On the one hand, I was disappointed to read this news. On the other hand, I wasn’t at all surprised. After the outcome of the sexual assault trial, there was part of me that wanted to believe the trial still to come, in June, would be the one to give survivors what they need. But a larger, more realistic (some might say jaded) part of me acknowledged that what would happen was what always happens.
Nothing. No appreciable change in the landscape for survivors of sexual assault, vis a vis the legal system.
I wish I had more to say about this, but this familiar feeling is just the good old patriarchy doing what it does best. Grinding on. So I’ll leave you with these sentiments, expressed on Twitter last night by the excellent Scacchi Koul: “Don’t let Ghomeshi do an apology tour. Don’t read his book, don’t watch his documentary, don’t let him work. Poison his legacy.”
Meanwhile, we roll the boulder up the hill. Join in anytime.
April passed in a haze of deadlines. A feature for Quill and Quire, plus a short assignment for their website, and two podcast pieces for TGIM. Plus my usual work at Propriometrics and a trip to a publishing conference in Salt Lake City, and of course, the arduous task of figuring out what the hell is going on with Good Birds Don’t Fly Away.
I’m glad to have had a flurry of deadlines, as April deadlines bring May cheques. That’s how that line goes, right? At the moment I have no deadlines, which means June might be a bit lean. So I am for the first time facing the complicated bliss of a couple days off with the accompanying knowledge that days off equal days with no pay and too many of those equal bad times. But I have a few ideas idling, ready to go out into the world and see if they can find a home, and the pause in activity is certainly welcome. Shit got kinda crazy for a bit there in April.
And May is a classically hard month for my family. I’ll be seeing them next week and there’s a certain amount of relief that goes along with that, but also some dread. It’s been years since I’ve seen them in May, and so I’ve been able to just contend with my own sadness up close, while having at least some intellectual distance between me and their sadness. But this year, our sadnesses will be all up in each others’ grills, which is both good and bad. Sixteen years in, you’d think I’d be more articulate about this, but nope!
What did stay steady, even through April’s full-on assault on my calendar, was my writing practise. It’s still a weekly event, rather than daily, but I am showing up to my desk at the library every Wednesday (or the odd Tuesday or Thursday as dictated by the schedules of my co-writers, Emily Pohl-Weary and Michelle Elrick) and cramming out at least a thousand words, often more. I do not feel closer to knowing what is happening in my novel, but every thousand words written takes me toward knowing, so I am trying to trust the process and not be so committed to outcome. Outcome comes later. It’s an awkward mantra, but hey, you work with what you have.
How about you? What are you working with?
Scenes from the day: In a delivery van, with a good friend, watching the time slowly tick, knowing that a judge in a court room in another city is reading a thirty page decision. Pretty sure we know what the outcome will be. Starting to feel sad and panicky, and then my good friend says, wait. Let’s take a moment and imagine he’s found guilty. Let’s just live in that reality for five minutes. Turned out we didn’t need five minutes. I got goosebumps, instantly. I feel so… seen, I said. This is so unexpected, she said, and so right. For once, our justice system has not failed survivors of sexual assault. This changes everything, we said. And we believed it. She cried, and then I cried, and they were tears of relief.
An hour later, just before we order lunch, in a brightly painted downtown restaurant. My phone starts to buzz with texts. He’s been acquitted. We stare at each other across the table. I’m glad we had that moment, before, she says. I nod. We can’t think of anything else to say. My phone continues to buzz, with messages from my mom, my young friend, my older friend, my cousin friend, my sister in law. I imagine every phone in the pocket or purse of every woman I know lighting up in this way. I can’t tell if it makes me feel better or worse. I can’t tell what I feel, at all.
A little after that, walking three blocks to home. Suddenly, all I feel is flayed. Vulnerable. A peeled grape. Every man I pass, I think, you’re equipped with the knowledge that women lie, so it doesn’t matter what you do to them, because everyone knows they lie. It’s not logical—I recognize that, and yet, it feels real. My logical brain urges me to the bright side I have prioritized for the last eighteen months. The sea change that seems to be happening in our culture. The conversations about sexual assault and how survivors behave. The way men are participating in those conversations. But logic isn’t ruling this day. Instead, there’s a deep undercurrent of: that judge said you can’t trust sexual assault victims to tell the truth.
I get home and shut the door and shake. I shake like it’s my full time job.
I think about myself thirteen years ago. Could I take the stand in a court room and testify about things that happened thirteen years ago? What would I remember? The moment someone slapped and choked me? Or the stuff that happened the next day and the day after that? Which would be more memorable? The feeling of hands around my throat, or a photo we took in the park the next day? Looking back through the lens of more than a decade, what would I remember about my subsequent interactions with that person? Would I remember the normalizing I attempted? Or would I react as my current self and feel disgust, animosity, deadened? How credible a witness would I be, to any of my own experiences of that long ago?
