Monday, November 8, 2021

'As good as any, better than most'

February is Black History Month; March is Women's History Month. Either one is an appropriate time to look back at the life of Dr. Carrie Best.

In the history of Nova Scotia — home of the largest indigenous Black community in Canada — Dr. Best was well-known and admired for her many years of work on behalf of her people. She died in 2001 but not before she had made her mark and helped to dispel some of the egregious racism that existed throughout her life.

Dr. Carrie Best

She was born in New Glasgow in 1903. In 1946, she founded The Clarion, the first newspaper for Blacks in Nova Scotia. She wrote for newspapers and magazines and was a weekly columnist with The Pictou Advocate. She was the author of an autobiography, That Lonesome Road (which is also a social history of Nova Scotian Blacks.)

She was well-known across the country as an equal rights activist and was a founding member of the Kay Livingstone Visible Minority Women of Nova Scotia, an organization which works with women and young people to promote a sense of identity and pride of race, integrity and self-discipline “and to lift others, as we ourselves climb toward dignity and self-respect.”

Her last doctorate was awarded in 1992 by the University of King's College in Halifax. In 1970, she was awarded the Lloyd MacInnis Memorial Award for her work in social justice. In 1973, she received the first annual award of the National Black Coalition of Canada. In 1974, she was appointed to the Order of Canada. In 1975, she was granted the degree Doctor of Laws by St. Francis Xavier University.

In December of 1991, she received an award for outstanding contributions to human rights on the anniversary of the day the United Nations ratified the Declaration of Human Rights.

I interviewed her a few years before her death at her home in New Glasgow. She scoffed at my tape recorder and refused to let me turn it on, telling me she didn't want to talk into "that thing." I returned to the time-honoured tradition of taking notes. Her words are in italics. My occasional comments are not.



The 'religious hobo'

Dr. Best is in perpetual motion, rummaging in her well-packed briefcase for a pertinent document, punctuating her remarks with a gentle jab to her interviewer's shoulder or a soothing pat to the knee. Her energy and vitality are infectious. She often speaks with tongue in cheek.

* * *

I was invited to give the convocation address to the Atlantic School of Theology. I nearly dropped dead when they asked me! They can't mean me, I said. Do they know I don't go to church? Well, I slept on it. I do live close to God — I'm a born-again Christian — but I consider Christianity and “churchianity” two different things.

In the end, I accepted. I described my religious background to them and told them I was a “religious hobo.” When I was born, my parents were Salvationists and that's how I was registered at birth. When I was a young child, they left the Army because the first “black church” had been established in Pictou County. That was Baptist.

When I grew up, I had the bad taste to marry an Anglican but he was good enough to go to the Baptist church with me. After a time though, he missed the Anglican way of worshipping so ... he had accommodated me and I thought it was my turn to accommodate him so I went to the Anglican Church with him. But I missed the Baptists. The Baptists clap and laugh and sing and really know how to praise the Lord. So I went back to the Baptists. You can see I'm a religious hobo.

As I got older, I met so many wonderful people of all religions. I began to accept people for what they are — colour and creed don't matter. I believe that all roads that lead to God are good.

The root of my faith is Mother Earth. I think of all the little creeds as just different ways of interpreting God.

So that's what I told the graduates of the Atlantic School of Theology!

* * *

That Lonesome Road is dedicated to her mother. On the dedication page, she wrote, “Society Said: You are an inferior being,/born to be a hewer of wood/ and a drawer of water/ because you are Black.... My Mother Said: You are a person, separate/ and apart from all other/ persons on earth. The pathway/to your destiny is hidden.../ you alone must find it./ ...And then she said.../ Take the first turn right,/ and go straight ahead...”

* * *

It's very painful to talk about some of the practices of the past. When I was growing up in New Glasgow, you couldn't eat in a restaurant. You couldn't get your hair cut. I went to jail. My son and I were at the movies; we sat downstairs, we went to the movies three times a week and we'd sat in the same seats for years. Then one day, the usher came to me and said, “You can't sit here. You have to go into the balcony.” I refused. They called the police; they had to drag me out of there. I was in jail for an hour. I was charged with causing a disturbance.

But at all times of my life, I've been a happy person. When I was young, I think we might have been broke but we were never poor. I was personally just as happy no matter what we had. My personal happiness had nothing to do with racial discrimination.

