Ride the Red Van

(Note to gracious reader: This was written July 26. Lately, these are not going up on the day I write them, but on the day I feel like giving them a half hour of extra attention)

I learned a lot in the last few days. I decided, when the depression came to visit me this time that I would invite it to stay.  It was an unusual decision for me.  Normally I’ll do anything not to feel it. As my therapist helped me to see, the sadness has been an authority for my work in community art and group dynamics. As in my work was in reaction to the sadness. It was a way to cope with it, to be distracted from it and sometimes to transform it. But as it descended this time (does it descend? Hold on.  Let me feel into that for a moment.  No, it wells upwards. It starts under my collar bones, and then tightens into my chest, and then clenches my jaw and then comes pouring out of my eyes) and I began to cry uncontrollably, like I did in April as you remember, after I wrote To Hatch a Plan, and I felt the cycle coming, I also noticed that there was a split second place where I was able to notice it coming up, and then the story coming for it.  And so I could tell that the sadness and the story are not necessarily attached to each other.  That much I had when I saw the therapist on Friday we thought together about what it might mean to just feel it.  Luckily I had also been talking to Shams (as always) and had been tracking its uprising, because it turned out to be a weekend like none other I have ever experienced.

My therapist is a wise man. I feel very grateful to work with him. He is an expert in dialectical behaviour therapy, which means he is highly skilled and willing to work with narcissism, bipolar, borderline anything with overwhelming emotions.  He is a wonderfully stable presence.   And, what I also really appreciate is that he is a seminarian and a devout Catholic (not that I am, but my maternal grandparents were). So, he has that mystical presence and that understanding of the entanglement of soul and psyche, self and spirit that I require in order to try to tell him the truth. I say try because I find, like in all areas of my life, that the line between what is true and what is not is very hard to distinguish.  It’s not a question of lying (though I do that, too, sometimes) but more a question of the perception of the transformations of matter. Dreaming, for example. So I try to tell the truth but I often find myself performing a little for him because I respect him so highly.  And I don’t always want him to see my brokenness. It comes through sometimes and I’m grateful when it does, because he helps me to integrate. He helped with the vampire, and now he is helping me with the sadness.

So, we talked about sadness as the authority for my work. And we talked about Michael’s death, because it was with me, but like I said before it was more inspiring than painful, because I could feel the light just pulsing through me from his emission. Anyway, I think I wrote some of this before. It’s funny how a whole hour can pass because I don’t recall what we said in that hour. But in the end what I decided was this, to try to feel it. To try to let it come in from the dark.  And to be grateful for the work it has done in my life to build the beautiful life I’m living.  Oh yes, I remember also the realization that after these deep bouts of sadness there is often a big creative event. He said that Jesus would go out into the desert, or into solitude and after that there would be miracles.  I don’t mind when he talks about Jesus because he is sharply intelligent and he does it in a way that allows it to seem like a teaching story. Sometimes the tone of the word Jesus is enough to make my heart pound. He asked me why I wouldn’t just let myself feel the sadness and I told him that I feared it would be endless.

And so I entered the desert. It wasn’t like I was fasting or anything. I just let the sadness in. I was eating, but I was having a lot of trouble sleeping. A lot.  It was a few days before Friday that it started. And then there was this other thing that kept pressing in.  It was the story of the friend I loved. I had just switched after the big expression and realization that it wasn’t what I wanted. But I never grieved. And there were stories of my dad, also handed down stories of my grandfathers.  They were sailing together a bit, all these narratives.  But mostly I didn’t think anything, and just wept and wept endlessly, and smoked and wept.  I walked from room to room. It would lift a little and maybe I would read for a little while, or it would become stark and sharp and I would have insights. Saturday is a blur of tears.  Just pouring out tears. I was correct in my fear. They were endless. Soaking my bed. Soaking my couch.  I called my friends. The Beatbox, the Voice. I tried to talk to Bright Ears, but he was too busy. It’s funny how he gets most of my attention and gives me the least. It’s not that funny. Actually in my state of fragility it stung quite a lot.  And as the hours passed it began to strike a kind of overwrought chord. But I spoke with the Beatbox late at night while he was on our favorite island with all our friends and it helped a lot.  I think I slept a little that night.

From Thursday the suicidal ideation had started, and on Saturday it was extremely intense. Constant thinking about it. Late, late on Saturday I got into two patterns.  On one I started looking up ways to do it, and decided that painkillers would be the way. I kept thinking that if I did this people would know how much pain I was in, which is so embarrassing to admit.  And on the other side I looked up the hotline and started dialing a few times, but I didn’t want to hear a stranger’s voice at all. I think I slept an hour that night.  Maybe almost two.  I woke up already in tears. They were solid throughout the day.  I spoke with the Beatbox and the Voice again.  They both helped a lot.  But before that I spent the morning thinking about suicide.  Not ideating and imagining, but actually applying strong thought.

And I came to five realizations of which I think I only remembered four: a) there is no guarantee that suicide would end my sadness. I have seen ghosts. It is clear that the pain can continue b) there is no reason to think that death is soothing or softening like sleep c) it would cause an enormous amount of karma. My grandfather already killed himself. We are all in the shadow of that. There is no reason to accrue that kind of family debt d) my community would be devastated, my mother, my brother, my friends, my little nieces and nephews. It would cause too much harm and while I can’t remember e) last night my brother added this: someone has to find you. Oh! I just remembered it. I made myself picture and physically go through the actual act, and realized e) my survival instinct would never have let me take the pills.  So, by the morning I knew that I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it.  But it left me wondering how I would stop the pain. And I thought about just disappearing, just not going to camp, not getting on the plane, not working anymore, going somewhere and living by begging and living outside. And it was interesting because the suicidal thoughts were actually causing panic, but the thought of disappearing gave me a sense of peace. I was having these thoughts on Monday morning.  Sunday was all part of the suicide thoughts and the call with the Beatbox that was so helpful.  I felt so loved, and I also could feel how lonely I am.  How much I wish for a family and a partner. This life is so good, but I know that a lot of this sadness has this root in the desire for deep intimacy.  I know also that my grandmothers have wished for freedom, and here it is. Karma, you see. The dreams of the ancestors.  Which is why it is so important to be careful what I am wishing for. Sigh. But I think that when we wish for things to be different we don’t realize what we are doing, that the act creates little rifts.  It comes back to that idea from Michael’s talk, that when you try to cross the stream of your life it wounds the heart. So with me, too, I know that my work is to quit with wishing and just to be in what is.

And then I went to see the therapist again. Oh, wait that conversation with the Beatbox was Monday morning. Sorry. The time is all confused because it wasn’t moving, it was pooling for three days.  I was both before and after.

And I was ready. I realized that my sadness is me.  It is an important part of my creativity, my connectedness, that it connects me to the world on many levels. On the level of relationship, on the level of transience of beingness, on the level of nature and the intimacy of prey and predator. I realized that my sadness does not want to end.  It wants a life. It is the sadness of my ancestors. It has never had a life. I realized that all of my drawings come directly from my sadness, with each one when it comes the gestures of the lines come. I knew that before, but I did not realize how central it is to my work.  And the therapist helped me see that it could be part of my role, part of my work, just to feel.  To feel without story, and to feel with story.  And I know when I look at my history that it is true, I have always had so much feeling, so much emotion, and so much sadness. And I have fought it. And I have fought for it.  But now I am ready to just let it in the door, and let it sit in the house of my heart and see what it would like and what it needs and what it will become.

And then the little miracle happened.  That night after a second day of a second promise I was waiting to talk to my friend. And when his reply was sharp and dismissive I slipped down, down down down very far down. But then I remembered my mission, and I let it wash over me.  I began to sleep, at last. I slept most of the day. I did the little bits of packing and cleaning that needed to be done so I could get on the plane I’m on right now, but mostly I slept. I slept and cried. And when I cried I kept saying to myself, it’s okay. You are welcome. It’s okay to be sad. And it was different. It would lift and come back. As if it was playing. It was painful, but interesting.

At a certain point, not too far into the morning, after four hours of weeping and smoking, I did it. I blocked all access of that person I love so much.  I blocked their access to me. And then a few hours later I opened a channel for a moment and let them know in as kind a way as I could that I needed this.  I didn’t know why I did it, or how. I have been so nourished by the connection, or so I thought.  But about three hours later it lifted. It lifted. The sadness. By the end of the day I was starting to realize what had happened. That I had been leaking so much emotional energy, not actually into the friendship but into the idea of it that I had created a wound in my heart. I was trying to cross the stream. My emotional accountability, my ability to hold my sadness and let it have space in my life required this kind of boundary.

The next morning was today. And I woke up today feeling FREE. Liberated. Open. Glad. The sadness was there too.  I felt (and feel) whole.  From not checking, not looking, not waiting, on the phone. The phone! The algorithmic hell. It’s not the friendship that is the problem, it is the mediation by the platforms. So that’s where I am so far in the story. Eleven minutes left so here we go:

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A red van throngs towards me, or so it looked on such a long, long prairie road. I’m on the side of the road. My friends are gone. It is a decision I made and I don’t know how it happened, but I know that the thrushing back and forth of voices, getting hotter, getting louder, then getting hissy soft and vicious and then finally getting slowed down by the side of the road and stopping.  And me frozen there in the front seat, feeling them glowering behind. And then Marc says beside me.  If you really think you’re right then get out now.  I shrugged but I was suddenly scared and not angry at all. Of course I’m right I said. It’s your destiny that kills you, not your decisions. It had started as one of our philosophical things, which it’s true almost always end up with someone getting pretty badly hurt but usually not in the way that maybe I was about to get hurt. You’ve made a lot of stupid decisions, he said.  We all have. And we’ve paid for them all. Hardly, I said. Sometimes you pay for things you haven’t done. Sometimes bad shit just happens. It’s not like that.  It’s not like if you do something you immediately have to account for it.  Decisions, he said. Not actions.  They’re the same, I said. Then get the hell out, he said and though it was soft it was so loud. Wait, said Nabila. I turned around. You can’t take any money. Otherwise you aren’t really going to have to trust whatever comes, are you?  I had thought she was going to save me.  The thing is, with us, there is no going back. You pick a side of one of these things and you just have to stick to it.  I remember when Pasco shot himself in the shoulder, right?  I mean, this is the problem with philosophy. So I did it. And now here it comes, the Red Van. It slows, of course, but makes me jump out of the way a little first, and in the dust I see inside that there are two men.  One of them jumps out, if you take the middle, he said.  I had no choice. And I was suddenly confused about who to pray to.  This is the problem with comparative religions. I dropped my wallet, empty of everything but my student card, and got in.

………..

Only 2700 today, but that’s okay. I’m glad to be alive.

 

Boundary-Making Practices

The ancient source still bubbling in the stream is running in your heart. –Michael Stone

Coping takes its toll. –Bessel Van der Kolk

I need to do this. I’m on the fourth day of one of my depressive cycles. I haven’t been in this state since last April.  It actually is starting to seem like there is a three month (ish) cycle. I finally am in the part of the cycle where I could actually show my therapist what is happening instead of trying to tell him, and then having him explain it away.  I’m very functional and I’ve got such a strong skill set for showing people what they want to see that therapy is very challenging for me.  I bet this happens to a lot of people, especially people like me. If you grow up learning how to adapt your persona and expressions to any context very quickly it’s hard to remember who you are, or to really tell a deep truth.  Especially to someone like a therapist.  I find I have a few friends that I actually can tell the truth to, and I’m extremely attached to them. Like Bright Ears and the Voice and the Queen and the Beatbox. Thank God for them. Supercharged. Angel Hair. I don’t even know if they know why I care about them so much, even you if you tell someone it’s not something that’s easy to understand. I can take off the iron-and-water mask of the second generation immigrant with you. My soul comes out for you. You make everything I’m dragging seem like a game. And why? What makes it possible with some people? To me it’s about depth. With some folks they are relating from a place that is so nuanced and gut-sensitive that it is possible to relate to them from the deep part of myself that has retained its essence.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this mask-shifting ability (you would call it passing, in some circles) is extremely helpful and lucrative for me.  Mostly, in the world, people want to see what they want to see, and I’m great at that. But I think it’s also what depresses me.  Because at thirty eight I’m sick of being a prismic shell of myself.  I know, inside, who I am, I think.  But a) I’m often disgusted, suspicious and ashamed of it and b) it’s hard to get it all the way up to the surface and c) I don’t really trust the world with something so undeveloped.

Which is what this writing practice is all about. First the drawings, now this. Starting to integrate what is undeveloped. Trying to find myself. This is, of course, much more vulnerable than that, but that was so vital, even starting with the piano improvisations, just to allow the ugliness to have its time in the light.  But I think I’ve written to you about this before.  What I wanted to write to you today was about the sadness. I’m trying to give it some space.  I have a couple of days before I have to leave for about twelve days to work. And I have this weekend without anyone to call or see.  So I’m trying to just let the sadness have its own space, and let it do what it needs to do.  It feels like an Olympic-sized outdoor pool with about five inches of brown winter water in it.  It feels like I just ate two pounds of chocolate ice cream and I just have to wait for the nausea to pass.  It feels like there are florescent lights beaming right into my eyes.  Yesterday I had the glimmer of one of those horrible all over-my-body headaches and the constriction in my breathing, but I had three gin and tonics and went to bed early, and physically I’m feeling better today.  But I’ve still cried three times today.  And you know, the therapist was trying yesterday to get me to tell him what was making me sad. But the truth is, anything that I say is a lie.  It’s not anything that makes me sad.  It’s the opposite.  I feel sad, and then as the feeling rises up I connect it to a story. Usually (as you know) a story about how unloved and unlovable I am.  In this case, there is grief, and there is the let down from Switzerland and there is this and that.  And of course the long endless story of unrequited love. But none of it is true.  I can decouple the feeling from the story and the story disintegrates easily but the feeling does not go anywhere.

What I want is to learn to live with it.  I’ve had this sadness my entire life.  There is no time that I remember not having it. What I want is to learn to just have it, and care about it, and take care of it, as if it were my responsibility.  As if it were a child or a pet or something.  Because it is clearly not going anywhere. But it can’t keep ruling me and wrecking my relationships.  I do want to give it space. I do want to learn from it. And most of all I want to be accountable for it.  So that I don’t try to put it on someone else. Because when I do, when I do put it onto someone in a story-form (like, you did this to me and now I feel my sadness) then they have control of me in a way that I can no longer continue to work with. You know?  Like, I start to feel the sadness, so then I might text someone, usually the person I currently have a crush on (and this is a good time to work on this now because there is no one, which I can’t remember the last time this was true. Before the weird affair with C.A, I guess) and then start to panic when I don’t hear back from them, and then the sadness won’t go away until I hear from them.  See what a horrible set up this is?  I create a kind of rule for the sadness.  And, it obeys, but it is not really a way to honour the feeling itself.  What if the sadness is precious? What if it is important? Therapist said yesterday that it might even be my authority, the thing that creates and guides my work in the world. That was kind of interesting. And humbling.  Just to think that this gut-wrenching sleep-stealing feeling is part of my gift.

