say the word

 

I just read this wonderful piece about seventh graders asking for tampons in their school and the powers that be who denied the request because of worries that the girls would “abuse the privilege”.

Because tampons are so useful for things other than menstruation. (Actually, I happen to know from an episode of Sex and the City that they can be used to staunch a nosebleed when cut in half lengthwise).

So the kids, instead of whinging and wailing

and crying about the unfairness of everything,

decided to bake cookies. Tampon cookies.

Which is lovely in its own self-evident way, but what got me even more than the cookies and the chutzpah is what someone in the article said about how things have changed, how once upon a time no one would have dared even SAY the word ‘tampon’. And when you think about that… I mean really think about it… it’s entirely mad. The silencing of what is so utterly normal.

Menstrual trivia: Not until 1985 did the word ‘period’ even appear in advertising, although, of course, many products were advertised (for ‘female conditions’ and ‘time of the month’ and other euphemisms. It was Courtney Cox who had the honours of finally outing the word in a TV ad for Tampax.

But for all the distance we’ve covered, we are STILL in this place where girls and women are made to feel a warped sense of taboo about their own bodies.

**

Two summers ago, in order to promote Gush, a book of essays, poetry, and stories about menstruation,  I sat at a little table on the sidewalk in downtown Uxbridge, outside the Blue Heron Book Shop, and chatted with passersby about menstrual memories. What were their stories? Etc.

It actually went brilliantly, as in PEOPLE (women mostly, but some men too, god bless them) WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS STUFF.

They just need to know it’s okay.

All that’s required is to normalize it. By saying the words. By asking the questions. By sharing stories that make us laugh and cry and want to change the world in tiny ways that are freeing. All of which toward the goal of changing things in bigger ways, as in, oh I don’t know… research into women’s health issues? which remain sadly underfunded and/or overlooked.

For starters.

Because we’re far from done with this subject.

(Slovenian graffiti in Ljubljana; courtesy of WikiCommons)

 

 

 

not so wordless wednesday postcard

Dear Newfoundland Crafters Guild Women:

You may not remember me. I stopped by one of your places on the side of the road about a decade or so ago, wandered the few aisles in a sort of barn-like building with folding tables laden with homemade this and thats. A few of you sat in chairs drinking tea and knitting, chatting amongst yourselves, asking me if I was alright my dear… and if I needed any help to just give you a nudge. I bought this tea cosy for I haven’t a clue now how much… probably not nearly enough. A few dollars. I’ve used it goodness knows how many times since then. (How many times is almost every day for a decade?)

This was also the holiday of invading fog as we sat happily enough (and innocently) on the shoreline rocks with a glass of wine, possibly bread and cheese too, and then, looking up over the water the fog coming in at a pace and thickness like I’ve never seen before. A vast platoon of cold grey air that obliterated everything as it went, and us sitting there mouths full of cheese like targets. Soon it would be all around us and we’d never be able to get off the rocks safely, we’d never find our footing, never know what was land or water. So we scrambled like crazy while we could still see. Ran to the B&B we were staying at and no sooner landed on the porch than the fog was on us and you couldn’t see a metre in front of you. That we survived makes it one of the best memories ever.

Also the same holiday when I sat on a hillside at Petty Harbour, watched a few boats coming in and wrote a poem about the women who waited in those little outports; I wondered how many times they’d held their breath until they saw their chap’s boat return while at the same time enjoying a certain temporary freedom and community with each other.

Petty Harbour

They hide in square wooden houses
the women of the boatmen, leaning
on each other’s shadows, thighs
pressed together against the fog
until—all but one returns; thighs
loosen for a moment before they’re
alone, immersed in salt and gravy,
hiking cloud paths for berries to send
with him next time; yet for the one
whose boatman doesn’t return—
thighs loosen and life begins.

Anyway, I just wanted to say, dear crafter women, somebody made a pretty incredible tea cosy. And thank you. And I want you to know that I think of you often, your knitting and your chatting and willingness to be nudged in that barn with its hot beverages and cookies on offer and I am grateful for you and for women everywhere who work at these seemingly simple tasks to raise funds for hospitals and schools and families in need and how I”m not sure you realize what an enormous chunk of the planet you hold up…

I just want you to know this is what I sometimes think when I have my tea.