I confront bigotry face on. If I hear — and this has happened — that someone has called me “n****r,” I go right to that person. I look him right in the eye and I say, “did you call me 'n****r'? Now I've heard you did and all I want from you is to tell me if it's true. If you say it isn't, I'll believe you. We'll go together to the person who told me and you will tell him it isn't true.” You could always tell if it was true or not.

I'm not a n****r. I'm as good as anyone and better than most. I love everyone who's worthy of my love — but I won't sit back and take that kind of bigotry.

* * *

Her memory seems unlimited. She quotes long stanzas of poetry, long passages from books, most of which were learned many years ago. She considers poetry to be part of her spiritual nature and part of her search for identity.

“The long hours spent in reading poetry,” she wrote in That Lonesome Road, “and the hundreds of poems memorized during my early childhood, my learning years, my yearning years and even now in later life, are fragrant memories of my journey in Search of an Identity. The irresistible habit of committing poems to memory still persists, and like deposits in a savings account, can be drawn out at will. The fund is never exhausted, for the interest grows both on deposit and withdrawal and is compounded daily.

“Black history was virtually non-existent in Nova Scotia during my learning years ... I remember when I received my cherished volume of the Poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar. I was ten years old ... I found to my utter astonishment and delight that I could read the Dunbar poems which were written in the Negro dialect as easily as those he had written in classic English. These gave me my first sense of Black Identity.”

* * *

Things have changed — but not enough. The white race has got to start learning from those they feel superior to. The Blacks have to take pride in who they are. When Frederick Douglass was a young slave, the white mistress said, “He's a bright boy. I'd like to teach him to read.” The slave master said, “When you educate a Negro, you unsuit him for a slave.”

Education is very important — more important than ever. We have to start teaching our children ourselves — in “kitchen schools.” We have to get funding from Black churches, Black organizations, and take the time to teach the children where they come from, how far they can go.

Being old now is not a disadvantage to me in all my projects. It's a blessing. God gave me this extra time to accomplish whatever I can, to meet wonderful people of all races. I'm so thankful.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Rita Joe: Creating a beautiful image of her people

Rita Joe died in 2007. In 1994, I spent a day with her in her home and shop, chatting, snacking, crafting. She crafted – she made beautiful earrings and other jewellwey – and I watched. She gave me a pair of earrings to take with me when I left.

Rita Joe is the acclaimed Mi'kmaq poet. She was born in Whycocomagh and now lives in Eskasoni, the largest reserve in Nova Scotia. She is a mother, a grandmother, a weaver of baskets. She sells her crafts and those of her family and community in her Eskasoni shop. What follows are her own words. ...............................................................

I describe myself as Native – Mi'kmaq. I'm 62 years old now. When I started writing, I was in my 30s, and I saw a need: that was to create a beautiful image of my people. When I was a little girl, I was called a little savage, a cannibal. I didn't know what cannibal meant – all these derogatory things I heard when I was a little girl.

When my children used to bring their books home and see something bad like that, they'd point it out to me. “Look Mum, look what it says here,” and I would read it.

And I would hear myself say, we were not the writers of our own history. Then I would say to myself, why aren't any books written about the beautiful part of our culture? So it dawned on me that there has to be somebody to document the beautiful part. So I began to write.

I am the Indian

and the burden lies

just with me.

I have spoken across the nation and when I read that little three-line poem, there is heavy discussion. They're trying to find out, what is the burden, what is the burden that Rita Joe is talking about? I tell them: the burden I'm carrying came from you, the European. You have made me carry my burden because you're the ones who documented our lives and it was not the truth.

In any culture, any culture on this earth, when you look for the good, you'll find the good. That's what I look for so I can present it to the people who look down on us. I have been doing it so long that my own perception of my own culture – to me, it is beautiful. Everything about my life, since I was a little girl and what I have seen since is beautiful.

When I was a little girl – my mother died when I was five – I was put in a succession of foster homes, all over Nova Scotia. I can't tell you how many different foster homes I was in but I had a lot of mothers, I had a lot of dads. I came back to live with my own father just before he died. I was nine and I lived with him for a year. I used to see him open a book of hieroglyphics. That's why I say in one of my books, the written part of our life is for us to read which you did not recognize – same with Egyptian writing, that was not recognized. I saw my dad open a book a lot of times and read and I saw him explain these symbols and I know there was a written part of our life – that's why I said in a poem “that the world chooses to deny.”

