this is not a review: ‘notes to self’, by emilie pine

 
 

A fairly quick (one afternoon) read of six essays more or less chronicling the author’s childhood and adulthood into her 30’s and early 40’s. I found the writing immensely readable, free of pretense and ego in a way that’s rare in memoirs by writers of any age. Pine comes off as being honest and open with events without giving the impression that she’s shining a light on herself in some haven’t I led such a fascinating life? kind of way. Refreshing.

She writes about her father’s drinking, his silence and absence in her life yet her deep connection to him, the separation of her parents, the difficulties with her mother, the closeness she felt to her sister, her wild child teen years and her subsequent inability to have her own children. She writes about how it never occurred to her that she’d been raped, that what she experienced was actually assault not merely “someone forcing themselves on her”. None of this is especially out of the ordinary but in her candour, there is also never a dull moment. Also, her hindsight perspective taps into something so raw that you can’t help but do a quick review of your own screw-ups and wonder what was at the root of them, why were they important, what have you learned.

I’m not so sure Pine comes to a lot of conclusions, at least she doesn’t share them outright, but you can’t be this open on the page without having dug pretty deeply and maybe her conclusions are a still private matter, another book for another day.

In any case, the book as it is works. Not heavy reading, not heavy thinking, but something that stays with you in a way that makes you want to take an honest inventory of your own life.

Favourite essay: ‘Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes’ in which she considers the shame inflicted on women (and girls) because of body image, the judgement of perfection/imperfection, the crime of hair where society says hair shouldn’t be and the bleeding – good lord, the crime and shame and embarrassment of bleeding. Never mind the pain. No one cares about that.

Sometimes I am doubled up in pain… I do not feel like a feminist hero in these moments, I feel like I want to go home and get back into bed. But in a world where women are still over-identified with their bodies, where women have to prove their intellectual ability over and over, what is the threshold for claiming this pain? If you have a headache, it’s strain from too much thinking (I’m so brainy, I’m so busy). If you have a sore back, it’s from overexertion (I’m so fit, I’m so active). A stress attack? (I’m so hard-working, I’m so important.) But a cramped abdomen? (I’m so female.) It’s unspeakable.

Later in the same lovely essay, she comes to the conclusion:

It’s time to recapture the childhood acceptance of our bodies as sign of who we are, of what we have done…. My cellulite thighs are strong, they have carried me up mountains and I love them.

Hear hear.

this is not a review: ‘taxi!’, by helen potrebenko

 
 
Years ago a friend of mine used to take a lot of cabs. Partly for the usual reasons of not wanting to walk in the rain late at night or because it was faster or simply more convenient and she was feeling flush and in the mood for a bit of luxury but mostly she took cabs for the conversation. She loved discovering a driver’s story or hearing their general thoughts on life; sometimes she’d have semi heated debates and sometimes she was sorry to have to leave the cab because the chat was so good, better, she said, than most exchanges one has in a typical day at work.

So I was keen to tell her about Helen Potrebenko’s Taxi!  which is billed as a novel and narrated by ‘Shannon’, a Vancouver (mostly downtown east side) cab driver in the 1970’s, but which, in fact, feels more auto-fiction than fiction. Like her protagonist Potrebenko also drove cab in Vancouver’s downtown east side in the 1970’s. The style and structure of the book parallels the episodic and fractured structure of Shannon’s driving life, more like journal-keeping and there’s nothing like a traditional arc or through line or even a premise for the story other than this is what it’s like to drive a cab, in case you’re wondering.

Which in another’s hands might be a disaster but somehow Potrebenko makes it work beautifully. Not only makes it work but you step right into that cab with her protagonist Shannon, where you do NOT want to go (I assure you Shannon’s accounts of fares will turn you off any thoughts of pursuing this as a career), but this is exactly the point… she doesn’t ask you to join her. You simply choose to. And then you choose to stay for the ride. But her? She’s just doing her job, driving, revealing a slice of life that most people haven’t the vaguest idea about (including my conversational friend) because what we learn mostly from Taxi!  is that we have no idea how privileged we are if we don’t have to do this, or any job we despise, for a living.

