make a mistake)

You gotta go for those women you know for sure you ain’t wastin’ time on someone who’s straight. (run away if she ain’t)

A little pinky ring, shirts and pants from the Gap, or take a look at her comf’table shoes. (Doc Martins oohhh)

It’s just those girls at the bar, who drive those cute little cars, leaves me nothing but feeling confused.

(Chorus)

We know we’re stuck on a stereotype, but those cute little femmes just ain’t worth all the hype!
What do we want?

(Chorus)
Baby! Keep me warm through those cold winter nights
Big mama! Keep me warm through those cold winter nights.

Grace Murray Hopper Click Here To Comment!

[Cross-Posted From Vox.]

How could I have missed this person in my travels?

I've just been reading about Grace Murray Hopper,
the inventor of COBOL and an Commodore (Rear Admiral) in the U.S. Navy.
Others have done a better job at summarizing her life than I could,
especially since I just discovered her moments ago.

Not only did she invent the term "bugs", she is also responsible for one of my favourite quotes. It is often easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. I also like, and have used without attribution: A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for.

It
is exciting to come across a woman who was a high-achiever and a
"mother of invention", especially in the field of technology. The
military aspect just blows my mind. I think I know what to do with that
Indigo/Chapters gift certificate that I got for my birthday a few
months ago – a bio on this remarkable woman looks like great winter reading.

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