“The Opposite of Loneliness”: positivity is real strength

A friend at work lent me Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories and I devoured it! I found Keegan’s writing entertaining and at times she actually had me feeling feelings.

keegan

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Opposite-Loneliness-Essays-Stories/dp/147675361X

The essay about Keegan’s mom obsessing over Keegan’s Celiac disease, baking and calling manufacturers, actually made me cry. My Mom does everything she can to make sure that I’m not sick. And often, she’ll talk about the past and make comments that she was poisoning me. I can’t imagine what she feels that she would beat herself up for not knowing better. She didn’t know and I wouldn’t ever think of holding her accountable for my childhood illnesses. We didn’t know. That’s why I cried reading Keegan’s essay “Against the Grain.” I know that my mom does everything possible to help me, even when I don’t ask for the help. That level of love is something I’ve never experienced. Thanks, Mom.

I think this is why I devoured Keegan’s writing; I connected with her voice and with her subject matter. It was a voice similar to my own. I can’t find the passage again, yet I think in one of her fiction pieces she describes a woman feeling almost helpless in her anxiety, not wanting to leave her bed or wander in the mall with her mom. I get that. I also really enjoyed her essay “Why We Care About Whales.” In this piece she asks the question of why humans got to such extremes to save animals, yet we don’t save each other. That’s a heavy question and one worth digging into deeper.

humans

Source: http://wwf.panda.org/?229330/Peoples-Climate-March-to-put-leaders-on-notice

When my friend lent me this book, she said that her Mom, how is also a writer, didn’t like Keegan’s writing. I suppose I can see that. Keegan’s voice is unique and I think a little young, yet with clarity into some dark sides of humanity. I suppose I liked her writing because part of me still holds on to my idealism, some days more passionately and fiercely than others. In all honesty, I hope that I am as honest and hopeful as Keegan: she doesn’t candy-coat life, yet she has the energy and the newness to not give in to pessimism and doubt. Fresh and ideal, yet willing to take on life’s hard questions.

quote

Source: http://quoteaddicts.com/topic/idealism-and-realism-quote/

We all know that it is easier to be negative and see the mistakes and the failures. Yet it takes someone who is strong and hopeful to see the negative and make the choice to think, see, act, and talk in the positive. I’ve been learning a lot about growth mindset this year at work and I can see how it helps students grow beyond what they, and others, thought was possible.

How do we hold onto our hope and positive thinking when life is hard and people are mean and cruel and the reality of the earth dying overwhelms us. I believe that positive people are not unaware; they know full well how the world truly is because they see it. The strength of the positive person is that they are able to muster up positivity and light and they are willing to share that with others. That takes real strength. And I find that the people who have had a hard life and are still positive are the people who have healed.

quote.2

Source: http://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/scar.html

So thank you to my friend, and a big thank you to Marina Keegan and her family and friends who published her work.

 

“Salt to the Sea”: healing through story

I was chatting with some friends recently and we were talking about the idea that after a while, there might be a burn-out of how many WWII novels and movies we can consume. What about the other wars? Or, is it that WWII has left its mark on the world and it’s something we are still trying to fully understand. There are millions of stories that we haven’t heard yet because everyone’s experience was different. During this conversation, I had just started to read Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. What a great novel! And I have to say that I found it didn’t just retell the same stories I’ve heard or read before. It was something new. Terrible, yet new.

salt

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25614492-salt-to-the-sea

Salt to the Sea is the story of three young people caught up in the war and all trying to find hope and freedom in the docks. Thousands of people are trying to escape the Germans and Russians and end up getting onto refugee boats seeking safety. I had never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff ship disaster before, but in fact I feel that I should have. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff caused more loss of life than the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic sunk because of hitting an iceberg, whereas the Wilhelm Gustloff, full of mostly women and children and injured men, was torpedoed by the Russians.

