Jane Eaton Hamilton

"If you want to change your life, you have to change your life." Jane Eaton Hamilton

Get Yer Writing On

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What makes a great fictional character?  Do you know how to develop one?  Here is a course with MacArthur Fellow Yiyn Li about writing character-driven stories.  There are other courses available here, too, by such lit lights as Susan Orleans.

Writing Character-Driven Stories

Stand By Me, Tracy Chapman

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I love Tracy Chapman and this is a beautiful set and rendition.  When she sang “If the sky, that we look upon/Should tumble and fall/And the mountain/Should crumble to the sea” from Ben E King’s simple lyrics, I realized that what had always been a metaphor was no longer so and I wept.  I hope that the power of standing together can help us.

Late Show with David Letterman

Once again, spring, with the kanzen cherry blossom

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photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton kanzen cherry 2015

Labyrinth

I go outdoors into the corridors of plum and cherry blossoms, the florid wisterias with their dangling racemes, their whips you must cut back three times a season or they will eat your cat, your car, your house. Here on the street the magnolias lift their cups waiting for spring to pour itself down. I know what’s in there. I know they have crowns, Kinder egg treats, their surprises, their jesters’ hats with dangling gold bells. The air is tinted with scent of hyacinths: Carnegie, City of Harlem, China Pink, Woodstock. They grow ceraceous, stiff along their water-filled stalks, blossoms further apart or closer together depending on light conditions—in my garden with its parsimonious sunshine, they can only try hard, but they give off their kick of perfume, they string it out, they let me have it anyway. Spring is soft as cotton batten, and some moments it goes gaudy as a circus. Watch the chestnut leaf unfurl. Watch the Clematis coil around the stem. Watch the talented beak of the finch as it cracks a sunflower seed. Watch the spotted towhee peck, the variegated thrush as it hurries to hide itself. The sempiternitous sky carves its bowl of the possibilities up beyond the clouds where rockets shoot, where astronauts imagine, where Sally Ride rode her lesbianism into blue space, where Christa McAuliffe exploded when I still lived in the house with the climbing tree.

I kick off my shoes, pull at my socks. The crust of the earth is chilled under my feet, dark, but the wet flock of grass stalks, the brush-cut of green against my toes is a party, takes me into the scrum of childhood when lawns were made for kick-the-can and there was no Round-Up and the measure of a good summer was whether you got enough callouses that you could walk across sharp pebbles and how big a cannonball splash you could make. I spill my hand over a Kanzan cherry trunk, bark rigid and broken. I unwrap the perianth, the floral envelope. A whole bough is Kyoto in April, the Philosopher’s Path, the wandering maiko in their wooden shoes, pink kimonos and white faces, elaborate combs. The individual petals in my hands weigh less than air; weigh less than the eyelashes I brushed last weekend against my lover’s rose-pink cheek. The petals are translucent, pink, silky. I don’t lift my arms, but lifting my arms is what I mean, into the symphonic air.

One year, when I had greatly suffered, when my body was giving itself up, when I had lost all in the world there was to lose, except my life, and was losing that as surely as if I had a hole in my toe through which it drained, I heard a woman playing, on violin, Bach’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, and I was drawn by the threads of music like a rat behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I sank to a bench to listen, and was contrapuntally struck. Terror, relief. Pain, pleasure. Hatred, love. Sour, sweet. The labyrinth we all unwittingly walk, where everything horrible is eventually overwritten by beauty. Everything beautiful is eventually overwritten by horror.  And repeat.  I know this as a simple truth. This is ever reliable.

I was for the first time in a year of fear not trembling.

Instead of writing the composition, the way as a writer I was prone to do, or capturing the composition the way as a photographer and painter I was prone to do, somehow I became the composition indivisibly and then, just as mysteriously, I melded with air and breeze. I was still me, old and challenged and broken, and not me, too. I was as much the musician as I was her audience. The violinist drew her bow under an ornamental plum tree, white-blossomed, through which sunlight dappled and sky showed cerulean, and all of these things merged—Bach, the poise of her wrist, how hard she had worked to stand under this blossoming Vancouver tree on this too-cold spring day, the sunshine, my own sorrow and grief and sour-hearted blood mechanics—and I was saved. I had not been able to live, and now, via this merging of talent and music and blossom and chill, I could, again. Happiness filled me as if the hole in my foot had healed and instead had become a hole in my head, and the filling was as complete as the emptying. Where I had been but a shell, I plumped. My corpuscles danced. My mitochondria laughed.

A couple weeks ago, a friend hurt herself badly. Yesterday, there was a terrible home invasion, a harsh injury, on a street where I love people. Yesterday a friend wrote to say that even so people save themselves with minute beauty. I knew she was right. I have done this over and over and over again through my life, redemption (if you like, though I might call it retrieval, or restitution) through the communion wafer of nature, through the holy drink that is nature. People save themselves on buttercups under chins to say if they like butter. People save themselves with raccoon kits, bees’ wings, and bird babies in the eaves. These accidental evolutionary goodnesses. People save themselves with kittens, and lambs pronging in fields, and the slap of a horse’s mane on their hands as they ride barebacked through meadows. People save themselves with good cups of coffee or food.  People save themselves with tickles, with hand holding, just by meeting someone’s eyes. People save themselves with hikes or bicyling or long runs.  These spices of experience.  Fragments of mercy.

I am as dunderheaded as a person could be, but, yet, even so, even despite my flaws and weaknesses and losses, this reliable lift I feel because of the intricacy of a poppy unfolding crumpled petals, is there, is real, is find-able, is replicable, is mine for the looking. You won’t find it where I find it, because we are not the same person, but someday when the intricacy of terror and ruination lift, you will find it all the same–in a child’s giggle, a moon shadow, or in the way birch bark curls.

It is yours.

Swoon, baby, swoon.

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Sex and swoon. How could an evening be better? Come join us, y’all.

This Place a Stranger: Canadian Women Traveling Alone

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Get your copy soon at the book launch, May 9th, 7 pm, Artspeak.  (I won’t be reading since I’m out of town, but my included essay is “Things That Didn’t Happen,” which was first published at the Manifest Station by Jen Pastiloff.)

From the Caitlin site:

“Sometimes tragic, sometimes uproariously funny, This Place a Stranger is a diverse collection of Canadian women writing about their experiences of travelling alone. From the deceptiveness of the everyday to the extremes of geography, weather and violence, these stories go beyond the usual tales of intrepid male explorers and reveal the varied and unique circumstances in which women travellers find themselves when “going solo.”

When an Afghan soldier asks one Indo-Canadian woman, “Where are you really from,” her false sense of belonging comes sharply into focus. After thirty-seven years of marriage, another woman prepares for her return trip to Africa: vaccination boosters, nausea pills and lots and lots of condoms. A seventeen-hour journey by car through the Great Lakes region of Ontario leads another to dreamlike reflections on the travels of her Anishinaabe grandmothers and the ever-present “fear, worry” she experiences today. In another story, a woman poignantly searches for what many seek on solo journeys—inspiration, renewal, discovery—by returning to Paris only a few years after the painful dissolution of her marriage. But the grey February, a body in pain and the funeral of Mavis Gallant offer a different insight.