Something interesting happened a couple of days ago.  I needed a table for my animation set up, where I’m getting ready for Indivisible. I was talking to mom when she said that maybe they should just send my old desk and chair, which I’d brought from Vancovuer (the only furniture I brought) and I thought well maybe that would be too expensive.  But dad arranged it with someone who works for him.  They gave me a crazy good price, I’d never get a desk for that (except for maybe something on Craigslist, but I’ve been looking and it’s all so ugly, and to be honest my apartment is really supporting me in the way tchat I most need, so I’m not going to put some shit table in here) and they just asked that I hire someone to help carry them. I said I’d do it, but the person said no, it needed to be a mover.  I found someone on Craigslist who would come for thirty dollars.

That was before the sadness had started. Actually, I’m going to tell you how it started, in a minute. But this was a day or two before. I had been thinking how impossible it was to find anyone I can really talk to.  How the people are so rare and that they are all so busy, and how much it would be so nice to have like a best friend or a person or something that we could just talk.  Actually, I was praying, not just thinking. I was trying to remember all the qualities of all the unrequited crushes of my life (there are so so so many, it’s really hilarious.  The other thing I was thinking just today when I was at Cafe Dep and writing in my journal with Shams, it was actually Shams who said it, was that what would it be like to understand this history of unrequited love as just a facet of me, instead of this colossal failing? What if it was just the way I love, and that I have some kind of gift hidden in there?) The surprise to me was how similar they all are. Intelligent, spiritual, creative, dominant.

Now, I was in my space, just reading (I was finishing Meeting the Universe Halfway, AND I finished Stamped that day, too.  I need to now write at least something small about each of these. I think it’s going to be the best habit for my phD. Just each time I finish a book to write a review of it) and working on Indivisible.  They were both late, the mover from Ottawa and this person.  I had initially asked someone else from Craiglist, but then I forgot to confirm, so I got in touch with this person just about four hours before it was time for the movers to arrive.  Now, of course, the arrival of the two of them was out of sync.  When I hear a knock (my doorbell has been broken for a year — oh my god, this story is so boring. I’m so embarrassed by this writings.  But, it eventually worked with the drawings, and I know it will work here.  I have to keep showing up.  That’s all there is to this. I just keep thinking of you, invisible reader. Just, promise me you won’t keep reading if you don’t want to.  I’m just trying to have faith that eventually something important is going to arrive here on this page) on my door I know it’s going to be complicated, and that one or the other of these guys is going to have to wait. I’m glad I have some Orangina in my fridge, but (and this is one of the warning signs that the depression is coming) I don’t want to spend any time with anyone, especially someone new that I have no connection to other than these two pieces of furniture. I’m seriously regretting my decision to do this as I’m walking toward the door.  I open it and there is an extremely handsome young man standing there. Beautiful, creamy night dark skin, intelligent eyes, a big smile, a sharp, preppy sweater, clean jeans, clean sneakers, a laptop bag. He looks familiar but I couldn’t place it and I still can’t.  He sticks out his hand and says he is Ben. This would be an easy time to go into the fiction aspect of these damn things, but I won’t. He says, I can clean that.  He points to my stair way. I poke my head out and see a massive squirrel (have I told you about this squirrels and racoons on this street? they’re enormous, and extremely bold) digging through a bag of compost on my stairway. I freak a little, but try to remain externally calm until the squirrel started moving towards me in a hulking, expressive, intimidating manner. I shouted and he (squirrel not Ben) kind of sauntered away.  I went in to get the compost bucket, but at that moment dad called to ask if the other guy was here yet, and then my phone died and it was a bit of a kerfuffle, until I came out with the bucket. Ben wanted to clean it, but to be honest, he was dressed more neatly than I was. I cleaned the disgusting compost, emailed my neighbours with an unnecessarily snarky what-the-why-is-there-compost-on-the-step and then finally got hold of the other mover who was stuck in traffic.  I did not want to sit with this person for a half hour, handsome as he was (again, that’s always a sign for me that the lows are coming). But I didn’t see a way out.

We leaned on the railing of my stoop and started to chat. Now, to me, as I kind of said above, the art of conversation is a beautiful thing, and a sacred thing. And this person got it! As we talked about his work in graphic design, and mine, and my thesis research, and his spiritual study group, we just kept up with each other, and slowly built a thing of beauty in a half hour.  When Nick the mover finally arrived I felt so grateful. In fact, I saw it, like Godi, as a message from my ancestors. (I’m writing slowly today. I’m not going to crack 3000 words.  I feel okay with it, though. It’s just what it is, though part of the motivation has definitely been seeing the word counts.  You know, I should reread some of the old ones, I’m quite sure they’re getting worse. And that is something that Firoze said.  He said, you can’t count on them getting better. That makes sense. Sometimes you write well, sometimes not. And you can have a brilliant phase and then it’s over. It’s one of the reasons I want to work with Auguste.  I used to be able to freestyle, dammit. Not ever really, really well like the Beatbox and Bright Ears or Platinum but I could do it, and now it just sounds so cheesy. Or maybe it’s my taste that changed? Anyway, I want to get the gates open, and that’s why I’m writing here, isn’t it?) That the world is full of beautiful people that are easy to connect with. Sometimes the world feels so empty. Because after all these years it’s just so hard to believe that I am connectable. And of course I know this person was just killing time, but it somehow really just restored my faith, like Godi, that what is meant to be will be, and I don’t have to force it.  I don’t have to try to cross the stream, like Michael Stone said once in a retelling of a Zen story.  That trying to cross the stream, or leave the stream, the immediacy of your life, will wound your heart. So I sit here in my sadness and try to write INTO it instead of AWAY from it, and let the water just flow by me. Trying to hurt and let it hurt without wounding myself

I was going to tell you where this started.  It always has these little fragrances before it starts, where I can see it start to come. I stop wanting to clean, it always starts with dishes. I love doing dishes in general, but when the grimness starts then I stop.  And then the altar starts to get messy.  I spill things.  Cards aren’t neatly piled. Ash everywhere. Candle wax. And then I start to isolate. But, I had this amazing opportunity to go to a picnic with Sha Xin Wei, whose book I have been telling you about.  It’s all so synchronous with the Barad book, and the lectures at EGS and my Master’s thesis and the research in time and all of it, I couldn’t skip the picnic.  But it was so hard to pull myself together, braid the hair, buy some raspberries, and go.  When I got to the park, they weren’t there! But then he texted and told me to meet at an address, which turned out to be his Montreal apartment.  We walked to the park in a small group.  He is an extremely gracious and kind person, so I did feel comfortable, and there was one other person from the Philosophy side of EGS there who I know. Xin Wei was interested in my work and gave me some good little clues.  But they were three couples, and three babes, and Xin Wei’s partner also said that while she was happy for her single friends having a child was the best thing she had ever done better than touring, better than working in other countries, better than anything. She was so beautiful and they were all so intelligent and I just felt.  Well, never mind. I mean, like I said, it doesn’t help me to attach narratives. And the picnic was a lot of fun. But as soon as I said goodbye to them, and began to walk home in the night, it began.  I almost cried right there in the street, and I didn’t really know why, except that my rejection complex had me by the throat.  By the end of the night I was struggling to breathe.  I actually woke up in tears, which is always a pain. The day, which was only yesterday, I guess, though it feels like more, but maybe it wasn’t, was so so long. And muddy and just dense, as if I am trying to push myself through a concrete wall just to get to the next minute. Yep, that was just yesterday.  Okay, I’ve made it. Four minutes to go. Ha! And only 200 words to get to 3000. That’s funny. What can I tell you with the last couple of minutes. Oh.  I better write a tiny bit of fiction.  My poor experiment. What a mess.

……………………………………………

I found a rat’s tail on the sidewalk (true) and then a few steps later I saw a small white egg, with a red fatherless chicken smashed on the street (not on the same day, really) and then I saw a dead bird later that day (not that day).  I went home for a plastic bag and collected all three and started walking.  The bag felt so heavy, much heavier than the light little tiny things inside it.  I couldn’t hold it by the neck of the bag. It was so heavy, it was as if it was full of water.  I had to cradle it in my arms. As I walked I could feel the small dead shapes inside it.  I didn’t know where I was going. The sun was very hot. The bag was becoming hot in my hand.  A woman with a blue hat and a lot of scabs on her face was crouching by the corner of a Second Cup.  She shouted, even though I was quite near, what is in the bag? I tried to just walk by, but she got up and started to follow me. I just want to know what you have there I don’t want anything from you, she said.  She pulled on my arm.  The bag fell, and I know it’s impossible, but I heard a loud sound when it fell.  She looked at me, and I looked at her, it felt like we were frozen there. Then she grabbed the bag and ran, turning a corner ahead so I could not see where she had gone.

……………………………………………..

Made. It. If you read this, thank you.

 

Don’t Squander Your Life

“Does our yoga practice superficially cover up our miseries and distract us from the deeper work of the heart? Are we in love with the truth of life or are we in love with the image we see in the mirror? What is really important to us? Our backbends, arm balances, and the opinions that others have of us? When we come close to the end of this life, will our yoga practice have served us well? Will we pass into the unknown completely calm and joyous, full of love for all beings? Or will we have regrets?”
―Michael Stone

I don’t even know what these essays are anymore.  Maybe it’s just a big slur of word mush. If they were essays I would have an idea, I would have an intention to communicate with you.  But right now, I can barely think. I can barely feel anything.  I don’t fully know why.  Michael Stone died very suddenly.  On Friday he suddenly slipped into a coma and last night he was taken off life support. And maybe that’s it?  Maybe it’s that I’m feeling like life is a kind of empty illusion and why would I even try to communicate? I’m lonely and it doesn’t make any sense. It’s that existential lonely, not the lonely of “I need to call someone.” Of course, as always, there is one someone I wish would call. But I also know, and am starting to really see, that even that would not alleviate this feeling. This is the dark dark. The dark that never leaves me, and when I feel this way work always feels like it’s piled on my head. The best thing to do right now is to draw.  Which I will, right after this hour of writing.  I would call it depression, but I don’t know if that is really what it is.  Maybe it’s a kind of awakeness, an awakeness to the reality of the tenuousness of everything. The thin, thin veil, and then the pulsing, vital, blood-red pressure of everything on this side. The too-blueness of the sky. I feel like I want to climb back into a womb, back before that, as if I want to just disappear into it.  I don’t think I’m mourning Michael’s death, but I must be. It’s weird. I think I’m jealous.  I want to dissolve.  I want to regain that skinlessness, that earthiness. I wonder if I will feel this way on the day I die? Michael would say don’t squander your life.  And I’m sure I do when I try to wish it away.  But how can I pretend this is not what’s happening?  What is more squanderful? To pretend I’m fine with the drear or to admit that I wish it was over?

Don’t worry.  (You who are not reading this, and never will) I’m not going to do anything.  That edge is somewhere else.  But it’s strange to sit here and type, with the rhythm of the keyboard almost at the pace of my thoughts, and then feel the rhythm of tears that I don’t fully understand just dripping down my face.  I have always cried so easily.  People have given me feedback that I am tough, guarded, armoured, too intellectual, too heady, to distant, oblivious, hard to reach all my life. Friends, colleagues, psychics.  I’ve never understood it.  I feel raw, like a bald lightbulb, no shade, no frosting, just me, flickering, hanging by a threadbare wire.

And doubly, don’t worry. I have lots to do.  I’ve got all kind of readings to do for school, and the four tasks to work on, and my show of course, which I have to put in as many hours as I can in the next nine days before I leave, and of course my job and all the connections there. I’m not bored. And even bored can sometimes be so nice. I can sit in my gray armchair by the window and smoke a little, let my mind wander. Often in those moments little poems will come and I’ll write them in my diary or post them on Instagram with a collage. No, it’s not that there is anything wrong. Of course, you know I’d love to be in love, but am I really someone who should be? Maybe I’m already married to my darkness.

Today I woke up at about seven, after working on the photoshops until pretty damn late. I maybe slept two hours, if that. I hung around in bed for a while, writing in my diary, writing to Shams, because I already felt this grimness coming.  I’d had a dream, but nothing that has given me much of a clue as to what is happening. I think maybe it could be just a hormonal, chemical, astral, moody kind of thing.  I didn’t pray.  I didn’t shower.  I just read Stamped in my little chair. Did a bit of yoga while listening to one of Michael’s dharma talks. It’s so wonderful that he made so many recordings. It’s so strange that he is gone. I remember when I first met him.

I was leading a youth camp with the Voice. It was up on Cortes Island. I don’t even know how many years ago it might have been, at least six or seven, I guess. Supercharged was there for her first time.  The Voice and I were having a blast. We’d kind of turned the structure on its head a bit, and the camp was unleashed. It was silly. It was wild.  We’d given the camp over to the young people in many ways, which just felt so right.  I loved it.  (We’re going to do another one together in Eugene next week, and I’m looking forward to it, though the thought of those eight days is also exhausting in my present emotional state). But it was getting to heart circle time.  A big storytelling ritual right in the middle of the week. Requires a lot of intimacy and maturity.  I wanted to start pulling in all the wild energy.

Supercharged had been saying from the first day that Michael Stone was at Hollyhock and that he should come by the camp. But the Voice and I didn’t really know her yet.  I had said no a couple of times.  I didn’t want some white yogi zen west coast dudeman in here telling us all about how spiritual he was. The day of the heart circle arrived. Again, in the morning, Supercharged asked me if Michael could come to the camp.  Just meet him, she said, just let him come and meet you.  Okay, I said.  Let him come by after the plenary.

The plenary is our morning group session. We had our group of fifty teens and 25 adults in the Tiber Bay room, a beautiful community room made mostly of soft local wood. (Ah. Just thinking of that room makes me feel a little more grounded. I’ve stopped crying now, too.  Writing this was a good idea.) In that session I tell them, witnessing each other is the most important part of tonight. More than speaking. Just being there. That’s the healing that comes from the stories. Being there to hear each other, and also hearing, and knowing that we are connected in our lifeways, in our paths.  (I’m paraphrasing, it was so long ago.)  We talked about how to listen.  It was okay.  The energy was so high.  While they listened, and did the activities, I still felt like our container was very, very broad and windy and I didn’t know if it would hold tonight. I knew I wasn’t really getting through and I didn’t know how. We’d made something quite a bit bigger than I was used to holding.

