I’m sitting down on a Sunday afternoon to do this. I’m too tired. My mind doesn’t have that bright crackling I can hear when I start to think. It feels soggy, dank. I’ve been working a little too hard, a little too much. All the kinds of work. The paid work training and supporting this big network of activists and facilitators at PYE, but also (and I think this is really where the tired is coming from) inner work. I’m changing. I can feel it happening. And it hurts. It’s good. One thing I notice is that I am not getting as anxious as I used to, crying a lot less (thanks to the tinctures of Kava and California Poppy I procured at Sugar Pill when I was last in Seattle). But I also notice that my temper is shorter, and my tongue is quicker. I feel a little like I did when I was younger. Kind of unhinged. But I think it’s probably a good thing. I’ve been working so hard to relate to the shadow aspects of myself that emerged from this long, seven year process of dismantling my own rejection complex. And I feel like maybe I’m finally getting somewhere. It’s hard to say that, because I’ve felt that before, and I know that late Spring can make things just seem kind of fresh and illuminated, at least in a place like this where the Winter is long and you go deep inside yourself. I don’t know.
I don’t know what I’m writing. I’m embarrassed that this will be read. It’s as if this is the only thing I think about. My inner roiling. But it isn’t. I’m thinking about school, which is about to start in a week. I don’t know what I was thinking. I can already barely handle the life I’m living, in terms of having enough time to do everything I’ve said I’d do, and be present for everyone I’m accountable to. Now I’m going to start this PhD. I think there are a lot of reasons. I want to study Time, and how it affects group process (as you know). And I want to have a little more credibility as an educator, just so I can get involved in policy making, or at least writing about it. And I want to reflect on what I do, and figure out where to go next.
The idea first occurred to me when Compash first decided that we should make a little group to read our friend Bright Ear’s thesis. (Making up these names is hilarious. There’s no point. The ten people who are reading this already probably know exactly who I’m talking about. But. It feels necessary. Also, the real names are buried in the older essays, which makes it even funnier. But, no one is reading those, so we go on.) And then shortly after reading his, I read Jeannette Armstrong’s thesis, and then I started looking for Jan Zwicky’s on the ineffable that had been mentioned quite often as I was reading for my master’s thesis, and I kind of started to want to write one myself. I loved writing the master’s thesis. It was so much fun to read in that particular way, fast, and hard, and deep. Haha. But, I don’t think that’s the only reason I’m doing this. Another part of it is that I want to do something different with the group facilitation skills that I have. I want to be able to work in conflict zones or to help people in intractable situations, or something. I just feel like I’m about to go to Oregon with the Vertical Voice to run yet another teen camp. I know that the work is important, and I can see the results, but after all these years I need a new challenge. I feel like these skills are growing inside of me, overgrowing my situation in a way. And then, there’s also the desire to better know what I’m doing. I want to know more, always more, about the imagination and how it works, and how it can change us and change this trajectory of death and corruption that I see everywhere around me. I mean, even the rampant use of disposable plastic, it’s pathological. Where is the imagination?
I really am too tired to do this. I feel like I’m forcing my fingers up a steep hill. But I also know that writing when I don’t want to, to sit down and show up, is the actual practice here. I’m grateful to the people who are reading, and I’m grateful that in general these essays are generally coherent, but the actual practice, the purpose of it, is to begin to trust my voice, and to be able to write without judgement and to find out what is there.
I did a little reading this morning. I’m so looking forward to reading for hours a day. I read for about an hour, I’ve finally made it to the last chapter of Stamped From the Beginning. The Angela Davis chapter. The whole book is leading to this. The book is amazing in its uncompromising vision for true antiracist thought, and it’s ruthless penetration of where racist ideas hide in the thick, viscous dialogic thrushing of politics and power. It’s helped me see my own places where my ideas and concepts needed shoring up. For me, it comes down to this idea of saving and rescuing. To remember that no one needs saving, and that rescuing has nothing to do with equity. The work is never to rescue individuals. It is to see everyone as deeply whole and capable, and from there to work together to fix systems that create inequities. And to look at the ideas that are forming those systems. If anyone needs rescuing it’s a perpetrator. It’s a good read. It’s useful and juicy and just wonderfully generous. One of the things I love about digging into a big book like this is this part, the last chapter, making it to the end, it feels like a development in a relationship. You know? Like when you have a breakthrough with a friend after an argument or something like that. To really get to the end of a book. To do justice to the whole process of the author. To stay committed to the development of the ideas.
