GCBG Review: Christine Estima, The Spadina Monologues

18.2.06

In your short fiction piece "A Degree of Suffering is Required" that was printed in the Malahat Review, there are many references to blood and blades. This imagery is very immediate and visceral. What intrigues you so much about blood?

"Excellent question. In the story, the image of blood takes on many representations and meanings. It represents ethnicity, which determines our physical and facial features, our health, our lifespan, and so on. It also represents women, specifically menstruation. And closely tied in with female menstruation, it also represents sex. Women are most fertile during this ovulation "period." And during sex, blood flow increases through our veins, and it rushes to our genitals which become swelled and engorged.

I wanted to explore how these three representations are linked, specifically because I find people are comfortable talking about their ethnic bloodlines, and about their sexual desires, but female menstruation is, for some odd reason, considered taboo. Even though it's a natural and healthy part of the female system, people think of it as gross which I believe stems from systemic misogyny. If you think female blood is gross, you must think the female body is gross, and I was sick and tired of being told by dominant culture to be ashamed of my blood. To pretend I don't even have it. People need to start asking themselves why they have an aversion to menstrual blood.

In exploring the linkage between the 3 representations, Yazna's (the main character) narrative seemed to be the most compelling and engaging when she was associating her shame of her ethnicity with her menstrual blood. But it is through the odd yet ritualistic act of cutting herself that she begins to love her blood in a sexual way, until she is able to finally love her ethnicity as well. But she pays the ultimate price for this."


How much of the main character in your story is a fantastic version of a projected self?

"Any writer will tell you that if you want to know them better, all you have to do is read their stories. Almost all works of fiction are autobiographical in some way or another. While some themes and emotions that are expressed in this story are definitely pulled from within me, the narrative and the action itself is all conjured out of my wacky imagination (Hilariously enough, lots of my friends whom have read the story have whispered to me afterward, "Come on, you can tell me ... have you actually done this? I promise I won't judge you!" and I have to yell back, "Dude, it's called FICTION!").


Your references to Yoko Ono gives more credence to the extremes your character exudes. Why Yoko Ono and what role do you think she has played in shaping the world?

I absolultely adore Yoko Ono. I think her work as an artist is dynamic, reflexive, engaging, loaded with so much meaning, and infused with a riotous passion. Some of her performance art is so beautiful. It's cathartic not only for her the performer, but for the audience as well. I think it's a tragedy of Elizabethan proportions that she is best known simply as "John Lennon's wife, the woman who broke up The Beatles," and therefore society allows itself to negate the work she's done for the cause of Art and the cause of Peace. Again, I think her treatment by dominant culture not only stems from misogyny, but also from an undercurrent of racism. A woman choosing to raise her voice is bad enough, but a woman of an ethnic minority? God forbid! I think it's interesting that history will remember her as "the wife" of someone, rather than her own person."


The recipes you list make your story more exotic and creates another level of intrigue for the reader. Your description of lineage, ancestry and use of Arabic language at times seems to be a barrier that your character has been kept from by Sitto and the characters mother. How well do you think this describes the experience of first, second and third generation Canadians with their own heritage?

"I think it speaks to the immigrant experience, but I don't know if it encompasses it. Each immigrant experience, be it first, second, third generation (and so on), is diverse, diasporic, and defies definition. Some people will tell you that they feel closer to their country of heritage than their country of residence. For others, it's vice versa. And for others still, they do not feel strongly linked to either country, and therefore exist in the realm between the two (I tend to think of myself as the latter).

I know this woman who is of Sri Lankan descent, but she ws born and raised in Glasgow. She doesn't fit in well in Glasgow because of her physical features and the traditions of her family, but when she visited Sri Lanka, she didn't fit in there either because she didn't speak the language, and she spoke with a thick Scottish accent. So what did she identify herself as? A Sri Lankan-Glaswegian. She exists in the hyphen that joins (not separates) these two cultures together.

The recipes, the Arabic language, et. al. were not incorporated to make the story more "exotic." From a storytelling POV, they engage the reader's 5 senses, and they are woven within Yazna's narrative and her stream of consciousness as a way of situating her 5 sense in the story. From a political POV, they show that the title of "Canadian" is inclusive to other rituals, and traditions, not exclusive as dominant culture would have us believe.

I think, far too often, people tend to look at immigrant stories as black and white, ie: You were born there, but now you live here, or you spoke that language, but now you speak this language, and it doesn't allow for the complexity and the diaspora of life. Yazna, her mother, and her Sitto are all Canadian. But they are of Lebanese descent. On top of that, they originally lived in Quebec. On top of that still, they now live in Toronto. A Lebanese-Quebecoise-Torontonian family who speak English, French, and Arabic is as complex as they come, and therefore, they expand what it means to be Lebanese, what it means to be Quebecoise, and what it means to be Torontonians. The reason immigrant stories are so interesting to me is because they enrich, they branch out, they break through, and they expand what it means to be Canadian.

In the context of this story, I think it's important for people to remember that their ethnicity is NOT their identity, it's simply their identification. And I think in countries like Canada and the USA, which were founded and continue to function on immigration, the idea of "nationality" is outdated. We should be looking at our internationality or our transnationality."


Big thanks to miss Estima for letting me review her work. Hopefully she'll release more work to the public soon. Until then hopefully she'll send us the links for her movie and album reviews for chartattack.


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