Author Archives: Kenn Orphan

About Kenn Orphan

Kenn Orphan is a social worker, artist, and human and environmental rights advocate.

Cop City is the Future they Want, Unwavering Resistance must be Our Answer

Over this past weekend I went to see the new Avatar movie. I had seen the first one and, although it had flaws, I saw the overall message as compelling. Fair warning, here is a small spoiler: Simply put, the plot is one where humans in the future, with the help of gargantuan and lethal military might, attempt to colonize a planet called Pandora. It is another solar system many light years from earth, and it possesses many extraordinary and rare minerals and resources, as well as incredible biodiversity and Indigenous societies. In the sequel, the humans of earth have returned, and their goal is nothing less than total colonization of the planet for the purpose of resettlement. Earth, as one cold hearted military general says, is dying.

Hollywood produces a lot of rubbish. I mean, a LOT of it. And we are living in an age where fast paced computer-generated graphics and imagery have taken the place of meaningful dialogue, acting and plot development. Much of this is nothing new, the film industry has long collaborated with the Department of Defense, the Pentagon and the CIA in its productions. How else could a blockbuster movie have access to so much military hardware? Major box office money makers, like the braindead “Top Gun” series, rely enormously on the US military industrial sector.

Thus, much of the messaging in today’s blockbuster movies is lockstep with that of modern American imperialism. The military is almost always portrayed as a flawed, yet thoroughly heroic force for good in the world. Foreigners, especially if they are in the Global South or from Arab or Muslim countries, are othered. They are often depicted in racist stereotypes, stripped of their humanity, and given the role of a sinister or backward troll bent on the destruction of all that is good in the world.

So, watching the new Avatar film provided a refreshing break from such racist and ludicrous plotlines. Here, imperialistic military forces are portrayed in the more accurate light of world destroyer. One scene, in particular, is reminiscent of the American military’s murderous assault on Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s. Giant starships make landfall on parts of Pandora’s pristine rainforests, setting everything and every living being ablaze. It is scorched earth policy seen for what it actually is, ecocide.

Without a doubt, Avatar has many flaws. It is still very American-centric. And there is still the stench of “white savior” mythos haunting many of the scenes. But it is visually stunning. And it is a departure from most of the films generated by the film industry these days. I cannot imagine most people coming away from the movie with anything other than disdain for militarism and all of its nauseating jingoistic platitudes. What struck me the most is that while I was watching this movie about an assault on the ecosystem of a fictional planet and its Indigenous peoples, another was unfolding on a real forest and on the people attempting to protect it from destruction. That forest is in the city of Atlanta, Georgia.

On January 18th, the Atlanta police assassinated one of those defenders. Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, affectionately known as “Tortuguita,” or “Little Turtle” was gunned down in cold blood by a stormtrooper raiding a peaceful encampment. The defenders have been in the Weelaunee Forest (also known as the South River Forest), south-east of Atlanta, for nearly two years protesting the construction of a massive $90 million dollar, 85-acre, police training facility. According to Truthout, the project has the backing of major corporations like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Delta Airlines, UPS and Cox Enterprises. The latter owns the Atlanta Constitution-Journal which has published endless articles in praise of the Cop City project and demonizing anyone who dissents or protests it. The citizens of Atlanta, where a majority has opposed the facility, will nonetheless be paying for a third of its cost.

The Weelaunee Forest was land stolen from the Muscogee people who were marched westward, many to their deaths, in the infamous Trail of Tears. It is also located in a predominantly working-class Black neighbourhood. And it had been slated as a much-needed greenbelt for the city and to mitigate the damage from climate change. It has been aptly named “Cop City” by many protestors and critics alike.

With all these characteristics, the assault on this forest and its defenders is one of the best analogies for our current predicament. It also parallels the ongoing war against Indigenous peoples in the Amazon or in Central America, where scores have been murdered by armed militias and illegal loggers and ranchers who have been decimating the rainforests for decades. But it also signifies something even more chilling.