And then I think, it doesn’t matter how perfect a victim you are. Earlier this month, an admitted rapist was sentenced to ninety days, served on weekends. He received that relatively sweet deal because he admitted his guilt, thus saving his victim the trauma of a trial. His victim fought to get free from him. She said no. She tried to text or call someone, and he took her phone away and threatened her if she tried to make contact with anyone. He said, why won’t you just let me do what I gotta do? She tried so hard not to get raped. In the morning, he mocked her, saying: you look like someone who just got raped all night. She went to the police. She was eight and a half months pregnant. Her young daughter was asleep in the next bedroom. The guy admitted his guilt. A perfect victim, a perfect case. Ninety days. Served on weekends. This is what passes for justice. So his victim was spared the trauma of a trial. That’s no small mercy. But it was his only one.
It doesn’t matter if you pose for a photo in the park with your assailant the day after the assault, or if you fight to get away from him. It doesn’t matter if you send him a bikini photo or if you report him to the police. It doesn’t matter what kind of victim you are. It doesn’t matter what kind of survivor you are.
It’s 2016. Survivors of sexual assault are still the ones paying the price for the crime of being assaulted.
What is the lesson here?
No, seriously, you tell me. What is the lesson?
I’ve been reading The Crooked Heart of Mercy by Billie Livingston lately and it is slaying me with its economy and energy. Such tidy sentences that describe such unruly human emotion. I love writers who can make it seem so effortless, and Livingstone is definitely one of those. The book is about terrible grief and guilt, so there is some common ground there. I’m paying close attention to the way Livingstone navigates it.
Last night I went to see Jason Isbell and Shovels and Rope play and it was so deeply good. Isbell especially writes songs that hit me exactly where I live. He writes about small-town struggle, addiction, loneliness, loss, true love. Expect to feel all the feelings when Isbell is in the house. And Shovels and Rope moved me with their incredible, unstoppable energy. They’re a wife-and-husband team, a two-person band. Watching her play drums and keyboard and sing all while looking like a total badass was completely inspiring.
Check out Livingston, Isbell and Shovels and Rope, and tell me: What’s inspiring you these days?
Last week was all about learning. Every minute of every day, it seemed, was stuffed with one assignment or another, for a bunch of various employers. In order to complete the assignments I had to learn new skills and technologies, and figure my way through them on my own. It was challenging, but totally rewarding.
This week is much quieter. Yoga, coffee, kickboxing, helping out some friends with a little dogsitting, catching up with another friend while doing so. There’ve been bits of work woven through, but thanks to last week’s marathon of learning, those bits of work unfolded smoothly. And now here were are at Wednesday, and my schedule is gloriously open.
I’ve already been on my yoga mat. I’ll need to do some dishes and laundry at some point. But there are no further deadlines this week. There are projects I could work ahead on, a couple pitches I could write, but none of that will take the hours and hours that stretch out ahead of me.
And I realized today, the first day I’ve really had this luxury since January, that this is exactly what I quit my job for. For days like the ones last week, so crammed with learning and doing, and for days like today, undefined, all mine.
My writing will get my attention today. There’s a scene idling in the back of my mind (which hasn’t really happened yet with this book. This book has come in impressions, and that makes for hard writing, at least for this writer. But a scene! I know what to do with that!) and an afternoon lolling out before me.
See you on the other side.
We don’t do Valentine’s Day, my spouse and me. Too…stupid. We have never needed any special day on which to shower each other with love. If anything, we could use a Tone It Down Already, Would Ya Day. But there is a day in February we mark each year. It’s February 20. We call it Happy to Be Alive Day.
Eleven years ago right about this minute, we were headed home from the East Coast Music Awards in Sydney, Cape Breton. It was unseasonably warm and sunny as we packed up the car. And all down Kelly’s Mountain and along the Causeway it was a strangely lovely day. But as we started to get in toward Antigonish, there was a sudden change. The sky got dark, a snow squall sprung up. And just outside a wee place called Monastery, we hit a patch of black ice and I lost control of the car. We started to slide into the oncoming lane of traffic—that part of the TransCanada Highway isn’t twinned—and as I made eye contact with the driver of the pickup truck speeding toward us, I started to realize that maybe this was it. I did what any panicked driver would in that situation and wrenched hard on the wheel. That snapped us back into our own lane, and spun us around a hundred and eighty degrees. We connected with the guardrail on the driver’s side. The guardrail acted as a lever that flipped us up into the air. Kev had taken off his seatbelt about ten minutes earlier to get out his notebook because he was writing a song. As our wheels left the ground and we began to sail over the guardrail I yelled at him—because if you’re pretty sure you’re about to die, you definitely want your final words to the one you love to be screeched and nagging—I yelled: Oh my god, YOU’RE NOT WEARING YOUR SEATBELT. And I watched as he was lifted out of his seat and disappeared from view.
