Silicon Heaven

Silicone Heaven

I must confess, I liked my last blog so much (the one I didn’t post, which you know nothing about so far) I decided to see if anyone would misguidedly pay me to publish it, so I’ve fallen behind on my prodding of the electronic air-space.

And, not to whine or anything, my husband still has a broken leg, the inside rabbit was discovered to be male (or the horror!) and the outside rabbit made it’s escape, only not far enough away, and our neighbor Henry kick-knocked the door late one night with the squirming thing in his arms and an enormous smile on his face after he tempted it to its incarcerated doom with lettuce and kale.

And my daughter got her hair-ends dyed blue at a friend’s house, and thus we got the bathtub dyed the next bath day, and I have a slow-burning cold, and my husband’s leg is still broken, and the price of the genital modification of the never-was-a-female rabbit is about $250 dollars.

So why did it seem like the best thing to hang on the internet wall this month was one of my first digital images, in which the goldfish’s for-sale bag is re-hung upside down and it looks like a hot-air balloon floating off with the televised breast-implant from a show in which some white-robed flunky gleefully squashed the mammaries of a compliant surgery victim?

Because that’s what my life is like.

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Dragon

Dragon Glyph from The Book of Beasts

As I was working on the editing of The Book of Beasts, I was also working on some small wood and lino-cuts, wanting to continue my tradition of publishing visual art in my books. The book designer found a real medieval tile for the book cover, and this little dragon went between the pages.

We were also on sabbatical. My husband thought it would be great to live in an 8x29ft travel trailer through a Rainy British Columbia winter with our two children, then five and two.

The only thing he was worried about was turning the thing off the road, through the narrow entrance to our bit of old-growth forest.

What I worried about was living in an 8x29ft travel trailer through a rainy British Columbia winter with two children.

We spent a month getting there, travelling through Saskatchewan and Alberta, but in September, we got a rental house.

This was the winter of the pineapple express, storms whipped up from Hawaii, high on global warming.

During the first storm, I had run inside after hearing the crack and impact of trees falling in the forest. I watched one tree that seemed to keep falling over, but kept snapping back up again. I backed away from the window when I saw the top of another tree appear above me, having fallen on our house from the other side. The next morning, after the winds had calmed, we went out to see power lines down between every pole in the area, old growth trees down, and one woman’s shed jacked 6 feet in the air on the root-ball of a fallen tree. The tree on our rental house was a relatively small one, but was attached to the root-ball of an old growth of about 4 feet in diameter that had fallen right beside the house.

It looked like some sort of angry monster had smashed through the neighborhood – why not a dragon? When something bad happens, people naturally search for someone to blame rather than a disembodied force.

During that storm, tornadoes had been sighted by many, including our Kansas neighbor, who knew what she was talking about. I began to wonder if my feeling of unease among the trees and the mountains had something to do with not being able to see the weather coming, like in Saskatchewan – also a place where people have basements to hide in.

The second storm was forecast to follow the same path. Without power or running water, with a 2 ½ year-old who had just decided to stop wearing diapers, but hadn’t yet decided that making her way to the potty was always a good idea, we decided to become refugees and fled to a friends house two islands away.

The storm turned south instead, and smashed down Stanley Park, but it was a week before our electricity returned.

Winter ended eventually. We were thrown out of the rental house at the beginning of June to make room for tourists, and went back into the trailer.

The whole thing rocked and shook when the kids jumped up and down. There was a permanent bruise on my thigh where I kept bashing into the edge of the banquette, and every time I raised my arm to dress or undress, I hit my knuckles on the ceiling.

At first I thought it was like being attacked, but it was more like after being attacked — like being digested in the hard splinter-cornered, hollow-core, plywood gullet of a wrong-side-of-the-tracks, trailer-park of a nightmare, its gas stove reeking and belching flames.

After six weeks, with a feeling of great joy, we sold it.

Now, every time we see a big trailer rolling down the highway, we yell in disgust and make the sign of the cross that’s supposed to ward off vampires and other evils, so much do we still hate the grey and black water-guts of our once-upon-a-time beast.

Books

The Encyclopedia of Mummies, Bob Brier.

A-Z. I must be a real nerd.

Payback, Margaret Atwood.

City of Darkness, City of Light, Marge Piercy.

Villette, Charlotte Brontë.

