Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ivan E. Coyote last night

Ivan E. Coyote reading in Ottawa

Ivan E. Coyote's reading at the Northern Woman's Bookstore was fantastic! And if it wasn't for my sister coming by and pushing me to get out the door, I would've missed this late afternoon storyfest because I was hands deep in water cleaning the fish tank, looking for the lost loach.

So, we walked in a bit late, right into the middle of a spellbound audience. Throughout the reading, Ivan had everyone in stitches, laughing. What a story-teller. Ivan does not only tell you a story, s/he re-lives that story in front of you, and you somehow feel that you know each of the people Ivan tells you about. You can visualize the kitchen, the bar, or the stairwell. Somehow, you too feel yourself part of that circle standing outside the bar, having a smoke. Or sitting at the table when the Mafia man with his one tube sock tucked into his pants comes by to teach Ivan a lesson -- sure to watch this clip til the end!

-- on tying ties, a double Windsor knot, no less. Ivan's dad, however, hated ties. He was more the steel-toe boot kind than the dress shoe type. The story about Ivan's dad's influence on her/his sense of self was both humorous and touching. If you ever get a chance to hear Ivan read, don't miss it. I bought a copy of Ivan's latest book of short stories, The Slow Fix, and I'm already enthralled from reading "Welcome Wagon." You can find the first story, "By Any Other Name," here.

I told Ivan I hope that s/he could come to town to do a writing workshop for s/he has considerable skills to pass along in capturing the minutiae and idiosyncrasies of everyday people and places. I told Ivan that I had used the stories in One Man's Trash in my classes to teach about the intersections of identity and place, and to get thinking to move beyond a reductionist "Oh, this is about sexuality." Hopefully, I told Ivan, the Sleeping Giant Writing Festival here in town will consider bringing her/him in to lead a writing workshop. There were 5 male and 1 female writer headlining the last SGWF, so I think a queer writer would be a great new addition.

Ivan told me that yes, s/he'd love to do that, as currently s/he's been teaching memoir writing to seniors....and then s/he told me a funny story about one of the elderly women who attended the seniors' memoir writing workshop, about how she went to the bookstore to try and find Ivan's books and after quite a search was "Why!" surprised to find "they were in the lesbian section!" I'm sure Ivan will write a story about that one, as there's more to it than that...

Below, find Ivan at the Boot Camp for Procrastinators Workshop, part of Words Aloud.

Friday, November 28, 2008

sometimes you have to be a dragon, sometimes you get to be crow

“A world of beauty, a society of love, a life of abundance and joy are not mere fantasies. They are totally possible, assured, in fact, if the human race lasts long enough for everyone to learn the information we are sharing together here. Such a paradise is what Creation was meant to be, and all it requires is for us to apply what we already know. But we have to get going and move humanity quickly in that direction, because the threat of extinction on this planet is very real and very imminent. The purification prophesied by many of our old ones is inevitable. The only question is whether it means that we change or that we are obliterated.
If you dedicate your life to keeping one place beautiful and helping a handful of people to realize their full potentials, you will be as powerful and as effective as any leader who influences millions of people directly. But if you choose to go beyond that, by winning allies and supporters, there are no limits to what you can create in the world.”


The inspiring quote by Manitonquat is from an online book: Beyond You and Me; Inspiration and Wisdom for Community Building. His chapter is on p. 180. The entire book is inspiring, thought-provoking, and helpful.

In the same book, Starhawk, talks about moving beyond standard power-over hierarchy. To share power-among in meetings, one of her groups have developed a method of animal order:

"We’ve found that certain informal roles are useful in our organizations, our celebrations, and our actions. We’ve called them crows, snakes, graces, dragons, and spiders. The task of the crows is to keep an overview, to keep the groups’ direction in mind, to look ahead, and see to the big picture. The task of the snakes is to keep an underview, to notice what’s not happening, who is not present, what problems are brewing. Graces invite people in, make people welcome, expand the group, Dragons watch the boundaries, keeping track of the details and guarding against intrusions. And spiders sit in the center of the web, linking and communicating. At times these roles are formally designated. At other times, they’re roles we can each take on. They are all aspects of empowering leadership. When they are articulated, they can be shared and rotated more clearly."

A little later in that same chapter she says another something that jumped out:

"Empowering leadership means stepping back as much as stepping forward, not doing something you are good at so that someone else has a chance to learn."

The book is from the Scrbd site, which I recently discovered. It's a great place to find all sorts of free online books and articles on any imaginable topic.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

a snow story

It's starting to snow now. It's the soft pretty kind of snow, the kind you don't mind falling because it's so light and airy. Throws a clean blanket over the leafless landscape, transforming its starkness into a pearly white bed. It's the kind of snow that's refreshing, like a cleansing rain. The kind that signals hope, which is a much called upon emotion these times.

I wrote the following snow story when I used to live in my old house.

She crossed at the traffic lights, walked along the curbside to the driveway, then made her way past the wrought iron gate into the cemetery. The sound of the traffic almost immediately fell away, until the noises of the street were barely discernible behind the old red pines.

The ground under her feet was frozen hard as rock for the temperature was -17c and had been below zero for weeks. But thankfully, no windchill biting through the air. And, as she looked towards the west, she noticed a glittering sun low in the sky, with no clouds to dampen the spirits.

The cemetery was not the one in which her father was buried. He hadn't liked crowds. He preferred trees, birds, nature and the sound of silence rather than the chatter of people. Her father was buried way down the road, ten kilometers, to be exact. In a small country cemetery. Big blue sky overhead. An empty farmer's field across the road. A pond in the back, bordered with tall plume-like reeds that caught the setting sun quite nicely.