With new work from twenty-three emerging and award-winning authors including Yvonne Blomer, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, Catherine Owen, Karen J Lee and more, these stories explore the unexpected blessings and soul-searching that aloneness offers: clarity, liberation, danger, misery, adventure, devastation and joy.”

On Oil Spills: Cripples

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Vancouver’s oil spill, April 2015

I wrote a story about an oil-spill clean-up that was first published in Paris Transcontinental.

Here it is again:

Cripples

I hadn’t wanted a damn cripple on the crew to begin with. Any damn cripple. Not a damn cripple named Mike Pinkle or any other damn cripple, so naturally Pinkle was made my partner, orders of the co-ordinator. We’d both come in late. There were forty-three of us, and damn cripple Mike Pinkle was to be my partner during the Long Beach oil spill clean-up.

The first sight of that Vancouver Island beach was one hell of a thing. I shoved my Honda stick into ‘P’ and took off out of the parking lot toward the six foot waves at a ninny-speed run, stumbling over the logs and deadwood using my hands, across all that thick white sand to the surf line. The water was as purple and violent as a bruise. It pounded inside my breasts and legs like some fierce man. Oh shit, I thought. Goddamn shit. Water, blurring out into a flagstone sky. I’d never seen so much damn sea at once in my life. It excited me. It made me want to fuck. I was standing up to my ankles in yellow gumboots with the water sucking and smelling of muggy blood and all I wanted to do was fuck. But then I heard my goddamn car horn blow. I turned and remembered the cripple. And the rake. The pitchfork. The industrial strength green garbage bags. What I thought was I could use the pitchfork to kill the goddamn cripple and the industrial strength green garbage bags to dispose of his body; the rest of the crew would just figure he was a bag of oil muck. Which thought made me remember why we were here–the oil dump off the coast of Washington State. Now I noticed oil everywhere; broken rainbow slicks on the water to the south, clumps strangling the bulbous heads of bull kelp, even a barely recognizable dead gull to the right of my boot. All that pretty show and all that oil–I had to hold back tears. I was almost grateful for the diversion of the goddamn cripple in the parking lot.

Or at least I was until I had to watch that pathetic half-man haul himself into the chair I unfolded for him out of the trunk. I couldn’t stand to look at him, so I piled him with the rake and pitchfork and the bags, which he held like they were nothing. I dumped on a thermos of coffee for good measure.

The chair was electric. Fancy dancy. My idea–I’d heard he’d been in a car wreck with a drunk driver–was that he’d landed a settlement of ten mil or so. My idea was that he was set for goddamn life. A condo in the Bahamas. Large screen TVs, a jacuzzi. Big fat fucking deal. I was supposed to feel sorry for him?

He sailed down a concrete path in the rain like some alien robot. Then he beached in the sand.

I went around the front of his chair and yelled in his face. My fists were going. I said, “Listen, buster, let’s get this straight. You better realize I don’t like you. You’ve got no business being out here and you freaking well know it.”

He had a very pretty face, the kind that make me want to hang over toilets, they’re so perfect. He must have been about my age, middle twenties. Great biceps. Great pectorals. Boy’s eyes green as bile.

“You don’t like my wheelchair?” He had to shout to be heard over the rain and surf.

I kicked the wheel. “Screw your wheelchair.”

“I would,” he yelled, “but neither of us would feel a thing.”

A funny guy, too.

“The point is,” I hollered, “the point is I don’t know how you’re supposed to help out here! Your goddamn chair is already stuck in the goddamn sand.”

But I’d lost his attention. He was staring out at the ocean.

I bent down to his face.

He said, “My folks and I used to camp here when I was a kid. It looks just the same.”

I’m no fool. I heard nostalgia and figured I better stomp on it before it got worse. “It looks like a sewer,” I told him. “That ocean’s barfing oil, you idiot.” There were hillocks of crusted oil everywhere. Now that I’d noticed it, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it right away. I couldn’t believe I’d glazed over it on account of the view, just like the goddamn cripple was doing now.

He dragged his eyes off the horizon and smiled wistfully at me. He sure did have a pretty face for a cripple–it hardly seemed fair. “Why are you here, Marilyn?”

I stepped back and raised my hands. It was my own goddamn business what I was doing here. If I told him I liked fish and birds, if I told him I dreamed of going to university and becoming an oceanographer, this goddamn cripple would make a frigging martyr out of me. “Who else is going to clean it up?” I finally said to him. Shit, I did not like this guy. “You see the government doing anything? The Americans? You know what it means to them? Sweet piss all is what it means to them.”

“What do you do,” he asked, “in real life?”

My hair was out of my poncho whipping over my face. I was a waitress using up my statutory vacation days. I said, “Gimme the goddamn garbage bags.” I ripped at the pile in his lap and plastic scattered, caught by the wind. “I shovel, you hold the bag.”

He shook one open. It went nuts in the wind, flapping and rippling. I picked out teams working up and down the beach. I bent down and picked up a chunk of oil about a foot wide and two inches thick.

“Mike, Christ, hold the bag steady.” I wrassled it in and Mike bent forward trying to support the weight of it. I said, “Don’t fall out of the chair, for God’s sake, please.”

“I’m not totally stupid,” he said.

I glared at him.

We worked like that, me picking up clods of solidified oil and four dead gulls and one dying rook the ocean had burped, him holding the bags and tying them at the end. Eventually we had sixteen full bags. Nothing on the beach that was supposed to be green was green anymore, and nothing that was supposed to be brown was brown. Everything was slathered with black oil gooey as molasses. I was stiff and cold when the whistle blew in the parking lot, Don the co-ordinator calling us in off our shift.

Two guys had to come and help yank Mike’s chair out of the sand.

Back in the rec room at the resort where we were being billeted, we ate soup that tasted like sand and bread torn from long French sticks–day-old stuff from the local bakery. I tried to avoid the goddamn cripple, but it didn’t work. After a pep talk, Don told us our room assignment and we were bunked together. I went up to complain. My hands were raw and red and every muscle in my body was hard.

“What the hell have you got me with him for?” I asked, gesturing at the cripple.

“Is there a problem, Marilyn?” said Don, consulting a clipboard. “There’re twin beds.”

“Shit,” I said. “Shit.”

Don turned away to answer somebody else’s question.

Mike the goddamn cripple was already in the cabin when I arrived. I stomped past him into the bathroom and drew myself a tub. Hot. The water prickled up my ankles when I stepped in and I couldn’t stop myself from grunting as I lowered down. I was squeezing pain out of every pore and I was bunked with a dildo whose legs probably looked like rotten fruit, all because some tugboat captain rammed a ship and nobody gave a good goddamn about the whales or the freaking ecosystem. Fucking goddamn century. Fucking goddamn sucking puke of a globe. I soaked and stewed till my body and mind curled it out and let go of it, becoming smooth and soft as blankets. I got to ruminating on breaking up with my boyfriend Craig. I got to thinking of the names he’d called me– lazy and selfish–and how most of them were right on. Maybe my coming here, helping to clean up Long Beach–maybe that would make him realize I wasn’t so bad after all. He’d miss me and he’d see I could be as altruistic as the next guy.