Incidentally, the aspect of female cab driver is a whole other discussion on not only the times, the mid-seventies when things were still only beginning to change for women and men didn’t like it, but the double demeaning role of woman/cab driver and the inner dignity it must require to listen to the crap that riders dish out, the condescending comments, presumptions and attitudes. That and rules that applied only to women drivers such as not being able to work certain hours for reasons of safety.

What I loved most about the book was how Potrebenko managed to show us a gritty view of the streets and the sadness and horror of certain lifestyles, the futility felt by so many, yet contrasting it all with extraordinary humanity, creating a portal by which we see the not so rosy truth of ourselves as a society, the bits we’d sooner turn away from or pretend don’t exist, leaving others to the reality. And this is how the reality continues. For others.

Slivers of loveliness:

“A monotony of passengers gets in and out of the cab…”

“But there were two flights of rickety steps to go up. Why do poor people always have to deal with those treacherous stairs? Is it a commandment?”

“She was a beautiful young woman of about 16. At 5 a.m. she had split with her old man and she had no money and nowhere to go. Shannon gave her $2 for breakfast… She’s an Indian. A really beautiful and healthy Indian woman. There are no jobs for her. Nobody in this democratic society would give her a job. Indian men can get longshoremen’s jobs and a few other kind of labourer’s jobs, but there aren’t any choices for women…. Months later, Shannon was driving down Hastings with a passenger in the car when a woman tried to jump in front of it… she was no longer beautiful but covered with the spit and vomit of Hastings Street and it had only taken three months.”

“There was a man lying on the sidewalk by the West Hotel and Shannon stopped to see if he was dead…. he wasn’t… [but] there wasn’t anyplace he could be taken where he would be helped.”

Potrebenko chronicles the changing face of Vancouver… the increase in drugs, suicides, porn shops, sex trade, racism, murders, unemployment.

“There are more beggars on the streets. People think colourfully ragged young men playing a guitar are romantic.”

“In the afternoon, she drove a couple… to the airport. Aging swingers… on the edge of the ruling class… These people were a different type… Mean from years of cursing each other in private… and being polite with only sarcastic overtones in public. Seething with chronic mean.”

“The man worked for The Royal Bank… He asked Shannon if she was married then told her women shouldn’t drive cabs. [He said] I treat my women employees just the same as the men. I say to them: Honey, if you work hard you can go places. Honey? [Shannon said] Do you call your men honey? You know what I mean. [he said]”

“Shannon thought the fascist philosophy was a very comfortable one. You simply cheered for the winner, who proved by virtue of winning that he should have won. No analysis, no doubts, no troubling moral questions.”

“The man told Shannon it was attitudes like hers that retarded progress and she asked him Steinbeck’s question, which is how come progress looks so much like destruction?”

Should be included in the CanLit cannon as required reading. Doesn’t matter that cab driving has changed, the life she describes for women, minorities, and others, has not.

 

*Note: above-mentioned friend did not love the idea of the book as I described it. Too unpleasant, too raw, she said (I’m paraphrasing). But this is the experience of the cab driver, a character you say you admire. Doesn’t matter, she said, I don’t want to read about it. I respect her honesty and I suspect she’s not alone (this book remains relatively unknown after all) though it seems a lost opportunity to add a rich layer to her cabbie admiration. Of course she may yet change her mind. Will keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

it’s not about doors

 
Dear-Menfolk-of-a-Certain-Mentality:

In the event you’re confused about how to treat the wimminfolk ‘these days’, and we suspect you are, maybe this will help…

a) ‘these days’, by the way, have been ongoing since Mary Wollstonecraft had the chutzpah to point out (publicly and in writing) the inequities between genders in 1792. She was, of course, the first feminist or, as some of you might describe her, the first pain in your ass. She certainly heard enough of that in her day. As have all women who dare to point out inequities. Because our more important role is to smile. And if you think the inequities are tiring to hear about, imagine it from our end.

b) It’s not about doors. Or seats on buses. I mention this only because it appears to be no small detail in terms of your frustration/confusion.What do these chicks want?  Are you supposed to open the door or not, you wonder….

c) So, I repeat…  it’s not about doors.