Just looking at images online was heartbreaking.

wilhelm.1

Source: https://www.welt.de/geschichte/zweiter-weltkrieg/article136893332/Der-Trinker-der-die-Wilhelm-Gustloff-versenkte.html

wilhelm.2

Source: https://europebetweeneastandwest.wordpress.com/tag/wilhelm-gustloff/

wilhelm.3

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/142567144425047906/

wilhelm.4

Source: http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2016/01/sinking-of-wilhelm-gustloff.html

wilhelm.5

Source: https://www.zyjepodwoda.pl/en/wrak-wilhelm-gustloff-morze-baltyckie/

The novel is told from the point of view of four different characters. Each character has a unique story, yet they all end up seeking safety on this ship. One young man is running from the Nazis because of something he stole from a prominent Officer. One young woman is running because she is trying to be reunited with her family after being given permission to stay in Germany because of her skills as a nurse. Another younger woman is running away from both the Germans and the Russians because of her nationality. And the last young man is a German officer who is desperately trying to prove himself as courageous without actually doing anything that requires sacrifice. This cast of misfits intertwine with each other and use and help each other in order to get onto the boat.

Like all war stories, this one has a tragic ending for all involved, even those who survive the wreck. Those who survive are fortunate, yet have to live with the visions of seeing hundreds of people, fellow passengers and asylum seekers, die in the waters around them.

I can’t help but think about all of these people who survived and how they most likely spent their lives living with post-traumatic stress disorder. And not only that, but this book made me start to think about intergeneration trauma: trauma that is transmitted to next generations.

In an article in Psychology Today by Molly Castelloe, she includes this thought:

Transmission is the giving of a task. The next generation must grapple with the trauma, find ways of representing it and spare transmitting the experience of hell back to one’s parents. A main task of transmission is to resist disassociating from the family heritage and “bring its full, tragic story into social discourse.” (Fromm, xxi)

So perhaps we need stories about WWII because we aren’t finished sharing the trauma and the stories. Perhaps people like my parents, who both had fathers in WWII, need to write and produce art that still tells the stories of their parents. Perhaps a world that is afraid of another war, because Veterans from WWII and the Vietnam, Korean, and Gulf Wars, needs to share and tell stories about WWII in order to carry the trauma into the future in order to find healing. In a world that is in desperate need of healing, perhaps stories are the way to healing.

story

Source: http://izquotes.com/quote/342421

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” -Phillip Pullman

 

“The Wonder”: Self-love not self-sacrifice

There’s something about me that shies away from popular fiction: if others are reading it, I din’t want to get involved. Elitism, arrogance, fear of bad writing, or the fact that I hate waiting months on hold at the library! When The Wonder by Emma Donoghue finally got to me, I was excited to read it. My book club read it as a book back in January, so three month later I dove in.

wonder

Source: http://www.harpercollins.ca/9781443450027/the-wonder

I found this book extremely challenging. I was upset and angry and I was totally entranced by Donoghue’s writing. The story revolves around a young girl in Ireland, Anna, who hasn’t eaten in the four months since her eleventh birthday and first communion. The village thinks it is a miracle that she is still alive and a committee hires two nurses–one a nun and one trained by Miss Nightingale on the battlefield–to constantly watch the child to see if she is indeed a miracle. We get the story from Lib Wright’s point of view, the battlefield nurse.

A death watch. For eight hours at a time, both the Sister and Lib watch Anna starve. How can this not make you uncomfortable as a reader? At first, Donoghue draws her readers in through Lib: Lib isn’t certain how the child is still alive and there is an energy of excitement and possibility as people from all over make a pilgrimage to the lowly Irish cottage. Yet as facts are learned and the watch comes close to two weeks, thinks unravel.

Irishbog

Source: http://www.markfisherauthor.com/2016/07/mysterious-bog-roads-ancient-ireland-part-ii/

SPOILER ALERT!!

If you haven’t read the book, best not to read any further. Some major spoilers are below, yet are things that I can’t not write about when I think of this novel.

SPOILERS BEGIN!

Near the end of the watch two thing become apparent: 1.) The mother was feeding Anna in a bizarre way, through a holy kiss with what the mom called manna; 2.) Anna was fasting and giving her own life as a sacrifice to get her brother out of purgatory, or even hell.

