okay, so a thing about me is that i don't like the term "book review" because art is subjective. response feels more appropriate, because i can write about how a piece of work impacts me... it allows room to be critical without coming from that place of perceived superiority that makes reviews feel pretty icky to me sometimes.
to put it bluntly, this book fucked me up. it was many things but, most of all, it was effective in stretching my emotions to lengths that made me uncomfortable. i had high hopes from Tanya Tagaq because she's the coolest and she undoubtedly met them in both the content and delivery.
i hate structure. my heart is anti-system. for me, Split Tooth blurred lines in all the right ways. it follows an adolescent girl growing up in 1970's Nunavut. prose, poetry and illustration meld together into snapshots of the protagonist's life, guided by youthful wonder, traditional wisdom, vivid spirituality and ongoing trauma. stories dance through darkness and light, examining things like adventure, attraction, abuse and addiction through the eyes of youth. diction is precise, but scenes are searingly clear. in this novel, the children are often wiser than the adults and nearly everyone is flawed and beautiful... people are not static.
parts of Split Tooth were hard to read and i have no doubt they were supposed to be. although it's fiction, i know many parts ring all too true for many, especially canada's indigenous population. as a new mother and a victim of abuse, i definitely struggled to get through portions of the story... but i felt compelled to see it through and i'm glad that i did.
read this book. i don't want to tell you too much about it, because i want you to discover it for yourself. i want you to live in the imagination of its protagonist and feel her pain which, although existing here within a fictional character, is too real a force in many's lives. i want you to experience tenderness for people in hard situations. i want you to see the earth and its sacred processes from an Inuit perspective. i want you to appreciate other experiences and outlooks, or perhaps to see glimpses of your own on paper, both of which are incredibly valuable experiences.
i will likely remember Split Tooth forever. Tagaq is an incredibly storyteller and i have nothing but appreciation for this book and for her.
uh, so, witchcraft.
i don't talk about it much. i don't know why, really. the stigma is mostly gone these days (or has at least been revised to elicit much milder outcomes).
i guess i probably don't discuss it because my rituals are casual, solitary and practical. i've read some books over the years and have a basic foundation to my methods and beliefs, but i'm more or less making it up as i go. i know there are traditionalists who wouldn't dream of practicing without a coven or making up their own spells or straying from what little preserved convention we have and this post probably isn't for you (although i do also admire and appreciate you!). this is more for anyone wondering what magic is or feeling too intimidated by all of its avenues (as i did for a long time) to practice.
one thing i should probably mention is that i don't follow wicca (the relatively new religion closely correlated with witchcraft). i'm agnostic and i don't rule much out, but i have a hard time committing to a fixed set of beliefs or deities. i'd rather just live well and find out later. i also have a hard time with the binary wiccan god and goddess duality (whether you view them as literal or symbolic), because i'm non-binary. wicca IS, however, a cool religion with much less judgement than most and a fairly agnostic approach anyway - it's just not for me.
so, without carrying long term spiritual meaning, witchcraft mostly serves as a form of self care for me. i do believe that energy carries power and i define magic as just that (as do most witches). my rituals are largely meant to influence what goes on in my mind and body, rather than my surroundings. the external world is much harder (and often impossible) to control. when my practice does relate to my environment, it's more about articulating my hopes/intentions and less about the belief that i can manipulate other people or circumstances through my will. i use a mirror quite often at my altar to represent self.
there are many different aspects to and types of witchcraft and it's easy to get lost trying to find a label. in my years practicing, i've come to realize that i fall most accurately into the category of an elemental witch, but i'd say it's best not to get too attached to labels (in magic or elsewhere). i use the elements in my practice as tools and symbols. i collect things from outdoors and bring them home to my altar or i practice magic in nature. i feel immensely connected to my environment and i always have. i admire earth's energies and hope to honour and embody them in my craft - it's as simple as that.
things like stones, twigs, water, seashells, soil and salt can represent the elements on an altar and lend meaning to specific spells. i may go into my altar setup and provide my framework for some spells in future posts, but today i'm just talking generally about how i approach magic. all i really want to say is that it's important to use tools that make you feel good to practice magic that makes you feel good. there are a lot of approaches, some stricter than others, but anyone can practice witchcraft in whatever way suits them.
