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It is important for me to note, at least so much as for my posts, that I found this novel a great deal more difficult to hypertext than Green Grass, Running Water. So I guess there aren’t that many links; sorry. It was more important and pressing to me to try to understand the overarching themes and the history underlying this novel; to take a step back and really look at its Canadian-ness-ness, if you will. This is what I really tried to do.

Hope you enjoy(ed) the read!

p.s. my critique/last reflections and a poem i wrote are also ready for reading (or listening).

p.p.s. whew. i think i might be ready to let go, there are still a few in the draft folder, but i’ve run out of time, and my impending finals are flexing their claws and i’m getting scared and ready to run. although i’ll be carrying these stories with me for a long time yet… maybe as stones in my running shoes, my pockets, my hands.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Adagio espressivo | a quick summary

“slowly, with expression”

This section of the book shows Jeremiah, at 26, and his life after his big win. Unfortunately he is facing the same adversity as many of the people he and Jimmy Roger Buck save on their ‘street patrol’ at night. He deals with the bottle, that’s the way it is. (reference to this.)

Jeremiah is suddenly facing crisis, his father is dying. The strong patriarch, the man who taught him to be strong when lonely. Gabriel appears, and the boys try to tell Abraham of their abuse at Birch Lake, but they are interrupted by Father Bouchard, who insists their father receive his last communion. Abraham however, seems to choose his Cree heritage over the Catholic way, deciding to use all strength and last breaths he has to tell the Son of Ayash myth, one that reinforces the importance of holding steadfast and staying strong in life.

After his passing however, Jeremiah is lost. He drinks himself into a stupor and nearly dies after stumbling out in to a blizzard. The fur queen shows up as a “torch-singing fox with fur so white it hurt the eyes.” She calls herself “Miss Maggie-Weesageechak-Nanabush-Coyote-Raven-Glooscap-oh-you-should-hear-the-things-they-call-me-honeypot-Sees, weaver of dreams, sparker of magic, showgirl from hell” — all the different nations’ names for the trickster figure– Maggie Sees, from the Cree word maggeesees, which means fox. Through their interaction, the fur queen reminds Jeremiah of the importance of humor and laughter in life, and therefore saves him. Jeremiah, in turn, turns to Gabriel to renew their relationship. They end up going on a camping trip, and stumbling upon a pow-wow. The boys face yet another identity crisis; they feel like outsiders at this event that calls to them through the drumbeat; the heartbeat of mother earth. Gabriel is mocked because he is a gay ballet dancer, and Jeremiah doesn’t come to his rescue. He instead suffers in his own way; not being able to play any ‘honky-tonk’ when requested, only Chopin.

This part of the novel slowly brings the issues together: alcoholism, death, identity crisises… it’s the calm before the storm, so to speak. The brothers are slowly understanding the importance of turning back to their Cree heritage; it is what will save them.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2011 in fur queen, kiss of the fur queen, miscellany, thoughts

 

language iii: “perhaps the reason for existence on planet earth is to have one hell of a good time…”

At the end of the book, the boys come full circle by reclaiming their language; one that encourages laughter; a healing process in itself. They bring the past into the present. Humor, especially exemplified by the Fur Queen, help them both come to terms and heal from their traumatic experiences – always laughing. This gives us insight into the trickster: perhaps instead of us trying to define he/she, it is more important to recognize that fundamental lesson being taught is the importance of laughter of life, no matter how difficult the circumstances. This great quote by the Fur Queen says just that:

“Because without entertainment, honeypot, without distraction, without dreams, life’s a drag. No? Without celebration, without magic to massage your tired, trampled-on old soul, it’s all pretty pointless, innit? We dance , we fight, we cry, make love, we laugh and work and play, we die. Then we wake up, in the dressing room, with make-up all over the goddamn place, sweating so you smell like dog’s crotch. I mean, get over it… You ain’t got much time before that grand finale.”

Tomson himself also says it so nicely. Jump to  3:55 to get to the point…. but if you have time, fall in love with the way he talks like I did and find out just how hilarious he is!

