Short Fiction: Running Into

Nate felt a small piece of gravel fall from his bloody knee, down his leg, and onto the floor. As
he heard the small stone skip away, he knew it would not be noticed. The kitchen was spackled with old breakfasts and past dinners. The linoleum curled like a ragged hang nail where the wall met the floor. He sat down on the wooden chair with a backing that gave out if he leaned too hard against it. His mother told him it was the kind of chair that made you lean forward, good for hot coffee and gossip. Nate rubbed denim into the tattered scrape that still stung with sore spirits, the only evidence from a lost ball hockey game.

The game took place at the outdoor rink down the road from his grandparent’s house, behind
the old school gym. The rink was once pristine with concrete poured carefully to ensure a flat, crisp surface for ice for hockey in the winter. A community member secured funding from the band council to build this outdoor rink on the southwest corner of the reserve. Nate’s uncle told him that kids were still being sent to residential school when the rink was built but it gave the community a place to gather in the summer. Decades beat away at the wooden panels that surrounded the rink, patch-worked with replacement boards that were scavenged from old ranch houses. They were the kind of boards where a shoulder check could give you splinters, a place where kids from the town team would never bother playing. It was graffitied and carved into like an elementary school desk — initials, curse words, and crudely drawn faces covered the arena in an adolescent reminder of, “I was here.”

Seasons determined the kind of hockey Nate played, but it didn’t really matter whether it was
spring or winter, because each match felt like a blur - the drop of the ball spurred the beating of soles worn thin against pavement and the drop of the puck sparked the bright carving of blades on ice. The game erupted a willful competitiveness in Nate, his mom told him it was like watching pure spirit. But even over a nothing-game, he couldn’t help but see failure replaying in his head only occasionally redeemed by clipped memories featuring a quick wrist shot or a spin where he cradled the ball to safety. He tried to remember the moments that made him feel like he was floating in the space between everyone else, that perfect space where he could find a breakaway. He lived to find that space.

“Nate. What you doing. Crying away up there.”

He turned quickly and felt the wooden backing on the chair give out.

“Huh, huh, huh, huh. Didn’t know you were out here today. Stopped by from town, eh?”

Nate’s grandfather had passed when he was ten years old and his grandmother lived with his
aunt in town. His uncle was the sole resident of the house and family members were welcome to come out and visit, even if his uncle wasn’t home.

“Ball hockey game. Shawn needed even numbers to make it work.”

“You win?”

“Nah.”

“Get your ass out here and practice more then.”

His uncle smelled like stale beer and tanned leather, an unintended afterglow from last night.

“Hey uncle, I heard you were in town last night, didn’t know you came back here.”

“Huh, yeah. Got in late. Gerald drove that damned civic into Rhoda’s fence.”

Nate glanced up at the kitchen clock with the broken minute hand that stuttered without
moving forward, the hour hand glared definitively at 1 pm. His uncle grabbed the coffee pot and ran it under the faucet to rinse away the bronze sheen that coated the inside of the glass. Coffee grounds poured into the filter like loose sand and within a moment, his uncle sat down at the table. The rectangular kitchen table looked slender as his uncle’s broad frame leaned over it, he swept sugar cubes aside and lifted dishes to eventually find a ragged matchbook. Nate watched his uncle’s chest grow wider as it drew in the smoke — Must be all that work on the rigs, Nate thought, not like his dad who worked behind a computer screen. Nate couldn’t help but think about how his dad’s shoulders seemed to cave forward, his back arched high over a sinking chest. Nate straightened out his back, sitting taller in his chair.

When his uncle was younger, Nate heard that he ran faster than any boy on the rez — including
the boys who were nearly 4 years older than him. This was put to the test every summer, at the
gatherings that happened several hours away from the reserve. Most of the nation, plus some families from the surrounding tribes, camped out there. Everyone cooked pancakes or salmon in a fry pan over the fire, the make-shift outhouses reeked like hell, and there were bingo games from 5pm onward. And then, there were the bush races. His uncle won first place at the long-distance race that sent runners all the way up Beacon’s Point and then to the far end of Foxtail Lake. His uncle won from the age of 11 until he turned 16.

His uncle flicked at his knee.

“What’s that.”

“Fell.”

“You need to clean that out.”

His uncle tapped his cigarette on the edge of a nearby side plate and then stood up to squeeze
dish soap onto a tea cloth before tossing it at his lap.

“Clean it out. Or, it’ll get infected...”

Nate folded the cloth into a square and pressed down onto his knee which erupted a sharp
feeling sensation.

“Hungry?”

Nate knew it wasn’t really a question. It was more like a taunt, a challenge, an expectation that
he would eat. But it was a bad idea for anyone to have high expectations of the fridge, he had learned this back when he used to stay over at the old house regularly and searched the cupboards for anything other than a box of stuffing, leftover from christmas dinner, or a clump of withered vegetables voluntarily composting in the crisper.

“Uncle, you ever been afraid of losing?”