Supercharged brought Michael to me about ten minutes after the plenary. We were down near the lake, which was softly lapping, in some tall grass, just down from the play structure (I love to see teenagers sprawled on play structures. It’s just good for the soul.) He was a slim, strong man with tender, laughing eyes.  He shook my hand.  Is this possible? His handshake felt intelligent. Could he speak with the kids today, asked Supercharged. Michael was just smiling at me. He was so beautiful.  Being near him made me feel safe. Btu I still had the bee in my brain. Okay, I said.  But just ten minutes.  At break. And if they want to leave they can.  Okay?  Sure, he said. That sounds great. He came back at the break, which is for three hours before dinner.  We gathered everyone in the upstairs classroom, another bright, sweet room. (Oh, I want to go back to that little farm schoolhouse. Now. I need it). Michael sat in a chair at the front.  We were all over the room, scattered, perched here and there.  The sun was warm and bright. The room smelled like chalk and children. I was crossed legged on the floor, not far from him.

He began by telling us about his grandmother. How she used to hug him, and he hated it, how she would squeeze him against her breasts. I can’t remember why he told that, or how he connected it. I think maybe he said that now, now that she was gone, he would have loved to feel that hug again.  And then he told us how, if something was bothering us, just to face it.  To give it face, he said.  He said, if you pay attention to something for twenty seconds, it will change. In five minutes it will change completely. Just turn towards it. He explained for a few minutes then asked me, my ten minutes are over, can I go on?  I looked around the room.  Everything had changed. Everyone had moved closer, and were sitting near his feet, near each other, we were tight.  No one wanted to move. I smiled at him and nodded. He smiled back and didn’t look away from a few moments.  And he made us practice it.  With a partner.

Give the person your face, he said. Don’t stare at them, and don’t try to see them, and don’t try to feel anything, and don’t try to change anything. Just give them your face. Don’t try to look like you’re in love with them. Just look. Just face.  We tried it. It was easy and hard, I noticed. It was about distance.  Then he asked if we had any questions. There were a few, and then I raised my hand.  He had just said, this will always work.  You can always face what is going on for you inside. It will always change. I raised my hand and asked, what about grief?  He look at me.  I have never been looked at like this before or since.  In a way, sometimes Bright Ears comes close to looking at me in this way, as if I am transparent and yet whole. As if my brokenness is my wholeness and as if I make perfect sense but I’m still hilarious and silly and totally mistaken. Michael’s look was a split second, but it was as if I was in an X-ray machine.  It’s just a guy, he said, and I felt as if I had been tapped very sharply on the back of the head. He was right, of course. I wasn’t grieving. I was, as I so often am, in the disappointment phase of hope.

He spoke for another hour and a half, all on this theme of giving face.  The kids loved it, we all did.  He was so generous, so humourous, so strong and supple and even and bright.  It didn’t strike me until dinner, when I was sitting with the Voice, on the bench that rings the whole upper floor of the schoolhouse, all seventy five of us together, plates perched on laps, full of the organic greens from the farm, and listening to the sheep in the sunset, under the sound of teenagers laughing and a few playing basketball below on the court. It was then that I said to the Voice, he did it.  He created the space we need for the heart circle.  He had shown us how to witness each other, in a way we could never have done.  With his years of practice and his sweet way of teaching. The Voice nodded and put an arm around me and we leaned back into our lives. That night’s heart circle was beautiful. When I finally got to sleep about three am I sent a big bright thought of love and gratitude to him, as I am doing right now. Hard to believe he’s gone.

I saw him again in Toronto a couple of years later. He remembered the camp. I was doing yoga at The Centre of Gravity, his place of teaching and practice. He gave a talk, I wish I could remember now what it was, maybe it will come back. It was very technical, I remember.  Nothing like what happened at the camp. I think it was about breathing, but the detail I don’t know.  While we were doing the yoga practice he came over and did a quite harsh adjustment on me, moving my hip very strongly and said with a little edge it’s okay to work for it. Just give into it when it’s hard. Work your way into it. The next morning I was late and running for a streetcar or a train or something and I tweaked my trick knee (it’s the knee cap that subluxes, you remember from the Tae Kwon Do thing) and I knew that it was the adjustment.  I was in a brace for ten days. That time made me slow down, made me think about how I was working and how and when I was skimming, not digging in.  As I’m writing this I wonder if what he adjusted was the karma from that day of ego during the Taw Kwon Do championship. Goddammit, Michael. Why’d you have to leave so soon? I’m worried about the Dancing Poet. And Supercharged. And Miss Quartz who called me for the first time in her life, just to grieve. And the thousands of people who loved him who will take this in all the twisted ways we grieve. But I’m also excited for all of us. Because he taught us how. Give it face. Work for it. Okay, then.

I never went back to his classes after that, but I always meant to. To take his New Year’s retreat. To spend more time with him. This is the thing, isn’t it? Time. Goes on. I spend so much time in my emotions, like today.  But when is it too late?  What can I do? Am I supposed to try to feel good all the time, or is it okay that this is just me? That I have this darkness that comes with me, and that I really don’t know what it is.  I need to give it face.  Again.  He said this, and I remember Geri saying it too, once. You don’t gain momentum on your practice. It doesn’t get easier. I will always have this darkness.  I just need to keep showing up for it.

Still fifteen minutes to write. It’s a warm summer day in Montreal. I am blessed because my apartment stays very cool in the summer.  I don’t mind puttering in here all day. It’s also festival time in this city of celebrations, but there’s no way I’m getting up to that. The mood internal has shifted again, and again I feel like I could cry.  See what I mean? Nothing has happened. I don’t know. I tell my therapist about it, but I think because I’m so functional in the world he doesn’t really get it.  I have an appointment in a week. I’m going to tell him again.  I need someone to know.  Although I guess you (whoever you are) know. Does everyone go through this? Probably.  I’m looking at my little couch.  I want to lie on it and cry.  And then maybe draw or read.  What I know I should do is get into the photoshop world and work on the show.  I don’t want to do anything else. There. The mood lifted again.  It’s around my eyes. It’s like a vice tightens, and then it loosens. Right now it is loose. Oh, there, I feel it again, it’s in my chest.  What IS emotion? Maybe that’s a better question for the therapist.  I heard James Hollis give a lecture in Feb and he said that emotions are like a diagnostic from the soul.  It’s the soul’s way of having an opinion about the lifeway.  That makes sense. I guess my soul isn’t happy about something. I think it’s the discontent I have about love. I don’t know which direction it is.  Does the soul want me to find my person? No, I can feel the dankness of that.  It’s in my throat.  It’s that the soul is happy to enjoy the beautiful life I have, and the tears come when I start wishing something was different. Blegh.

Again, I have to return to not knowing really why I’m writing this.  I was supposed to start moving into fiction in 23, but it’s 26.  I have ten minutes left. I’m scared. I’m scared I can’t do it.  I’m going to give it a try.  I will be the main character, okay? Just to confuse the whole thing even more.

……………..

Last night I was sitting in my armchair, watching the new season of Suits on my phone, and smoking weed out of a pipe.  (So far that’s true)  There is a tape on my door that says knock loudly (also true) but I still always jump when someone knocks. In order to knock loudly they end up sounding aggressive.  There was a loud knock, and my heart was pounding, but I still went to the door. I wish I had one of those peek holes.  I saw a male figure past the bevelled glass.  I figured it must be the DJ from upstairs. I opened the door and it wasn’t. It was a stranger. It was ten o’clock at night. He was light brown skinned with dark green eyes and that perfect facial hair that mystifies me. Do they draw that on like eyebrows? His eyes were looking at me accusingly.  He said nothing.  My heart was in my throat.  Yes, I said, and my voice was a little choked. There was no one in the street behind him.  It was raining, and he was wet on the shoulders of his thin beige summer jacket.  Underneath, his shirt was blue and white checks. My phone was not in my pocket. What was he about to do? He was looking at me, I was looking at him. It was at least ten seconds before he said, Nadia.  I smiled, and smiled with my eyes, which is one of my weird gifts as a liar, that I can kick you an eye-smile almost always. But it didn’t work.  He stayed neutral, his eyes accusing but, still, distant.  He said, let me in.  I stood aside, and as he crossed the little airlock and brushed by me, and didn’t take off his shoes, and moved into the hallway and turned around, I wondered what I had just done.  I don’t know you I said.  The last word was breathy.  I was having trouble breathing, but I didn’t notice until I tried to speak.  He took off his jacket and hung it on a hook.  You don’t know me? You should.  It’s me. I don’t know your name.  My voice didn’t sound like mine.  I had wished for death so many times, but now that it was here I felt faint.  He shrugged. Can I have some water or something? Can I sit down?  I didn’t say anything and he walked into the front room as if he had known it was there, and sat on my couch.  He said, you don’t look good. I don’t know you, I said again.  It’s me, Nadia, he said.  I’m Ram. Ram, I asked. From my novel. What are you talking about? I saw your book, he said. That’s impossible I said. There is only one printout.  I have it here. Ha. He said. When you write you conjure. There is never just one copy.  I saw it where everything that is ever written is kept. And when I recognized myself I thought, I have to meet you in person.

Clippings, Programs and Contracts

“Discursive practices are not speech acts. Rather, discursive practices are specific material configurings of the world through which determinations of boundaries, properties, and meanings are differentially enacted…To assume that meaning is a property of individual words is to stay within a linguistic frame of meaning making. Discourse is not a synonym for language.” –Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway

I have so much to do right now but I’m also so far behind with these, and I know if I fall any further behind I will stop doing it.  And I know that even though the content of these isn’t very pleasing to me at all, the muscle I’m building in just letting them flow is something I want and need. This is essay number 25, and it’s Thursday of week 28 so I really am falling quite far back. I managed to do two while I was in Switzerland, but that wasn’t enough.

There is so much going on in my head right now.  And it’s summer in Montreal, which means all I want to do is go out at night and socialize. There are festival shows every single night, and tons of other stuff going on, too. And the weather is cool, it’s kind of lovely. Everyone brown that I meet is complaining, but for me I love this kind of freshness, I have been getting up early just to sit outside on the back balcony and read a magazine and sip green tea and let the coolness fill my lungs.

It took me a long time to land after Saas-Fee. The first three days I was just disoriented.  And jet lagged. I think I need to stop traveling. My hair has gone so much more gray in the last month.  It’s a steep slope, it feels like. But I have been taking care of my body since I’ve been home. It’s so much easier when there’s a routine.  Getting up early, doing yoga, drinking green tea, eating oatmeal, reading for at least two hours.  It’s nice.  It feels really grounded and good.  I have a trip at the end of the month, to run a camp with the Voice in Oregon, but until then I’m here. Two weeks. Well, next weekend I’ll take a train to see my family, but that’s just for the weekend.

When I get back I’m going to call Xin Wei and try to meet him for tea. I’ve seen him in two dreams, and both times we were doing experiments. I’m incredibly excited about what’s happening with school. I think that my dream of really understanding the nature of time is actually a reality, where before it seemed like a pipe dream since I have no background in physics.  But, between Meeting the Universe Halfway, meeting Xin Wei, and learning about arts based research I think I might really have a shot.  Learning about metaphor in my master’s thesis was so incredibly satisfying.  Something really funny has been happening as I’ve been reading and learning in the last month.  It’s as if I wrote that thesis knowing I was going to read these books and meet these people. But if you’d asked me then I wouldn’t have had any idea that this was what I wanted to study. Barad’s book in particular is really blowing my mind with the synchronicity. She even keeps using the phrase, What Matters, which is the title for the thesis that Chili and I came up with.  I wonder what it would have been like to have had this book then?  But then, I wouldn’t have constructed the ideas myself, which is so validating now.  To read her thoughts on quantum mechanics from a post humanist perspective and to know that when I was working so hard to prove that metaphor was a more-than-human phenomenon she had already written this.

It felt great to be at school, too, and have the background in phenomenology. And that would never have happened if I hadn’t have had to leave the Imaginative Ed program and write my thesis instead of continuing with the cohort. At the time I couldn’t have known it was so meant to be.  And I feel this often, the things I struggle against the most are the things leading me to my destiny. The transformation is in the resistance itself. It’s funny. So this thing about love, I wonder, I wonder if it’s leading me somewhere beautiful. Though, I have to say, since Godi I just have been feeling different. It’s as if some kind of skein or veil just tore open and I realize that I really do have the life I want, and that to have someone else in here with me might just be too crowded. I know that my ancestors are with me, drawing me forward, and also pushing me with their dreams and that I am being propelled by their dreams. I mean, I’ve known this for ages, but it takes time to sink in and it’s easy to forget because it works so opposite to my conditioning and how I’ve internalized my role as a woman, and as an Indian woman, and as an aging woman.  But I know that they want me to be free. And I look at the incredible privilege, not just to have all the access to resources I have, but also to have this life where, for example, on a Thursday afternoon at 4 pm I’m just writing this.  I mean, I’m free.  And I just keep wanting to tie myself down, and I’m starting to be free enough internally to ask myself why. And I think it’s because I’m afraid, because it is the unknown. Because it’s not really a path at all, just a star in the sky and then the terrain, all bumpy and rivers and bushwacking.

So school has me jumping up and down with excitement.  I’m just about to finish Stamped, and Meeting the Universe. I’m going to read Meeting again, in order to take notes, and maybe see if my supervisor can help me find somewhere to publish an article that relates it to group work or facilitation. I’ve just started Xin Wei’s Poiesis and Enchantment in Topological Matter. I skimmed all the way through it while I was in Switzerland, but now I’m reading it for real. It is a real complement to Meeting, and he even mentions Barad in it.  I also got Haraway’s Staying With the Trouble, but it’s still in the plastic.  And I have all these other readings for school, handbooks about Time. I think the narrowing focus (it will have to get a lot more narrow than this) is Ethics and Aesthetics of Time in Group Process.  I think that can keep me interested for four years.

I’m also hard at work on the show. Had a meeting at the venue with the producer and manager yesterday. It was scary. It’s feeling so real and there are only ten months left. Right now I’m using Photoshop to take all the drawings apart so I can animate them. I have a mentor who is about six five and has a very loud voice and seems maybe like he has some social anxiety but is a total sweetheart. We’ve done two hours together (oh shit I have to remember to pay him today).  It’s fun to work on the drawings in this way, I was afraid it would be tedious. The scary part is that they ALL need to be done pretty soon, and some of the newer ones aren’t even done in their hard copies. I wanted to be working on the After Effects side of things by August. I also need to record the piano improvisations, starting tonight, so that The Beatbox can hear them before he gets here in August.  I feel the connection of the drawings to school and to my thesis.  It’s like I did the experiment beforehand.  I should write about them in that framework.  Maybe I use them as the trope for an article about Meeting? I don’t know.  All I know is that these drawings are alive in a way that nothing else I’ve ever made has been.

God, this shit really is a diary, and a to-do list. But I do appreciate being able to get the words out.  At least they are coherent.  But what is valuable to say to you? What is it I want to tell you?