Frankly, I forgot the goddamn cripple altogether. It was a shock to open the door wrapped in a towel, hot and steamy, and see that putrid excuse for a man still sitting there cold and red and dirty. It took me aback. I stayed in the doorway till I could bring myself to say neutrally, “Can I help you? Do you want help with a bath or something?”

“I’d like that,” he said. “At home I have equipment.” He shrugged.

It had to be worse for him than me, I figured. I could close my eyes, right? So I pulled on my blue robe and asked him what to do. He could hear by my voice I was not too happy, but he just went about it all matter-of-factly until his naked white shrivelled legs were three inches under water.

Everything smelled of salt and wood.

He leaned back and I sank down the wall so I was sitting on the floor, my knees raised, my robe twisted so one of my breasts was partly out. He must’ve been a hell of a man once, that goddamn cripple. Leaning back I could only see his torso and it was a sight to stir a nun. I sighed. He closed his eyes and soaked. I closed mine and felt myself drifting off. Then I heard him start up.

“I could get reassigned,” he said first.

“Huh?” I opened my eyes.

“If you don’t want to help. I mean, you’re right, I’m not much good on the beach. I could stay back and make hot chocolate tomorrow or something.”

“Where you from?” I asked. I spread my fingers on my knees.

“Keremeos,” he said.

I knew the place. Small, crappy, quaint. British Columbia’s interior.

“You?” he asked.

“East Van,” I told him, naming a neighbourhood in Vancouver.

“You think the government’s going to send in crews?” he asked. “There’s no way forty-three people can clean this oil spill. It must be up and down the coast for miles.”

“There’s a preservation society picking up the birds that are still alive and cleaning them,” I answered hopefully.

“How long you here for?” he asked.

“Three days.” I raised my shoulders. “Not a hell of a lot. This is going to take weeks.”

“Months,” Mike corrected.

“You’d think if the goddamn government wouldn’t pay us, at least they’d buy our food. You’d think they’d do that at least. Buy us food and garbage bags and ponchos,” I said.

“Would you wash my back?” Mike asked.

“Can’t you wash your own back?” I asked, instantly peeved. Lathering up a goddamn cripple could kill me. It killed me once and if I looked reborn, well, I wasn’t. My father came out of an operation when I was little temporarily paralyzed. Fucking wheelchairs. I got up on my knees and watched Mike’s penis bobbing there, caught in a nest of dark hair in the grimy water. He grabbed my wrist, hard.

He looked at me hard too and said, “What is it with you, Marilyn?”

“There’s nothing with me, you goddamn cripple. Let go.”

He held on harder. “Marilyn, what?”

“Now I’m being lectured to. I don’t believe it. Let me go and I’ll help you get out.”

He did and I did and it was no pleasure at all to see that man drag himself into his chair stark raving naked and head into the bedroom to find his pyjamas. It made no sense to me that I was here instead of a couple big guys who could make a difference to him. Plus, I was fucking horny. I was starting to like the goddamn cripple and it pissed me off.

I turned back his blankets and got him sitting on the edge of bed. I folded down beside him. I wanted to cry. Tears were taking up in my throat like boxers. I couldn’t press them back. I felt Mike’s goddamn cripple hand stroke my back.

“Marilyn?” he said.

“What?”

“Thanks.” He squeezed my shoulder then dropped his hand.

That made me cry. Fucking emotions. First I was pissed because I’d got saddled with a goddamn cripple and now I was crying because he’d stopped touching me. He took my chin and turned my face to him. He was sure pretty.

He said gently, “We should get some sleep.”

I leaned and kissed him, surprised at the softness of his lips and the hard bristle of his beard. The kiss lasted a minute and when I stopped, my arm brushed his penis. It was erect. I hadn’t realized he could do that.

He held my shoulders and pushed me back, away from him. “This is not good,” he said. “We’re strangers. We’re tired. We have an early morning. Go to bed, Marilyn.”

I looked at him and thought how I was about to seduce a goddamn cripple. My trip of redemption was going to give me a sore spot in the pit of my stomach. But fuck it. I wanted to end this day with any kind of sex. I could feel heat radiating off him. I kissed him again and it went through me. He was responding. Shit, a cripple would respond, wouldn’t he?

 

Was I surprised to wake up in the morning in a woodsy cabin in the middle of nowhere in the semi-darkness in the arms of a cripple. I tried to remember the night before and it came back slowly, the way the dirty morning light slowly increased in our room. He’d been no slouch at pleasing me but I hadn’t done a freaking thing for him. Below the belt he was dead. Or not dead, exactly, pretty lively if it came down to it. Only he couldn’t feel it. He couldn’t feel a jack-off thing. Well, goddamn, I thought. I was not going to be grossed out or remember my father calling to me. Fucking cripples. Let’s just leave it at, heh, I got my rocks off. I tried to slide out of Mike’s arms, which woke him.

He groaned and smiled and pulled me in tighter. “Hi,” he said.

“I’m stiff,” I said. “I ache.” I pulled away.

“Pretty stupid, eh?” he said. “Last night.”

“It felt good. I don’t care.”

“Even with a goddamn cripple?” Crinkles of amusement appeared around his eyes.

I grinned even though I tried not to. “What time is it?” I asked him, forcing the smile off my face. “Tell me what time it is. Okay, Mike? Okay? Can you just fucking shut your trap for a goddamn minute and maybe start focussing on why we’re here?”

 

All day long on the beach I kept looking over at Mike feeling a quirky, ridiculous pride. God, I hated the work. Those oil patches were heavy; the recently washed in ones gluey and the dry ones like lava. But my morale stayed high. Despite the effects of the January cold, the slate-grey drizzle, the dead birds, I felt goddamn good. I’d fucked a goddamn cripple but I felt goddamn good. It was a freaking surprise.

That night over dinner Don told us the premier’s office was issuing certificates of achievement to the clean-up volunteers. Even Mike, the goddamn mild-mannered cripple, was bitter about it–shit, we all were. Here we were doing our government’s work and the freaking big girl wanted to thank us with certificates. Come summer there’d still be oil washing in and otters dying, maybe whales dying from the crap they sucked up off the ocean floor, but heh, so what? We were offered certificates. We voted to refuse them. We dipped our day-old bread in the watery soup and said no fucking thank you. The goddamn cripple took my hand during this, which made some of the other crew members grin over at us like we were the high point of it, we were the entertainment.

When my father was in a wheelchair I sat on his lap and when Mom wasn’t around he moved his hands between my thighs. He pushed aside my panties. When he got better, he stopped. Just like that. Goddamn sex and then nothing, like I no longer existed. Daddy, I’d say. Daddy? And he’d look through me like the goddamn wall meant more to him. The goddamn wall did mean more to him. All I can think since then is at least he’s getting old. One of these days his heart will misfire and fry him like a steak. Hell, I’ll supply the onions.

