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February 2020


Welcome to the first issue of my digital perzine this year!
This one contains words about a shitty Valentine
and my love for the Day of Love.

"Respect is love in plain clothes."
- Frankie Byrne, Irish Broadcaster
 
"Love demands infinitely less than friendship."
- George Jean Nathan, American Drama Critic 

In Defence of Valentine's Day.

If you’ve read the purple issue of the Strange and Mysterious Creatures, you’ll know that when I was in my early twenties I dated a guy who was not the greatest. In order to somewhat protect his anonymity, but mostly because I found it amusing, I referred to him throughout the work as “The Shitbag”. When I was thinking about next month’s pink and red holiday, I remembered a Valentine’s that I spent with him and wanted to share the story as an opportunity to dissect my feelings around February 14th.

The Shitbag was an artist. That was the key reason I stayed with him despite the fact that I mostly hated him. He wrote poetry, took photos, made glitch art and dabbled in theatre and music. I’m not entirely sure how this specific V-Day scenario unfolded, but I do remember that we agreed that we would make gifts to give to each other. I don’t remember what I made him, but as it was when the big day rolled around we met up to exchange our creations.

When I say that The Shitbag was an artist I feel the need to clarify that he was deeply inspired by Dadaism (and sadism, but that’s in my zine.) We had originally connected over a shared love of Hannah Höch, and thus I was not surprised that dreary winter day when his gift to me was a piece of absurdist art. For the most part, I appreciated absurdism; it was a viewpoint I could relate to as I examined my lived experience. Considering that an alligator purse could cost more than a Tesla, the skewed horizon of a bizarro world starts appearing linear. Mix in the fact that I paid about the same price in student loans and the sense of vertigo becomes more personal. Through absurdist art, I saw a reflection of life as it sometimes is, not beautiful or awesome but fragmented and nauseating.

On the day celebrating romance, however, I was surprised to be sickened by my Valentine. It was constructed mostly out of refuse. Affixed to some sort of backing was a cutout portrait of me which The Shitbag had taken. He had surrounded it with the chewed up leaves of strawberries, bitten off from the fruit, teeth marks intact. Interspersed were the cold, ashy ends of cigarettes, likely from his roommate’s preferred brand of Pall Mall. The method of attachment was a thin layer of cheap school glue, which leached the yellow stain of nicotine yet left the fruit’s green fronds exposed and drying. Other details are lost on me, my recollection fades. Yet despite spending only a few minutes with this gift, I can recall the stink, a deep odour of tar combined with the bright sting of ammonia. Anyone who has emptied an ashtray after a kegger knows the dirty waft well, it is unfortunate that scent is our strongest memory.

One of my greatest flaws (that I’ll admit) is that I have no poker face, I can’t lie to save my skin. A big challenge when I was regularly hosting an open mic in Toronto was gracefully transitioning to the next reader after a performance I hadn’t particularly enjoyed. It was hard not to stare wide-eyed into the spotlight and thank folks for their “interesting” performance. Still, years later, I store fragments of my reactions within the muscle memory of my face.

At the time of unwrapping my present, I was repulsed. The Shitbag was well aware. A nicer, more polite person would’ve camouflaged herself with a saccharine smile and tried to soften the blow. But I couldn’t. What followed next was a drama typical of his bruised ego. With huffing and puffing, his lips curled down, exaggerating his jowls while he performed verbal cartwheels regarding his unappreciated genius and the misery it caused him. The theatrics concluded an hour later with him noisily cramming the wide piece of art through a thin flap of a garbage can. This was much to my chagrin, as the rubbish bin was located inside an impossibly quiet coffee shop at which I was a regular. The baristas who bore witness to his sensational act of stuffing knew me by name.

Despite this, Valentine’s Day remains my favourite holiday. I know it gets a lot of heat, and not just from those zesty cinnamon hearts. The day is degraded as being the most “Hallmark” of holidays, which I contest. If you consider the number of made-for-Netflix Christmas movies that are released each year, or the rising status of Hallowe’en as the “alt-girl” holiday as the kids who grew up watching The Nightmare Before Christmas and shopping at Hot Topic are the ones handing out candy. While I cannot deny the social pressure to purchase price-inflated flowers for your paramour, it pales in comparison to the amount we are expected to spend on buying gifts for various family members or to prep our doorsteps for trick-or-treaters. In this context, $40 for roses is a steal! 

I’m just throwing this out there - is it possible that Valentine’s Day is so detested because it is the one holiday where the spotlight to perform is cast upon heterosexual men? Whereas for the rest of the festivities the responsibility lies with women? Clearly, this line of thinking omits queer relationships, but it’s worth a thought.

It strikes me that the middle of February is likely the time when we all need a pick-me-up. It’s less than a month after the bluest day of the year, and folks’ Seasonal Affective Disorders are in full swing. Set against this backdrop Dusty Springfield’s raspy idea for making the world a happier place begins to look like a truly viable option, assuming all parties’ consent.

I know that my perspective is rose-tinted. I haven’t been single on Valentine’s in over a decade. Despite the fact that some of those partners were less than great, I still benefited from the perception of being desirable on a day when romantic relationships are prioritized.

Which is exactly where I feel the day is misunderstood. Instead of focusing our attention on a singular relationship in our life, we should use this day in February to celebrate all the people we love. I haven’t seen Parks and Rec so I’m not going to encourage superfluous rebranding, but I do want to make space for spreading affection within platonic relationships and letting people know the importance they carry within our lives. Small actions have sweeping movements - a quick phone call, sharing a link to a podcast, recommending a recipe or putting together a playlist. These choices can reinforce the positive qualities of our interpersonal relationships which can have an indirect, but significant impact on our moods.

Simultaneously, Valentine’s Day offers the opportunity to embrace our creativity in a low stakes way. Due to the general dislike, I expect most people would be overwhelmingly surprised by and pleased with a small card or note, and with so many digital collage makers, it could exist url or irl. Doodle on top of a photo and email it over, or cut something out of paper and send it by post. Whatever method you choose, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity in the midst of winter to tell your friends you love them and show them you care. Just please, no smoke butts! 

Recommendations

The New Yorker Poetry Podcast  - It has now been over a year since the Sophisticated Boom Boom Reading Series ended and I think I'm finally ready to give poetry another go. Along with asking pals for recommendations (What you got??) I've been exploring the world of poetry podcasts. With the New Yorker Poetry Podcast, each guest reads a poem pulled from the New Yorker Archives and a poem of their own. Each episode provides an inside look of how poems are shaped and how they shape us. No surprises my favourite episode so far is Vijay Seshadri Reads Sylvia Plath.

NEWS + NOTES

Read my interview with Laura Dawe about her Pack of Dogs Tarot deck here. 

The most depressing thing I've written to date is include in Feels Zine's Loss Issue. You can purchase a copy here.

Much love to Cosette who edited this piece and then learned her boyfriend would be out of town on February 14th. :( 

About


EA Douglas is an artist living in Vancouver. She spends her days drinking coffee, trying to write, making images, struggling to finish library books before they're due and looking after tiny humans.

EA posts her Instax pictures on Instagram and then has to respond to folks asking if she is using a filter. All this is under the guise @ea.douglas

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