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.
This is a sample of the project.
From up the Inlet
This Kinship Collage is composed of a web of people, animals, landscapes, plants, elements, oral histories, dreams and stories, cultures, traditions, ideas, beliefs, books, movies, music, and objects, and will continue to grow and change. It is largely expressed from my personal perspective, in consultation and conversation with those entangled. Within this web we are great grandmothers-grandmothers-grandfathers-moms-dads-aunties-uncles-children-siblings-cousins-friends, living and dead (and infinite combinations of these). We intersect at many and multiple points, and we perceive from many and multiple positions as well.
God was a frightful figure to me, as a small girl.
Although my mother eagerly sought to Catholicize us kids, as had been done to her in residential school, I never wanted to meet or know God. At least, not the God that was described to me.
I used to dream about God taking me away in the night.
It. was. terrrrrifying.
In the dream I would be asleep, peacefully, on the bluffs in a tent - I loved it there, above the water on the three bays. But in this dream, while sleeping in the tent, a looming dark figure would fly over the sky, swoop down, scoop me up and carry me away, tent and all.
It was soooo scary.
No. I didn't really want to meet that God.
Even now I much prefer the Mother Creator that I know and revere.
Our dreams are what bind us, in spirit and intention, to each other and to worlds we do not perceive. Dreaming is a sacred practice, it is a way to stay in touch with each other, with ourselves, and with Creator and Mother Earth (and/or God for some). Within my family there is a dreaming practice. Our dreams have been a point for discussion at our gatherings, and act as a significant point of connection. We have shared dreams, visiting dreams, lucid dreams and dreams that provide guidance; we help each other interpret our dreams, tell stories about and with our dreams, and describe the ways that dreams have shaped our paths. This practice has been so ordinary, that for most of my life it has eluded my attention.
Mickey, Nana, Bunny
We were chatting over breaky one morning
Me: "Did I ever know auntie Roxy?"
Nana: "No baby... She never met you. But she still loves you, you know."
Me: "It's so weird because even though I never knew her, I feel like I do. Or that I did. I guess I've heard so much about her that it's like I knew her."
Just then Bunny walks in and joins us
Bunny: "I've been thinking about Roxy a lot day today."
Nana: "Me too. I'm really missing her lately."
A few moments later,
Mickey arrives home from work
Mickey: "I had a dream about Roxy last night. It's been a while since she last visited, it was so nice to see her!"
Me: "I guess auntie Roxy is nearby. She's on everyone's mind today."
Bunny: "Yeah, I'll say."
Nana: "No fair! She hasn't visited me in weeks! But I guess I'll be seeing her soon..."
Bunny: "Mom stop! Mickey, get outta here!"
"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)
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.
"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)
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.