Well, one thing is that in Meeting Barad proves something that is very very important, that may hold the key to the survival of our species (though of course one way or another our species does not survive) but at least prolongs the inevitable and who knows? She is proving (among other things) that past and future, the distinction between them, is ontological and agential. Meaning that they do not have inherent qualities, and are not oriented to each other in a specific way before they are measured by a mediating apparatus.  This is very important because, as I was saying to the Dancing Poet last night over dinner, so much of what is terrifying about the world, like climate change, is the direct result of a linear and teleological orientation to time. For example, insurance. Insurance is so fundamental to the economic systems that we live in, baked right into it. In order to even have insurance, you have to believe that the future is a big gaping raw maw of an abyss of nothingness and that uncertainty can only be dealt with by an ultimate abstraction, which is money (but could as easily be God). And once you accept that you can accept the notion of interest, which operates on the same principle of linearity, of progression towards, and in a certain direction. When I believe that the seasons return, that the sun returns, that what dies returns, that my ancestors are here with me now, that past and future are here with me now, then I don’t need insurance. Not at all.  Because while the world remains (and moreso) full of wonder it is also dependable and it is in direct communication with me. So the future is not an unknown, it is a friend who is coming back; winter, spring, summer, fall.

Xin Wei in Poiesis and Enchantment talks about the magma.  It’s such an important aspect of all this.  In order for this worldview to work everything has to be utterly connected and the distinctions or discriminations or interactions have to arise and then fall away back into what he is, I think, calling the magma.  There has to be a temporality to our individuality.  Which of course is quite easy to feel, and also comes with a lovely kind of balm, where even the fear of death backs down.  And we know how much havoc is wreaked in the name of that Fear.

And then the third leg of my trio of intentions right now (along with school and the show) is work. And work feels like it fits perfectly with all of this. Not only is it holding me up, I saw at school how much I know. How much I’ve learned about group fields and how to communicate into that field not with words (though words are often there) but with the heart, and with the body.  I’m so blessed that these things are all one. I wonder how many people in the world could be as blessed as I am, to live in a purposeful life that is so full of joy and where the parts all seem to fit together.  I know I get really sad sometimes, really, really sad, and sometimes it’s for me but also sometimes it’s for us, all of us, and the pain but today as the sun comes in through my linen curtain I just feel good.

Whew. 28 more minutes. I thought I had so much to tell you, but I’m starting to run a little short.  What little thing is here in my mindscape? Well, there is this thing, and it’s hard to write about, so I guess that is why I should.  One of the initial aspects of the rejection complex that I had to untangle, and that my drawings had so much to do with, was the question of beauty.  Even when I was working to try to uncover (as per the idea of a great writing teacher that I had — do I put his name here? No, it’s worse, since you’ll know him) the through line, the overarching theme in my work, in everything I’ve ever made. He said all artists have a question like this. And what I came to was, “can I survive the terrifying beauty of who I really am.”  It’s funny because Hiss and Stars at school kept talking about Rilke, too, and the terrifying beauty.  And in the drawings that is exactly what I’m looking at.  But in everything, from I Sing on the Cake, to the piece that won at the Nuyorican, to my manic manicures, all of it fits under this wonderful arc. But when I went to school, and I think there is something about that tiny carless alpine village named after fairies, I think it is a magical mirror-place, there were some hard mirror-things that happened, some really hard things, where I had to face my own prejudices.  Like for example, I had to set aside my really deeply held beliefs about structure and what makes group work feel safe, and just get on for a ride that asked me to take care of myself and others without any kind of agreements or process, and then it was a question of watching my own behaviour, my need to rescue, my anger and irritation. My internalized misogyny and self-hate. And then there were these people, two women in particular, who were driving me really up the wall, one with her endless complaining and one with her joy projection mask.  So, of course, I could see myself in these. But there was something else in the magic mirror that was exciting and wondrous and a total surprise, though when I look into my journals, of course, there it is about two weeks before. Intention really is an incredible thing. Not only does it reverse causality in the obvious way, but it often can reach back before even the overt intention itself, and then you see it’s gossamer roots faaaar back. It’s tricky to talk about it because it doesn’t account for systemic oppressions and therefore is restricted in so many ways, but it’s this sneak-through-ness when I want something or say something and then I kind of forget about it entirely and then suddenly there it is. And in this case what I wanted was specific, but it was also seemed like something impossible. Especially after the last seven years of rejection and working on rejection, and just feeling the ground slide out from under me like shale over and over again.

I was glamorous. Or, what I should say is that I felt glamorous. I found myself doing my hair in the complicated styles the Queen taught me when she was here in December, while I was so broken up.  Wearing jewelry.  Talking to everyone, anyone.  Feeling beautiful, feeling magnetic, feeling accepted. Feeling at home.  I think Godi had something to do with that invocation. And Maji, who was so present with me.  And my own wishes.  I still feel it now, but it is not as stark as it was then.  I can’t remember what I put in essay 24 because I haven’t edited or posted it yet, but I think I probably mentioned this.

I feel guilty about having a wish like this. It feels so fraudulent and frippery. But, at the same time, it is a deeply held desire.  To be wanted, yes, but also to be able to create an impression, whatever impression I want, to be able to make character and selfness for myself. It’s a kind of acting, I think. There’s that idea from a woman who wrote a book (that, once I looked at it closely, looked quite uninteresting) about it that glamour feels true even though we know it isn’t.  It’s connected to a kind of magic. A way of walking in the world. I’ve felt so small and ugly and diminished all along, even when I was on stage, I always needed the Beatbox because I felt so insignificant.  I think this was the first time I really felt significant and shiny and bright and beautiful. And I wonder if it signals the beginning of something new. When Bright Ears was here before I left he told me to be open to something new. I am.  I really feel like I am.  But I also suspect that if I just keep going one foot in front of the other I will get somewhere, just like these same feet got me here.

Still ten minutes left.  But now I really don’t know what else I could possibly write. I’m having the Dancing Poet over for G and Ts and black bean tacos. I love to cook for her.  My food always turns out well with her. Not so with Bright Ears.  It’s hit or miss with him.  I’m so lucky with these brilliant, beautiful friends. Bright Ears and the Beatbox and Colour and Gesture will all be here next month. That will be good. I miss them a lot.

I’ve been smoking again.  Just once a day, but that’s way too much. I prefer to be on the once a month train.  I have two left, and then it has to be bye bye.  Though I know at camp it is often so nice to have that little smoke.  I might have to pick up some rollie just for that. At night. Because the days of camp are so long. But working with the Voice is my absolutely favorite.  It’s really to work with him that I agreed to do this. The travel is grueling, it breaks up my work, the pay is minimal.  But he and I have incredible chemistry.  Partly I think it is that we trust each other a lot.  And also that our skills are complementary.  He’s wacky and intense and I’m more deep and poetic and I think that works for a group. And we both read the group pretty well. And I really trust his heart. He cares about people. And I feel safe with him.  He’s a good friend, and he always has my back. But, there’s something else. It’s almost like we are dreaming in the same language.  So, I’m excited for that. Eight days in Oregon, then when I get back the Beatbox will be here. The only sad thing is that I will miss my nephew’s birthday for the third year in a row, and he is only three.

I wonder what it would have been like to get married young and have children. I watch my hair get more and more gray and I know that ship is long gone, even though maybe my body could do it. But life is life.  I have a life. I’m grateful for it.

We Are All Chimeras

The boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion. –Donna Haraway

The long road sweeps ahead of me.  I am standing in front of my future, looking at its sparkling blackness. Knowing that the seeds of all that is to be is behind me. Think of the seeds my mother planted, and my father. The seeds of creativity, of curiosity, of sophistication, of kindness and intelligence. Of ethical considerations.

I remember the first time my mother told me that you never eat in front of someone who is not themselves eating.  It is a simple thing but I remember her tone, how she sounded and looked when she said it. So many of these things, I feel them being imparted in her gentle way, gentle but always very penetrating, very shaping.  She is a good person, and she has shaped us into good people. We are entrenched in her ethics. Where did they come from? Where do they flow towards?  I am turning now, and the future is behind me, and I look at my past. It is strewn with flowers and strong hardy plants, and the in-between of grasses and bushes, with berries and bugs. And looking further than the meadow of my past there is the forest of my ancestors. The trees, the dark coolness of death, the living wisdom of their care and compassion. I feel them all so strongly with me here. I don’t know what is happening here, exactly, but I know it is important.  As I look back and ask what brought me here I realize it is love. It is love and investment and also the pain and the violence and the outsiderness, all of it brought me to this place.

I turn again, and step a few paces forward. Now I am in the unknown. Now I am in the future beyond what touches the known. I am in the abyss. Here I am swimming in stars.  I am a dream character, transforming and reforming.  I find a sweet spot and tread there, arms and legs moving through the denseness. I feel my gratitude. I feel my pride. This is the place where I’ve completed this journey.  Where I have examined the nature of time and its implications for world changing.

I turn again, and the past wiggles up, a puppy, new and bounding and big pawed and sloppy. This past is translucent, it hasn’t happened yet, exactly, but from the vantage point I’ve chosen in the future, it has. In this past I am organized, I am dedicated, my show is a wonder, I am so proud of it, PYE and I are able to articulate and channelize our work, and I am about to step away, after twenty years, to start a new adventure.

We’ve been here in Saas-Fe two weeks. It feels almost normal, the total immersion. Even my dreams are all here at this school, in these mountains, except on the day Bright Ears hosted a stage at Pride Toronto and I dreamed about that, of course.  Felt good to know I’m still in the deep water with my friends, because honestly these mountains are so high, it feels as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. I’ve stayed pretty close to social media, posting about the journey here, yet it doesn’t feel like I’m on this planet. The mountains are all around us, and the tops are glacial.  The valley has been hot, though. Tobias, who’s the grandfather of the family who owns the hotel(s) we are staying at, told us that this is new, this is climate change, that it used to be it was only skirt weather for five days a year up here, but we have been seven days in summer sun blasting down. Today, though, the day started with deep fog.  Now there is only another hour left until class. I could use more time. I need to start being a little disciplined with sleep.  It’s easy to stop at the bar or to watch netflix or get into reading but the sleep is so important.  Our classes are intense. They are arts based, and use the Expressive Arts methodology, but they are also intellectual (though this part is minimized, which frustrates me. The research methods teacher told me if I wanted to learn about research methodologies I needed to read about them. Which cracked me up. But then, I also skipped the research methods class at SFU.  AND the methods I want to use are Barad’s agential realism (which I’ve been talking about for months) and Sha Xin Wei’s experimental philosophy (which maybe I mentioned last week?) so they wouldn’t have covered them anyway.

So much is happening here that it is hard to imagine what I can tell you. But to keep it in the realm of the personal, I could tell you that I feel extremely beautiful here. It’s a new feeling. I think it maybe related to the Kava root. I just don’t have the anxiety and the social fear I usually have. I didn’t know what it was like to live without it until now. It’s incredible.  I feel so smooth, emotionally.  There was a bit of conflict in the class last night (so little compared to how these things can happen, but there is a fear of the negative and of conflict that is in the classes we have taken. I wonder if it is in the methodology itself or if it is just the teachers we have.)

Our current teacher (the classes are sequential, one at a time, except the CORE group and Community Arts which run throughout) is a New Yorker who lives in Edmonton, his name is Marcus. He is charismatic.  It’s kind of annoying, to be honest. A lot of what I’m learning as I watch these people is how facilitation can look from the participant point of view. I don’t know why it is so stark here but these people have drunk the Expressive Arts kool-aid (they call it ExA) and it is a little off putting sometimes. I realize of course this is how I sound about my own work.  My ego is struggling, too. I feel so unseen here. Weird paradox, huh?  I feel both glamorous and invisible. Realizing how much of my self-esteem is tied up in the PYE job.  Definitely need to look into this.

In the Didactics of Community Art class we are learning some quite relevant things, ways to create group space. I still think our methods at PYE are better in many ways, but this is forcing me to think of autonomy in a new way, and also and possibly even more importantly to think of aesthetics in a new way.  Though they talk about aesthetics as making something very low skill.  Last night our low skills was very very low. It was enlightening to be sure, but there is so little required in terms of grace…I wonder if our highly process-based work at PYE is actually yielding more satisfying results both in terms of aesthetics and transformation.

It’s going to be a bit hard to go home after this, I think. It’s just so nice to dive deeply in like this. To feel like I have time to think. Oh right, I wanted to tell you about yesterday evening in Didactics.  So, Marcus had us “dance” (it’s really walking, moving) in four ways: slow and direct, quick and indirect, slow and indirect, quick and direct.  First, after the conflict yesterday and after a little blow up from Sharp Insight, it did very much seem to be the right thing to do. He kept emphasizing the need to find ways to include everyone in the community.  Sharp Insight had a very specific communication style that takes up a lot of space, plus her spoken English isn’t as good as the other second language speakers. So there was this conflict.  I brought up the need to talk about how we are together (can you imagine, they do this deep work without agreements? But last night over drinks said that there is a structure but we didn’t really see it in the Philosophy or Research classes.

I’m getting tired. I don’t know if I can make it all the way though the hour.  I discovered last night that I like best to move slow. Indirectly or directly doesn’t matter that much, they have different qualities but its’ the slowness that is delicious.  My eyes are closing, it’s like I’m entering the dream state. What do I do?  I’ve never paused one of these essays before and it is already 2:32.  I need to give myself fifteen mins to walk up the hill. I swear it is getting steeper every day.  I haven’t done as much reading or writing while I’ve been here as I wanted. It feels like I’m just taking in so much.

This feels like it must be so uninteresting to read. What can I tell you?  I’m just absorbing. I’m looking at the work I’ve done for so many years, this practice that we teach all over the world, and I put it next to ExA and I think, we have been doing great work, and there is room to grow.  To grow is controlling less the situation. Peggy did her work in Arts Education at Leslie College many years ago, and that is where Paulo, and probably a bunch of other teachers also went.  Really, I can barely keep my eyes open. I wonder if I should finish this later? I’ve never don’t that before.

Yesterday at breakfast Curtis turned me on to Levinas, who wrote back to Heidegger from a Talmudic perspective.  I have (I think) realized that my dissertation isn’t on the metaphysics of time necessarily (though I will have to do some of that study) but I think on the ethics and aesthetics of time. It’s so important to group process. How we act and react with each other, how we stay present and talk into the idea of now, how we process, remember, project, transform.  I think that is something that I could enjoying researching and experimenting with.

And on Friday (day before yesterday) I arranged for one of the philosophy students to do an hour long class on academic writing. It was amazing! I’m so glad I did it.  He was thrilled (and grateful) and Margo Knill asked me to send her the notes. What is extra cool is that I think the faculty have been talking about it.  The students in the class were all so really happy, because EGS AHS doesn’t offer any research and writing training at the masters level, and what we got in research methods from Melinda was so thin. It was rich in the stories of her and Jose’s work, but never because didactic, never really helped us understand and think through what kind of research we might want to do.