What we don’t learn until the end is that Anna’s brother sexually assaulted Anna and he even called their relationship a marriage. It was sacred because they were both brother and sister and husband and wife. So here she is, eleven-year-old Anna, having learned that incest is an evil sin, fasting and praying daily to save her brother from hell. She is willing to give up her life to save her brother’s. When lib finds out about the sexual abuse, she learns that the mother, father, and priest all knew about their secret marriage and are doing nothing to stop Anna from sacrificing her life to save his.

Lib feels the same anger and disgust as the readers: Anna is made to feel that her assault is her responsibility and so the adults in her life allow her to believe that it is her duty to save her brother through fasting and prayer. After learning of Anna’s sexual assault, here are Lib’s thoughts: “Even if the fact could be proved, what lib saw as incestuous rape, others would call seduction. Wasn’t it so often the girl–no matter how young–who got blamed for having incited her molester with a look?” (Pg 262-62).

Earlier in the book, Lib is disturbed by the words of Dr. McBrearty, the old village doctor: “‘They mean to put down the flesh and raise up the spirit,’ he explained. But why does it have to be one or the other? Lib wondered. Aren’t we both?” (Pg 195). 

I’m with Lib: we can’t separate our spirit from our body and what are the dangers and the consequences when that happens.

Mind Body Spirit

Source: http://angeliasartjournals.blogspot.ca/2010/09/mind-body-spirit.html

Anna’s story is troubling for so many reasons. How many women have reported sexual abuse and have had their experience dismissed? I think the the Bill Cosby and the Jian Gomeshi cases as examples. Even the RCMP is realizing that they have a problem with how they treat sexual assault allegations and are moving to reopen some cases. The Globe and Mail reports that 1 in 5 cases are dismissed. What message is that sending? What are the physical and spiritual consequences of so many people being ignored and shamed for what was done to them? In the article, reporter Robyn Doolittle writes,

Every year, an average of 5,500 people are reporting sexual violence to Canadian police, but their cases are dropping out of the system as unfounded long before a Crown prosecutor, judge or jury has a chance to weigh in.

The result is a game of chance for Canadian sex-assault complainants, whose odds of justice are determined not only by the facts of their case, but by where the crime took place, which police force picks up their file, and what officer shows up at their door.

This is not acceptable. In the 1850s, when this book is set, this is not acceptable. In 2017, this is not acceptable. Yet why does it continue to happen? Teaching consent is something that needs to happen at home and at school.

That’s why I love this video about consent. Really, it’s simple. Anything that denies consent is assault. Until society changes how it views consent and sex, nothing will really change.

consent-1

Source: http://affinitymagazine.us/2017/02/25/the-phrase-consent-is-sexy-is-dangerously-flawed/

Because this is the spoiler section, I have to say that I loved the ending of this book. Lib, the nurse, kidnaps Anna with Anna’s consent. Anna dies, as Lib stages a fire. In reality, Nan is rescued and taken to Australia to begin her life over again with adults who will hopefully listen to her and teach her to love herself again.

love

Source: https://8tracks.com/gasps/i-love-myself-today-a-girl-almighty-playlist

 

“The Secret Life of Bees”: I am enough

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd was recommended to me by my Dad’s co-worker, a Catholic chaplain at a federal prison. At a Christmas party, we were chatting about authors who wrote on spirituality (like Thomas Moore, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Henri Nouwen) and he suggested that I might like The Secret Life of Bees.

bees

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Life-Bees-Monk-Kidd/dp/0142001740

I’ve never spent much time contemplating Mary, the mother of Jesus. Growing up, Mary was part of the Christmas story and didn’t show up the other 11 months of the year. Yet in Catholic traditions, she is part of everyday life. I think I like that: having a spiritual woman part of my everyday life. Reading The Secret Life of Bees truly made me grateful that I am a woman, and that doesn’t happen too often. The love, joy, forgiveness, and genuineness that Sue Monk Kidd creates within and between her characters had me mesmerized. Lily, a young teen with a dead mother and an abusive father, saves her housekeeper from jail and they run away together and into the lives of three extraordinary women: May, June, and August. These three sisters keep bees and sell honey, yet they have also created a community around the tradition of a black Mary. These women support each other and have true friendships that uplift and challenge each other to love more.