it's also important to note that you don't actually need anything to practice - sure, there are traditional tools, ingredients and items that may come in handy, but they aren't essential. again, magic is just energy.
one bone i have to pick with modern witchcraft is that capitalism exploits it. you could easily spend thousands of dollars "perfecting" your craft. because of this, i try to gather most of my tools myself, or buy them secondhand. there's a romanticism to it. it feels like bad karma to shovel money into flawed systems to support such a spiritual and healing endeavor.
don't get me wrong - i'm no purist. there are plenty of small businesses and witches selling wonderful items and there's no reason not to support them. i have no problem making a purchase if it's reasonable and meaningful. for example, i purchased my wand, pictured above, from alienscty because it's crafted from sea elements (something that was, for reasons unknown, incredibly important to me and hard to achieve myself, being located in the canadian prairies). wands are one of those things that absolutely aren't essential (hands serve just fine), but i knew i wanted one. i don't for a second regret purchasing it - it makes me feel powerful and focused each time i pick it up.
lastly, don't collect shit, bought or otherwise, just because you feel like you're supposed to have it. i've been so tempted on a million occasions to buy raw crystals, because they're pretty and they have historical and magical significance but i haven't done it, because i know in the back of my mind that i would be purchasing them for superficial reasons. there are tons of people who obtain and use crystals properly but, for whatever reason, i know i'm not one of them. what i do have, however, is my complete collection of polished rocks and minerals (whose names and properties i can still recite by memory) collected throughout grade school. they serve me just as well. using what you already have and know is just as acceptable as setting out to attain information and objects you don't already possess. while it never hurts to explore something new, you can always operate within your current knowledge and abilities.
in summary, there's no universally agreed upon witches' golden standard or certification - if you believe you possess magic, you do. notice it within yourself and in the world around you. notice how they complement and conflict with one another and build your practice accordingly.
P.S. as a final note, i want to clarify something that the magic community seems more or less oblivious to (at least i hope it's ignorance and not malice)! smoke cleansing has been used in many cultures and magic practice dating way back. many stores and practitioners, however, use the term "smudging" and call sage "smudge". these terms relate to sacred indigenous traditions and are NOT synonymous with witchcraft. it is appropriative and offensive to refer to smoke cleansing as smudging - now you know.
well, it's been a hot minute!
turns out my newborn required nearly 24/7 physical interaction (which i obviously wasn't going to deny her), so i paused this whole blog endeavor alongside a lot of other projects and hobbies. these days, she's a wild, six month old who will (very) occasionally let me sit down with my laptop.
but before i get you caught up on my motherhood adventures, let's talk about the tumultuous relationship i've had with this tree:
THE CHINESE PEPPER BONSAI (aka xanthoxylum piperitum).
to give you some context, i have upward of 100 plants, but i'm busy, forgetful and bad at following directions. canadian prairie winters can be relentless and the lighting in my house is mediocre. in short, my horticulture is endless trial and error, with some general wisdom acquired from plants gone too soon
i bought this tree on sale at the local greenhouse, having no experience with bonsai. within two days of bringing it home, every single leaf had dropped. i was ready to offer its skeleton to my garbage bin, but the $25 i'd spent seemed too steep to give up so soon. i moved the pot to a south (rather than east) facing window, soaked the soil and waited.
within two days, new buds appeared. the foliage grew quickly and is now thicker than when i brought it home. there are some straggling bare arms where the original leaves dropped (as photographed) but all in all, it's a healthy tree.
i'm not sure whether i'll prune it anytime soon (my primary objective is to keep it alive), but it's neat to add a bonsai to my collection.
based on this experience, here are my care tips:
FOR ANY PLANT
stay tuned for more plants, tips and mistakes i made so you can avoid them!
me to everyone while pregnant: "i'm going to do so much with the baby! we're going to folk fest when they're a week old!"
everyone to me: "oh, no you're not. you just wait and see."
us, one week after having fletcher:
i think people warning others about the time and energy required of parenthood comes from a good place. i think they want to make sure those expecting are prepared (especially first time, young and/or busy parents). but... i also think they're mostly wrong.
