bodyworks: hope/death

I think I am becoming a nurse because I am incredibly nosy.

I am nosy about personal matters. I am curious about the small, dark thing we all know a little bit about – call it the abyss, just to be catchy. I picture it this way: a black pocket of the human heart, where fear and shame and ultimately hope/death reside. But also other good things, too: like love. I am lucky! – this profession allows me a prosaic way to insert myself into such personal matters. I tread respectfully.

I get to see a lot of tears and wounds and shit and broken body parts, and all the conventionally hidden things. I get to ask personal questions and have people willing to supply answers. I get to find out people’s stories.

Meanwhile, underneath runs my own narrative and I selfishly twist the two: my own fiction and others’ truth. In the end, I realize I don’t completely care about singular stories. I constantly push and shuffle facts so that I make my own sense of them. This might be the danger of a writerly-type entering the world of science.

I always used to dread anything going wrong in life because I was the last person who knew how to be useful, who knew how to deal with things. By nature I am not hardy or courageous.

Learning how to patch wounds, fix broken bits, medicate, placate, intubate, resuscitate – has already taught me more than I thought I could ever know. I like to get my hands dirty, appreciative of how knowledge of the body – a blunt and basic thing - makes the brain’s odd workings all the more rich and appealing.


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Zines by me and Mr. Husband on etsy

I still get the itch to write them – they are so satisfying & self-contained & tidy – but I should really refrain from making more until more than 10 people read the ones I have. The world is vast and I am a droplet.

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love in the time of intolera

“You’re the only person in the world who I am not completed repulsed by,” my husband told me, touching the top of my head as I sat at the kitchen table, studying my nursing textbooks: pages upon thousands pages of almost everything that can go wrong with a body.

I kept staring at my book, surprised and moved. Coming from R., these words meant a lot.

I let him keep touching my head. Normally I hate anyone touching my head.

“I also find you singularly tolerable,” I thought lovingly. But I remained silent, so as not to wreck the mood.

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can we ever dream of our own death?

appleIt is more likely that I will die than ever land a windfall of money. These are just the facts. I WILL die. I will probably NOT win the Lotto!

Yet I’ve dreamt of winning money dozens of times.

I’ve dreamt of my own death never.

Just last night I had a dream that I stole $500,000 dollars from someone nice who let me crash on their couch for a night. They told me I could pick any book I wanted to read off their shelf of thousands. On their bookshelf I found an impossibly fat stack of $1000 bills (do these even exist?). There was so much money it did not seem like a crime to remove a few handfuls and take it. It seemed natural. There was just so much money my host surely could never have spent it all. But in my dream, though I had outstanding bills, I was scared to spend any of this money. I was convinced the bills were logged somewhere or otherwise marked…ah, ineffective conscience, kicking in after the fact.

But I have never dreamed of my own death, a simpler and more certain fact.

The human is a ridiculous and unreliable organism. Slow to pick up on the fact that life goes on without us. That stars are cool and spread their light in a glowing lateral streak without regard for us. We are ten inches high at our very, very best. We are so oblivious, so in denial, so other-wishing, that we can’t even dream of our own death. This is depressing. This has made me seek out death, for an answer that can’t come. An answer that is probably not even the property of the living.

Even in the seeking, I recognize the basic (and inappropriate…and objectifying) awe, alarm, “unflinchingness” that accompanies my behavior. Why is death so unnatural? Why does it bother people so (to the extent of creating “God” and manifesting “religion”)? Why do I have to feel particularly dedicated and brave to explore hospices, palliative care, graveyards, morgues, any and all of the ‘access’ allotted to me because of my chosen field?

What would normalization of death look like in our society?

Does anyone else see death and departure and forgotteness already sticking to the teeth in the smiles of their loved ones?  For anyone else, does this make them love more?

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rain cloud

The new issue of Broken Pencil arrived in the mail today and not for the first time it totally bored me – not to assign a mere magazine the unwieldy task of being representative of indie culture in Canada because Jesus how could they even? But as always it’s bimonthly arrival makes me contemplate the sad-as-I-see-it state of indie writing, fresh thoughts, strong voices, specifically zines… WHERE ARE THEY!? Even though they were always useless anyway, why do I romanticize them?  Zines are nothing in Canada, there’s no distros, there’s no one shouting or laughing there’s no one doing anything of note (CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG, I BEG YOU).

… I long for anachronism more than anarchy, I long to hear more people saying NO. NO to the crazy things we take for granted. NO to the “necessities” – that is, the waste, the convenience and conventions of life, this life that turns humans ourselves into just more garbage. Drought and boredom and lack is exemplified by this magazine that I contribute to for some reason. I declined to accept any new zines to review for the next issue; I am just too bored by the way we divert ourselves with words instead of using our words to yell, to protest, to say fuck that

And I am forced to wonder what exists out there that would change my mind, that I am missing? Where are independent spirits and thoughts, lone voices, lonely people who want more than just somebody else to love them, people not bolstered along by a clique or movement or any greater belonging? Do some people’s voices just hit the beach like a wave, and I miss them, one slap on the shore that is quickly smoothed out by the passage of the unending others? Where are you?? How do I find you?

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the mop VS the pen: on janitorial work

On TV they interviewed a man about a bank robbery he’d witnessed. He was a person plucked from a crowd of bystanders, chosen for television because of his comical way of talking, and the way he waved his hands above his head as he described what went down. On the screen, he was ID’d as Jack So-and-so – Unemployed Janitor.

I didn’t see this clip on the news; I saw it on a late night talk show, Conan O’Brien or someone, somebody all too ready to pounce on that byline.

