Phthisis Pulmonalis: On Grief & Writer’s Block

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

I find myself stuck on nineteen words these days, repeating in my mind, filling every last inch of space. They have bonded themselves to my TO-DO LIST, like cloud to sun, blocking out encroaching deadlines, commitments, the need to buy milk on my way home. They have raised themselves like a wall around my mind… a blockade between me and my own words.

Nineteen words said Wednesday night by a very dear friend, over dinner in this broken city: People that connect with us become part of our DNA … we change our molecular structure when we love somebody.

Over the last five years the molecular structure of this city has mutated from vibrant local Mom & Pop Shops to bight orange fences. Thirty-minute detours around single base substitutions of sidewalk. The erasure of over fifty low-income homes for the myth of a light rail system. Throughout this time, I have sat in this very same chair in this café and watched the people from my community come and go. Observed them for hours as they talked and laughed, burst into withdrawal driven episodes, clutched a dollar and forty-nine cents worth of coffee in shaking hands… enjoy the warmth of an affordable meal. I have explored myself through them. Seen reflections of my own struggles, my own joys, whatever I was carrying in my heart, mirrored back by their faces.

Then I have written.

For the past ten days I have sat at this burnt umber table—along the wall of Queen Street Commons—struggling to find words to voice this aching in my DNA. Epigenetic change peptided to my heart in a round dance of anger, denial, depression.

Along the window a telomere unraveling, the exact nucleotide where this trauma has bonded. A vase of Campanula Persicifolia sits beside a fanned arrangement of purple Chrysanthemum, died Dendrobiums, blue-green tail of Cedar, Pine, Leatherleaf Fern… White Hydrangeas quickly browning. Tapped to the window in front of an empty chair is a photo, a gapping reminder of who once sat there and held this city together, the double helix spin of a community.

A community of tiny circles overlapping into a rhythmic pattern of life. Expansive and exploding. Only I cannot remember how to position myself within the circles. I feel as though I am spinning. A dented medicine wheel bouncing out of control down a hill. For the last five or six years I woke every morning, ate my breakfast, got dressed, left the house and became Sunshine. No matter the storm I carried in my heart, no matter the struggle I faced in my life, I knew I shined because one person reminded me.

That person is now gone.

He will never greet me on my way to run daily errands, never smile and tell me it will be okay, never stop me outside the market on a Saturday to drunkenly rant about his love of eggs, never pick another Allium Aflatunense to cheer my darkest days.

All the lives he has touched must now go on without him. Some of us have to stand behind the counter in this very café and hold back tears. Others have to go out into those very streets he filled with light and face salt stained snow… barren trees. Others yet have to sleep in those same streets, under record breaking temperatures, without his humble heart to hold them.

I have a roof over my head, warm food to place in my belly, the blessing of a job that I love. So, for the last ten days I have sat here trying to meet my deadlines. Sequencing words to speak around my identity and what it means to be an Indigenous writer in CanLit. Words that are constantly being crossed out and rewritten into the nineteen words that consume me.

People that connect with us become part of our DNA… we change our molecular structure when we love somebody.

I suppose sometimes writer’s block is like this.

I suppose sometimes it is not a block at all.

I suppose sometimes it is more like a consumption.

A slow loss of appetite for writing, followed by chest pains suppressing breathing. Fatigue. Fever. Night chills. Waking at three A.M. to stare at a blank word document asking yourself “what does it mean to be native in CanLit” typing “he has changed my DNA” over and over.

We tend to think of writer’s block as the absence of words, the inability to say anything. Yet, I have learned from his absence, how sometimes writer’s block is not the absence of words, rather the persistent prescience of the wrong words—consumption—the need to cough blood so you can breathe.

AshleyHyndAshley Hynd lives on the Haldimand Tract and respects the Mitigyag, Manidoosh, Niiwozid, Bineshiinhyag, Gaa-babaamaadagewaad, Attawandron, Anishnawbe, and Haudenosaunee relationships with the land. Like many people with mixed heritage the knowledge of her history is unclear. According to the stories in her family they are of Anishnawbe and Cherokee decent. Her writing grapples with the erasure of her history and is as much an act of reclamation as it is a call of accountability for what has been lost.

She was longlisted for The CBC Poetry Prize (2018), shortlisted for ARC Poem of the Year (2018), and won the Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize (2017). Her poetry has appeared in ARC, Canthius, Room, Prism International, SubTerrain, Grain, Cv2 and Vallum.

She was a member of the first KWPS Slam Residency in 2018 and the KWPS Poetry Slam Team in 2015. She has read/performed for a wide-range of events, including The Emerging Writers Reading Serious, Balderdash Reading Series, Mysterious Barricades Suicide Prevention Concert, Open Ears Arts Festival and Latitudes Storytelling Festival.

Ashley sits on the editorial board for Canthius and runs a monthly brunch for writers called Poets & Pancakes.

Her hobbies include trampling the patriarchy, avoiding doing the dishes and getting lost in conversations.