I was mostly in native homes, not that many non-native homes, and they were as poor as I was. There were times when I didn't have enough to eat.

All these homes, Mi'kmaq was spoken. All my life, I've spoken Mi'kmaq. When my dad died I was 10. I was placed in a home with this woman and she told me, “Go home and pick up your clothes – don't bring them all because I'll make dresses for you.” I loved her, she was a good person. I went home and got my little box. Right at the time I was putting my clothes together, somebody came up the stairs. A woman took me by the hand and told me to come with her.

When you're 10 years old, you listen to older people – especially if your dad is dead and there's no one advising you. So this woman took me by the hand and led me away and put me on the train. They took me to a non-native community and I went to school there. I was 11 when I went to school there and of course, they made fun – they were all non-natives. They jeered and I made a vow at that time that I would get higher learning. I would teach these people that I'm just as good as they are.

I was 12 years old when I put myself into the Shubenacadie Residential School. It was that determination to learn – to learn to cook, to sew and all these things.

When I arrived there, I admired the place. It was so beautiful – the shining floors, the pictures on the walls, the beautiful building. The priest at the time when I was there, we became good friends because he was also from where I just came from – Cumberland County. He would never remember my name, Rita, but he would call me Cumberland County. He was a nice gentle old man, he was so kind.

I had some bad experiences in school but the way I look at life, I forget about the bad things that happened and I look for the good. I always look for the good. I consider it being Christian to be forgiving, not to carry injustices on your shoulder all your life.

I read a book written by an anthropologist about a writer who lived 300 years ago and he wrote this: they have no religion; they have no art. He was observing Native people, and I just threw this book down. The gall of this person to say that we had no religion. We had a beautiful spiritual part of our lives that they did not know.

Me, I never accepted it. When I was told by the nuns, “your religion is no good,” I always knew in my mind sure, it's good, it might even be better than yours.

There's an oral tradition with my people. We're always talking amongst ourselves. My husband's family was from Newfoundland. At the time when my husband-to-be and I met in Boston, he asked me to marry him the second week after we met. At the time when he proposed to me, he said we're not related, are we? Native people are always concerned about that.

The sweat lodge is a very religious experience. Part of the tradition is traditional food – deer meat, or meat of other animals we have killed – moose and deer and salmon, not something that we've bought from the supermarket. Or something that was donated from the people in the community – eels maybe.

The two sweats that I have taken part in, the first one was here in Eskasoni. Everything that I write about, I try to take part in it. I did not know when I went in there what one experiences. So it was very frightening at times what I experienced. The learning I got from the sweat lodge did not come from the live people who were in there with me – there were 13 of us – the teaching I gained from that sweat lodge came from the spirits that were there.

It's very hot, even hotter than a sauna. The medicine woman who was sitting next to me kept touching me and saying are you alright Rita, do you want to leave? I said no, I wanted to stay, and I stayed for two hours and 40 minutes. I stayed in one in Restigouche for five hours. They were all women there. The all-woman sweats are more powerful than the men's. Women have more spiritual power than men. Men have spiritual power too but women have more. Everybody knows that – even the men recognize that.

One time, when I was in Vancouver, I took the baskets that I make with me. Some of them are made from sweet grass. They scolded me for them. You're not supposed to use sweet grass in basket-making, they said. It's a sacred grass and it's supposed to be used only for sacred purposes. The way I explained it was when I make my baskets, I make them for people to enjoy the basket. Because whoever purchases the basket, they do it because they love the little basket and when they're sweet grass, people want them, right away. So I was explaining to the Natives up there, when I use sweet grass in my baskets, it makes people feel good and I don't think our Creator is going to get angry with us for making other people feel good.

Sometimes, I weave sweet grass into braids and I tie them on each end and when I'm doing it, I'm thinking about love.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

How can I ignore, the boy. . .

(This piece comes from my archives. It was published on Saturday, July 14, 2012.)

It used to be, if you wanted to be a writer, the prime advice you were given was, "read." You were advised to read books, magazines, newspapers – just keep reading. The purpose of all this reading was to help you recognize words, sentences, paragraphs – not to mention style and rhythm.

It's still good advice although it comes today with a caveat.

It used to be that you would very occasionally see a typographical error in a newspaper story. You would almost never see a typo in a magazine article and if you saw one in a book. . . well, that was a topic of conversation for the dinner table. It was almost unheard of.