the-secret-life-of-bees.jpg

Source: http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/secretlifeofbees/

Monk Kidd’s novel tackles racism, abuse, sexism, and depression. She does not shy away from issues that most people like to ignore. In the novel, she creates situations that seem so outrageous, yet most likely happened. Situations of black women being beaten in prison by their white male accusers. White people standing in the way of black people registering to vote. Black teens being arrested for throwing a coke bottle at white men. Yet the three sisters–May, June, and August–are strong and they gather other women around them to encourage them and support them. Lily, who has run away from home, is treated with kindness and love, and with a patience that seems unworldly. As she works with the bees, she learns more about herself and about reality:

“The sting shot pain all the way to my elbow, causing me to marvel at how much punishment a minuscule creature can inflict. I’m prideful enough to say I didn’t complain. After you get stung, you can’t get unstung no matter how much you whine about it. I just dived back into the riptide of saving bees”  (pg 167)

I love Lily’s attitude. Stung, yet dove back into the work and didn’t get angry or upset at the bees. August keeps reminding her to send love to the bees and to remain calm and observe. Life lesson!

Lily isn’t always calm and patient, and has some fantastic moments of rage and pain about how life has treated her. We follow Lily’s progression from an angry, confused girl, into a young woman who is learning that the most subversive thing a woman can do is love herself. As Lily helps the sisters care for the bees, she learns a lot of about herself:

 

Her hands stayed where they were but released their pressure. “And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love–but to persist in love.”

She paused. Bees drummed their sound into the air. August retrieved her hands from the pile on my chest, but I left mine there.

“This Mary I’m talking about sits in your heart all day long, saying, ‘Lily, you are my everlasting home. Don’t you ever be afraid. I am enough. We are enough.'”

I closed my eyes, and in the coolness of the morning, there among the bees, I felt for one clear instant what she was talking about. (Pg 289)

Lily learns something that most people struggle, not only to say, but to believe: I am enough. The three sisters have a statue of Mary that was inspirational to many black slaves in the area and they continue to draw strength from this statue. Yet in this conversation with August, Lily tries to find strength from outside of herself and August reminds her that Mary is there to draw out the best: Mary’s power doesn’t come from her statue, but instead comes from empowering others to see the beauty and love in themselves.

mary

Source: http://beesbeesbees.weebly.com/the-daughters-and-son-of-mary.html

I found this book refreshing: looking at spirituality, Christianity, from a female perspective. And a wonderful reminder in Lent that yes, I am enough!

enough

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/i-am-enough/

“Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She’s not the statue in the parlor. She’s something inside of you. … You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.” (Sue Monk Kidd)

“Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with you.” (From the “Hail Mary” prayer)

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Immaculate Heart of Mary. 2010 Stephen B. Whatley

Source: http://www.stephenbwhatley.com/1_the-immaculate-heart-of-mary-2010-30-x-24in-by-stephen-b-whatley-copy-jpg

“The Nature of the Beast”: trust

The Nature of the Beast is the third book I’ve read in the Inspector Gamache series and I’ve enjoyed them all! This book raised some great questions about good and evil, especially when it comes to the question, Can people change?

beast.jpg

Source: http://gamacheseries.com/the-nature-of-the-beast/

Today, while scrolling through Twitter, I was disturbed by an article from the US. It was an article about the number of prisoners being executed in a short amount of time, I think 8 in the next few days in just one state. I scrolled by too fast because I was so disturbed by the fact that capital punishment still exists.

In Penny’s novel, a serial killer is mixed up in the building of a secret supergun. This serial killer isn’t just evil, he seems like he’s irredeemable. he is beyond saving. Even the generous, thoughtful, and wise Inspector Armande Gamache does see the possibility for this man man to change and become a functioning human in society. It was a dark read, one that I wasn’t prepared for.

