Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dead Girls...

When someone from the tribe is murdered, we all feel it.

In early August, I was in the midst of a road trip through California when one of the chiefs of my tribe emailed me to say that a local girl had gone missing. My blood ran cold as he described the search process, with police and police dogs combing the Island, the divers not able to find anything in the water. The only clue they found were her glasses down by the wharf, and he asked me to say a prayer for her. As one who can't see without glasses or contact lenses, I knew in that instant that she was lost.  

She's a stranger, but she's also a girl who was part of my tribe, and therefore connected.   

The death of Delores Brown has just been confirmed. On an island of approximately 300 inhabitants, this is even more alarming than an obscure city statistic. And the Penalakut community stands still, with heavy hearts, silent and dignified.  This is how Natives process grief.    

Every time a girl in my periphery is murdered, I post a poem I wrote called "Dead Girls" which is about those of us who managed to get out of potentially precarious situations and stay ALIVE.  

I wrote it after I read the book "The Lovely Bonesby Alice Sebold. That book haunted me, having grown up on an Island that bred too many serial killers. 

I've always quipped: "I grew up on an Island that bred serial killers and poets - and I became a poet." 

But that's another story. 

The last time I posted it was in 2006, and today it's for Delores Brown.  

The eighties had a depressing element of missing girls with their hair parted down the middle who would never come home. Anguished parents. I had the sort of parents who warned against getting into cars with strange men & wearing cosmetics too young, a come hither odor. Clifford Olsen a household name in horrific bedtime stories of strangled teens, don’t take candy from anyone, razorblade apples. The price for being a girl was to always look over one shoulder while riding your bike, to never go in the woods alone. Photographs of weeping women, shredded clothes & the bloodstain of rape in the air like metal. I saw their faces in my dreams at night – they whispered, “Be careful.” I grew eyes in the ridges of my shoulder blades, fine-tuned instinct. The dead girls gave me a mask of indifference, to hide the adrenaline scent of fear that I might be a crusader. It has made me hard. This archetype is dangerous to predators – the cold expression of the huntress before the weapon is fired.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Modern Native, Mixed Blood

At the Royal British Columbia Museum

MODERN NATIVE  (for the Penalakut Coast Salish tribe) 

- by Andrea Grant

The bones of my ancestors burned beneath my ankles, and there was a certain amount of regret. Their lost tales ignited the air: “Speak for us, for we have no voice”. All the things documented, but never written down. Their blackened eyes, cheekbones carved into the stone of forgotten prayers. Eyes. The eyes always tell the truth, and silence is also an answer.

I found a way out of cultural abandonment through a spell that would impress any Grimm brother…swift of foot, I drugged the guardsmen of our house with plum wine, so sweet, so adamant. He slept for years.

Dancing shoes threadbare (only the young & ambitious can stay out all night) and there were several handsome princes with flawless complexions lingering in the bliss-dream of those who have not yet learned cynicism. Trees with golden branches, silver, diamond flowers. The land itself seemed repaired and decadent.

Reality transformed into the dreams of a fairy tale that held more meaning than the illusions of daylight. Headdresses of golden eagles, patterns graffitied upon the walls of museums. It’s difficult to calculate the consequence of shed blood, but every horror requires redemption in the ambivalent dreams of elders, sparking through the eyes of the next generation. 

As for me, lulled, my viewpoint has altered:  colors are bathed in translucent hues.  My skin grew one-piece metal like a fish. I walk half in dreams.  So here I am, with holes in my heart, wearing feminine accoutrements as my armor.

Red lipstick.  Another kind of war paint. 

So tell me which one is fairest of face? 

Faces interest me now that I have one.

Girl transforms into woman, and a mask is required for that ritual. 

Sometimes it’s a case of spherical eyeliner, narrowing the eye-shape to resemble a wolf in an attempt to connect to animal origins. Feathers are woven into hairline by way of decoration, melting upon the edges of forehead, under pretext of a costume party or some other celebratory evening.  When a mystical feathered-girl exits a taxi, the ravens hover around the bearer of their talisman, winged shadows…and new myths are born.


The fairytale castle is an ornate illusion; the Park Avenue penthouse contains the same stone walls as any other prison. Kill me for a crown, the weight of gold & emeralds press against brain-edges like a migraine headache. Dollhouse, doll-girls; my friends and I could never sleep after sitting properly in the dollhouse all day, dreaming princesses, experimental eye make-up streaking as we suppressed our pre-teen heartaches.