The authoritarian state, now in the most dangerous and destructive phase of late capitalism, is ramping up its efforts to suppress any meaningful dissent. With each passing year it becomes more brazen. So sadly, in all likelihood, the Weelaunee Forest will be razed, and Cop City will be built. The state is already unleashing its arsenal and declaring protestors “domestic terrorists,” a term which has been made meaningless with each passing year as it is applied to virtually anyone who exposes or opposes state violence, mindless militarism, rapacious consumption and corporate ecocide.

Police forces are now being trained, not to protect people from harm, but to protect state and corporate power. And this marriage is classic fascism. They will be trained in urban warfare against civilians, primarily the poor, working class and people of colour, and all under the guise of “fighting crime and keeping people safe.” The real purpose is far more ominous.

As our climate becomes more precarious and erratic, social and economic tensions will continue to be exacerbated. Instead of dismantling the planet-killing arrangement of power currently in place, those on the top are seeking to bolster its defenses. And they will defend this racist, ecocidal and untenable fortress at all costs. But does it need to be this way? And how complicit are we in this scheme?

As I watched Avatar, I found myself thinking of this unfolding drama in the Weeluanee Forest. I thought of the two Indigenous Pataxó land defenders who were just murdered in Brazil. I thought about the protests happening in west Germany to oppose a mine, where Greta Thunberg and others were just arrested. And I felt myself grieving that many of us seem a bit too comfortable with the theme of abandoning our precious home world within the realms of science fiction movies. I understand that the broader message of films like this may be to defend what we have left here, but how often is this understood by the larger audience? How often do they recognize that they represent the fictional “Sky People” or at least tacitly support their destructive policies and projects by their silence?

The species on fictional Pandora aren’t more wondrous than the real ones who inhabit our fragile and beleaguered biosphere. Not by a longshot. I’ve been fortunate to witness so many of them when visiting various places around the world. From bioluminescent algae in the sea in Panama, to marsupials in Australia, to howler monkeys in Argentina, to sequoias in California, to glow worms in New Zealand, to sea turtles in the Caribbean Sea, to lynxes here in my native Nova Scotia. And the Indigenous peoples and cultures of that fictional world are no match for the real ones who still live among us, in our times, and who are at the forefront of this ongoing war being waged for profit, against the biosphere on which we all depend.

Resistance to colonialism, militaristic, state violence and ecocide isn’t fictional. Cop City is the future they want, but there are courageous people pushing back against that nihilistic narrative everywhere. It is a resistance that is happening now, in big ways and small, on this world, and in places not far from where you live. But it needs all of us, or it will fail. And this wondrous, real world, and all that rely on it, will be lost forever.

Kenn Orphan, January 2023

*Photo is of Tortuguita (Manuel Esteban Paez Terán), may he rest in peace and in power, and may we who are left behind on Turtle Island resist, with conscience, kindness and integrity, in solidarity with each other, until the very end.

On the nature of memory, a gift we cannot keep

Since the onset of my mother’s dementia, I’ve thought a lot about the nature of memory. I never realized fully how malleable it is. Or how subject it is to the influence of trauma or ecstasy or boredom or sensation.

We tend to think memory is forever. That it is a constant. I think this helps us to feel less terrified at the randomness that often seems to define our days. But it isn’t.

I never imagined my mother would forget that I am her son. Worse, I never imagined she would eventually forget the love of her life. But my father, many years gone, has gone too from her memory. Perhaps only returning like some draft from a door left ajar on a blustery day.

Memory is the foundation of so many things’ we humans consider essential. It has been passed down in spoken stories, scribed on great scrolls, etched in stone, printed in bound up reams of paper, digitalized. It has been studied, examined and analyzed for court documents and civil arrangements. Used as a bludgeon by some, and a caress by others. And yet, even after the thousands of years our ancestors descended from the trees of the savannah, it is a mystery.

A couple months ago, I drove by an old cemetery. They are quite common here in Nova Scotia. Sometimes meticulously maintained, but often covered in bramble and vines. This one was a bit of both. I stopped the car and ambled toward the gates with a bit of trepidation as I went.

