A Passage of Smoke is a 46-minute sound recording of a story about grief, suffering, risk and mental illness. It is also a story about immigration, queerness, the feeling of not-belonging to a society no matter how well-meaning, and the differential forms of recognition typically accorded white and non-white bodies in contemporary Canada. The piece foregrounds the urgency and fragility of the bonds that link us and speaks to the necessity of care and respect in all of our relations.
This story is indeed, as it claims, “true; I paid $40 and a coat for it.” And yet the money does not matter. What matters is, always, a complicated enough understanding: sometimes you have to break to know how to build.
We humans are brittle, often shattered creatures in a brittle and ever more shattered world. Recognition of this situation is our strength, the source of our greatest honesty, if we can dare to own it and act on it. To get help for the suffering of mental illness, to be able to speak of its pressure—the way it can sit on your chest and stop up your breath, or make you feel as if anything is preferable to this sensation of wanting to jump out of your skin or pluck out your eyes—is crucial. Speaking out and getting help is the way we know we are not alone. That it is possible to rebuild a life from ruins and be conscious, not sleepwalking. With courage and the help of others, we are born, reborn and make what we can of extreme loss. Doubting, but still dreaming.