Don't dispossess yourself

"So, did they solve anything?"
My grandma was asking. She is always interested in solutions. Got a problem? There's a solution. Notice an effect? Then there's a cause. Point B? Point A. That's how she rolls. In any case, this time, she was referring to the SRO Collaborative. Did they solve anything?
"Who—the Collaborative?" I'll interject again here. I knew who she meant. But I asked anyway because I'm stubborn—I can't help it. She uses too many pronouns.
"Yeah." (She doesn't seem to mind my stubbornness).
"Um . . . yeah?" This was a lie. We didn't solve any problems. Because it doesn't work like that. But she thinks it does. I had to say we solved something. Otherwise, I wasted my time and there's nothing you can do about it, really, and it's all going upscale down there anyway, and why don't they just go to the interior to work on the farms? There's work there!
"How did they solve it?" (This is verbatim, by the way. Look at these pronouns).
"Well, it's little steps." (I can use pronouns too).
"And owned mostly by who?" You have to know her. She means the SROs. The single-room-occupancy hotels. Who are they mostly owned by.
"The Sahotas."
"Do they keep it well?" (By "it" she means all of the SROs that the Sahotas own).
"No, they are terrible. People call them slumlords instead of landlords."
"Oh . . . what else do they own?"
"I don't know. Their own multi-million dollar homes?" (I wasn't trying to be facetious).
"Is The Lion Hotel where Blue Grandma used to live . . . is that Sahota too?"
It is Sahota too.
"So most of it on Powell Street, was it?"
Most of it, yes.

When you walk into Wendy's house (which, incidentally, is on Powell Street), it's immediate homey-ness. It's warm. It's well lit. There are lots of shoes around, a couch with blankets, and you get the sense that they drink a lot of tea. Wendy is the Community Organiser for the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative, the organisation that I had volunteered with in the afternoon and the one about which my grandma was asking. Like my grandma, Wendy is also someone who is interested in solutions. And though we didn't "solve anything" that afternoon, Wendy's interest in solutions is ultimately what brought me—and Sam and Joyce—us, to her home.

When we'd finished working, Sam had to go, so off she went. Wendy, Joyce, and I found ourselves standing as if to leave but without leaving at all. It wasn't awkward. There was no explicit purpose for our standing around, and really, the happenstance of doing so might've been meaningless, but as it happened, it wasn't.

Do you feel like you belong here? is a question I was asked that day. Wendy asked me while we were standing there. To be honest, I don't remember exactly what happened after she asked me that question, but I remember feeling visible and stuck, even trapped. Not by Wendy. But by the question. Should I belong here? Should I feel like I belong here? Wait, where? In the Powell Street area? Or the Downtown Eastside generally? Does it matter which? Why? Is it bad if I don't? Also, "belong"? Eventually, some version of a rather flat, inept little no found its way out of me, and when I looked up, they seemed surprised. (Did I mess up?) They were maybe even shocked. (Oh fuck). But no is what I said. We kept standing there.

It wasn't even a sure-fire no. It was like a thin paper no. Granted, even in hindsight, "no" seems like the truest thing I could have said, but nevertheless, it was thin paper. I felt bad for shocking them with my thin paper no. Like by saying no, I'd said something awful or hurt my friends or disrupted something, maybe even something sacred, when really it was just a thin little paper no. Not like a real "No". I really wasn't sure what I'd said, done.

But nobody was upset with me. I remember feeling visible, available, shy. Bashful? I dunno. Some conflux of feelings that I hadn't felt since childhood, if even then. As in childhood, though, during which time children say things and feel bashful (or some mix of similar feelings) and adults come to their rescue, so too did adults come to my rescue standing there at Wendy's house. Wendy looked at me like a mother looks at things, and she felt gentle and patient. She spoke less. Joyce spoke more. She filled the silence that I couldn't. She asked me questions without really requiring answers (though I could answer if I liked), and her hair was curly and she was taller than me. She orated. I remember clearly only one thing she said, which was don't dispossess yourself.

And I remember that when she said it, I began to feel tears welling up in my eyes, and I remember being okay with their presence, but confused about their arrival. What brought you here, little tears? Are you here to solve things too? If they were, they had company. It turned out that Wendy and Joyce had tears in their eyes too, but no one seemed upset. Also, no one acknowledged that anyone had tears in their eyes for a long time. Joyce just kept orating, I kept listening, Wendy kept witnessing, and we all kept standing there.

The only reason I remember that we stopped standing there was because Joyce started to speak less, and so there was more silence than when she'd been speaking more, and I filled it by saying sorry and wiping away some tears, which was probably pathetic, and I wasn't really sorry, so I'm not sure why I said it, but something needed to be said, and Wendy needed her house back.

When I finally got back to my own house, feeling safe and loved (but raw) and my grandma, bustling away in the kitchen, unquestioningly asked me if they, the SRO Collaborative, had solved anything, I almost just said yes. Like a confident, sure-fire "yes".  But I wasn't sure it was true, if we'd really solved anything. And if it was, I didn't know what had been solved.

Feel good.

This morning, it wasn't good. Guinness refused to eat breakfast, refused to drink water, and was just lying on the couch. He looked obliterated.

guinny.jpeg

"He's been like this all the time. I don't know what happened yesterday, why he perked up . . . " my mom explained.
"He hasn't eaten or had water for days . . . ?"
"Well, he has off and on, but not consistently, and he just throws it all up anyway."
"Mmm . . . "

It's a precarious time in our house. I don't even like writing about it. I don't want to write about it. But it matters.

I had my oatmeal sitting next to him. He looked at my oatmeal as if he was interested in it, so I thought maybe he was hungry. I offered him some food, but he just sniffed it and turned his head. I was just sitting there all morning, for hours, just watching him breathe. Any change, any increase in speed, any delay in breath, anything noticeable—I wanted to notice it.

"Mom . . . I want to eat something so badly . . . "
"Mhmm . . . " She knew that I meant that I wanted to eat something other than what I bought with my $18.
"Not even because I'm hungry. Don't get me wrong - I am hungry, but I want to eat something because I just want something comforting . . . "
"Yeah, it's emotionally draining watching him, I know. You just sit there, and you do nothing, but it's absolutely draining."
"Yeah . . . "

I kept watching him and reflected more on why I wanted to eat something. I realized that yes, I wanted something comforting (hence the term "comfort food," I suppose), but more than anything I wanted something good. I wanted something that felt good. I wanted the feeling of feeling good. Guinness' condition was making me so, so sad, so broken, so despairing . . . I just wanted to feel good.

