Friday, 30 December 2016

Disability Pensions in BC - Lest We Forget

More than 160 organizations write to Premier Christy Clark opposing changes to bus passes for people with disabilities

Image from Article in Georgia Strait

In the overwhelming climate of fear that I have moved into since the reality of the low-income housing market has hit me full in the face, one thing I have left unsaid is what it means to actually be on a provincial disability pension in BC. Below my essay on that topic is an article on the latest "improvement" to the BC disability pension called "BC Liberals’disability double-dealing is disappointing". Those who know whereof I speak may wish to skip my offering and go straight to Kirk LaPointe's.

When I first won my tribunal and was awarded BC GAIN for Handicapped, as it was then called, I was walking on air. (Of course they said no when I first applied and I had to find an advocate to fight for me--something not so easy these days as advocates are absolutely swamped with requests.) I felt a freedom I had never felt before. The visions of ending up on the streets if my rent climbed any higher now receded as with the tide. I had enough. Enough for rent, enough for food, enough for what I needed, if not enough to go out to restaurants and live the high life. But enough, and I was deliriously happy.

Those fears of ending up on the streets have slowly, slowly returned. And now with my home under direct threat, they are as roaring monsters from the deep, and I am very afraid.


A number of years ago myself and a throng of others living on BC disability benefits were forced to apply for the federal equivalent. Not invited, but forced, with unknown men (and women?)--not doctors, or counsellors, or someone you might, might, be inclined to trust, but some sort of case workers, I suppose, coming into our homes, asking highly personal questions, and listening as we with anxiety and distress described all the worst and most private elements of our lives that led to our being disabled, and of course, the dirty details of the disabilities themselves. The moment we got CPP the province tried to force us to to give them the backpay we received. We didn't have to, legally, they were careful to say, but we really did owe it to them, since they had so kindly cared for us all that time.

Luckily, despite my tendency to feel guilt and do what I am compelled to do by people who seem stronger or scarier than me, I had an interviewer who shook his head in silent disagreement with the policy he was forced to follow, and I took courage and kept my tiny refund for myself.

From that moment on, whenever the federal government gave an increase to my pension, the province happily trimmed it away, so that to my eyes there was never any more money, even though rent, food, and all the necessities were flying higher and higher in price. I am told we had a slight actual increase nine years ago but honestly, it was not felt by me.

Now, these are all just numbers, and hard to imagine into a way of life. Sure, $900, that's not much, but it's not bad, is it? Then think, imagine yourself living on this amount: How much do I pay in rent? How much is the least I can imagine paying in rent without moving into a complete dive? For that matter, how much are complete dives going for these days? Could I afford one on $900 a month?  (Hint: "Even the “last resort” type of rental units — the SROs found in the Downtown Eastside known for their poor conditions and cramped spaces — are now costing an average of $482 to rent. And prices continue to rise." Click the link for the full story.)

And then there's food, transportation, the many things you seem increasingly to need at the drugstore as you age or get sick that are not covered by medical or dental insurance. And could I ever buy a birthday present, let alone Christmas presents, or go out with friends without someone else having to pay my way--could I ever visit Mum in Nova Scotia, or take a course, or... Just think. $900 a month, round about. And you will see why we grocery shop once a month and then try to cupboard cruise the rest of the weeks, why we eat too much bread and not enough eggs or fish, why our community garden plot is so incredibly important to us, if we are lucky enough to have one (which I am, and which most aren't), and why we get so completely freaked out when we think of rent increases, renevictions, and losing our homes without finding another.

I am not the only person whose guts are being eaten alive by this.


If you are unfamiliar with renevictions, pleasure yourself with this little data from the government website:
Use the unit for another purposeThe buyer can serve the tenant a Two Month Notice to End Tenancy after the title of the property has been transferred and all required permits and approvals are in place when the buyer intends to:
  • Demolish the rental unit or do major repairs or renovations that require the building or rental unit be empty
  • Convert the rental unit to a strata property unit, a non-profit co-operative or society, or a not-for-profit housing co-operative under the Cooperative Association Act
  • Convert the rental unit to non-residential use, such as a shop
  • Convert the rental unit into a caretaker’s unit

Into this painful mix the BC Liberals have quietly slipped in a new increase to benefit those who are suffering most in the current high stakes housing markets--why, the landlords, of course. Lookie here:

The maximum allowable rent increase for residential tenancies is 2.9% in 2016 and 3.7% in 2017. There are additional rent increase allowances for manufactured home park tenancies.

My god. As if we are not suffering enough. And it is, of course, yet worse for those on the basic rate, and for many the homeless and working poor. It is like we are sliding off a cliff, or being trapped in third class on the Titanic. But before I panic any further, here's a--

Fun Game! You, too, can find out how much your rent may increase the next time your landlord gets an itch up her nose. Go to the cheery Rent Increase Calculator to find out!

Fun Sidetreat! Christy Clark earlier said we should raise the rates for people on disability "if we could afford it", linking that largesse to the natural gas development she has been pushing to all who will hear. Read that story here.


And suddenly, in this election year, the BC Liberals have decided to pretend to be magnanimous to disabled people at last, in a stunning piece of sleight of hand that may have escaped your notice. I leave it to Kirk LaPointe of Business Vancouver to spell it out for you.