obviously the body needs time to heal and newborns require exactly the amount of care they demand - new mothers owe themselves and their children as much downtime as necessary. in my case, i could balance healing and infant care with small and enjoyable family adventures. our first was attending our local folk festival one week after fletcher was born.
i won't lie - i was nervous. i had basically just regained my ability to walk (or, more accurately, hobble), i hadn't left the house with the baby for any significant amount of time and i was just getting comfortable with our daily routines (all of which i was about to disrupt in some way).
on the first day, my partner and i attended the festival later in the evening and spent about four hours there. we walked the twenty minutes from our house to the grounds, plopped down on the hill (not easy on the stitches), stuffed our faces with mini donuts and enjoyed buffy sainte-marie's set. fletcher was completely alert and quite content.
shortly after the sun set, she fell asleep at her"usual" time (if you can call it that after one week) and slept through until we arrived home, waking up for a quick feed and passing back out. she even snoozed through the decemberists, the loud - and fucking awesome - headliner (evidence below).
case in point, we had an amazing time and i'm immensely glad i pushed myself out of my comfort zone. if you're contemplating bringing your newborn out early, my advice is - do it! here are some little takeaways for you:
adventure backpack musts:
this being my first baby, i spend a lot of time 1) feeling overwhelmed and 2) worried i'm going to break her. taking fletcher out so early helped ease multiple anxieties. breast feeding in public? done! bringing her on a long outing? done! taking her outdoors and exposing her to the elements? done! bringing her somewhere noisy? done! being in a crowd of people with her? done! (although i wouldn't advise letting strangers get too close until the first round of vaccines at two months.) changing her diaper on the ground? done! getting spit up on in public? done! breaking our established routine? done (with no catastrophic consequences)!
if i learnt one thing from this experience, it's to set reasonable expectations and go with the flow. my biggest takeaway was accepting that i might arrive later, leave earlier or not be able to go at all. we missed two days of the four day festival - one because smoke rolled in from the west coast, making the air quality atrocious and one because the weather was too miserable for any of us to enjoy ourselves. we left earlier than planned one of the days we did attend, because i was sore, tired and worried that fletcher was cold. making adjustments is okay. what's important is that we went and that the time we spent was entirely perfect.
i subscribed to ipsy about a year ago because i was genuinely interested in moving away from my $8 drugstore makeup basics, but was also overwhelmed by the prices and selection available. it's been a fantastic way to sample products AND it's forced me to learn how to do things like apply eye shadow and attempt a skincare routine.
i definitely still spend a lot of days with a bare face, but beauty products are absolutely an aspect of self care for me. especially as a new mom, having time to shower, change out of my lounging clothes and pamper myself is proving to be a huge contributor to my overall mood. there's some truth to the look good, feel good cliche. so, i'll be reviewing samples and staples here, because... why not? (and i promise i'll never endorse anything insincerely).
so, my glam bag arrives and, behold, this peel off mask. now, i am a giant weirdo who enjoys peeling sunburns and would still probably indulge my childhood hobby of coating my hands in white glue and peeling it off if i had some laying around... so i am inevitably excited about this.
after sneaking a shower while my partner held our darling baby, i slather this copper goodness all over my face and wait the (five to) ten minutes recommended on the container. it smells great and feels refreshing.
now, the removal. even for someone with a weird peeling fixation, this is a bit of a chore. the mask comes off in small patches. it also clings tightly enough to my skin to remove some peach fuzz around my jawline (unintended perk?). here are the results of approximately twenty minutes of peeling:
shortly after i take this photo, i give up and wash the rest off. my skin certainly feels fresh, if slightly raw and, after some moisturizer, i have a nice glow going on.
i forget to take a photo of my skin immediately after, so here i am living my best back seat station wagon mom life in a parking lot later in the evening:
i'm just wearing a tinted moisturizer and my skin is definitely more vibrant than usual.
so, in closing, this was a fun product with visible results, but also a bit of a chore. if i was going to rate it, which i guess i probably should if i plan on reviewing things, i'd give it a 3.5/5. it was fun to wear (i'm a sucker for glimmery, nice smelling masks) and it left my skin feeling fresh and renewed. it was also a bit of a pain to get off and felt alarmingly like getting my face waxed at times. was the sample cool? hell yeah! would i pay $49 US for it? i definitely need to give the sample another go before deciding. but you can get your hands on a bottle here if you want to!
