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Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family by Jane Byers – Reviewed by Stephanie Henriksen

Published by Caitin Press, 2020

Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family is a story that explores the author’s multi-faceted identity: a writer, poet, athlete, mother and lesbian, partner to a loving wife, and a member of an unconditionally loving non – traditional family. Her memoir challenges the popular notion that an ideal family consists of a mom and a dad, inspiring readers to live a life that is honest to who they are and not what society expects them to be. Organized as a series of personal essays with a sprinkle of poetry, the memoir reveals her journey towards finding her true identity, including finding the woman of her dreams and adopting magnetic twins, a boy and a girl, children of colour.

Small Courage offers a refreshing feminist perspective by sharing intimate details of Byers’ experience as a young woman growing up in Ontario in the 60’s and 70’s, discovering she was queer, and keeping aspects about herself hidden because society had yet to catch up. Same–sex marriage was legalized in Canada on July 20, 2005 and the author and her wife, filmmaker Amy Bohigian, celebrated by getting married.

Although this story is not told chronologically, Byers is able to weave together chapters of her life in a way that makes sense, asking empathy from her readers. The adoption process in Canada has systemic biases: Byers and her wife were at one point told they were not the ideal family. The twins, Franny and Theo, were previously fostered by Evangelical Christians who were skeptical of Byers and Bohigian early in the adoption process, but upon observing them as people with real feelings and honest intentions, they changed their opinion. The memoir offers a story of love and resilience; a coming out story that also explores the author’s tumultuous relationship with a member of her very own family.

Byers has spent most of her career helping people with disabilities and injuries to overcome barriers to employment, so while she knows love isn’t always enough, it is certainly a great place to start. For any parent or anyone considering adoption, or anyone who is a minority or just curious about the topics presented in the memoir, Small Courage will make you feel comforted. It will also make you believe in the power of love and adoption; how it is possible to change a child’s life by offering them a home. Overall, this memoir offers proof that diversity in love is a pleasant reality and that usually our greatest lessons come from our family members. 

Available online via Caitlin Press and via your local independent bookstores.

Straight A Student: Evolutions in Researching Myself by Tressa Ford

Résumé:

A brief study of certain adjectives and how they form personality and personhood. This study draws on both dictionary definitions and lived experience.

Research:

Agender (adjective)

-Of, relating to, or being a person who has an internal sense of being neither male nor female nor some combination of male and female: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity is genderless or neutral (Merriam-Webster)

A label first suggested to me by friends in high school, a term that felt audacious even then. The linguistics are simple. You start with the prefix A-, signifying “not” or “without,” which is then glued to the base morpheme GENDER. A word that by nature connotes an absent space, a discordance in the “natural” order of things. In practice, it signifies a state of incomprehension, of looking inwards, searching for an internal label that pronounces definitively “male” or “female.” And never finding one.  

My curious mind cannot let this matter rest. I pass people in the street and wonder how rude it would be to sit them down with a recorder and notepad and ask, “Excuse me sir/ma’am, where exactly in your inner constitution does it even say Woman? Man?”

I cannot tell if GENDER is friend or foe, and the antagonism of A-GENDER exhausts me. There’s no place to stand when living in the state of A-, no place to be that’s not in conflict with GENDER. And my quarrel was always with other people’s perceptions of gender anyway. Not gender itself.

I ease away from this term, turn instead to the appealingly modern NON-BINARY. If the first is a battleground, then the latter represents a neutral territory, a safe house located off the map. NON-BINARY doesn’t exclude that mystifying concept of GENDER – only stipulates one that isn’t confined to a binary existence.

Today, I look inside and find no battleground. Only uncharted lands and an internal label proudly proclaiming Here There Be Dragons.

Aromantic (adjective)

-Characterized by or involving no romantic feelings; experiencing or expressing no feelings of romantic attraction or attachment towards others (Oxford English Dictionary)

A term that debuted in my life the first time a boy told me he loved me, and my heart seized with a special kind of dread. “No,” I wanted to say. “No, that’s not going to work out for you. For either of us.” Not out of insecurity or self-deprecation, but the fear of an unhappy future. A future where a relationship is worn down, eroded, through presumptions of sentiment, an unequal meeting of emotion. But how do you tell that to someone?

Not even sure if this deviation is a facet of me, my brain, or my environment, I at first accept the state of A- vs. ROMANTIC. I begin the conflict tactically, attempting to separate ROMANTIC from its mystique. Attempting to turn it into something logical, definable – something I can defeat. But it eludes my grasp, twisting and morphing, until I’m staring down the barrel of the far grander concept of LOVE. And like with gender, I question whether this is really the foe I want to face.

I retreat, turn in on myself, begin drafting the terms of a ceasefire. In the end, I am unable to externalize my conflict with ROMANTIC, unable to lay it at the feet of society and call it a day. The space between A- and its target is a gap fueled by my own confusion – bridgeable, but only when ROMANTIC starts making some damn sense. In the end, I let this label pass from my life.

Asexual (adjective)

1: lacking sex or functional sex organs

2a: involving or reproducing by reproductive processes that do not involve the union of individuals or gametes

b: produced by asexual reproduction

3a: not involving, involved with, or relating to sex: devoid of sexuality

b: not having sexual feelings toward others: not experiencing sexual desire or attraction

4: not having or showing a particular sexual identity: neither male nor female

(Merriam-Webster)

This final piece clicks into place to form a solid triad of dissonance, setting me solidly adrift from the human experiences of gender, romance, and sex. In a sci-fi story, I’m better suited to play a dispassionate vessel of AI than the relatable human protagonist. Still, I’ve got flesh and pulsing blood beneath my skin, so back to the drawing board for those looking to pin down that “Universal Human Experience.”