The Grand Design – Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

The Wisdom of Psychopaths – Kevin Dutton

Masquerade: Dancing Around Death in Nazi-Occupied Hungary, Tivadar Soros

The Rose Café, John Hanson Mitchell

Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius, A. C. Grayling

The Evolution of God, Robert Wright.

An almost 500 page book, and nowhere does the author address the evolution of the Western idea of God from anything other than a male perspective.

The God Effect: Quantum Entanglement, Science’s Strangest Phenomenon, Brian Clegg

You don’t have to be hippy or new age or religious-minded to be at one with the universe. It’s not only photons that behave like waves, as proven in the double slit experiment. They’ve been shooting large molecules (Buckminster Fullerine) at those slits, too, and getting waves of probability. This means matter is also a wave, and everything has a presence everywhere in the probability cloud of existence.

Next, scientists are going to start firing life forms at the double slits: viruses.

The probability of us is everywhere.

And coming soon, I’m sure, the common cold, which everyone already knew was everywhere.

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You Look Beautiful

slugstick-copyYou look beautiful.

My daughter does not like to be complimented on her looks – exactly like me when I was her age. She, like I used to, replies with a growl or a scream, and a swift retreat. It took me until adulthood to know how to get out of these situations without embarrassment or hostility.

A few weeks ago I tried to teach her my “out”; a quick “thank you” that should end the matter. I told her she could talk Shakespearian if she wanted and say, “Why thank you, sir – or madam,” but she rejected it – blech.

And then I started to think about how it felt to be complimented at that age. Many of these compliments were comments on my wearing properly feminine clothing – following the rules. It would feel as if the person had stopped me and handed me something odd that I didn’t know what to do with. It felt more like they’d stuck something sticky and unfamiliar on me – their own pleasure — and their smiles expected something of me – I had no idea what – to take pleasure in their pleasure?

And so I’d growl and get away, and try to wipe their pleasure off, as if it was a piece of snot. They would be unhappy. They would be unhappy that I was unhappy with their pleasure, and then I would be unhappy I made them unhappy, but… I didn’t start the whole mess.

A compliment is supposed to be a gift and we are supposed to be grateful. Why aren’t we? Why am I not grateful?

There is the expression learn to take a compliment. Why do we have to? Why do we have to learn it? Because it isn’t natural or nice? Is it something nasty disguised as something nice? Why are we supposed to take it? Is it just us girls? There’s also the expression don’t take it lying down. Knowing how to take it implies hardening yourself to some kind of nastiness or violence.

What is it? This “compliment” thing?

My daughter is beautiful. I find almost all children beautiful – their youth, their skin, the economy of their form, their energy, their bloomingness. It gives me great pleasure to look at them, to watch them run, scream, shout, and be.

Of course, this has nothing to do with them, with who they are as human beings, with what they love to do, and with the lives they lead. I get pleasure from my perception of them – and probably my aging mommy hormones — and that’s what it is: my perception and my pleasure.

In a traditional compliment, the speaker (often a he) expresses his pleasure in your appearance, and you are expected to take part in his or her pleasure of looking at you. You are expected to be pleased, and grateful for the attention. Do boys get complimented like this? My son does by me now and then, and he is embarrassed by it also.

Why are we supposed to give a shit about other people’s pleasure?

The speaker claims a relationship of giving and receiving pleasure. The object of his pleasure cannot beforehand decide whose pleasure she is exciting or supposed to share. Sharing pleasure should be voluntary, and this is not, which is why compliments are extra creepy if they comes cold from a total stranger, or someone you aren’t close to. Sharing pleasure oriented around our physical beings is usually something we do with people we love and trust.

Perhaps much of the discomfort comes from the idea our self-concepts are based on what is reflected back to us in the eyes of others. Perhaps we don’t want this to be true. We are being told who we are and what we’re like, and we’re supposed to take it, be grateful, and illuminated as to ourselves?

And often, compliments aren’t very complimentary. How often is a girl told she is admired because she is strong or smart or quick? How often does the comment piece her apart? Does anyone consider “nice ass” a compliment? Compliments are often just comments, and run the spectrum from nice to abusive.

When I was in high school I got more abuse. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the school I went to was regarded as a “rough” one. I’m always surprised when I hear that not all girls went through the pervasive misogyny and sexual harassment that seemed to be common currency at my school. From about the age of twelve I could expect, every day, to be called a range of expletives, from “fat slut” to “fucking cunt” to “cock-sucking whore.”