Mind you, that's what I wanted as I sat huddled in blankets in my own clean, comfy clothes on a soft, bedbug-free couch in a reasonably big house with a working lock on the door in a calm, quiet neighbourhood sitting next to my mom, who was also clean, comfortable, and calm. And safe. We were all safe. Guinness may have been dying (and maybe still is—who knows) but not from fentanyl, overdose, or some other impact of system oppression.

Not that I couldn't understand it before, but more than ever as I sat there watching Guinness breathe, I could see why people turned to drugs and alcohol: to feel good. I wanted desperately to feel good.

"I think I'm going to eat something."
"Are you sure you want to do that . . . ?"
"I think so . . . I just need . . . "
" . . . you need to enjoy something."
"Yeah . . . I guess I could eat my banana."

I didn't eat my banana. I ate, of all things, potato chips. Mrs. Vickie's jalepeño flavour potato chips. I have a habit of eating those when I come home, and it may be a bad habit (don't really care), but they have become a comfort food. In any case, today, I thought they'd make me feel good. And they did.

It just kept going from there. I kept watching him breathe his shallow, awkward breaths, and I was feeling better from the chips and I wanted to feel even better.

"Is there coffee . . . ?"
"Uh, I think we might need to make some."
My eyes lit up. "Can we make some . . . ?"
"Yeah, sure."
That easy. Coffee.

 Behold 2.0.

Behold 2.0.

 Feeling good. (Well, better).

Feeling good. (Well, better).

I felt amazing. I was on a high. For sure. I got up and went to the fridge.
"Oh my god. Is that pasta? Is that tortellini?!"
"No . . . !"
I think she wasn't sure if I really wanted to ditch the Challenge.
"Why can't I eat it?!"
" . . . yes, it's pasta. You can eat it."
I ate it. There were maybe only four pieces of tortellini. Four pieces of delicious beef tortellini boiled perfectly and cooked in tomato sauce with herbs and spices and everything.

"Mom, I feel so much better. It's amazing."
She paused the TV and looked at me. "Wow . . . "
"I can't even believe it. I mean, it's not like I was going to pass out before, but I wasn't feeling good, and now . . . I mean, I'm still sad, but I feel like I could shower and maybe even blowdry my hair, probably even do stats." (I'm in a statistics class).
"Really . . . ?"
"Yeah. And maybe I'd stop eventually, maybe not even after long, but I feel like I could do those things. Before I ate chips, coffee, and four pieces of tortellini? No fucking way."
"That's incredible. I mean, well, that's horrible . . . that people live like that."
"Yeah . . . "

And it is. And I feel terrible. I feel like a shitbag. And then I feel like a shitbag for feeling like a shitbag because that's not helping anyone. I worry about my friends because I worry that it's possible to forget what it's like to feel good like that. Like this. (I still feel good). I ate dinner with my parents. In fact, dinner was interesting.

"Well, I need to go to the grocery store," said my mom.
My dad looked at her, confused or something.
"I need to pick something up for dinner. I don't have anything for dinner."
I was sitting on the floor rubbing Guinness, just trying to transfer some positive energy. I looked up at them.
"You have lots for dinner . . . "
"Oh, yeah, I guess so . . . !" She knew, of course.
I couldn't believe how much food we had when I thought about it like that: something for dinner.
I went on, "A full pantry, a full fridge, a full whole freezer downstairs, another pantry . . . we definitely have something for dinner."
"I guess, yeah, there's some Stouffer's things downstairs!" said my mom, offering the idea.
"Yeah, I mean, let's do it!" He seemed particularly accepting of Stouffer's tonight.

My mom called out that dinner was ready, and I walked up the table. Oh my god, how humbling three days can be. Dinner was incredible. To be clear, by Stouffer's, I mean we ate Stouffer's brand Complete Skillets: Thai Style Ginger Chicken. And by that I mean we ate frozen vegetables, pre-cooked chicken, and pre-cooked rice out of a bag. And it was INCREDIBLE. I'm not religious, but my dad's family is, and I think he is, so we say Grace at the table. And I have never—never ever—said Grace with more heart than I did today.

Guinness is lying at the foot of my bed as I write this, sleeping away. His breathing seems to have steadied a bit. His breaths seem easy, relaxed, unhurried.

guinny3.jpeg

But he's the skinniest he's ever been and he didn't eat all day today. He drank water twice, in the end. We gave him some new medicine, which hopefully helps. I am going to keep eating the food that is available to me because I need to feel good. I think even just for myself, I can't spiral into an everything-is-terrible-and-nothing-is-possible doom hole, but also for him I need to feel good so there's not an everything-is-terrible-and-nothing-is-possible doom monster sitting next to him watching him breathe.

The thing about the welfare rate is I don't even know what to say. It's not fucking possible. No one can live like that. I tried the most contrived, elementary version of one aspect of welfare and I couldn't even do that.

—I just had to scratch Guinness' head because he was too weak to move his back leg to be able to do it himself. These are the moments for which we need to feel good. Food, I have learned, is integral almost or just as much for morale as it is for physical nutrition. I have to sleep.

the little glass jars

I had to pick up coffee, milk, cream, and little glass jars on the way to work on Tuesday. I didn't manage to get the jars.

"There she is!" My coworker as I walked into work.
"Hey, Trace! I'm sorry it took me so long . . . I move slowly, and I missed so many buses. I'm so tired."
"Oh, right, the Challenge . . . ohh!"
She gave me a hug. I put my bags down. One of the women walked over and held out a banana.
"Oh, thank you, but I can't accept free food . . . "
"You're not paying anything for it," she insisted.
"Yeah, but it's breaking the rules . . ."
My coworker spoke up. "But that can't be the rules because that's not how it works—people living on welfare can go to the Women's Centre, or UGM, or lots of places and get free food, so you have to be allowed to eat it!"
"That's true, but the point of the Challenge is to demonstrate that people have to go to those places because the $18 per week that welfare affords people simply is not enough in the first place."
They muttered and exchanged disapproving looks. The woman put the banana decisively down on my desk. Later, we were sitting at the table together and I had my breakfast.

 Surprise.