This year, before we return here, we have four tasks. Take a seminar, give a seminar, give a lecture, review a major publication. It’s going to be a pretty intense year. It’s the show that I’m most worried about.  Ever since Big Ear’s feedback I’ve been hoping that something delightful is about to land on me. I will need to build the relationship structures to make this all happen. Thinking of Amethyst Tuning, for sure. Maybe Chili? Solitude? A group of people to do aesthetic responses as I begin to examine the nature of Time through my automatic drawings.  I’m also going to do Oracular Poetry as my seminar.  With different groups, and take good evaluations so I can write a paper about it. It’s waiting to be written, I think, and in terms of time and synchronicity and maybe simultaneity I don’t know I will be able to start thinking into ideas for my thesis. The seminar to take I’d like to take is Ruth’s in Brooklyn, I could likely stay with Bunny again, and he’d probably take it too which means I could interview him as well. Really that seems like the best idea. Maybe I will. I could also take a Continuum course here with Space Octopus, of course, which is a good one too, since she has it as specific research processes into biology, but also into cosmic matters.  And traveling less is better this year because of the show.

Bright Ears gave me good advice about the show when he was in Montreal. He said I have to be aware of what will hold the audience’s attention for an hour. Maybe I do need to be on the stage, but I don’t know how that can be.  I need to talk to Farah I think. And Julio.  There is so much to do. The drawings need to be ready. I need to learn the animation. Make the piano improvisations for Rup. It’s so much bigger than anything I’ve done before. But it is also very much the direction I want to move, so I just need to dig in.  The other thing that I’m concerned with right now is the state of my body. I feel it aging. I don’t know if it is the altitude, the food, the steep hill to class, but I just feel like I need to be doing more exercise and eating differently. You know, it might even be the kava. Since I’m not feeling that constant fear and anxiety I think I’m also actually feeling my body more.  I feel that I’m in here.

I’m horrified at how mundane this essay is. Day before yesterday we went on a field trip.  We walked up near the mountains. The sun was so hot, and I had my bag but no water bottle. I broke mine dropping it on the floor and haven’t replaced it. But there is lots of access to mountain water here so it’s no problem. God, I feel like I need to nap. We went down to some fire pits really at the foot of the mountains. And then to the river, I sat on a rock and put my feet in. It was icy and rushing. It felt like it was speaking to me. I thought I heard it say, move. Then I climbed back up and sat in some wildflowers and drew.  Sometimes that classes are very intense and sometimes they are just like this.  I’m loving the exploration into creativity. Even though these are teachings about community arts and even art therapy they are so good for me, for my flexibility and openness, and a kind of tuning of all my sensibilities.  I want more! I love making. I want to write and draw and make things all my life, and I know I will. I’m also so excited to start on this PhD process. I hope I can stay organized, not get too bogged down. But with Nathan’s notes it should be good. I think I will also have a monthly session with him, depending on what he will charge, to stay on track with research and writing. I think that makes a lot of sense. I will have I think Stephen Levine as my supervisor, but having a thesis consultant would also be really good. If I can write something really new and really interesting then it might allow me to get a scholarship and study with Xin Wei or Karen Barad in my third or fourth year. I think, and have thought all along, that a good solid study and understanding of the nature of time will help us a lot in our work.  In interarts, it’s the common modality, and it is used so much for what Softly calls democratization, but I think of as group rhythm. The sharing of space is really the sharing of time.

There are some truly brilliant people here.  People to stay in touch with. Mollie said she would help me read Xin Wei’s book, as well. And they are going to send me all the During notes and bibliography. What if I can do this?  What if I really write something that is useful and interesting? I mean, I know that no one reads the PhD, but from there I will write and make. I can’t wait to dig in, to dive in.

Still twelve minutes left. I want a nap before class. I’ve been avoiding Godi, and not responding to his messages. He hasn’t done anything wrong, and I feel quite badly about it.  I know this feeling so well from the other side. I think this is another feature of this place.  It works like a big mirror. I see now why it isn’t good to chase, to be too present.  It’s hard not to when you love. I know this.  But he makes me uncomfortable with his love. And I don’t feel like I want to kiss or cuddle at all.  It was nice that first night, but the second time it was boring and my mind was elsewhere, and I left early.  I think I’ve realized something that is almost hard to admit, but I shall say it here because I want it on a record, and these essays of course, are primarily for me, my process and my record.  Alllll these years I have longed for my partner. But suddenly (I wonder if it is the kava root or this valley, or what) but suddenly I find I don’t care. I suddenly don’t want any one that close in my life. I love my friends, and that is more than enough.  I don’t want that person, who I have to compromise with.  It would have to be someone I love as deeply as I love my friends, and I don’t think that’s possible. Writing and drawings are better for me.  It’s a huge turning point. I have wasted more energy than I would ever admit wanting and hoping and dreaming and wishing for that person.  But suddenly it has shifted.  I’m just me, under this big sky, under these wondrous mountains. I’m me and my beloved friends and family, and this incredible planet, and my creativity. That’s it.  There is nothing more to wish for.

Except for the channel, the portal of my creativity to open and stay open. To be able to perform and create with the spirit just coursing through me. That is the desire. That is my dream. I want to make, write, play, sing, dance.  All of it. I’m thirty-eight years old. But it isn’t too late. Because I have been working on this all my life. I have tools. I have time.  I have my gorgeous little apartment.  All that I need. All that I want.

What will it be like to live without a burning hot desire, without the addiction to wanting? What will it be like instead to work with what is, to meet it and encounter it, and be shaped by it and shape it?

Intimate Performances of Causality

I recall Felix Guattari, who, at the end of his Chaosmosis, asks whether art is the appropriate mode of radical, ethico-aesthetic experimental mode of subjectivation.   Guattari’s hyphenation — ethico-aesthetic — invites us to articulate together what Plato sundered: the arts of poetry with the arts of truth.  It matters not only that something works or is said, but how something works or is said.  What is done or uttered is inextricably the same as the manner in which it is done or uttered.  Even more radically, what is done co-creates what could be done, or could-have-been done, in other words actualization co-constructs the potential.   –Sha Xin Wae

I’ve been in Saas-Fee for a week. And I definitely need to write. So much has happened here. It’s absolutely overwhelming, but also deeply resonant and magical. I couldn’t be happier with my choice to come here for my PhD, and even though it’s a four year program and I’ve only been here a week, I already feel time is going too fast. It’s also essay #23, which means that something different has to happen with this essay than the others. I had originally thought that the fiction would simply seep in, and that maybe you wouldn’t know which was which and that would be the experiment. But now I feel that isn’t quite right. I will see as this one goes how it might work.

The second night I was here I stopped with the Masked One after class, late, to get a beer at a little bar called Happy Bar on the walk back down from our classroom, which is a round building up quite a steep hill, to our rooms, which are in a sub hotel building called Artemis. I have a lovely little room, bright and cool with a mountain view. It has been a haven since school is so overstimulating. The classes are one thing.  Because it’s an expressive arts program the classes are not only intellectually stimulating but also quite psychologically ripping. (As in a new one.) But then there are the meals, which we share with the students and teachers from the philosophy program. I have been making a very concentrated effort to bridge over to the philosophy program, since it was definitely my originally interest in EGS, and since I do feel jealous of the incredible ideas and visionaries who are teaching there. But I think in this week I have begun to strike the balance I’m looking for, because my program is where I belong. I don’t want to sit and listen and learn by questioning and thinking. I also want to do what we have been doing, which is learning and research through the arts. The anti-platonic de-cartesian Dionysian learning through devouring. This morning, for example, we began the day with a singing dance. The fifty of us, all with the restriction to dance only on a lateral line in a long room (with the mountains streaming in the windows) and then also improvisationally singing to each other. Maybe for twenty minutes. After which Paulo Knill had us create an improvised motet with four parts (our four “companies” he calls them, which are the two masters groups, the digital arts group and our little PhD cohort.) We began with Barabara Hielscher (who was our philosophy professor as well) on the piano, playing a simple chord. Two of us in each group were to hold a tone from that chord throughout the improvisation. Since I was choreographer last time I volunteered to be the tone holder with Fuschia. Then two others were composers, The Masked One and Sniffer, to create a short repeating pattern, which the rest, the choir, were to repeat and be responsible for repeating, though they could also add anything else they wanted. Honestly, there were moments of transcendent beauty. Of chaos also. But I am learning a new way into the expressive arts here, different than PYE and the Creative Community model. More emergent, more unstructured. More embracing of chaos.

 

After the morning hour of arts (and a very short craft talk from Paulo) we had a two hour lecture on family systems and chaos theory, mostly based on Bateson.  It was wonderful. I loved how Daniel Dietrich broke down Bateson’s systems theories into such simple to understand point, to understand how systems are operating on multiple scales, from the cosmos to the cell, and where the family fits into that.  Then he showed us how to use scaling questions (like Bebear has always taught us) to get the temperature or state of a client or group. He showed us the elements of a system and then he moved us into chaos theory, which is really in a therapeutic sense learning to manage chaos. Of course, there isn’t anything new here, and this is what our camps and group work alsways do, but it was refreshing to sit on a dance floor and just be reminded in a clear way.  The constant digging for chiggers to get to knowing is exhausting and my laziness just wanted to be told. In general, here, instead of tending teleologically to order, we are encouraged to stay with the chaos. And this is embedded into the ExA methodology.  It’s very exciting. I know it will change my work.  But it has also been operating on me in this week. I want to tell you two stories of how this has been happening. The first, because it is, in the end, my life with its long endless threads as all of yours have as well, is about love.

Back to Happy Bar. It’s a little place with a kind of anarchist maybe hard rock kind of feel. The Masked One and I walk in and order some small drinks. There are some people in the space.  Most look like locals, and then there is a small knot that I can hear are talking about lectures, and I figure they’re from the philosophy side. Until this point I think I’d only had some casual conversation across the divide at dinner. Yes, that’s right. I has spoken with the Salt and Caramel Commie that day at lunch, the Greek sociologist writing his second PhD (his first was on the Vedas).  I saw a dark skinned face, looking South Indian, across the bar, and just gave a little wave. We then went over and I introduced us to the knot of students. One of them is Neon Lillies who I hope will be a friend. A brilliant, sassy, edgy softie from NYC. Then there was Farenheit, actually the only black man I have seen here. A local called Richard.  We began to chat. Neon Lillies gave me some insight and a reading list when I told her I was interested in learning about time. Agabden. The article “what is an apparatus.” We heard about some issues of anti O that had happened on their side. Richard was very drunk, so that was entertaining. Neon rolled a joint. Then the dark skinned Indian came by and introduced himself. He sat down, said his name was Lodi and asked me if I had Indian roots.

What you need to know, and what I think I mentioned in  the last essay is that I feel Maji so strongly here.  I feel as if I’m so blessed to be able to study, period. Maji never got to as you remember from That Fertile Disarray.  And not just to study but in this way, in this incredible mountain retreat, with the body and heart engaged, learning how to heal and have purpose in the world, how to engage my creativity for a greater good. I feel Maji, and Grandma Vicky and Grandpa Edwin especially, but I know that all my ancestors are with me.  I had mentioned them a number of times in class, as well. It just kept coming up as we were opening and invoking our time together. I had laid Maji’s mala on our class altar (yes, the class has an altar. It’s like that. It’s intellectually and profoundly personal.) I had put down Maji’s mala and shared the prayer I received when I prayed for a prayer because I didn’t know how to use the mala. I was surprised at myself sharing something so personal. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt as open as I do right now.

So, my ancestors have been present. And when Lodi asked if I had Indian roots I said yes, I’m from Goa. And he, with his skin near maroon, and his round face, he looked a lot like Shams I had already seen it, said, what. Me too. In that moment we had a bond. He looked like he could cry.  We actually hugged. Turned out he was from Calangute, which is so close to our home village, Saligao. Well, we continued to chat. I was feeling the first inklings of the beauty I feel in myself today, I felt relaxed and open. We were all laughing and chatting, and I was definitely doing some facilitation work to keep everyone connected and in the conversation. Lodi has a strong Swiss German accent. He has been living in Saas Fee for seventeen years and is the manager of the recycling plant here. He was married here and has a seven year old, too. It was amazing to me to think of what he would have had to do to stay that long in a place as white and traditional and conservative as this. As we talked it became clear that this was a very open, very emotionally intelligent man.  I went out to have a little smoke with N. Lillies and then came back in where the Mask and Lodi were talking. He asked if we could stay for another beer. I said yes, but then changed my mind. I’d already had a half a pint and I wanted to stay clear for school. But I agreed to stay and chat a little longer. We sat back down on the couch and suddenly I found myself kissing him. I have not felt chemistry like this since Hari.  So easy, so delicious. I felt I was kissing Shams, I felt my ancestors had given me a gift, I decided to go home with him. It seemed like a very bizarre decision, but at the same time I had no doubt. And the Masked One, though I didn’t know her, had only met here the day before, also seemed to say it was a good idea, though she made sure I knew how to contact her and had the numbers and she had mine. I went back to his house and we connected at a very deep level. I enjoyed it enormously and felt clear that my ancestors were answering my prayers to feel loved and connected while I was here. He wanted me to stay over the night, but I didn’t want to, I knew my priority was school, and that this was a gift to facilitate that.

Day 3-6 at school were incredibly full. I was meeting all kinds of incredible people, both the profs and the students. I wasn’t able to meet with Lodi in that time.

Once of the people I met was Eely, who stays here at Artemis too which means he is at breakfast everyday.  He and two of his friends one day I sat with them and they gave me a list of readings and things to think about. Offhandedly Eely mentioned a drag performer called Christeeene.  I don’t know why, but for some reason it stuck more than anything else (though I will be going through that precious list of readings, for sure.) I went up to my room at lunch and watched the video he told me about, a music video called African Mayonnaise. Christeeeene is an incredibly raunchy performer. The video is about how she is going to be your superstar. Her performance of femininty is liminal at best, barely there, messy lipstick, a man’s chest, but also a languid stringiness that is very starlet. In the video she wreaks a kind of havoc on a small suburban place. She is barely gendered. It was one of the things we had been talking about. And Eely had said something else that really tweaked my mind. That there is dignity in gender. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about Shams and our conversations about gender. When Shams asked me what I wanted from this time I said I wanted to glamourous and magnetic. The magnetic part was satisfied by Lodi and the glamourous part was being interrogated and disturbed by Christeeene.