To speak Cree then, is to laugh. And to laugh, is to live; the Cree recognize that time on earth is short and that pain is best healed through laughter. There is a certain importance in telling your story as a means of healing, as a means of purging it from yourself: this is what Highway does with this novel. This reason for writing, I believe, cements Highway’s place in Canadian literature:  he knows the importance of sharing stories, no matter how difficult, and in encouraging native writers to ‘find their voice’ once again, even if it’s in a different medium.

 

 

language ii: describing the visceral

“The strongest aspect of English for me is that it’s the world’s foremost intellectual language, it comes from the head. The French language comes from the heart, it’s an emotional language. And Cree is a visceral language, it comes from a third part of the human body, a part that’s forbidden to be talked about in English. It’s the garden of joy, of pleasure, from which the English language was evicted 4,000 years ago — to put it in theological terms. It’s hysterical. When you speak Cree, you laugh all the time. Every syllable is a kick in the arse. So when I want to laugh, I speak Cree. When I want to make money, I speak English. When I want to make love, I speak French.” —Tomson Highway

While written mainly in English, Tomson uses properties of Cree to juxtapose the two languages, and by extension, the two cultures. By infusing the text with Cree,  he adds that physical, playful spirit he discusses in this quote, while facilitating understanding, giving the audience permission and encouragement to experience a previously unknown and underrepresented side of Canadian literature. For example, the “blasphemous humor”, animism (trees are who, not what) or lack of gender categories (trickster as he/she) all play marked roles in this novel. Tomson tries to use what he calls “the language of the head” to describe “the visceral language” so that perhaps we, the non-native audience, may begin to understand the First Nations people and this important and tragic part of Canadian history, and allow those that experienced it (including himself) a chance to heal. He, in a sense, gives a voice back to the Cree by bringing the past into the present.

Because I’d never heard Cree, I thought it might be neat to play a quick clip. It’s pretty interesting to hear about this man who “celebrates language” and through it “celebrates his life” — he has some interesting things to say about teaching and trying to revive Cree.

 
 

language i: we become the stories we tell ourselves

“Their education (that of Indian children) must consist not merely of training of the mind, but of a weaning from the habits and feelings of their ancestors and the acquirement of language, arts and customs of civilized life.” Federal Government Report, 1847

In the past, non-natives (especially the government) possessed a worldview that “no written history” meant no history at all. But as we’ve learned in this class, this is not the case.

Language is central to story telling, and as Jessica said in her presentation, storytelling is an important part of the First Nations culture. Tomson Highway explores the power of language throughout Kiss of the Fur Queen, demonstrating that how it can build up barriers, but when used properly, with lots of humor, break them down again as well.

It’s interesting, then, that the government uses language, and in a sense, stories, as an attempt to ‘fix’ the “Indian problem” through residential schools.

As we have talked about in class, the stories we are told shape us, and we become the stories we tell ourselves.

The stories that Gabriel and Jeremiah are told at Birch Lake influence their identity immensely: being told that it is bad to be Cree, that they must abandon all they know –especially their language– and that it is better to be white creates a divide; this forced suppression of culture in effect leaves the boys in limbo between two cultures, neither of which they feel the fit into. Highway symbolizes this loss and transformation through hyphenation of their names: Champion becomes Champion-Jermiah, and then finally just Jeremiah.

And as they get older, they are criticized by the First Nations community because they have allowed themselves to lose their Cree identities; they have both fallen into the ‘high European arts’ of classical ballet and classical music, making them “less Cree.”


 

the only way to change the past is to bring it into the future

I found myself reflecting on Kiss of the Fur Queen after the first presentations in class yesterday. The group that presented on The Gum Thief left us with a question at the end of their presentation: “Do you think it’s possible to start over, or do you think you’ll always carry around your baggage?”

Running away is so easy to do. Pack up, get out of here. It’s the subject of many songs.

We saw it in Eli, in Green Grass Running Water; he ran away to start over, escape his past. We see it in the eyes of hopeful immigrants running from oppressive governments or dark pasts. I see it in myself: I have feet that just want to move, like the stepping reflex in newborn babies… it feels innate to want to run when you reach a certain point in your life. I have so much that I want to change, to grow from; I want so much out of life that I’m not getting here. But I’m not under any impression that my past is going to go away: we ARE our stories, as I’ve learned in this class.