Surprise.

At some point, my boss stopped in. She didn't know that I was doing the Welfare Food Challenge.

"Oh, well it's good that I have lots of lunch today! You can have some."
"Thank you so much, but I can't acc—"
"She won't accept it." My coworker, maybe a little frustrated.
"What? Why? But it's free!" said my boss.
"Yeah, but the point is I'm supposed to be able to live on $18. The government supposes that I can do that."
My boss looked at my coworker, totally confused.
"But you can have a cup of coffee . . . it's free here! If you were a woman on welfare coming to our program, you could have a coffee, so you can have a coffee."
My coworker bolstered the argument. Full agreement.
"Mmm, I can't though . . . the point of the Challenge is that I wouldn't be able to afford that coffee with the $18 that the government presumably has afforded me."
"But it's free."
"But it shouldn't have to be free. I should be able to buy myself coffee. But I needed calories, carbs, and protein, and that's all I could afford. No coffee. That's the point."

We went back out to the studio and they had lunch, one a mix of potatoes and veggies, and the other some sort of stirfry. I didn't want to eat just then because I knew I was heading to Tsawwassen after work, so I wouldn't be able to eat dinner until 9:30 or 10:00. A.k.a., eat a late lunch.
"Are you sure you don't want some?" My boss.
"Yeah, I'm good."
"I feel so bad eating in front of you . . . "
"Oh, no, don't! It's okay! I actually don't really mind people eating in front of me. It's not the feeling of hunger so much that gets to me as it is the feeling of just sheer fatigue . . . "
They ate their lunch. My coworker couldn't finish hers and offered the leftovers to me. I declined. Eventually, I ate my banana (my own banana).

Throughout the rest of the day, I'm not really sure what happened. I was so tired. We did an orientation with a new volunteer, there was reiki toward the end of the day, and somewhere along the line, I ate my instant noodles and forgot to take a photo. (In case anyone needed more monotonous pictures of the same monotonous food I've been eating). One of the Housing Outreach Workers visited us at the end of the day and asked me how the Challenge was going.
"Ohhhh . . . " I think I said.
"You look a little loopy . . . " she said, evaluating.
"She is," said my coworker.

Oh, and Kathy came to visit!
"Kathy!!!!" I got up and gave her a big hug. "How are you?!"
"Oh, god . . . hungry! And I've had a headache for three days! How are you?!"
Interestingly enough, I had forgotten that we were doing the Challenge together. I was just so happy to see her. But I was comforted by remembering that we were in it together.
"Oh, I'm okay . . . I'm a little out of it, apparently. I can't function properly. My brain isn't working."
"Yeah . . . no one can live on this!"
We caught up, talked about the usual - homelessness, the housing crisis, the ridiculousness of welfare of course, you know.
"Well, I should get going. It's Day 3 and I feel like we can do this, but this is the hardest day yet because I've got a free dinner to go to—but I've got my noodles and tomato sauce! And an apple!"
"That's AMAZING! That's an amazing dinner! Wow!"
"Yeah! I mean, relative to the rest of what I've been eating, I'm excited for my noodles! But man, it's gonna be hard!"
"You can do it!"
She can do it. (She will do it).

And by that I mean she won't cave. She won't eat anything outside her $18 for the week. But she'll be changed. She was already. So was I. By the end of the day, I realized I'd forgotten to go back out and pick up those little glass jars. My coworker agreed to stay late to accommodate the reiki and assured me that she'd pick up the jars later in the week. She told me to go home, so I did.

 Finally got the proportions right.

Finally got the proportions right.

I was going home to my parents' house because our dog hasn't been well for pretty much (if not more than) this whole year, and recently he has seemed really bad, so my mom advised me to come home. However, she'd said that somehow, for no apparent reason, he'd perked up earlier in the day and was acting completely normal, so I had the pleasure of opening the door to hear the pitter patter of paws running down the stairs and Guinness running to see me as I stepped in the house. I patted him and scratched him and sat with him and listened to how he'd been doing. Then ate supper.

I had forgot the ginger that I'd bought at my grandma's house and had opted not to bring the eggs for fear of them breaking in transit, so it was just plain rice and lentils for dinner. Even without the ginger and eggs though, I'm getting the hang of this dish.

GINGER <3

One of the women who hangs out with us at EWMA was in the studio this morning crafting, and we hadn't seen each other in a while, so we were catching up a bit. I told her about how I was taking this Welfare Food Challenge, and to please forgive me if I happened to be a little out of it, but that I was feeling pretty tired. She nodded, and we kept chatting.
"So did you get your Starbucks?" she asked.
My mind was racing. What Starbucks? My Starbucks? What was my Starbucks?
"Starbucks?!" (I couldn't articulate my thoughts too well, evidently).
"Yeah, like you know."
"Like did I go to—oh, no! No, absolutely not! No way I'm spending that on coffee!"
She laughed. "I see!"
Of course, I've always known that Starbucks charges a lot for coffee. Pretty much all cafes do. And I've always known (and even felt, as a child) that there's something whacked right out about Starbucks' whole deal. But I would go there, apparently. Enough even for someone to think of it as "my Starbucks".

She went on, "what does your nana think about this challenge?"
"You know, I don't know if she really understands it . . . not because she's stupid, but because she lived it. In fact, I wonder if she thinks it's kind of silly of me."
She nodded, knowingly. Kept crafting.
"You'll be okay. You might lose a few pounds, but you'll be okay."
That's what my grandma said too.

 I forgot to take a picture because I was so excited about food.

I forgot to take a picture because I was so excited about food.

I spent the latter part of the morning and the early afternoon sorting literally the tiniest beads I've ever seen from the sand, crumbs, bits of string, and little bug husks with which they'd been unfortunately stored (with the help of some wonderful volunteers), which was about as much as I had the capacity to do today anyway. And then at around a strategic 2:00pm, I ate breakfast.

 Behold.

Behold.

The blessing that is a banana when a banana is the only produce you have available to you for a week is like, man . . . I don't even really like bananas, and I'm so pumped to eat my banana every day. And by every day, I mean the past two days. Because I'm as privileged as all get-out—I even have a "my Starbucks". Ugh.