Now, when you read Kirk's story below, bear in mind that these are the words the BC Liberals used in announcing the "increase" (and a few other goodies like penalizing us less for having money in the bank):

VICTORIA - B.C.'s most vulnerable families are getting a helping hand thanks to income and disability assistance changes that take effect today. The changes, announced in June as part of the Families First Agenda, are designed to help vulnerable individuals and families attain better financial outcomes, assist people with disabilities to lead more independent lives, and help people capable of work avoid the cycle of income-assistance dependence.


By Kirk LaPointe | June 3, 2016, 9 a.m.

In politics, there is a time to admit a mistake before it is too costly. Then there is a time when it is just too late.

Let’s assume in this case we haven’t crossed the line – that we can make one last plea for decency and sanity before the point of no return.

In last February’s provincial budget, someone came up with a bright idea and someone came up with a few horrible ideas for people with disabilities.

The bright idea wasn’t even really that bright. It was overdue and not terribly generous; a $77 monthly increase starting this fall in their $906.42 benefits, the first increase in nine years.

Just for a moment, wherever you are reading this right now, think of that.

Let it settle in.

Nine years.

Almost all of those years involve economic growth in our province under Liberal stewardship, and yet no one at the cabinet table was successful in pushing the finance minister or the premier to increase the meagre support for those who face daily challenges beyond what most of us can comprehend.

Still, to be somewhat fair for a moment, better late than never.

Still, let’s end that fair moment right here, because the bright ideas – if you can call them that – ceased there.

There are 20,000 people who receive a $66 transportation subsidy. They’ll lose that. Their net gain is $11 monthly.

There are 35,000 who get a transit pass for $45 annually. They will now start paying $52 monthly for that pass.

Their net gain is seemingly $25 a month.

But wait. There’s also a lovely administration fee of $45 annually, taking their increase down to $21.25.

All told, the net transportation saving for the provincial treasury of these one-hand-giveth, one-hand-taketh-away activities: a whopping $3 million. For that princely sum, the Liberals risk the further alienation of those with disabilities and their families, for starters. As an able-bodied voter/supporter, I’m astonished and disappointed, too.

There is no small irony that this budgetary lunacy comes when we are at last developing some economic and social sophistication about the untapped potential workforce of people with disabilities.

Organizations like the Vancouver-based Open Door Group have helped firms identify, recruit and retain such talent.

There is no small hypocrisy that the province boasted that this budget – in the context of the best-performing economy in the country – held out more to those most vulnerable. Bringing the rate up to, say, Alberta’s would have cost the province about $30 million, a fraction of the $100 million prosperity fund the government created on budget day.

And there is even no small inconsistency, given that progress in recent years on this front has permitted easier access to support and better terms of eligibility. It’s as if the right hand doesn’t realize what the left hand has been doing.

In mid-May, Disability Alliance BC asked Premier Christy Clark to leave the transportation programs in place as the province raises the disability assistance rates. While the alliance has unsuccessfully fought for a more formidable rate – say, $1,200 a month, in line with what other provinces provide – it didn’t expect it would also have to double down and fight to keep the transport subsidies.

So far from Victoria, a response of radio silence.

By the way, most insulting in this: the absurd assertion that these measures provide choice, that now someone with a disability can choose to keep a few dollars or take the bus pass. I somehow doubt the public relations geniuses who sat in a room and conjured that talking point earn $906.42 a month.

Here we are in early June, and OK, let’s agree a mistake can be remedied by the October due date and perhaps forgotten by election time next May.

Wait too long, though, and it smacks of cynical pre-election posturing.

Has it come to that? Is this really the best we can do? •

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Housing: the Responses; the Process; the Fear

Some of you may remember that I wrote an impassioned letter to the powers that be (and the powers that want to be) about the housing crisis I find myself being ground up in. I sent it to a lot of people. NDP Housing Critic David Eby sent an immediate automated reply and then I got put on his mailing list but he never actually responded (though at least I know he's fighting the good fight). Nor did Christie Clark, our premier, who, as Eby points out, is pretending to be concerned about the subject now that it is an election year (see the good fight mentioned above).

The first reply I got was from Gregor Robertson, our mayor.

Message body

Yesterday I received a second reply, from Jenny Kwan, who was for many years my MLA and is now my MP. This is what she said.

Message body

Monday, 14 November 2016

Star’s Reflection by Gail Nyoka (Book Review)

Star’s Reflection by Gail Nyoka (2016) – YA Fantasy

I have just read a wonderful book. A beautiful book. A compelling mystery, with romance, magic, and a serene reverence that is rare in novels, particularly adventure novels, as this one is. My only disappointment is in the cover. Actually, I like the cover. It's just that a) They should have chosen a different colour for the title, as it blends into the woman's face too much and b) this woman does not look like a person of colour. Which the character is. However! On to the review.

Star's Reflection is Gail Nyoka's second novel. Her first, Mella and the Nanga, was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award (Children) in 2005.

Vida and Sammi are friends in modern day Toronto, Canada. Their maths teacher is rotten to them, as their art teacher was a couple of years before. Nothing new there, and nothing fun, except that they can bemoan together their persecution by him. But when he wrestles violently with a strange woman over a package outside of their school, she throws it to them and tells them to run. They catch it and flee, and with that decision the two friends find themselves inexorably drawn into a dangerous and beguiling drama that stretches over millenia, from the present day back to the time of Queen Nefertari of Egypt.

The package, which they of course open as soon as they get home (wouldn’t you?) is of an ancient mirror, with an ivory handle shaped like a woman whose upstretched arms hold a mirror. The woman’s ears are those of a cow. She is, they learn in time, the goddess Het Heru, or Hathor.

The rest of the book follows two linked lines: the two girls as they cope with the real time danger, and the gradually unfolding story of a young priestess of Het Heru, revealed to them through the mirror, as she lives and learns and loves in a temple in ancient Egypt. In her time, too, there is danger, and the beauty of her desert world and the wonder of dedication to a deity who is celebrated in music, ritual, study, and prayer. How Vida and Sammi react to what they witness in the mirror, and the two groups who vie for its possession, and how the young priestess Little Star confronts the challenges in her own life, form the greater part of the story. But there, too, is struggle over a religion thought dead for thousands of years.

Nyoka’s spare, elegant prose and clear-eyed understanding of both worlds come together in a young adult novel that is as easily attractive to this aging lady. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in girls and their lives, ancient Egypt and its religion, romance, friendship, jealousy, and understanding. Very nicely done.

Friday, 11 November 2016

The Humour is Lonely: a review of The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith (1959).

 I am sad about this book. I came to it an innocent, knowing nothing of its provenance, expecting to laugh, to learn something about the Hebrides in the 1950s (we have ancestors who came from there, so it’s cool to learn a bit), to enjoy some good writing. It came off of a friend’s shelf. She had three of Beckwith’s books, and is herself of Scottish heritage. I felt safe.

I did laugh. Sometimes quite hard. I did learn things about life in the Hebrides, and was reminded of places and people I knew many years ago—it was good to remember being with them. And yes, there is some excellent writing.

What breaks my heart is the endless caricatures, sometimes bluntly ugly, made of people who welcomed her into their lives. True, she has “fictionalized” it, but it doesn’t matter. Even if every person in the book is unlike anyone she met there, even if no one could think, my God, is that me she is writing about?!, even if every situation is patently not something that happened there, even if she has (and she has) made herself out in as unflattering ways as she has anyone else, it doesn’t matter. She has characterized the whole culture as dirty, foolish, unconsciously gross. She has missed the elegance of other writers who will lightly lampoon themselves and one or two others and let the other characters have their dignity. Why didn’t anyone tell her?

I do not entirely blame the author. She was a person of her times and had not the insight to recognize that just because the rest of the world thought it was okay to lampoon a whole people (or any person), it doesn’t mean it IS okay. There are intimations that she did care about the people whose world she entered and remained in for some years. And yet she was too foolish to realize that THIS KIND OF HUMOUR HURTS. It hurts an individual, and it hurts a culture by upholding stereotypes that dismiss and demean, it hurts the children growing up knowing that this is how they are seen, it hurts the children growing up thinking there is a division between themselves and someone else just because they have different manners, different ways. It hurts any possibility of true friendship between the classes and peoples involved. It hurts.

One of the realizations I had as I read in alternating delight and creeping horror, was that these ugly stereotypes were the reason, or at least part of the reason, that I grew up learning to dislike and distrust the English, the ones with perfect grammar and chilling mannerisms, and to always feel clumsy and ridiculous in comparison to them—because they despised us. I have pretty much healed from that. The world is not black and white to me as it was then. But this book is a sad reminder of that rift, one that extended, and extends, to people of all colours, all classes, all differences.

There are hints here of the damage this does to the person in the oppressor role, too. The obvious one is that she must be annihilating the goodwill of the people she lampoons, and yet she blithely and unawarely does it anyway, when she could as well have written the same book without the ugliness. It is like watching a slow motion train crash. You can see it coming, you know what is about to happen, you see the nose of the train ploughing dully into the mountain side, but the engineer cannot or will not make it stop, and all are doomed. Engineer, passengers, standers-by.

But read this. She has gone back to England for a few weeks after a couple of years in Scotland. When she returns the three elderly people she has been living with welcome her with great enthusiasm.

“The fervour of the welcome from all three of them was impressive and made that which I had received in England seem frigid in comparison (pg. 234).”

This insight, which candidly illumines something she has been hinting at in her self-deprecation throughout—her depiction of herself as humourless, arrogant, rude—is poignant. But it is instantly extinguished by her next, rallying-back-from-awareness, blunt instrument of humour:

“It was difficult to repress a feeling of elation, for the geniality of the Gael, despite its lack of sincerity, is an endearing trait (pg. 234).”

Oh, Lillian. How must you have hated yourself to shove that last spike in.

Having written this review, I find out a little bit more about Lillian Beckwith, both from LibraryThing itself, and from her Wikipedia page:

“Her life on the island provided the basis for seven books published between 1959 and 1978, although allegedly, some of her neighbours later felt that the somewhat comical characters on Beckwith’s fictional island of Bruach were too close to real persons, causing Beckwith to become something of a persona non grata in her former home.[citation needed] She moved to the Isle of Man in 1962 and died on 3 January 2004 aged 87.[1]”

If true, it doesn’t surprise me at all that she had to leave the Hebrides.

What shocks me is that (LibraryThing tells me) Pan Books put out a 2016 edition of this work. It shocks me that generations of people both English and, if you believe the reviews on her bookcovers, Scottish, have thought these warmly realistic and hilarious depictions of Hebridean life. 

It is just like the caricatures of First Nations people, and similar to, if more heavy handed than, that of the Newfoundlander, that I grew up with in the same era that she was writing. But surely we don’t sell those images anymore? Surely??

I could be angry—thirty years ago I would have been. Now I am simply sad.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

So, Amos Barton...Thoughts on a Short Novel by George Eliot

So, Amos Barton

A number of years ago an unknown neighbour left a massive copy of Middlemarch by George Eliot on the table in the lobby. (Strictly against the rules, I might add.)

Against my better judgement, knowing I would never read it, yet with a flicker of wishfulness that I wasn’t so intimidated by old and difficult books, so sure that I would find them dull or “beyond me”, and thus confirm my doubt that I had anything but the most pedestrian intelligence, I picked it up.

And put it down.

It remained on my shelf, amongst unread Hardy and untouched Austen, for a period of time. I don’t remember how long or how short. I do remember hefting it off the shelf one brave day and taking my usual reading position and starting in on the first page.

The language was enormous. Never mind that it was nearly a hundred and fifty years old. It was the tongue of an energetic master, a whip-strong language with a mind behind it bursting with energy and observation and thought. At first I was astonished, and thrilled, and moved, but then, wandering into chapter one, I was soon well lost. There was too much I couldn’t understand, too much I had to fight to put any meaning to at all.

I put the book away.

Sometime later, I picked it up again. And then again, always getting at most thirty pages in. I knew that if only I could get over the hump, I would love this book. Or at least, I hoped so. Finally I did the only thing left to me.

I took it to my mother’s in Manitoba, with only nonfiction besides, and stretches of time when there would be nothing else to do. It came alive.

I stopped worrying about the odd bit I didn’t get. I got into the music of her way of expressing herself. I allowed myself to be swept into poor Miss Brooke’s life. I thrilled at the way the author was able not only to collect together all the elements of a world but to make true sense of them, and to do it with words and phrases that seemed plucked out of heaven itself. It was an epiphany.

Fast forward ten years or so. In my cupboard wait two more Eliot books, Silas Marner and The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton. Both much shorter books than Middlemarch, though in an omnibus edition the three do fill the hand and weary the arm. Nevertheless! I had been holding onto these as after dinner mints—the kind long forgotten in pocket lint—and the time had finally come.

I got through Silas Marner unscathed and happy, though it had been a near thing. Poor old Silas. A good man, and I’m glad things worked out. But Amos Barton, now, that was another kettle of fish.

I finished it last night. I am going to tell you, sort of, how it ends, but I am also going to tell you how it begins and how it middles.

This is a very short tale, the earliest of the three, and perhaps Eliot was just learning her craft. Maybe no one had told her that you don’t write books like this. Her betters would surely not let her get away with it now.

We float into a thought-line, that of an opinionated and powerful narrator, identitiy never disclosed, the author herself, of course, who muses on the place and people, takes us into and out of their conversations as the subject matter pertains or fails to pertain to Amos Barton himself. She shows his strengths and his foibles equally, shows the people around him—those who love, those who mock, and those whose loyalties wobble when times are tough. She shows his wonderful wife and their thoughtless friend and the slow diminution of his wife’s health. And then the wife dies.

At this terrible moment, all of these (or many of these) ordinary gossiping not helpful people are touched by his grief and pitch in to buoy him through his poverty and sorrow. At last he is redeemed in their eyes, and his future, though bleached with loss, seems sure.

And then he loses his position as curate, and goes away. We see him once more and he seems at ease with his lot, but his daughter, his eldest daughter, has devoted her life to his care since she was ten years old. She has traded her own life for her mother’s, and though at least she is spared the whole health-whittling thing of childbirth ... it is not a happy end.

It is not so much a story as a wandering character study, though of course it is a story, too, and as with the others, Eliot’s voice is sublime. But for Amos Barton you must not skip the annoying characters or just find the plotline and ignore the descriptions (as of course I would never do) because this book is just life, unfolding in all its meaness and all its happiness and all its regrets, and the author pulls no punches, and no great lesson is learned, and we all just get older in the end.

So I can’t get it out of my head. She didn’t fix things. Not at all. She just laid them out.

Brava, Madame George.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

“Storm Proof” by Casey June Wolf

I have been neglecting my blogs. No essay this time, and no poem by some great poet, though I have one in mind I'd like to beg access to. Instead, a poem from me, written yesterday as the warned of storm hit land near where I live, but by the time it got to me, was gentle as a very angry lamb.

Diana in the Autumn Wind — Paul Klee, 1921.

Storm Proof

the winds are fresh today
fierce   some might say
each branch   each leaf strains
toward my open window
wide   welcoming

cool invisible arms
wander round me

we are both thrashing here
you in jerk and thrust of changing air
me with words on screen and all the
churning heart that goes into them

you are quiet now
a pause in your suffering
in your frantic throwing off
of leaves stitched cell by cell across the months

they are going   gone
as sure as what I cling to rips away
in my mere internal tempests

I looked up   though
not for metaphor
but for companionship
and as I drank the dregs of your wild traverse
and what of those at sea
how welcoming
do your arms appear to them

Casey June Wolf
copyright 15 October 2016

Image: "Diana in the Autumn Wind", Paul Klee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Abandoned Hearth

David Creedon "Hearth"

When I look first at this photo I see all sorts of things I love--the red, the checks, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the comfy rocking chair, the plaster walls.

It's only when I look longer, begin to relax around the warmth the image brings that I see--what's that in the hearth? What's that all over the floor? And the paint peeled ... The disruption of hearth and home call clear to me. Someone, like I am now, faced the loss of a beloved home. For whatever reasons, that person, an elderly one, by the look of the room, left to never return, and the young, if they came, chose not to stay. Not even to pillage all that much. Jesus still presides over the vanished hearts of those he came to tend and guide. The cloth along the hearth still ready, with perhaps a shake of plaster dust, to support the family frames again. Most eloquently, the comfy chair still faces the long dead fire. 

How it must have once looked. You can see the underlying care, the tidiness that brings pride and permits efficiency, the homeliness that encourages rest and quiet times. The icons that invite protection of those who dwell within.

It is too easy to see this photo as something beautiful, kind of funky, supportive of our own poetic self-excitations. It is easy to see it as a trigger to my own sorrow over impending and long-cooled losses, now all hot again. But it is hard to know who sat there, and if he or she was happy, if he or she watched family, one by one, die or leave forever. If he or she was quite content and well cared for by family and friends. If a book ever sat upon the hearth. If songs were regular visitors there. If anyone remembers that once warm, once living room, anymore.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Housing - Guess who pays the price?

A letter I just sent off to as many relevant and irrelevant actors as I could think of:

Dear Politicians.

I live in an apartment building on the Grandview Cut in East Vancouver. I have lived in one room here for thirty years. It is my home, and my roots in the community--including the community of this building, where numerous neighbours have lived for decades--are deep. My income, however, is low. I am on CPP and Persons with Disabilities Income Assistance, totalling a little over $900 a month.

With the new zoning my building has been sold and will be destroyed. Some people are making a nice bit of money off of this, and good for them. The housing they will create has to be offered to us, the evictees: how likely do you think it is that I or most of my neighbours will be able to afford to accept? At my income, there is no way I can find market housing in Vancouver, a city where I have lived for most of my fifty-nine years. Even the worst and most insecure rooms in the Downtown Eastside are skyrocketting in price.

I voted for Gregor Robertson. Twice. I believed there was a vision there that I could get behind, and I trusted him. But I have been deceived. I agree that we need greater density in our cities, just as I agree we need to be more environmentally responsible. But what happens to the vulnerable? What happens to me?

There is a lot of noise about affordable housing coming from all levels of government, but where is it? There are over four thousand seniors on waiting lists for subsidized housing in B.C., and Lord knows how many other folk are clamouring for help. Why are you allowing developers to destroy our homes and not forcing them to include actually affordable housing for low income people? Yes, in the same buildings. We would love to live in them, too.

What is your vision for the city? That all the poor are corralled into blocks built only for them, and those that can't find even that just go away? I have never wanted to go into BC Housing. I have chosen instead to stay in a mixed building, where there are old, young, children, pets, students, workers, disabled, pensioners, even a little backyard wildlife, all together the way a community is supposed to be. You are breaking my heart.

If I want to stay in this neighbourhood where I have lived for thirty-five years, I must finally try to find subsidized housing. The waiting list, I am told, is two and a half to three years on average. How long will it take for the permits to be granted so they can tear my building down? Eighteen months to two years, the landlord says. And so where do I go, where do we all go, all of us all over the Lower Mainland, all over the country, who are having our homes destroyed because it is a great market to make money in, but not, apparently, a great market to provide low-income housing? If you don't want to build enough good, safe, community-oriented, integrated subsidized housing, then why do you keep the CPP and Welfare rates so low that we can't afford to live? Do you care at all? Do you really want to turn your back on the reality and just make yourselves look good by promoting one or two new facilities while we are facing the workhouse, here?

All right, I am getting overwrought, you are right. I know that is not how we are supposed to behave. But how would you feel, Gregor, Christy, any of you, if suddenly and for the second time you were about to lose your home, with nowhere to go and no money to get there, because somebody else thought it would benefit them?

The thing is, you have probably (and I hope it is so) never known that kind of fear. You have probably grown up in safe housing, and always known that if you didn't have the money now to get the kind of living arrangement you wanted, you soon would. Patience and hard work would get you there. In such worlds it is hard to even imagine the terror and grief that wash over those who have not been so lucky, and who face losing everything.

