Strange City, Day Six: a surprise invitation during a month-long visit.
In this whitest of American cities, the women are friendly and warm to me and I’m told I have a Canadian accent. I am white enough in a room full of white women and enmeshed in a naturalized pallet: “Whiteness …scans as invisible, default, a form of racelessness. ‘Color blindness,’the argument that race shouldn’t matter, prevents us from grappling with how it does.”
The leader of Saturday’s historical architecture tour kindly writes to invite me to attend his noontime talk at a private women’s club in a 1920s building that is on the US National Registry. Designed by architect Folger Johnson, the impressive structure, now almost a century old, is filled with carved ceilings and elegant rooms, handsome wooden engravings and fantastical wallpaper. The website promises “a women’s private club where friendships are nourished, dignity and graciousness are expected and beauty has been preserved.”
(Note a working paper in progress – expanding & editing apr 18, 2017…pardon errors)
At what point should Boyden’s identity quest have been identified as no more than a desiring machine?
I pose this question to myself as someone who has been teaching and writing about Canadian literature and culture over more than thirty years. Joseph Boyden perpetually posed as part Indigenous, an improvised status that afforded him access to advice, teachings, prestige and awards reserved for Indigenous persons. This is misguided and wrong.
I take little pleasure in part of this public debate. The talented and accomplished writer Joseph Boyden is suffering a serious and damaging and humiliating public critique. But I remain unflaggingly sympathetic to those who write about the losses within the Indigenous community when someone inauthentically takes up their space in the public sphere. To those writers and thinkers who already suffer the perils of a colonizing and racist nation state, the marginalization and the damage endures. And I understand the intensity of these critiques especially by those whose community identities or personal influence were particularly exploited. (The list of those active in this debate include Marilyn Dumont, Daniel Justice Heath,
(First published in AlbertaViews Jan/Feb 2010, this won a Silver Medal in the 2011 National Magazine Awards and was a finalist for the Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Prize in Alberta. This is a slightly revised version of the original publication.)
The Turquoise Sea
What are we whole or beautiful or good for but to be absolutely broken. Phyllis Webb
As though nostalgic for his Manitoba boyhood, my father points to his beloved hunting rifle. Transforming his fingers into a silent trigger, he touches his temple and says, “Sometimes I want to take that gun off the wall and blow my brains out.”
My father’s eyes are hooded and dark as he shows me how the skin peels off the back of his hands. “Stress,” he explains modestly, his face lined with sleepless fatigue. I feel awkward in an unfamiliar living room. On this my first visit to the suburban house where my father lives with his new love and her two children, I enter his new domestic life like a visitor to a foreign country. Lost in the limbo of in-between, my father is caught in a long look back. It has been two years since my parents’ separation after decades of intermittent misery. Confused and ambivalent, he refuses to grant my mother a divorce.
Later he’ll call to tell me he loves me, but this morning he’s enmeshed in what ails him. New American owners have bought out the Quebec manufacturer that supplies snowmobiles to his Ontario distribution company. He predicts this change will shut down his business since local distributors become redundant when ownership is transferred south of the border. My father doesn’t tell me he has become a useless middleman. But I’ve studied political economy and know he’s another statistic in branch-plant Canada. Continue reading “Janice Williamson writes “the turquoise sea”: a personal essay on suicide and survivors”→