I will say that I now know from personal experience that $18 of food for one week does not prepare you to be the best worker you can be. Know how I spent my afternoon? Me neither. I'm pretty sure I just sort of checked my emails like a robot (work = emails?????), wandered around the studio like a confused dog, and finished the day with a bang, cutting leaf shapes out of construction paper. How anyone could conceive of $610 per month as a means to sustain a person at least well enough to look for work is a million billion percent beyond me.

Anyway, 5:30pm instant noodles.

 No Name beef flavour instant noodles feat. construction paper leaf shapes.

No Name beef flavour instant noodles feat. construction paper leaf shapes.

And I was supposed to go to a meet and greet thing for participants of Heart of the City Festival's Realms of Refuge residency at InterUrban Gallery, and I even RSVP'd saying I'd go, but I was so beat by the time the day was through that I had to just go home. Plus, I had to make sure I had enough energy to get the ginger that my dinner desperately needed.

 TA-DA.

TA-DA.

So I got the ginger.

I now have 74 cents left to spend. But FACT: garlic at Safeway is $4.69 a pound. I mean, I know garlic's not that heavy, but like what? Isn't a latte like one pound probably? For sure a pound of garlic would be a lot more practical than one latte, but still. Anyway, I got the ginger, and made this MASTERPIECE:

I had learned my lesson: (1) less lentils, (2) drain the lentils properly, (3) get the ginger.

But also, new lesson: more lentils than this though.

My cousin and I watched a movie and I ate everyone's all-time favourite movie snack: peanut butter. For those who are maybe "starving students," or starving anyones, or just anyone living in Vancouver where nothing is affordable pretty much ever, maybe you have seen No Name peanut butter on the shelf while shopping and wondered, is it really that different? Should I just save money? Like, I dunno, man. If you can help it, I probably would not go there. This peanut butter is fine, but it's also kind of the texture of toothpaste.

I'm blown away by people's ability to survive on welfare. I feel like I sound like I have more energy than I did yesterday, but I don't. I'm just kinda more fucked up, I think. I feel exhausted and a little bit crazy. I'm amazed by and have deep respect for people who live this, have lived this, are continuing to live this on a daily basis and who somehow stay politically active, pressing, and pressing, and pressing the government to raise the rates. I'm not that in touch with my hunger (although I feel it every second of every day), but I think I'm getting more in touch with how emotionally wrought I am.

quiet ///

I don't know what to blog about. I had a regular day and I have very low energy. I spoke a lot less than I usually do. I'm quiet.

I ate this:

 Breakfast was my favourite meal of the day.

Breakfast was my favourite meal of the day.

 Couldn't afford coffee.

Couldn't afford coffee.

 These were like, quite bad.

These were like, quite bad.

Well, and a banana. And then I went to soccer. My coach looked up and went Angela! as I arrived. He was happy to see me because we didn't have many players today, and a good number of the players we did have were recovering from injuries, and then there was me with my blood sugar level zero, and the team we played is first in our league. I played like I don't know what. Shit, probably.

In the first half, I wondered when I was gonna get a sub, then wondered a bit more, finally called my coach's name but he didn't hear me, tried again but he didn't hear me again, would glance back and see him not seeing me, then finally on a corner kick, I made a megaphone with my hands and shouted his name over and over again. Maybe I was too quiet, but he didn't notice for a while, until my teammates also started calling his name and pointing at me. Next possession, Angela. Thumbs up.

When I finally got subbed off, I wasn't sure why I was tired or even if I was tired, but I was sure that something was off. My teammates offered me some oranges. I declined, explained why, they said, 18 dollars?! That's crazy! Which it is. My coach overheard.
"Are you okay, Angela?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"If your blood sugar is that low, you just tell me how you're feeling out there. We don't need you just keeling over!"
"Yeah, I'll keep you posted!"

The second half started and he kept me off. He only put me back in two more times — first, when one of my teammates took a hard ball to the back of the head and fell over, and next when that same player had gone back in but within a few minutes, busted her knee. We lost 2-0.

I ate half a cup of rice, a cup of green lentils, and two eggs for dinner. I thought I should probably eat as much as I could because I had burnt all those calories at soccer, so I opted to just eat all the lentils and all the rice . . . and I put it all in one bowl, which was a mistake. And I didn't drain the lentils properly, which was a mistake. And I didn't pick up any garlic or ginger on my way home with my remaining $1.05, which was a mistake. Other than the eggs (which got mangled because I couldn't afford oil, butter, or margarine), my dinner was bad, and then got progressively more disgusting as I kept eating it. I didn't think I'd be able to finish it, but I was wrong.

 Gross.

Gross.

 It was gross.

It was gross.

I'm so hungry, I think. I'm definitely not full. But more than anything, I feel mentally and emotionally weak. I'm hungry, I think, but I don't really care. I'm tired.

rice peace anxiety

We went to No Frills today to spend our $18 for the Welfare Food Challenge. I got: one-minute whole grain oats, 7 beef flavour instant noodles, a small jar of peanut butter, some rice, some green lentils, and 12 eggs.

 Not pictured here: eggs.

Not pictured here: eggs.

When we walked in, the produce section was right there at the front of the store, and Alex said, this isn't for us, which it wasn't. But we picked up our baskets and walked through it (just to be sure, I guess). It felt vaguely like walking through one of those fancy stores that sells diamond rings and stuff. You look, but that's it.

 $1.05 left for a TREAT on Saturday!

$1.05 left for a TREAT on Saturday!

Phyllis watched us shuffle awkwardly around and said, well, you can always come back. In other words, get what you need first. In other words, you don't need fruits and vegetables. In other words, caloric intake. In other words, survival.

She was right. The oats are giving me some twisted-right-the-way-all-up peace of mind. The lentils seem good because there's lots, but honestly I've never cooked them before because it seemed hard or just time-consuming to me, and I've never had to, so I haven't. There isn't enough rice to give me peace of mind. The rice gives me anxiety.

My calculator came out right away. I wanted to know the numbers, watch them, know them, control them, not let them get away on me. I hadn't done any research or made a plan of how I was going to eat for the week, so I was nervous and just experientially at a loss. Alex had made a plan and he calculated in his head, roughly. He kept saying, How much were the beans again? How much was the peanut butter again? And I kept saying I don't know because I didn't know and because I don't know because I don't buy canned beans or peanut butter in which the second ingredient is icing sugar and because I couldn't keep track of another thing in my head with all the rest of everything running such amuck.