“Afraid of losing what.”

His uncle sauntered between the stove and the cutting board, filling a pot with water, grabbing
boxes from cupboards, and pulling vegetables from the fridge. His uncle cooked three different
meals: Standard fried breakfast - fried eggs, bacon, pancakes with old-fashioned syrup; salmon and potatoes tossed in the same frying pan; and his infamous hot dog soup.

“Who beat you when you were 16?”

“What the hell are you talking about.”

“Bush races, everyone says you won until you were 16.”

“Oh. Fuck those. Dumb shit tradition. Those races, what do those races prove? That you can
run fast for nothing?”

Macaroni pasta fell generously from a tilted box that his uncle held above the pot of boiling
water which was then followed by the soft chop of carrots, celery and wieners.

“You know what I say, Nate? Run fast when you need to. Hold your ground when you got to.
No reason to run for nothing.”

His uncle peeled open a small square of chicken bouillon from foil, crumbling it against itself,
before plunking it into the water.

“I never won when I was 16 because I stopped running.”

Nate lifted the dish cloth from his knee and saw watery blood soaked into the fabric. He folded
the cloth against the blood stain and pressed it back down against his knee. He looked up at his uncle who was turned towards the stove.

“I want to get better at hockey this year.”

“Yeah?”

The pot of water bubbled and steam rose from the broth, the kitchen window became foggy at
the edges. His uncle stirred the soup while tapping the ash of his cigarette into the sink, Nate watched how he kept tapping it even when there was no ash left to shed.

“I’m going to start running so I can get faster out there on the ice. Gonna play forward this
season, maybe even centre.”

His uncle flipped his hair from his forehead and he grinned as he stood up, “Huh.”

He ladled soup into a couple of bowls and pushed one towards Nate. The soup was exactly
what Nate needed. It smelled like his grandparents’ old house, it smelled like his childhood. He watched his uncle pour a dollop of ketchup into his own soup bowl, a finishing touch that most
family members did without.

“Well, that’s something then.”

Nate leaned forward over the table and looked at his uncle who gazed vacantly at each
spoonful. Past his uncle’s head, Nate stared out the kitchen window. He looked at the trees in the backfield that traced up the mountainside. If he squinted, he could see the cattle trail that zigzagged on the northeast side. Near the west corner, there was dust rising from the dirt road that snaked around the old house and led to the highway back to town, evidence of someone coming or going. He imagined himself running up the mountain. Steam rose from his soup and made his cheeks glow. He wondered about spending more nights out at the old house on the rez so he could start training early in the morning before the valley got hot, Nate smiled at this thought. The tick of the clock stuttered persistently on the wall before he finally heard the click of the hour hand moving forward.

Archived Post 2015: You Can Get Rid Of Your Old Books

You can get rid of your old books because even though they are lovely and treasured, they are slowly dying on your shelves from lack of use. What life was breathed into them by folding corners and spilling coffee or wine or even writing in the margins, has now faded. Like all the dried up receipts and tattered paper you may have used to recall the last paragraph you read. Bookmarks slung out of the top of the book, like the tongue of an old, tired dog.

And worse, the sparkly clean books with so much promise, kept on shelves but never read. Hot off the presses, folded and glued and wrapped in glossy jackets. Given as gifts. Meant for coffee-tables. Instead they sit alone and untouched, like 40-year old debutantes. Slowly spinsters biding their time until they can finally have a wild and crazy adventure. The one dreams are made of. One last kick at the can. Eventually borrowed or given or traded or left at thrift stores, so they can be ravaged and used as coasters and wrinkled and maybe even quite possibly, remembered.

All the inscriptions in the world aren’t worth keeping, if you don’t open those pages again.

Give them away, get rid of shelf-dressers, collecting dust and wooing past memories. Words can be more than nostalgic keepsakes that no one gets to read. Words should always be much more than that.

Get rid of your old books, they aren’t badges or medals or ribbons or honours. They aren’t adjectives for your ego or closed-off memento’s saved from past use. They aren’t talisman for who you wish to be. If no one sleeps with you because you didn’t save that book you read in college, well, trust me. It’s not the book’s fault.

Get rid of everything and keep nothing but what you can actually remember and recall. Without the cheater text, just by time spent, just from memories of when it was passed to you.

Indigenous literature -- Canadian or in its own canon?

Recently, a discussion came up in a class that I'm taking that presumes how Indigenous literature must be a facet of Canadian literature and part of Canada's overall identity. I'm challenged by this claim to ownership of culture, both historically to present, and I would like to articulate how Indigenous ideology as an amalgamation within the Canadian Lit canon is troublesome in its recognition of Indigenous autonomy of culture.