Things have changed as most organizations have decided to do without proof-readers and copy editors and as we've moved into the era of the spell-checker. Everyone knows the perils involved in depending on the spell-check. (Don't get me started on the use of "lead" instead of "led." Stop doing that, you people!)

So spell-check doesn't solve the problems around the use of the wrong word – even if it's spelled right – and that's where wide reading comes in: word and phrase recognition to the rescue where "sounding it out" fails.

While you're reading though, watch out for these hazards, all of which I've come across recently – some of them, more than once. Clearly, these are the results of hearing, not reading:

tow the line. This is so common, I see it several times a week. In case you don't know the problem, the proper expression is toe the line.

• can't bare the pain but, on the other hand, bear your soul.

by in large. I'm trying to think of something to say about this and nothing is coming to me. Sorry.

• I suppose I could have said – as some people would – I'm in the throws of woe, just reporting this.

• Or I could tell you I've been pouring over catalogues (pouring what? whiskey? wine? lemonade?), to see if, without further adieu, I could buy something to cheer myself up.

Just last week, I came across a mis-use that's R-rated so cover the children's eyes. A blogger whose work I often look at was writing about her favourite love songs. She linked to one song on YouTube and wrote, "I can't listen to this song without balling." Oops. Too much information?

My final strange little error is where my title originates. It's from the website of someone whose work I enjoy and respect. She's a good writer, intelligent, writes bravely about politics, religion, sexuality, parenting – among other subjects.

She and her family have recently moved to a different city and she's been writing about how they're all adapting. Her oldest child has a new playmate, the boy next store. Excuse me? I smiled because I know what it's like to hear a sound in your head and have it come of your finger-tips as right sound, wrong word. The boy next store. Pretty funny.

I was wrong about it being a one-off understandable mistake though. She referred to the new playmate several times – maybe five times – and every time, she referred to him as the "boy next store."

It seems impossible to me that someone who reads widely has never seen the expression, "boy next door." But she's given me a nice conclusion to my reflection on words that must be seen as well as heard.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Back in time: December 1989

This column was published in The Daily News in Halifax 30 years ago today, December 10, 1989. Four days earlier, 14 young women at École Polytechnique in Montreal had been separated from their male classmates and brutally murdered. Their murderer accused them of being feminists and said that feminists had ruined his life.

There were already people who were insisting that this act was an aberration, that the killer was a one-of-a-kind madman. Feminists fought that view long and hard and this year — 30 years later — it's finally been acknowledged that the massacre was motivated by misogyny and was an extreme instance of violence against women.

Meanwhile, a woman or girl is killed every three days in Canada, with a total of 118 killed by violence in 2019, according to the latest report from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.

The only changes I've made in the column from 30 years ago are a couple of short additions in square brackets.

___________________________________________________________________

December 10, 1989

On Thursday morning, distinguished lawyer and former MP George Cooper made a little joke on CBC Radio’s Information Morning. He was discussing the recent NDP leadership convention with host Don Connolly and panel mates Dale Godsoe and Ray Larkin when he decided to use a colourful comparison to express his opinion about some aspect of the race.

It’s a good news/bad news sort of situation, he said, like that old joke about your mother-in-law driving over a cliff — trouble is, she was in your brand new Cadillac at the time. I believe I detected some laughter from the others and I’d be interested to know whether the CBC switchboard lit up with outraged callers, the way it does when someone says a rude word on the air. Somehow I doubt it.

In my household, we sat in stunned disbelief, hearing a joke which would be in poor taste at the best of times but was absolutely scandalous being told and snickered at the morning after the murder of 14 women at the University of Montreal.

It wasn’t the only joke being told that day. Francine Pelletier, a Montreal feminist who was interviewed extensively on the TV coverage of the murders, said that men in the corridors at Radio-Canada were treating the massacre in a most light-hearted way, one of them remarking, “I’ve often wanted to do that myself.”

At around the same time, a young friend of mine was walking into Tim Horton’s to buy some doughnuts. There were two men in front of her carrying a newspaper with a screaming headline about the murdered women and one of the men said something along the lines of, “way to go, buddy.”

Her friends asked her how she handled this awful moment; most of them felt, bravely, that they wished they’d been there. In retrospect, we can all come up with the enviable line, the cutting quip, the perfect putdown.