Nowadays, people like to talk about nothing and dream of the things that used to be true. Where is the magic?

Dreams. Nightmares...where is the in-between?

My nightmares are vivid paroxysms of blood & death.  I don’t know how to draw the line between night-vision & reality. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and see the eyes of a wolf, and fire, fire, everywhere, as the city disappears.  But a castle I recall from the lands of the in-between stands firm against the skyscrapers. 

Fragmented. Redemptive.

Modern Native, mixed blood. 

Let’s not forget the men who took white women so that their children would be free.  For all the mothers who gave their offspring new names and whispered, “Hush, everything will be okay now…”  Those without soul, who don’t notice details, have tried to steal my ceremonial necklace and sell the beads.  They have tried to tear my drum skin. 

But the strength of my ancestors flows ever on. The undercurrents of moon and water flow in my timeline, & Raven speaks tricks through my mouth.

Listen to the Audio Recording HERE

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Penny Dreadful + The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper is a 6,000-word short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in 1892 in The New England Magazine. It's regarded as an important piece of American feminist literature, illustrating attitudes in the 19th century towards women's physical and mental health.

The story is presented in the first person as a series of journal entries by a woman named Jane who has recently had a baby and is presumed to be suffering from post-partum depression. As a result, she is confined by her physician husband to the upstairs bedroom of a house he has rented for the summer. 

The yellow wallpaper haunts her. Confined to bed rest, she is particularly disturbed by the strange, formless pattern, and initially describes it as “revolting.” Alone most of the time, Jane's attempt to figure out the pattern has become her primary entertainment. As the sub-pattern of the wallpaper becomes clearer, it begins to resemble a woman “stooping down and creeping” behind the main pattern, which look like the bars of a cage. 

You should read the story for yourself. I promise it's worth it!

Interestingly enough, in Penny Dreadful Season 2 - Episode 05, “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places,” there is a significant reference to this story. For the first time, we see a prominent yellow-papered wall in the Victorian mansion where characters such as Dr. Frankenstein frequently visit. The clairvoyant and supernatural characters pause to look at the wall, as though sensing something is awry (making damn sure that anyone who ever studied The Yellow Wallpaper notices the analogy). 

Later, we start to see faces moving behind the pattern, and that yellow wallpaper turns into a vulnerable vortex which allows terrifying creatures to enter the house.  

In 1887, Charlotte Perkins Gilman went to see a specialist in the hope of curing her recurring nervous breakdowns. The specialist recommended a "rest cure," which consisted of lying in bed all day and engaging in intellectual activity for only two hours a day. After three months, Gilman stated that she was "near the borderline of utter mental ruin." 

Eventually, Gilman disregarded the specialist’s advice and wrote The Yellow Wallpaper to demonstrate the kind of madness produced by the popular "rest cure." 

Since the 1960s, the story  has been anthologized as an important work. According to Gilman, the short story was never intended as a Gothic horror, but rather as a cautionary tale about what "rest cures" could do to mental stability. 

Gilman wrote: "It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked." She sent a copy to the physician who had recommended a rest cure, and he subsequently changed his medical practices.

I love that those behind Penny Dreadful were clever enough to visually reference such a profound literary work. Unfortunately, these days this kind of allegory is rare. But that's another story... 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Girls Who Wear Glasses...

Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe 

"I always think about what it means to wear eyeglasses. When you get used to glasses you don't know how far you could really see. I think about all the people before eyeglasses were invented. It must have been weird because everyone was seeing in different ways according to how bad their eyes were. Now, eyeglasses standardize everyone's vision to 20-20. That's an example of everyone becoming more alike. Everyone could be seeing at different levels if it weren't for glasses."

In the film How to Marry a Millionaire, Pola, the desperately nearsighted character played by Marilyn Monroe, declares, "Men aren't attentive to girls who wear glasses." Pola's insistence on leaving her glasses in her handbag provided Marilyn with opportunities to demonstrate her flair for physical comedy.

Personally, I have never liked wearing my glasses. But even though they don't always work that well and I worry about losing them in a futuristic apocalyptic scenario, I am used to the weight of those damn frames when my eyes are tired of the contact lenses. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What the Living Won't Let Go... (RIP Michael Nyuis)

I haven't written anything personal in a while, since I'm fortunate enough to be "leasing out my brain" these days. Writers are an increasingly rare commodity because it takes a lot of emotional energy, which is perhaps why we are a dying breed and increasingly coveted.  

