going for broke 1. dames rocket: 1975-78  work & days: a lifetime journal project


Dame's rocket is a British common name for herperis matronalis, a weed phlox, mauve, pink and white, that likes waste ground and blooms from May through July with an intoxicating scent said to be aphrodisiac to women. This phlox, a 4-petalled crucifera also called sweet rocket and dame's violet, grew wild next to my house on East Pender and in laneways throughout the rest of the city. I came to associate it with the year's peak of dazzling early light, and with a creative wildness that came when I had it in the house. For my section title I omit the possessive apostrophe to allow rocket also to read as a verb. I've later understood that the title also stretches to the shelling I initiated and endured from rockets launched by dames.

Volumes 1-3 are on one side of a divide, I am still the fond concrete-natured person I have been since the first record written at 12, and then in volume 4 I rush over the divide into catastrophic change. - I'm looking at how I've said that, "on one side of a divide," "rushing over it." It's a metaphor but is it also a physical description, did 'I,' the conscious I, rush into the other side of the brain - was it rushing into the unconscious, is that the way to say it? There's evidence that I was in quest of that.

On one side of the divide is a friendly sociable person who has managed a nearly penniless move from one country to another with a four year old, who is balancing in the stresses of motherhood, who has completed a first film that will later be called her masterpiece, who is more full of love than of hate or fear, who has delighting play with her son, who is as strong and as good looking as she will ever be and generally less than a month between lovers - continuous with herself as she has been since about twelve and still rising in confidence and creative pleasure. Young in a new city. So why did she think that wasn't good enough? Why does she want to break? As she did break, roughly speaking for the rest of the Going for broke period, to the end of her thirties.


I got through the late 1960s without investigating drugs. Hadn't seen any reason to be interested in them, hippy art was just a mess and people on drugs seemed stupid. In Vancouver when I arrived in 1974 hippy culture was fading but artists tended to be stoners. My first two lovers there were casual users: Paul gave me hash, once, and Maggie mushrooms, twice. I was curious, took notes, but it wasn't my road. When I fell for Cheryl and would sometimes smoke a joint with her and Trudy, it was something else: I saw, or thought I saw, minds more interesting than mine, faster, less solid. I wanted to be where they were. Smoking with them and their friends was often terrifying, socially paralysing, but I liked trying it at home with my journal next to me, 'thinking.' Stoned, I couldn't and didn't want to write narrative as I had since I was twelve, I could only write a few words from wherever I was, as a record. These journals now are quite unreadable even for me.

The record was mostly of thoughts and the thoughts were often about being stoned. I had been interested in 'consciousness' from high school on. At Queen's it was a philosophical interest. In London the texts of the age promised marvels of expanded awareness and I had studied them looking for ways to improve myself. I was susceptible to those promises because I felt there was something wrong with me. I felt it for more than one reason. A couple of those reasons were true, though in different ways, and others weren't; I hadn't been able to sort the true from the false, and so was confused.

One true reason was that there was something wrong in my writing: something false and shallow. That something wrong with me couldn't be fixed by drugs, but drugs could mess with it in ways that made me hope for a breakthrough. There was also something else wrong, that seemed to be mine but actually was social. I had a thin leg and limped. It bothered me very little physically, but it made people nervous of me, and that nervousness in my relation with them felt like a social awkwardness that was mine rather than theirs or ours. Drugs couldn't fix that either, but they made me aware of it in ways I had evaded until then, and being aware of it made it worse. A third, untrue, reason was something cultural and amorphous: whatever it was about the culture I was immersed in that made my particular gifts seem uninteresting, banal, too female. I was ambitious, and I didn't have a context that found me impressive, and so had to look for ways to exceed myself.

How has that shaken down since. A therapist I worked with after this period knew how to work with what really was wrong with me and I understand it now. The social wrongness is still there but I find it's fixed best by power; when I'm in charge enough, I can override it. The cultural thing is systemic and enormous. I'm clear about what's wrong there and that it isn't me, but I've given up a lot to be able to know that. I've given up most of what was right with me to begin with - though, yes, there are other right things now.

And drugs, were they nothing but self-assault and wrong effort? Did they make me anything worth being? It's a painful question.

Feminism [not written yet]