She said nothing, of course. There are few women — including me — who could respond to those men. Such verbal violence is part of what renders women powerless, unable to act, not so much from fear as from emptiness, from the debilitation that results from crying out for so long and not being heard.

I’ve been told so often — all feminists have — to lighten up, to learn to take a joke. They don’t really mean anything by it, you know. This week, finally, I’ve been told by men — among others, by Peter Gzowski [the late host of CBC Radio's Morningside] and his panel on the radio, by Tom Regan [a former columnist with The Daily News] on the phone, by my husband at home — that it is time for them to do something about their violent brothers.

They know now that they must begin listening to women and they must refuse — loudly — to listen to the dehumanizing “jokes” that so many of them allow to slip by. They must disdain the views of those who keep saying that the carnage in Montreal was an isolated act carried out by a madman.

They must examine and be willing to change their political, economic and judicial systems, all of which conspire to keep women in positions of dependence. They must observe their sons — their vocabularies, the games they play, the way they’re learning to deal with anger, the things they say about little girls. They must stop undermining the mothers and, once and for all, lay to rest that age-old excuse that “boys will be boys.”

They must not simply be available to provide protection; they must work actively to create a safer world, where their sisters and daughters and mothers can live with the same sense of security that brothers, sons and fathers take for granted. They must recognize and acknowledge that the 14 women in Montreal are only the most recent to die at the hands of a man, that in 1987, almost 70 per cent of women murdered in our country were murdered by the men they lived with.

One of the buttons we brought back from the Winnipeg NDP convention — where I saw the joy and exhilaration on the faces of the women who had worked to elect Audrey McLaughlin as their leader — bears the slogan “Men of quality are not threatened by women seeking equality.” The words seem almost horrible in their irony this week but the message remains true.

And so it’s time to take another step forward, to convince men that violence against women is the fault of men and — to resurrect an old phrase — if they’re not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem.

Friday, July 5, 2019

The two lost years of Pandora

(Pandora was a Halifax feminist publication that was taken to the Human Rights Commission in the early 1990s for discriminating against a man. This is an account I wrote after the hearing for the The Canadian Forum.)

In March of 1992, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission announced a decision in favour of Pandora, a Halifax feminist publication, which had refused to publish a letter written by a man.

"I am satisfied on the evidence before me," wrote the adjudicator, lawyer David Miller, "that women as a group have been and are disadvantaged and unequal in our society by reason of sex... It follows, accordingly, that a disadvantaged group may undertake a programme or activity which has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or classes of individuals including those discriminated against on the basis of sex even if that results in distinctions being made with respect to the advantaged group...

"I am also satisfied that Pandora is an activity which has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantage to women based on sex. I am also satisfied that Pandora's policy of maintaining Pandora as a single sex newspaper is reasonable for the purpose of ameliorating disadvantage."

In the mainstream media, paternalistic pundits all sang the same tune: right decision, wrong reason. All agreed that Pandora has a right to set her own editorial policy – although, they added, all publications owe it to their readers to publish a wide spectrum of opinion. Many of them were unable to comprehend the view that Pandora does publish a wide spectrum of opinion – all written by women.

But this was not an issue of freedom of the press. Indeed, throughout the Human Rights Commission hearing, Pandora made it plain that the only issue was the need for women-only spaces as one way of working toward equality.

The beginning

This story begins in the spring of 1990 when Pandora ran an article about child custody. Halifax resident, Gene Keyes, phoned the newspaper to ask if he could write a letter in response. He was turned down because of Pandora's clearly stated editorial policy: "...Pandora reserves the right to publish only letters that fall within the guideline of our editorial policy; letters must be written by women and be woman-positive; we do not accept material that is intolerant or oppressive."

Alas, Gene Keyes was no ordinary reader. During the '80s, he had been through a bitter custody battle, which he'd lost; he was a well-known fathers' rights activist. He defines himself – and the media were always satisfied to accept him according to his own definition – as a member of a disadvantaged group: divorced fathers who are discriminated against by the justice system. (The facts don't bear him out. In our country, most child custody is settled amicably between two parents. In disputed cases, fathers gain custody in over 50 per cent of the cases.)

In June of 1990, Gene Keyes filed a formal complaint of sex discrimination with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission against Pandora Publishing. Although there was an attempt at conciliation, no agreement could be reached. Incredibly, the Commission decided to proceed with the case.

