This is a personal and collaborative research-creation project that explores the intricacies, pleasures and responsibilities of being relative. Through portraiture, story-telling, conversation and reflection, I am exploring 'being' as an amalgamation of various forms of 'others', with a focus on particular land, women and substances. Themes underlying this work include: perceptions and experiences of relatedness and relationality, death and dying, roses, fire and dreaming.
This is an ongoing, forever incomplete project that began many years ago out of a fear of and fascination with death and dying. Growing up in a family that does not follow predominant perceptions of medicalized or physical death as something final, I approach this project as a means of working through the sense of loss that accompanies physical death, while also exploring connection beyond the body. Through this practice, I intend to (re)turn my sense and attention to the dispersal of Spirit and interconnection of our related forms.
From up the Inlet
"My elders say that the dream world is a reality, just as vivid, just as vibrant, just as alive as the physical world. Dreams are not illusory things. They are meant to teach us, guide us. They ask us to use our intuition to interpret them. That's their biggest gift - returning us to our intuition, our highest level of thought."
(Richard Wagamese 2016)
Auntie Bunny is a gentle, kind soul. Maybe that's why I started calling her auntie Bunny instead of Robin when I was a child. Even though we don't spend much time talking, I have always felt deeply connected with this strong woman and grateful for knowing her. She is sensitive and artistic, and has a calming presence. I think I have inherited these qualities from her. She has three powerful and successful children, Andrea, Stacy and Peter, who are more siblings than cousins to me.
I remember her flowing white dress with green apples on it, and the Pölsa she would make when we were all together. And I remember playing Bingo together, often, along with my mom, Nana, and Peter. Auntie Bunny always seemed to win. She has "horse-shoes up her ass," my mom would say. She is also known to find four leaf clovers, just by spotting them while walking or while sitting outside. One time, while at the beach, she got swept away in a wave. It was unfortunate and hilarious. She was fine, but the paper documents that she had with her were not.
My favorite memory is a continuous one, just hanging out and laughing together, playing cards, and talking about our dreams, cosmic messages and our witchy senses at the family home in Sechelt.
"There is neither source nor end, for all things are in the Center of Time. As all the stars may be reflected in a round raindrop falling in the night: so too do all the stars reflect the raindrop. There is neither darkness nor death, for all things are, in the light of the Moment, and their end and beginning are one."
(Ursula K. Le Guin 2000)
I often fly in my dreams, and for years I dreamt about soaring over the Sunshine Coast. I would be flying over Silver Sands, Selma Park, Halfmoon Bay, always towards Madeira Park. In this one dream, it really freaked Bob out, I was flying into West Sechelt along the highway. I came up to that intersection, the one by the McDonalds there. We used have only the one highway there, through town. Cowrie street, it's called. You know, the one that goes along the back, up by the police station and the high school. But as I flew over the intersection there was another road and I was confused.
In the morning, I told Bob I thought they might have put in another road. He said I was crazy. But sure enough, when we went over, there was the new road. It wasn’t even that long ago that they put it in, 2009 I think. For the Olympics probably.
I always knew I would be coming home one day, I knew I’d be back in Sechelt. It’s like the land has been calling me home through my dreams. It’s too bad prices have gone up so much that I can’t really afford to live here anymore. I’ll probably have to move to the Island when the house sells. But I really don’t want to leave the, this is home.
"Always trust your gut, your intuition. It always leads you to where you need to go. We have the Sight, which means we can see things before they occur and we sense when something is happening, about to happen, or may have happened. It's why my mother always knew when my Dad was coming home, before he even arrived, or when my uncles were coming over. She would suddenly start tidying up, preparing food and putting the kettle to boil. Forewarned is forearmed."
(Bernice Hanson 2017)
Life can be heavy sometimes, but uncle Peter has a way of making everything light and putting you at ease. His humour and playful spirit reminds us not to take things too seriously and to remember to have fun. He used to tell us wild stories of his youth, the pranks he pulled, and the adventures he had growing up on the Sunshine Coast. The stories were entertaining and carried lessons about respect, honesty, and listening to your elders. One of our favorites was about his pony, Skita, who would trot up to the house and tap the door for her morning toast each day. Often you can't tell which stories are true and which are made up to test your gullibility and lighten the mood. And, as much as he tells stories he also likes to hear a good story. Many of us enjoy cracking him up with our own tales. I think that's what stands out most, the sound of his laughter. It's like kind of laugh that you can't help but laugh with. But more than humour, uncle Peter is the kind of person who is always there for you, opening his home and offering support. He takes after our Papa in all the best ways.
We were born before the wind
Also, younger than the sun
'Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic
Hark now, hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly
Into the mystic
(Into the Mystic by Van Morrison, a family favourite)
Oil painting by Andrea Padilla
Mickey: After Roxy died, she visited me a lot. Nana wasn’t having any visiting dreams from Roxy, but she knew I was. In the dream we would be talking and then Roxy’d get up and give me a big hug and say, “Okay, I gotta go. It’s 1:00.” Then I’d wake up and it’d be 1:00, she was always right! Nana would be sitting at the edge of my bed, staring at me. It freaked me out. I hated waking up to someone startling me. Eventually I came to expect it, but it was still freaky.