 

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

jane’s walk — ajax, ontario — best parts

 

This year my Jane’s Walk was through a slice of Ajax , which wasn’t even established as a town until 1941, and then only by accident when a company set up shop in what was a field to make bombs for WWII. They made millions apparently… (40 million). And it was women from across Canada who made them. They arrived on trains from the west and the east and lived in dormitories built expressly for them (surrounded by 8′ walls and barbed wire).

Before that, Ajax was an unnamed area of fields, a scattering of farms, part of Pickering Township, east of Pickering Village, and west of the Town of Whitby. Then suddenly there are 9,000 people employed by Defence Industries Limited, all of them making bombs, and a wee town emerged.

After the war, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation built homes for returning soldiers. Our Jane’s Walk guide said they were meant to be torn down at one point but the residents put up such a fuss they were allowed to stay and are still the backbone of Ajax, lining the streets surrounding Harwood Avenue. (A few people on the tour grew up in, or knew people who still live in, those CMHC houses, and shared memories including how there weren’t a lot of cars initially and so the A&P would allow you to drop off a list of what you needed and they’d deliver.)

The best part is that in the centre of this beloved neighbourhood, where people still refer to houses by who lived in them decades ago, and in the very space where the women’s dormitories used to be, is now a park and community garden. Beans and tomatoes instead of bombs.

   

And a short walk away, the civic centre (Pat Bayly Square) features a memorial to the significant contribution by women to the war efforts of WWII.

The other best part is simply discovering a new neighbourhood in a town I very often drive past, assuming it can be summed up by a quick glance… because nowhere can be summed up that way. Everywhere has its stories, its nooks and crannies and spaces only the locals know about.

Importance of community is the best part of Jane Jacob’s philosophy, and the sense of connection to a place you thought you knew or a brand new place is the best part of any Jane’s Walk program. Keeping that in mind makes it possible to make all kinds of discoveries on your own anytime, anywhere.

Just throw a dart on a map and take a walk, reminding yourself that community takes many forms and is born in strange and wonderful ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hey, cupcake…

 

Once upon a time there was a girl who grew up believing in bravery, truth, equality and heart. She thought everyone was the same.

She grew up.

She saw there was a difference.

And then one day so many voices sang a song she longed to hear… “same, different, what does it matter? !” What matters is brains and heart and truth sang the voices and the girl was happy to hear this happy song and packed up her brains and her bravery and her truth and arranged them on her new desk and on her shelves and she opened books that said this is allowed and this is allowed and this and this and she memorized it all and took it to heart and she was very good at keeping things true and there were pots of tea, and fresh cupcakes everywhere and they were marvellous and all was well.

Tra la, tra la, things went (or so it seemed) until out of the blue (or so it seemed) the people who said same different doesn’t matter said what are you doing? And the girl said keeping things true. And the same different people said why? And the girl looked up from her books, looked up into their faces, and she was confused, didn’t understand the word why.

There is no same they said (or maybe they implied it), everything is different. We thought you knew that. We thought you knew this was just a desk and those were just shelves (who cares that you line them with truth?) and you are just a girl and stop eating the good cupcakes… the stale ones are for you. We thought you knew that.

Once upon a time there was a girl.

this is not a review — good night stories for rebel girls, by elena favilli and francesca cavallo

 

I only meant to peruse this book but ending up reading it in one sitting like a bag of chips… just one more, etc., until the bag was empty.

It was a beautiful few hours.

100 bite-sized entries (a single large print page each) of 100 women known and unknown, all of whom have contributed extraordinarily to all aspects of society.

Intended for children, it’s really a quite marvellous read for all ages, a kind of SparkNotes for anyone who’d like to be introduced to highly influential women of history (and present times), most of whom you’ve never heard of.

The condensed format is no small potatoes. As anyone who writes will know, making marvellous out of few words is hard work. (Consider the old saying….”Please excuse the length of this letter; if I’d had more time it would have been shorter.”)

