Same old addictions situation

Jessica Naomi Jones is missing.

Jessica Naomi Jones is missing, and her car has been found, and her wallet has been found, and her keys and purse and credit cards have been found. But she is still vanished, her footsteps grown faint somewhere on Furby Street and from there, untraceable.

Oh God, may she be found, safe and close as possible to sound.

While we wait and hold our breath in empathy for a family that likely cannot breathe, we occupy our time with this: however this story ends, it didn’t have to begin this way. Jessica Naomi Jones might have been somewhere safe.

Jones said her daughter was often drunk and would go out, get picked up by police and spend the night at the Main Street Project. After the last episode, she took Jessica for assessment at the HSC. She was hoping Jessica would be admitted to the hospital’s psychiatric unit but after four days she was discharged without a plan.

Oh, this old story again.

Look, this is the bottom line: trace almost every sickness of our society back to whence it came, and you find an addiction. Behind so many daughters missing and so many daughters beaten; behind so many shootings, and stabbings, and the crossfire; behind the shocking crashes; behind the decay; behind the trauma that spreads from generation to generation; and the poverty; and all the pain.

That this affects all of us, every day, is not up for debate. Every street you can’t walk down, because you’re scared it isn’t safe; every emergency room straining to cope with the human devastation of addiction; every justice department overburdened by call after call and case after case.

And yet, we let it happen.

We let it happen by refusing to hold elected bodies to account. We let it happen by allowing them to get away without a focused and transparent plan. “Addictions funding” barely merits a mention in Manitoban elections, despite the fact it is our most daunting and deeply entrenched challenge.

Imagine if the government made a bold declaration, and backed it up with data. Imagine they set specific deliverable targets: number of clients who completed an addictions program, for instance. Short wait times for beds at treatment centers. Target reduction in the estimated number of people living with addictions. Improve rural outreach. Open up the provincial wallet and let’s get this job done.

Now imagine they put all those targets, and all that data up on a website and let the public track it, ask questions, give suggestions, and publicly report issues accessing addictions support systems. Transparency, accountability and investment in tackling the most vicious stalker of our streets. Is that so obscene of a vision?

Because oh, we’re just barely treading water, now.

Privately, addictions health staff will whisper their exhaustion, their tales of politicized appointments and never getting all the things they need. Rarely will they go on the record: such is the way of things in Manitoba, where the pond is so small it feels mighty dangerous to wake the bigger fish.

At some point, the public needs to pick up this torch, and carry it straight to the steps of the Legislature.

In the long run, it will save us money: numerous studies have found that funding for addictions treatment results in a net savings for governments by money not spent on crisis health care, social services, law enforcement and justice costs. Addictions are expensive to treat; they are far more expensive to let fester.

More than that: if we threw everything we had into minimizing addictions, then maybe Jessica Naomi Jones would not be missing. And maybe the next woman who vanishes into the night will not go missing, and maybe the next child slain in the street over a fistful of drug money would still be in school.

The only thing obscene about the idea, is that we — the people who allow the parties to get away with political platforms — haven’t demanded it be done.

Feh. I realize this is mostly unformed thought. It’s just so frustrating.

Blood In The Snow

Winter is coming, and when winter stays, it spreads an indelible stain on my Winnipeg.

This is the terrible gift of three years in general assignment, the way it twists and shakes the things a sheltered suburban girl always thought she knew, tints them through lenses of the evils people do: wherever you look, you see blood in the snow.

Blood in the snow, and discarded latex gloves, and piss stains and broken bottles. Or rather, scratched out by your frozen, clawed-up hand:

+ Blood / snow by sidewalk, spattered

+ 6 evidence markers

+ Police in/out of house, plastic bags

+ Graffiti? Gang tag

“Why you sticking around?” a cop asks, prickling. “Nothing’s gonna happen here.”

And you shrug, and breathe hot on your hands, and stare past him. You stare into the spiderweb windows holding vigil on this street. A little girl pulls back a curtain and holds your eyes for just a minute before dropping out of frame. Look away child, look away.

This happens everywhere, I understand. Blood on snow and blood on sand and blood on steel and concrete. Every day, the images march to the same grim rhythm, swelling and falling but never completely fading away.

Someday maybe we learn to live with each other? It’s a nice thing to think about.

I never did too much of this. Enough to grow both sensitized and strangely immune.