After a time, I realized that I had been standing in front of one tombstone. My mind had drifted to another place, but my body stood in this one. I looked at the engraving on the stone:

Gone, but not forgotten

A simple wish. A fervent belief. A last gasp of grief. I could not know what feelings or thoughts were going through the minds of those left on this side of the veil. But I could fathom the pain. We all want this, after all. To remember. To be remembered. Because we all know we will eventually be gone from this earthly plain. And then I thought of my mother. How she has forgotten. And she is not yet gone.

But I began to realize that memory is more than the pieces and shards of recollection we store in our heads. There is memory in our skin. Memory in our breath. Memory in every part of our senses. There is the memory of water. The memory of stone. The memory of soil. The memory of sky.

This thought provided me some comfort as I wandered back to the car. But I would be lying if I said it wiped away most of the fear or pangs of grief that seem to meet me at the most inopportune times. Because these days, I am living in my head. And this is where memory asserts itself like an insolent child. Demanding my attention every minute.

Since my mother’s diagnosis, I’ve feared losing my own memory. Any inkling that this is happening is met with a fierce internal battle. I SHALL NOT FORGET! I shout it in my mind. As if to defy Mnemosyne, the god of memory. As if to mark a moment in time, a line in the sand that cannot be crossed. But the truth is that I may forget, and probably will.

When I got home, I had a message from a friend who had end stage cancer. It said: “hope to talk to you soon.” I felt a sudden sting of panic and called him within minutes. I thought, lest I forget. “Tomorrow, I am going to visit my mother,” I told him. “I remember her. One of the kindest people I’ve ever met,” he replied. I didn’t realize that this would be the last time I would ever speak to him.

The next day I saw my mother. She was sitting up, doing a word search puzzle in a book that seemed to weigh more than she did. “Hi mom. How are you?” She looked up at me from the intensity of the printed conundrum and replied with a bright smile; “Hello Kenny.” I knew that she wasn’t greeting me as her son, but as one of her brothers. Because her life as my mother is all but forgotten to her. Decades are now erased from her world. But she still remembers my name. So, I will take that as a gift. Because it is. And because I’ve come to realize that memory, itself, is a gift. And, like all gifts, be it water, or breath, or life, it must eventually be returned to its source.

Kenn Orphan, January 2023

January 19th: In Solidarity with Antiwar Russians

In solidarity with antiwar Russians:

“For over a decade, Russian antifascists have commemorated January 19 as their day of solidarity. This is the date when in 2009, in the center of Moscow, the human rights and leftist activist Stanislav Markelov and the journalist and anarchist Anastasia Baburova were gunned down by neo-Nazis.

The murder of Markelov and Baburova became the culmination of the ultra-right terror of the 2000s, which killed hundreds of migrants and dozens of anti-fascists. For many years, while it was still possible, Russian activists held antifascist demonstrations and rallies on January 19 under the slogan “To remember is to fight!”

Today, when the Putin regime has invaded Ukraine and unleashed unprecedented repression against its own citizens who oppose the war, the date of January 19 takes on a new meaning. Back then the danger was posed by neo-Nazi groups, often acting with the connivance of the authorities.

Today, the ideology and practice of right-wing radicals have become the ideology and practice of the Russian regime itself, which is rapidly turning fascist over the course of its invasion of Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin is waging war not only against the Ukrainian people, but also against the Russian civil society resisting aggression. The brutal repressions hit, among other things, the left-wing movement: socialists, anarchists, feminists, labor unionists.

Before the New Year, the most famous left–wing politician in Russia, the democratic socialist Mikhail Lobanov, was arrested and beaten. The platform “Nomination” he created united the anti-war opposition in the municipal elections in Moscow in September 2022.

Kirill Ukraintsev, the leader of the Courier labor union and a well-known left-wing video blogger, has been in custody since April. The reason for the arrest were the protests and strikes the couriers organized as they sought to improve their working conditions.

A feminist, artist and anti-war activist Alexandra Skochilenko, who distributed anti-war symbols, faces a long prison term.