For many A-SEXUAL is a term exclusive to a textbook or a lab, but the clinical simplicity of this term doesn’t bother me. With it, I flip the narrative, transforming myself from subject to scientist, replacing the minority under the microscope with the majority.

Through observation and the subject interviews, I find that there is an observable force, like gravity, that exerts itself upon the majority of the populace. A force from which an estimated 1% of the population is exempt. Further qualitative research shows that this force is so great that many subjects struggle to imagine a reality in which sexual desire plays no role. What a luxury that must be – to be so comfortable in your normality.

I wrap up the results of my study, concluding that the dissonance is external and not my own. I shed it, gladly. 

Autistic (adjective)

2a: Of the nature of or relating to autism; affected with or characteristic of autism.

b: In weakened use and colloquial (potentially offensive even when used without derogatory intent). Displaying any of various traits which might be considered suggestive of autism, such as awkwardness in social situations, restricted interests, or repetitive patterns of behaviour.

Fittingly, this label arrives last – the alphabet itself acknowledging my hesitation. I cannot attest to a formal diagnosis for this label, nor can I be confident in it while a sign over my head declares Imposer! Imposter!

But what I can attest to is that my brain straddles two worlds – the one I experience, and the one that everyone else does. Each world has its own rulebook, knowledge of which is difficult to ascertain. Information is gathered through careful observation of others, taking notes on things like public comportment and voice inflection. Compiling files labelled “Oversharing,” “Small Talk,” and “Eye Contact.” Social and communication skills are maintained at a passing level through constant revision and self-editing. And every instance in memory where I failed to read a room is archived and analyzed so that the next conversation will go better.

And when my world is rocked with the waves of the other, well… In the privacy of my own space, I don’t have to pretend as hard. I seek comfort in the repetitive motions of braiding hair, the predictability of a favourite episode. Chewing on the same story for months, years even, regardless of what else in my life changes. Though these practices are well-established, new words like “stimming” and “hyperfixation” sneak into the internal dictionary of my world. Words that I can research and understand. Words that tell me I’m not the only one.

But in the end, I retreat to the safe neutrality of N’s once more. This time I find refuge in the fluidity of “NEURODIVERGENT” – a term that is just broad enough to be sure I fit. Good enough for now.

Conclusion:

The final “A” of this study is “Abnormal,” whose effects on personality and personhood require a lifetime of diligent study. The art of taking pride in abnormality even more so.

Submit your story today!

Here at the Black Bear Review, not only do we believe that everyone has a story to tell, but we also believe that the finest form of story-telling is through our art. Art grants us all an escape into a whole new reality, and gives us an opportunity to share our stories in a way that is both beautiful and unique. Whether it be paint on a canvas, words on a page, the perfect camera angle, or the notes in a song…the possibilities are endless, and entirely up to you.

We are officially in gear for another year of the Black Bear Review, and we want to share your stories. We accept a wide variety of art, including poetry, fiction, non-ficton, visual art, and other forms of media such as film and audio works. You can submit right here on our website, or email us your submissions at blackbearreview@gmail.com

The possibilities are endless…What’s your story

Belonging: A Personal Reflection on the Physical and Emotional Barriers of Breastfeeding, by Rochelle Christensen

The first night was the easiest. At our request, our new family was discharged from the hospital early; we were supposed to have a home birth after all. Of course, we were exhausted from the 30-hour marathon we just endured, but we were still riding that natural “high” of endorphins. With some early success at latching, it was clear that our baby was receiving small amounts of colostrum, and we were assured that my milk supply would improve within a few days. In retrospect, they did send us home with a few bottles of formula; it’s almost as though they expected me to fail from the beginning. 

            It wasn’t until three days postpartum, when the opioids had worn off and a myriad of hormones started to plummet and surge throughout my body, that I found myself feeling inexplicably detached from my new role. One assumes, at least I did, that becoming a mother was going to be difficult; I’d heard how challenging the fourth trimester can be due to lack of sleep alone. What came as a complete surprise, however, was just how painstaking and isolating the act of breastfeeding would be. After nine months of reading what I assumed were reputable resources, I was a self-proclaimed expert in breastfeeding. I was overly confident, even pretentious, when asked if I would nurse my son, at which point I would tout the many benefits of breast milk for mother and child. “It’s the most natural and intuitive source of nutrition a mother can provide, after all!”

            Like many other laborious events throughout my journey into motherhood, the burden of breastfeeding was mine alone. The physical and psychological pain I endured in those early days postpartum continues to overwhelm my senses, even now. At the time, it served to exacerbate my feelings of loneliness and inadequacy while breastfeeding, the unceremonious trips to the bathroom to eliminate and tend to my bottom, which felt like it had dropped out of my body, the solitary and sleep-deprived middle-of-the-night feedings, the smell of curdled milk as it dried on my clothes and lingered due to my lapse in hygiene, and finally, the backache of baby carrying this fragile little creature while I mustered enough strength to make a meal of my own. Still, nothing made me feel so unworthy of motherhood than my inability to produce enough milk for my son. “How could this be?” I thought. “Why are my breasts, which are the size and density of bowling balls, incapable of performing the one thing they were designed to do? Animals do it, for Christ’s sake!” 