The ugly stuff comes after, the knocking on doors and barging into lives and taking notes on the life snuffed out. The calls that your stomach is blackmailing you not to make. “Yes, hello, I’m looking for… and are you the mother of… and I’m so sorry. I’m calling from…”

Sometimes that turns out beautiful, other times not so much.

But first, there is the strange and silent vigil for the scene, borne by cameras and notepads and the people holding each. All of us watching the blood in the snow, as if staring might make it give up its secrets. As if there’s anything in splatter patterns that will tell us what we need to know.

Correction: want to know.

The pornography of violence is painted thus: lurid sprays of red, spread on a blanket of feathered white. Noted, photographed and described at every angle, so that folks can cluck their tongues and clutch their throats in a pantomime of fear. “But isn’t it just so awful Ted? And isn’t it just so bad?

Ted puts his coffee mug in the sink, wipes his mouth and puts the paper down. “Well, what do you expect, in this shithole town?”

Dresses for Propagandhi

Take a snapshot of the moment you realize your life is straight from a sitcom, or a rom-com, or any other kind of “com” in which the punchline is the neuroses of a woman: it’s Friday night, I scored a red-hot ticket to the show, and my bed is covered in dresses and shoes.

Yeah, it’s a classic image, and so is this: a bed all full of fashion and a few texts to an understanding friend. Challenge: going to a punk show, need to wear clothes, want to make something of an impression. Help find me the solution.

“Jeans and a t-shirt?”

No, God no, not nearly hot enough.

“Your knee-length leopard dress.”

Too conservative, too covered, not enough skin. The hope here is to catch an eye, if not fully suck it in.

“That tight blue dress then,” my friend texted, and the silence of the medium is filled by imagined exasperation. “No, the other one. The one you wear with fishnets, that almost shows your ass. And heels. High ones. Those six-inch ones you got last month.”

Dude, I can’t wear that, it’s a Propagandhi show.

Take a snapshot of the moment you remember again how, in a culture where the female body is so regularly objectified, the act of wearing clothes while female is fully politicized. Always about the gaze of The Other. And always keenly aware of the message coded in every inch of flesh, and every delicate contraption bought to manage what it says.

Show cleavage or show leg, never show both. Unless you just want to not go home alone, in which case more of each. Too tight; it clings. Too loose, it hides. Dust a little bronzer between your breasts, if you’re taking them out tonight. Just a hint, though, not too much; you want him to respect you, right?

The vulnerability of the female body has become the accepted cultural shorthand of seeking sex, or seeking love, and the balance we want of both. So it goes on a Saturday night, the women teetering in high heels. Thighs torn of hair and shivering in the cold, breasts taped and strapped into perilous altitudes. Bodies made to submit to clothes that never seem to fit — at least, not the way products made to sit on a body should.

All the dudes: shirts and jeans, man, just shirts and jeans.

But oh, I remember a heavy sigh, his fingers on a photograph and me trying so hard not to catch his eye: “You never dress like that anymore,” he said.

Knowing how much work goes into it, would you?

Once, in the gutters of that same relationship sputtering to its close, I hid inside my clothes: jeans and battered tank-tops, mostly. Otherwise it would be another fight: “Who are you dressing like that for?

And though every fiber of my feminism ached to be free, I accepted this question as a responsibility: it was my job to stop who looked. And I needed men to look away from what they could not have.

“Oh,” strangers said. “You don’t look like you’re taking care of yourself.”

Everyone’s a critic, these days.

The day I knew it was really really over, I went out and bought miniskirts. (Aren’t you getting too old?) And the tightest shreds of denim. (Your thighs could use some work.) And I tip-toed back into the world, and learned again how to scrutinize every inch of flesh, contemplating what it might promise, and how each promise had to be controlled.

“I don’t walk around the North End flashing $100 bills,” they say, as if a body is just another thing you can hold, and hide, and still have ripped away.

Tell us again, for the record: what was the victim wearing that night?

This is not to say that, in my own way, I don’t enjoy the game.

That night, I found the answer in a black and strapless Betsey Johnson dress, acid wash, and in my flat black Fluevog boots, a studded glove and sunglasses perched on my head. To ward off the occasional shivers of social anxiety, you understand.

Her boyfriend, drinking: “You look like you’re wearing a costume.”

I howled with laughter, because really: that’s perfect. Underneath it all is naked honesty. But this? Just a certain form of performance art, booked in for a lifelong run. Costume is the truth.

Anyway, just a snapshot of what picking dresses for Propagandhi can do to you.