Posts Tagged: history


image from
there should be someone in charge
of finding the stories living on
in the buildings
before they tear them down
to make way for the steel and glass giants

1000 stories
live in there
amidst the scratches on a windowsill
and in the triangles of dirt accumulated in the corner of the floorboards pushed there by generations of janitors’ mops
stories palpitating
under decades of floor wax
and stained walls
reflecting the colours of the words that once rang within

every action has a consequence, they say
every breath, every movement contributes to who we are
and what we will become

what occurred in that alley or in that cellar or behind that window
skewed the particles of the universe just that much
so it would never be the same
as it was in an instant before

I imagine stories murmuring
in that pile of rubble
swirling in the spaces

and I want to dig in there and find them
before they drift off into the atmosphere
like fine dust

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a magpie question: what’s your story?

This is a response to Willow's latest Magpie Tales visual creative writing prompt.  Visit Magpie Tales and find all kinds of wonderful writers and poets and their takes on the prompt and giving hearty support to each others' creative efforts.  Give it a try! A creative challenge is good for you!

"Some may think that to affirm dialogue–the encounter of women and men in the world in order to transform the world–is naively and subjectively idealistic. There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than people in the world and with the world, than humans with other humans."  ~Paulo Freire

Once, when I was a teenager, I was away from home for a weekend with my family, and my [now former] stepfather kept repeating statements like “Jen is always so grouchy when she wakes up, ”or “ good MORNING grumpy!”  It was when he started to mock my “miserable” face I thought, how do you EXPECT me to feel?  I didn’t recall ever being grumpy or monstrous when I woke up in mornings, except, maybe, when my sister was hogging the shower and I was late for school.  What made me grumpy and irritated was being told over and over again that I was miserable.  And if I was miserable, I can assure you, it had nothing to do with the process of waking up; it was about someone else creating what I felt was an unfair and inaccurate picture of me and me feeling helpless to change it.

We understand our world through stories.  Family stories, history books, religious parables, pop songs, news reports, art, employee manuals, report cards, mathematical theories, police reports, gossip, family photo albums, fashions, magazine ads… a mosaic of stories creates the backdrop to our perceptions and helps to form the way we see things.  It’s up to you to decide if these things represent the reality of your experience.  And if they don’t – it’s up to you to tell your story in a way that does. 

When I was in university, I analysed lots of media.  I intensively read papers and watched news shows and movies and deconstructed and compared and scrutinized and examined and questioned, and to my naturally critical and questioning mind I was in my glory.  But more and more I was shocked to find the stories that were being used to define my community, my gender, my nation and my own role in my family were not how I was experiencing them myself. 

During that time a new provincial government came in that lowered taxes by way of reducing welfare benefits and education funding and punching other holes in the social safety net. 

This government knew the power of a story.  Suddenly, there were attacks on certain groups in the media, such as, coincidentally, teachers and single mothers.  I can tell you, this single mother did not enjoy being stereotyped as a lazy, beer swilling, cigarette smoking couch potato on welfare who fed her kids pancakes for dinner every night because didn’t know how to manage her grocery dollar.  One notorious politician of the day graciously gave welfare mothers tips on how to stretch their reduced budget by buying dented cans of tuna and day old bread.  Lots of people bought the stories these politicians were telling.  Lots of us didn’t. 

Whenever I speak with someone who is considering telling a personal story of any kind, I feel like something important is happening.  Because I believe that when a person tells her own story, she is taking ownership of it – she is claiming her history.  I believe that when someone tells his story, he is empowered to think critically about his place within his family, community, society, world.  And when a person is empowered, opportunities for change arise, both personally and socially.

Maybe a group can alter the history represented in a text book, or a politician can take advantage of stereotypes to create a new community understanding, or a family member can try to paint a picture of you.  But not one of them can change your story if you tell it.  It’s up to you to determine how you fit into the grand march of history.  

“Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen”. 
~From Pretty Boy Floyd, Woody Guthrie

green pop bottle thought process

It’s a sparkling April morning and I’m watching some city road workers replacing the water lines along Victoria Park Avenue.  I like to watch road workers and construction workers on the job; always with a little bit of envy for their physical work, and admiration for the progress they make in what look to me like impossibly large tasks.  These weeks I’ve admired the simplicity of the technology and the relative swiftness with which these giant water lines seem to disappear into the long, narrow holes subsequently filled in a progressive path down the street.  And I think about the massive infrastructure that lies beneath this large city and all the generations of workers who have pieced it together over time.

At one spot, a worker is operating a small CAT loader, shoving, spreading and lifting loads of dirt and gravel into a backhoe.  Two workers are standing ready with shovels, watching the precision with which the two machines interact.  I notice a green pop bottle glinting atop the dirt.  The workers and I watch the bottle get tossed about by the actions of the loader – dragged here, flipped there, like it’s performing some kind of dance at the whim of the machine operator. 

As I speculate whether one of the workers will eventually pick it up and toss it back into the recycle bin sitting on a lawn a few feet away, the bottle disappears.  Buried in an instant the green pop bottle is committed to the ground along with the water pipe for all of posterity.  I wonder if the workers are thinking about that pop bottle, standing there with their shovels and hard hats, cigarettes in their mouths. 

As I continue on my way I wonder why I feel compelled to write this encounter down.  How could there possibly be a story in a green pop bottle?  But then I remember – it’s Earth Day.

So I imagine workers in other centuries, committing items to the ground without any mind to some anthropologist encountering them a thousand years hence.  I get thinking about the ancient relics I love to look at in galleries and museums, and I wonder:  a thousand years from now will they be able to find the relics of our time amidst the masses of green pop bottles and other 20th/21st century flotsam and jetsam?  Are green pop bottles the relics that will tell stories about us? 

On this Earth Day, I’m imagining some anthropologists a thousand years on, and thinking they will determine us to be a people who had eschewed beauty and craft altogether, and best they keep us and our relics buried and manage as best they can the damage to their resources our waste has caused.