            As he lay sideways on my bare chest, he woke quickly and let out a shrill cry before rooting, demanding the closest nipple. I am ashamed to admit that I resented the moment he stirred, partly because I knew I couldn’t satisfy him and because my nipples were equally pained – raw and blistered from multiple failed attempts. Before I had a minute to collect myself, the reckless strike of a newborn hit my nipple like sandpaper on an open wound, sending my back into spasm, with each latch afflicting the next vertebra in line with a calculated hit as he popped on and off, on and off. I was granted a moment of reprieve when he fell asleep, releasing his hold, but as I settled back into my seat, my thoughts were consumed with the cautionary voice of my midwife and her concern that he might “fail to thrive” if I couldn’t keep up. Once again, I encouraged him to latch. After 20 minutes on each side, he grew hungrier and more frustrated. I cried, pleading at my baby to nurse as he wailed and writhed at my breast.

            With a bruised ego and a broken heart, I had my partner prepare a bottle of formula. As I cradled him in my arms, he took the nipple flawlessly in his mouth and unapologetically guzzled what was, most definitely, the first real meal of his brief existence.

            Every two hours, more often less, he nursed. And I pumped while he slept, devoting all of my “free time” to increasing my milk supply. As I sat in my denim blue polyester recliner, naked from my deflated abdomen up, with a double electric breast pump precariously held onto each of my breasts between the straps of my nursing bra, I felt anything but the beautiful and poised mothers I’d ogled in my reference books. On the hour, I consumed a cocktail of galactagogues: herbs, teas, tinctures, and medications, also meant to increase my supply, while I waited for the machine to extract the same pitiful volume as before. 

            The early October sun began to shine through the cracks in the blinds, which I had carefully lowered, so as not to frighten my neighbours with one of my imminent outbursts. I can only assume that winter finches were bouncing in flight just outside the window, singing to one another, as they usually did at that time of the morning. I hadn’t been outside in days, though, and I couldn’t hear their song through the monotonous mechanical sounds coming from the torture device suctioned to my chest. Four months after his birth and I can still hear it taunting me with each pump, “moo cow, moo cow,” which merely confirmed what I already knew in my sleep-deprived mind.

            Foolishly, it was weeks before I summoned the strength to confide in fellow mamas: my own mother, friends and family, and even distant acquaintances. Finally, in sharing my story and commiserating with theirs, I felt, for the first time since my son had been born, like I was riding on the shoulders of the countless numbers of women who had given birth before me.

Small Pedestals by Carina Costom

A collection of interesting and beautiful images from the clear ice of Lake Baikal captured in a photo-essay by Alan Taylor (and many other photographers) for The Atlantic entitled “Bailkal Zen” inspired this heartfelt tribute to my Father.

“Lake Baikal, in the Russian region of Siberia, is a massive body of water—the world’s deepest and most voluminous freshwater lake. Its location and the surrounding geography can lead to fascinating phenomena in the winter, as ferocious winds and cycles of melting and refreezing build and sculpt works of structural beauty—stones supported on wind-worn pedestals, undulating surface ice, encrusted beaches, crazy icicles, frozen methane bubbles, and more”. – Alan Taylor

— — —

Siberian-born, lost son of Lake Baikal, your worldly names were Michael, Mike and sometimes-Misha. I like to think that when you crossed the Atlantic Ocean with your family as a child in the 1930’s, something silent, eternal, crystal-like came along with you, for keeps. This thing covered you like delicate frost on a windowpane – enhancing without protecting you. I was a young 23 when you died at 72 with us right there in disbelief. I would have to learn to be brave after that, just like you.

In your absence, I set you up on pedestals of remembrance:

Each time I swept a floor, tidied the kitchen, cleaned windows like a pro, put away my coat, drove at night tracking the white fog lines to avoid the glare of oncoming headlights; each time I showed grit, sewed, fixed, designed, untangled anything with my hands or with my mind, I set you up on a pedestal of remembrance: my Dad taught me that. The brambles of the heart would be another matter.

Still, did you know that there are small faultless pedestals like these, made of pure ice found on that Siberian Lake where you were born?  I wonder if you ever saw them, and carried their memory with you? Imagine a fat rock atop a thin foot made of pure ice impossibly floating above a tiny canyon of Siberian powdered snow. There are dozens of them like stalagmites, under your first blue sky, frozen to the lake surface – mini-Easter Island monoliths of ice and rock, waiting.

I don’t know whether you saw a windswept stone being slowly isolated by the winds; whether that boy you were walked around chards of compressed ice; whether you filled with wonder at shellacked pebbles and tree branches by the shoreline?

Did you see the spiral-shaped cracks beneath your feet as you walked the frozen lake? Did you try to taste an icicle and learn otherwise? How about “Dragon Rock” at Ogoy Island, did you make time to gaze at snowflakes filling tiniest valleys there?

I wonder if that ambitious boy you were ever allowed himself to be so dazzled by sunlight in a clear slab of ice, that he got up early just to view the spectacle of another sun rise through that prismatic window?

I’ll likely not be shown whether you saw any of the small pedestals, because you left too soon and, I never got the chance to ask. But, just for today, let’s agree to imagine, Papa, that somewhere in your life, maybe on the salmon runs, in the early morning, when the rivers were silver, you felt the same wonder I feel now.

It’s April 2021 here in the BC mountains, your grandson – Sacha-Michael –  is playing and I can hear the children poking at the shallows, the ice on the heart-shaped lake where we live is showing signs of thaw.