Six Anarchists – Kirill Brik, Deniz Aydin, Yuri Neznamov, Nikita Oleinik, Roman Paklin, Daniil Chertykov – were arrested in the so-called “Tyumen case.” They were brutally tortured, seeking confessions in the preparation of sabotage.

Daria Polyudova, an activist of the Left Resistance group, was recently sentenced to nine (!) years in prison for “calls to extremism.” Leftist journalist Igor Kuznetsov has been in prison for a year now, accused of “extremism” for his anti-war and anti-Putin views.

This is a far from exhaustive list of Russian leftists recently imprisoned or persecuted for their beliefs. As activists forced to leave Russia for political reasons, we ask our foreign comrades and all those who care to support the antifascist action on January 19 under the slogans:

No to Putin’s war, fascism and dictatorship!
Freedom to all Russian political prisoners!
Solidarity with Russian antifascists!
To remember is to fight!

We ask you to send us information about any solidarity actions during the week of January 19-24 – pickets, open meetings, online discussions, and even personal photos with posters – by e-mail at:”

– The Russian Socialist Movement

Photo is of journalist Anastasia Baburova and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov. They were murdered by neo-Nazis in Moscow on the 19th, January 2009. The date is now remembered by Russian progressives, leftists, socialists and anarchists as a day of solidarity and resistance to fascism.

Kenn Orphan, January 2023

Remembering Shatzi Weisberger

I am deeply saddened at hearing that Shatzi Weisberger, also known as the “people’s Bubbie,” has died at the age of 92. I only met Shatzi once back in New York, when I was in graduate school. She was a nurse and a death educator, and her words played a big role in encouraging me to enter into hospice as a social worker and grief counselor.

Shatzi was a lifelong fighter for human rights and attended every protest and demonstration that she could, from Black Lives Matter, to LGBTQ+ marches, to Palestinian Solidarity. Like many American Jews, she had hoped to travel to Israel and live on a kibbutz when she was a child. But after researching and meeting with Palestinians and other Jews in the social justice community, she realized that she could never reconcile this with her passion for and commitment to human rights. She joined Jewish Voice for Peace and became a leading figure in the movement for Palestinian solidarity up until her death.

Shatzi worked with patients with HIV/AIDS in the early days. She was among many lesbians who fought the stigma associated with the disease early on. She was also a part of the political action group ACT UP which protested the abuse, neglect and discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Shatzi’s work in the field of death and dying has been revolutionary. She believed in living and dying with presence and intention. She was a part of the Positive Death Movement which seeks to break the silence and fear associated with talking about death and dying. She even had a “FUN-eral” a couple years ago in her Manhattan apartment, which was a party related to her eventual death. She wanted to celebrate her life with friends while she was still alive.

Per Shatzi’s wishes, she will be buried in a forest in Upstate New York without a casket, as she wanted her body to return to the earth naturally. She said: “I have a spot in the woods upstate and I’m going to be buried there in the woods. At some point, my body will start to deteriorate and something will grow. It might just be weeds or it might be a bush or a flower. It might be a tree. So I perceive my end of life as bringing life into the world. That’s what I’m hoping for. Whether or not it happens that way, who knows? We’ll have to see, but that’s my desire.”

One of Shatzi’s most beloved protest signs read: “FIGHT LIKE HELL + LOVE EACH OTHER HARDER”. And indeed, we will.

Kenn Orphan, December 2022

Remembrance Day is not just to Honour the Fallen

“The chain reaction of evil–wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remembrance Day is a day to honour those fallen in battle, but also civilians, animals and trees who have perished in the crossfire or because of the violence that is war. But the best way to honour all their lives is by not stoking the flames of militarism. With nuclear war once again rearing its ugly head, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s warning is truer now, more than ever before.

War is the greatest of human failures. A failure of diplomacy, a failure of empathy, a failure of our moral imagination. And the cost of war is too great to ever consider, especially today. Every bombing, every invasion, every “special operation” fills the coffers of weapons manufacturers while hacking away at the fragile web of life we all depend upon. These merchants of death have no interest in peace, and why would they? It is humanity, countless species and the earth itself that pays the price for their violent cupidity.