Did the wealth of harassment mar my ability to “take” comments? Did I regard being noticed by others as a danger signal? How could I even attempt to believe anything that was complimentary when I was barraged with much more that was not? Did I need to push all of it as far away as I could because the evil words had such a strong effect?

Somehow, I don’t think so, because I can see my daughter reacting to compliments in the same way I did, and I’m pretty sure she hasn’t gone through that kind of harassment. But this is another story I have to tell her: that the speaker hates women, just as some people hate Jews or blacks or gays. These words are a form of violence that illuminates who the speaker is, not who their victim is.

Perhaps it’s also hard for me to take pleasure in my physical being because I was raised with all that Christian shame and misogyny. I thought it was better to be a spirit without a body.

And why do people, myself included, compliment others? What are we getting by sharing our pleasure? Are we trying to communicate love? Are we trying to tell others who they are? Boost their self-esteem?

And of course, a compliment is often just part of the male sexual strategy. Once in a deserted tunnel in part of the London Underground, a strange man told me what he thought of my waistline. I got away from him as quickly as possible. He made an additional comment, annoyed that I didn’t know how to take a compliment – and annoyed I was repelled rather than attracted.

I could retrospectively take pleasure in the compliment because I wasn’t worried about being alone with a strange man the deserted subway tunnel. Nothing bad was going to happen next, but I didn’t know it then.

This was, of course, a direct confrontation between subject and object, the observer and the observed, the see-er and the seen.

In times and places of purdah, for a woman to “appear” was (is) culturally regarded as a sexual tease, was her making the first move… so whatever happened after that was her fault. In the 17th century trial of Artemisia Gentileschi’s rapist, (at which she was tortured) she was accused by the rapist’s defenders of being seen at a window in her father’s house. So she must have been a whore, there at the window to advertise her wares… so the rapist was innocent, because women who sell themselves are common property, and don’t belong to their fathers anymore. That was the form of the trial: Gentileschi’s father suing the rapist for damage to his property. She was an object indeed.

Once, again in the London Underground, a man stared at me so blatantly, I got fed up. Women are not supposed to notice — supposed to pretend they don’t see — but I’d started staring back sometimes – as a kid, I was always good at staring contests — and this time I started making weird faces.

He looked away, of course, and pretended not to notice.

Now that was a pleasure I enjoyed.

Learn to take a compliment?

Perhaps my daughter, as a young female of the species, is rebelling against her first encounters with being ‘the observed’ rather than ‘the observer’ in our culture: the object rather than the human being.

This must be quite a shock when you are nine and you are the center of your universe – the one who watches, feels, and acts.

But a few days ago, I observed my daughter overhearing her teacher and I discuss her progress and the work she was doing. She was listening to words like creative, working very hard, and smart.

What I saw on her face then was a wonderful secret smile – not a big smile, you understand: nothing anyone else was supposed to see or appreciate — but a smile that only happened to show because it was glowing within, and radiating all the way through her, building on what she knows about herself.

And that was the most beautiful thing.

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Margaret’s Magazines

Margaret's-Magazines

As a Canadian writer, I find it appropriate that my mother’s name was Margaret, as in Atwood, Avison, and Laurence. Though she had some talent in drawing and became a school-teacher, she made a last contribution to the cultural world: the preservation of what librarians call ‘women’s ephemerae.’

When I was a girl in the 1980s, my mother would sometimes show me women’s magazines from the 1950s or 60s. As a 14-year-old, I was familiar enough with the more modern ones and I poured over the older pages of the old-fashioned or frankly crazy fashions, and the familiar sections: crafts, recipes, Dear Lois, and Can this Marriage be Saved? I often had scissors in my hands then, and I used these images again after art school, when I no longer had to earn marks from my abstract expressionist professors, and could make art that had more personal meaning for me.

These magazines showed me what women – my mother, and eventually, me — were supposed to be. Often my silent response was “you’ve got to be kidding,” but I have no way of knowing how much this constant barrage of information lodged in my subconscious. My mother seemed to accept it uncritically, but then, she was born in 1925, and had been formed before the feminism of the later 20th century.

She bought new magazines all the time, looked them over and filed them away in boxes in the basement, boxes that mounted over the years, that filled the space until there were only passageways to the furnace, and the washer and the dryer, the deep freezes, and the potato bin. It seemed she couldn’t let anything go – any words that might explain her life or her world, or allow her to get along in it better.