Clickety-Clack by Fiona Brown

I love old European sleeper trains, the clickety-clack of metal against metal, the whirr and screech of brakes in darkness, the deceleration and acceleration as old wooden stations approach and depart, the blur of lights and buildings, and the invisible rustle of people on a voyage. Night trains seem to simultaneously condense and expand time and space, stimulate layered and unrelated memories in a pseudo dream-world of jostling images adjacent to reality, and the wild introduction of the random events.

The trip from Prague to Budapest is about eight hours on a second-class night-train. Praha Hlavni Nadrazi Main Station smells like old trains and grease. Engine oil and decades of dirt stick to once shiny surfaces in a building that was once an architectural highlight. Art Nouveau figures, a vast window arc, and a vaulted latticework ceiling float above multiple tracks, trains, and two opposing arcade corridors. The building’s grandeur has decayed under forty years of

communism, and although change is coming with Vaclav Havel just elected president, the regal station is in severe disrepair. I queue for a four-dollar ticket between architectural symmetry and human chaos. 

It’s before midnight when I board carriage twelve; I mount several rusty stairs and turn left down the passageway towards compartment eight. Its sliding glass doors suction together, and as I tug at dual handles, the layers of rubber won’t separate. Suddenly, the doors slide open and a thin gentleman in a beige felt hat, matching tie and burly sweater, beckons me in. Under dim light, I make out that three of six pale and punctured plastic seats are still empty. I side-step into my window seat, nudge my black knapsack under the bench, remove scuffed Doc Martens, and roll the cuffs of my baggy khakis. The elderly man raises his arms in a pushing up motion, palms parallel to the ceiling, an offer to stow my pack on the overhead rack. I shake my head, smile, and extricate a book: Rousseau’s Confessions. I travel light but prefer heavy reading.

In the seat opposite, a man about my age, in his mid-twenties, and not at all my type, stares through the aluminum window at the last boarding passengers. He has short-cropped blond hair, porcelain skin, and an aloof demeanor. He wears a pressed collared shirt, neatly buttoned brown canvas coat, and polished leather shoes. His legs are crossed and he strums long pale fingers against his thighs. I wonder if he is perhaps a pianist or surgeon. A booming announcement resounds in the station and a shrill whistle initiates the train’s slow departure. The young man and I observe the passing scenery from opposite perspectives, mine forwards, his backwards: small roadside shacks, broken fences, crooked street lights, cows, sheep, tractors. Clickety-clack.

The glass doors rattle and someone knocks imperatively. Two female faces with scarves tied under their chins peer through the glass. The elderly man whose plump wife sits opposite, pries open the sticky doors for our last two companions who ease their ample bottoms into the middle seats as the train chugs onward into the night. The elderly man hoists their bags onto the overhead racks and draws the orange curtains to signal the compartment is full. After some time, we each slide our seat-backs downward so that the entire compartment becomes a single wall-to-wall, six-person bed. A ticket collector arrives, followed by his young attendant who distributes brown pillows and blankets. The six of us huddle in as strangers. Clickety-clack. 

Together, we form a human backgammon board, a triangular head-to-toe shape. The elderly man snores while his wife whistles through her teeth. The women in the middle chatter quietly in Czech for an hour or so and eventually the compartment is quiet. I slip into the comforting rhythm of train wheels over tracks. Just as I lull into a lucid dream-state, I feel a warm hand on my left foot. I curl my toes away. The fingers return. I shift slightly out of range. The fingers cup my toes. I pretend I don’t notice. For a long time, there’s no movement. Clickety-clack.

I squint my eyes at the young man’s face. He wears an expressionless stare; he appears to be focused on the dark swaths of night beyond the rectangular window. A small-town station illuminates suddenly and disappears just as quickly. I feel his thumb press gently into my arch, then push firmly upward into the ball of my foot, a slow, deliberate and confident motion, up and down. I feign sleep. His skilled fingers knead out knots from months of walking travel. He bends my foot at the ball, slides firm fingers between each sock-clad toe with an arc and sweep, then rolls each toe between thumb and forefinger, a delicate dance of digits.

The train pulls into Brno with a squeal of metal brakes, rustles and thumps in the corridor, and a final jolt as the train comes to a halt. There is no apparent movement in our compartment except for the slip and slide of a man’s hand against a woman’s foot, all under wraps, a secret. Is this my guilty pleasure or his? Or both? His fingers work into the ridges on either side of my foot, stretching each sinew until relaxed. He draws circles around my ankles, palpates the notches on either side, then deftly slides his thumb under the band of my sock, and continues downward, stroking the grooves of my achilles.

         I breathe quietly, hesitant to make any movements that might stop the massage, and open my eyes just enough to espy the faintest intimation of a smile. As his hands explore my soft skin, I marvel at what is happening with this stranger under a train blanket. He slips his hand out of my sock and, as if by accident, his fingers trace a line up the back of my calf to the hollow in my knee. The ticklish moment takes me by surprise. I stifle a laugh and his hand retreats instantly to the safety of my ankle. Clickety-clack.

         His fingers make a seamless transition to my right foot and, for the rest of the night, he works a similar sequence but does not venture to my knee. I slide in and out of dreams – cloaked people huddle in an underground wine cellar, strange faces appear and disappear, the room transforms into a cave with stalactites and stalagmites, a horse drawn carriage pulls up as a woman peers through a laced curtain – and all the while, his hands slide over my feet. The vibration of the train, the rhythmic slowing down and speeding up of the clickety clack, and the snoring and snuffling of fellow passengers, seep into my inner world. I am at once observing and experiencing the continuous sensual exploration of a strange man’s hands. It is an exchange of giving and receiving, a non-verbal agreement with mutual consent, a shared secret and story between two travellers who know nothing about each other and will never meet again.