Please understand… we know you live to be helpful, to treat women with chivalry because, after all, that implies horses and knighthood, a nifty metal ensemble, a shiny sword but, honestly, unless our arms are full of groceries or rocks or children, we can handle a door. Same with anyone, really, you needn’t single us out. We’ll let you know if we need help with a jar or a high up shelf but in the meantime we’d like to think you’re using all those knightly instincts being chivalrous to people in general, opening an equal number of doors for men with arms full of children and offering seats to old fellas who look tired. In turn, we, too will gladly hold a door for you should we happen to get to it first. Basic politeness is different than a sense of duty, or favour.

That said, if you just can’t move past the idea of imposed chivalry, that men exist in order to ensure the welfare and good treatment of women, you’re in an excellent position to do something about it given your clout in most things corporate, political, tyrannical and world domination, generally.

A few items you might like to work on:

Justice for sexual assault victims

Elimination of gender discrimination in the workplace, in the arts, in government, at my car dealership

The growing trend of women and poverty (aka feminization of poverty)

Gender based violence in… well, everywhere

Domestic violence and the need for shelters, community support, housing

The buy-in on your part to raise your boys to know it’s okay to show healthy emotion so that they don’t grow up like angry little grenades

The buy-in on your part to allow your boys to do more than excel at sports

The need to change the language that demeans girls:  throw like a girl, etc.

And the language that demeans women… the male server at the restaurant who calls the woman who is neither young nor a lady, young lady, while addressing the male at the table as sir.

Equality of pay

Equality of employment opportunities

Elimination of the pink tax. Why do pink razors cost more than blue ones?

Reproductive Rights

Missing and Murdered Women

Rape and Trafficking

Increased funding and research in the area of women’s health, i.e. maternal, menstrual, menopausal (part of human biology, not chick stuff )

Oh, and stop telling women to smile, okay? You like telling people to smile, tell each other.

~

Because these are the kinds of things that would actually HELP women.

Once you’ve taken these things as seriously as you do doors, and seats on buses, and opening jars, and similarly ‘helpful’ things, well, then, if you still want to open doors for us, go right ahead.

Thanking you in advance.

 

~

p.s. No one’s really sure about the origins of why opening doors is a guy thing but one theory is that it was safer to have the woman enter first so the guy, er, sorry, the knight, didn’t end up getting shot or stabbed in the event of any nefarious doings and/or plot on the other side.

Once again, thanks.

 

 

wordless wednesday on international women’s day (spoiler alert: not wordless)

Teapot in excellent company…  sunshine, pickle green walls and art by the amazing Toni Hamel — only a sliver of a piece called Star Charting — hard to see its beauty because of sunshine, but the effect of it makes me ridiculously happy for all it represents today on a personal note…)

To beautiful friends, and the community of courageous, wonderful women everywhere…

And here’s a little gift from Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, an early women’s rights defender in England, who in 1854, published something she called the Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women. Because of her work, and the work of others with her, laws began to change as the Married Women’s Property Act was passed in 1866.
(In case the UK is still looking for new faces to put on their money.)

(excerpt from Women and The Law, 1854)

“A man and wife are one person in law; the wife loses all her rights as a single woman, and her existence is entirely absorbed in that of her husband. He is civilly responsible for her acts, she lives under his protection or cover, and her condition is called coverture.

“A woman’s body belongs to her husband; she is in his custody, and he can enforce his right by a write of habeas corpus.

“What was her personal property before marriage, such as money in hand, money at the bank, jewels, household goods, clothes, etc., becomes absolutely her husband’s, and he may assign or dispose of them at his pleasure whether he and his wife live together or not.

“Neither the Courts of Common law nor Equity have any direct power to oblige a man to support his wife…

“The legal custody of children belongs to the father. During the life-time of a sane father, the mother has no rights over her children, except a limited power over infants, and the father may take them from her and dispose of them as he thinks fit.

“A married woman cannot sue or be sued for contracts—nor can she enter into contracts except as the agent of her husband; that is to say, her word alone is not binding in law…

“A wife cannot bring actions unless the husband’s name is joined.

“A husband and wife cannot be found guilty of conspiracy, as that offence cannot be committed unless there are two persons.”

And this, from Sonja Boon, who reminds us that we’ve come a long way but still have much to do.

 

Happy International Women’s Day….

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman