Eaton Hamilton

Has anyone considered the astonishing idea of blaming the abuse on the abuser?

Category: non-fiction

The Adequate Writer: A state of writing grace

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hand, Jane Eaton Hamilton, unknown date
There is a thing that comes over my brain when I can write well–a vacancy. It could be likened to Bev Daurio’s “round room without windows,” because it feels like a scallop of emptiness inside a clean, white, rounded bone, a beautiful meditation room with blowing cream drapes, but it’s sensate even in my limbs as an awareness of what I have to call clean energy, the shimmer of a mirage felt rather than seen. A meditation? A dream without a dream to fill it? I can juggle five or ten disparate things at the same time as one might, I’ve heard, in a manic state, when links between ideas/inputs/sensations are readily apparent and can be braided. It doesn’t matter how ordinarily jarring the information appearing is–it will in this rare capacity make a kind of fictional sense for what my characters are undertaking. The world opens its possibilities all at once. Yet this state of writing grace is as far from manic as anything could be; it’s calm and open and peaceful. Whatever difficulties were inherent in the manuscript previously will be unlocked.
Not the kind of unlocked where you come back the next morning and groan at all the ridiculous you’ve unleashed on the text, but the kind of unlocked that sends manuscripts out into their futures.
 
Outside disruptions can dispell this nimbleness. When I am getting a “write on” I will sense it for hours before it shows itself fully. I prefer to indulge it and not break away from it, because it’s not a usual occurence for me. I can toil weeks or months without it, even while regularly engaged in a project. I can’t will it to happen, but I do note that it’s always–always–preceded by frustrated hours or days of edging up to work with increasing levels of frustration, something I would once have called writer’s block, replete as those times are with self-castigation. Not just writing self-castigation but more wide castigations: Why won’t I do my taxes? A nap mid-day? I should call X. I could finish that drywall. I could paint that trim. Why didn’t I call TD? Why haven’t I been in touch with the pharmacy? Why didn’t I cut the plants back? I should have gone shopping. I should have worked on that article due on the first. Watching a movie in the middle of the afternoon? Why am I so useless? I could lift weights. I could go for a walk. Look alive! It’s Monday tomorrow! How can I just go to bed without accomplishing anything?
But now I see this unease/writer’s block/chastisement as just a prelude to my best work. It’s part of why I believe in my routine of sticking it out each day until some significant work occurs (though usually I write through without this suppleness to help me, somewhere in the middle of my two extremes, and make do). Batter myself against failure long enough and there will come a breakthrough.

On Writing Across the Curriculum

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magnolia: Jane Eaton Hamilton, unknown year

Instead of asking me to repeat myself, why don’t you challenge yourself to expand? I am not ever going to make myself smaller, my talents fewer, my range tiny, in order to garner your praise.

Total eclipse of the garden

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The sound of the cat jumping off the bed.  The smell of lemon-oil soap.  The heart with its bleats and whinnies.  The sound of the rain.  The traffic moving through the alley–Smart Cars, bicycles, delivery trucks.  At 3, children’s shouts.  The white garage across the ally.  The Spanish tile roof.  The turquoise biffy for the workers at the laneway house that’s going up.  The smell of cedar.  The pressure-treated kick-plates.  The man in the blue fleece carrying lumber, his white cap, his dangling keys.  I live below grade and now, with my fence gone, my windows are peepholes.

Yesterday, I wrote the crisis in my novel The Lost Boy.  I had no clue the book was going where it went, exploding where it exploded, but when it blew up, I thought, Of course, of course, nothing else was possible.  Now I will wrap up the denouement, then I have to go back to feed in sub-plots and image motifs.

People push grocery carts past my windows and the fencer says I need to dig up more clematis for a reinforcing pole to go in.  The condo board says no vines can be grown on the new fence.

I was surprised to discover bulbs coming up now, those crazy things, in December before winter has even started–hyacinths whose tender heads have been summarily stomped.

 

After the plane got down safely

After I didn’t fall out of the sky when my plane had an emergency landing, my friend and I sat in her living room with just the tree lights on drinking wine in the middle of a snow storm.  You couldn’t see much outside except that white snow mounded everywhere, covering the sharp edges.  It was minus something but with the wind chill -40, which I learned is the same in Celcius and Farenheit.  Two cats, one all white and one all black, curled up beside us or under the tree.  It smelled like apple cider–cinnamon, cloves, cardamom. Blue lights, red lights, yellow lights.  Wrapped presents.

My friend said to me that when the Jian Gomeshi news broke, she kept remembering sexual assaults; they were like zombies breaking out of the ground.  She had one of those moments where things suddenly got clearer–she realized that when women get violated, mostly it’s just another event in a long line of assaults.  We get away as best we can, we brush off, we probably don’t report it (because who in their right mind wants what would happen then?), we may not even think of it for long because it’s happened so many times before.  We just go on.  We’re women.  That’s what we do.  We go on.

The white cat started climbing the trunk of the Christmas tree.  My friend shooed her away.  The cats went outside though I thought they’d freeze like cattle in Alberta fields, from their feet up.  I told my friend that I had a cat once in Cochrane and I slammed the door too fast during a cold snap and her tail broke off.  Verushka, her name was.  The cats came back in and weren’t frozen anywhere.  We refilled our wine glasses.  For a long time, we talked about divorce court, but then after all that, we didn’t want to pour more wine; we just had to go to bed.

 

 

On Considering Savagery

The wonderful poet Méira Cook is interviewing me for Brick Books about a long-ago poem I wrote from the imagined perspective of Ted Bundy’s mother during his execution.  I had to keyboard in this long poem tonight because I no longer had it on a computer.  What a surreal experience to be inside the imagined voice of an onlooker to violence while also being inside my young poet’s voice.  I remembered that mother-blaming was even worse then than it is now.  I remembered how enraged I became that Ted Bundy had caused so many women and their families pain and incalculable losses (my word, I had daughters, I could almost–), and how confusing was the struggle in my conscience when he was executed, since I remain against capital punishment.

To add to this, of course it just the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique this past weekend (along with the anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death, from whence many losses issued).  Here in Vancouver, there was a Saturday vigil in response to Montreal, then a Sunday vigil for Canada’s missing and indigenous women.

I have been worrying a lot about police violence, too, as everyone has.  Recently I watched Brian Lindstrom’s film Alien Boy about the Portland murder of James Chasse, and again footage of the Robert Dziekanski police murder at YVR.  Did these murders presage the militarization of police in N America and the new wave of shootings of Black men across the US?  A Vietnamese man in Vancouver, Du Na Phuong, waving a piece of lumber in a crosswalk, was also shot and killed by police a few blocks from here a couple weeks ago.  Story here.

And even as I watch footage of these men dying from police brutality, and try to come to terms, I know that women also die in police custody, and that reporters don’t note it the way they do male deaths.

Let’s see it.  Let’s name it.  Let’s not look away.  Can we not look away?

Can I not avert my eyes one more time?

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Wisteria

ClaraShandler

My wisteria takes my breath away. When I moved in, I thought I would haul it out by its friable roots and plant another, better one in its place—a darker one, a white one, one with longer recemes. Mine is just that common one you see around—W. sinensis. Blah, I thought.

But in the end, it was so magnificent that it made the mess of the rest of the fledgling garden that kept killing plants dead (alliums! O poppies! Delphs!) bearable.

Isn’t that the way? You think something’s going to be terrible, and it knocks you over with sweetness and flash. Or vice versa.

I thought today was a wasteland, even with all the sun, and then Clara Shandler, the Sidewalk Cellist, said, “Impromtu concert?” and I got to spend a luscious hour on unmown grass at King Ed and 25th soaking up her terrific-ness. Cello makes me soar; I lift bird-like—pumped, strong wings into cerulean sky.

I tried to clear my head while I listened, but it drifted into thought, and I ruminated about the fleshiness of our human condition, our bodies resilient and fragile. Able to take so much—or so little. The mystery of why one person sickens and another stays well. The mystery of the quick accident.

Because it was Mother’s Day, I thought of my mother, and my mother-in-law, and what missing the dead means, and I thought then about how motherhood positions women in the world. About step-mothering, or smom’ing—of my daughters.

I thought about women’s rights, and their lack.

I thought of my sister and her lost son, and the moms at Women’s and Children’s Hospital and Canuck Place who’d lost their babies. I thought about how they went forward.

Role models. Women to look up to.

There was so much sky up there, so much atmosphere, so much vacuum, so much science.

But right down here, just feet in front of me, was Clara’s music. At home was wisteria, ten feet of it dripping. Right here, right now, there was redoubtable human spirit. Thanks, women-in-my-life, for all you’ve generously given me.   Hope, determination, examples, willing ears, strength, passion, incisive brains, character, depth, ready love.

You are the best.

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Twenty-One Questions on Same-Sex Marriage

It is so funny to stumble across old bits of writing.  When I wrote this piece, I hadn’t yet joined the marriage case in Canada, which I did in September of 2000.  We have had the right to wed in Canada since June of 2003, but the issue is still very current in the US and other countries.

http://voices.yahoo.com/jane-eaton-hamiltons-twenty-one-questions-lesbian-113829.html

I remember having a to-and-fro with the editor who originally published this essay about whether the parlour game was 20 Questions (as I asserted) or 21 Questions (as she asserted).  See–must have been before it was easy to look things up on the web.  She was wrong, but she won.

Oops, here’s another reader review I just found:

http://elusivegreenbike.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/twenty-one-questions/

Hemingway (et al) and the Ritz

http://www.vanityfair.com/society/2012/07/paris-ritz-history-france

Mavis Gallant–the journals

Once I was at Banff Writing Studios at the Banff Centre, and Mavis Gallant was a visiting author.  Speaking to one young author she said, “I’m Mavis Gallant,” and he answered, “How lucky for you.”  Now how lucky for us–her journals are to be published.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/gallants-private-journals-to-be-published-in-canada-us/article4375337/

from my non-fiction piece “Salt”

This is solely my baby’s clock, clock of my little lost one, my tiny underappreciated one, my evermore gone one, little warm wet egg, miniature planet which used to reside inside me all my seventeen years and even before, in its own grandmother, in my mother during the eight months when I resided inside her, little eggy peggy, eggy peggy pudding and pie, kissed the boys and made them cry. My egg of red bundled oh so soft and sweet and safe inside my oriole’s nest with her sisters like so many pomegranate seeds, waiting, drowsing, waiting, sleeping, waiting, waking in the instant of monthly explosion, pop! flung out into the unknown, alone, single celled, spinning, egg of wild waving filaments, tumbling through the void to land in the drinking straw of the fallopian tube, woah, nelly, hang on nelly! Somersaulting, vertiginous in slo-mo, down the ropey rabbit hole, brim full of her genetic self—great great Gramma Ilene’s eyes, great uncle Edward’s bum kneecap, great great Grampa’s long black eyelashes, Gramma’s sweet disposition and great aunt Emmaline’s intelligence. Sucked along the red river like flotsam and jetsam, evolution and instinctive lifeforce, somersaulting and picking up speed before skidding to a stop. Yowsers, it’s a plethora of swain, ten thousand tiny wavering arrows on a wet war field. One sperm hits her head on, plonk! he’s in halfway up to his neck. And then the moment of genetic answer down through his X and Y, Yippee! yippee-yi-o, life! My gal has a stitch in her side, and woah, woah nelly what is that? Some leaping in her cellular gut, some binging and banging, caterwauling, thudding, rattling, thumping, slipping, sliding, toboganning through flesh, burrowing, turning around to thumb his nose at the wanna-be’s, the coulda’s and woulda’s! Little ingratiator, minute courtier, full of his own genetic dice toss plus a pollywogal tail, Daddio Steve’s great gramma’s sense of humour and Auntie Simone’s swanlike neck and great great Uncle Pierre’s bad kidneys. Hunka, hunka burning love that can change history just.like.that, that has just made a new person. Ovum, sperm: they join and become the proceeds of conception, hidey ho and drum roll. They tumble fallopian, roll off one-celled towards my womb, headlong into my gummy, treacly, syrupy, icky, gloppy, mucilaginous uterine wall.

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