Spring, and things creatively shift around. Things happen to strike you hard.

A friend of mine from Vancouver died last week. It hit me really hard (even though I have been gone for 11 years, I saw him on a recent visit and he was still the same).

It absolutely rocked absolutely everybody's world who ever knew him because he was a rare individual.

Michael Nyuis

How do you measure a life?

He burned bright as fire, and everyone loved him. Perhaps because there was never an agenda attached to his genuine interest in others. You could discuss the most random topics with him and he always had insight and a great sense of humor. Probably why we were friends was that I could talk about poetry with him or talk about what it meant to be mixed race, and he had a point of view and also understood what the hell I was talking about.

That all-accepting, kind energy is why 1,000 people were at his funeral last Sunday.

How do you measure a life?

There is a phrase that often goes through my head sometimes, which is "what the living won't let go."

Sometimes certain sorrows of death's loss hit you unexpectedly. You have a terrible fight with your significant other that you may have started out of a pain you cannot necessarily articulate. You weep unexpectedly while performing mundane household tasks that allow you too much time to think. Sad songs come on the radio and you read into every word. You fall onto the sidewalk after having drinks with a colleague, but laugh it off as mere clumsiness while your heart bleeds. You can't usually say that you are off-balance because your friend just died, and yet you say things you should never say to strangers because you are torn apart. Your eyes water, and your hands shake during austere business meetings you are supposed to be's how we process.  

"What the Living Won't Let Go" is the title of a book by the Canadian poet Lorna Crozier, who teaches writing at UVIC and whose work I read in college. There is a section entitled "Names of Loss and Beauty" that's quite lovely and haunting.

This poem seems to represent Mike, somehow. He died in nature, and let's face it - that's the best way to go. Surrounded by trees and beauty.


I died once, in the water.
I could hear my father's boat
till he cut the motor,
then I saw its shadow large and flat -
a manta ray above my head -
a strange drumming all around me.

Everything was loud -
sound and echo inseparable.
They met where I hung suspended.

My father pounded the side of the boat
with the heels of his hands,
cast lures baited with his flesh,
a spur of bone.

There was a point where light
no longer reached me.
Mouths, muscular and cold,
bumped my legs, something
ran its beak down my vertebrae
like a stick striking pickets.

When I rose, eyes wide open,
water poured from my nose and mouth,
my bones ran liquid.
It was the same inside and out.

I drifted in bed for days,
my heart another drumming,
its rivers cold as water
from the bottom of the sea.
Every morning it seemed to be raining;
fish flared and glided on the ceiling
in constant streams of light.

Even in dreams I heard
my father weeping,
his body dark and grieving.
Across the blankets fell the shadow
I knew I must kick towards
to live. It did not feel
like being born again.

- Lorna Crozier

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fighting With the Wolves

I have been delinquent with maintaining this diary since I started a digital agency.

A business needs to be nurtured, but part of that is creativity, so I'm still compiling a plethora of essays in my mind, some of which will be revealed. 

In the meantime, be inspired by this song: 

Although this band have 'lost their patience with the Lord',  hopefully you do not lose patience with my radio silence.  Certain projects need to simmer before they are ready... 

"The Wolves"

- Ben Howard

Falling from high places, falling through lost spaces,
Now that we're lonely, now that there's nowhere to go.
Watching from both sides, these clock towers burning up,
I lost my time here, I lost my patience with it all.

And we lost faith, in the arms of love.

Where you been hiding lately, where you been hiding from the news?
Cause we've been fighting lately, we've been fighting with the wolves.
With the wolves. With the wolves.
Red tongues and hands.

Falling from high places, falling through lost spaces,
Now that we're lonely, now that we're so far from home.
Watching from both sides, these towers been tumbling down,
I lost my mind here, I lost my patience with the lord.
Oh, with the lord

And we lost faith, oh in the arms of love
(Love love love)

Where you been hiding lately, where you been hiding from the news?
Cause we've been fighting lately, we've been fighting with the wolves.
With the wolves. With the wolves.
Red tongues and hands.

Oh, we lost faith in the arms of love.
(Love love love love love love)

Red tongues and hands.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Why Don't You...Take a Risk

Diana Vreeland helmed the stylish pages of HARPER'S BAZAAR for 25 years before moving on to Vogue. During that time she penned an advice column with chic, extravagant ideas for the modern woman.