As dawn breaks, he holds my feet still, like a prayer. When our fellow passengers stir and pull back blankets in preparation for arrival, his hands return to his thighs and tap a much slower rhythm. I try to catch his eyes but they hold tightly to a vision beyond the window frame. The older man assists with the overhead bags, offers a hand to his wife and the middle bench ladies, and sends me a smile and a wave as he exits. I re-lace my boots, toss my pack over one shoulder, descend the steep metal stairs to the busy platform, and marvel at the vast domed ceiling and pillared portals of Budapest’s grand Keleti Station.

Sunshine filters through dirty glass and double-high arcades, my feet feel light and pampered, and before heading to the street, I pause to watch two old men play chess at a small metal-legged table. Some instinct makes me pivot; I turn just in time to make eye contact with my elusive train companion. I wink and smile, then stride with confidence and pliant feet, out into the sunlit morning.

Farewell from your Managing Editor

The Black Bear Review is a community project to behold. I landed in its midst for this sixth print edition and, well, there is a lot to love. Part School of Rock, part work experience, and part summer camp, Black Bear Review is fierce, bold, and best of all, a warm den for writers and artists of all ilks to incubate. It’s a literary magazine, a website, a blog, a podcast, and a virtual work-study hub.

Here I take the opportunity to thank our award winning Faculty: Leesa Dean, Almeda Glenn Miller and Renee Harper of the Creative Writing Program, as well as Marion Lowe from Digital Arts and New Media for their guidance and support and also the amazing student Editorial Collectives in poetry, fiction, non-fiction and copy editing (and our pals in digital arts) who made this multi-step publication process possible.

I send a special shout out to our contributors in this year’s print issue of the Black Bear Review: not a bad circle of over 25 creative socially distanced collaborators including the creative writers, artists and photographers who boldly submitted their work to Black Bear this academic year! Keep writing and submitting your work!

THINGS YOU MIGHT LIKE TO KNOW

  • BBR’s call for submissions will open up in Fall 2021.
  • We have 267 community members following our Facebook thread.
  • Black Bear published the work of over 16 contributors in print and nearly thirty (30!) online.
  • Black Bear’s Podcast Collective produced 3 podcasts (the third is soon to be released) during the academic year available here: https://anchor.fm/black-bear-review.
  • Stay tuned for the www.blackbearreview.com student-led website revamp coming soon (Riley Iniss).
  • Black Bear produced three major zoom events: A Halloween Spooky Read, a Valentine’s Day Fundraiser for Black Bear and our annual Stone’s Throw writer’s symposium – a collaboration with Eastern Washington University.

So, if you are interested in putting your paw prints on the Black Bear Review Managing Editor role, and learning the ropes from stellar faculty advisors like Leesa and are a Selkirk College student, do monitor the Work Study opportunities on the Selkirk college website here: https://selkirk.ca/cees/students/work-study

It’s all been a slice of life I will not forget. And I send much Love and appreciation to each and all of you. May you enjoy a great summer!!!! PS: See you at the zoom party:)

#instadaily#life#quotes#poetry#writersofinstagram#writer#writing#thoughts#words#story#poetrycommunity#poet#poems#kootenays#selkirkcollege#blackbearreview#internationalstudentsdo

Black Bear Review Cover 2021

Mark your Calendar

SPRING PRINT ISSUE LAUNCH PARTY and READING

On Thursday, April 22nd at 7 PM, The Black Bear Review launch will take place. Enjoy featured readings from some of this edition’s 16 published writers: Alan Ross, Bre Harwood, Bella Schacher, Kody Brunner, Ariel Stuart, Terra-Mae Box, and Anne DeGrace! It’ll be a great way to celebrate the magazine as well as the end of the school year.

JOIN US IN HATS AND/OR BOHEMIAN ATTIRE

Feel free to bring something to drink and nosh on, your best armchair, fancy bohemian costume, a feather boa…whatever makes you feel like a writer in a smoky room in Paris circa 1920.

Author readings and interactive poetry!

Please share this link widely with friends and family:
Black Bear Review Annual Print Magazine Launch
Apr 22, 2021 07:00 PM US/Pacific
https://selkirk.zoom.us/j/66553150396

Dragons and Castles by Ben Demoskoff

When Ben draws, he doesn’t have a conscious intent, just like when he is enjoying the great outdoors. “But the feeling that Fantasy Perspective [His one panel comic series] gives, is a simple way to come to a conclusion or an answer about anything” he says.  “It’s like saying to heck with it all.  It’s a way to see any kind of life as an adventure, good and bad.”  Says Ben:” it gives me hope when I’m down as I wake up to dragons and castles (work and rent). All artists/creatives have their unique way of moving through the world. Moment to moment some generate their own symbols for things.

“No Brains” [how he signs his one panel comic series] can be a nice thing to say to someone in Russian, says Ben.  Depending on your [the reader’s] perspective, it may or may not help the comic make more sense, but absurdity is part of Life isn’t it? Ben thinks of the movie [Roger Rabbit] when he imagines fantasy.  Ben is not afraid of making things up as he goes, and continues to choose a positive attitude with his fave drawing pen/sword in hand.

Line Those Street With Gold By Gracjan Kraszewski

The man does not say anything. He appears to want more.
I’m happy to oblige.