After she died, my father slowly emptied the basement box by box, to the recycler and to the charity shop. It took him two years. After he was finished he found more magazines, this time on the high shelf in the bedroom closet.

These were very old — from 1909 to 1941, messages from my grandmothers’ world. They were magazines that were no longer in print: The Modern Priscilla, and Home Arts. My father said he would take them to the recycler unless I wanted them.

Some of them were in the boxes they’d been mailed in, postmarked about the time my brother and I were born. It seemed to be some kind of trading system among women. Many of the magazines had holes where they had been bound and held as back issues in libraries. My mother had never shown me any of these.

Inside the covers I found scholarly articles about traditional women’s arts in far off countries, embroidery and crochet patterns, June Bride issues from the 1920s, and an interview with Amelia Earhart on aircraft – and needlecraft. There were ads for Campbell’s Soup, Pepsodent, weight-loss, and creams for bleaching away freckles.

Some things never change, but some things do; I found a recipe for “halibut palmettes” that involved cutting the fillets into hearts, squashing all the juice out, frying them stiff as a board, and then covering them with a kind of fish mousse icing. Modern foodies would run screaming, and I don’t think the fish cookies would fool the kids.

I brought the magazines home and sorted them. There were over five hundred: about 350 different copies, plus duplicates and a few triplicates. 

My family and I donated most of them to Special Collections at the University of Saskatchewan Library. The librarian we worked with told us it was the biggest collection of its kind in Canada, and would benefit the Art Department and Women’s Studies. And then the library threw us a party.

We set up a display of photos of my mother, her own needlework, and her high school graduation gown, and of course, we named the collection after her.

My mother was shy and didn’t want people to know much about her, so she wouldn’t be comfortable with the name of the collection. I do know she would be glad that what she saved and valued is now be saved and valued by many in perpetuity.

You can see the covers of the Margaret Friesen-Labach Collection of Early 20th Century Women’s Magazines on line at http://library2.usask.ca/earlywomensmags/

The library plans to scan every page to make the collection available to researchers around the world.

I kept the third copies — the rattiest ones – about ten of them bound up in a large envelope I made out of acid-free rag paper.

I look at them with my children, both the boy and the girl, and we talk about how things have changed, and how these sorts of magazines still tell women what the culture wants them to be, a much narrower definition of who they really are.

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Fits Like a Glove

fits-like-a-glove-small

This is an image that I made for my digital magazine project, WöM, by harvesting images from my mother’s collection of 1940-60s women’s magazines. This was the era when it was cool to get your feet X-rayed in the shoe store and use spray-on bandages, when the world would be created a better place by chemical companies, and spending money made even women a part of the grand new world — especially if she wore high heels, cooked a lot of meat, smiled in spite of her corset, and cleaned her toilet in heels.

The magazines eventually let me imagine my mother’s experiences, and imagine her as a (not just my mother) human being. She always got angry if someone dropped by unannounced because of her shame at whatever “state” the house was in. If one of my friends went into a room she didn’t want them to go in, I was in trouble, because she thought it was my job to police them. This would have been a little more reasonable if she had informed them which rooms they were not allowed to go in. Once, my mother was in an agony of rage (How could you? Don’t you know how I feel????) because I had opened a door and an uncle was there and he saw into the utility room.

I didn’t, of course, know how she felt, but I tried very hard to guess, from moment to moment. In my mid-twenties, when I came back to visit, I found I was still watching her face at mealtimes to know if there was some emotional storm there that would be blamed on me, and that I would believe was my fault; I would have to try, somehow, to change the weather. It took me a long time to learn that her emotions were not my fault, and I stopped watching her.

I sometimes did try to fit into my mother’s shoes. A pair of her rust-brown pumps are the most painful shoes in my experience, even though my feet are slightly smaller than hers. This must have been the way a lot of women tried to fit themselves into the 1950s. The shoes are very pointy at the toe, and very curvy in the rear, and they are completely rigid in form, the leather backed by a woody lining that makes sure what’s inside isn’t seen, or ( horrors!) change the shape of its mold.

Also, with each step, you walk on a nail. A stiletto is really the name of a narrow Italian dagger.

I still wear my mother’s dresses on occasion, and they still make me think. As I get older, what I think has been changing.

This image, too, means something quite different to me now, than it did when I made it. In October, it will be my 8th anniversary of receiving my final clear CT scan after 8 months of chemotherapy. I only recently found out what, exactly, these scans are – a large number of stacked 2D cross-section X-rays. Why didn’t I know this before? Perhaps because the term “CT scan” is not very descriptive. If people knew how many X-rays they were undergoing per minute, they would be even more frightened than they are.