And then there’s the art… beautifully coloured illustrations… one for each ‘bio’, each by various female artists from around the world.

In the Preface, co-authors Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo write “…trust is not something women get to experience very often… “  They’re referring in part to the women in the book who “…No matter the importance of their discoveries, the audacity of their adventures, the width of their genius… were constantly belittled, forgotten, in some cases almost erased from history,”  but this reference of trust is also for the ‘now’, in its acknowledgement of the overwhelming response to monies raised through crowd-funding in order to publish the book, people (from over 70 countries) who trusted and believed that a book like this was necessary.

The first entry belongs to Ada Lovelace, a 19th century British mathematician whose bio begins, story-like….”Once upon a time, there was a girl named Ada who loved machines. She also loved the idea of flying. She studied birds to work out the perfect balance between wing size…” etc., and ends about 250 words later with this:  “Ada wrote the first computer program in history.”

While each ‘story’ begins differently, they all have their own tone. I love Ada’s for its tra la opening, all birdies and the fanciful idea of flight, followed by that big tekkie punch of an ending.

And so it goes, each double page spread a whole new person and their world.

Among the stories featured, a cyclist (who broke records but was ultimately forbidden from competing because she was a woman), a blind ballerina who went on to found the National Ballet of Cuba, the President of Mauritius (who is also a Scientist devoted to the environment), the 22 year old Canadian inventor of a flashlight that’s powered by body heat (and which won first prize at the Google Science Fair), a Russian journalist who risked her life to expose the truth about Chechnya, an Italian woman who is today considered one of the greatest painters of all time.

And how lovely to meet Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking), and Catherine the Great who did great things in Russia (including having her creepy husband Peter imprisoned, and Bolivian skirt-wearing mountaineers, Cleopatra (I didn’t know how powerful she was or that she was the last pharaoh to rule Egypt…. given how the focus on her, historically, has been her looks and that stupid asp; in fact her motto was “I will not be triumphed over.”). And then there’s Hatshepsut, another Egyptian pharoah. Huh, imagine.

And Coco Chanel and Cora Coralina, a beloved Brazlian poet and baker, and Elizabeth I who was locked in the Tower of London by her rotten sister Mary and who, when Mary died, became Queen and created a merry court of music, poetry, painting and theatre, a great admirer of Shakespeare. She was a very good Queen.

The book is alphabetical and I’m only at the E’s so, really, I shouldn’t go on, except that I will because from E to Z there are activists, politicians, Florence Nightingale, Frida Kahlo, computer scientists (one of whom was crucial to the success of the moon landing in 1969), a couple of pirates and a sailor, Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, war heroes, writers and astronomers, Jane Goodall, Empress Jingu of Japan who successfully led an army and who people assumed had magical powers because otherwise how could a woman successfully lead an army?, Joan Jett, Julia Child.

I’m leaving out several and haven’t even mentioned suffragettes and a formula one racer, an Apache warrior, astronaut, architect, doctors, athletes, a surgeon, a boxer, Malala Yousafzai, the Saudi Arabian woman who said screw it, I’m going to drive a car and you can too!, an archaeologist, paleontologist, a German naturalist who discovered the process of metamorphosis, Marie Curie, the first female tattoo artist, a surfer, Maya Angelou, trombonist Melba Liston (who began her career playing with Billie Holiday),  a drummer, a couple of spies, Queen Nanny of the Maroons who saved her people from starvation, the geneticist who discovered male/female chromosomes, Nina Simone, a Jewish scientist in Europe during WWII (a tricky thing to be), an explorer, a marine biologist, an orchestra conductor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg…

A nice touch is the very last double page spread, which is blank for the reader’s own story and self portrait.

“May [these] portraits impress upon our daughters the solid belief that beauty manifests itself in all shapes and colours, and at all ages. May each reader know the greatest success is to live a life full of passion, curiosity, and generosity. May we all remember every day that we have the right to be happy and to explore widely… [and] feel hope and enthusiasm [for] a world where gender will not define how big you can dream, how far you can go.”

This is a book for every girl.

Every boy too.

*

Also a web site which feels a little like a happy Revolution..

 

My source, Blue Heron Books…

(support indies!).