Pandora

Pandora cannot accurately be called a "newspaper" although it does, indeed, publish some news. In general though, it's a publication by, for and about women which asks its contributors to share their experiences and their realities with their sisters; it makes no claims to "objectivity" as the mainstream media do. It asks its women readers to become part of the publication – to write to Pandora as if they were writing to a friend.

And indeed, there is a feeling of sisterhood in Pandora, a sense that the paper is a shared activity and that the struggles described are collective, not individual. If a single mother writes about living in welfare poverty, she doesn't expect to hear someone hissing, "get a job!" If a teenager writes about incest or a grandmother writes about fear on the streets, they feel the security of a community which will understand and help.

It wasn't like that at The Hearing.

The Hearing

The Human Rights Commission hearing against Pandora was held on five cold days in January of 1992. The adjudicator, David Miller, was male. The Commission's lawyer, Randall Duplak, was male. Gene Keyes, representing himself, was male. And the system was, most certainly and unmistakeably, male.

It was an adversarial situation of cross-examinations and rebuttals. There was always the feeling that if a witness slipped up and said the wrong thing, fingers would be pointed, heads would roll.

There was something surreal about seeing this little feminist newspaper forced onto the defensive by a hierarchal, authoritarian system that she had no part in making.

To make her case that women are a disadvantaged group in our society, Anne Derrick, Pandora's lawyer, called 18 witnesses including a feminist historian, sociologists, experts on media, and past and present members of the Pandora collective. All but one of the witnesses were women. (The Pandora women appeared under pseudonyms; when the news of the hearing hit the mainstream media, death threats began showing up on their answering machine.)

After the hearing – and before the decision – some of the women wrote in Pandora how they felt about what had happened:

"...My special relationship with Pandora as a small women's-only community was torn as I watched and experienced male definitions and bureaucracy invade our thoughts, opinions, experiences and policies. We were no longer operating on our own ground, but became vulnerable to the rules of those who were defining the agenda of the inquiry. I wished I could just jump up and scream out, `this is crazy and we're not going to take it any more...'" one wrote.

Another wrote: "...Because women have been, and are, deliberately excluded from the development of the texts and practices of the underpinnings of this society (law, medicine, religion, business etc.), we have been silenced and oppressed. Sheltered spaces such as Pandora give us a safe place to birth our own agenda, teach it, nurture its growth until we someday send it forth a mature adult who will stand beside the texts and practices to have an equal say in society..."

Still another wrote: "...We danced with the system, to their rules, in their ballroom. It was damned uncomfortable, frustrating and tiring, but we survived, elegantly..."

The aftermath

Anne Derrick, Pandora's lawyer, says this case never should have proceeded, but as it did, it becomes a very important case and decision.

"The Commission tries to downplay the importance of the case," she says, "but it is the first time in Canada such a decision has been reached. It has much broader implications than most people have considered; not only women but all other disadvantaged groups in society will be affected by it."

Derrick was not particularly surprised at the outcome. "I felt the choice of this adjudicator gave us the prospect of getting this decision. I felt he had the ability and the intellect to grasp the arguments."

Having said that, she's also not persuaded that the Commission learned anything from the hearing.

"The response we've had from the Commission about what happened after the hearing makes me say, `they still just don't get it.'"

The day after the Commission's decision was announced, Derrick and a coalition of Pandora's friends called a news conference to demand an apology for the language used by the Commission's lawyer in his final written argument. He called Pandora women and their expert witnesses "hysterical man-haters," "radical extremists," who presented arguments "beyond reason and sanity." He said the paper did not represent women but only lesbians. He noted that the witnesses for Pandora did not take their oaths on the Old or New Testaments, the Koran, or any other of the many holy scriptures provided, but were affirmed.

Women's groups and individuals rallied in defence of Pandora and her witnesses but the Human Rights Commission has been unwilling to deal with the inappropriate language used by their lawyer and considers the case closed.

Most people would agree that part of being oppressed means that you have been defined by someone else. For women, these definitions not our own, have been very dangerous, not to say life-threatening. Women have been told that sexual harassment is flattering, that rape is just good sex preceded by a struggle, that being battered is our own masochistic fault.

Pandora, still as wise but now much poorer, is back to providing a safe space for women to work on their own definitions; back to challenging those oppressive structures that are responsible for these two lost years.

And finally, Pandora is back to being by, for and about women – this time, with no arguments.