When the car landed on the ground on the passenger side, I watched the sideview mirror snap off. The guardrail collision had already taken out my sideview mirror. Because I couldn’t process the life or death facts of my situation, I focused on the car repairs this collision was going to necessitate. One sideview mirror was—what a hundred bucks? So, now we’re at two hundred bucks, my mind chastised me as the car bounced and lifted off the ground again. How far will we roll, I wondered. Does this end with us in the trees? Is there water down there? Big rocks? When will the car catch on fire? How badly hurt is Kev? Where did he end up, anyway? Then, bang, we hit the ground once more, this time upside down. I dangled from my seatbelt, trying to comprehend the events of the last few moments. It was deeply, deeply quiet in the car. I couldn’t exhale. And then, before my eyes, the entire windshield shattered in little spidery cracks, and I was overcome. “Holy shit, Kev,” I said, in a self-accusatory tone. “I totally fucked up our car.”
He told me later that’s when he knew for sure we were both alright. The next few moments were a blur of helpful, terrified fellow motorists arriving at my side, yanking me free of my seatbelt and hauling me out the window, probably also afraid the car would catch fire—and no doubt, now that I think of it, expecting to find gravely injured people in that wreck. Kev wriggled out a window somehow. He’d sailed out of his seat and somehow survived all that rocking and rolling, coming to rest on the dome light when the car finally stopped moving. We stood dazed in the snow for a moment, eyeing each other. And then we did a spontaneous little jig. All our limbs were attached and working. It defied reality. He broke a nail on his guitar-picking hand. An infinitesimally small piece of windshield glass somehow made it up my sleeve, through three layers of shirt, sweater and jacket, to just barely scrape my right elbow. The car was a write off. But we were fine. Better than fine. We were ALIVE. Totally euphoric.
We hauled all our belongings to the side of the road and waited for the cops. They were busy that afternoon. There were dozens of collisions along that stretch of highway. Against their wishes, Kev loaded all his instruments (and I do mean all of them—bass, amp, drum kit, acoustic guitar) into the cruiser and we packed ourselves in, too. The cops dropped us off at Chuggles in Antigonish, where we could get a drink while we waited for Parker to drive from Halifax to get us. We called our parents and told them about the crash, and that it was okay, that we were okay. That we were alive. We heard a song on the stereo by a local band. “Bass player in this band died a few years ago,” Kev said. “How?” I asked. “Car crash,” he said. We bugged our eyes at each other and ordered another drink. And caesar salads. And steak. And cheesecake. He wrote a song. I got an idea for a radio show. I squeezed his hand as hard as I could, and he squeezed back, harder.
When we finally got back to Halifax, hours and hours and hours later, the house was dark and cold. The battery in the thermostat had died sometime over the weekend and the temperature was a chilly six degrees. We put in fresh batteries and got into bed, burrowing together under the covers. How are you, we asked each other. Happy to be alive, the inevitable answer.
And so, from our house to yours, Happy Happy to Be Alive Day.
ps: One thing making me happy to be alive today is this great blog about books. Thanks to Naomi for the lovely reviews of both Fallsy Downsies and Homing!
I seem to have fetched up in the midst of a super-busy week. I’m making my first-ever podcast item for TGIM, using field recording muscles I haven’t flexed in a long time, and mixing muscles I haven’t flexed in even longer. So there’s some trial and error, teaching myself Garage Band, Zencastr, iQ5 recording. There’s a lot of hunching over the laptop, muttering.
At the same time, I am now more than a month into my part-time job as Operations Manager for Propriometrics Press, working for this completely inspiring woman. So, while I’m hunched over my laptop, muttering, I’m also super-aware I should be moving a little more. And some of my laptop-hunching muttering time is also happening while I’m Operations Managing. The learning curve is incredibly steep. Yesterday I taught myself how to make a monthly sales report. I don’t really know how to use Excel at all, so this is kind of a big deal.
Meanwhile, I’m batting clean up on a piece I prepared for a high school textbook McGraw Hill is putting out on Truth and Reconciliation, for which I got to interview this gorgeous ray of positivity and fierceness. There are a few loose ends to tie up before I can consider that assignment totally done.
It’s all amazing work, work I feel so lucky to have. It is work that challenges me, and stretches me and pushes me outside my comfort zone every day. Awesome. But it is work—not writing.
Ah, the writing. Yesterday I was untangling the cord of my earphones and I fell down into the kind of trance that means there’s writing there to do. I don’t know the specifics, but I know there’s a scene with a tangled rope or cord, and Lex’s younger brother, and some tears. I’ll write it to find out what’s there. Could be something, could be nothing. And so, here again, there’s a learning curve. I know how to write, how to make sentences. I know I can pile the sentences up into a novel. But I don’t know yet how to write this novel, and these sentences. So, there’s a challenge there, too. Good Birds is all loose end, at this point. And I am not spending enough time with it yet. I need to work toward a better balance, the freelancer’s lament.
Which is why I’m particularly looking forward to Thursday night, when Sarah Mian and I once more load our books into her vintage valise and hit the road for Truro. We’ve been invited to read at NovelTea Bookstore and Cafe on Prince Street. What a relief it will be to slip back into the familiar pages of Fallsy Downsies, to hang out with my old friend Lansing Meadows. I know what he’s about. No learning curve there, just laughs and a few tears. Come see us in Truro.