It was a cemetery not crowded with the Mary Shelleski’s and "Here Lies the beloved wife of John Smith" and the huge, towering granite crosses engraved, ironically, with the name "Little." There was no big gray slab of a monument with a black-and-white photo of Mary and Bernie hugging each other tied at its base with a wide red plastic ribbon, proclaiming to all passersby: "Together Forever."

And there was not a whole section of small, white stone baby graves from the 50s and 60s. The baby graves are mostly mottled with green now as it's no longer the fashion to segregate babies at death.

A flower gone to heaven, says one. Our little lamb, says another. Safe in the arms of Jesus, yet another.

The baby graves are all covered in snow now. Only the top of an angel's head pokes here and there through the snow. Or an occasional wing tip. All the little stone lambs are completely invisible now, lying silent under a blanket of snow. You wouldn't even know that there was a section of land set aside only for the gone-to-heaven babies of the 50s and 60s — that is, if today was the first time you went for a walk in the cemetery.

And, you know? No one visits those little lambs in the winter. You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. Winter gives it away. There aren't any pathways dug through the snow to where the little angels rest.

Once you're inside the gates where the snow is untrammeled, unblemished and untouched, well, the snow is so brilliantly white — dazzlingly so — that it's hard to see where you are going. With a sea of white before you and a sea of white below you, you find yourself walking inside a snow cloud, directionless. The only thing that mars your whirling into white are the tiny black squiggly lines swimming before your eyes like fish in a fishbowl. The snow so white makes you conscious of disappearing into white. Only your breath and your heart beating hold you back, keep your feet

on the ground, unexpectedly, a path dug out of the snow caught my eye. So neatly shoveled. Like a tunnel. I couldn't resist. I looked over my shoulder (although there is rarely anyone else in the graveyard) and followed the path. It lead to a cleared out grave site. The grave of a three-year-old boy, "Justin Bradley," dead only since last spring.

It's like a shrine. Somebody has placed large, frozen ice blocks on the ground, hollow inside, each holding a blue or red candle. They've been burned, too. There are two tiny white stools, low to the ground. And wreaths of green cedar boughs. Little porcelain angels sit high up on the monument, wistfully looking down.

Someone has dug out all the snow by the child's grave and because there's a lot of it, his grave is like a snow fort. The snow is piled so high, it's like walls around you. Like sheltering inside an igloo, or a quinzy. Yet, it's a snow house with no roof. A snow house with the open sky for a ceiling.

It was so quiet in there. At first, I felt like I was sneaking into someone's private space. Their private sanctuary. I felt a bit guilty. Then, it felt a bit creepy. I thought, how morbid. A shrine to a dead son. How trapped in time. Living in the past. But as I stood there in the cold crisp air, the snow and the grave and the ice candles and the angels worked their magic and I felt something else. A peacefulness.

And knew that I was standing in a silent snowy comfort station, a silent snowy respite from what's out there...

on the other side of the wrought iron gates. Where the snow is dirty, trampled and ugly.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The colour red & the Internet

“One of the things I like best about the Internet is that millions of people whose ideas were ignored in the mainstream media can now be heard. However, one of the things I really hate about the Internet is that millions of people whose ideas were ignored in the mainstream media can now be heard.” William McLaughlin, 25 May 2001; alt.native

Oh, this is so true. The Internet is full of the most fascinating, informative, wondrous ideas and people simultaneously as it is full of the most senseless, useless, racist, obscene ideas and people. Why, just the other day when I was doing some online research I stumbled upon the most racist, disgusting, ignorant blog by a Finnish man. I was shocked. Seems he has nothing better to do but spend his days building a racist, reductionist "history" of Islam and Muslims. Seriously, go get a life. Isn't there anything in Finland that is interesting to write about? Why not try to understand why Finnish men have such a high rate of "traffic suicide"? Not only do Finnish men suicide via vehicle, each year 80 people, mostly men, kill themselves by jumping under trains. That's awful. There are only 5 million people in Finland! These high rates of suicide by car and train tracks are astronomical. What is going on, boys?

Kymin "pikkupunakaartilaisia" The little red troupe from Kymi. 1918

And let's not forget Finland's male gun culture. It goes back a long way, red, white, and beyond. There have been some recent massacres at Kauhajoki and Jokela that have resulted from the mix of masculinity and guns that's crying out for some deep cultural analysis.

So, why doesn't that Finnish blogger focus on his OWN LIFE? Seems there are plenty of things to focus on in Finland, but I guess it is that old Orientalism; it's got a stranglehold on him. He should realize his obsessive infatuation with the East is unhealthy. I got off his site as soon as I realized how hate-filled it was. It is a creepy site. You feel dirty just entering its space. Shouldn't someone be monitoring hate literature like that? Or is this sort of racist hate-mongering allowed in Finland under the pretext of freedom of speech?

With the hand of Fatima I beseech all hatemongerers to cease their racist rantings! Join the folks who are using positive energies to heal our dear Mother earth! Live and give and breathe generous kindness and respect for all living beings!

Seriously, we do not have time to waste on making problems worse; we need to do our share to make a difference.

I'm putting together a course on Identities and Cultures of Digital Technologies and I came across the quote that I opened this post with while reading Native on the Net: Indigenous and Diasporic Peoples in the Virtual Age. Talk about people doing great stuff to make this world a better place and using the Net, too! The quotation is from a chapter on the net engagements of the Taino, an indigenous people of the Caribbean, by Maximilian C. Forte, who has an interesting website. By coincidence, my Finnish first name, Taina, is the name for female Taino people: Taina. There may be more to the Taino/Taina name than that but that's all I know right now.

Same sounding words yet with different meanings are found in many languages. My husband thinks the Finnish female name Kirsi is funny because in Arabic 'kirsi' means ...

'chair'. And one of my elderly Finnish lady friends told me the other day that her grandson's new father-in-law refuses to call him by his first name, Juha, because it means 'mouse' in his South Asian tongue!