But with Mike that second night I thought I was going to fucking heaven. There’s a thing that says people with disabilities compensate, and that goddamn cripple, let me say, compensated. I didn’t notice I was tired, I didn’t notice the oil caked in my knuckles and under my nails, I didn’t notice his moldy legs. I told him afterwards about my Dad, not about the sex, just that my Dad had spent some time in a chair. He told me about his accident and how his wife left him a year into it. When we fell asleep I felt oddly safe, like all around us oil was not building up on the beaches, like the world was sane and I was not fucking a goddamn cripple.

Maybe I wasn’t. Maybe, like Mike said, I just had a chip on my shoulder.

So when on the next day, my last, Mike was distant and cold as the everlasting January rain, I was hurt. And mad. I pitchforked mounds of oil and tossed them at the garbage bag he held often missing the mark. By l0:30, his rain pants were slicked with globs of oil and sand, clumps of seaweed.

“Fuck, you prick,” I finally yelled, blinking back tears. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

His green eyes looked so icy I could skate on them.

I threw down my fork and pushed his shoulder. “I mean it, Mike. What’s going on?”

“Fuck off, Marilyn,” he said.

“Fuck you, too, you goddamn cripple.”

Neither of us said anything. Both of us stared out to sea where the breakers crashed. Tears were pouring down my face.

I heard Mike say, “You’re leaving,” in such an accusatory voice I wheeled to face him.

“I’m a fucking waitress at a greasy spoon in east Vancouver. You think there’s a future for us? Don’t expect me to get saddled with some goddamn cripple. Look, it was nice, okay? It was nice and tonight I’m outa here. The goddamned Navy can start doing their bit.” I paused. It was true we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. As soon as we got rid of some oil, more came in. There was more oil now than when we’d started. 900 bags of oil between us and not a dent. Fucking certificates of appreciation from the premier. A goddamn cripple. I thought about Craig and who he was probably fucking while I was gone. I’d be glad to get out of here. I thought maybe I’d quit work, quit Craig, and go to Mexico. Then I remembered the pollution this winter in Mexico City. Like I could go there and breathe. I looked at Mike again. “You could come.”

“You could quit and come to Keremeos.”

“We’re still strangers, you goddamn cripple.”

“We could try,” he said.

“Forget it, Mike,” I told him. “I don’t like goddamn cripples. I don’t need a cripple in my life.”

“Neither do I,” he said. Then he said my name, Marilyn.

“Up yours,” I said. I grinned because I knew what he was going to say next.

Mike didn’t let me down. “But I wouldn’t feel it,” he said.

I picked up the pitchfork and made thrusting motions at him with the tines. He grabbed it by the handle and pulled me in. I was laughing and sniffling. I fell on the mess on his lap and he kissed me. When he stopped he said, “At least give me your cell.”

I said okay. I said sure. That goddamn cripple. That goddamn oil slick.

Reading! Let’s launch Sassafrass Lowry

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Come help me launch “Lost Boi” by Sassafrass Lowry with Leah Horlick, author of “For Your Own Good” and Amber Dawn!

The Adequate Writer: Writing a Romance

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photograph:  Clematis, Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2015

It’s a good feeling to finish up a second draft of a novel–even a romance novel.

Novel draft, check.  Lilacs on the table. Check. Candlelit dinner. Perfect view of Seattle’s Space Needle. Check. Scintillating company.  Check.

Realizing that I dropped the dog out of the book by the first third, so it is wandering around an island by itself for perpetuity? That’s why I call myself the adequate writer.

Easter

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Easter

by Jane Eaton Hamilton

Him, my husband, that devil, a pitchfork under his teeth, a whole smelly Hell in his mouth. Wheeling his chair naughty into the kitchen where for thousands of years I have cooked his meals, the bedroom where for six hundred and sixty-six lifetimes I have frozen under his thick needs.

I have no hiding spots left.

No sugar. In all of this house, no Wunderbar, no Smarties, no Aero. Oh, the chocolate, bubbling in the tarnation of his gullet. The smell and colour of our marriage, his cancer yellow, my treats in his gut a deep violet like the underside of flame. And oh, the stink, the sickly sweet smell of putrefaction.

Alive, I am, perfectly, while that old doze oozes from room to room on the rubber wheels of his disease. Mama, Mama, he cries, give me chocolate! My bars are under the floorboards or sunk deep in the freezer chest or tucked up in the shell of a light fixture but he is intrepid, that old man who wafts, he finds them, fast and slippery out of his chair when I am gone. One more time, one more extension of that dying limb into my candy.

Oh holy. This time of year I can see Jesus knocked out every time my husband’s foul mouth parts; Jesus lying on the lawn while white bunnies clipper over the triad of his body. While inside our walls my sneaky husband steals what belongs only to me and will not stop. I hate him every second. Mommy! he cries.

How I have put up. Fifty-one years this next June and every day that husband, exudate slipping from every crevice in him. Out. Out and in. Look what he takes in, year after year, how I feed him, the animal, the greedy pig, the endless mornings of bacon fat, the noons and nights of beef. In and out until now the aureate smell of cancer and diapers, the slit devil’s eyes he casts upon me. Fire in his grasping, insatiate mouth, sparks on the steel of his wheelchair.

And Jesus on the lawn almost dead.

In the pharmacy I pick out a bunny for God, the biggest one. Dear inside her cellophane box, she wears candy pink ribbons, a yellow candy nose. She is so pretty, so sweet with her brown ears, her woven basket of tiny blue eggs in her paw. I love her enormously. And it is spring. I pick up a large bottle of rubbing alcohol; I have two more at home. Jesus will rise when he sees. Won’t Jesus walk? Our front door like the stones of his crypt and he will walk inside with frolicking white rabbits, so pleased with me. I count out change, doling the mean pennies of my husband’s pension to buy this tender body of God, the host, the blood. Then it is all mine. She is, my own chocolate Easter bunny clutched to my chest in benediction.

(Oh snaily husband, oh mincemeat, ruin, thing of nightmare, how you deplete me. Every breath is an agony as if cancer is the air and you are the bellows of my lungs, pushing your misery into me. We’ll just see. I’ll kneel in the flowerbeds this afternoon, weeding, tending, while Jesus’s breath rasps and the daffodils nod their Eastery heads. I’ll set hamburger to thaw. We’ll just see, husband, won’t we?)

Up the concrete path, up the three steps, turn the key. I call out, Darling, I’m home! I lie him tenderly out on the bed and change his malodorous wrappings, wash his wasted skin.

What a credit to womanhood I am, in Jesus’s eye. I cook his lunch like a slave. Oh petunia, oh hunchback, what can I get for you, what would your pebble heart most desire? He eats the soup and I think, Once he was young and did not have inoperable cancer and a tremulant, skinny, loose-fleshed arm and I have grown old. If there is redemption, later I will be young and unmarried, a girl with limbs as smooth as satin.

I have hidden the Easter bunny in a low cabinet. Stupid man, slime of Hell, lips opening and shutting on flame flickers of damnation, he eats and then I put him down for his nap. Like a baby he blubbers little Hell bubbles, a sick wheeze. Every day his nightmare opens as he goes under, a thousand years of sin slipping him down, down, down. Where he dreams afternoon dreams of his inevitable afterlife.

