As a result of the draconian measures during the QUEBEC STUDENT STRIKE — One year ago today I was kettled, arrested and humiliated on a STM bus that served as a makeshift holding cell for the 400+ of us that were kettled on the corner of St-Denis and Sherbrooke, a Montreal corner I have not been able to move past since then. Surely, the kettle of that many people did not just happen because of some thrown rocks or whatever else kind of vandalism the SVPM (Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal) made up to justify innocent protestors to get arrested. To kettle that many people takes planning, organization and impeccable timing. It also requires a lot of moles. At this point I had been going to many day and night marches, wore my red square with pride and engaged in many intense debates and negotiations with my university and colleagues on the issue.
The night I am arrested is a warm spring night, the thirtieth night of continuous protests to be exact. It’s the day after the May 22 rally that inspired over 200,000 people to walk through the streets of Montreal. My friend Paul and I are riding our bikes in the demo. We talk about the people around us, their families, their children; about how happy we are, how incredible it is to be marching here, and how much we love the city. The crowd moves fast. Unlike the other nights we’ve marched, which felt tense and uncomfortable, tonight is jovial and vibrant.
We get off our bikes at Rue St-Denis. Boom! We hear a blast, and a cloud of smoke hovers over the intersection. I’m not sure where we are. People start running toward me.
“Get your fucking bike out of the way!”
I try to run north on St-Denis in the direction of the crowd, but they start to head toward me, pushing me back. I yell for Paul. “Please don’t leave,” I say, as we both try to maneuver our bikes northwest, but there’s no getting them above the high curb and through the throng of bodies. North of us are two rows of Montreal police (Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal, or SVPM). We’re turning around to go back down when the tear gas grips the back of my throat. I wrap my shawl around my nose and mouth, scrambling and anxious, wondering what the fuck is going on. I feel like I’m going in a circle. Suddenly the police are charging us, and I try to run the other way, but the bike is unwieldy and I’m nervous I will lose Paul. The cops start shoving from the other side, and every time I turn my head there are more cops with masks and shields lunging toward us, smoke hanging overhead, until there’s no way out. Then it starts again: “MOVE, MOVE, MOVE, MARCHE, MARCHE.” So we move, but more cops on the other side are shouting the same thing from the other direction. I hold onto Paul’s arm, unable to think, dizzy from tear gas and anxiety, my heart pounding through my rib cage. Every time I move one way, I am pushed back the other way. I tighten my shawl for fear of more tear gas and can hardly stand. We ask the cops if we can lock our bikes to a stand. We beg enough that they concede, and then promptly shove us back into the streets. I imagine this may be the last time I see my bicycle.
“What’s happening?” I ask.
“I think we were just kettled,” Paul says.
“What? No, after the G20, they’re not allowed to do that.”
“Oh, I think they just did.”
I don’t believe him.
We stand around for a while. I tweet uncertainties. Everyone is milling about in a circle. People start shouting chants about freedom and civil liberties. Eventually most of us sit down.
I sit in silence, staring at everyone around me. Their faces are at ease, comfortable.
“What do you think is going to happen?”
“I don’t know—they’ll probably arrest us.”
“They can’t arrest us all . . . there’s so many of us.”
“Sure they can,” Paul says, and walks off.
I let him go and stay on the curb, hugging my knees to my chest, waiting. When Paul comes back, I tell him to sit beside me. We watch a makeshift football game with a ball made out of a plastic bottle.
Paul notes that several public buses have arrived.
“Why?” I ask.
“To transport us.”
People start getting up, and I hear a police officer announcing something.
“ . . . anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. . .”
“The cats!” I suddenly remember.
“I left them without food because I’m trying to put them on a diet!”
“Can you call any friends to feed them?”
“I will call my superintendent, but it’s so late, and what will I say? I got arrested, will you please feed my cats?”
“We should line up,” Paul says to me. “Imagine how long it’s going to take to process everyone. If we line up now, we’ll get out earlier.”
I grab his shoulder as he leads me up to the front, where some elderly people are already in line. I am nervous. There’s so much misinformation about where we’re going, where we will be held, what we are getting arrested for, and whether Bill 78 will be enacted. No one seems to know and the cops say something different every time.
I walk up.
“Do you have ID?”
“Yes,” I reply as one of the cops searches my bag.
“What a mess in there,” he mutters in French to his colleague.
They find my ID, search me, grab my shoulders to turn me around, and handcuff my wrists together.
Two policemen walk me to the line by the bus, holding my purse, and wait until it’s my turn to get on. They write down my identification information and give me a wristband with a number to claim my purse later. I sit down and wait. The bus fills up with people younger than me. Then we wait. Eventually, the bus starts moving and we drive, and drive, and drive. Once in northeast Montreal, we wait some more. The buses become holding cells. I feel sick—tear gas, nausea, and my bladder kicking in. Lightheaded, I ask a cop if I can go to the bathroom. She rolls her eyes and tells me to sit down. I ask again. I wait. I ask the other cops. Each insists that everyone on the bus has to urinate and that, like them, I have to wait.