King spoke out against war and militarism at a time when the US was carpet-bombing villages and dousing children with napalm in South Asia. And he was very unpopular for doing so. Since then, there have been dozens of new conflicts from Iraq to El Salvador, East Timor, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Gaza, Somalia, Congo, Ethiopia, Syria, and to the killing fields of Ukraine.

Today, the great world powers have increased their saber rattling. We are even closer to mutual annihilation than we were during the Cuban Missile Crisis 60 years ago. As with any war, the poor suffer the greatest while politicians get re-elected, and arms manufacturers get rich. But another world war could likely usher in our collective quietus.

Remembrance Day is meaningless lest we forget the causes of war, who profits from its implementation, and the ultimate cost it incurs. It is meaningless unless we understand how fascism grows and despots rise to power, how nationalism becomes a poison, or how imperialism continues today under different disguises. It is meaningless unless we reject the nihilistic impulse of militarism. And it is meaningless unless we use our voice to oppose the addition of more names to war’s monstrous tombstone.

In his revolutionary speech Beyond Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave this grave warning:

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

Kenn Orphan, November 2022

Political Violence is the Currency of Fascism

Whatever one thinks of the politics of Nancy Pelosi, American Democratic Speaker of the House, the violence perpetrated against her husband was nothing short of terrifying, and for many reasons. No spin can erase the fact that this was political violence. And it is becoming normalized in a country that has been rapidly unraveling for several years.

The latest attack did not occur in a vacuum. It was fueled by the far right which is becoming more unhinged by the day. Before Republican senator Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia took office, she embraced insane QAnon conspiracy theories and proclaimed that Pelosi was guilty of treason. She added: “it’s a crime punishable by death.”

During the coup attempt on January 6th, 2021, mobs broke into the Capitol and proceeded down hallways calling out her name. Some of them erected a makeshift gallows in front of the building. And since this incident there have been political ads depicting violence against the Speaker and other politicians in the Democratic Party.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve been a long time critic of Pelosi. I have been against her neoliberal, “we are capitalists” economic policies which have contributed to the abysmal condition of labour, while consistently voting to increase the budget of a bloated and belligerent military sector. I have opposed her reckless foreign policy blunders, like recent trips to Armenia and Taiwan, which have only exacerbated global tensions at a time when de-escalation of conflict should be a priority. And I have vocally decried her continued support for the apartheid regime in Tel Aviv and the despotic theocracy in Riyadh.

But she is not being attacked for these positions. The animus toward Pelosi stems from a noxious, far-right ecosystem where political and social paranoia are the lay of the land. It is a place where complex social, economic and cultural issues are reduced to two dimensional, black and white shadow plays.

This strange world, which largely exists online, is where troubled souls perseverate on supposed secret cabals who meet in shadowy caves in Washington DC or New York to plan out their diabolical crimes of world domination. It is a place where logic and reason have been abandoned for magical thinking and cult-like obeisance to charismatic authoritarian figures. A place where social hatred, racism and prejudice have become acceptable opinions and mental illness is ruthlessly exploited. Where fascism is nourished and encouraged to fester in minds that have been alienated from civil society, cut off from a future of promise, addled by drugs or online hate, and denuded of nuance and critical thinking skills. And it is where violence is seen as the only vehicle for agency in our society.

Violence is the currency of fascism, and in the US it is endemic. It has been woven into the very fabric of the culture since its colonial settler roots in Native American genocide and ethnic cleansing and the African slave trade. It is a common thread through its bloody crushing of labour movements, Jim Crow segregation and lynching, internment of Japanese citizens, suppression of women’s suffrage, reproductive freedom and LGBTQ+ rights, wars of domination against Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond, to the mass shootings and police and prison brutality of today. And that violent tradition informs the miasma of lies and lunacy we see online.