Why Don't You... 

- Find one dress that you like and have it copied many times? You will be much more successful than if you try to produce the same effects each evening.

- Have an elk-hide trunk for the back of your car? Hermes of Paris will make this.

- Order Schiaparelli's cellophane belt with your name and telephone number on it?

- Have your bed made in China—the most beautiful bed imaginable, the head board and spread of yellow satin embroidered in butterflies, alighting and flying, in every size and in exquisite colors?

- Rinse your blond child's hair in flat champagne to keep it gold, as they do in France?

- Paint a map of the world on all four walls of your boys' nursery so they won't grow up with a provincial point of view?

- Cover a big cork bulletin board in bright pink felt banded with bamboo, and pin with colored thumb-tacks all your various enthusiasms as your life varies from week to week?

- Have every room done up in every color green? This will take months, years, to collect, but it will be delightful—a melange of plants, green glass, green porcelains, and furniture covered in sad greens, clear, faded and poisoned.

It's imperative to frequently question our day-to-day existence and seek new challenges.

This might mean revamping a closet, deciding which relationships to pursue versus which to abandon, or wearing white vintage gloves with an afternoon tea dress. 

As Ms. Vreeland said, "Don’t think you were born too late.

Everyone has that illusion.

But you weren’t. The only problem is if you think too late.

Everything is new. At least, everything is new the first time around.”

Words to live by, certainly.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Polyphasic Sleep Patterns vs. Classic Insomnia

Polyphasic sleep.  According to recent research, this is perhaps a more efficient form of insomnia.  Supposedly, Einstein slept in four hour increments. 

Photo by James Graham
I have always been a restless sleeper, accustomed to eyes-open-eyes-wide-shut thrashing in the dark for hours, hot-then-cold, fever-chills, listening to music, reading, turning the lamp on and off.  Maybe it's the brighter lamp, then it's too much.  Then the dimmer lamp is not quite enough...and the sunlight blaring at 6 am with a different kind of heat.

Writing notes-to-self reminders, trying the distraction of documentary films or a trite, mindless movie before eventually surrendering to epic dream adventures that are so vivid they stay with me for hours and inform parts of my writing...This kind of insomnia is akin to a torturous fairytale curse, rearing it's head like a hungry dragon between the hours of 2 am to 4 am.  

These days I cannot stay asleep for longer than 4 hour intervals.  I wish I could "Einstein It" and have the wherewithal to perform science experiments in the middle of the night...But I'm exhausted.

Sometimes I can cohesively work past it and write, finish client proposals, or clean the apartment in the middle of the night, hoping the vacuum does not wake the neighbors. Then, abruptly, sun in the eyes, and the whole cycle starts all over again...a vague sense of dread that morning has come before I'm ready for it.

It's taken a while to get used to having two days in one.  Although I'm not particularly an advocate of this pattern, I absolutely love the night.  That silence when everyone else is sleeping, when there are less cell phone radio waves, less of a din on the city streets.  It's so unbelievably peaceful.

# # # 

Here's some research on the subject, per Wikipedia. 

Polyphasic refers to the practice of sleeping multiple times in a 24-hour period—usually more than two, in contrast to biphasic sleep (twice per day) or monophasic sleep (once per day). The term was probably first used in the early 20th-century by psychologist J.S. Szymanski who observed daily fluctuations in activity patterns. It does not imply any particular sleep schedule. The circadian rhythm disorder known as irregular sleep-wake syndrome is an example of polyphasic sleep in humans. 

# # #

And since I am fond of a theme song accompanying every essay, I give you an Arcade Fire song from the brilliant "Suburbs" album.

We Used To Wait

I used to write
I used to write letters
I used to sign my name

I used to sleep at night
Before the flashing light settled deep in my brain

But by the time we met
By the time we met the times had already changed

So I never wrote a letter
I never took my true heart, I never wrote it down

So when the lights cut out
I was lost standing in the wilderness downtown

Now our lives are changing fast
Hope that something pure can last

It seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what's stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive

We used to wait
We used to waste hours just walking around
We used to wait
All those wasted lives in the wilderness downtown
We used to wait
Sometimes it never came
We used to wait
I'm still moving through the pain

I'm gonna write
A letter to my true love
I'm gonna sign my name

Like a patient on a table
I wanna walk again
Gonna move through the pain

Now our lives are changing fast
Hope that something pure can last
We used to wait for it
Now they're screaming "sing the chorus again! "
I used to wait for it
Hear my voice screaming "sing the chorus again! "

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Circe: A Creative Collaboration

There is something so calm and beautiful about any creative collaboration with other artists...the ones you know well, and admire aesthetically.