And then there's the word 'punainen', which means 'red' in Finnish, but in the Caribbean your face might turn red saying this word. When I was doing my PhD courseload at York U in Toronto, one of my professors had recently gone to Finland to present a paper on poetry. As she wrote the word 'punainen' on the board, she explained that she was fascinated with the word because the word 'woman', that is 'nainen', is inside 'punainen', implying a link between woman and red. Well, two Caribbean Canadian male students immediately burst into laughter. "You're kidding, right?" they asked, shaking their heads. After their laughter calmed down they explained that 'punainen' in the Caribbean means c*#t, the c word.

Oh, dear.

In Native on the Net, I also came across the following quote:

Contests over the future, and who owns it, almost invariably involve contests over the past.” ~ Kyra Landzelius.

Kyra Landzelius, the editor of the book, also writes a chapter on the U'wa peoples activism to save the rainforest, which is where I found her statement. What she said really jumped out at me as it made me think how true this is not only for the U'wa people whose struggle for justice she is documenting, but also for people like the Red Finns, the Palestinians, and Canada's First Nations. For is it not true that the people/governments who grabbed power (the White Finns, Israel, and the nation of Canada, respectively) hope to steer the future by repressing those parts of the past that don't fit with their story of nation-building?

I'm also currently teaching a course I created called Ethnography: Stories of Identity Across Cultures. One of the modules I set up is called Talking Back to being Othered and the required reading is the website of Rommi Smith, a British woman of Nigerian descent who is a playwright, spoken word and music performance artist, poet, and educator. Rommi Smith has written an amazing poem called A Guide to the Exhibition for the Parliament and the British Slave Trade 1600-1807 exhibition. In discussing Rommi's website on our class discussion board, I posted the following comment which speaks to how "buried knowledges" and "subjugated histories"(Foucault) refuse to stay silenced and erupt, especially finding the Net a place where previously subjugated knowledges can proliferate, waiting to be excavated by the netcrawler:

The interesting and empowering thing about the Net is that, like websites such as Rommi Smith's show, it creates a space to insert histories that have been erased, marginalized, destroyed, taken away, burned. Records that have been destroyed by those who write dominant histories, the grand narratives, can be unearthed and re-written in new ways and disseminated across the globe. In this sense, the Internet allows us to recover histories and identities that have been erased or distorted, hence making a significant challenge on veracity claims. Indeed, it is a space beyond the control of mainstream institutions and corporate media which continue to ignore, misrepresent, suppress and hide flesh and blood histories.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Keep Out!

No matter where we go there are signs of barriers, signs of people making firm borders around themselves, signs of people trying to keep things how they want them, nice and neat. The messy stuff, however, keeps growing. It comes in from this way n' that. It snakes through. Comes in at a slant. It abruptly crashes in. It just keeps growing and growing no matter how hard some try to clip it out. You can't keep it out.

And that's the glimmer of hope on the horizon, I remind myself. No matter how hard some people try to keep the (his)stories their own.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Red Finnish women 1918

Naisia tietyömaalla Simpeleellä ~Female road crew at Simpeleel.

As you can see, someone's mother is in the middle of this group of women building roads somewhere in Finland during the civil war. This photo from the Kansan Arkisto (Finnish) People's Archives is found on a page of photos from the 1918 civil war. On the page, the caption under the middle photo reads: Women at a construction site. The Finnish text at the bottom of the page reads:

"After the war, life continued. Men waited to be released from the prison camps to return home to work, but the wait for many became extended. Women and children persistently forged ahead however they could. 20000 children were left orphaned as a result of the war. Red children were taken from their parent(s) and placed in orphanages and (white/non-socialist) families. Because their men were in prisons, women ended up also doing men’s work."

Sairaanhoitajia, Loviisa.
Valokuva A. Johansson. ~ Nurses in Lovi, photo by A. Johansson. These are red guard nurses.
A few weeks ago Hanna Snellman, a visiting professor from Jyväskylä University, came to do a photo presentation and talk on Finnish women during the 1918 civil war. I found a few of the photos she showed, like the 2 above, online at the (Finnish) People's Archives. To a crowd of about 50 who had come out to the Finlandia Club to see her presentation, Hanna commented on and showed photos about the 1918 war and women's roles in the war, both on the white side and red side.

Known as the Vapaus Sota (War of Freedom) to the whites, the Luoka Sota (Class War) to the reds, now it is referred to as the Kansallis Sota (Civil War). The civil war came on the heels of the Russian occupiers leaving Finland, and was a power struggle concerning the political direction that the newly freed nation should take. Of course, the social, political and economic context of the Finnish civil war is complex, with reams of scholarship and opinion.

It was a short but brutal war (4 months) with terrible atrocities committed on both sides, but with the reds suffering heavier losses. The white side won the war, and as victors are apt to do, wrote the history of Finland up until the recent past. After the war, being red was outlawed, seen as a scourge, and much had to be hidden away. Many men on the red side were taken away to prison camps, people were executed, and many others stolen, injured or suffered other hardships. And for many years it was illegal to commemorate the reds in any way.

Kansalaissota. Punakaartilainen E. Wanhanen ja tunnistamaton naisseuralainen ateljeekuvassa vuonna 1918. Civil War. Red Guard E. Wanhanen and an unknown female friend in a studio portrait 1918. [type in sota to find the photo]
The majority of photos in the Finnish Archives are of the red side, which is why most of the photos she showed were of the red side. Hanna explained that during the war, before heading out to the front, whether white or red, many people had family photos taken or photos of themselves with friends and neighbours, like the one above, as momentos. After the war, however, these same photos were used to round up the people who lost, that is, the reds. So, the whites would go door to door collecting photos and forcibly getting people to identify who was in them. They would write the names on the back. That is why there are so many photos of reds in the archives with people identified.