i'm not going to start this blog off pulling punches. i've been wanting to write this post for months, so i need to start with it. i toyed with writing an introductory welcome or launching the site with some soft(er) content, but i'm really only here to hurl my thoughts into the universe and hope that maybe, just maybe, my constant need to articulate what i think and how i feel will affect someone's life for the better (hell, maybe it'll even be my own in that i'm not just tossing this stuff around my brain at bedtime for months until it sizzles out). i'm not here to sugarcoat my life, perfect my image or censor my thoughts. so, let's get to it.
"don't make your child a political statement."
my most despised and contemplated piece of unsolicited pregnancy advice.
let's start with context. several months ago, i made a facebook post expressing exasperation at folks who were 1) downright belligerent that we weren't finding out the sex of our baby and 2) opposed to (or, more often than not, confused by) non-binary parenting approaches. this is the post:
i keep my facebook public, because i make a point to only post things online if i'm okay with anyone seeing them. if i don't want it out there, i don't put it on the internet. a family member i've never met and am not facebook friends with commented a number of things, the summation of them being that i must not make my unborn child a political statement. she was the first, but not only, person to say or imply this to me.
to start with the specific issue, i get it... stepping away from the gender binary is confusing, and maybe even scary. my grandma isn't quite sure what it means, as became apparent after a few glasses of wine at our last family dinner (good on her for asking questions). my mother-in-law was is also unsure (and with good reason - non-binary parenting looks different to a lot of people)... she just to buy the baby a dress if it's a girl, which is and has always been fine by us. the first question most are inclined to ask pregnant women is, "so... do you know what you're having?" and what they're literally saying is "so... have you seen your child's genitals in an ultrasound?"... but it sounds (as) intrusive (as it actually is) when you put it that way. confining individuals to gender boxes is such a social norm that we start doing it before fetuses even make their way out of the womb.
something i want to add before i write anything more is that i sincerely don't believe this behaviour comes from a sinister place. i know some will read this and their first reaction will be to become defensive or angry. a mistake i made with the facebook status above was not clarifying that i'm frustrated with our society as a whole, not with individuals. it was tongue-in-cheek and sassy because that's who i am, not because i meant to tell any specific person off. it's my intent to critically evaluate and oppose the way we collectively approach gender, especially as it relates to children, not to attack specific people for specific actions. we ask these questions, apply these stereotypes and attach such importance to gender because we're conditioned to, not because we're trying to harm anyone. OF COURSE we want to envision the little person we're soon going to know and love! and since we've been given the tools to easily conjure up what a little boy or girl might look like or be interested in, we start gendering. am i uncomfortable with it? highly. do i blame you personally for it? not at all.
a second issue i want to acknowledge is that change or the unknown can be controversial. if you disagree with me about non-binary (which, to some, is seen as highly non-traditional) parenting, that's okay. if what i'm saying makes you uncomfortable, that's okay. if the idea of men and women being less confined to traditional roles has you feeling vulnerable, fearful, confused, angry, argumentative or sad, that's okay. i'm not here to change your mind. if you're of the opinion that "men should be men and women should be women", or you refuse to acknowledge sex and gender as different things, or you believe that distinct male and female presences in households/workplaces/cultures are necessary to maintain social order, then our views are absolutely and fundamentally different... and they're likely not going to be reconciled, at least not today. i'm here today to put into words how i want to raise our child, why i want to raise them that way, and why our morals aren't trivial things to be left out of our parenting. i'm not here under the impression that i'm going to instill my values into anyone who doesn't already share them.
so, what does gender-neutral parenting mean in our house? it means being conscious of the ways we treat children differently based on their sex, analyzing where that might be damaging and avoiding said damage. more specifically:
we ingrain these limitations and stereotypes into our children, and we do it without thinking, because it's what we were taught, and what our parents were taught, and what our grandparents were taught and so on (although i really do believe that each generation is less confined than the last). and we do it because society makes it easy - media and consumerism normalize the problems (see the grossly gendered toy section at any store, or the jumpers made for little boys with "i'm a boob guy" plastered on the front). we see harm in these things, so we're going to avoid them. our gender-neutral house is a house where we won't restrict or condition our child by imposing boundaries based on gender or sex.