“What if I pee my pants?”
“Then you have to live with it.”
“So then if I pee on the bus I won’t get in trouble?”
“Go away, you won’t do that.”
I return to my seat but the pain is unbearable.
I crouch down in the middle of the bus and a few women stand around me creating a human shield, while I pull down my leggings with my handcuffed hands –— I piss, and I piss, and I keep pissing until the stream of urine rolls around the bus under everyone’s feet.
“You are brave. Be glad you did that. Fuck ’em.”
I smile sheepishly and appreciate the camaraderie, as the rest of the bus erupts in anger at the police.
“How can you let a woman pee on the bus? How can you treat us like animals?”
“Because you are. Shut up and stay put,” the police shout back, which only causes more yelling.
“A woman peed on the bus! A woman peed on the bus! You should be ashamed!” some of them chant in unison, but the police don’t even turn around to look at us. I watch my piss run back and forth. By now, another man is doing the same thing: flooding the bus with urine. Somehow this makes time pass more quickly. An hour later our bus pulls up to the processing table and a smiling policeman hands me a ticket as the morning sun hits my face.
That night over 400 people were arrested at Sherbrooke Avenue and Rue St-Denis. Most of us were given $634 tickets for breaking the newly revised municipal bylaw P-6, which, among other things, does not allow face coverings, such as the shawl I used, and requires that protest organizers submit exact march routes to the police. Free speech is now only free when the police grant us permission.
Earlier this spring I was heavily involved, both academically and in the streets, in the Quebec-wide student strike. Several of us at the Mobile Media Lab at Concordia decided to put out a special “open” issue of wi: journal of mobile media. This resulted in two issues, which I co-edited with Owen Chapman, Alison Reiko Loader, Ben Spencer and Kim Sawchuk.
I wanted to write something yesterday, about Canada Day and its phases of being intense and dramatic and shifting my whole self, but I hadn’t slept from the night before and was full of amorous energy that kept me in bed with my fantasies most of the day. I did manage to bike over in as little clothes as possible to Atwater Market to buy some fruit and eat lunch. I had my usual chicken satay as Alex (co-owner of Satay Brothers) sat down on the bench with me excitably remarking about the potential spaces he’s found for his upcoming restaurant. He could barely sit still and it was more like a dance with his eyes toward the world. I was too delirious from being under-slept to fully listen. Him and J made fast friends and call each other Mr. Meat Stick and Mr. Wood respectively since J will most likely outfit Alex’s meat venture with his wood. This humour is not lost on me, at all.
my summer wardrobe. spot the red square <3
Sometimes when I bike with draping skirts and dresses I imagine (it like) the scene between Lila and Chimo from Lila dit ça and close my eyes long enough to be a danger to myself and those around me.
A friend recently told me that my writing is defensive, not clear, and full of run-on sentences that are constantly jumping ideas. It’s clear that I have a certain writing style that desires poetry and flow, but because essays are academic writing, they need a certain structure and a certain style. I could write academic articles with poetic style, but in order to do so, I need to be self-assured. I am not self-assured. I hate academic writing. I hate sitting there watching the words come out of me because they are not the words I want. I stop every few minutes. I am distracted. I am upset. I see myself forcing the words out that never sound like the ideas I have. I am disparaged.
“One time in undergrad I had a prof write on my final essay evaluation that my writing is like searching for buried treasure in a deep sea. That the reader can see the shiny treasure and there’s so much of it, but it’s so deep and so difficult to get to, that once they are close they run out of air and have to be hoisted back up again.”
“How poetic… yes,” he nods in agreement.
I lower my head and start to cry into my palms, because I know this anecdote so well. I see this anecdote in my head every time I write. I have had variations of this evaluation said to me countless times by countless profs. Everyone who comes across my academic writing tells me the same thing. This started in high school. Once I received a 0/10 for writing style in a Grade 10 Media Studies Class. I had nearly 10/10 on everything else. How does someone have 0 style? I came to Canada when I was 10, I cannot blame it on that. What is it? I remember always receiving the highest marks in Creative Writing, always. But then what? Academic writing what? I wonder how it’s possible I’ve been able to receive top marks in graduate school, how it’s possible I’m in a PhD program, how it’s possible that there’s such a strong block that obfuscates the clarity and effortlessness I want for my ideas.
He says I need to practice, genuinely practice and focus on the structure, the form, the words, the sentences —without taking breaks every few minutes to waste time online. Then, I need to edit, REVISE REVISE REVISE, and give enough time to the writing. I know this already. I know this already. I have to change my writing behavior. I am faced with this now, more than ever before. I want to be a strong lucid writer. I do. I do.