The village of Three Pines in Quebec, a fictional town, is the site of a genius group of men’s idea for a supergun, one that doesn’t require technology to deliver its devastating blows. The residents of the town don’t know that the supergun even exists, expect for some of the town’s oldest, and most secretive residents. Twenty or so years after the men building the gun came to town, the evil of their presence still lingers in the collective memory of the town. In fact, the town’s poet, Ruth, writes about these evil men, specifically the man who became the serial killer, in her poems and the poem about her encounter with this seeming animal won her awards.

STILL_LIFE_EPK_Welcome_to_Three_Pines_620x350_2402942380

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2402940087

The three men responsible for building this terrible weapon, one they were willing to sell to highest bidder, regardless of the destruction that will follow. They also took the construction of the supergun one next step: they named it the whore of Babylon and made references to the Bible’s book of Revelation and the coming of the end of the world. The creepy foreknowledge of these men, and yet their determination to continue with their project brought up issues, like the building of the atomic bomb. How evil cruel can humanity become? But more telling, how much evil are people willing to put up with before they intervene? What is it about our human nature that openly trusts to the point of complete destruction.

05onfire1_xp-master768-v2

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/06/arts/this-is-fine-meme-dog-fire.html_r=0

As humans, what is our limit for evil, pain, suffering and hurt? If we don’t have to do work or cause a stink, are we ok with things like the death penalty? Yet at the same time, what about those of us who are strong, brave, and courageous to stand up and say no. Thank goodness for the police and others who enforce rules and laws to keep the greater good safe. Yet time and again, we are reminded of what happens when we are willing to put up with more and more evil. More and more behaviours and actions that truly are not fine.

Penny leave her readers unsettled. Yes, in the end the murderer is caught and the old serial killer remains in jail, yet what about the thought that some people are not able to change? What about the thought that some people enjoy the suffering of others? What about the idea that sometimes we want to see an eye-for-an-eye justice?

an_eye_for_an_eye__by_this_is_the_life2905-d3evetl

Source: http://www.soulaction.org/justice-theology/justice-theology-the-law/

The courage and strength to forgive and rebuild is something that Penny builds into her novels. Inspector Gamache is rebuilding his life in the town of Three Pines. Three Pines is constantly rebuilding itself as a community tragedy after tragedy. Yet isn’t these moments of suffering and pain that bring communities together? We feel like we might suffer alone, yet that is hardly the case. So, for Penny’s characters, the grief and the burden of overcoming hate and fear is done together. Humans trusting in the good in each other instead of seeing on the bad.

I was reminded recently by an acquaintance that my first inclination is to openly, and fully, trust people. I always assume the best for those I meet. I’m a person who gives you trust, yet as things happen, that trust disappears. I believe this is a great quality! Sometimes I get burned and hurt, yet it’s worth it.

trust

Source: http://www.nivrithitrust.org/contact.html

“Some people keep their darkness inside, and some hide their light. You, mon ami, almost certainly have a croissant in there.” (Penny)

“A gadabout gossip can’t be trusted with a secret,
    but someone of integrity won’t violate a confidence.” (Proverbs 11:13)

7f41f6b0dde39f90c4b542bc3dcf7404

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/you-hurt-me/

 

 

“Half Brother”:hooking the reluctant reader

Being an ELA (English Language Arts) teacher is fun and exciting because I find myself excited about the literature I can introduce to my students, especially to the reluctant readers.  David Bouchard says that it only takes one book to make someone a reader.  Just that one book that hooks them in and makes them realize what they’ve been missing.  There is joy in reading.  That is why I was happy to read Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel.

8400538

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7942534-half-brother

Talking with the other ELA teacher at my new school, I guess this book went viral last year.  It was so funny, engaging, and heart-warming that kids were waiting to read it, even asking parents to buy it so they could read it sooner.  Half Brother is the story of Ben, a typical teenager whose parents work a lot.  But his life changes forever when his parents move him from Ontario out to Victoria and they bring home his new baby brother: a chimpanzee!