Attacks against political leaders like Pelosi, or the normalization of them, are canaries in the coal mine. They warn us of something potentially catastrophic looming ahead. But there are no signs that those who need to hear them are listening. Only days after the attack on Paul Pelosi, who is still in hospital, Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted a photo mocking him and peddling a discredited conspiracy theory. He has not deleted it. As of this writing it has gained over 20,000 likes and was retweeted over 3000 times. He understands his father’s political base. The question is, do we?

Kenn Orphan, October 2022

*Photo is of Nancy and Paul Pelosi courtesy of Associated Press.

“Yesterday was Last Week, Today Never Happened”: A Reflection on the Painful Journey Through Dementia

Today, I am deeply honoured to feature a reflection by my sister about our mother, who suffers from dementia.

Several months ago, my brother Kenn and I realized that Mom’s dementia had progressed to the point where I could no longer care for her at home, so we made the extremely painful decision to place her in a nursing care facility. Although she has kept her sweet and loving disposition, Mom’s memory has degenerated to the point that she no longer consistently remembers anyone but my brother and I, and sometimes, not even that is always true.

Her world is very small now and she is no longer the once vibrant and capable person we knew her to be. One thing that has not changed though, is her loving personality, and although Mom can no longer carry-on long conversations, she is most content when surrounded by others. She still has a warm smile for everyone she sees and very often will reach out and hold the hand of whomever may be talking to her.

My brother and I have now begun the sometimes-emotional task of going through Mom’s things and though it was not always obvious, she was a very sentimental person and as we have discovered, saved every single card and letter she has ever gotten. So, my brother and I have spent several evenings together, going through these memories of our mom, which are even more poignant because, though she no longer remembers her life, much of it is represented in this box of treasures, carefully saved over a lifetime.

During these times that my brother and I have pored over my mother’s treasured memories, we have laughed and giggled while looking at all the silly things that we, her children bestowed upon her, so full of our childish wisdom and artistic endeavours, that she, our mom had so carefully preserved all these years.

And whereupon reading the love letters and cards written by our dad, to his sweetheart so many years ago, we have looked at one another in surprise and wonder. Going through all the many Christmas, Easter and birthday cards, we smiled in remembrance of holidays and celebrations long past.

Something that many people did not know about our mom was what a talented poet she was. In fact, some of her poems were so good, they were published. But as my brother and I discovered, Mom wrote many more poems throughout her life. Some were written on the backs of envelopes while others were scrawled on small bits of paper, all carefully tucked away.

Poems about love and friendship, God and family. Rambling ballads that spoke of her yearning for Nova Scotia, the homeland she left behind. Some about youthful love and broken hearts. Poems that were light and humorous, while others expressed deep sadness and despair.

My mother wrote this particular poem in November 2000. Discovering it brought great sadness to my brother and I, because we realized that Mom had some awareness, that changes, however subtle were beginning to take place. Changes that we, her family wouldn’t necessarily have noticed and that she didn’t understand but still caused distress that prompted her to write this poem:

What did I say? By Joyce Orphan

One time as we grew older, our minds were our treasure

We were oh! so smart, we had so much pleasure

But now, what has gone wrong

Why at times I can’t even recall my favourite song?

Yesterday was last week

today never happened

And when did I last eat?

Who was that person that just gave me a hug?

Did I hug them back or just give a shrug?

Well tomorrow is another day

I’ll just go along my way

And pray

According to the World Health Organization, “more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. As the proportion of older people in the population is increasing in nearly every country, this number is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.”

As my mother has demonstrated by this poem, the beginning symptoms of this disease can be insidious to the point, where many of us would dismiss it as just the normal changes of getting older. I wish my mom had told us that she was feeling this way, there is no cure at the moment but at the very least, perhaps she wouldn’t have felt alone in her confusion and frustration.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to the diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer’s. People experiencing symptoms, understandingly are afraid to talk about it because of the perception of being seen as incompetent or “senile”. But early diagnosis is key when treating this disease. There are medications that although they do not cure dementia, they can help slow the progression of the disease. And there is always the possibility that there is another underlying and treatable condition, that is causing these symptoms.