The people in the photos, as well as the photographers, were then arrested, collected and then thrown in prison camps, or executed. The red side had to be punished. There was much lawlessness.

Vartija ja vankeja Fellmanin pellolla Lahdessa. Guards and prisoners at Felman field. On this page you can see a photo that shows rows and rows of people who had been arrested and brought to this field in Lahde. 20000 reds were collected here in April and May of 1918. Most of the women and children were sent home, but the men were sent to various prison camps. Here too in Lahde was where many women were executed.

36000 people were killed during the civil war, of those 27000 were reds. 9000 were killed in action; 11000 were killed outside the front. There were 15000 punaleskija (red widows). 15000 red orphans (the website said 20000). 600 red orphans were shipped to Pohjanmaa to be raised in white families. 10000 people were executed; of those 7000 were red, 1500 were white, others unidentified. 364 women were executed, most in Lahde when the war was over. 12000 died of hunger in the prison camps. The prison camps were death camps; a blight on Finnish history.

Political ideology was not necessarily the deciding factor in whether someone was on the white side or the red side. Sometimes, there was a knock on the door and you were taken away to fight on the side of who came knocking. It was a time of starvation, thus others joined to get something to eat, or to get work.

There were 2000 white female Jaegar troops (volunteer fighters trained by the Germans), and the same number of red women soldiers with guns. Lots of these photos are in the archives. Many of the women were very young, some as young as 17.

Verna Erikson, a young student, was a Helsinki White Guard. This image became a popular iconic photo, a sexualizing of female resistance. The photo was originally published on the front cover of the Suomen Kuva Lehti (Finnish Photo Magazine) in June 1918, just shortly after the civil war ended. Although there are photos of white women of the civil war time, they were not the ones collected. Rather, because Mannerheim frowned on women carrying guns, images of mother or grandmother in active resistance were put in the bottom of the drawer. Except for the sexy photo of Verna. It has lived on, although she died of cancer shortly after posing for this photo.

In the 1960s, as Hanna related, a flood of narratives and repressed memories surfaced, resulting in 10000 pages collected by researchers. Up to that point, the history that was taught in Finland was white history. Some people still have a problem acknowledging the red history of Finland because that would be acknowledging the white atrocities. Both sides committed atrocities; history is clear on that. Yet one side disproportionately faced dire consequences by being on the losing side. Up til the recent past the white victors/history has been a celebratory one. Any hint of opening up the red can of worms makes some folks uncomfortable. Like the writer of an opinion(ated) piece/letter in this week's local Finnish language newspaper, Canadan Sanomat. He, too, attended Hanna's talk, but wrote that she was biased to the reds, confused, poorly prepared, and accused her of trying to change Finnish history to cleanse the reputation of the reds. "Aika laittaa punaiset pyykkilaudat hyllylle", Time to put the "red washboard" on the shelf, he said, as old memories.

Sadly, his washboard metaphor not only makes red history into a relic, discounting the importance of returning to history with critical questions and new eyes to piece together a more comprehensive account that doesn't white-wash history, sanitizing it, but also, discounts women's work...

Kansalaissota. Punakaartin sairaanhoitajia vuonna 1918.Civil war. Red guard nurses. 1918.

...and taking women out of history results in a distorted history. Acknowledging the work of our grandmothers is important, washboards, guns, and all.

Punakaartilaisnaisia 1918. Red guard women 1918.

Friday, November 21, 2008

@ Northern Woman's Bookstore: Ivan E. Coyote

You can't miss the new sign for the Northern Woman's Bookstore that Sara Horsley made! It's sunny yellow shines out at you, and that woman reading a book under the jackpine or black spruce? Why, she just might be you. Thank you, Sara, for designing and making the new sign; it is great. Now we can tell folks, just look for the yellow sign!

The Northern Woman's Bookstore often hosts events. Earlier this year, Lorraine Mayer, author of Cries from a Metis Heart gave a reading at NWB. That's Lorraine on the right with Margaret Philips, the owner of the bookstore and feminist extraordinaire, on the left. Margaret just won the Bay Credit Union Social Responsibility Award for 2008, which is in recognition of her many years of work for social justice and community building. This follows on the heels of her being awarded the Kouhi Award 2008 for her contributions to local writing and writers. She is an amazing woman!

Next Friday, Margaret is welcoming Pride Central and their hosting of Ivan E. Coyote, who will be reading at NWB just before the Take Back the Night march that is convening this year at DefSup. I had Ivan's book of short stories One Man's Trash as required reading for a past course on Multiculturalism and Identity that I taught, and it was a great source of cultural explorations. I look forward to hearing her new work. Below are the invites to next Friday's events:

You are invited Event at the Northern Woman's Bookstore!!

Arsenal Pulp Press and Pride Central Present:


Ivan will be reading at the Northern Woman's Bookstore on November 28th, at 4:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend. Beverages and good things to eat will be available.

The Globe and Mail called Ivan "a natural-born storyteller" and Ottawa X Press said "Coyote is to CanLit what K.D. lang is to country music: a beautifully odd fixture." Toronto Star praises Coyote’s “talent for sketching the bizarre in the everyday”, and Quill’s Magazine says Ivan has a “distinctive and persuasive voice, a flawless sense of pacing, and an impeccable sense of story.” Ivan’s first novel, Bow Grip, was released in the fall of 2006, and was awarded the Relit award for best fiction and named by the American Library Association as a Stonewall honor book in literature. Ivan’s fifth collection of stories, The Slow Fix, was released in September, 2008

Arsenal Pulp Press & Pride Central present:
“The Slow Fix” by Ivan E. Coyote
Book Launch
Friday, November 28 @ 4pm
At the Northern Woman’s Bookstore
65 Court Street South

For more information please contact Pride Central 343-8813

The LU Gender Issues Centre presents … “Take Back The Night”
~ An International Women's March Protesting Rape and Violence Against Women; FRI. NOV. 28, 6:00-10:30pm @ Definitely Superior Art Gallery [250 Park Ave]. Take Back the Night is moving to Port Arthur! After a few years of marching down Simpson St. we're taking back the night in downtown Port Arthur, to recognize that violence happens throughout Thunder Bay. Speakers start at 6pm. March starts at 7:15pm. FREE Entertainment and Refreshments afterwards. Men are welcome to come to the event, but will be staying behind during the march to discuss issues around violence against women as part of the White Ribbon Campaign. INFO: or call: 343-8879.