I’m feeling like that with Meeting the Universe Halfway, and even with this book I got through White Sparkling Bull, Soul Friends. Soul Friends isn’t as exciting as the other two because it’s that kind of Malcolm Gladwell-esque pop research, where an author brings together lots of ideas and kind of creates a self-help or easy-to-digest narrative for the reader. The other two are real thoughtful pieces. You work a little to get in, and you know you are being nourished. But Soul Friends something else. First, it is really helpful with the “just friends” question that I’ve been struggling with. But it is really also a very personal look at the nature of love and connection and its many forms. And now is just a good time for that for me. I created so much mess in my life over the Spring, and in the last few weeks I’ve been able to clean almost all of it up. Through insight, through a kind of dogged self-examination, but especially through honesty and believing in the grace and generosity of the people around me.
Ugh. My brain. I feel dry and soggy at the same time. How can that be?
I want to go to Switzerland for the PhD course (it’s three weeks there, in the mountains, a place called Saas-Fee, a little car free nook in the Alps, first settled in the 1300’s) but I also don’t want to leave Montreal. I’ve just been travelling, it feels like, and I need to land. I’ve only been home a week. I love being home. I’m not really feeling ready to travel again, but I’m sure when the time comes I will get that other energy that drops in. It comes when I travel, it comes when I facilitate, and it’s coming through now. There is something that can be turned on inside that just allows me to carry on. Do you have that too? Does everyone?
Last night I had that feeling of having had powerful dreams, but no matter how hard I’ve tried I haven’t been able to capture them. They’ve been a bit sporadic lately. The Clarissa Pinkola Estes workshop, Wounded Healer, is starting right now in Colorado. I had to choose between that and the PhD. I hope I chose right. That workshop taught me so, so much last year. It’s a five year thing, so I’m hoping that I can pick up again in year three.
I just feel disjointed. I barely have any thoughts running. All week I’ve had so many things I thought I would write in this essay. I guess if I was doing that kind of planning then these essays would be more polished. Maybe that’s what I do in 2018. Start creating them intentionally. But I know that right now all I’m doing is working with flow.
I’ve been thinking a lot about equity in the work we do. Especially with these camps. Even ten years ago it used to feel like talking about anti-oppression was a burden, people would brace themselves, and that it had to be spoon fed, but now things have changed. Things have changed, and I can tell because people who used to roll their eyes, or who felt that justice and anti-oppression just weren’t their path to care about, especially facilitators, teachers and artists, are now coming to me to ask for help, for frameworks, for advice.
One thing I’ve been thinking about is a painting that I have, that I love. It’s called Healer Woman. It’s a painting by a student of Norvall Morisseau who started something called the Woodland school, a way of painting from Nature that really shows the energy and interrelatedness. I’ve loved the painting, but I have a weird relationship to it, because it belonged to a roommate I had in Vancouver in about 1999, when I was living with Biker Boy. She didn’t like our lifestyle. It wasn’t very likeable. A lot of drugs. A lot of late nights. A lot of strangers in the house. One particular friend who would dumpster dive and every now and then would FILL our apartment with stuff. All kinds of stuff, I’m remembering it now and smiling. I remember getting home once from my job where I was selling the newspaper over the phone (oh my goodness…that’s a good story. But I don’ think I have time to tell it now) and opening the door and there was almost nowhere to move. Our apartment on Davie and Nicola in Vancouver was little, it had two rooms, but the wall between them didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling. Biker Boy and I had met at the telemarketing place we’d both worked at before the Sun newspaper gig. That one was a lottery scam. Maybe I will try to tell you. But first let me tell you what was crammed into this tiny apartment. It’s eighteen years ago, and I can still see it all in my mind: A game of Operation, a game of Scrabble, a torn green armchair, a broken wicker chair, a bag of marbles, an unopened carton of crackers, two bicycle tires (very good shape) at least a dozen large snap ring binders, a wicker basket, a macramé plant hanger, a pair of jeans, a garbage bag of other clothes, a stack of plant pots, a mid-sized mirror, a stash of square pillows, a box of army green glossy square dishes, okay that’s all I can recall. I know there was more. And there was my six foot six, completely tattooed friend, (he was such a dear, I just ran into him for the first time since then. He is a Drug and Alcohol counselor now. He looks wonderful) looking so proud of himself, with his eyes rolling back from Crystal Meth. Cash. He said. It’s all going to be cash. I told him we better get it all out of here before the roommate got back. Which is right when she got back.