‘It’s not hard to find people online, upline, or in plain old real life who will tell you at the drop of a hat that nothing is real. I’ve found the reason for the many reasons they give, the various theories and postulations they put forth, usually comes down to sexual license. These people are not as sophisticated as Descartes was—that if there is a res cogitans which I can be sure ofand the res extensa outside the mind, my own mind, which I do not know, then if follows that the unknowable cannot make rules which must be followed. If all in the res extensa, and this certainly includes community-societal standards of sexual morality, is not to be understood than I can do whatever I want because who knows what the right way is anyways, right?—and they do not have to be. It doesn’t take a lot to arrive at: go ahead and have unlimited promiscuous sex. It’s easy to get there, philosophically.

The example I’ll give you, here it is:
the Mandela Effect,
collective false memory.
Instead of applying Ockham’s Razor to the famous Berenstain Bears v. Berenstein Bears thing; ah, well I actually have heard of people named Berenstein before, and –stein, that’s a really popular Jewish surname ending. I actually have a friend named Goldstein. So we’ve collectively misremembered the children’s books as –stein and not the correct –stain because that makes more sense. Just like, going to the origins, a lot of people misremembered Nelson Mandela dying in prison because his imprisonment was a global cause celebre during the Cold War-South African Apartheid-post 1960s America world and so it would have made sense for him to have died while incarcerated and so, sadly, would serve as one more example of a loose end of justice, for we all know how Mandela repented for his earlier heinous actions, going untied.

Ockham’s Razor,
and just plain common sense, works as a nice antidote against the weaponized Mandela Effect—i.e. that’s it’s proof of alternate universes, multiple and coexistent life simulations, UFO infiltration and subversion of globalist and as in universe-wide mind control initiatives, etc., et cetera, you could go on a long time here—but it’s not just that people want to be titillated and feel that pins and needles adrenaline rush upwards from the soles and toes to sweaty palms and jittery fingers. No, it’s usually that this is evidence that things are not what they seem, therefore supposed authorities have no legitimate authority, therefore sexual morality especially is baseless, therefore, go ahead and have unlimited promiscuous sex.

Life is meaningless, probably worse than that, probably being manipulated by nefarious forces who would like to torture you for their own sick pleasure. But, hey, at least you can have sex, sex, sex, sex. No one can take that control, and that pleasure, away from you. Yes, doc, sad to say, such is the shit state of society and philosophy we find ourselves in now, a pit we have not been able to dig out of for centuries now. Because it’s hard to get out of, doc. It’s hard work. Because you have this, what I just described, and people putting up their flag behind it, in support of it, that yeah life is nothing but nothingness but at least you can be ruled with an iron rod by your passions, and then, on the other side of the pit, still in the pit, all these smiling one-time saved Protestants who walk around as if post-surgery for having one’s face permanently contorted into an ear to ear grinning smile assuring you everything is not just okay and not just good and not just great but the absolutely most perfect best and incredible amazing wonderful gloriously awesome possible possibility of all possibilities possible.

These,
them,
they,
they make Pangloss look generally pessimistic. But life is hard. Catholics say life is beautiful, too, but they admit it’s hard, they actually embrace it, avoiding the denials of the smiling self-assured saved as well as the nihilistic screw like rabbits on bonerjuice pills people. They split the difference properly, not in some mediocre on the fence thesis antithesis synthesis of the lowest common denominator way, but the true golden mean of truth and cogent thought. I mean they seem to at least try to be honest, avoid fringe extremism, and in identifying a problem propose a solution. Sometimes you see one of these smiling people and they are just so, hey, friend! I’m a hugger, c’mere, can give you a big old bear hug, one love, right? Life is all, ALL, about this right here, am I right? Just love, just be love. And you might give in and lean in to give the hug, because it’s nice to be respectful and let people be themselves. But during these situations I sometimes would like to respond, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck in a real rapid fire and super annoying way. Because life is hard and sometimes people should just stop, drop the bullshit. Like people who would declare for all the world You, yeah you! Did anyone tell you are special and loved? You are. You are amazing! Never, ever forget that. These people, doc, just arrest them and place them in solitary confinement already. Because, fundamentally, so many character flaws can be reduced to a two-leafed stem of pragmatic mediocrity and prideful narrowness.

Pragmatic mediocrity and prideful narrowness are two sister leaves on the same stem for a reason, they’re kind of two sides of the same coin. Pragmatic mediocrity is an intentional self-stifling for the purpose of career and/or financial benefit which later on gives birth to prideful narrowness when the practitioner of pragmatic mediocrity, having attained the indeed mediocre goal he gave up everything for, compares himself to someone who did not sell out, did not put ‘practical’ considerations and especially money above all else, and myopically exclaims how is it possible that HE achieved that when I, I could never imagine, I mean, how? It’s a fact I’m so much better than HIM so, how’d he do it? The next thought is invariably ‘fuck them,’ because the fruits of prideful narrowness are bitterness, hatred, jealousy and regret. The person who mocked the person spending so many hours studying ‘useless languages.’ They partied, and did the minimum they needed so as to get that practical degree so as to get the practical job with the decent pay, not bad hours, and a modicum of respect swop dolloped on, the self and the societal flavorvariants. Now they see the person they mocked has a cooler job, one that pays more, and an insane amount of well-deserved, hard earned respect because speaking 8 languages fluently is as close to as cool as it gets. And that this has nothing to do with any practicality or pragmatism—but what does it get me?—but has been done solely out of the intrinsic coolness of the matter is not an in spite of  but a because of/along with formulation. All that’s left for the two-leafed stem of mediocrity guy to say is ‘fuck them.’

And you wonder why we have so few Renaissance men and women, so few polymaths, today.