Ben’s father is a scientist and is hoping to teach the chimp, Zan (after Tarzan), how to communicate and develop language skills through American Sign Language.  They teach Zan new words, yet they don’t teach him a lot of nouns or connecting words, mostly just nouns.  So when the experiment isn’t the success Ben’s Dad was hoping for, things get tense.

For Ben, Zan is not a pet or a scientific experiment: Zan is his brother.  The two have a great relationship as the novel progresses.  Ben tickles, hugs, kisses, plays with, and loves Zan.  They become best buds, even to the point of Zan protecting Ben from some bullies.

chimp

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/lauramixtacki/monkey-business/

The novel isn’t just about Zan and Ben, it’s about Ben growing up and becoming a teenager.  He has angsty moments where he wants to make his own decisions, yet is held back by his parents’ rules.  He wants to date a girl, but she rejects him and dates someone else.  He learns about the cruelty of animal testing and becoming extremely angry at the work his father does with rats.  It’s like Degrassi episodes, but with a chimp!

I can see the appeal of this book for young teens.  It’s about pushing boundaries, dealing with anger, living with disappointment, creating friendship, and learning how to become your own person.  The funny parts, like Zan stealing the dish soap and spraying everyone and everything, or like Zan loving Jell-O, or like Zan peeing on the father, help bring this novel to life and keeps the reader engaged and curious.

There are a few books that I keep on my shelf because I know that they engage reluctant readers, and Half Brother is now part of that collection!

boys

Source: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/mood/slideshow-decrease-family-stress

“The Back of the Turtle”: gentle reminder

Thomas King is a brilliant storyteller.  I wished for two things reading this novel: one, that he was telling it to me over a course of meetings over coffee or a meal, and two, that it wouldn’t end.  The world and characters he created were so life-like and curious that I was slowing down near the end of the book to make it last longer.

backoftheturtle-thumb-175x267-378206

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2014/09/thomas-king-discusses-the-back-of-the-turtle.html

In the novel, a First Nation on the West Coast is completely destroyed by a newly created bacterium, GreenSweep.  Not used properly, GreenSweep kills everything and everyone in its path in the hopes of clearing brush to lay a pipeline. The irony is that the man who helped to create GreenSweep is Indigenous and knew people in the Reserve that was completely destroyed.  How do you seek forgiveness?  How do you make up for life’s biggest mistakes?

This novel is grounded in the Earth.  It shows the importance of the relationship between people and Earth and what happens when that relationship is taken for granted or exploited?

In the beginning of Barkskins by Anne Proulx, she includes this quotation:

In Anitquity every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit. These spirits were accessible to men, but were very unlike men; centaurs, fauns, and mermaids show their ambivalence.  Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of that particular situation, and to keep it placated.  By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in the mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects. (Lynn White, Jr.)

After years of reading Canadian Indigenous literature, I am still amazed by the generous humour that they employ.  The humour is gracious because the atrocities that have occurred in Indigenous communities is horrible, yet often times authors approach their message with humour, which engages all readers.  We know that satire is one of the most powerful means of bringing about new thoughts and change, yet this story is a gentle humour that is embraces and brings in readers to the story.  The story is then heard by more and thought of more.  Yet, I believe it comes from a generous spirit.

One of the most heartwarming moments for me was the surprise appearance of some Alberta Elders: Narcisse Blood and Leroy Little Bear (pg 119).  I first ‘met’ Narcisse Blood through Elder in the Making, an amazing film that documents Treaty 7 and the people of Southern Alberta. In “Episode 5: A Broken Treaty,” Narcisse Blood talks about his experience in Indian Residential School.  He took an old school and turned it into Red Crow Community College.  The moment that stands out that he says he is a “person that wants to learn.  A persona that respects myself so that I can respect others.  If I can become a human then I can relate to the land better.”  In “Episode 6: Death and Renewal” Narcisse Blood speaks again.  “The land is like our mother…  We don’t take for granted that the sun is going to come up every morning.  We greet the sun because we woke up.  So we wake up and that gives life.  Our non-human relations have rights to be here.  The folly is when we think that man is it.”  The teachings of Narcisse Blood are beautiful and reminded me as I read The Back of the Turtle that as humans we have lost of connection.  In the episode, Narcisse Blood says that our folly is a kind way of saying stupidity.  As humans, we need to reestablish our relationship with our non-human relations.  In Blackfoot culture, they often say the phrase “All my Relations.”  They acknowledge all of creation and honour creation by saying this phrase.