On the night of day three Barbara and Tinquy gave us an assignment, to answer what is human (what is your menschenbild, your image of what makes a person), and what is art (and there fore what is your work and what work will you do here at EGS).  When Eely told me about Christeeene and related it to dignity I couldn’t stop thinking that I so much wanted her to be part of my presentation, but I had no idea how. The morning of day four we had time to work into our projects a little. That afternoon at lunch I was on facebook, and Curlypaws had posted a CBC video of three drag queens at a public library reading to children. I knew that I wanted to put these side by side. But I still didn’t know how. I began work on my presentation, rereading my master’s thesis, because in that I had created a theory of mind that centered metaphor and had clarified already for myself what I thought was a human. I remembered the part about discrimination and reference.  Now I could see how Christeene would fit in. In the end I didn’t show the videos, but I did talk about them, especially from the standpoint of assimilation as Kendi has it in Stamped From the Beginning.  It was amazing to me on two levels, one that I knew it would be connected to my classwork when I heard about the video. And how seamlessly it ended up fitting in. This mysterious appearance of things out of time, out of order, in defiance of causality. It was good to talk about discrimination without talking about race. It’s good for me to think about gender, too, as I mentioned in the last essay, I have noticed my internalized misogyny and want very much to work on it. But also about the performance of my gender and how I do that. This, one of the seats of Judith Butler, would be the place to do it. I guess this is a question that has been knocking on my door since 2012 when I a) started doing the manic manicures and b) feel apart over falling in love with Chris Abani and c) finished my master’s degree AND d) started working on my rejection complex.  And femmy glamour is something I want so much.  Here it was in this twisted wonderful sweet ultra-raunchy charming drag performer. And it was also in the encounter with Lodi.

He texted me all week, but I was busy with the presentation, and then last night I wasn’t busy with school but very much wanted to go to Xin Wei Sha’s lecture. Yesterday we had a class trip into the mountains.  It was exhausting but wonderful. The night we had off and there was this lecture. I had seen Xin Wei arrive, he is impossible to miss, a willowy man with the most beautiful energy. He smiled at me four or five times during lunch the day before and I introduced myself, and we decided to meet. In the morning he told me he would be speaking and that we could talk after.  So I didn’t want to miss the lecture. When I looked up his work I was just beside myself. He is the director of the department of art media and engineering at ASU, and his research is arts based and interrogative, and has to do with time and material and physics and computation wow. So I couldn’t meet Lodi. Xin Wei’s lecture did not disappoint. I was telling Pure Pitt this morning I wished I could have taken out a lighter and held it up and swayed. We kept the joke going and decided that Kendrick Lamar should open for him at a 4000 person stadium. I wish that was the world I lived in.  After the lecture I followed him and Elie During down the hill (meeting and chatting with Amira, the only black woman here. It was good to connect on that level.) Xin Wae invited me to follow them to another little Saas Fee bar called Metro Bar (which I quite like).  I was so excited to get to talk to him. His presence is like sunlight. Truly a beautiful human. When we walk in who is there? Lodi.

It could have been very awkward and definitely tried to run that way.  Not only was Lodi there but his adopted father Erich who is obviously protective of him, was there too, who I’d briefly met at Happy.  He waved at me, and Xin Wei asked me if I’d been here before. I said I knew this man.  I wanted to follow Xin Wei, but also wanted to connect with Lodi (he has been also walking by the school…it’s understandable, we had had such a deep connection).  Lodi wanted me to sit with him, but I couldn’t do it. I had written to him a few hours before thankfully to explain that school was busier than I had expected. He told me not to worry about it. But then he started to get into that mansplaining world of giving advice and telling me how to act and what to believe. Trust yourself, etc etc.  I smiled, because I could understand, but I also told him that I was going to talk to the professor. He tried to insist that I sit with him, and tried this weird put down technique of asking, do you live for other people? He kept repeating the question and trying to make me sit down. Finally I had to be a tiny bit sharp and just tell him I didn’t need him to teach me a lesson. He apologized, and I got myself a cranberry and soda and went to talk to Xin Wei who was sitting with Mark, the vice Dean here at the school.

 

He told me to pull up a seat. And what a conversation. What a mind. What a human being. Oh my god. I’ve been having incredible conversations and insights since I got here but this was on another level entirely. So generous. Mark had the conversation for a while, talking about Trump. Which was kind of okay because a) he had some very interesting ideas about how the constitution needs to change and add another amendment to protect voting rights (yo) and also because it let me tell them a little about my work. But then Xin Wei purposely turned the conversation to me and asked what I was doing at EGS and what I’m interested in. I had the chance to ask him about prediction and time and experiments and emergence and all kinds of things and he had so much to share. He turned me onto Grotowski, told me about his work, talked about interactions and how to work with art not at the level of making, but understanding the nature of the universe. About an hour and a half. I have never felt so high.  We walked back. He gives another lecture tonight.

 

I’m having so much insight about my work from all these different angles. There is the philosophy, the new insights about arts, the deep work on myself. I mean, from the processing of the presentations that we did I ended up realizing that I do have ultimate choice over how I present myself.  All week I’ve been doing my hair in the ways Vanessa showed me in Dec that I wasn’t ready for until now. All updos and lots of braids and just…glamorous, and wearing jewelry and just not being so hidden and tomboy. There is a shift happening in my mind that is on my body and there is work in my body that is shifting my ideas and basically I feel just alive and full of light.

Lodi just texted to ask if I would see him tonight. I’m a little torn. The chemistry is so nice but I think as the rejection complex really is starting to disintegrate in its totality, that I don’t know if I care that much to engage sexually with someone who doesn’t feel totally right. I don’t like the way he talks down to me, and especially doesn’t seems to respect me intellectually. I loathe being talked to in that way by men, as if I’m a child and their ideas are something precious like garnets. I certainly didn’t come here for that. The man I dated a few times in April was like that, too, remember? I think I’d rather avoid it. It was a blessing that night, connected to Goa and my roots, a kind of invocation, but I think I would much rather stay focussed here and keep on my path. I don’t know.  Maybe I don’t need love and approval the way I used to?  I mean, of course I still need them, but I just feel…free. I feel like being with myself is enough, and I’m excited to explore what else is possible.

Being Both Ontic and Semantic

It’s week 24 of the year and this is only essay number 22.  I think I will catch up now, though. I am in Switzerland, in Saas Fee, and this is the first full day of my PhD.  I have been waiting for this with so much anticipation, so much nervousness, but now that I am here it makes so much sense.  It’s weird, don’t get me wrong, but it makes a kind of sense.  I will explain, but let me go back a little to day before yesterday, when I left Montreal.

I have been traveling so much in the last few years that I was surprised to feel as nervous as I did for this trip.  I had a week with Bright Ears, which helped a lot because he’s already done a PhD, and he makes me feel calm with his big capable presence, anyway.  Even when he is stirring up my deepest feelings somehow his physical presence always makes the world stable and manageable. So it helped to have him here, laughing and talking and just generally making what feels too big seem to fit in the palm of my hand.  I have to work hard not to fall in love with him, because I crave that presence and that feeling. But he doesn’t smell right, it’s not sexy, it isn’t “in love,” it is that sacred friendship, that deep comraderie that makes the universe feels like it all fits perfectly.

And I had a nice long chat with Colour and Gesture as well. And she does the same, has a similar stabilizing effect, but for a different reason. It’s just that it is impossible to feel crazy with her.  Her world of compassion is so vast and so wide that it is easy to feel normal, even in my most abnormal parts. Others, too, I talked to my dear Constant Critic, and The Brother, and the Dancing Poet and then I cleaned my house from top to bottom and by the morning that it was time to leave I was sitting by my altar and talking to my ancestors.  And suddenly I found myself in tears (if you’ve been reading these you know that is not a rare phenomenon).  I realized how big a deal it was to be able to do this PhD and to encounter my education in this way, and how much it meant to my dear brilliant grandmothers to be able to choose like this, to choose myself, my mind, my career, to follow an impulse and a destiny to its unfolding and blossoming.

Dancing Poet came by in the last fifteen minutes before I left, and I called out my name as I left the house just like Bright Ears had told me. He’d mentioned it because of a weird incident he witnessed at Tammy’s flower store on Bernard. I had been with Tammy getting a bucket for my broken toilet at home, and then I walked into the store where Bright Ears was already (he was looking at succulents because he felt my house needed plants).  She came in after, looking uncharacteristically disturbed. Tammy has been at that store for something like fifty years, and she is a pillar on our street. She is simply calm and everyone knows her.  You can call her twenty four hours a day to get flowers.  But she rushed in and said, almost angrily, that I should be more aware. Apparently she had seen someone push me in the street, and I didn’t react. She said it was aggressive.  Bright Ears also became concerned and finally I did too. When I thought back I could feel a hand on my shoulder, but not a push, nothing else. Tammy said, that is not safe. You need to be more aware. I couldn’t believe what I saw, she said. I was just frozen. So Bright Ears told me to call out my name to bring my spirit with me when I travel.

I got to the airport and through security and all with the same open channel as has been happening since New York. Suddenly the airports seem empty and easy. It must just be me, though, because I know that in the last six months since Trump airports have become much more chaotic in general.  The flight was short, but I did not sleep enough. Then I caught a train in Zurich, and a bus from the stop in Visp.  The train ride was gorgeous, but I was nauseated from lack of sleep. I actually thought I was travelling backwards for most of the ride and then suddenly realized I wasn’t. That’s how disoriented I felt. No wonder Tammy and Bright Ears were concerned. Insomnia has been bothering me lately (even as I’m editing this a few days later I’m awake way way too late).

The bus ride was steep and windy and into this glacial territory where I now sit. There was no seat for me, so I perched on the edge of a flip down seat that was mostly occupied by a very grouchy Swiss man on a computer. This time I really was travelling backwards and I wanted to throw up, until a lot of teenagers hopped off at one of the stops and I could sit front facing again.  The trip in all took about fifteen hours. I arrived in time for lunch, went to my room first, which has a mountain view and is quite clean and fresh and shady.  Over lunch I accidentally sat with two women from my cohort; Dawn Cloud who is from Hong Kong and works with autistic children and Softly from Zurich who teaches at the art therapy institute there. Then I slept for a couple of hours, deep deep dream sleep but I was too tired to remember them. I got dressed, and put on the jewelry that Red made for me out of beads I’d brought her from Uganda, since she is also working on a distance PhD and I knew she would understand. I was so excited, I danced to Stormzy’s Velvet and Return of the Rucksack and felt really juicy as I began to follow the map to the school. But I climbed nubbly mountain path and I got lost! In the sun! So lost, going back and forth. Until finally I asked someone who told me there is no way to get lost in Saas Fee and pointed me back to where I’d come! Argh! I finally stomped my foot and shouted where is this fucking place, at which point I realized that there had in fact been a wrong turn and I found it. I walked in and took off my shoes and was immediately put off by the way the teacher snapped at me, well, come in, sit down. It was a huge circular room with parquet floors and a grand piano.  About sixty people were seated in a circle, with about seven in chairs on one side. Still in the circle, but up on chairs.  As I sat in the circle I felt a little shame, but also disappointment since what we teach at PYE is how important it is never to do that. And that we exercise that deep hospitality. That isn’t really happening here, and I wonder what they mean by facilitation if it isn’t that. Then, the teachers introduced themselves. I was disappointed as I looked around and realized it was all women in the group and almost all of them white women. Maybe ten of us not. Five Asian and five south American. Not a single black person. These demographics in this work are so problematic. I’m so tired of it all. Then the founder of the school who is quite elderly had us get up and dance together on a single line, what he calls paper cut dancing or silhouette. I get it, he is using constraint to generate potential and an outburst of creativity, but for a first day it was a poor choice I thought. We were barely relating, we were squished and bumping each other. After which, however, he made a series of very problematic choices that I don’t know how I will recover from. I think I may never like him after this. This morning he did explain his choice a little, though, and I will get into that here.

He said, look you all have different languages, and we have chosen English as the language of instruction (he himself is German) so I want to hear your other languages. And I will show you, the music will play (he indicated two of the teachers who would sing and play piano) and you will come up and speak in your language, then someone else who speaks your language will join you. You can only choose one, and English does not count. I heard Apple Teacher, who is from the states say, what if English is your only language? He did not respond to that, when asked again he made the awful choice to say, then I want you to experiment with accents. At that moment, of course, I knew what we were going to see. Mockery and appropriation. And that is what happened. It devolved into people sharing stereotypes (of Canadians, of Italians) people sharing languages they barely knew, people singing English nursery rhymes in Cantonese and other languages, Arabic and Hebrew coming up together and laughing and pretending to make peace. The whole thing was a nightmare. I felt completely frozen and sick.  For the third time in twenty hours I wanted to barf.  After this there was no debrief. We were sent to join our cohorts. In my mind I was composing a letter to the dean of the school to tell him I had made a mistake and wanted to get out of this (at the time of editing which is thirty six hours later I am in a totally different space. Might try to write day after next again).

But, in our small group, which is led by Sun on Leaves, a Peruvian psychologist and contemporary dancer, and subtle soul with a good analysis and sense of facilitation, I was happy to meet the cohort. In fact, I had seen each of them in the big group, as if I had already known them.  We are about nine and we will be on this journey together.  When we introduced ourselves he asked us to share how we arrived here. The question was left open as to how to interpret it (*which seems to be a principle of ExA – Expressive Arts – that will be interesting since it is so different to the Creative Community Model that I have been working with for so long) and it was fascinating to see how the meta level was exposed, not only the content but the choice of how and from what angle to answer gave so much insight into who was in the group.  I felt Maji with me so strongly and I knew again that this is why I am here, and maybe it’s the reason for many things in my life, that I am responsible to the dreams of my grandmothers and that the opportunity to do what I want and to follow a dream at all is their dream and that we are leading this together.

I drew last night, which felt good since I kind of stopped and started focusing more on finishing pieces for Indivisible. There were messages from dad, and from Bright Ears and the Brother. This morning I woke up to emails from Farah about the show, which was very good. And then at breakfast I had a chance to bond more with Sharp Insight.  Our morning community arts session was much much better than last night. I am beginning to see the shape of their methodology, and what it means to prioritize aesthetics over psychology. I think this will be in sharp contrast to the Creative Community Model and I’m looking forward to what that means to me. Today I pulled two cards, the Queen of Disks (which I think points to my prosperity, my learning, how much richness I have from how deep I already am in this world both of arts and facilitation) and the Tower, which I think is about the same thing from another angle, how much I am going to have to unlearn here.

The morning began with an improvised dance in the group.  Sun on Leaves was coaching us a little, and I had a lovely contact dance with Julie from Vancouver, and a chance to really expose myself to the physical room itself, to touch the walls and to lie on the floor.  It felt good to be in that group and to know that thanks to the work with Linda Rabin, Anne Randolph and Ruth Zaporah I am able and comfortable to enter the space in this way.  It was a long dance and it raised good energy among us.  I felt the goodness of being in a group of all women, and I realized that there is a deeply internalized misogyny in me that I must do the work to untangle. The founder spoke into his choice from the night before, and why he did the language thing. I’m still feeling like it failed totally, but his principle was interesting. He said that difference is creativity, that the negotiation of difference is creativity. And that in community arts you have to pick a difference and then open up its “play range.” And that is what he wanted to do, instead of tightening the difference to open it. Okay. That is interesting. I would have done it is a very different way. And at a point Margo talked about safe space, but she only spoke about the physical! To me, of course, safe space is about the spiritual, cultural, emotional, interpersonal. They did none of this work. It is fascinating to me. It is more raw? More emergent? Less interpretive? Less leading? But to me it feels just a little half-baked at this point. I keep flipping back and forth about whether I should really be here.