Cheryl Orphan, October 2022

Cheryl Orphan is a registered nurse who worked in pediatric care for almost 3 decades. She is currently an artist residing in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Her artwork can be viewed at

*Title photo is a painting by Cheryl Orphan entitled Fleeting Beauty, acrylic on canvas, 2022.

On Sunflowers and Performance Activism

This painting has been all over the news following an act of protest by two young people from the organization Just Stop Oil. They hurled a tin of tomato soup at it in the National Gallery in London. The painting itself was behind glass and was not damaged by the action. The frame, however, which is an antique, may have suffered some damage.

I will say that I have some sympathy for the activists. Over my lifetime I have been involved in many demonstrations that have not always been greeted with understanding. And sometimes disruption is necessary to get the public’s attention. Blocking roadways or refusing to get up from a seat in a theatre, a restaurant or a bus can be effective ways to protest an injustice and slow the machinery of a brutal system.

Like all of us, the young protesters in London are witness to the continued ravaging of the earth’s fragile biosphere on which we all rely on to survive. They see the web of life unraveling thanks to rampant greed of fossil fuel companies and other lucrative extractive and exploitative industries. And they see apathy and inaction by most world leaders as this carnage continues. They decided to take action.

But I don’t think this act really did anything to galvanize public support or concern. Most people are aware of our existential crisis. Every day we hear of a flood or drought or a monster storm. Famine and species extinction have become normalized. This kind of protest, however, comes across as a kind of preachy performance activism. And it has come to define many climate organizations these days.

Van Gogh’s painting will be fine. No damage was done to it. Ironically, his life’s work was about the veneration of nature. So, he might have even had sympathy for the young protestors. But our anger needs to be focused on the source of this catastrophe, not the few beautiful things humanity has been able to create in spite of it.

We need to focus it against the centres of capital, money and investment, against government agencies which aid these profiteers, against the industries that commercialize everything, including nature, and who reduce life to dollar signs, against the military sector which uses the most fossil fuels and pollutes more than any other industry.

But leave most public art alone, especially the art that is created for all of us. It is a major source of inspiration, particularly for the working class. And it is one of the few things that corporations haven’t entirely stolen from us, yet.

Kenn Orphan, October 2022

*Title painting is from a sunflower series by Vincent Van Gogh, 1887

Angela Lansbury: A Personal Reflection

The first time I remember seeing Angela Lansbury in anything was as Jessica Fletcher, in the tv series Murder, She Wrote. I was only a little kid, but I would watch these episodes with my mom who loved mysteries as much as I did.

I fell in love with the kind, bookish and sharp as a whip sleuth who had far too many murders to solve on her hands in that sleepy hamlet on the Maine coast, Cabot Cove. Fletcher was meant to be a combination of two of Agatha Christie’s most important characters: the elderly busybody, Miss Marple and the eccentric and ever curious mystery novelist, Ariadne Oliver.

Even though it was filmed several years before Murder, She Wrote, I would later see Lansbury in Christie’s blockbuster mystery, Death on the Nile. I was too young to see it in the theatres, of course. But I was glued to the screen when it came to television. Everyone shined in that movie, but her portrayal of the gin-soaked, washed up romance author, Salome Otterbourne, was perfection.

After that, I tried to watch all the older movies she had starred in whenever I had the opportunity. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and The Manchurian Candidate were my favourites, but there were so many others. Over her long acting career she starred in scores of films along side other legends, like Ingrid Bergman, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor (who was also a lifelong friend), Orson Welles, Elvis Presley, Bette Davis and Maggie Smith (another lifelong friend).

Hollywood was never Lansbury’s scene. She said she felt like a stranger there and was often cast in roles far older than her actual age. Nevertheless, she made a stunning career on stage on Broadway and in notable plays and musical performances. Her role as the quirky socialite Mame was critically acclaimed and beloved by nearly everyone who saw it, especially the gay community.

I must admit that Lansbury’s death is hard for me. Partly because it is yet another reminder of the relentless march of time. But it is mostly because of that cruel thief of memories called dementia.