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Source: http://elderinthemaking.com/a-triple-tragedy/

Leroy Little Bear is such an important person in Alberta.  He is a Blackfoot scholar is striving to teach us about the connection between humans and the land.  He is also an advocate for justice and works with prisoners and those without means to find justice to work in the system. I know I don’t have permission to say this to make make this judgement, but to me he is a modern day warrior.  He is tenacious, wise, and generous. In a lecture at Congress 2016 in Calgary.  His lecture compares Western metaphysics to Blackfoot metaphysics:”Big Thinking and Rethink Blackfoot Metaphysics: ‘waiting in the wings’.” He talks about the difference between Western and Blackfoot ways of knowing.  In Western culture, we value reason and work around the idea that God’s creation is good and therefore stagnant.  In our thinking, we categorize and run experiments.  We value the objective facts and like creating and finding order out of chaos.  In Blackfoot culture, they think differently and so see the world differently.  As Little Bear says everything is in flux and motion, and the Earth is never stagnant.  People are made of energy waves, and once they die the waves stop but are not gone.  Blackfoot culture sees more in observation and processes.  Blackfoot draws from the idea that chaos is a constant, and ceremonies seek to bring order.  So when a Blackfoot person says “All my relations” they are talking about non-human relations because they see all of Creation as animate.  For Blackfoot people, renewal is essential.  Ceremonies are all about renewal that use the same songs, prayers, stories, and ceremonies to bring order to the chaos.  An essential way of thinking is sustainability.  Little Bear says that Native Science is grounded in sustainability and our work is to engage in the process and action of renewal.  Even the languages show this difference: in English we like nouns and naming things, yet in Blackfoot it’s all about process and actions, movement.  So when we learn, we need to renew, collect, and see the connections, not divide and create dichotomies and cause and effects.  Within the novel, King shows the difference between different creation stories and different ways of working with the Earth.  Little Bear in his lecture talks about how Western thought likes to create prophets, people who can predict what will happen.  That is shown in King’s book how Dorian tries to control and predict how to manage environmental disasters caused by his company.  Yet in the end, it is Creation itself and the chaos she creates that brings the characters together, even strangers, as they seek to push a boat off of the beach.

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Source: http://theweal.com/2016/03/29/we-are-not-forgotten/

Later in the novel, King references another large personality: “The Donald.”  His character Dorian is the CEO of the company that created GreenSweep and it is his job to try to make the devastation of the use of GreenSweep, and later a tailings pond spill in Northern Alberta near Fort McMurray to go away. As he is looking for a place to eat, he is referred to The Stock restaurant in the Trump Tower on Bay Street.  As he describes his decision, he says this about Trump: “The man was extravagant and arrogant.  A loud-mouthed egotist who gave wealthy people a bad name.  Trump might have been nicer, Dorian speculated, if he had made his fortune on his own rather than having it handed to him by his parents” (Pg 367).  King shows the lack of connect to land.  He shows what happens when people manage nature instead of exist and work with nature.  The thinking is different.  Trying to predict, manipulate, and exploit seemingly stagnant resources shows the complete disconnect to Creation and the different way of seeing it: not as chaotic, but as something ordered and reasonable to gain from.

What happens to communities, people and places, when environmental disasters happen?  Gabriel, the man who created GreenSweep, comes back to his community and becomes part of the people who bring the community back to life.  It’s different, yet they are in it together and connected to the land and the place.  In the end, King offers hope and a way forward.  Nature recovers and is strong, and people are the same, if we just stop to observe.

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Source: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/schedule-for-tuesday-sept-2-1.2925685/the-back-of-the-turtle-thomas-king-s-first-literary-fiction-in-15-years-1.2925694