We ran into Kathy at the store too.
"Is that Kathy . . . ? Is that Kathy . . . ?! That's Kathy!" I think Alex was happy to see her. I was too.
"Kathy!" I chimed in.
She turned, "Oh, hey guys! Hi, Phyllis!"
"Are you getting your stuff?"
"Yeah, oh my god."
"How's it going?" Alex asked her.
"Well, Shoppers Drug Mart has the cheapest eggs! Even cheaper than the dollar store. They were on the sale—oh, shoot, I think the sale ended yesterday—but still, they're only ten more cents regular price! And the dollar store has really cheap big cans of tomato sauce, and I might trade in my jam for "fruit spread,"" (this she said laughing), "because you can get a big thing of it at the dollar store for cheap," (seriously).
She had done a lot of research, clearly.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do for coffee!"
Neither did I. I still don't. Well, I do. I'm not going to have any. But like, oh.

At the till, the cashier asked me if I wanted bags.
"How much are bags?"
"Five cents."
I looked at my groceries. "Just one bag, please."

 Bags cost five cents.

Bags cost five cents.

Phyllis drove me all the way home so I wouldn't have to carry my groceries all the way home on transit. In the car ride home, Alex asked me if I was sad, but I was only pensive. I was thinking about the rice, the fact that I was getting a ride home so I didn't have to be cold, wet, and tired, how many 3s there were in the ones column of all the prices at the store, and looking at the fallen leaves stuck wet, flat, and all leaf upon leaf onto the rolling tire of the car next to us.

Tonight, I'm meeting some friends at Banana Leaf for dinner. The cheapest food on their menu is $7, which is a lot more than the 3s in the grocery store.

Night

Tonight, I drank more beer than I usually do (and ate a veggie burger) at Portland Craft with some friends, some good friends, and now I'm sitting up in bed on my laptop writing this post listening to old tunes and new tunes and drinking water because I need to study tomorrow because I need to to do well in stats because I need to get into school because I feel like school is the right thing to get into.

When I went to a show a few weeks ago (and shows are not things that I usually go to), I went to a show at The Imperial, which is almost right on the corner of Main and Hastings, and the performer, my favourite performer, my favourite musician, the only person I'd really pay money to go see strum a guitar or any old thing and sing a bunch of stuff, said I hear Vancouver is one of the best places to live in the world, and everyone cheered. I didn't know what to do. I looked at my friend, and she said "That's actually such a political statement," laughing awkwardly. We were awkward then.

Because it is political. There were people with no jackets, no homes, shit shoes, and scratchy voices like they had a cold but there they were with no jacket, no home, shit shoes, and a scratchy voice talking to someone else who maybe also had no jacket, no home, and shit shoes, and all this as I walked past on my way to see this mightily talented woman strum a guitar and sing a bunch of stuff.

You can't just come here, perform at The Imperial, and leave. Or you can. Did you know that there are statues of men in what looks like old Chinese wartime armour high up on the walls of The Imperial? Is that stylized, or permanent in some culturally formative way? What is The Imperial? What is it doing at Main and Hastings? The statues are what stood out to me most, after the glorious woman who walked right past me, mere feet away from me, with her blonde hair and ornate little white shirt, long skirt, odd confidence, and then the statues all in a row, equidistant from each other, stood on either side of the place, both walls, just looking at one another like nothing, and silent.

There is something about the way that certain music sounds at night, when it's dark, that makes it resonant in ways that it cannot be in the daytime. That is how it seemed to be with Laura on that night at The Imperial at almost Main and Hastings, except probably no one really knew what time of day it was or whether or not it was dark outside, but there we all were in our awkward huddle at this venue which confused everyone and left us all in our relaxation and ultimately, shock, when she brushed past us to get to the stage because why wouldn't she just be backstage to begin with? But she brushed past us.

Sometimes I feel as though things brush past me and I realize their effect long after the departure of their stroke. My friends, my good friends tonight, were just sitting with me and talking at a table like there was nothing much to do about it (which there wasn't), but there must have been, I think, because I feel much more comforted, or checked, or challenged, or tougher and more ready for love and battle at the same time than I feel on other nights, which is what the best friends must ready you for, probably.

She'd feed me

A couple nights ago, I told my grandma that I'm planning on taking the Welfare Food Challenge.

"What's that?"
"It's a challenge to raise awareness about what people living on welfare go through."
"Mm."
"You give yourself the average amount of money that someone living on welfare has to spend on food for one week, and you eat what you can afford. This year, it's $18 for the week."
"$18?"
"Yeah."
She paused. "I can do that."
I paused.
"Easy," she added.

We were sitting at the kitchen table. I had come home late because I'd been at a meeting after work, where we had discussed the Welfare Food Challenge. Kathy and I agreed we'd do it together. Anyway, it was a late dinner.

"You don't have to finish it," pointing to my soup.
"What? It's great!"
"Yeah . . . I don't know - I just tried it!" (She's recently taken to Googling new recipes).
"Yeah, and it turned out great!" It was a carrot and ginger bisque.
"Mmm. You can buy potatoes . . . carrots, if it's on sale . . . porridge . . . milk, because for the mashed potatoes and the porridge . . . "
I looked at her, realized we'd shifted gears. I tried to join in. "And maybe one cluster of spinach, for something green."
"Spinach cooks down too much."
"Could just eat it raw . . . " (Trying to save myself).
"Oh, yeah, you could."
I sat and ate my soup quietly, glancing up at her. She looked deep in thought.
She started laughing, "Yeah, I can do it!" More laughing, shaking her head. "No problem!"
"Well, I think the Welfare Food Challenge is more designed for people like me, and especially people who have more money than me, people who have never had to live on anything close to $18 a week. I really have no idea what that's like . . . of course you know how to do it."
"Yeah, we did it."
Another pause. She wasn't looking at me.
"Because they took all the men away," she said, looking at me now. "They took them all away, all the fathers and sons," her brow furrowed in concern. "And there was no work. And no food bank."
"Mmm . . . "
"So my mother would receive her cheque, or whatever it was, I don't know if there was welfare then . . . and we would make it last."

This wasn't the first time that the past had seeped into our conversation seemingly of its own accord. The thing about talking to my grandma is that the past is always hanging around, so you never know. And the thing about the past (at least in her case) is that despite its modern day ubiquity and the rather intimate quarters which they seem to share, she never actually knows it's there.