Pragmatic mediocrity and prideful narrownessare unseen, unacknowledged talent killers and resent laden petri dishes that have far too long been allowed free reign, I mean no one bothers to rinse and rough soap scrub the shit out of these disgusting petri dishes, hiding in plain sight and, as anyone with eyes to see would agree, the effects on all of us, individually and as a society, have been devastating.And within this devastating reality there’s another problem. There are some people who are just waiting, itching, for any and every reason to start burning, breaking, fighting, vandalizing, yelling, punching, screaming, torching and terrorizing. And since there is no reason the reason becomes a catch-all, one size fits all, free for all. One Gavrillo Princip, just one match on the powederkeg and these people lying dormant just below the surface pop up ready to explode. Hats of to our true leaders today, to the men and women who not just take on the crushing weight of responsibility in these domains, but actually seek to give people a greater yes amidst all the nos of despairing pragmatic mediocrity and prideful narrowness and things much lower and more awful than these that threaten, at a moment’s notice, to progress from disconcerting to destructive. Men and women who would be truly great leaders don’t just find and exploit—in a good way, upwards, for the common benefit of all—that which unites not divides us. This is too obvious and banal to say even one more word on. What they really do, rather the skill the posses, is to convince people, all of us brothers, that we are brothers and that we have some common noble mission. That’s what I mean by a greater yes. That no matter how much you think your life sucks, it doesn’t. And since there is only one, unrepeatable you we, all of us brothers, are counting on you, we need you, you and your unique contribution. So let’s get to this joyous labor while the iron’s hot with love. Do not take to streets to break and blaze. Let’s line those streets, the streets of our city, with gold. We cannot do it without you.’

I’m Done by Nichoel Sutton

Combining creativity, freedom from violence, activism, and committed parenting takes courage. Nichoel Sutton’s spoken-word series “I’m done” can be seen as part of a poetic tradition called Incantations. Braid and Shreve in their book “In Fine Form” share the Canadian Oxford Dictionary’s definition: “a magical formula chanted or spoken” which comes from the Latin “cantare”, to sing. Although many forms of poetry use repetition, the incantation relies particularly heavily on rhythmic insistence to create an intensely emotional, mesmerizing effect, for magic, ritual, or performance purposes. Like spoken-word, incantation overtly appeals to the senses – especially the ear.” (Braid and Shreve, p.110).

Part 1. I’m done. I’m done with the words that don’t match the actions…
Part 2. I’m done with the meetings where they say nice words…
Part 3. I’m done. I’m done with not being able to protect myself…
Part 4. I’m done with knowing that if I call the police…

Breathing Underwater by Judi Anani

Rabaul, Papua New Guinea (PNG), August 2016  

I am on board a 5-meter-long aluminum dinghy, Miss Ginny, as it unapologetically carves a path through otherwise serene blue waters. Squinting against the sun, three of us propel across the tropical expanse. We allow the shore to shrink behind us until the ever-intimidating volcanic mount Tavurvur becomes a mere wisp in the horizon (1).   

Jonathan, our local guide, sits with a hand casually placed on the tiller steer and stares ahead thoughtfully. Our eyes meet and he smiles genuinely bearing red buai stained teeth (2).   

Everyone I have met on this island nation smiles like they mean it. As if they do not mind at all an arduous trek up the mountain in the tropical heat to access freshwater. As if they do not care that the lime powder they mix with betel nut has eroded their teeth. As if they are not perturbed by foreign-owned mines growing rich from local commodities, while the local economy struggles.   

Nathan, my employer, and scuba companion sits across from me and fiddles with a Go-pro camera. He owns the Golden Sunset, the 30ft sailboat that is our home and my workplace as we sail around Papua New Guinea and the pacific. I watch him grow increasingly frustrated as he struggles to fit a waterproof case on the small device. He looks at me, grins, and lets out a frustrated grunt. His smile seems somewhat less sincere, even if well-intended. In a couple of minutes, he points the camera at me.   

“Smile!”  

I do, but it is a well-practiced smile, even if there was nowhere else I would rather be. Internally, my thoughts race as I come to terms with the confusing events of 2016 so far. (3)    

I have been in PNG for two weeks now and have known Nathan for precisely that length of time. He contacted me, offering adventure, work, and, perhaps what was most needed, a distraction. I answered his phone call absentmindedly, standing on a beach in Newcastle, Australia. Earlier that very day my sister had sent word of our father’s death. I could go back to Canada for the funeral, and act as a mourning daughter is expected to, even though I hadn’t spoken to my father in years. Or I could get on a flight to Port Morsby, meet this stranger, and help him sail to New Zealand. I did not give it much thought.   

I am brought out of my reverie as we slow to a complete stop at what might mistakenly seem as a random location, on the northern part of the island. Jonathan turns off the motor and we each take a moment to take in our surrounding to the sound of the ocean gently lapping against the boat. In front of us, a jungle covered cliff meets the deep water. The Japanese used this bay to provision submarines during the war. Precise coordinates bring us to the base and not chance at all. Our plan is to scuba dive alongside the reef wall that drops over 75 meters below sea level.   

Nathan and I, both avid scuba divers, are ready within minutes. Having gone through the necessary gear safety checks we jump into the water and stay afloat only long enough to wave to Jonathan and secure our regulators in our mouths. In unison, we descend, each with a hand on the BCD valve allowing air out of the vest, the other hand on face mask, occasionally squeezing nostrils shut as we blow, allowing our eardrums to equalize against the water pressure.   