Here's a response that I provided regarding, "What is Canadian Children's Literature?":

It is problematic to refer to Indigenous literature as a component of Canadian identity as many First Nations do not consider Canada as their Nation. Using Indigenous literature as a facet of the Canadian literature canon is to claim ownership of Indigenous people within the cross-national identity of settler culture; this is the basis of theory and thought by a number of Indigenous academic writers. Indigenous identity requires its own framework that is separate from settler culture and while there is an intersection of these type's of literature and identities, I argue that it should not exist within the Canadian descriptor as it ultimately parallels colonial claim -- in this sense to culture, ideology and creative thought.  

I appreciate the author of Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing specifying their description of Canadian Cultural Identity in Chapter 9 and how problematic it may be with providing a homogeneous description of Canadian culture that includes Indigenous writers. The author briefly mentions Francophone people but this does not suffice as an adequate description or parallel to the issue of including Indigenous literature into Canadian literature, as Francophone people still fall within the same category as "settler" literature. Indigenous people, who are indeed First Peoples of this land, and who are tied closely to their Nations do not consider themselves “Canadian” but have a Nation to Nation (That is, the First Nation community such as Musqueam or Sto:lo or Mohawk to Canadian Nation) relationship with the Canadian Federal Government. Therefore, to assume that Indigenous literature must be included in the Canadian identity as an overall pan-identity is a political decision and reiterates ongoing settler and colonial claim to Indigenous people and history. This raises a very interesting question for educators to consider. I am glad that the author took time to explain the complexity of this pan-Canadian identity and how it is challenging to focus this description considering the diversity and political complex circumstances within Canada, but I am unsatisfied with this chapter that attempts to address an incredibly important concern within the Canadian identity framework.

When considering the question, what is Canadian literature? I often think about how Canadian literature focuses primarily on the pastoral within the story and by this I mean, land. Land is a theme consumed by settler culture and Canadian identity, it is a primary identifier of self for most Canadians. It is the original reason that compelled settlers to arrive to this land; land reflects the sheer geographical scale versus the smaller population of citizens that reside on this land -- which is a characteristic that defines different that Canada may have with the United States. Geography and place plays a big part in much of Canadian literature - whether this is based in natural territory or urban environments facing a collision of culture, diversity and tension. Sometimes land and geography acts as a vehicle or sub-"character" to move the plot forward or metaphorically reflect aspects of the plot within the protagonist’s life. In Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness, the expanse of the prairies as a reflection of both freedom and loneliness which passively weaves its way in and out of the storyline over the course of the novel, almost as a character that separates the protagonist from her immediate present environment to the outside world or her future. In Arthur Slade's Dust, the prairies act as an allegory of economy and wellness within a narrative that ebbs on horror and the supernatural. Both weather and geography serve as a foreboding warning to the community in Dust that informs survival and livelihood within the Dust Bowl period. I think geography is a common aspect of Canadian literature and I do think it is valuable for author’s to use this as story device for defining a separate identity to the territory of the United States. An understanding of one’s place and immediate surroundings is key to questioning politics, values, identities developed within predominant media and culture. Land and nature as a primary identity-based attribute used in Canadian literature could potentially act as a more meaningful and telling point of intersection to Indigenous literature. Meaningful in the sense that this difference is acknowledged, and in that sense it is respected, rather than the simple assumption that Indigenous literature is just another identifying attribute to be consumed and commodified with the overall canon of Canadian identity.

Works Cited:
Bainbridge, Joyce; Oberg, Dianne; Carbonaro, Mike. No text is innocent: Canadian children’s
books in the classroom. Journal of Teaching and Learning
, Volume. 3, No. 2, 2005.
Slade, Arthur. Dust. CNIB, 2002.
Toews, Miriam. A Complicated Kindness. Faber and Faber, 2004.

Indigenous Young Adult Fiction

I'm taking a few courses about Children's Literature and I'm using it as an opportunity to better articulate ideas regarding Indigenous authors and illustrators. I haven't tried to create anything graphic-design related lately, so this was also a chance to put together a simple but visually appealing layout.


Using photos within my design work is really important to me because it's an opportunity to show diversity. I think, for myself, I just imagine how skeptical I would be if I was a young Indigenous kid and how I wouldn't trust recommended lists for literature or anything Native-related without some kind of visual representation that includes me. Because of this, I just want to think about ways we can all increase the amount of images of folks with darker skin within broader media, I think it's important for young Indigenous people to see themselves in promotional media but I also think it's good for all kids to this kind of diversity. These photos are from a handful of years ago and my cousin in the lowest photo is expecting her first baby later this month -- crazy how time flies.

On a side-note, I would like to get better about including disability based representation within media, mostly because I can admit that it's not something i always remember to include (cough cough, personal privilege). I would like to start to think about how I might include this in my art, my reading and studying, and my visual representation of diverse populations. Specifically, I want to start creating more illustrations that includes folks who have a physical form of disability.

If you happen to be an educator working in community, collections/libraries or with school institutions, please let me know your feedback regarding these kinds of materials. I'm really curious as to how this might align with curriculum development. I'm not a trained teacher at all, but I have worked in communications and am passionate about media and literature literacy.

Anyways, enjoy!

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