"Grandpa used to make $3000 a year, working at the CBC."
I looked up at her from my soup.
"Of course, everything was cheaper then, but still."
"That must have been hard . . . "
"Yeah, it was hard. Sometimes he didn't even have bus fare."
"Mm . . . "
"And when he started, it was $2000, and one day, he came home, and I remember he was so mad because he saw what they were getting on welfare, and he said that's more than I make!"
"Mhmm . . . "
"Of course, I had uh . . . what's it called — "
"Tenants . . . ?"
"Yeah, boarders . . . room and board. Bill and . . . I forget the other one. I had to, because . . . well, we needed it."
I finished the soup and moved on to a personal pizza. Homemade on a repurposed piece of pita bread. I don't know why I said it, but I did.
"I think the other thing for people living on welfare now is they don't necessarily live in a house like we do, right? They're frequently living in tougher situations and don't have a stove, oven, or even a fridge."
"Things will keep in the winter."
"Some things, yeah, but not everything . . . "
"How long is this thing?"
"Seven days."
"Carrots will keep at least three days. Don't buy them all at once. Eat potatoes and porridge for a while. Or make chilli."
"And where are you going to put the chilli?"
"In the fridge."
"What if you don't have a fridge?"
"Put a lid on it. Or get a plate or something."
"And just leave in it in your room? Some rooms have rats."
"Put a rock on the lid."
For some reason, I kept going.
"The other thing is that people who are living on welfare now don't even necessarily get to wear what I'm wearing right now, you know? I'm in a really thick, warm sweater. In addition to facing hunger and malnutrition, they're facing the cold. All at once. This challenge I'm doing only addresses the food aspect."
"Yeah, but they can go to places. Lots of places have clothing donations."
"Yeah, that's true, but they can't pick out what they want like I can. It might not be in their size."
"No, but they can stay warm."
"Yeah, sometimes. But there might not be heating in their building."
"There was no heating in ours."

I knew that. She'd told me that before. She said the walls and floor froze. But here I was sitting at the dinner table eating the free home-cooked meal that she'd prepared for me, she staying up with me so I don't have to eat alone, and me sitting there telling her that I'm participating in this Welfare Food Challenge because to me it's an exercise and to her it was life and because I had to tell her because otherwise, she'd feed me.

 My grandma (fifth from left, approx. 8 years old)&nbsp;with her mother and siblings arriving at their internment camp in Greenwood, 1942.&nbsp;Photo courtesy of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.&nbsp;2001.3.153

My grandma (fifth from left, approx. 8 years old) with her mother and siblings arriving at their internment camp in Greenwood, 1942. Photo courtesy of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. 2001.3.153

They don't want me to talk about the internment

The Kitsilano Community Centre offers a Multicultural Program. Each month, it highlights different aspects of a culture. In April, it focussed on Japan.

My grandma goes to the community centre for zumba on Tuesdays, so a staff member must have assumed that she lived nearby and asked her to speak at the presentation on Japan. Someone asked her. (Even though she's never lived in Japan, was born in Canada, and has always been Canadian).

"But they don't want me to talk about the internment."
(My partner and I exchange weird looks).
". . . They told you that? They said don't talk about it?"
"Yeah, and I can understand it. I can understand why."

And she can. ("It's not pleasant").

A couple days later, I ask her what she plans to talk about.

"Ohh, I was thinking I would start with: I was born...!" She laughs. She's being facetious.
I play along. "Yeah? Well, I mean, that's true!"
She's pleased. "Yeah, I think I'll make it funny!"
I play along again. "Funny's good!"
She continues. "Yeah, and then, you know, my father ran the general store in Steveston, so I grew up in Steveston, and I went to school there... eventually, we moved to Greenwood, where I continued to go to school... I became a teacher, and oh I don't know, you know, something like that."
Keep playing along. "That sounds good. That's you!"
"Yeah, because they said they don't want me to talk about the internment, and I can understand that."
"Mhmm."

Whether it's a blessing or curse I don't know, but there is a disconnect between my grandma and the violence inherent in their request. In fact, there's a disconnect between my grandma and most (if not all) violence to do with the internment. Some people would suggest that maybe she's just traumatized in such a way that it is advantageous for her to have this disconnect between herself and the violence of the internment. Maybe. She did say it was fun because they were just kids.

I have no interest in any sort of oppression olympics, but I think it's worth saying that when I come home and she says she's been asked to give this talk but isn't allowed to talk about the internment and she understands why as if it's this sensible request easily obliged and of no consequence, I feel angry and sad. 

I try to slow down and see the situation from her perspective, suppose that her willingness to oblige is not a result of particularly successful colonialism and/or assorted Anglo-Canadian bullshit, but rather a product of absolute and true peace, some simple, easy response not marred by a speck of trauma, and granted this is an imaginative exercise limited by my own reality bias (i.e. the internment was fucked up), I still get stuck.

One is not necessarily a prick or white supremacist or any variations on a theme for asking what has been asked of her, but one is certainly a fucked up motherfucker, as far as I'm concerned. If you ask a Japanese Canadian survivor of the internment to give a public talk about Japaneseness without allowing them to talk about the internment, you may be a very good person at heart (and if so, hooray), but your behaviour is fucked up.

Would you be interested in volunteering your time to give a talk about your Japaneseness without talking about the federally legislated persecution and incarceration that you experienced as a result of that Japaneseness?

She either cannot or will not see that colonialism inherent in their request, nor can she understand why it is important to be critical of colonial attitudes or actions. My grandma says that when they were interned, her dad told them, War is war! - nothing you can do about it! But if war was just war, then why don't they want her to talk about the internment?

ROOM

"When we got married, Dad said, I can't manage money. Can you? And I said, yup. So I've always done it."
"Hmm."
"Because that's how I was raised, you see, with my mother."
"Yeah."
"To be frugal."
"Mmm."
"Maybe now I'm too frugal!" And she laughed.

Maybe. The women at work are too frugal, if you ask me. Bless their souls, but we are drowning. We are up to our ears in art supplies, which really means we are up to about our waists in art supplies and up to everywhere else in hoarded materials that we've reasoned could potentially one day be some sort of art supply maybe.

 My mom's room, my aunt's room, my grandparents' room, my room.

My mom's room, my aunt's room, my grandparents' room, my room.