Belly dancing has made me more aware of my body, my protruding neck and bad posture. I focus on parts of my body as they move, as others stay still and sometimes follow. I turn on Beyonce videos on full blast every morning and practice figure eights with my hips, stretch my legs and move my wrists in unison. Dancing moves should never be forced, they should flow out of your body smoothly, they should be a love making with the space around you, they should be everything my academic writing isn’t.
A friend writes on their blog how they write with a censor, so instead of writing freely, they write about the everyday, and their perspective on those experiences, asking questions like, “Can I lay myself bare and assume that people won’t draw conclusions?”
Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about this space here, the fairly secluded hill I’ve managed to climb and build a moat around, but I am not sure I want this to be so hidden. At least in such a way, that to find it, is nearly impossible. Would allowing this in the public change my voice? Allow me to write more, allow me to write differently? Although my stats show more hits than people I’ve given this to, I always manage to leak it here & there, but mostly to those close to me, because I want to be read by them.
The question asked though, is so obvious in achieving its answer. But, can we lay ourselves bare? Can we ever explain our motives enough for others not to draw conclusions? Everyone assumes it’s always about them.
For me, it is always, Can I write outside of myself? Can I write something other than my own feelings? Am I difficult to digest because of my focussed perspective? I think my most honest writing, my best writing comes in the form of letters. I have always been obssesed with conversations through words. Often, when I write about an experience, it is written to the person(s) involved. I don’t really know why I do this, not at first thought.
(If you read this, even from time to time, because I know some of you do, say hello, say anything!)
My belly is swollen, protruding. I hold it below my belly button. That spot. I would then run my palm up over my belly button and say, “Yes, here it is, here is our love.”
“Would you want me to carry y/our baby?”
If this was a book, then yes, it could happen right here, right now. I am always acting like I am in a book. You want reality, but I only know fantasy. I could one day stop taking my birth control and wait, prepare, massage my skin with oils, let it gain elasticity for its expansion, stop getting fucked up, start eating meat even!
I could learn to love meat. You could feed me real beef burgers and chicken wings. I would want more all the time, for all the years I despised meat. But nine months is a long time to be reading a book, maybe it is one of those serials that isn’t really a serial because serials aren’t serious literature. But it would still be a series of novels about the same character doing life in a way to relate to me, but having the ability to jump away with words and end just like that. Just like Catherine asked Jim to sit inside her car while she drove the car off the split in the bridge in Avignon. I was there looking at the bridge this summer. You have to pay to go on the bridge now. I didn’t want to pay to stand on a bridge, so it only exists from afar but close enough I could recognize it in films like Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. My Avignon bridge meant nothing but a way to make money, for Catherine it meant a way out of her neurosis, for Truffaut it meant a way to end the film dramatically but easily. Crazy women always get killed off in the end. Erica Jong talks about this, refusing to kill of Isadora Wing. Down with death! The world needs consequence without pitiful tragedy of funerals! A man can’t imagine follow-through on a life of a labyrinthine woman.
I’m running a festival, all by myself and I’m anxious that the participants aren’t rolling in like the previous years. I’m anxious that the early-called election is taking full view.
I’m desperate for sharp conversation, but when it’s right there I in all my social awkwardness take over and mumble about something or other. Food politics! Down with Harper! Cocaine! Wobble basslines! The city’s arts scene! Everyone is dancing the same!
I wait days and then you have to take it away prematurely. But isn’t any time before forever premature?
I don’t write anymore. There’s no fiction in my words, there’s just running around selling my ideas, helping on projects, reaching out to everyone and anyone for grad school, for community politics, for my documentary. Everything is external of me. I enjoy the way it masks my depth by pronouncing my knowledge of current events. That seems like a contradiction but really it makes sense to me. By involving myself with everything around me and facilitating ideas that involve many, I don’t have to think about the hurricane that is subsiding at the slowest rate possible inside me. By being involved I can seperate myself from my grief, from the memories, from the reminders. But they are there, they were there when I ate the Dr. Oateker pizza yesterday, or when I think about getting my driver’s licence. Smell is supposed to be the most intense sense in memory recollection, but intensity of experience scraps smell and instead lingers on every sense.
The writing class I wanted to take was full by the time I was ready to register. I didn’t have to loaf, but instead I was too intimidated to let myself inside my own writing. It’s so easy to feel anxiety and cry about not being able to do what you want to, it’s way fucking easier than giving in and doing it. So instead of using the grief to write and write, I’m just letting it go away, even if it doesn’t seem to want to.
She pulled at the seaweed covered branch stuck between the rocks, trying to lift it up just enough to throw it over the stone’s edge.
“Come here!” She yelled after him, as he disappeared into the dark.
“Leave it alone.”
She managed to slide the long thick branch over the stones, just near enough to touch him with it at the other end, “You’re it.”
“You’re it,” he jumped over it and pummelled her onto the stones, catching the back of her head with his hands.
“You’re it,” he grinned looking at her so close, he could no longer focus.
“Always catch me. Ok?”