Me: Haha, why would she be sitting there? Was she watching you sleep?
Mickey: She knew I was seeing Roxy, so she wanted to know what she said. I think that when someone dies, we put up walls to help us deal with the pain of grief. But these walls also block them from being able to visit us. I think they try, but we are hurting so it’s hard for them to reach us.
Me: Have you seen Nana or Papa lately?
Mickey: No, but Haley has. She said she had a nice visit with Papa, he gave her a big hug. I’ve been seeing MIB though, and so has Heather! She is looks really good. It seems she’s worked through everything she needed to and can now visit. I wish I could see mom and dad though. Maybe we need to do another smudge and put their ashes to rest since we couldn’t do it last year when we were supposed to.
Me: Yeah, it really sucked that we weren’t able to have the ceremony and return their ashes to the inlet. Hopefully this year.
"The loss these dramas lament exceeds any of the stories told; it overflows from one story to another, it transforms and is never resolved. It is as if that history were dreaming itself through me by the effect of a transference. Born in the 'sphere of the moon,' my dream is also someone else's."
(Stefania Pandolfo 1997)
The rose is a significant symbol for many of us.
Nana began a tradition, to be shared between the women in our family, of getting a rose tattoo. She intended for this to be a sort of initiation
into adulthood, and hoped to accompany each of her kids to the get their iteration.
Nana has many tattoos, but of them her favorite and the one that is most meaningful to her is the rose on her shoulder blade. To her, the rose represents the area she grew up in: Pender Harbour B.C. Wild roses are prominent in this area and are believed to be entangled with our history and our ancestors, and this inspires a special connection with the flower. It was a way for her to maintain connection to this particular land and her family.
Following this tradition, many of the women in my family have also tattooed a rose on their shoulder blades, often designed in personal ways to reference the nuances of their identities. Some have adapted the rose with Celtic aesthetics, and some have added other figures or personal references such as a faery or bumble bee. This act of tattooing has been a bonding ritual and helps to keep our connections alive; allowing us to carry on the body a reminder of and connection to place: land, people, and history.
"Put it on the wind... child."
(xwu’p’a’lich, Barbara Higgins 2017)
Death and Dying:
To talk about Life we need to recognize our relationship to the concept of Death. Death defines Life and vice versa. We measure our Life according to our movement towards an eventual, immanent "Death." I have come to think of Death as a form of Life, and Life as a process of Death. It's part of the sacred circle, mom says. For me, Life is marked by the journey of discovery and important lessons to be learned before we move on to something else. Dreaming is a significant process through which we learn, it is how we cut across our cultural systems of organization such as time and space and connect with ourselves, family, and beyond. I have also begun to think of Death as an opening and a multiplying, and I wonder why we are taught (or enculturated) to fear this. I believe fear distracts from the important lessons we need to learn, fear masks the movement and activity of Death. I perceive the Life we are doing, living, as part of the journey through to another world, phase, or experience. Death is a door.
After witnessing the Death of two grandparents (ten years apart) I noticed similarities with the event of birth (which I have also witnessed). It seems like Life is akin to the way many people understand fetal development in the womb (with the birth being thought of as a beginning). So, I wonder, is physical Life a developmental stage of existence?
Many believe that Life is dependent on our ability to breathe. Social scholars suggest that our breath, and breathing, may present a point of connection between various beings. While I appreciate this, I also wonder: why do we need to locate an ultimate point of connection or difference? I believe that things are much more complicated. We do not need a battle for the perfect metaphor, we need to open our language and perceptions. The questions that lead to such metaphors are unanswerable, particularly with our current level of understanding and compulsion to identify and classify things. We need to learn to allow the fleeting, indescribable, and barely perceptible to have meaning without the need of an explanation or the search for a definitive origin. I am suggesting that we permit the vast difference of experiences and the incomprehensible to be, or to "Let the mystery remain a mystery" (as Richard Wagamese says).
After Nana passed in the Squamish hospital, our relatives in the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) held a sacred fire to guide her spirit into the next realm. Like breath, smoke and fire inspire attention to the movement of spirit and interconnection of all things. In the spirit of "keeping a fire" (in Daniel Health Justice's words), this sample of our Kinship Collage ends with a meditation on the creative, cleansing and connecting properties of the smoke that rises from smudge.
Daniel Health Justice. Why Indigenous Literatures Matter. Wilfred Laurier University Press. 2018.
Richard Wagamese. Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations. Douglas & McIntyre. 2016.
Stafania Pandolfo. Impasse of the Angels: Scenes from a Moroccan Space of Memory. The University of Chicago Press. 1997
Ursula K. Le Guin. The Left Hand of Darkness. Ace Books. 1969.