The pot scourer part of the image is appropriate. Makes me feel raw.

BOOKSOh, I’m losing track, after this long summer of kids and travel and moving and camping and renovations…

Testament of Youth    Vera Brittain

Everyone should read this to know what war is. Vera Brittain lost her brother and all the young men she knew in World War I, and joined as a VAD ‘nurse.’ Trained a mere six weeks, she saw as much ground up human flesh as any soldier.

The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu     Sax Rohmer

Crackers, racist, the 1913 male id — or is it ego? Entertaining as sociology. For God’s sake, Manchu! Kill the heros finally, so they can stop escaping your dungeons in order to lengthen the book!

Did people really think some members of the so-called “yellow” races had nictitating membranes?

The Boys in the Trees     Mary Swan

An unusual book, tracing the shudder that goes through a small town after a man annihilates his family. The author does not attempt to imagine him beyond the age of about 9. The book works, but is this man’s head really a place no one can imagine? Is this one of those things impossible in literature because people will not want to read it so publishers will not publish it?

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A Fish Called Wanda (Part of the One Ton Collage, now officially the Two Ton Collage)

A-Fish-Called-WandaPergola-Patio

­It’s a good thing I’m used to this – or I at least remember this feeling from art school.

You do some piece of art, and as you’re doing it, it seems to be the greatest thing on the planet.

But then, it isn’t anymore, and then you really hate it.

And, there it is.

This time in concrete.

I don’t actually hate it enough to get the pic-axe and start swinging. I knew I was relying on my beginners luck in doing this vast mosaic project, and I wanted to try to do something figurative, because I admire old Roman mosaics, but… it didn’t expect it to look like something a seven-year-old might have done.

And of course, after having had the experience of doing a mosaic in such very small stones, I know what I would rather have in that big empty triangle that I filled with cement and a fish.

I should have continued the circles and triangles theme, and filled the centre with the concentric waves of many raindrops in the different colours of stone, overlapping, interfering with each other.

And now, I have to live with Wanda the fish. She took seven hours, and many expletives were uttered, and now my muscles are sore, and I wish she wasn’t curing under the plastic so I could give her nasty looks, and maybe try to convince myself she doesn’t look that bad. This problem doesn’t exist in writing because you can edit to your heart’s content until it’s as close to perfection as you can imagine.

It’s almost as bad as if I’d set Spongebob Squarepants in stone. I suppose I could put a nice big potted plant on top of her.

Maybe she’ll grow on me. I told my husband that I’ll let this mosaic wear out, and put the raindrop mosaic in after that.

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Funny Bunny

FunnyBunny

Okay, it’s not art, but I made it, and am proud of it. And I fell in love with power tools.

My daughter’s Funny Bunny was driving me crazy gnawing on her cage in the house, and she’s much happier living outside, munching on the dandelions and grass that grow up through the floor wire, sniffing the air, listening to the rest of nature with her long ears, touching noses with the dog, fearless under a sky where bald eagles and osprey fly. She happily sits in the rain or on the roof of her little house.

Though I took woodworking in grade eight instead of home-economics, this is the biggest thing I’ve made with hammer and nails, and it’s just whacked together scraps. I made it movable by two people, and to be able to fit in the back of the truck. The little house has a sliding removable floor-wall that I invented so it could be cleaned easily.

Unfortunately, its resident isn’t co-operating with the logic of this idea. She seems to think its’ a good idea to sh-t in her house and nest rather than the great outdoors – perhaps from culinary interests — so I may have to cut out the bottom of her house and wire it up.

It’s just me against the rabbit, matching wits.

My father had a similar contest with a squirrel once, and I can’t remember who won.

 

Books:

Infidel, Ayan Hirsi Ali.

The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, Ayan Hirsi Ali.

Both Hirsi Ali’s books a must for anyone who believes in human rights. The mutilation of the genitals of little girls by the family that should love them is unspeakable. Forced “marriage” is rape and slavery, and there is no word that describes forced child-bearing. It is becoming more and more difficult for me to like my own species.

 

God: A Biography, Jack Miles.

Written by an ex-Jesuit, this book explores what taking the Bible literally really means concerning the development of God’s personality as the main character. Puts the fun back in fundamentalist, at least if you have my kind of sense of humour.

