Some days, Joan got me through.

How many early mornings, that second winter in Manchester, nodding on the upper level of a 168 bus on the way to work, softened to emotional silly putty by weariness and gripping hip pain was I moved to tears by Joan As Police Woman on the mp3 player singing that one line right as the bus lurched towards Hulme and the sunrise flashed briefly between buildings, warming me through filthy windows?

“Greet me with flushed chest again/ Morning bird I’ll wait for you/ How could I not/ How could I not?”

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 4:57 am  Leave a Comment  

warning.

she’s a perfectionist, judgemental, sure that she’s right, holds on to a grudge like it’ll save her life, has a big mouth, barely chews her food, chronically interrupts in moments of excitement or anxiety, overuses the word “little” in her poetry, subconsciously wants to think that if she fixes you, you’ll love her, scares herself with lists of things to do, gets grouchy when sleep deprived, tries too hard, says “totally” too often in conversation, is overly swayed by great graphic design, shows off, overpacks, exaggerates, allows bad behaviour in attractive people just because they’re sexy, loses things and blames it on the faeries.

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 12:40 am  Comments (2)  
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the games begin

There are those who enjoy mass demonstrations and rallies. Some people find them empowering, they say “solidarity” and mean it – they’re changing the world. For some it’s also an artistic outlet, fuel for creative collaboration on a truly awesome salmon puppet – I respect all of these people. But, I confess I’m not really them. And then there are those who like to shout, who have a lot of anger, at the state, or in general: alpha male behind a bullhorn, instead of in the boardroom. I tolerate these people, but I tend to think of them as inarticulate assholes. I really don’t like loud noises.

I also dislike breathing clouds of marijuana or tobacco smoke; I get headaches and nausea. But. Being comfortable is not the point of a demonstration, and I do attend on occasion, willingly if not enthusiastically, and especially when they tell us we can’t. Can’t protest outside of the designated zone, can’t carry an anti-Olympic sign – at these times, it becomes necessary.

I wanted to feel good about disrupting the route of the torch, and that we accomplished that without any violence. But I had a distinctly creepy experience walking towards the VAG last Friday. You know when you cross the border into the States and not much has visibly changed except from kilometers to miles, but then you realize that there are flags everywhere, and even though you know to expect it, it still evokes this kinda amused/incredulous/weird creeped-out feeling?

I had that exact feeling, in canada, last Friday. Walking past hundreds and hundreds of Olympic fans with Olympic scarves pins hats & backpacks, carrying and wearing canadian flags, with the maple leaf temporarily tattooed on cheeks and forehead – this in particular gets to me, by the way, because I can remember when maple was the trees I climbed whenever I had the chance, and an annual autumn display of a hundred glorious shades of red, yellow, orange and deep deep purple-maroon in southern Ontario, not this particular branding of what is somehow passing as patriotism. I almost expected one of them to accuse me of not supporting the troops. I’d thought my cynicism was thick enough to protect me, I thought I was past the point of disappointment. I thought I had accepted the fact that, to a lot ordinary canadians, the Olympics are a fun party to attend or just watch on TV, and they are pointedly disinterested in the compellingly obvious connections between things like Olympic corporate funders and environmental destruction, the tar sands and genocide, growing poverty and the social control industry, a crushing public debt and the cost of fake snow…but apparently there’s still room for shock in me.

In fact, if I were inclined to speak of a country as a person, instead of a collectively agreed upon narrative created by arbitrary lines on a map, I might say that canada hurt my feelings last Friday, and it made me so, so angry. Before I knew it, I had just about become one of those inarticulate assholes, staring back at red-leaf-decorated zombies attending the games…all I could think to say was Grow A Brain. Grow A Fucken Brain.

Published in: on February 14, 2010 at 5:44 am  Comments (2)  
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I SO WISH…

…that I had socially acceptable shorthand for: “No, but thanks. Since I quit drinking, I sometimes have a hard time being in bars when the focus is drinking, and that’s often complicated by other people’s reactions to me not drinking. But even though I’m declining this specific hangout offer, I’d like to spend some more time around you, because you seem interesting so far, and then we could see if that twinkle might develop into a mutually enjoyable flirtation.”