Sharon Fraser is a Halifax journalist. She testified on behalf of Pandora as an expert witness on media.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A posthumous award for Ray's book, 2019

Ray's last book before his death, Through Sunlight and Shadows, won the 2019 New Brunswick Book Awards prize for fiction. It was presented at a New Brunswick Writers' Federation gala at the Moncton Press Club May 25.

I was very grateful to be there and to have the privilege of accepting the award as Ray's former spouse and as his literary executor. I spoke from notes and this is approximately what I said:

One of the great moments in Ray's life happened when he was a very young man living in Chatham, New Brunswick. He saw a poem by Alden Nowlan and it was the first time he realized that you didn't have to be British, or American, or dead, to be a writer. If he were here tonight, he would see so much more evidence of that early realization.

I know he would want to thank his publisher, Lesley Choyce at Pottersfield Press for making such a beautiful book. And he would thank his many friends who so willingly proof-read and critiqued and edited to make sure it was the best book it could be. He had become a lot mellower as he got older and actually allowed people to make suggestions and possible changes.

My husband, Dan, is here tonight. Dan and I were with Ray during his final hours and in the days leading up to his death, while he was still able to communicate, we could see that one of the things he was most concerned about was his literary legacy.

Because of that, I want to thank the archives at the UNB library and the archivists who worked with us for their careful and loving collection of his works.

The archivist who helped us clear out Ray's apartment was amazing. It was like watching someone panning for gold and pouncing regularly on what was obviously a nugget for her. Pure gold. Ray wrote always and everywhere. He left behind countless notebooks packed with writing that was almost illegible to anyone but him. A scrap of paper on his kitchen table might have been a grocery list or it might have been a list of synonyms — a search for the perfect word. Notes scribbled in the margin of a sports magazine left in his bathroom might be the perfect scrap of dialogue he was looking for.

Christine gathered and filed every one of them and when I was able to tell Ray about the process — he was already in palliative care — it seemed to bring him to a place of peace.

Ray's funeral was held in the church of his childhood and he's buried just a stone's throw from the house where he was born — the house and the church that figure so largely in this very book.

It seems a fitting ending — full circle, in fact, and I think he would see this as a perfect conclusion to this part of his story.

He left some unpublished work so there will be a sequel — I'm his literary executor so I can say that — but talk of that is best left for another day.

Thank you all, so much, for this wonderful honour.

Dan didn't want to be obtrusive while I was speaking — which I think was very considerate — so he shot the pictures from his only possible angle.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Fire! Noise! Music! how much excitement can you take?

Today, March 19, is the feast day of St. Joseph. He's the patron saint of Canada and of many worthy causes but nowhere is he more revered and celebrated than in parts of Spain. In Valencia today, a days-long festival will come to an end with fireworks, parades, lots of music and finally, bonfires throughout the city as massive statues built for the occasion will be set ablaze.

This is the statue in Valencia's main square and it will be the last one to burn tonight. It will be sometime around or after midnight their time — sometime after eight here in Atlantic Canada. (They haven't set their clocks ahead.)

The festival is called las fallas, literally "the fires."

I was once in Valencia for las fallas. When I got out of bed on March 19, I thought I had awakened in hell. The cacophony was deafening. I looked out the window and the air was filled with smoke. People were crowded into the streets, laughing and singing with bands that were playing in most neighbourhoods. We went out and joined the ruckus and got swept along in an almost helpless state; it was impossible to fight against it. I noticed at a certain point that many people were wearing earplugs, an excellent idea although too late for us.

There were firecrackers going off everywhere but also day-time fireworks. You couldn't really see them but seeing them was not the point. You could definitely hear them. Bars and cafés and restaurants were open and doing a grand business selling mountains of paella and gallons of wine and beer.

We followed the crowd and saw lots of the crazy statues before they went up in flames. As so many of the festivals in Spain do, the symbols incorporate a lot of religion and politics and they're often viciously satirical. Trump shows up a lot this year.

Here he is in the company of Franco, Stalin and Hitler. We will probably hear the cheering from here as this one burns.

I'm going to watch the main statue burn on the webcam from the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square). As I write this, they're already making the pre-burning preparations.

We survived it, being there in person, and I have to say it was very exciting even though in many ways, it was pretty scary.

Join me at the webcam though. I recommend it!

And tomorrow, the first day of Spring, the neighbourhoods will be back planning and drawing and collecting materials to get started on their statues for next year!