I, too, have been patient. I have cultivated patience of necessity to a degree I could not have imagined when I was young, because so very often in my life I have simply had no choice--no choice about illness, no choice about poverty, no choice about loss. I have grown that patience like a tender plant, so that I could live with equanimity in spite of all those lacks, and focus instead on the bounty in my life.

And I have worked very hard, if almost never for pay. I have worked to serve the vulnerable people around me, family and neighbours, I have worked to preserve my health, I have worked to try to make this world a better place. Now I face my coming old age with a gnawing in my bones. 

So no, Gregor. I will never vote for you again. I expect nothing from any of you, much as I wish and pray for it--not even that you will ever read this letter. But I had to speak.

And I can't quite extinguish the hope that I will find, somehow, a place to live where I can feel safe, and happy, and at home, without losing everything I have in the meantime because I and it have no place to rest. You had better wish me luck.

Casey June Wolf

Image: Home (2015)

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Creating—Don't Do It!

MacDonald Beach by William D

I found this note I had scribbled to myself on 2 December 2013. On reading thought, hmmm. Good point.

Two thoughts emerge as I explore MacDonald Beach in Richmond. (Herons in clusters; mountains against a blue sky; the brush of Southlands, concealing Vancouver—illusion of not being in a city; snow geese gathered on the foreshore across the river from where I stand; underfoot, abundant moss and tiny lichens, pebbled with beach grass and crowded with broom; thin ice in puddles: I press to hear it squeak.)

1) Creativity is not important. The clamour to be creative is another trap, another pressure to produce.

2) What is valuable about it is its root: the moment of stopping, of enveloping the world around you in your awareness. Stay with that and don't create—unless the urge is a flood that brings you joy.

Image by: William D.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Be Like a Dragonfly

I just listened to a lovely segment on Quirks and Quarks (CBC Radio One), one of the many wonderful science podcasts I get to listen to thanks to the World Wide Web.

This piece was about a plain old dragonfly that is found in many parts of the world, not just the same species but a single, mobile population that floats over oceans, eating aerial plankton along the way. I thought the method this being uses for such great flights was a good metaphor for hominid existence, too. So I made this little graphic to point it out.

Listen Here.

Dragonfly study by Dr. Jessica Ware.
Image by Greg Lasley.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Flickers: Henry, AIDS, and Aiding

My Scottie lamp is flickering beside me, in need again of a switch upgrade. The lamp features a brass mother dog, her beard nicely combed, her body squished impossibly into a basket brimming with pups. I was smitten when I saw it, stunned that I could afford it; I have glanced at it happily thousands of times since, always on some level reminded of the day it came into my possession, the life I was living then, and the people I knew and loved. In a way that no other object does, this friendly-looking little lamp, with all its kitsch and charm, represents a period of my life and a dear companion, and all the adventure and sorrow those times bestowed.

I picked up this lamp with my friend Henry at a store in Toronto's Kensington Market sometime around 1979, for eleven dollars. The store was called Courage My Love, of a sort common now but then unique in my experience, with quirky and comely clothes and knicknacks filling all available space. I bought a couple of old tuxedo pants, as well, the ones with the narrow satin stripe up the side, black on black. I’m not sure what my look was exactly, in those days—there are few photos of me. But I do remember being thrilled with those pants, the most handsome clothes I had ever touched.

Henry introduced me to the store, as he did many things. I tried to persuade him to get a pair of tuxedo pants for himself, but his own look was very well established, and he shook his head mutely and walked away.

They were strange and wonderful times, those two short years in Toronto. I worked in a gay diner, washing dishes and bantering with the other employees. I was one of three women; the rest was all dark moustaches and well-defined baskets, or at least, that’s the way you would picture it if you only heard the talk. It was actually a teeming narrow world of high hopes and healthy hormones, creative aspirations and silent spiritual quests, terrible puns, wounded feelings, and camaraderie.

 I was back in Toronto this month for the first time in several years—the first time, I believe, since my best friend from those diner days lost his life to AIDS, and I went to Casey House to mourn.

When Henry and I met, he was the terse, surly, very efficient cook in whose kitchen I worked washing up. I was not a great dishwasher, but I tried hard to do the job well, I worked as fast as I could in that busy place, and I was friendly with the waiters who hurried back in anxiety for glasses, plates, cups, and cutlery. In the other half of the kitchen Henry was swiftly and masterfully assembling the Paris Burger, the Hawaiian Burger,  the New York Burger, the spinach salads and  other savoury delights our diner was famous for. He was a looker, our Henry, with his smokey eyes, his well-shaped brown locks dropping across his forehead, and his white apron folded neatly around his waist. (I went more for the long dangling shapeless look in aprons, myself.)


Saturday, 16 July 2016

Wavy Lines

In the room next door to me my mother lies sleeping. (Or wishing she was sleeping.) In the room beside hers, my sister and her husband lie, awake but drowsy. Scattered around the house dogs and cat settle in for the night, and here I sit, typing away when I ought to be snuggling in, myself.

It is my last night of fourteen in their home, my first visit to them in many years, and it will be a long while before I can come again. So I want to stay awake. I want to stretch out these wavy lines of sleep-deprived connection with my family, want to keep them close while I can.