There are perhaps very few other places in the world, if any, that offer the diversity of sites that PNG does. The marine life is relatively intact, largely due to the fact that locals do not have the fishing gear to create irreparable damage. Nathan and I have already encountered more reef sharks on this trip than I have in all my, albeit limited, travels. Today we are hoping to get footage of these adrenaline-inducing creatures.   

At a depth of ten meters, Nathan gives me the OK sign and gestures in the direction we will be heading. The reef wall to our right, we travel with the mild current, increasing our depth, until the sky is no longer visible through the ocean’s surface. I trail a few meters behind Nathan. His long legs give him more distance with each kick, and I like to take my time, appreciating the micro marine life as well as the bigger creatures. Occasionally he looks back at me and signals “OK” as a question not a statement. I confirm by returning the OK sign, thumb to forefinger, creating an O shape.   

Having logged many more dives than me, Nathan is also more comfortable flirting with a 50-meter threshold. I find myself continuously glancing nervously at my depth gauge as I follow him. When circumstances allow, I decrease my depth a bit, as long as we don’t lose sight of each other. At 40 meters below sea level, the gas mixture in my air tank is under 4  times more pressure than it would be on the surface. Each inhale requires approximately that much more effort, making me appreciative of each breath I can take. Yet the cold and the laborious breathing are small prices to pay if they give one access to the largest,  unexplored playground on earth.  

Covering most of our planet, the ocean gives us life, inspiration, mystery, sustenance, economy, and connects us all. It is believed by some that the human body’s reliance on, and composition of, salt, and water, is directly correlated to the ocean. As indeed, Arthur C. Clark was quite on point when he stated, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.”   

 As such I continue, eyes darting between depth gauge, Nathan, and the rich marine life surrounding the reef. The current is much slower now, I decide I can take a few seconds to clear my mask. This requires lifting the bottom part of the mask off my face while I blow with my nose any water that had seeped in, something which I had done many times previously but, on that day, the band holding the mask to my face broke, and the mask slipped out of my hands. Immediately, the sea water reduces my vision to dreamy shades of blue and black. My hands desperately search the area around me to no avail.  

In recreational diving, the recommended depth limit is 40 meters. The breathing gas inside the air tank consists of a mixture of Oxygen and Nitrogen. The deeper one ventures, the more pressure is being applied to this mixture. Breathing pressurized Nitrogen can cause a reversible euphoric / anesthetic effect that could hinder a diver’s judgment and decision-making process. 

At such a depth, the gases in our lungs and veins are also under pressure. As pressure is decreased gas expands, if the gas in our bodies expands too quickly it causes decompression sickness. For this reason, divers use safety stops, brief but necessary intervals as we ascend.    

As quickly as my fingers lose touch of the mask, the consequential reality sinks in. Without it I could not see Nathan, my depth gauge, or any possible threat. Without the depth gauge, I wouldn’t know where to do a safety stop. I decide to hold on to the wall on my right to avoid drifting up or down. I hope that Nathan will quickly realize that I am not behind. I hope that his instinct would be to come back rather than wait for me to catch up.  I start counting in my head. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four……  

I remember that the last time I looked at the gauge it indicated 8 bars left. That would give me a maximum of ten minutes bottom time.   

…..Fifty-nine one thousand. Sixty one thousand…..  

OK, 9 minutes.  

…one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand…..  

I wonder how many bars Nathan has left and how much time that would give him to find me.  

….Thirty-three one thousand. Thirty four one thousand.  

I start to consciously slow down my breathing to save oxygen.  

8 minutes.  

….One one thousand, two one thousand,   

I look around uselessly. The only noise I hear is my exhale breath generating bubbles that float upwards.  

….Sixty one thousand. One one thousand.   

7 minutes.  

I am cold.  But I am strangely  calm.  Alone here, holding on for dear life, the political climate of the world is irrelevant. Relationships with dead fathers, or lack thereof, seem trivial. My first world problems are laughable.   

….Fifty-eight one thousand. Fifty-nine one thousand….  

6 minutes.  

Keep breathing.  

I think I feel myself kick something. I turn quickly but nothing is there.  

…. Thirty six one thousand…  

5 minutes.  Thirty-six

Ha! How’s staying alive for a distraction Judi?   

4 minutes.  

….One one thousand, two one thousand…..  

Should I try to ascend on my own? How much air do I have?  

….Forty-nine one thousand…. Fifty…  

I feel a human hand on my shoulder and in my relief, I almost lose my regulator mid cry.   

Nathan shoves his spare mask into my trembling hand. The band does not break this time and I am able to see again. Nathan gives me a thumbs up. I have maybe three bars left, and he has less than two. We begin our return to the surface.   

We make a safety stop at 6 meters during which I try to signal my appreciation. Nathan in return signals that he saw a shark seemingly oblivious.   

I look up at the sky which is again visible through the ocean’s surface.   

The three minutes pass and we surface just as we are using the last few breaths in our tanks. We send a signal to Jonathan who finds us bobbing in the water soon after. His smile grows wider as he gets closer with the dinghy. 

Nathan is recounting the details of the white tip shark he saw with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning. I grin at him gratefully and close my eyes to the sun’s warmth.    

We smile at each other. This time, for my part at least, it was entirely honest.  

(1) Tavurvur is an active volcano near Rabaul. It erupted in 1994 destroying a large part of town. 

(2) Buai is mixture of betel nut and lime. Its effects include increased stamina, alertness, and euphoria. It tastes quite vile.  

(3) Clearly, I could not imagine then a year like 2020!