I set the house to rights. Dishes, dusting, straightening, the full-bleach bath of fabrics he has touched. Then into the shed in my floppy gardening hat to find my spade and kneeguards. In another three weeks, tulips, blood sentinels, but for now these oh sweet daffs like yellow candy and their floppy green stems. Ground covers like aubrieta, little holy purples in a downy maze, all of which Jesus appreciates, beauty at his feet like all the bunnies. Jesus’s bunnies don’t nibble at foliage, don’t even come near me, just romp in white puddles across him, loincloth and all.

Darn lucky the sky is overcast or I’d be burning up in the sun. Suffer the marriage, suffer the eternity with my husband, suffer the cancer that won’t kill him it seems no matter my patience. Here the smell of spring, clammy soil upturned, worms that aerate: is it true he’s inside and I have to go in there? I stand and brush dirt from the knee of my housedress. One of the things he inhaled: my youth, my middle age, even my decrepitude, snarfed inside that weasly, fire-spitting mouth like all my chocolate bars. Entirely gone, the old turd, the old blankety-blank, the old pitchfork penis. I move creakily, and past Jesus who now is right gone, I’d guess dead, with all the bunnies curled up for nappies under his arms and between his legs. If it weren’t Easter the son of God dead on my lawn would be a fuss as far as the neighbours were concerned.

Hush of the day. Three o’clock already. Six hundred and sixty-six bets on whether my husband’s raided the cupboards yet. Big surprise ahead. I smell like God, I notice, when I’m up at the door, all earthy and whole from the yardwork. And I’ve got to open it to him and his Hell smells stinking up the universe and too close by half to heaven. Bid Jesus adieu before I turn the knob.

Oh, and if the power of God anointed any inch of this forsaken house. He’s in the the kitchen of course, got into that wheelchair of his own accord and rolled like Hades onto the tile nearest my hiding place. Oh, I see that scared and doomed expression on his face when I catch him; oh, I see exactly that he has ripped my bunny’s cellophane, broken her box, snapped off her ears and her pink ribbons; oh, I see the smear of chocolate alongside his mouth like devil’s excrement; oh, I see his brown and guilty fingertips. Jesus on the lawn catching the sleep of eternity in a couple easy hours and this Satan in my kitchen, in my cupboards, in my chocolate Easter bunny, gobbling and glutting.

He drops it you bet when I douse him with the rubbing alcohol. You bet. My bunny tumbles in flammable liquids, knock of cardboard on the tile, crinkle of cellophane. Beautiful sound of alcohol spilling and I even get some in his mouth, upturned, crying Mama, what are you doing? No, oh Mama! And I expect he ought to self-incinerate he’s so full of the devil’s work, light up from the hot hippy flames he’s got inside. I just stand above him, slightly out of reach, waiting, pack of matches at the ready. What a picture! He’s out of his mind grabbing at me, trying to get the chair going anywhere on the slippery floor, grunting and puking up complaints and fear. Empty another bottle for resurrection. And a third for luck.

Looks like I’m going to have to ignite him. It’s not like my labour ever has been done, with this one.

Sound of the match scraping on the back of the match pack, sizzle into flame, and his ridiculous panic screams. I just hold it, let him look at it a minute before I throw it, casual toss that strikes his lap and sends him up, up, up, a human torch, a sparkler in my kitchen. I have to edge around him to pass by, for goodness sake, right close by the flames in their three-spiked climb up him.

In the living room I find I’m exhausted. I sag into my favourite chair thinking Jesus will just have to wake me up from a snooze. I could use a chocolate bar. Not that blasphemous bunny but a Hershey bar with almonds, dark chocolate. Lucky we don’t have a smoke alarm. Still, I have to get up and open windows so I don’t asphyxiate, if you can imagine, which lets, besides smoke, my sly husband’s screams out. Lord’s on my side if nobody hears. I lie on the couch, hands under my cheek, and try to ignore the dastardly smell. As if I’m cooking for a banquet, whole side of beef on a charcoal spit.

When I wake it’s after eight p.m.. I slept right through the supper hour. Jesus isn’t here yet. I’m stiff, so I move slow to see he isn’t on the lawn either, least as far as I can see in the dusk. Possible I could miss him, but not likely given he has white rabbits with him and they’d show up even in full dark. I suppose he could have had errands to run first.

I go check on my husband. He’s done to a turn after five hours, all right, but not dead, hardly dead, still puking and mewling under his bubbly black skin. No flame. All that’s gone though I see the ceiling’s filthy with soot, bad soot I’m not agile enough to get at anymore. I’d try torching him again if I wasn’t out of rubbing alcohol. I go past him – I think he doesn’t even notice me but I tell him I won’t call an ambulance for him till nine, till it’s been a full six hours – and pick up my poor, amputated, alcohol drenched bunny. Dear little lamb of Jesus, I cradle her in her busted box, and wait.

_____________________________________________

Santa Ana, Calif. -An elderly women doused her wheelchair bound, cancer-stricken husband with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire because he ate her chocolate Easter bunny.

-Vancouver Sun

 

 

 

Photograph

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fragment: Vincent Van Gogh; photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2015 Norton Simon Museum

 

Photograph

My wife painted a fresco on one wall of our living room and now my wife needs surgery on her hands. Those two things are not related. Her nerves were not damaged by plaster and pigment work; her problem, the doctor says, is intrinsic, a degenerative disorder that robs her of tactile sense and causes her pain.

My wife’s name is Mary. You have probably seen her signature on canvasses but if you haven’t it doesn’t matter. I wish no one did; I wish my wife had never sold a painting, not one painting.

There are words I wish I had never heard, too: chartreuse, I wish I had never heard the word chartreuse. Turquoise is another one. That word turquoise goes right inside me; that world turquoise is a bad word. Vermilion. Is there any other word in the English language that goes to work on a man the way vermilion does?

The world is filled with unpredictability. Things wait around corners; words lie in wait around corners. Once I was a boy and I lived with a mother and a father and all that waited around corners for me was love; I wasn’t surprised for the first time until I was eleven and came around one corner too many and there was my mother and there was a stranger and kissing.

I am a man who appreciates a good kiss. I like a good kiss as well as the next man. What man wouldn’t appreciate a kiss? An excellent kiss can make a man overlook corners and words like chartreuse. This is just the way of things. In this world a wife and a kiss and a sunset make a fellow stop. They make a fellow stop in his tracks just outside some doorway and they make his eyelids widen.

Let us say the sunset seen through the window was chartreuse.

Let us say my wife Mary was kissing someone else.

Let us say her damaged hands were against the breasts of an artist named Diane.

This is the truth.

The truth is two women were kissing and Diane’s shirt was undone and her breasts were bare. My wife’s hands fit Diane’s breasts perfectly; I saw how well they fit. They fit so well an artist could have drawn the four as parts of one body.

One of Diane’s paintings is of a vermilion figure poised on the edge of a globe, bending over. My wife Mary’s fresco is turquoise.