Then, after some announcements (that part is always too long isn’t it) we had a break. I climbed up with Refika into the wildflowers and played my melodica to the mountains and it was nice to feel the music just flowing through me.  I couldn’t help wishing for the Vertical Voice and feeling how extremely fortunate I am to know this incredible world wide network of impeccable artists and community workers.

The flounder had us return to the paper cut dancing.  We had a partner this time though. I was with Smooth Lines who is an Isreli from Los Angeles. Our first move was just a warm up of the concept, which was good. Then, it got interesting! We split the group in two. Smooth Lines was in the group of performers and I was in the observers. She danced, and then I got to give her feedback. Then she did it again! Then we switched and I did it! The iterative, the deepening. They have a model for it. Sensitize, Experience, Validate. It’s where the work really differs from ours. There is a focus here on beauty (problematized) and aesthetics (pertaining to senses). They are looking to deepen into and relate to the art work. I think this is going to change the way I debrief groups in my work. Not with the experiential ed stuff, but when we make art together.

I loved it, I loved what came of it.  (I wonder how it can be used to work on Indivisible?) Then, we got into our cohorts. I got to be one of the choreographers, and we repeated the process but this time to create performances that would be the identity of our groups! I think of our family group performances at CCM camps, and I’m so excited to talk to Vertical Voice about how we can use this as a process.

Then we broke for lunch. I have been a bit jealous and wanting to be in the Philosophy department instead of this one. I want to gain that strength and that muscle. I know that this work in art therapy and arts empowerment is my destiny and my contribution, but the classes I think might be a little weak, and I don’t want to waste my time. That philosophy stomach in me is so very hungry.

I sat with Softly and a couple of the ExA masters students, but then I took my coffee and joined some of the philosophers. It turns out that the woman I ended up talking to she makes experimental film and had some interesting insight about the process for Indivisible, I walked into conversation she and one of her students were having about Quality. And how do you know anything about the quality of a film. They were talking about Intent.  But then the woman, The Limits Doula, spoke about how she is working, how she is connecting to source and building something to communicate, but then once it is done leaving off completely the reaction so that it is completely subjective for the audience. After what at I’ve been talking to Fancy about, how she is the bridge to the audience, and how I’ve felt so resistant to that I felt fascinated. I told The Limit Doula a little about Indivisible. She said it is about the communion of all of us (Julio Rup and I) and what can come through. That the role of director is different than the drawings. She offered to take my email which I will definitely exchange with her. Could be so helpful. I really feel stuck right now in that project. Then she and her student left and a Greek student from the philosophy side  sat down. It was nice to talk with a man, there is a difference, and I do need to ask myself again about my misogyny but it was good to talk about politics with him. He is a trained sociologist, but is now working in philosophy. He described a bit what it was like to work with Zizek. Ah!

Well, this is my first report from school. We have two more classes today, until ten thirty pm. I’m thinking so much about Karen Barad, and meeting the universe halfway. (She isn’t here until August, it turns out, by the way, so no chance to meet her here this year) I’m thinking about the apparatus of this school, and this kind of schooling. What about the mountains? What about the fact that the school is round? Why are the two sides of the school so gendered? Who am I inside all of this? Who are Shams and I? Who am I because of all of this? What is the entanglement at hand? What is decohering based on these apparatuses?

This is the last essay in the old format. Number 22. From here, there will always be some fiction. I don’t know how, when or why. I don’t know if I will distinguish it for you or not. All I know is that is the constraint of this experiment, and here we go. This is an experiment in flow, but also in truth. Flow, to me, is an aspect of time. Truth, though, is an aspect of space, though it is contained in the questions of past and future, they are also about the constructions of what has been. What is. So we begin now. My challenge, as I don’t think I have mentioned before, is to see if what is by the end if it will be completely fiction can it feel as true as the diaric or non fiction aspects of all of this. Fiction, CNR, diary, memoir, review. It will all be part of this. I feel far from home right now, far from my friends and my little apartment. Far in a way that when I am working with CCM I do not feel, because that method is the traveling home of my traveling heart. But as I write this I realize I am writing myself yet another home, and this is a home built of myself, of my own dictation. I am grateful for your eyes and your time as you read this. I am sending back that space and that positive regard and that faithfulness to you. Today, on the first day of school, we learned about observer and player or maker. In that sense your reading, which exists in the future, is the shaping influence of this now.

 

An Imperceptible Line

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.

 

Possibilities Do Not Sit Still

I do still have this guilt reflex, where I’m like, oh God, I’ve just ended up as this weird kind of memoirist. I just do strange deconstructed memoir. And this isn’t exactly what I intended to happen, but somehow I feel like that’s just the vantage point from which I feel able to do an analysis. I don’t want to do a PhD and sit in a library for five years, or all the things you might have to do to get to a point where you can start from the intellect. But then I really like that Nietzsche idea of all philosophy is autobiography, that seems true. -Hannah Black

I haven’t sat down to do this since the last day of the Confluence on Whidbey Island. That was about two weeks ago. I can feel both the desire to do it and the résistance. I love just letting it all stream out. I discover so much about myself. But it also takes this very specific kind of effort, it is not so much a making-effort as an isometric holding open. Almost like holding my breath.  Or not blinking.

I just got back from Ottawa. My brother just had another baby.  Now that I’m not including names of course I won’t include the name of the baby here. But wow! That name. It is hanging around me, in my aural environment.  It is louder than anything else like an echo in reverse. The baby herself has been here for nine months, and while she knows much more about us than we do about her she has already been here. But her name. What Clarissa Pinkola Estes says is her calling, it is here now too. Pulsing and red and making a deep rich sound all around me.  Little being.  Family.

Clue: The changing of the names is the beginning, my few and fearless readers. This is essay #20. By essay #23 we begin a reckless, vital transformation.

“Accurate mimesis is a European obsession, which isn’t to say it’s bad but only that it could be dispensed with.” –Hannah Black

I’ve been thinking so much about family. I wonder what is going to come through me tonight. I think it will be about family, and about those ultra-special “just friends” who have saved my life over and over again.  I wonder if they even know it.  The way they hug me.  The way they always get together when I come to town.  That one is so dear to me, that in all these wondrous places in the world my dear friends get together when I am around. It makes me feel a sense of the depth of my own being, the deep roots of my soul that transcend this place. That they celebrate when I arrive. The way that they listen, and feel with me.  In Vancouver after our second training Flowstate and I went to Queen V’s and were joined by the Beatbox, Vertical Voice and his new (not so new now) surprise wife, Strategie.  It was a wonderful time. First, when we arrived, I immediately lay down on Queen V’s floor and put my feet up on her couch.  That is how you know you are in a place of love! And I just relaxed.  Vertical Voice was grooving on Queen V’s new ukelele, a big one, which she had specially made, and which has an F hole on the side, so the sound comes right up to the singer.  Beautiful. And then Queen and Flow wanted to taste test the whiskeys we were going to drink.  So Flow started dripping it into my mouth with the red and white striped straw Queen uses to warm up her gorgeous voice. Decadent restoration.

I am suddenly reminded of my trip to Luxor last September (2016). I passed my thirty eighth birthday there. In fact, the lovely people I work with threw a little evening surprise party for me at the centre, complete with cake, tears, songs, poetry and local children. I was working for the Elisa Sedanoui foundation, a project that she called Funtasia.  Elisa (now what? pseudonym? Do I not name the organization? I guess maybe I don’t.  We’ll call her Luminous.  She is a super model. Before I met her I wondered what that meant, what it would feel like, especially with my deep complexes about beauty.  But it was different. She is beautiful at such an extreme that I didn’t find myself shrinking near her, it is as if that is simply a talent she has, not a scale which we are all judged against.  It’s more whole than that. I felt like her physical beauty actually cast a light in which I even felt more graceful and feminine. And, she was playing it down.  But the light still shone through.  It wasn’t so much features as a light.  I learned that from her.  Something wonderful to learn about beauty that I learned both from this smart, sharp, fierce, visionary super model and from my beloved started-as-scribbles drawings.  They have both taught me that beauty is not a spot on the beautiful-ugly spectrum.  It’s a light that shines from deep inside, from being wholly yourself.  Tonight at dinner Dancing Poet told me I feel softer, and more contained.  That’s it.  This is my path to my beauty.

I’m going to write to you about Egypt right now, but I want to return to what happened in Seattle and Vancouver after the Confluence, as well.

It was my first time in the Middle East.  With my features and body I felt a certain kind of acceptance, right from the plane ride people were speaking to me in Arabic and assuming I was Egyptian. I don’t usually like it when people point out my looks or my body, but in this case for some reason I welcomed it and it felt like a benediction. I was travelling with Bright Cheeks, who is the manager of the program. We travelled quite well together, though we had some sticky spots while working. I can be a little ruthless when I work, even though the whole of the work is always swimming and surrounded on all sides by an almost clenching hyper-positivity.  But I could tell that Bright Cheeks needed just a little more edge in order to help redirect some dynamics in the group. The group of facilitators was made of mostly women, and three men.  Most of the women kept their hair covered and wore long skirts and covered arms, or else a full black overdress. The sun was extremely hot. I couldn’t drink water fast enough. Got heatstroke twice.

When we got to Luxor we took a taxi in the dark. I saw the Colossus at Memnon, I could not believe their incredible size. They were sitting there, with the night world shimmering behind them as if the sheer weight of them held the whole past in place.  We got to our hotel, down a cobble path lined with palms, after bronze dirt roads, all along a wall that had been built to keep the desert out of the village which stretched out on the other side.  My room was enormous, and had a thatch roof very high, mosquito nets on all three beds (though I was alone) a hard pillow, big windows. The hotel was made of a soft red stone, the whole thing. In the morning I woke up and took my melodica to the rooftop.  I watched the sun rise over Luxor. On my other side I could see, barely a couple of hundred feet away, the low, worn, ancient, dear, welcoming Mount Thebes.  The yellow desert.  The high blue sky.  The dawn breaking.  I played to the mountain, and I heard it play back, and it went on and on, the beauty, the language of that land, the singing of the ancient past which was there, right there. The people in the hotel were extraordinarily nice, and the food, cooked by a wonderful chef who had worked at the five star Winter Palace on the other side of the Nile, but had given it up to be here and had a crooked knowing smile as he passed around his miraculous falafel.

We worked, and while the work was interesting to me, and I had a number of breakthroughs in my own practice because of the newness of so many for the variables (this is where I came up with my model for mastering facilitation activities: intention/essentials/obstacles/magic), and because Bright Cheeks and the brilliant journalist who was acting as a translator, the Shining Skeptic, who was from Cairo and wore thin silk screened T shirts and skinny jeans and her long hair loose, reminding me of my cool cousins in Pune. The work was very interesting.  It was fascinating to watch the women and men interact, to draw out aspects of it, the individualism, the boldness, that is rampant in other places in this line of work. And yet to preserve the warm humility, the smooth social rhythms. It broke me down in many ways, the complexity of the work, the glaring sun, the familiarity of it, the translation, the kids, and the way this work can travel, and how beautiful and whole and questionable and flexible and simple and yet how challenging it is. But beyond the work there was an experience that I want to tell you.  I had a couple of days off at one point.  One of them I spent kind of resting, because I had gotten heatstroke and then some kind of food poisoning from a bread one woman insisted I eat because her mother had made it just for our group.  But the second day I had to go to see the tombs. I couldn’t be in Luxor and see nothing of the Valleys of Kings and Queens.

I was not going to be able to cross the Nile and see the temples and palaces on the East Bank.  But on the West Bank, where we were, were the tombs. This is where the ancient pharaohs knew to build their trembling, monumental gateways to the other side. It’s flickering everywhere in the air. Timeless power. One of our participants, her brother drove a van, so he came by around one o’clock after lunch to pick me up.  I had my sunglasses, my long yellow silk tunic from my dad, my precious red and white cotton scarf that I was given on my first of these work trips, in 2009, when I traveled with Charlie to Bangalore. My blue leather slip-ons.  I hopped into the car.  He asked me what I wanted to see. The Valley of Kings, the Valley of Queens? I wanted to see both. He wasn’t sure it would be possible.  We went first to the Queen Hatshepsut’s temple. As he drove along he showed me some small houses dug into the side of a hill.  The village there had been displaced, because ruins were found underneath it.  There were people carving soft white stone. There were military police stationed here and there, mostly near the monuments. I rode with my hand out the window, floating on the warm air.  I felt so at home here, though I spoke none of the language.  People were so kind, the food was delicious, the village was full of sweet faces and goats, the corn grew very high and deep green, and the desert was very very wide and the Mount Thebes was there just behind that wall, right there the whole time.

As we pulled up to the tomb something happened to my sense of time. I’m not sure exactly what happened. I felt a shift in me as soon as I saw her place. Three high stories, carved deep right into the high red mountain.  Near it were other ruins Abdul told me what they were but I don’t recall a word. My sense were being sucked into this monument. I’d never felt anything like it.  When I got out Abdul said suddenly, don’t buy anything.  I walked up to the ticket gate and purchased my ticket for forty Egyptian dollars.  Because of all the trouble in Egypt people had been telling me about the tourism industry in Luxor and how devastating it was for so many people. Now I saw it for myself. There were no other tourists around. The parking lot was empty.  I took my ticket in hand and walked into the long corridor.  It was lined with merchants.  One of them asked me where I was from. You Egyptian, he asked, in English. I said I was from Canada and he said, Canada Dry! He said, come here, I will give you good price.  His wooden statues and cotton dresses and other Egyptian looking kitsch was piled and pouring out of a small stall.  One of the other merchants heard him, and as I walked they stared and shouted Canada Dry! Canada Dry! I walked down the lines of them, possibly about fifty men in long white or blue cotton kurtas, and I heeded Abdul’s advice. I could tell that if I bought anything I would never get through that gamut.

Hatshepsut was the fifth Pharoah of the eighteenth dynasty, and the second known female Pharoah. -Wikipedia

On the other side of the tunnel of stalls was Queen Hatshepsut’s tomb. I walked the long red road and arrived at the bottom of the yellow stairs.  There were two stumps of trees. A placard read that they were thousands of years old, and had been brought there by a visiting foreign King and lived their lives out there at the foot of these magnificent stairs.  I began to walk up them, but there on the ground floor a man called to me. Madam, he said, and then Miss, come here. There were three floors, one on the bottom, at least half a kilometre wide, and then another and a little platform, and another stretched way up at the top of the stairs, and above that all the red mountain towered.  I went with him.  As I approached the wall I began to slow. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The hieroglyphs, the walls covered in the pieces the hands, the paint, the eyes, the symbols, the bodies.  He began to show me around them, pointing out stories and characters.  Then he moved the rope. I reached out my hand and ran it over the walls.  He was smiling at me.  He took me around to where her actual tomb was, behind a cluster of pillars, he let me step into that cool darkness.  I felt something in there. Even now all these months later, I can’t describe it at all.  A feeling.  A beingness. He showed me how the gods drank form the teat of Horus as a cow.  It was all power, these images. I could feel it all. The emanations. Was it in my imagination? But this whole humongous place was a testament to imagination. To the far far forward projections of the imaginations of a class of people (gods?) who sucked power up and spat it out thousands of years into the future. It felt familiar.

