Photo: Slawek Puklo

Women We Read This Week

Zehra Rehman’s “Lingering: How One Indigenous Reserve is Coping With Canada’s Suicide Crisis” in Buzzfeed

In “Lingering,” Zehra Rehman tackles the question, “Why Are Indigenous Canadians Killing Themselves?” It’s a question that’s been ever present, especially in the past few weeks, and while in some ways the answer seems intuitive, it is simultaneously fogged over, the details gleaned over in a speedy news cycle that relies on the consumer to intuit the causes without ever having the burden of feeling them.

But Rehman’s piece affords us no such comfort. Through extensive reporting, which ranges from on-the-ground observation to interviews to extensive historical and contemporary research, Rehman lets a vivid and urgent picture emerge. Profiling several people and families within the Maskwacis reserve, Rehman patiently and thoughtfully seeks out the root of the problem, going beyond the surface reasons (a breakup, a lost job); beyond the underlying forces behind those reasons, or the ability to cope with them (alcoholism, drug abuse); beyond that, too, (a fractured family, a fractured cultural lineage); back into the state-sanctioned residential schools that sought to break cultural ties between families and their children, all too often succeeding; and into the government that both sanctioned it and failed to sufficiently help repair the damage they caused.

Rehman unfolds this so gracefully, so powerfully, and in a way that is so seamless that the current situation strikes one as appalling but hardly shocking. The way she pulls these forces together makes it seem utterly inevitable, the history and these living people married in a way that reminds us how close they really are, how the past is so threaded through our every day, how it can never quite be put to rest.


Sarah Church Baldwin’s “Build-A-Bear” in The Rumpus

Sarah Church Baldwin’s essay “Build-A-Bear” opens with a vivid description of the store: “The place was bright and loud as a pinball machine. The entrance was gaping, boundary-less, wide enough to swallow all the teenagers roaming the mall in packs.” Baldwin’s mission that day was to create and adopt a bear of her own, as a way to come to terms with her own adoption. It was a subject she’d typically avoided thinking about, until her therapist gently nudged her to consider where she was, as a newborn, between the day of her birth and the day of her adoption. In this essay, we follow the train of thought of someone who is just realizing the true nature of their temporary helplessness.

Baldwin writes with grace and vulnerability about a firsthand experience that in anyone else’s hands might come off as cliche or trite. Her prose is so sincere as she explores identity, motherhood, the maternal gaze, her own stony denial, and even pokes a little bit of fun at herself—a 50 year old mother of two grown children, buying herself a stuffed animal—that you can’t help but root for her.

Call me a snob, but I’m much more Gund than Scootaloo. I certainly never brought my daughter here when she was a child. (Later, her high school boyfriend did, and when he moved on, their bear-progeny moved from her bed to a storage closet.) No, I wasn’t here for my kid. I was here to get myself a bear.

I was trying hard to have a private, healing experience but everything—sound, color, texture, sentiment—seemed somehow heightened and false. I tried to make room for the right feelings, but surrounded by glitter and sayings like “Rainbow is my favorite color,” it was difficult. Before coming into the store I had worried about becoming emotional in public. I briefly feared being so overcome by the experience that I’d collapse on the floor. Now I was worried about something else: after all this, what if I felt nothing?

Janet Frishberg’s “On Playing Games, Productivity, and Right Livelihood” in The Rumpus

Janet Frishberg has a confession: sometimes she plays games on her phone until her fingers go numb. But she also works full-time, and pursues a writing life. Like many coming of age in the 1990s, when both computer games and video game consoles became more story-driven and complex, playing video games became a way to bond with friends and solve problems. Frishberg notes that her first obsessive gaming was in middle school. She and her classmates played The Sims for hours and hours, marrying their real-life crushes and drowning their enemies in the game. In a sense, it wasn’t just a game, but the beginning explorations of intention, consciousness and guilt.

In a recent essay for The Rumpus, Frishberg is both reflective and insightful. She sees her game playing as a path to least resistance, a way to adhere to Buddhist principles of non-harming. “How much damage can you do to anyone else if you stay quiet and alone all day, if all you’re doing is rearranging the same sets of pixels on a screen with your fingers?” The person she was most concerned about harming was herself: everything from using men, to picking her skin, drinking too much or not working enough.

There are always things that need doing in the hours outside of work. Plane tickets to buy before they get more expensive. Scarves to knit, books to read, stories to write, a book to edit, a house to clean, laundry to do. I could fucking volunteer, or talk with a friend who’s having a hard time, or exercise, something I claim I can’t find time for. Instead, often, I’d rather play this game. Not constantly, but a lot more than I’d like to admit…I could uninstall it from my phone, like I did to the last one. But I don’t want to. With periods of respite, I’ve been this way for a long time.

Her story is a needed reminder that it’s okay to be sucked into a wormhole sometimes. Sometimes retreating deep into the recesses of gaming, television, books, provide a respite from the day-to-day pressures of life, and sometimes even ourselves.

Amanda P.


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