This is just how it happens, a man turns one corner too many in his life and then it happens, that kiss, and he doesn’t know how to act or what to say or how to impart one color, the one he saw, black. He hits his chest with the flat of his hand over and over, he does that.

Here is a photograph: a man, a woman and a woman. Here is a sculpture: a man, a woman and a woman. Here is a story: a man, a woman and a woman. Here is a sunset and a fresco. Here is a painting by a woman named Diane. Here I am. Here is my wife, Diane.

In the photograph I age and age. Soon I am fifty. Soon I am eighty-four. Soon I am a hundred and two. I am lucky to be so old, such a very old man with a thin windpipe.

Marnie Woodrow: Author Q+A

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Author photo: Janette Piquette Photography, 2014

Thanks to author Marnie Woodrow for putting herself into the spotlight for me. I am happy to share Marnie’s talents with her fans, and also to introduce her to new readers. Here is our Q+A:

I think anyone who follows your career knows that you wear many hats. You are a bereavement counsellor, an editor, an avid cook—not to mention the big hat, the 30-gallon hat, which is author. How do you manage all that shifting and juggling?

I have a lot of energy and also no interest in sitting in a room alone 7 days a week. There’s nothing to write about if one doesn’t live. Plus, there’s the practical reality of paying the bills and I like to shake up how that happens. I certainly don’t write fiction for the money it brings in.

How much time does your counselling occupy?

I mostly give workshops, so it’s completely up to me how often I do grief and bereavement work. Not surprisingly, my bereavement training comes in very handy with certain editorial jobs, especially memoirs. I’ve worked on some very intense personal material about grief issues.

I sent one of my friends to you to have his (first) book edited and he was very happy with the outcome. How much editing do you fit into your schedule?

I love editing. I see a lot of contempt on the part of some freelance editors when it comes to working with writers and I don’t get it. It’s a beautiful relationship when it works and that’s a two-way street where respect is concerned. I edit one to two writers a month max in terms of bigger projects, and I coach weekly, never more than two or three writers at once. I like to enjoy what I’m doing and not resent it.

Let’s talk about writing. When did you come out of the gate as a writer? And why short fiction?

I started off writing poetry, which was roundly rejected by all magazines and journals. I was about 20 when I started writing short fiction and that was the first writing I had published (next to my recipe for pork chops, printed in a newspaper when I was about 10). I still write short fiction and poetry. I get more excited about publishing poetry than I do prose, because to me it seems so much harder to break through in poetry. Whether or not I send my collection of poems out remains to be seen. I have also returned to playwriting in the past 2 years.

Do you prefer writing short fiction or novels?

Right now I’m in love with the novel form. The ideas that come just seem to require more breathing space and I’m also addicted to research and preparation, which novels seem to require. I have two full-length plays I’m resuming work on, but once this next novel takes hold in a bigger way, I’ll turn my focus to it till it’s done. I don’t ever want to spend a decade on one project again unless it is absolutely necessary.

What was your experience in publishing a first book? A second book?

My first book came out with a tiny Toronto press and it was a hand-numbered affair with lots of indie bookseller assistance. Handselling and word of mouth have always been important in my career. My second book was with a slightly larger press and that was fun, it got more attention, although again, as a very indie phenomenon. My third was with a huge house, Knopf, and that was also a thrill ride.

Are you still writing short fiction, and, if so, when will we see your next collection?

I wrote a third collection of short fiction that I plan to resume work on next year, but there are too many other projects on the front burner for now.

Your novel “Spelling Mississippi” came out in 2002. How was this book, which doesn’t take place in Canada, but in Louisiana, born?

It came of a passion for the topic of the Florence flood of 1966, and wondering who was there for that in their youth and a passion for New Orleans, city of beautiful, insane, lovely people. I stayed there for a few months in my early 20s and there was a real woman who tried to cross the Mississippi, and it made me wonder what she planned to do when she got to the other side, had she made it before the Coast Guard yanked her out of the water.

“Spelling Mississippi” is a lesbian novel. At the time it came out, lesbian work was pretty fringe in Canada. What has been your reception as a lesbian author?

It’s interesting to think of this now, because at the time Knopf didn’t treat it as a lesbian novel, but as literary fiction, part of their New Face of Fiction campaign, with little focus on who the lovers were in the story. So I think I found a lot of non-lesbian AND lesbian readers that way. I’m an out and proud writer, but I never actually envision my work as lesbian, although it almost always is, character-wise, I suppose. Except for the next one I just started, and who knows what that will end up being…

What has it been like to be a queer author in Canada?  Do you think it has altered your career or opportunities?
I’m told often that there is a lavender ceiling, a limit to how much acceptance any queer writer will ever get here, and I suppose it all depends on what a writer is looking for from her career. I mean, it’s never been a goal of mine to be a household name or to be invited to the right party. I want to be read widely, if possible, but the quality of the writing should be what draws people to a book. I don’t read exclusively queer authors and I think it’s important to branch out in all directions whether with what we read or what we write. 

Do you have advice for young queer writers considering careers?
Read more than you write, read more than you blog, write often and with your own voice and it will happen. Talent cannot be suppressed. Discipline is more important than fifteen seconds of internet fame. 
Now that Spelling Misssissippi is all wrapped up, and behind you, are there things that you would do differently? Were you happy with the outcome?

I would have enjoyed myself more instead of worrying so deeply about book sales. I was paid a lot of money for “Spelling Mississippi” and I took the pressure to heart quite intensely. But I was also thrilled with the experiences I had (festivals and readings) and the people I met through researching and publishing it. And the team at Knopf was wonderful, I got to work with one of the best editors in the country at the time, Diane Martin.

Do you have specific thoughts about publishing, about the changes in publishing since you brought out your first book in 1991?

I think that social media is a huge help to emerging writers in some ways, and certainly Can Lit has a huge profile now, much bigger than it had in ’91. It’s still a hard go that isn’t for the faint of heart. I once had a student ask me what he could expect for a salary in fiction writing and I had to work really hard not to laugh. Salary? I wish!

What is the best part of being a writer for you?

Having an outlet for my insatiable curiosity and justification for talking to myself, a lifelong only-child habit. Also, I love reading and, well, one has to read voraciously if one is going to write anything decent.

What is the most challenging part?

Keeping the faith some days. Ass in chair on a sunny day is also hard.

I know you have a new novel due out this fall (2015). Can you tell us a little about that book and how it came to be?

Heyday is the name of my new novel, and it’s a parallel love story set in 1909 and the 21st century. It came of my love for rollercoasters and Toronto Island then and now and my personal questions about reincarnation and grief.

Is there a story or a fragment of prose that you could share with us?

Excerpt from the opening pages of Heyday:

We met after the man Ferris invented his wheel and before time-share villas on Mars. It was hot for June. You came dashing down the ramp of life, all boots and hope. In the sun we made promises, plans to conquer the world outside the one we’d had named for us. We designed a wild world of cotton candy dreams and cold drinks and always the decision of whether to spin or coast, soar skyward or rush downward. Do both, you tell me now. And when night comes, autumn—keep your promises, no matter what.