I have been hell-bent on tidying up and getting organised at work, so please understand that I am telling the whole and real truth when I say that I died a small death today as 4 garbage bags filled with clothes and linens and a big brown box of jewellery made their way into the studio. I swear to god, why. But then, the keeping of things is somehow sacred.

My family has kept this room, my mom's room, my aunt's room, my grandparents' room, and now today, it is my room. It boasts years of wear and tear. It has the residue of family, its walls thick with the lacquer of generations. It is a room that has been kept, and so it is bestowed that cumulative and peculiar sanctity that comes from keeping things.

two birds, flowers, and death

A while ago, my grandma and I were chatting in the living room after dinner. I was knitting, and she was having tea. We were talking about marriage, and she said it's always the little things that break marriages up.

"What did Grandpa do? What were the little things?"
"Ohh..." she thought. "He said no flowers."
"No flowers?"
"Yeah, nothing could be flowers. Like the pillowcases? Or the curtains, he didn't want flowers."
"Oh."
"And nothing on the wall. I couldn't hang anything on the wall."
She pointed around, "See that? I used to have it sitting there, remember? And then Adrianne put it up. And that, Bear gave it to him, so he put it up. And that was his mother's."
I turned to look at the last hanging. "This was Blue Grandma's?"
"Yeah. It's silk."

Hanging in our living room between the blue couch and the shelf where I used to put my pop-up books is a rather ornate and embroidered work of two birds. Silk, apparently, which explains its shine. The colours are pretty, but they're those sort of non-committal in-between colours: orangey pinks, bluey greens, browney greys. Except the birds are black and white and powerful. The birds are of the same kind. Cranes, maybe?

Hours earlier, she had introduced me to Blue Grandma's best friend:  Mrs. Higo.  There was a photo of Mrs. Higo in The Bulletin/Geppo.

"I remember her, Mrs. Higo."
Mrs. Higo smiled back at us.
"Yeah?"
"Yeah. They were best friends, Mrs. Higo and Ian's mother."
"Hmm."
"She owned the brothel on Powell Street."
"Mmm."
"So that's why we think... you know..."

That my great grandma was a sex worker.

I've spent most of my life knowing pretty much nothing about my great grandma. Then last year, someone asked me if I was Shanghai K's great granddaughter, which it turns out I am. But yeah, years ago, while the other issei ladies would putter around and participate in seniors' activities and what have you, my great grandmother would sit in the corner wearing her overapplied make-up and smoke in poker-faced silence.

I think I have more of a problem with overapplied make-up and smoking than I do with sex work, but a couple weeks ago at work, I did have a problem related to sex work. A man stumbled into the studio and walked right up to my desk. He stood there looking at me, looking around, and vaguely smelling of alcohol. My co-worker and the studio intern were there too, and so we all sat in watchful silence as this seemingly reactive and/or unstable man stood in our space (the studio is a women's space). He slowly picked up one of our backpacks.
"That's my backpack..." (from behind him, which he didn't seem to hear).
As slowly as he picked it up, I took it back. "I'm going to have to ask you to put that down."
"Why?"
"Because it's not yours. It doesn't belong to you."
"Really?"
"Yeah..."
He looked around, eyed my stuff, stumbled forward, behind my desk.
"I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"Why?"
"Because of the way you're looking at and picking up stuff that doesn't belong to you."
"Oh... Okay."
He stumbled back the way he came, stopped in his tracks: "You're a whore, you know that?"
"No, but you do have to leave."
More stumbling, and then in the doorway, I was a whore again, and then a slut, and then he left.

Our studio is supposed to be a safe space for women, and even particularly women who are sex workers, women who have done sex work in the past, or other women who have experienced exploitation and for-real vulnerability. All women are welcome, but in creating a safe space, the studio has in mind particularly those women who might be especially harmed by that man's behaviour and language. So it sucked that he did that. And it sucks that he probably has a heap of his own problems with which he seems to need some help. But it also sucks that we shame sex work. Whether it's a family avoiding telling a younger family member that sex work was probably the reality of life for her great grandmother or a man drunkenly throwing out whore and slut like little ninja stars, shaming sex work sucks.

My grandma continued.
"But then... you know, when he was - you know, at the end... I said, Look, Dad!" and she pointed. (They heard "Mom" and "Dad" so much from their kids that those just became their names, even for each other).
I looked. At the end of the blue couch, there was a pillow covered in flowers.
She gripped her tea, folded over the cuff of her sweatshirt. "He mellowed a lot at the end, really..."
"Yeah..."
"He was brave, really. He just accepted it."

They were just kids!

Today, I slept in. Because last night, I was up late at my cousin's house playing with my cousins because it was my cousin's birthday. My cousin drove me home.

The plan was to hang out at their place, take it easy, have some drinks, and just catch-up. We caught up, and then we started talking about our family, and then we started talking about intergenerational trauma.

If you ask our aunts and uncles, they'll say that Greenwood was actually a lot of fun because they were just kids, and so they just played all day! Which is probably true. They were definitely kids. So they were probably playing.

 They were just kids! (Top row: Aunty Rosemarie, Great Grandma, Great Grandpa. Bottom row: Grandma, Aunty Joan, Aunty Rita, and Uncle Thomas).

They were just kids! (Top row: Aunty Rosemarie, Great Grandma, Great Grandpa. Bottom row: Grandma, Aunty Joan, Aunty Rita, and Uncle Thomas).

But I moved in with my grandma at the beginning of September, and since then, I have discovered in addition to the fact that they were kids and that they were playing, that they had cardboard shoes ("and Greenwood, you know, so it was really rainy, so when it got wet, we replaced it, the cardboard"); that in the winter, when it got cold, the walls and the floor would freeze ("In Greenwood, the walls used to be like that, and the floor, like that, with frost"); that they were treated like animals ("And they put us on a train! Like cattle! You know... yeah!"); and yet, that Greenwood was a home ("I keep this, fool's gold, from the mountain, because it reminds me of Greenwood") . . . 

Of all the things I've discovered about my family's experiences in Greenwood since moving in with my grandma, the most heartbreaking thing was the fool's gold. It's in a little ceramic jar on the windowsill, about six or so pieces of fool's gold, and the jar is in a little clear plastic bag.