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 6:03 am  Comments (2)  
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Alpha 1 vs. Alpha 2

Day 2 of a 10-day silent meditation course. I was sitting in the hall with about 50 other meditators, when a brief but vivid scenario played out behind my eyelids. I was on a massage table, in a Bowen Technique class, and another student was practicing a move on me. I didn’t like what he was doing. I was up off the table and bringing him to his knees in one smooth move as I bent his pinky finger back, standing over him and hissing “Try that again and I’ll break it.”

!

It is common for people to experience strange sensations, memories and fantasies during a 10 day Vipassana retreat. The subconscious burps up some ugly and wonderful things. Sometimes they make sense and often they don’t. This one did.

I began Traditional Chinese Medicine college at 20 years of age. I was very idealistic, with a natural gift for healing, and like many other young women in my class, had severely underdeveloped boundaries. Also in our year were two men in their early forties. I’ll call them Alpha 1 and Alpha 2.

Alpha 1 was a former dairy farmer from just outside Edmonton. He was tall and broad in his cowboy hat and cowboy boots, which elicited veiled snickering classism from his classmates. I’d like to be able to say that I admired his individualism as a fish out of water in Victoria BC, but before long, I’d decided he was a dickhead. He posted a web-sourced tirade entitled “Just Facts” about the virtues of factory farming on our school bulletin board, pointedly concealing the Vancouver Island Vegetarian Association newsletter. He positioned himself at the front of the classroom, spoke loudly and often, interrupted everyone especially the female teachers, and almost instantaneously locked horns with Alpha 2. They were fairly evenly matched, and fought each other for position of Pack Leader for 3 long years.

Alpha 2 was a classic Sensitive New Age Guy. He spoke in low controlled tones that encouraged you to lean closer to hear what he was saying. He had at a slight height disadvantage, but made up for it with a ripplingly muscled gym physique. Alpha 1 was already familiar with most of the course material, having read many of the textbooks before beginning first year. He made exaggerated shows of concern about Alpha 2’s ability to keep up with the reading, and subtly mocked Alpha 2’s use of aromatherapy without ever quite openly questioning his sexual orientation. Alpha 2 had a learning disability, but he could and did speak middle class fluently, and had years of experience of energy work and meditation and so was able to hold forth on qi gong and tai chi, condescending to Alpha 1 in his own oily way.

For all their outward differences, they had much in common. Alpha 1 made a habit of congenially asking young women in the class about their menstrual cycles*. He also asked our Western Physiology teacher which genetic defects were responsible for homosexuality. Alpha 2 congratulated me later on correcting the teacher on his homophobic response (“I honour your courage,”) but then he also took me aside once to tell me – warmly, intimately – that as my girlfriend and I weren’t with men, and therefore missing out on that yang energy, we should really consider sunning our yonis** regularly.

Both men practiced their massage skills on the women in the class with the exact same sense of entitlement.

Alpha 1 was fairly straightforward in his racism. He often corrected our Chinese teachers on their English with the air of someone bestowing a favour, while happily mangling the Mandarin tones in his endearingly tone-deaf manner. He was immortalized during a live seminar, videotaped to be used as an instructional video, demanding to know why the licensing exam was being offered in Mandarin and Cantonese, since “If you’re practicing acupuncture in Canada, shouldn’t you be able to speak English?” Alpha 2, on the other hand, was utter courtesy to our teachers to their faces, and complained bitterly behind their backs about how controlling the Chinese were, how money-motivated. Critiqued their scarcity issues.

I’m not sure that the contest was ever resolved. Alpha 1 didn’t come back for a 4th year of college, so perhaps Alpha 2 won by default.

Funny thing is, although it took me less than a month to develop an aversion to Alpha 1, and well over a year to grok that Alpha 2 was not my friend (I told you I was young and naïve!) it wasn’t an Alpha 1 in my finger-breaking daydream. It was an Alpha 2. (My thinking isn’t crystal here, so bear with me…)

At this point I have a certain confidence in my ability to deal with dudes like Alpha 1, especially when the interaction is only as long as it takes to get my gear outta the truck and into the helicopter. I don’t intend to romanticize working-class men or suggest that Alpha 1 is less complex or problematic. White hetero male misogyny is creepy and gross, period, and especially when you’re trying to explore something as intricate, intimate and vital as HEALING. But Alpha 1 never really passed. Alpha 2 kinda did. There’s a thicker hypocrisy behind door #2, somehow.

I’m not 20 anymore and I will not accept another massage from him, ever, but I still don’t know how to deflect an Alpha 2.

Unfortunately, in alternativemedicineland, Alpha 2 is the more common species.