Now, above you see the close-cropped head of my great-nephew. He lives in Australia, and visited Canada for the first time in May. He loved that squirrel. It was wonderful spinning around Vancouver with him and his brother and their parents and grandmas, but so short a time, so short a time, and they were gone.

Long ago in the days before The Internet my mother and I did a whack of genealogical research. I was surprised to notice that every forebear we had information on had raised his or her children thousands of miles from where he or she had grown up. I'm not sure why this surprised me. We ourselves had skipped from house to house for the first ten years of my life and then decamped from Winnipeg for the west coast, and since then both parents skedaddled back across the continent, to different destinations, and my siblings are flung across country and globe.

There are many sad and touching tales in there, most of which I am not privy to, some of which I hold close in my own heart. A whole nother brother came into being while I lived far away, and I wonder if we will ever see each other again, let alone live near to one another, as he, too, has travelled abroad to make his home.

I can still come to tears over these partings, so many years after they came into effect. I wouldn't will us all back into the shape we once held, when I was young and my parents and all their kids lived under the same roof. I wouldn't unlearn what I've learned, or undo what we've done, our growing and our explorations, not at all. But there is something lost when people spread so far apart. Some of it we are happy to say goodbye to. Some of it, in parting, we may never get beyond.

My sister told a story tonight of a man she met in Scotland in the 1980s. He was semi-scandalized that his adult son had left their town (not by far at all) for a job. Who would do that? he wanted to know.

Our people would. For a living, for adventure, to escape unhappy situations, for many reasons. And the lines of kinship are stretched farther and farther until they shimmer along the horizon and grow hazy, wavy, disappear.

I would have loved to be a real aunt to all of my nieces and nephews. The ones too far for me to drop in on more than once every few years. But I was not. I would have loved to be a real sister to my siblings, the ones that live so far away, who I now barely know, yet still so deeply love. But I was not.

The segment of the family who live close to me have gotten more of the annoyance and more of the pleasure of knowing me, not because they were better, more beloved, more important than the rest, but because they were there. I have gotten the ever-deepening pleasure of knowing them. Even when we were really really miffed at each other, things shifted over time. We sat through it. We knew each other more, and hence, grew easier in each other's company.

Before I was born, before my father was born, his family came from Scotland to Canada, forced to leave behind one son. That part of the family, the part that came down from him, is unknown to us. His heart was broken, ours broke away, drifting over the seas, gone from him.

Tomorrow I am packing up my suitcase again and moving on to a few last visits before my flight back home. And I am sad. My mum gets older as I while away my time in Vancouver. My sister's life is lived while mine is lived elsewhere, and we get older, too. Years flash by. Friends, family members keel over dead and I go to memorial service after memorial service, and I think, not yet Mum. Not yet, sister. Don't die yet. One more visit. One more letter. One more act of love.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Reaching Gramma

I wrote this piece nine years ago. I have never forgotten it, never published it before. In the intervening years my perspective on my gramma, her life, and her Alzheimer’s, has softened even more. I don’t list here all the fun times we had in the nursing home, on our walks and drives, or afterward. I think maybe the emphasis here, at the beginning of the essay, is perhaps a little too much on the sorrowful side. Once I got through that nursing home door, facing down my fear of painful emotion yet one more time, I enjoyed some of the most profoundly loving and playful times of my life.

But I won’t change the essay, just let you see it as it sat with me back then. And I will sit with it again, myself, steep in all that love that really had less to do with family, at which we had not been very successful, as with human being. In the verb sense. The best kind of love of all. 

Reaching Gramma

Gramma fell in February. For ten years she'd been living in a nursing home, in good health, but Alzheimer's had changed her. It had been ages since we could sit and talk in the accustomed way—what have you been doing, this is what I've done. She couldn't remember the beginning of the sentence by the time we reached the end. And after awhile, she didn't care.

Not that she had given up hope—she'd given up worry. She made a policy of being polite to everyone in case they were a friend, and gave up old grudges for good. The daughter she had had the most anger toward, she simply forgot. She became in some ways the Gramma I'd always wanted. Someone who was delighted to see me. Someone who knew how to play. I learned how to converse without referring to any other person or any other time—she wouldn’t remember them. I learned to kiss her and hug her, things we never used to do, to sing old songs with her, to call her puppy-face, to do silly things to get her to laugh.

Image: Marie, by Casey June Wolf.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Removing the Arrow

I was rude to a young man yesterday. I had to keep from looking at him as I walked past afterward in order not to apologize. I do generally apologize when my Old Stuff gets the better of me and I am a jerk. The thing was, what I said was probably true, if not terribly compassionately rendered. And more, the incident set a match to a smouldering resentment that I have been carrying, like the people of the Stone Age once carried nuggets of living fire in a satchel as they traversed unyielding fields. (I may have made that up but I am pretty sure I heard it in one of the trillion popular science programs I have listened to over the years.

In this most recent manifestation, the resentment is toward TransLink, or whoever it was who came up with the plan of installing a payment system that A) doesn’t work and so robs countless people of extra fares and B) violates the privacy of myself and any other person who, by virtue of illness and poverty, is forced to live on the provincial disability allowance, for our card use is on their records.