The evening of Dec. 2nd NWB will be hosting a Poetry night featuring prize winning poet Erin Stewart, with readings by other feminists from the bookstore. More on that later. This flower pot sits on the small round table at the front of the bookstore. Margaret got it as a gift about 8 years. This Cyclamen refuses to quit. Cyclamens are known to be difficult to grow indoors for more than a season, so this plant's 8 year fortitude -- in a northern climate, and facing a north window -- is nothing less than amazing! To me, this cyclamen, her beauty and stamina, her survival against all odds (sometimes she goes weeks without watering!) reminds me of the strength of women. Like Margaret! Her store, the Northern Woman's Bookstore, one of the few remaining independent bookstores, and a feminist one, too! is a testament to women's resilience, staying power and not just surviving, but thriving!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Entering the tunnel*

This was before the snow blew into town on Tuesday night. In the stark landscape of November every bit of colour that intervenes in the drabness is like a cheery hello from a stranger. These mountain ash berries on a young tree at the banks of the McVicar Creek won't last long when a flock of starlings descends for a quick last feed before heading down south.

Monday morning the waterfall was getting its ice cap. After our snowfall and freezing clampdown I'm sure that when I walk next in the morning the waterfall will be ice. If the batteries in my camera don't get drained right away like they've been apt to do, maybe I can show you its new facade. The weather here changes on a dime and in a day or two we can have dramatic changes.

This dash-of-lemon-yellow male evening grosbeak was out at Helen's feeders at Warnicke Lake. The feeder looks like a little house of its own, perched on a spray of birch legs. The photo is an illusion because while you can easily swim across the lake if you are a proficient swimmer, the far shore and the sauna across the lake are not as close as they appear in this photo.

A well-loved Finnish window decoration, looking out to the lake, a well-loved Finnish pastime, as is bird watching.

Small droplets of ice bob on the ends of the lake grasses.

* that is, into the darkness of winter.

Monday, November 17, 2008

-16 in the morning

Tonight will be going down to -16c. I can already feel the cold air creeping in through any available crack. Morning won't be any warmer, either. Camera batteries, as I found out, suddenly drain in the freezing cold. Quite a nuisance. Hands fumble and fingers don't quite work. They should invent a camera for the cold.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mimi's cat

Eileen, yesterday, pieni kissa, a small cat, jumped on the roof of my car when I pulled up into the driveway. I had returned from my mom's and sister's, where I went to have a morning coffee, first having stopped at Harri Paakari, one of the Finnish bakeries in town, to pick up some of Harri's famous freshly made danishes and lemon leaves pastries.

First, the cat tried to get into my car. Me pois!, I shooed her away. Nonchalantly, she followed me to the front door and mewed loudly to be let in. "I'm not letting you in! Get out!" Nonchalantly, she plunked herself down on the doorstep. I squeezed in the door, using my leg to keep her out. Me pois kuule kissa! Get out you darn cat!

I think she is part of the clan of a million blue cats. At Least a Million Blue Cats. Ainakin Miljoona Sinistä Kissaa, another one of the old Finnish books I've found at rummage sales. This fantastic book by Kaarina Helakisa, published in 1978, has great illustrations, too. When I get back from having a sauna at Armi's today I am going to read the chapter "Seitsemän ovea ja seitsemän sinistä kisaa sekä vähän tähtitiedettä ja kynteliä ja kuminaa" ~ Seven doors and seven blue cats along with a bit of starlore and tears and some noisy clanging.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oi Aiti...oh, Mother

You can find my sister, Della, singing on this YouTube clip of a DVD/cd set called The Hoito Project which is a benefit to help raise funds to restore the Finnish hall on Bay St. Find Della on 4.50 min.; it's just a part of the song she sung. The full song is on the cd which is available for purchase. The cover art of The Hoito Project is by Vesa Peltonen, and very soon prints will be available for donors who give $500 or more to the Finnish Heritage Building Fund.

Della's contribution to The Hoito Project is a traditional Finnish woman's song, Oi Aiti, simply, Oh, Mother. The adult daughter calls out to her mother, beseeching her that I need to share my problems with you, my heart is heavy. She laments her loss of innocence, the heavy weight of life's struggles and deceptions are pressing in and she yearns for the light days of youth. She calls out to her mother in the voice of a child, yet with adult experience. There are other interesting performances on this clip, too, including "Marianen" by Pekko Kappi and a song by Jouhiorkesteri.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

did you see that? said Crow

November came in with a fury this Sunday

and today is bitterly cold, too.

No hand can stop the clasp of winter.

No more romancing with the global warming side of climate change, winter is clamping its teeth down on us. The winds were from the northwest on Sunday, and in November that means oh-oh, time to get out the warmest scarves, gloves, and coat. Tights, too, under your pants so the icy wind doesn't burn your legs red. My toasty bed tried to seduce me to stay and sleep some more, but Musti and Tassu were waiting. I bundled up and headed out doors towards the welcoming howls of the dogs.

