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
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]