Saying something to the effect of – “News for ya, buddy. There’s no such thing as an unemployed janitor. There are unemployed teachers, unemployed steelworkers. You’re just unemployed.”

I don’t know about that. Once a janitor always a janitor. You may move onto other things, you might not always remain diligent about order or even particularly interested in cleanliness, but certain jobs stay with you.

I’m not a janitor anymore but I still think a lot about who is cleaning up after me. I notice the janitors everywhere…cruising the periphery of crowded institutions, from hospitals to malls to the college that I now attend (in the capacity of student, not cleaner). Pushing their loaded carts silently, in uniforms designed to render them invisible. Biological Roombas offering no comment, no blame.

But when for any amount of time your job is to clean up after people, your outlook changes. When you’re the person who tidies up the stuff people forget, or the stuff they drop or spill, or don’t want anymore, the stuff they run away from in shame before it can be connected to them, you change. Your heart changes and you see people differently. Not just as people, characters with loveable foibles and quirks to be navigated. You see them as agents of chaos. Creators of mess. People there to rumple, to use up, to stain and make wet. People there to undo, in increments, your thankless tasks, sending you back to square 1.

It is a very existential job, being a janitor. If you clean for a living you’re like to spin off your mental axis several times a shift.There’s a limit to the number of times you can mop the bases of toilets and Windex palm prints from glass in one day. Hence smoke breaks, fresh air breaks, or hiding-in-the-unused-north-stairwell breaks.

Also, you aren’t able to attend an event, a wedding or art gallery, or go on a holiday and stay in a hotel, you can’t walk through the world without thinking, on some level: Now who’s going to clean this all up?

You use air fresheners that evoke places the exact opposite of whatever situation you are dealing with. Kill cigarette smoke with Caribbean Breeze…douse poop with Morning Glory Antiseptic.

You can see this thousand-yard gaze one the face of every cleaner. Look at them, next time you see one. The next time you stand (in belated self-accountability) beside the jar of pickles you dropped in aisle 5. The next time you have to find another bathroom because the one you want one has a little cone blocking the door. That lady who shoos you away when you step over the cone? Look into her eyes. You will see the darkness of one who knows about humanity. You’re not a person. You’re someone who messes things up.

A janitor has the keys to the kingdom. You can use the back doors, the service elevators. Only you can access the locked toilet paper. In my years as a janitor I felt it was the perfect metaphor for what I considered my parallel life. A life of writing things down. I think there are few janitors who would freely discuss to their private pastimes, something personal like writing.

You know you will be looked at, and your presumptuous claim will be measured against what people see: A person on the edge of things, chasing paper cups with a broom. You can only be a writing janitor if it’s in the context of admitting to what you USED to do. Then people think of you locked in a broom closet, hiding out and writing down your ideas, and they feel indulgent, and happy for you for escaping. They are not actively pissed off at not being able to find you when the toilet on the third floor is overflowing.

Raymond Carver was a janitor but janitors with a sense of self preservation wouldn’t use that example.

People will ask what you’ve published. And if you have to say “nothing,” then suddenly you’ve lost all your sustaining illusions. The mop is real. The pen is not.

At an early age I had an intuition that I would not be equal to a certain kind of ambition. I look around at people my age who have material success, even the modest success that I have not managed, for the most part, and I am envious. But there is always an edge of caution to my envy. It’s a feeling similar to wanting to win a pie-eating contest, but having no stomach, or having a deathly allergy to pie. A very involved, stressful, demanding position in the world would be the death of me. I am cut out for the edges of things. No ivory towers, not even the ghost-light of modern offices. I am comfortable with puddles in cupboards under the sink, cobwebbed basements where they keep the sidewalk salt. Comfortable with watching, and picking up what gets dropped.

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the last moment

“Don’t think,” Sister Claire said, accusingly, “that you can live a life of sin, and then at the very last moment beg God’s forgiveness! ” 

The topic of our religion class was how to get into heaven. In retrospect, the subject matter was very abstract, very philosophical, for a classroom of 8- and 9-year-olds… 

“You can live a virtuous life – ready to die and face Jesus at any moment,” she scolded, “or you can chance it, hope you have enough breath to say and Act of Contrition after your selfish life…in the moments after you are crushed in a car accident, seconds before you are whisked to judgment. If you even HAVE moments.”

We were preparing for our First Confessions, learning to be accountable for our sins. 

“Keep track of the numbers,” Sister said. “Everytime you sin…remember. Tell the priest. As there are sins of omission, too!”

I could still count my sins on my fingers, back then. 

Swore at my brother. Didn’t help mom with dishes.

Now sin is smudged into everyone of my actions. Even my selfless moments are entwined with sin, dirty fried dough folded over clean vegetable filling, like  snacks sold from a foodtruck after the bars close. If I could still count my sins I’d be an angel, I’d be so clean in thought and habit that my whole life would shine without any dim corners, no dirt or sorrow.

This 35 minute block each morning was why parents kept their kids out of public school. It was why they paid $5000 per year for their child to attend Our Lady of Sorrows instead of one of the other local schools, some place named after a politician or Canadian explorer. My parents did not pay anything for our special education because they were on Welfare. But since they were Catholic it would have been a shame to not compromise in some way. Maybe even a sin. So instead, my mother made it up by playing the organ at Sunday Mass and working in the school garden, weeding. My father never made it up in any way; he never left the kitchen of our house, not once in years. He smoked cigarettes and turned grey and looked out the window. Maybe like me he feared Heaven’s coming – not like anything desired; more like a speeding car, driven by a devil, and bearing down fast.

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