"I said I'd like to go to the mountain to collect some fool's gold, I said. So we did, so I don't know... I keep it, because it reminds me of Greenwood."
She had taken each piece out so carefully.
"See?"
"Mhmm."
"Fool's gold."
"Mhmm."
"And when we went back up... it was all gone."

When my cousin's husband came home with their daughter, having picked her up from the birthday party she had been at, my cousin asked him how the party was, and he said he didn't know because he didn't stay, and she said you didn't want to come home for dinner?, and he said but he thought we'd be PARTYING, that you girls would be blasting Taylor Swift! and he did a little jig thing, and she just sort of looked at him and said no, and then they had a strange conversational tension about whether the cake she had made was orange cake or lemon cake, and later, when she was off with the kids momentarily and I was chatting with him, I asked him how his day was, and he said: good, a lot of driving. He didn't want to come home for dinner, I guess. He just drove around that whole time.

But my cousin and I were talking about intergenerational trauma because we're pretty sure our family has been traumatized by the experience of being Japanese Canadian during the Second World War. And by the racism, discrimination, hatred, etc., either external or internalized, which occurred in the post-war and subsequent years. This we discussed over fresh grapefruit juice and gin on the rocks in a big, old, friendly, have-to-move-out-by-the-end-of-the-month house while the kids (including one brand new 13-year-old) hung out in the living room.

And my grandma finished reading The Poisonwood Bible.

"I finally finished that damn book!"
"Did you?! What did you think of it?!"
"Phew! It just dragged on!"
I chuckled, "Yeah, it's a pretty long book..."
"Too long!"
We agreed that yes, it was pretty long, maybe too long.
"I think Ruth May's death really affected the family."
"Yeah... I mean, that'll do it."
"Yeah, and the father hit his head or something."

FICTION NON-FICTION

Last night, my grandma and I sat down at the kitchen table and talked. She had tea, and I was having a late dinner. As with many of our conversations, they're about more than one thing at once, a phenomenon which may be due singularly to my grandma's avid use of pronouns. You can never be too sure what or who she's actually talking about.

We talked about my work, which involves work at the Lion Hotel on Powell Street. Her mother-in-law, my great grandma (Blue Grandma, we call her, for some reason) used to live at the Lion. I asked my grandma if she remembers which room Blue Grandma used to live in.

She shook her head. "No, but you go in, and up the stairs, and then there's a looong hallway," her arm stretching out with the o's. "And her room was in the middle on the left."
"And we don't actually know how old she was when she died there?"
"No. When she was getting on, Eric asked her and she said... I forget... 77 or something, she said, and he said: but Mom, how can that be if I'm sixty-... uh, sixty-whatever-he-was... And she looked at him, pointed at him, and said: you lie." (She acted out Blue Grandma's movements, and then broke character and laughed).

Plus, my grandma's reading The Poisonwood Bible. She thinks Rachel's funny. She's always laughing at Rachel's cleverness and malapropisms. I think Ruth May is my favourite. We agree that Leah's chapters are the most boring to read.

She reflected, "I think she's about my age."
"Who is?"
"The mother. Well---"
"The mother...? You mean Kingsolver?"
Smacking her palm to her forehead, "Yeah, Kingsolver."
"Yeah, I think she's probably about your age." (Sure?)
"Yeah. Because I recognize the, you know... I know what she's talking about."
"It resonates with you, does it?"
"Yeah."

Interesting enough that she seems to inadvertently associate Barbara Kingsolver with the mother in the story, Orleanna Price, and not one of the daughters, given that like the Price daughters, Kingsolver moved to the Congo with her family when she was a child.

"But I think he hit his head in the war," she said.
"Who did? The father?"
"Yeah. Because... yeah, I think he hit his head or something."

More interesting that in a conversation about The Poisonwood Bible, we blur the real and the fictional. Why does my grandma recognize the allusions and references in the text? Maybe because Barbara Kingsolver (who is real) is about the same age as her, and so my grandma and Barbara have collected a similar set of cultural data. Why is Nathan Price (who is fictional) such an abusive father and husband? Maybe because he hit his head in the war.

"He fought in the war?" (I read the book years ago. I couldn't remember).
"Yeah."
"The Second World War?"
"Yeah, but I think he hit his head, bumped it on a rock or something."
"Does someone say that? Or do we just know that he fought in the war and that he's terrible?"
"Well, she alludes to it."
"The mother?"
"Yeah. She says he wasn't the same after the war, so I think he hit his head and now he has, or he's, you know..."
"Maybe has PTSD or something."
"Yeah."

Could be.

My grandpa might have had PTSD or something too. He was an angry man and "never really let it go," as my grandma pointed out last night. But also, he was born in Shanghai to a Japanese mother and a British father, before being sent to Canada by ship to land in Vancouver when he was 5, only to have the RCMP try to shoo him and his family to an "internment camp" (read: incarceration), to which his tough-ass mother said nuh-uh, after which they subsisted in the racially-tense-as-fuck lower mainland on whatever his dad managed to send them from his P.O.W. camp (read: nothing) and her income from work, whatever that was (read: probably sex work). So like, yeah, I might also be angry, and I might also never really let that go.

Not that it excused his violence. Nor does Nathan Price's hitting his head on something in the war excuse his violence. But excusing violence is not the point. The point is that in The Poisonwood Bible, we are invited to consider the experiences of women, not particularly the experiences of men. The book is composed of chapters, each titled one of five names: Orleanna, Leah, Adah, Rachel, or Ruth May. The voices we hear are these five women's voices. Nathan Price is not unimportant, but he is secondary. He is a part of the story only so much as and in the ways that these five women allow. My grandma's not even finished the book, but to read 200+ pages of a story throughout which you learn that the central male character, Nathan Price, is an abusive father and husband, to pop out the other end iterating and reiterating that you think he hit his head or something in the war is no unremarkable thing. So if, in The Poisonwood Bible, we're considering the experiences of women (which I insist we are), and yet we're fixated on the fact that maybe he hit his head or something in the war, then what does that fixation say about women's experiences? Whose experience are we considering? Real or fictional?

When you say you think he hit his head or something in the war, what are you saying? In this back and forth conversation between the Price family in Kikongo and the Belcher family on Powell Street, why do you keep saying that you think he hit his head or something in the war? Who hit his head? With whom are you empathizing? I think he hit his head in the war: one wonders if this is an expression of empathy not felt for the fictional Nathan Price, but rather for the real Ian Belcher.