You see the sour grapes slowly revealed? And I shall warn you, I am not in the mood to set a metaphor and stick with it. Indeed, I am about to change it again.

The trouble is, beyond the fact that there are some real issues here that have been more than adequately addressed by others, I have an age-old arrow embedded deep in my side, and this Compass Card system, and that loud-voiced, officious young man who forced me to go back and use my card when he could see I had it and could see that the doors of the turnstile were open, and could see that I was burdened with parcels, twist the arrow painfully, and I want to shout.

Friday, 11 March 2016


Faithful looking down at Sparky, through the glass door.

There is a partial, very, very partial antidote to the lonely, motionless aspect my apartment has taken on since the last of my companions died. I may have mentioned Faithful to you. She is one of the feral cats my building manager feeds on the other side of the building—the only one, it seems, who visits the backyard, which I face. Faithful* and Sparky had a long and complicated relationship, beginning with her beating him to a pulp as often as possible, or at least terrorizing him. 

I found, on the two occasions that I did it, that I felt very unhappy about yelling at her when she was stalking him. I didn’t like adding to the stress of the situation. So I started greeting her enthusiastically instead. “Hello-o-o! How are you?!” This startled her into looking away from him and at me. Sparky escaped, and all was well. But it also meant that she began taking an interest in me. She started slowing down in her progress across the yard to look at me when I came to the window, then later began showing up on my balcony and watching me through the glass. Seeing me pet Sparky and brush him was quite absorbing. But she maintained, and has now for several years, a frightened distance not only from me but from any other person. In fact, we have the most intimate relationship she has so far developed with a human. She will sniff my hand—once long ago even ate a few crunchies from my palm—but is generally happy to gaze at me through the glass and blink. I of course blink back, when I don’t initiate it, as this is cat talk (as I’m sure you know) for “Aren’t we having a pleasant time?”

The ultimate expression of our affection came a year or so ago when I was inspired to scratch her through the glass door. I had held my finger up for her to “sniff”, and she leaned forward to meet it. Then I started scratching the glass and she, to my amazement, enthusiastically rubbed her head on the other side of the door. We kept this up whenever we saw each other till she stopped coming around so much.

The day Sparky died, Faithful, whom I had not seen much for a fair while, showed up two times, in the morning when he was alive, and in the evening when he was not. She came every day for five more days, and then stopped again. I did, in the first day or so when he was still here, let her smell my fingers after I had petted him, to let her know that he was dead. (I have only touched on their interactions here. Although she tormented him in the end I decided she was actually fond of him. Once when he soared over to have a glass-fight she bent down and bumped her head against the door in the same way she did when I was scratching it. Wonder of wonders...)

About a week ago I got up in the morning, closed the window, and saw Faithful bound off the balcony. I wasn’t sure whether she had been peering through the glass looking for me, as she often will even at times when I am hopefully sleeping, or had just been passing through.

The next day I did the same thing and saw her leap up from the balcony chair. I had long since given up on her taking advantage of the cushioned chair I provide there, but apparently with Sparky’s death things, as they always do among cats who live together, have begun to change. The next morning I was more careful, and she continued resting there even once she became aware of my presence.

She has been there for hours every day since then. I don’t notice her there at night, but in the morning she is usually there, and if I don’t do crazy things like sweep the floor vigorously with my corn broom (an eye-poppingly scary sound), she will sleep on for ages, occasionally twitching her ears or glancing over at me when I clatter a bit. I don’t feed her, though in the past she used to like the odd treat. But food is not the basis of our relationship. A relationship entirely decided by her.

It is amazing how calming it is just to see her there. My whole psyche is shaped by the knowledge that there have always been cats strewn through my home and my life. The shape of a cat, the sound of a cat’s voice, the glance of a cat in my direction are all things that have a physical effect on me. I relax muscles I hadn’t even realize were tensed, just knowing a cat friend is around.

So. Who knows how long she will keep sleeping here, but she is midwifing me through this difficult transition, and I am grateful to her.

And by the way. I came home last night and saw a cat fly from the chair, so instantly called out in a soothing way. The movement was lighter, the speed quicker than Faithful generally is. (Though don’t be fooled—that’s because she trusts me. She is an astonishingly fast creature when she wants to be.) The bolting spirit stopped on the breast-high wall that encloses the balcony and turned to look at me. To my astonishment it was not Faithful, but Smudge, another of the feral cats, the only one of the four who is not from the same litter. He sat nervously down and watched. Some several minutes later, he eased off of the balcony and vanished into the night.

What is this? I have never seen him in the back yard before. Did Faithful tell him about the private lounge on the North Side? Did he follow her, hoping to sleuth out where she was vanishing every day? Was it her scent that attracted him?

Anyway, I am getting a little cat action. For which, as they used to say in church (and probably still do), may the Lord make us truly thankful. Such a lovely gift from the feralsphere.

* I call her Faithful, as my niece decided she needed a name and supplied that one. The building manager calls her Balak, a name which I oppose:

The name Balak means “devastator,”[5] “empty,”[6] or “wasting.”[7] The name Balak apparently derives from the sparsely used Hebrew verb (balak), “waste or lay waste.”[8]  (Wikipedia)