So incase it wasn’t obvious, I’m in the camp that believes that you can’t separate yourself from your ‘baggage’. Erika said in class that many people, especially the First Nations, believe that the only way to change the past is by bringing it into the present. This is echoed in an interview with Highway on the writing of Kiss of the Fur Queen:

Aboriginal people believe that unacknowledged pain leads to an imbalance among mind, body, and spirit that is manifested in sickness. In Highway’s case, the pain was insistent and the sickness serious.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Highway says. “I had to write this book. It came screaming out because this story needed desperately to be told. Writing it hit me hard in terms of my health. So I went to a medicine man, who helped me defeat the monster. We lanced the boil and cured the illness,” he says.

–Suzanne Methot, Quill & Quire

The importance of telling your story; the importance of the equal right to tell your story.

I think it’s been interesting looking at this book in the context of the so-called canon. I think the fact that this book has been so well-received is a reflection of the audience: readers, and Canada, are realizing that these stories exist, and we need to hear them to understand them and move forward together.

Another shift was in part a result of the opening-up of the ‘canon’, and this was the growing awareness that we — or, for many us: they had gotten the stories wrong, and there was quite a bit of ‘going back’ – a kind of ‘starting again’ – which you can really see in the writers who began to turn history into literature, like Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen.

–Erika Paterson, from here

But it is also a reflection of authors: by taking ownership of their stories and telling them after years of silence, I feel they are healing, maybe even forgiving. At the very least, they are trusting in the power of stories. Such efforts can be seen in many places; What I learned in Class Today takes a hard look at how aboriginal issues are approached in classrooms right here at UBC and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is trying to promote healing through providing the opportunity to speak.

I also think that having the courage to speak shows how resilient humans can be; our capacity to overcome, even if it’s been years. It reminds me of Erika’s post with the video about the ecstasy of Rita Joe.

I can’t believe I didn’t realize the power of stories until this class.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in kiss of the fur queen, miscellany, team blog, thoughts

 

molto agitato | splintering from their subarctic roots

The next chapters deal with the return of the boys to Eemanapiteepitat, which is now becoming more and more developed. Even though this is the case, it still provides a stark contrast to the bustling city of Winnipeg that the boys have become used to, which has begun to shape their identity. Enough so that Abraham, their father, noticed how “visit by visit, word by word, [his] sons were splintering from their subarctic roots, their Cree beginnings.” (193)

That line breaks my heart.

 

Also, in a bizarre twist, Mariesis, their mother, wants them to speak English at the dinner table:

“It takes me back to the first time I heard it, on Father Thibodeau’s radio. That old priest had to translate for us, of course, but people across the ocean were killing each other. A story so terrible, but the words sounded like music, I thought at the time. “Great war, great war,’ I used to sing and skip – I was five yeras old- until my father, your grandfather Muskoosis, told me to shut up, that the words meant death.”

“Ach!” broke in her husband. “That’s all them white folks ever do is kill each other. No wonder they packed their bags and swam over here to be with us plain ordinary old Indians, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.” (195)

First of all, English as “musical”?! This is a stark contrast to how the boys thought about English, as steel, metal, heavy, dirge-like. Second of all, Mariesis and Abraham pose problems for me in this book: they make me ask questions, ones that make me a little bit angry, actually. How could they give up their culture so easily? Accept a new one? Send their boys away to residential school where they are abused? I suppose it is a conflict that I will never truly understand; maybe not until I have kids, at least. I remember watching a clip (this one, I think?) on the residential school that said many parents thought they were providing a better future for their children by sending them to residential school, that they would be able to go out into the world and make money and perhaps, in an ironic twist, be happy. Other parents didn’t have a choice, as their children were forcibly removed from them.

In any case. The boys’ return home just illustrates the broadening gap between them and their culture, and sadly, I think their parents, too.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in kiss of the fur queen, miscellany, thoughts

 
 
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