Lately I am putting most of my energy into expanding my new media company and leaving creative writing for weekends. But balance is vital.  One needs to input and recharge the proverbial brain/soul batteries in order to output anything of interest.

A few weeks ago, I was dying for inspiration...and to actually talk to another artist who might have some advice in one arena or another. Perspective is everything And Circe, the talented photographer with a mythic name, came to my apartment to shoot some photos.

I've always delighted in feminine accoutrements. Lipstick as armor...

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Alphabet City vs. The Neverending Story

Anyone who lives in New York City has a plethora of stories that serve as a testament as to how long they've lived here. The battle scars. The romances. The break-ups. The friends who remain constant. The acquaintances whose names you have trouble recalling.  The faces you vaguely recognize on the street.  The way that where you are originally from is the distant fragrance of a half-remembered life. 

Winter 2013 / 14 was the most extreme in years. The harsh weather wearied everyone to the bones and it felt like a major shift of chafed skin and global warning.

In the midst of it, a lot of changes in the East Village and Alphabet City.  For starters, 7A closed after being a 24-hour neighborhood landmark since the mid-19080s

Rents began to raise exponentially. All of a sudden, on Avenue B (which is now overrun with NYU students, by the way), businesses began to shut down.  My favorite cafe suddenly closed its doors without any warning.  When I walked next door to pick up my dry cleaning, building workers were literally dismantling the rows of washers and dryers.

"A developer bought out most of the block and our rent has doubled overnight," they told me. "From $7K a month to $14K a month. So we're out of here."

Several new, luxury residential buildings have gone up in the East Village, Lower East Side, Alphabet City lately. And a lot of people have moved in...people who would have thought this part of town was dangerous, even just a couple of years ago.   

When I moved here in 2008, it seemed like the last pocket of true New York.  It had personality. And I fell in love with the grit - a certain humanity that I never felt in Midtown or the Upper East Side.  It used to be edgy:  Avenue A for Alert, Avenue B for Beware, Avenue C for Caution, Avenue D for Death.

But now there is a different sound on the streets, a different temperature in terms of vibe.  A bit more frantic.  The noise levels have increased
Atreyo and Falcor
Atreyo and Falcor
significantly:  Frequent sirens, people yelling outside the window. I am so audiologically sensitive that even the harsh, tortured cadence of a bird immediately takes me out of Dreamtime and into insomnia.

The best analogy for the vanishing of Alphabet City's last pivotal monuments is The NeverEnding Story, a film from 1984 which meshes the dystopian cultural dread of the time with several layers of phantasmagorical fantasy.

PLOT SUMMARY:   The NeverEnding Story explores the space between dreams and reality in a universe of endless possibilities, as viewed through the eyes of a young boy named Bastian in a distant land called Fantasia.  He finds respite in a book which chronicles the plight of this magical land created by the dreams and imagination of humankind, now threatened with destruction by The Nothing, a shapeless, ominous force created by human despair.

The Empress of the land is very ill and the cause of her illness is thought to be connected to The Nothing.  One of the elders of the palace announce that they wish to find a great warrior who will fight the nothing, to find a cure for the Empress who they believe is dying. 

"The Nothing is destroying our world," he says.  

Enter Atreyo, the great buffalo warrior (and therefore implied to be Native American), who thousands of little girls immediately had a crush on.  He was sort of the pre-adolescent version of Han Solo.
The Empress and Bastion
And the Empress...I thought that she was so fortunate to be allowed to wear beauty-queen make-up and a tiara, so that was all I could focus on with regards to her character.

"What is The Nothing?" Atreyo asks the bad black wolf who serves the dark entity.

"It exists because people began to lose their hopes and forget their dreams, The Nothing grows stronger. It's the emptiness that's left, the despair that is destroying this world."

That said, the idea of the disappearance of a mystical land is exactly what seems to be happening in Alphabet City. I wonder what will happen to the families who have grown up here.  The buildings. The sound of music in the streets.

As for me, as much as I love my apartment, gorgeous walks along the East River, the local businesses who are still surviving in the 'hood, the graffiti on certain walls, I am also gearing up for a change into something quieter.  Neighborhoods change, and we change along with them.