As a boy I loved watching each episode of Murder, She Wrote with my mother. We would pore over the clues until we came up with the killer just before the final 10 minutes. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my mom would let me believe I sleuthed it all by myself. Even though those memories have vanished for her, I cherish them for both of us, nonetheless.

A part of me would like to share the news of Lansbury’s death with her. My sister told my mother of the death of Queen Elizabeth and said she felt sad at the news. This is unsurprising since she grew up through World War II in Nova Scotia. And the imagery of the British monarch’s resolve in the face of Nazi barbarism had an enormous impact on a lot of Canadians during that period of history. Dementia hadn’t robbed her of this memory yet.

Still, I think I will hold this news back from her. Not because it would be hard for me. But, perhaps, more for her.

Angela Lansbury lived a life that was undoubtedly full. It spanned almost a century. In fact, she died just 5 days before her 97th birthday. Born in the UK, she came from a family of Labour socialists and never lost that leftwing ideological care for humanity after coming to North America. And she entertained us in a way that forever changed the usual, banal nastiness of the Hollywood industry for the better. There is nothing to grieve about in any of that, but there is a hell of a lot in that life to celebrate.

Kenn Orphan, October 2022

*Photo is Angela Lansbury, 16 October 1925 – 11 October 2022.

I want to live in a river of love, where I can learn to dream again

I am honoured to feature the prose of a dear friend, Tangerine Bolen. Tangerine has an extraordinary way of tapping into powerful metaphors. Her writing at once captures the daily struggles so many of us encounter, especially those who struggle with chronic illness or disability, while simultaneously lifting us to a different plane of understanding, imagination and wonder. Her musings sing to the contradictions of what it means to have a body, and to live consciously in that body, loving it with all of its beauty and failings, while dreaming of something more.

I want to be a cicada, buried underground for 20 years in the cool dark, then bursting forth, furiously singing, furiously mating, then letting my earthly body go.

I want to be a caterpillar, forming my hard-shelled, spiked cocoon, the armor that allows the whole of me to dissolve into goo, liquid forming wings, eyes, head, legs, bursting armor open in the alchemy of transformation, to take to the skies.

Light as a feather, silent as dead stars.

I want to ask the Boatman on the river, the one and only river, why some of us are forced to live bobbing on its waters, where he refuses to speak to us, refuses to row to either shore.

An interminable twilight, racked with sickness and pain, where we must remember to try to capture every gleam, hold it, then let it go, as another piece of us is taken.

I want to speak to Death, and have long conversations. If only Death would deign to speak to me, while I am still keen on living.

I want to climb mountains again, and dance again, and cross logs over rivers, and go bouldering.

I want music to seep into my bones, in a way it hasn’t done, since sound unfriended me, and became ice picks in the ears, diffuse yet glinting.

I want to save the dogs, and help the people, and help myself, and never be sick again.

I want to enter the un-Promised land. Where every wrongful death, animal and human, where every life of suffering, extinguished before grace and relief could come, where the saddest and loneliest of all, in Elysian Fields live, free, utterly free, from all pain.

I want to be with those ones.

Not the Instagram celebrities and vacuous “influencers” and modern-day Nazis, or the people who have it good enough to neither understand, nor care about, others’ suffering.

I want to see transformation in hearts and on faces. I want to see hope return.

I want another planet, but I want this one, and I want another body, yet I just want my own, recovered, and steady.

I want to breathe again, freely, without devastation in my veins.

I want to live in a river of love, where I can learn to dream again.

And I want for you what you need too, because I am human, and my heart, though broken, is still open, and like all the hearts here that are forged by both sorrow and courage—it is made for greater things.

~ Tangerine Bolen is a writer, activist, disability rights advocate and former director of a civil liberties and human rights group she founded in 2010. RevolutionTruth created “Legal Campaigns,” combining grassroots advocacy and multi-plaintiff lawsuits to address power abuses committed by the United States government. The group has taken both the Obama and Trump administrations to court over indefinite detention and environmental injustice at Standing Rock.

*Title photo is Metamorphosis, 1936, by Joan Miró.