That one day the carbon stench of scorched wood and charred canvas drifted over the harbour. Silver tendrils of smoke rose still from the devoured skeletons of roller coasters. Before even reaching shore I could see and smell the destruction. It was necessary to shut my ears to the comments of gawkers riding the ferry, out for a last good look at the fall-out of a wayward spark in a wooden kingdom. Our world. Their heartless curiosity was nearly unbearable. Talk of insurance and arson and none of it mattered till I clapped eyes on you again and knew that another girl had been taken away from someone else.

She was the healthy one, everyone said. If anything, I should have been the one to get cancer. Me with my long love affair with cigarettes, my big fat appetite for everything decadent and bad for you. And then there was my dishonest heart, loving elsewhere but with cowardice. Loving you through time. You must be this tall to ride this ride…

            We’ll go to Coney Island, it won’t matter. No crying. Girls died every day. Not mine.

Marnie Woodrow (born 1969 in Orillia, ON) is a Canadian writer and editor. She has also worked as a researcher/writer for TV and radio.

Woodrow has published two short fiction collections, Why We Close Our Eyes When We Kiss in 1991 and In the Spice House in 1996, and the novel Spelling Mississippi in 2002. Her second novel, “Heyday” is slated for Fall 2015 publication in Canada with Tightrope Books. A recent popular writing instructor at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, she won an Excellence In Teaching Award in 2005.

Spelling Mississippi was short-listed for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award in 2003.

Woodrow has also been a columnist for Xtra!, Toronto’s gay and lesbian biweekly newspaper. Her occasional journalism, essays, stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including The Globe and Mail, National Post, CV2, Write, NOW, eye weekly and This Magazine.

A former resident of Toronto, Ontario, she now resides in Hamilton, Ontario where she teaches Creative Writing at an independent bookstore and online.  -from Wikipedia

 

Hectoring: Yes, I Am

JEHnude4

sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, acrylic, 2014

Right now: You people who are walking around with functional bodies, I want you to take off your clothes in front of a mirror and pat yourself all over, and as you go, say, “Mind, you work,” “eyes, you work,” “ears, you work,” “breasts, you work,” “hips, you work,” “knees, you work.” Etc.  And then the rest is up to you.

Jen Pastiloff and the hunt for beauty

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l-r: Jen Pastiloff, Jane Eaton Hamilton

There’s something I can’t get off my mind; it’s been nagging.

A couple months ago, Jen Pastiloff came to town.  She’s the wunderkind behind the online home for great essays, Manifest Station, and a yoga/writing workshop phenom.  I first came to know Jen through her site when she published my essay about Paris, ‘Things That Didn’t Happen,’ which now appears in the Caitlin Press anthology This Place a Stranger, about women traveling solo.

All this is a long-winded introduction to the fact that Jen asked me to attend her yoga workshop here in Vancouver, BC, when she came to town earlier this year at Semperviva Yoga, and, reluctantly, I went.  (Jen knew getting me out of my house was like pulling teeth, but she kept at me.)  Despite a background in dance, I’ve never been a yoga enthusiast, and I’m also an atheist, and morbidly shy, and the whole spiritual thing makes me roll my eyes.  I slid down the wall at the back of the room, gamely played along to the limits of my creaky old body, and kept my eyes and ears open.

And, folks, a bunch of things happened.

She calls the workshop, after all, “On Being Human.”

But the transformative thing, the thing that hasn’t gone away, was this:

Women are hurting.

I’ve started this post several times and dependably backed away because I don’t know how to talk about this.

Folks, these were not my people.  I’m a wanna-be-butch dyke who has always wavered in my gender identity, and I’m old and my body is utterly broken, and the attendees were straight women mostly in their 30s who had maybe tried for:

Meet the guy of your dreams, have 1.6 children and a dog.  Live happily ever after.

And somehow nobody told them the whole freaking enterprise was broken, and that when an enterprise is that broken, it breaks its participants as surely as if they were just sticks.

Crack, crack, crack.

Nobody had told them this, or they were so busy with the job and the kids and the hubby, so overworked and mega-stressed, that they had no time to hear.  All they knew, really, before they landed at Jen’s workshop, was that they got a measure of peace from yoga, and otherwise, they were in trouble, and they were going down the tubes in a big fucking smear of shit.

They couldn’t save themselves.  Anytime they tried, they felt overwhelmed and under-capable and completely lost.  Anytime they tried, the drain just burped up more crap at them.

These were women living under seige.

Make no mistake:  life with a career and young kids (why aren’t they born with volume knobs?) and aging parents and a sputtering relationship and financial problems and medical problems and indecision and no respite bites the big one.

Quiet desperation, which I define as even one fleeting thought about hurting yourself or your kiddos, bites the really big one.  (As an aside, people may know that I decided to kill my children when they were 4 and 1, and wrote about it, and why I made that agonizing decision, and how I did not do it, but how I saved them from a molester instead, in my memoir ‘No More Hurt.’)

Women have always written about our dilemmas.  Remember Charlotte Perkins Gilman and her “The Yellow Wallpaper”?  Nothing here is new, but we’ve ramped it all up lately with the addition of technology and Super-Mothering.  When a woman is under that kind of stress, when it feels like every goddamned new thing that happens is peeling off layers of her skin, it feels new.  Bloody hell, does it feel new.  And it feels like it’s gonna hurt someone.

It feels like someone’s gonna die.

That’s where Jen Pastiloff and her Beauty Hunting come in.

The workshop participants were there to tell Jen that their fairytale broke.  They were there to tell Jen they were profoundly unhappy with their lives, and scared, and broken.

Now let me tell you what transformed me, and what I have not been able to forget or get over:

Women are hurting in huge numbers.  Women at the apexes of their lives are in grave trouble. 

It made me sad in a quintessential way and it has not stopped making me incredibly sad.  Every time I hear that Jen is giving another workshop, I flash back to that crowd of 60-odd women in Vancouver speaking about grief and fear and loss, and I imagine more women in trouble, room after room full of more women in trouble.

(A message here for women-in-trouble.  One or two things I know for sure, to plagiarize Dorothy Allison:  It gets better.  If you hurt like this now, it does not mean you will always hurt like this.  It gets a whole lot better.)

Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks.  Here’s the revolutionary thing.

She listens.

She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you.  Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals.  And then she gives them back to you.

Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity.  She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty.  She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves.  She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy.  She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were?  All of that is what it is.  But why it works is because of her kind of listening.

And what her kind of listening does is simple:

It saves lives.

 

 

Ocho again

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detail: La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, Degas, Norton Simon Museum

I am lucky to be included in the spring issue of Ocho, edited by Wendy C Ortiz, author of Excavation: A Memoir, with my flash fiction called “The Commitment.”  I join a talented group:

Charlie Bondhus, Nathan Wade Carter, D Dragonetti, Myriam Gurba, Megan Milks,

Rick Sindt, John Pluecker, and Jai Arun Ravine.
I noted “The Commitment” was written in Paris while my apartment walls were covered foor to ceiling with my art pieces.  It forms part of my flash fiction collection “Soon I Will Be Dead.”