I was gifted with the sight of the eagle again. Of course. Each time I doubt or waffle I'm reminded of the blessings to be found, especially under the harshest conditions. At first I wasn't sure if it was the eagle battling the winds way up high. But who else would have the strength of wing to fight the northwesterlies across the open waters?

It was the white band of his square tail feathers that gave him away. He wasn't flying in spirals this time; today was not the day for leisurely soaring. Wings outstretched, he was mercurial, in a war dance with the wind, holding his own against the winds that are just the first taste of what's yet to come.

Wrapping my scarf closer to my throat, I watched the eagle fly across the bay and hover steady against the wind. Suddenly, he plummeted, talons outstretched like a greedy child, down down like a screeching meteorite to where the geese and the ducks were taking shelter. A loud squawking and honking and beating of feathers and splashing ensued. I wrapped my scarf closer to my throat.

Even the grasses stopped their sashaying amongst the struggle for life.

The eagle flew up, a lit on a hydro wire. No bird or blood on his talons this time. He calmly surveyed his turf. His white-tipped boat of a tail bobbed in the wind. He turned to look at me and the dogs

and flew off.

did you see that? said Crow

Monday, November 10, 2008

Definitely Superior message of Beauty!

My sister, Katja Maki, had one of her art selected for the 20th Regional Juried Exhibition at Definitely Superior Art Gallery. We attended the opening night last month, and once again Rene and Dave had planned a fantastic party! The exhibition ends this Saturday, Nov. 15 so if you have not seen it yet, and you live in the region, head on down to the gallery. Katja's selected piece was also featured on the front page of the local Finnish newspaper, Canadan Sanomat. Her art is titled "Mother Nature's Communication" and in it you can find one of the beautiful cardinals that has visited her over and over again this fall. Her artist statement is below. Her visual and text speak to the power of beauty to spread its wings of everlasting hope in our hearts! "Take note and take action"!

Mother Nature’s Communication by Katja Maki:

Mother Nature communicates with us constantly. The shape of a datura, the song of a bird, the smoothness of a rock worn down by the lake, the taste of the wind: these are a few ways in which she addresses us in Northwestern Ontario. The 21st century has had an inauspicious start due to the devastating effects of climate change, globalization and pollution. Mother Nature sees us but some of us cannot see her or hear her message clearly as life rushes by at blinding speed. There is no time to stop. Many don’t realize that Mother Nature is a part of us and we are a part of her. That what we do to her, we do to ourselves. The loss in the number of songbirds and extinction of species makes it only too clear what will happen to the human race and our planet home if we continue on this course.

Mother Nature implores us to take note and take action. My work illustrates my relationship with Mother Nature. Sometimes I hear her strident call; at other times she speaks to me in an urgent whisper. Through my art, I tangibly answer her, acknowledge her gifts and attempt to show her beauty and complexity.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Love Letter to King Tutankh-amen

I painted this statue of young King Tutankhamen about 25 years ago when I used to take "ceramics classes". They weren't classes where you actually made ceramics; they were classes where you purchased ready-made clay pieces, sanded them, and then painted them and fired them. This was very popular in the 80s. I made a plate with flowers for my mom, a honey pot for myself, and this head of Tutankhamen. Now it sits on the top of the bookshelf looking down at me as I type. To take this photo I placed it on a blue Egyptian cotton housedress that was given to me as a gift about 20 years ago. Unlike my fake Tut, it is handmade in Egypt.

I used to keep this Tut I painted on the stairwell, but had to move it so not to give the wrong impression of accepting idolatry to some of the more conservative-minded Muslims who came over. But they weren't the only ones who didn't take a shine to Tut. If you look closely at the end photo, you will see that that the base of the cobra on his crown was broken. I glued it back on after my mother snapped it off. She hates snakes. As an Evangelical Christian she believes snakes symbolize the devil, so she broke it off when I wasn't looking. I got mad at her, but she didn't care. Said she didn't do it. How else did it just break off? I asked her angrily. She pretended she didn't hear me, but kept a small smile on her face. What's the point of breaking it off? I said. I will just glue it back on.

This is where I live. Among many negotiations.

I came across a most beautiful poem recently, by a woman, now dead, named Dulce Maria Loynaz. She was Cuban. Her story is very interesting. She wrote poems when she was younger, but was only "discovered" again in her 80s. She had a PhD in Law but rarely practiced. In her youth she had a very limited audience but that never stopped her from writing. Once, she went to Egypt at the time when the tomb of Tut was "discovered" by the West, and wrote the following poem.

Love letter to King Tutankhamen. by Dulce Maria Loynaz

Young King Tut-Ank-Amen.

Yesterday afternoon in the museum, I saw the little ivory column which you painted blue and pink and yellow.

For that fragile object, useless and meaningless in our mean existence, for that simple little column painted by your fine hands — leaves of autumn — I would have given the most beautiful ten years of my life, also useless and meaningless. Ten years of love and faith.

Next to the little column I also saw, young King Tut-Ank-Amen, I also saw yesterday afternoon — one of those brilliant afternoons of your Egypt — I also saw your heart, kept safe in a gold box.

For that little heart crumbled to dust, for that little heart kept in a box of enamelled gold, I would have given my own heart, young and warm; still pure.

Because yesterday afternoon, King filled with death, my heart beat for you, full of life, and my life embraced your death and, it seemed to me, melted it.

It melted the hard death clinging to your bones, with the heat of my breath, with the blood of my dream, and after that uproar of love and death I am still intoxicated with love and with death...

Yesterday afternoon — afternoon of Egypt sprinkled with white ibises — I loved your impossible eyes beyond the crystal.

And in another distant Egyptian afternoon like this afternoon — its light shattered with birds — your eyes were immense, split along your trembling brows.

Long ago in another afternoon like this afternoon of mine, your eyes spread themselves above the earth, opened themselves above the earth like the two mysterious lotuses of your country.
Reddened eyes: dried by the twilight air, the color of rivers swollen with September.