another aspect of gender-neutral parenting is actually understanding gender and how children develop. gender is a social construct and sex is anatomy... they're different. our child will be born with a certain anatomy that will most likely, but not definitely, determine their sex as male or female at birth. then they'll come to socially and culturally understand their gender, identifying as a man, woman, more, both or neither - this will be influenced by different factors at different points throughout life. we've researched this and we're comfortable with it. i'm a non-binary/gender queer female. i figured it out when i was 21 - it was amazing and liberating. as for pronouns, we'll likely use the pronoun that corresponds with the child's sex, unless or until they ask us to address them differently, in which case we'll do so happily and with great respect for their individuality and self-awareness. raising kids in households with open, accepting and scientifically correct understandings of sex, gender and sexuality not only teaches them that it's okay to be who they are, but also to be supportive and compassionate toward others.
so, how is any of this a political statement? i assume in the same way that people bitching about their obligation to be "politically correct" are confusing said correctness for manners, empathy and basic human decency. i mean, i suppose i am a highly political person, because i care deeply about social justice issues, and i intentionally live my values. in addition, i can't form close relationships with people who don't share my values on a foundational level. no, we don't need to agree on everything, but yes, we do need to have some common pillars... a few of mine are equity, compassion and humanity.
i guess what it boils down to is that our politics are our outlook on the world, and our outlook influences our actions. choosing to separate the political from the personal is a privilege, and something i've never been willing, or in some cases able, to do. so yes, i do hope to raise a child that shares my husband and i's openness, strong morals and sense of social responsibility, both for their own happiness, and for that of others. who doesn't want to rear offspring who contribute positively to their environment? who doesn't want to leave future generations with the tools to respect each other's differences? who doesn't hope their kids feel comfortable being exactly who they are? who doesn't want to give children every opportunity to understand themselves and others? if being mindful of those things equate raising a political statement, i hope i raise the biggest political statement you've ever seen in your life.
and now, onto my final grievance: other people's right to tell me what to do as a woman and a mother. it took me a while to consider this. when i initially made the facebook post and several people in my life (or online) were absolutely indignant, my immediate response was to respond, to argue, to defend my beliefs and approaches. i didn't question whether or not i even owed that to anyone.
my sassy cousin/friend whose perspective i always enjoy and whose bluntness i appreciate maybe even more sat calmly over a bubble tea shortly after all of this happened. i explained the whole thing, justifications and all, full of emotion. she looked me calmly in the eye and said, "who cares if you make your baby a political statement, it's your guys' fucking baby. you can do whatever you want with it." and she was absolutely, 100% right (with the obvious exception of abusing or harming the child in any way).
women, new mothers especially, are constantly on the receiving end of judgement, continuously swamped with unsolicited advice, perpetually under a magnifying glass. i can't tell you how many people have given opinions about what sort of birth i should opt for. i can't tell you how many people have commented on my body since i've been pregnant. i can't tell you how many people have inquired about how i plan to raise my child, and then told me, directly or otherwise, that it's the wrong way. and i fully recognize that, as a white woman in canada, i don't have it particularly hard. sure i have my grievances about the strange ownership society takes over (pregnant) women's choices and bodies, but i know and respect that my lived experience is really just the tip of the iceberg. i can't speak for or truly comprehend the challenges faced by others and i am sincerely grateful for the many privileges and freedoms i have. but it's not one or the other... not taking sexist shit doesn't mean i'm not also counting my blessings.
in closing, i want to ask you a favour and then i want to tell you off a little bit (again, there is no specific "you" here - i'm just being my cheeky self). first, please be conscious of your gender biases and how you enforce them on the children in your life. i'm not saying that all are significant or negative - i'm asking you to think critically and to weed out the ones that are. and lastly, to paraphrase my cousin and on behalf of, i'm sure, many other mothers and parents: they're our fucking babies and we can do what we want with them. please don't offer us criticisms we didn't ask for. we probably don't care what you think about how we raise our kids and, if we do, we'll ask.