A Virtuous Woman: Sex Life in Relation to The Christian Life, Oscar Lowry.

From the Recycling Depot. Truly the most horrify addition to my “how to behave yourself shelf.” 1930’s Pentecostal American advocacy for female genital mutilation among other things – so we North Americans have little to be proud of either.

Apocalypses: Prophercies, Cults, and Millenial Beliefs through the Ages, Eugene Weber.

Garbo Laughs, Elizabeth Hay.

Midnight Salvage, Adrienne Rich.

The Autograph Man, Zadie Smith. (Lots of Rabbis. Gave it to a Rabbi)

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Squid Truck

Squid-truck

Here is the Squid Truck, photographed in installation at my show at he the Hornby Island Co-op. It somehow seems to fit with the pineapples, and especially with the sign that says Bag of Lemons.

It was inspired by a trip to the Saskatoon Exhibition over twenty years ago, where, among the stalls for Dukhobor bread and spudnuts, the sheep-dog trials and the carnival rides, were still side-shows in semi-trailers. On the windshield of the Squid Truck is a photograph I took of one side-show I could have entered, where I supposedly could have viewed the still living body of the Marilyn-Monroe-wannabe and sadly decapitated Jane Mansfield.

Decapitated, unfortunately, by driving under a semi-trailer truck.

I wonder if the exhibitors noted this irony.

I acknowledge the whimsicality of the side-show Squid Truck, but it’s surely less weird than the side-show that inspired it.

After finding the cab at the Salvation Army toy section, after twenty years, I’m still looking for back wheels — then it would actually be a working toy.

As an art object it seems to hold its own with the fruit and vegetables, which are brightly coloured and in classic form. Maybe, like there are rules about never being on screen beside kids or animals — because they always upstage you — there should be rules about never exhibiting art-works beside bananas. What could compete with the silliness, whimsicality, form, colour and sheer cultural baggage of the banana?

Most of us have much less connection with the giant squid.

And fortunately, the semi-trailer truck.

Books:

The People’s Act of Love, James Meek.

Brilliant. I’m reading it again.

Moral Disorder, Margaret Atwood.

 

 

 

 

 

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Coat-Poem in Progress

Coat-Poem-Unifinished

I am post-first-draft of a new novel, and my children have had only two normal weeks of school (meaning four days per week) in almost 2 ½ months, since the beginning of December due to illness, power outage, ferry shut-down, and the Christmas holidays. And yesterday was the B.C. legislated Family Day. There is no power in earth or the cosmos that can legislate a real mother holiday in which we do nothing in our own homes. I am nearly brain-dead.

Fortunately I’m going to spend a week at St. Peter’s Abbey, Meunster, Saskatchewan for an annual stay with the Saskatchewan Artist-Writers Retreats.

And I’ve been gathering materials, making black and purple velvet roses, so far 152.

I try to take pictures of the clothes I destroy in the process of making new ones of Revisionary Design, but I haven’t shown them until now. Here is the work-in-progress – my first combined art-writing garment, a coat-poem which I will be working on at St. Pete’s.

The Astrakhan lamb coat belonged to my Ukrainian grandmother, my Baba. I cut off most of the bottom, to use in the making the Red Velvet Waterfall Scarf — and also just because the coat was so heavy, it felt as if I was wearing the entire sheep. I combined it with a velvet A-line opera coat from the 1950’s, my mother’s era. A 1960’s black velvet dress and a 1980’s purple velvet dress have vanished into roses, and I’m planning to use the pink-gold material and beads from the Indian cameez.

And there’s a developing poem, of course, which will be sewn in.

My Baba came to North America when she was 10 years old, and was “married” to a 30 year old man when she was 15. He died before I was born. No one over talked about him. The silence is frightening.

I’m going to cover myself in this.

I’m going to wear this coat.

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The Loyalty of a Woman in Love

­

This is one of my found-text digital image from my magazine satire “WöM.” The article is from a 1950 British magazine, and praises the only women who for sure, really love their husbands – the ones who get beat up, and keep coming back for more. If the man didn’t beat them, after all, how would people know she wasn’t just staying with him because he was nice to her?

No questions were asked about the “love” these men have for their wives. None was apparently necessary. And it is the women who are compared to leeches, not the men. This was the world my children’s grandmothers had to live in.