Lords of a kingdom were your eyes, lords of flourishing cities, of gigantic stones then already a thousand years old, of fields sown to the horizon, of armies victorious far beyond the deserts of Nubia, whose agile archers, whose intrepid charioteers have been frozen forever in profile in hieroglyphs and on monoliths.

Everything fit into your eyes, tender and powerful King, everything was destined for you before you had time to see it. And certainly you didn't have time.

Now your eyes are closed and a gray dust covers the eyelids; only this gray dust, the ashes of exhausted dreams. Now between your eyes and my eyes forever lies an adamantine crystal.

For these your eyes which I could never pry open with my kisses, I would give to whoever wants them my own eyes, avid for landscapes, thieves of your heaven, masters of the world's sun.
I would give my living eyes to feel for a moment your gaze across three thousand nine hundred years. To feel your gaze on me now — however it might come — vaguely terrified, curdled out of the pallid halo of Isis.

Young King Tut-Ank-Amen, dead at nineteen years of age: let me tell you these crazy things which perhaps no one else has ever told you, permit me to tell them to you in the solitude of my hotel room, in the chill of walls shared with strangers, walls colder than the walls of the tomb which you didn't wish to share with anyone.

I tell you this, adolescent King, frozen forever in profile in your immovable youth, in your crystallized grace... Frozen in that expression which forbade the sacrifice of innocent doves, in the temple of the terrible Ammon-Ra.

This is how I will continue to see you when I am far away, you standing straight before the jealous priests in a flurry of white wings...

I will take nothing from you beyond this dream, because you are everything which is foreclosed to me, prohibited, infinitely impossible. From century to century your gods kept watch over you, hanging onto the very last hair.

I think that your hair must have been straight as the night rain. And I think that because of your hair, because of your doves and your nineteen years so close to death, I would have been then what I will never be now: a little bit of love.

But you didn't wait for me and you fled along the edge of the crescent moon; you didn't wait for me and you fled toward death like a child going to the park, laden with toys with which you are not yet tired of playing. Followed by your ivory carriage, your trembling gazelles.

If sensible people wouldn't have been indignant, I would have kissed your toys one by one, heavy toys of gold and silver, strange toys with which no ordinary child — soccer-player, boxer — would know how to play.

If sensible people wouldn't have been scandalized, I would have taken you from your golden sarcophagus, enclosed in three wooden sarcophagi inside a great sarcophagus of granite, I should have taken you from the depths, so sinister, which render you more dead to my bold heart which you make beat strongly, which only for you has ever beaten, oh sweetest King! in this bright afternoon of Egypt — arm of the Nile's light.

If sensible people wouldn't have been enraged, I would have taken you from your five sarcophagi, I would have unwrapped the bindings which so oppress your feeble body, and I would have wrapped you softly in my silken shawl.

I would have rested you upon my breast like a sick child. And as if to a sick child, I would have begun to sing to you the most beautiful of my tropical songs, the sweetest, the briefest of my poems.

(Spanish: Carta de Amor al Rey Tut-Ank-Amen) from the book Poemas naúfragos (1950)
Translation by Judith Kerman, first published in Michigan Quarterly Review, Fall 1997

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama: change or more of the same for Palestinians?

Someone once said to me that I'm like a bee that buzzes straight to the heart of a thing and then disrupts everything that's been so nicely laid out. Someone else once told me I should learn how to talk in a way that doesn't make people upset. Someone else once told me they were afraid to meet me after reading my writings because I was so passionate and somehow my searching eyes would be able to read their mind and they would fail to meet my litmus test, fail to meet my standards that were so strong and confident in their ethics.

I have been told many times that I am too intense. Way, way too many times that I'm way way too political. My adult kids have sometimes called me Debbie Downer.

Sure, it's great that Obama won the election; at last, an intelligent, articulate, thoughtful person to lead the US! What a change. His family is lovely; his wife is intelligent; his family sincerely seems to be a breath of clean air in the power echelons. Plastic surgery, closet alcoholism, sexual escapades, prescription drug addiction, or compulsive lying don't seem to be part of him or his family as they do for the others we have had to bear. That Obama was able to make it to run for president as a man who did not grow up in a privileged family says something about his fortitude, hard work, capabilities of working with others, and his intelligence.

That he is an African American man and is now the president elect is absolutely history-making and I deeply share the joy of all people, especially African Americans, on whose enslaved labour the US was built, who get to witness such a change. I find his message of hope and change inspiring; his call for collective ground level work refreshing from the top-down dictates that have so far ruled the way things are done. Watching his speech on Tuesday night and the tearful and joyful faces of all the people who deeply desire for their country, for their children, for their people meaningful change, I was moved. Yes, I was moved to tears to see their/our hopes and dreams spill out.

But in the midst of my elation that Obama had trounced McCain (and the ignorant, bible-thumping Palin) and quashed more Republican mismanagement of the US, that bee started buzzing.

It started last night when I read that Obama had asked Rahm Emanuel to be the Chief of Staff in his administration. Emanuel, after brief consideration, has accepted.

Rahm Emanuel, who served in the Clinton administration, takes a very hardline pro-Israeli (regime) stance. His father was once in the Irgun, the proto-Israeli terrorist organization that was responsible for the deaths of many Palestinians, and provoking them to flee their lands in terror. Irgun is part of the ethnic cleansing of the 400+ Palestinian villages, the removal of these places from the map, and the 750,000 fleeing people, many who ended up in Gaza.* His father is now a pediatrician. I wonder, how does one deal with the contradiction of going from killing babies to healing babies? I guess some babies count, others do not.