Ocho

 

Thinking about spring

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painting: Jane Eaton Hamilton, acrylic on paper, 2014, Paris

Labyrinth

I go outdoors into the corridors of plum and cherry blossoms, the florid wisterias with their dangling racemes, their whips you must cut back three times a season or they will eat your cat, your car, your house. Here on the street the magnolias lift their cups waiting for spring to pour itself down. I know what’s in there. I know they have crowns, Kinder egg treats, their surprises, their jesters’ hats with dangling gold bells. The air is tinted with scent of hyacinths: Carnegie, City of Harlem, China Pink, Woodstock. They grow ceraceous, stiff along their water-filled stalks, blossoms further apart or closer together depending on light conditions—in my garden with its parsimonious sunshine, they can only try hard, but they give off their kick of perfume, they string it out, they let me have it anyway. Spring is soft as cotton batten, and some moments it goes gaudy as a circus. Watch the chestnut leaf unfurl. Watch the Clematis coil around the stem. Watch the talented beak of the finch as it cracks a sunflower seed. Watch the spotted towhee peck, the variegated thrush as it hurries to hide itself. The sempiternitous sky carves its bowl of the possibilities up beyond the clouds where rockets shoot, where astronauts imagine, where Sally Ride rode her lesbianism into blue space, where Christa McAuliffe exploded when I still lived in the house with the climbing tree.

I kick off my shoes, pull at my socks. The crust of the earth is chilled under my feet, dark, but the wet flock of grass stalks, the brush-cut of green against my toes is a party, takes me into the scrum of childhood when lawns were made for kick-the-can and there was no Round-Up and the measure of a good summer was whether you got enough callouses that you could walk across sharp pebbles and how big a cannonball splash you could make. I spill my hand over a Kanzan cherry trunk, bark rigid and broken. I unwrap the perianth, the floral envelope. A whole bough is Kyoto in April, the Philosopher’s Path, the wandering maiko in their wooden shoes, pink kimonos and white faces, elaborate combs. The individual petals in my hands weigh less than air; weigh less than the eyelashes I brushed last weekend against my lover’s rose-pink cheek. The petals are translucent, pink, silky. I don’t lift my arms, but lifting my arms is what I mean, into the symphonic air.

One year, when I had greatly suffered, when my body was giving itself up, when I had lost all in the world there was to lose, except my life, and was losing that as surely as if I had a hole in my toe through which it drained, I heard a woman playing, on violin, Bach’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, and I was drawn by the threads of music like a rat behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I sank to a bench to listen, and was contrapuntally struck. Terror, relief. Pain, pleasure. Hatred, love. Sour, sweet. The labyrinth we all unwittingly walk, where everything horrible is eventually overwritten by beauty. Everything beautiful is eventually overwritten by horror.  And repeat.  I know this as a simple truth. This is ever reliable.

I was for the first time in a year of fear not trembling.

Instead of writing the composition, the way as a writer I was prone to do, or capturing the composition the way as a photographer and painter I was prone to do, somehow I became the composition indivisibly and then, just as mysteriously, I melded with air and breeze. I was still me, old and challenged and broken, and not me, too. I was as much the musician as I was her audience. The violinist drew her bow under an ornamental plum tree, white-blossomed, through which sunlight dappled and sky showed cerulean, and all of these things merged—Bach, the poise of her wrist, how hard she had worked to stand under this blossoming Vancouver tree on this too-cold spring day, the sunshine, my own sorrow and grief and sour-hearted blood mechanics—and I was saved. I had not been able to live, and now, via this merging of talent and music and blossom and chill, I could, again. Happiness filled me as if the hole in my foot had healed and instead had become a hole in my head, and the filling was as complete as the emptying. Where I had been but a shell, I plumped. My corpuscles danced. My mitochondria laughed.

A couple weeks ago, a friend hurt herself badly. Yesterday, there was a terrible home invasion, a harsh injury, on a street where I love people. Yesterday a friend wrote to say that even so people save themselves with minute beauty. I knew she was right. I have done this over and over and over again through my life, redemption (if you like, though I might call it retrieval, or restitution) through the communion wafer of nature, through the holy drink that is nature. People save themselves on buttercups under chins to say if they like butter. People save themselves with raccoon kits, bees’ wings, and bird babies in the eaves. These accidental evolutionary goodnesses. People save themselves with kittens, and lambs pronging in fields, and the slap of a horse’s mane on their hands as they ride barebacked through meadows. People save themselves with good cups of coffee or food.  People save themselves with tickles, with hand holding, just by meeting someone’s eyes. People save themselves with hikes or bicyling or long runs.  These spices of experience.  Fragments of mercy.

I am as dunderheaded as a person could be, but, yet, even so, even despite my flaws and weaknesses and losses, this reliable lift I feel because of the intricacy of a poppy unfolding crumpled petals, is there, is real, is find-able, is replicable, is mine for the looking. You won’t find it where I find it, because we are not the same person, but someday when the intricacy of terror and ruination lift, you will find it all the same–in a child’s giggle, a moon shadow, or in the way birch bark curls.

It is yours.

 

 

 

Méira Cook asks me questions about “allergy”

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sketch Jane Eaton Hamilton 2006

I once wrote a long poem, “allergy,” about serial murderer Ted Bundy from his (imagined) mother’s perspective.  It was included in my first book of poetry from Brick Books called “Body Rain” in 1991.   The excellent poet Méira Cook, whose new book out from Brick Books this spring, 2015, is the intriguingly-titled “Monologue Dogs,” and I had a conversation about “allergy” last year:

Méira Cook/Jane Eaton Hamilton and allergy

Here is my conversation with Méira about her poem “Adam Father:”

Jane Eaton Hamilton/Méira Cook and Adam Father

Celebrate! We gonna have a good time! Amber Dawn glosas!

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I am a fan of Amber Dawn’s writing and I hope to interview her for the site before too long.  In the meantime, let’s take notice of the launch of her new book!  Here is an excerpt from Plenitude Magazine where she glosas one of my poems.  My poem reads just like notes, and Amber Dawn’s continuation is a work of stunning clarity, surprise and resonance.  I have always been resistant to form poetry, but it is works like this, that speak to my community, my people, that convince me that it is not the play but the player that matters.

“I come from a family of suicides,” says Rene Denfield

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2006

I’ll be interviewing René Denfield, author of “The Enchanted,” her knock-out novel about death-row redemption, soon for this blog, but in the meantime, here is her poignant essay, “The Other Side of Loss,” from my friend Jen Pastiloff’s site, Beauty Hunting.

 

Download Free Art Books from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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“You could pay $118 on Amazon for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s catalog The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. Or you could pay $0 to download it at MetPublications, the site offering “five decades of Met Museum publications on art history available to read, download, and/or search for free.” If that strikes you as an obvious choice, prepare to spend some serious time browsing MetPublications’ collection of free art books and catalogs.” Open Culture

Want to earn a buck or two, essayists?

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Here at Scratch Mag is a compilation of (admittedly American) paying sites.  Have at it.

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