TCM school was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I got really sick, had my heart broken, got stressed out to the point of near immune system collapse. That had only a little to do with the 2 older males who contributed to a toxic classroom environment. But evidently, my subconscious is telling me, I’m still pissed off. And now that I’m trying earnestly to enroll in courses at the Vancouver Bowen College, to learn another healing technique which so inspires me, that shit is bubbling up.

Still waiting for the admin at Bowen College to confirm my registration.

*A dynamic that develops in alternative medicine schools. As many previously mysterious and wacky symptoms begin to make sense, as the workings of the human body unfold and form fascinating and cohesive pictures, you naturally want to discuss your own body’s experience. You want to discuss your classmates’ bodies. And, since appropriate boundaries are rarely taught (to my knowledge) in schools, this can lead to some invasive questioning, combined with the unspoken implication that if you are reluctant to discuss your body with a classmate (who’s only asking to expand their knowledge base and become a better healer) then there’s something wrong with you. A lack of generousity at the very least, and at worst, an unwillingness to Work On Your Stuff.

**Yoni means cunt. In Sanskrit.

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 7:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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on the injuries done by bad teachers

I’ve been reading Pat Schneider’s book, Writing Alone and With Others. Like most other books on the topic of writing and creativity, it addresses the redressing of the injury done by bad teachers. She goes a step further to list qualities and methods of excellent teachers – including humility and kindness! For more, check out her book, and/or visit her online: www.patschneider.com. She is fabulous.

She also makes the point that we all have to suffer some bad teachers, and that we have much to learn from them, too: what not to do. Interesting indeed…

Eight Steps To Leading A Memorably Awful Writing and Performance Workshop

 1.  Make little to no initial gestures at establishing a safe, supportive atmosphere, while requiring that participants make themselves vulnerable. Imply that failure to step up to the Creative Risk plate indicates cowardice, an unwillingness to fully commit to Art, or a lack of depth. (Note: doling out ego strokes to a few select workshop participants runs no risk of generating a sense of safety throughout the group; go for it!)

2.  Make generalizations about participants’ work, despite your unfamiliarity with it.

3.  Here’s a no-brainer: offer unconstructive criticism, i.e., damning and vague – possibly even humiliating. If you offer positive comments, keep them nonspecific. (“That was…good…” is great.)

4.  Allot plenty of time for monologuing on your personal strengths as a performer, your own creative process – you can even make reference to your sex life if you like. It’s your workshop!

5.  Recommend that performers medicate stage fright with alcohol.

6.  Express strongly felt ideas and grand-sounding concepts while remaining hazy about actual details.

7.  Do not, at any time during or afterwards, solicit feedback on your approach or methods. If people are upset, it’s only because they’ve been challenged and provoked.

8.  Teach and direct from a place of bitterness and burnout.

Published in: on January 1, 2010 at 3:43 am  Comments (3)  
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beeline (another love poem to Manchester)

the city is flat, built of red brick on a floodplain. the bicycle is yellow, with slim speedy road tires. they skim through puddles, spin over bridges, alongside canals, and on the long ride through mosside to work in early morning

(past where the buildings briefly retreat, the horizon widens and the first rays of sun slant across sky – directly over a church, which always amuses her)

if you scare a child, her ability to grasp information or to concentrate collapses for some time. if you herd a child ahead of you in unfamiliar places with sharp words and rough hands, then demand the impossible – that she find her way back – the internal compass, spinning crazily, cannot point to safety, or home, or north

the remedy requires a couple of decades, an ocean of distance, a bicycle, and, perhaps, the colour yellow

yellow, for the sweetest asago mangoes from longsight market. for smoggy sunsets seen from a 9th floor flat in hulme, for all the warning lights she’s pedalled through. yellow for the bee, symbol of industry, painted on poles and gates and benches throughout the city. and bees don’t fly in straight lines. they jig, they sway, they notice bright colours along the way, and yes, they do get to where they’re going.

so it happens one evening, in this flat city built of red brick on a floodplain, in its northern quarter – a blaze of street art in primary colours, amidst a maze of cobblestone lanes and tattoo parlours and independent record shops: something stops spinning. it’s nothing dramatic. hang on, let me get my bearings. just something she’s not said before. and a beeline forms. between two sides of an ocean. between nine and twenty-nine. between her body, a yellow bike, and her way home.

Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 6:45 am  Comments (4)  
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soundtracks

I think that Ani DiFranco’s “Reprieve” record will always transport me to Pass Creek fire lookout, squeezing devil’s club thorns out of my thighs and calves between bites of scrambled eggs & mayo salsa after an unplanned afternoon and evening spent stumbling through an overgrown cutblock.

Here’s another correlation, similarly burned into my brain: I was nineteen, just back from one of my late-night springtime rambles, alone and happily stoned as usual, Tori Amos on the headphones, when I thoroughly surprised myself, and from that night on, “From the Choirgirl Hotel” is forever the soundtrack to my first self-serve orgasm.

But my favourite? Def Leppard’s “Hysteria,” one-half of my tape collection, the cassette I listened to nonstop on my walkman while reading and rereading The Dragonriders of Pern series. When I was nine I wanted to be a dragonrider more than anything, and Joe Elliot’s vocals still ignite those neural pathways. Pour some sugar on me, in the name of love, I’m mouthing the words from the back of my dragon, soaring above the clouds.

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 6:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Token (written for the CFSW open mic)

I had a cynical response to the festival schedule and then checked myself. There is nothing inherently wrong with a Queer/Transgender Showcase.

The potential problem lies in if a showcase is a token. And yesterday afternoon, I found maps to the traps of tokenism in the online dictionary definition. Listen.

 Definition #1:

Something serving to represent a fact, feeling, or event. Like the fact that we’ve done all the work of deconstructing our privilege, like feeling satisfied that we’re good enough allies, like the event of patting ourselves on the collective well-intentioned back and getting on with having a good time.

Token definition #2: A mark of something, evidence or proof, indication of authenticity. Boxes to be ticked in applications for arts council funding.

Token definition #3: An item, idea, or person, representing the group, representing the whole. A trap we can avoid by remembering, for example, that the talented and charismatic Aboriginal man who tells us that he’s managed to not let prejudice affect him does not speak for all Aboriginal people, anymore than I speak for all white middle class queers cause I know there’s at least one here wondering why I can’t just lighten up.

 Finally, token definition #4: Of nominal value, of lesser worth. And here’s where I risk pissing people off, by suggesting that a Pan African showcase could possibly be seen as a little bit tokenistic if the team piece about getting Shell the fuck outta the Niger Delta gets slightly lower scores than the loud and very silly team piece shortly afterwards (which I did enjoy, no disrespect meant to Team Vancouver.) And yeah, we all love to hate the judges but I hope you get my point here.

 So, on the topic of not allowing this afternoon to be a token, I have a few suggestions. We could think about the reasons we’re here, about how recent it is that a queer can safely get on a mic and be honest about their life. Let’s think about why the witty white straight guy who makes us laugh still gets higher scores than the folks in those afternoon showcases making us squirm about all the work we need to do in our communities. And let’s consider what makes for a crowd-pleasing poem, and why, and what kind of crowds we could be.

Published in: on November 20, 2009 at 2:13 am  Comments (5)  
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LACE in Enderby

I was on the Security Crew at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in ’98 and ‘99. My second year there coincided with Son of Camp Trans, the second generation of a protest camp across from the front gates of the festival, taking issue with the “women-born-women-who-have-lived-their-whole-lives-as-women-ONLY” policy.

I was pretty rattled that year, partially by the bitterness of the conflict, but more so by the realisation that I just didn’t know enough to have an informed opinion. I resolved to learn more about trans issues, very soon. Figured I’d read some Leslie Feinberg. HAH! Prime example of the need to watch what you ask for…

I never went back to Michigyn, but I won’t forget the profound impression that gathering made on my 19 and 20 year old self. Today I was remembering the women on the LACE Crew. I think that LACE stood for Lots of Amazons Carrying Everything. They were one of the crews setting up and taking down a small village every summer. Vividly I recall shirtless and glistening women wielding mighty sledge hammers to pound thick stakes into the earth. The easy swing of their arms, the sureness of their aim, the weight of their tools.

Of course it was hot, but I still don’t know what I wanted more – to fuck them, or to be them.

Last week the PB and I split and stacked a cord of wood, out on the front stoop in the sun. I discovered a coupla things:

1) Splitting wood is a lot more satisfying with a properly heavy and sharp wood splitter than with the dull and flimsy kindling axes I have tried to use before at my firetower.

2) I am not bad at splitting wood. I could swing a sledge hammer. I could be a kick ass member of the LACE Crew. If I wanted to be.

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 8:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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