She was sick of us. And I couldn’t blame her. We also used to play pretty mean not very funny practical jokes on her, like moving things around until she thought she was losing it. Shew as a young first generation girl from Mexico, very shy, very straight, very Christian. This was not a good roommate situation for her. In any case, she packed up and told me to ship the painting to her. It was long before I could afford to do that (and before I really had the wherewithal to try to even try to do that – I was lucky when I remembered to buy toilet paper) and by the time I did I had no way to find her. Every now and then I try on social media, but she has a very common name and I can’t really remember her face. In any case, here it is, that painting. But of course, another person recently who paints in that school was called out for cultural appropriation. And Morisseau’s family also chimed in. Saying that she was stealing from him. Now, normally I would agree. But he taught so many people for so many years, and this person, I remember it was a friend of the roommate, he specifically apprenticed with Morisseau, whereas this woman just took some classes after he’d already passed. For me, I have always felt like I knew where I stood on the topic. I have always felt strongly that you don’t take from other cultures, especially not in any kind of public way, or in any kind of way that you will make money. And of course, I’ve heard so many arguments. My people from all different cultures. Some people feel like sharing and learning from each other is the path to peace on this planet. Some people feel like it is the final stab of imperialism (me, that’s mostly how I feel What Sayanthani called the Namaste of It All). But under all, I think that you know when you are acting in integrity. But, now I have this Woodland School piece in my house, and I love it, and have lived with it for so long, and now I’m not sure, because what it represents has suddenly changed. So what do I do with it? I thought about giving it away. I even half-heartedly tried to. But it’s here now, hanging on my wall. It used to be a private piece, and I felt happy to have responsibility of it, and always kind of hoped I would get it back to that woman, but now it has a public significance. Right around the time of the uproar about this woman who was imitating Morisseau’s style, an editor from Write magazine, a Canadian guild magazine, came up with this cheeky idea about starting an appropriation prize. Off-colour would probably be the most apt way to describe that. But then other Canadian editors’ got into it, and actually started collecting money. Fools. Just showing their stacked hands. How they really think. How all their diversity and belonging bullshit is just talk. I was so angry. It was spinning in my mind over and over. The fact that these white power holders in the ultra while world of Canadian publishing had so little grace, tact and humility. Worse, that these idiotic gate-keepers didn’t even know they were committing suicide with their little joke. They had no idea that they were not the only writers in the world. It just grated on me. But then the two issues got conflated. And now this painting makes me think of that. About how white Canada takes what it wants, how that whole mosaic metaphor has done so much harm in this country. How culture just can’t be protected. But it makes me then ask, so artist’s never teach what they know? That’s how I spend half my time! If someone then takes up what they’ve learned is it stealing? And who can say? Especially once the artist is dead.
On one hand it seems clear, that to divorce a creative act or practice from its cultural root is clearly to try to kill it, kind of like cutting flowers. It doesn’t mean the practice is dead, it means the part you took won’t survive or regenerate.
On the other hand, creative work and practices are always taught and learned. And it’s hard if not impossible not to be influenced by your peers and teachers.
I think the only answer is a kind of extreme self-awareness. Which is something that I feel like the world is calling for anyway. It’s asking us to become aware on a whole new level; of jokes, of behaviour, of distinguishing this from not-this, of what we eat, of what we throw away. I don’t know if I should use the word “us.” I think that is what is being asked of me. I see the swampiness with which I think and act, and I want to refine, become more clear. I know that the shadow work is helping. And I know that there will always be shadows. Parts of myself that I’m not aware of. But I also know that in the shadow there has been so much hidden power, and I feel it coming forward, beginning to bloom a little. Somethings that were pushed in there because they were unacceptable. Like my beauty. Like my true capacity. Like my critique. Like my selfishness. I don’t know. I think now that they are out there is a new question which is how to hold new power.
And I see how that relates to an era where everyone has access to everyone. Before you wouldn’t think of stealing and influence as the same thing, but now that it is almost impossible not to be in contact, and to see and witness everyone’s everything, maybe we need a new etiquette and new definitions to work with.
Wow. Still ten minutes left. I may have to just stop. I feel like I need to close my eyes. I’ve said so little, and written so many words, and it’s exhausted me. I have other things to do. At work we are looking at our scaling strategy. That is, we have been for the last eight years or so, looking at how to take a very effective very local teen camp program and turn it into a global training strategy to intervene in imperial education practices and help change-makers and educators use creativity to empower young people. It’s a bit of an impossible task, but it has been working incredibly well. Now that I am a (part time) part of the management team, I find myself worrying and dreaming a lot about what the implications of that power might be, and what it really means to change the scale of something that is so important and delicate. I remember when I used to work for Vic and Jer at the Nuba restaurant in Vancouver. Our three person operation had the food one way, then they scaled up and the food for a while didn’t taste as good, but now it has kind of grown into itself, and though it will never be the same, it’s still a good thing overall. I hope that is what is happening with us. But in any case being on for the ride of growing into a global organization is teaching me a lot. A lot of humility, and a lot of uncertainty, and also a lot about systems and how to be thoughtful about them.
Okay, there are seven minutes left but I have to stop here before I break my brain.