Lately, the air around me seems filled with questions about how to teach boys and girls about feminism. My children, too, have been asking me questions that naturally lead there. I’ve always talked about prejudice, whether skin colour, age, or sex. Children know when people are ignoring them because they are little; they’ve already experienced prejudice. Lately my daughter has been asking me to tell her about my past boyfriends. It’s a good place to start – and stories are always a better idea than axioms or advise from authority.

I’ve told her about the man who broke up with me with the words “So long – been nice playing with you.” I told her I later watched him sprain another woman’s arm, and confronted him about it, which chased him away after he’d started hanging around again.

I’ve told her about the one I dumped because he let me know he was considering leaving me to find a woman with better breasts.

I’ve told her about the one I left because he demanded I commit to bearing two of his children in exchange for any commitment from him. I told her of reading about his arrest 19 years later for possession of child pornography.

I’ve told her about how all these men made me feel – like I was a thing, a collection of parts to be toyed with, judged, and discarded; a walking womb for someone else to use.

I’ve told her about leaving the men I couldn’t think of a good reason to stay with.

I told her I married the man who loved me so much, he wanted to spend his life with me to matter what, who was willing to re-write all the rules, and be an equal in building our lives together. I told her his love gave me the security and courage I needed to overcome fears of motherhood, in order to give birth to her and her brother.

My son and I had this conversation three years before, when he was about her age.

My children have always known everything about where babies come from. I read to them and showed them pictures from books on childbirth so they will know what miracles they are, and what miracles women are. I love re-making clothes and look at fashion magazines with my daughter for reasons of design, yet find a lot of material there to talk about prevalent cultural abuses – commercial requirements to buy a lot of cosmetics and spend your life superficially – as well as anorexia, underage models, and plastic surgery. Very early, I taught my children that not all dogs are friendly, and they have to ask permission from the owner to pet a strange dog because some dogs bite. This naturally lead me, sometimes, to talking about people in the same way. Not all people are friendly. Some will hurt others. There are such things as war, and mental illness. Not all grown-ups will behave like Mommy and Daddy. Not all grown-ups deserve their respect or know more about right and wrong than children do.

It’s hard to know how much reality to reveal at what age, but I think that if the news is on and if children are old enough to be bullied at school, then stories of past realities which have been learned from and lived through can only be a good counter to the fairy tales of Prince Charming and happily ever after – or of James Bond and his long list of expendable sex-partners. Boys need to know the kinds of things that women are subject to so they will know why so many women are afraid of them – are prejudiced against men, too, for obvious reasons. They need to know what some men are like – men they will meet someday. I also feel I need to counter our collective family adoration of all babies; women aren’t required to bear them to gain happiness.

My son recently initiated a conversation with me about how some Muslim women are treated, perhaps spurred by recent news items about fathers and brothers murdering their daughters and sisters. I did speak of the killing part. I took him to Malala Yousafzai’s Facebook page, a girl not much older than him, who fundamentalists attempted to murder for speaking up for the right of women to get an education. I must admit I shied away (for the moment) from the horror of female circumcision – practiced by a sub-set of Muslims, as well as many Africans.

I showed my son this image – The Loyalty of a Woman in Love, which I reproduce in full at the bottom of this blog — to show him how western culture commits and has committed crimes against women also.

I want my children to know that they are in charge of how they are treated. They draw their lines in the sand, must clearly demand equality and respect, and have to expect to fight for their rights sometimes, even with people they love; no one is born perfect or into a perfect world and we all retain prejudices. I want my children to be capable of separating themselves from those they may love, but who are incapable of loving them back. Abuse must be the sign of the abuser’s inability to love properly, or to love at all.

Some might consider all this too much information for children this age – almost 9 and 12– but they both had to live through my cancer treatment and the possibility that I might die, though only the oldest remembers. They live in the real world and they should know it.

This much information might not be right for other parents. Many feel they will be destroying their child’s innocence by letting them know certain things. I say there is a difference between innocence and ignorance. Being innocent is the opposite of being guilty. Knowledge makes no once guilty.

I was an excessively sheltered child. My ignorance made me feel stupid.

I remember my shock as a teenager, finding out about how people deliberately hurt and killed each other. My anger and disillusionment lasting for years. The standards I had been taught the world possessed were lies. Suddenly, to me, the world was a bad place rather than a place filled with both good and evil.

Maybe if my children know that the world is half good and half bad, and the same is true of people, they will be able to adjust to adulthood better than I did.

Much of this sounds like advice. I wonder if there’s a way to turn this all into a story. It would have to be many stories.

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