Of course, we are not our fathers or mothers, but Emanuel has shown himself to actively support the ideology and funding of the state of Israel (US gives billions of $$ of support to Israel). He sends his children to a Jewish school to ensure their orthodox training and heritage. I'm not against folks sending their children to religious schools, but I am deeply concerned about what sorts of values get taught in particular religious schools, be they Jewish, Christian or Islamic, to name a few. He proactively works on steering US policy to favour Israel at the expense of the rights of Palestinians. He gave a speech in Congress supporting the bombing of Lebanon and Iraq.

This morning after my walk, I sat down with my husband, who was watching a news report on Democracy Now on Obama and the question of what does his rhetoric of change mean to the Palestinians? The show is called President-Elect Obama and the Future of US Foreign Policy: A Roundtable Discussion. You can watch the whole show by Real Video Stream on their website. Especially articulate and aware of the problems of having Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, and more telling, Obama's distancing himself from anyone who might be considered pro-Palestinian, is Ali Abunimah. The show is almost an hour long, and there is lots of food for thought on it, but if you are pressed for time, go to 23 min, and you will hit on the section with the interview with Abunimah.

Especially disheartening for me to hear was Obama's speech at AIPAC , America's pro-Israel lobby, and his unequivocal support of Jerusalem as exclusively belonging to Israel, of his unequivocal support of an exclusively Jewish state. In other words, supporting an exclusive state. Now, Mr. Obama, doesn't that message of excluding people from citizenship and from full rights somehow not ring a bell to you?

African American poet June Jordan (1936-2002) once said that you can tell how generous one's ideas of human rights and justice are if you ask them where they stand regarding the Palestinians [my rough paraphrase].

What she meant by that is that the question of the human rights of the Palestinians is a moral litmus test. Interviewed by David Barsamian for Alternative Radio in October of 2000, June Jordan said:

“If anybody anywhere would trouble himself or herself to get the U.N. resolutions beginning with 242 and come all the way up to now, you would understand that there is a double standard in place. In 1967 it called for unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from all the lands that they had taken during the June war. U.N. 242 was adopted unanimously by the Security Council. It has never been rescinded. It is international law. It has never been enforced. There are no chosen people here, just human beings and sovereign states, to which one standard must apply. If it doesn't apply and if it breaks down so that everlastingly the Palestinians and the Arab peoples are not seen as having normal, regular human rights, while the Israeli nation is seen as exempt from all international law, that perpetrates a racist discourse that I think is the moral litmus test of my life.”

Menassat also has a piece that collects a number of questions regarding Obama and US foreign policy in the ME.

* Some info on the unconscionable siege of Gaza, from the Popular Committee Against the Seige:

- In Gaza, Palestinian people are subjected to (a) medieval siege and forgotten by the international community. The borders are still closed and only a flow of supplies enter in Gaza, determined by the Zionist occupier, Israel.
-Around 80% of Gaza populations live under poverty line.
- 1.100.000 peoples depend on humanitarian aids provided by UNRWA, Arab, Islamic and foreign organizations.
- Unemployment ratio reached 65%
- 60% of Gaza's children suffer from Malnutrition.
- About 97% of factories and workshops stopped working, specifically 3900 factories. The industrial zone of Gaza is completely closed.
- Individual income 650$ per year and 2 $ a day.
- Freedom of movement from Gaza to the West bank, Jerusalem and outside world is being blocked.
- Around 260 people died due to blocking them from either travel for treatment or lack of medicines.
- Nearing to 40% of siege victims are from children.
- About 150 of medicines sorts are not available in Gaza.
- The only medical factory is halted due to shortage of raw materials.
- Projects of constructing and developing hospitals, clinics and educational bodies are being suspended!
- There are still daily power cuts

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The birch bark general and his daughter

Hämä-hämähäkki kiipes langalle.
Tuli sade rankka, hämähäkin vei.
Aurinko armas kuivas satehen.
Hämä-hämähäkki kiipes uudelleen

Our mother also played with us the finger game and song your mother played with you. It's Itsy-bitsy (or eency-weency) Spider in Finnish.

[click on photo to enlarge]

Funny you should mention this finger game of childhood, because by chance while I was looking for books on visual culture at the university library a couple of days ago, I spied on the top shelf a book with a Finnish title: Pelit ja Leikit (1981)[Games and Play, edited by Pekka Laaksonen]. It has chapters on "Do you understand Play?", "Will Play End?", "Can Laughter die?", "Dangerous/Risky Games", "Playing Marriage", "The Old Song-dances", "Play and word games in the Roma Culture" (but that last one actually says "mustalaiskuultturissa" [black gypsies' culture] not Roma Culture. The photo above with its caption made me laugh out loud, so laughter can not die, but certainly why we laugh changes. The caption for the photo (which is dated 1878, taken in Oulu) explains this to be a photo of Juho Pietarinpoika Lankila from Kalajoki wearing his handmade suit of birch bark. He was called the Birchbark General and he used to put on his birchbark suit for show around Oulu, to collect small sums of money... that is, until one day his daughter in a fit of temper (literally angry-headedly) burned his unusual one-of-a-kind suit.

I couldn't help but wonder, what made his daughter so mad?

ajaijai....voi, aijaijai....this expression is typically Finnish, at least in the way I grew up with the old Kauhajoen murre [dialect] and ways, and that is something is hurtful, somehow terrible, but can be endearing too, and even funny. It is funny/sobering, as this story of the daughter burning the bread-and-butter of her dad's life. He must've done something unforgivable. Or maybe she felt slighted in some way and had a nasty, angry personality (I met a Finnish Canadian woman like this recently, an elderly woman who's real hell to be around). Whatever the birch bark general did or did not do, something happened to provoke his daughter's terrible rage.

Ajajaja – ajajaja
Kuulin siitä
muilta ihmisiltä,
Kuulin sanottavan…
Aja jai – ja
Ajaija – aja