I walked slowly up the stairs, and I felt a strong presence behind me, as if I were being followed. I turned three times but there was never anyone there. At the top of the stairs was an old man in a long blue cotton kurta and a white turban.  He began to show me more, more of the hieroglyphs, more of the stories, the long door shaped plaque that described the Polish archeologists who had opened this site (turned out to be the grandfather of Bright Cheeks herself!).  I was the only tourist in this magnificent place.  The images lined the walls, thousands and thousands of them. The narrative though I couldn’t understand it, enveloped me.  As I left I walked slowly down those ancient steps and again, I had the strong feeling of being followed. As I neared the half way point of the stairs a bus pulled up and at least fifty European tourists poured out. Another bus behind it. The first driver offered to drive me back to the parking lot, but I walked, in the blazing sun with my red scarf on my head, I let the hot wind blow over me, and remind me of things I never knew. I made my way back to the van.  I felt restored, after Charlie’s death, Maji’s death, Helen’s death. After heatstroke and food poisoning, after months on the road, Atlanta, Jamaica, South Africa, Italy.  This hour in the tomb of a queen from 3500 years ago felt as healing as a couple of nights in my own bed.

I now needed to see the Valley of Kings. But Abdul said there was no way, I had been in the tomb four ours.  How, four?  It felt like one.  Not more.  Less than one.  He shrugged with a smile and said I only had an hour, it would take fifteen minutes to get there, there was no point. But I insisted.  First, there was no other time I would be able to go, we were still working. This was my only time off. But second, and much more urgently, there was a magnetic pull in my solar plexus.  He drove.  Again, I was the only tourist there. A few people were in the parking lot, leaving. The ticket man charged me full price even though there was only half an hour left.  He tried to encourage me not to go in, not to waste my money.  I went in.  There were two guides there. They took me to one of the tombs. Ramses the III. Inside, it had remained dark for thousands of years, and it was all painted. The stories were there, again, this time in vivid blues, yellows, reds, greens.  The hand of the artist was very different. I couldn’t move my eyes. The two guides asked me if I was a doctor.  Doctor?  They kept calling me. I held my mouth open as I walked, as if the magic of this work could enter by there as well as by my eyes.  I wanted to see one more tomb.  No, he said, there is no time. The police will be here. Please.  He shook his head no the whole time, and he held my hand to run, took me and it was already locked.  The police will come he said.  But he saw my eyes, I guess. Or he saw into a heart I forgot somewhere along a soul’s journey on this planet. I don’t know. He called over another guide, this one looked more like a guard. I heard him say the word, Doctor.  I got to go in.  I was in there five minutes.  I can’t recall what I saw. All of it is a blur, in my mind’s eye. I only recall a graffiti carved in, a French man’s name and the date, 1847. But in my heart I felt satisfied. When we came out there was a motorcycle waiting. I pressed some dollars into the guide’s hand and hopped onto a motorcycle.  The guides were already all gone, the tombs were empty, the sun was low and the whole place seethed with an otherworldly glimmer. I sped through them on the back of this man’s motorcycle. The guides were all crowded and leaning against the walls. They hooted and called as I sailed past them. They were smiling, waving.  I returned to the car. You saw nothing, right, asked Abdul. They wouldn’t let you.  No, I said, I saw two tombs.  He looked at his watch. Impossible he said, you were not gone twenty minutes.  It was impossible.  But there it was.  There was something of a returning in that one half day. The rest of the trip felt like the regular magic of my work.  Even the spectacular Habu Temple which was right near the hotel (we also worked just a few steps away from the hotel) while it was gorgeous and terrifying (four storey relief wall of all the penises of vanquished enemies) and enormous, and while I got to sing in one of the rooms where the priests used to chant, and it stood all the hair up all over my body to hear that echo come back, it was that one day where something happened that my soul knows and my mind cannot relate.  There was a clearing of something, and a returning.

I wonder, as I think of my new little niece, who is barely thirty hours old right now, (but in a very real way is also nine months old), about our souls. The experiences of my little lifetime have made it impossible for me not to believe in the soul. Yet, what is it? When the egg and the sperm relate, is it simply a collaboration of soul and more of itself, is every atom in the world full full of soul? Is there nothing but soul in the whole inside-out of everything? Or does something slip through, from somewhere to here?  I’m inclined to think the first, but then experiences like this one make me wonder. Where are the feelings, where is the content stored? Is this Jung’s collective unconscious? Do the Akashic records sometimes open up and slide their files into our synaptic labyrinths? The deep dark matter of us, that is what I return to time and again in these essays. That there is an inside more inside than any organ, or sap, or glittering diamond. Deeper than the sea bottom. More nothing than air.  A dark. So dark it has no opposite and therefore cannot be called dark.  A Non. Limitless. Illimitable. My niece came from there and will return to it.  It is not an Away.  It is a profound Here. A Now. Invisible to the beings of time. But holding us, holding us afloat in the rolling gravity hills of space.  Holding us together by our bloody umbilical cords. Holding us in place by our magnetic feet.  Holding us like children, like nuzzling bees, like kicking baby birds almost free of the safe and smothering egg’s shell. Holding us and sending us our dreams and dreaming us up up into great big oak trees and teeny tiny like neon spider mites. Keeping us together. The intimacy of infinity.

Contradictory Knowledges

“Every journey into the past is complicated by delusions, false memories, false naming of real events.” Adrienne Rich

It’s time to sit and write another one of these. I’m feeling nervous.  I have been extremely emotional lately, and trying to keep working, staying present with groups and in one-on-ones. The spill off is going in to some of my most precious relationships and I’m terrified that I’m damaging them. I don’t know how humans do it. Does everyone experience the kinds of ups and downs I do? In a lecture I attended in February James Hollis talked about how emotions are a reaction by the soul to the decisions and orientations of the ego.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  Somewhere I know that my anxiety and sadness are connected to a kind of working against the natural grain of my soul.  But I resist, because my soul’s grain seems to lead me away from some of the things my ego most desires.

On another hand, I think maybe my sensitivity is a big part of my gift.  It really helps when I need to be able to tune into a group, to understand where the blocks are, where the possible conflict is, who is not understanding, who needs a little support, when to shift the energy, what questions are in the air. My emotions in this sense are an instrument. But they engender havoc in my intimate relationships, and moreover devastate my inner world. This morning I was in such a beautiful circle, facilitating with Flowstate, one of my dearest friends and all I could do for the first few hours was suffer. A migraine brought on my narratives of abandonment and punishment that aren’t real, that are just left over from the rigged-up past.  Do other people work themselves into states like this? I feel like there is a good distance from me, where I am useful and helpful and attractive. But if you get too close you start to see these broken parts, and especially these high, high waves of emotion and pits of fantasy.

But tonight it feels a little like its breaking. Clearing a little.  I had dinner with The Beatbox which helped enormously. Some people don’t mind my broken parts, thank goodness. Soul friends. I’m in Vancouver right now, to run a couple of arts facilitation trainings. I moved to Vancouver when I was eighteen, once I’d realized that my life in Ottawa needed to be upended, that I needed to discover for myself what there really was to be afraid of in the world, instead of just absorbing the fears and walls of my parents and community.  What my own values were.  To learn to hear the voice of my soul.  Now, twenty years later, it feels like home, even though I moved back East about four years ago.

The Beatbox is one of the best friends of my life. We met when I was twenty two.  I feel like I discovered who I am beside him. And continue to. We met at Blair’s old Grassroots head shop on Commercial Drive. He was lithe and all fire then. I thought he had walked out of my subconscious. I’m still not sure he didn’t. He came to the Psi Co Sly Sho all those years ago and invited me to the youth arts camp which changed the direction of my life and introduced me to my soul’s purpose.  That’s where I learned that there is more to love than tribalism. That community is a broadening of the heart, a way of opening up energy that is narrow and intense so that it can embrace difference, so that the wild funny mirrors of the world can tip a little further, so I can see more of who I am in their reflections. So we can push against the labyrinth walls, come together and create new pathways for our species and our world.

We’re halfway through May. In June I will be leaving for Switzerland to start working on my PhD.  I think I might look back at these essays not too long from now and laugh at my writing, my ideas, these watery diaries. That’s what I’m hoping from this schooling, that my mind becomes clear and crisp and cold, fierce and ruthless. I want my heart to stay warm and my mind to be honed. Right now they can get so confused with each other, the mind and heart. I want to learn to think, to learn to grasp the world at a more finely tuned frequency. I want to make a contribution to the way we think about ourselves, on this planet.  The way we know how we know. The ways we understand what matters, what is real.

When I first arrived in Vancouver I was slim and young; flexible, open, shy.  I had shaved my head not long before, because of some problems with the electric blue hair dye I’d been using. I had been doing Tae Kwon Do for the past decade, and my knee injury was finally healing. I was waking up into a sense of myself as a woman, just the first little rose rays of it. Thanks to Tawny Star I knew how to dance, which made all the difference. Oh, I should tell you about Tawny.

In the last year I was in Ottawa I met a woman named Tawny Star. It’s amazing how important people can come into your life and leave. (I mean, I still see her on facebook, but…well, that particular colonization of time and space is a subject for another week.) When I knew her at that time she was so important she glowed in my eyes. I wouldn’t be myself if I hadn’t met her, either. I wonder how many people I could name who would fit in that category. People I have known and loved and who are now long gone, but who marked my life forever. I wonder how many people might say that about me.

Tawny Star was unlike anyone else I had ever met at that time.  We were both in the music school at Ottawa U.  I had slid into the department because I was determined not to follow the biochemistry-to-doctor path my father was most set on.  I had a music teacher at the time, who was also my first lover, who helped me get through the audition.  It wasn’t that I cheated, it was that he knew exactly what they would be listening for and coached me on that. It wasn’t cheating, it just wasn’t a plan that would sustain me over the long term. It was an intervention. At the last minute he gave me his slick silver trumpet to play and it was as if I had been using training wheels and suddenly he gave me a pair of wings. I soared through that audition. Later, my teachers would wonder what I was doing there. But Tawny was different.  She was there because she was a wildly talented pianist.  It was wonderful to hear her play, though strangely rare. She was private with her gift, as if it was a limited substance she didn’t want to waste.   Instead, what we did together was smoke, get high, and go dancing.  It was the first time I had experienced the fragrant, sexy, hilarious, intimate feminine rituals of dressing up to go to a bar.  I was awkward, I felt kind of grotesque and gigantic next to her, though when I look back at the photos from that time I was a beautiful little bending sapling. She taught me to wear makeup, taught me to dance, talked to me about men and sex, taught me how to flirt, how to get to know the owners of the bars, the djs, the regulars, how to be glamourous, how to be tough and fragile at the same time.  Tawny was tiny and bleached blonde and incredibly sexy and elegant. I remember this one particular silver velour dress she used to wear. She would spend hours putting every hair in place, making her skin glow, her nails buff, her jewelry perfect, her perfume imperceptible but ubiquitous. She would do it all in her underwear and then at the last minute, suddenly drop the silver dress (or something equally fantastic) over herself, like a mist falling in a forest. I was eighteen, she was twenty-five.  She had a kind of neurotic neediness, and a way of filling hours with her self-reflections and the winding stories of her life. I was so in awe of her, and so shy, that it was a perfect friendship for that year. We had a bi-weekly ritual of trekking forty blocks in the snow from the university to pick up weed and then stopping at a tanning salon on the way back just to warm up.  I had never before nor ever since been to a tanning salon (obviously). This is the perfect illustration of my year with Tawny Star.

After some time, just about a few months, we both dropped out of school. For me, it was the inevitable outcome of a short, steeply spiralling undiagnosed depression that culminated in a manic night of cutting a space princess costume I’d worked on for a month into square inch pieces. I will tell you that story (and how it was redeemed twenty years later, sometime.)  We planned to move to Vancouver with her brother, M. I could sense the fabric of my life changing its colours and patterns as we made our plans.  I can look back now and know that I needed more space, I needed to be able to explore myself and the world around me.  At the time though, it felt different. It felt like magic was pouring into my limbs from a tap in my chest. I was deeply into ecstasy and this small dance underground scene in Ottawa and it was blowing my mind. I never wanted it to stop. It was exciting to be seen as a woman, to discover this world of music and afterparties, and slick, physical charm, and characters and ego and a value on surfaces and materiality.  My childhood had been safe, deep, rich, regulated. I loved being out in the world, I was shy but oddly fearless.

When it was time to leave Ottawa for Vancouver Tawny backed out at the last minute and I ended up moving with her brother, M and another friend of his who we called Fitipaldi. Again, if I look back I can see that those were kind of lost years.  About three or four years of parties, drugs, swarms of people I don’t remember but who I thought I cared about at the time.  It morphed, many times.  At first I knew only M’s friends.  I remember that first day I arrived in Vancouver.

 

Mom had given me a little sweater with a rainbow stripe across the chest. I had my shaved head, and some blue velour stretch leggings.  I had bright blue platform sneakers and big glittery jewellery.  I took mom’s copy of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media and read it on the plane, and left it on board by accident. Mom, dad and the Brother drove me to the airport. I’d decided to move about two months before, and I think my parents were still reeling.  The Brother was sad, but it was years before I found out what my leaving had actually meant to them.  That while I was following my scent for freedom and the unknown I was leaving the people who had deeply loved and invested in me.  I was too selfish, too cramped in my life, to really feel what I was doing.  The Brother gave me a book by Christmas Humphries called Concentration and Meditation.  He was sixteen.

When we landed M and I took a limo to the West End in Vancouver. Our first stop was at the home of a friend of his, a beautiful blonde actress who was an important part of our lives that year, but who I can’t recall the name of at all at this moment.  But we also met Madlove at that moment, and he is still so important to me now. I remember his first comments, the first spark of friendship.  It’s amazing how you know, and at the same time know nothing. The future is wrapped into every moment.  What keeps us from seeing it? What uncovers it?  We picked up some weed from this friend and headed further into the west end.

It’s along the beach. We walked along English Bay, Second Beach, then doubled back. My eyes were drinking, soaking, drowning in the beauty of the ocean, the smell of the hot sand in May (wow, I just realized it’s been twenty years this month), the driftwood logs like reclining aliens all along the beaches, the ubiquitous impossibly tiny dogs. We walked all the way down Davie and then Granville until we were at Main and Hastings. I’d never seen anything like it. The pain and chaos and community, the heroin, the bustle, the sidewalk shops.  Remember, I’d grown up in suburbs, and then pretty far out in the country outside Ottawa, I’d gone to Catholic schools, a private high school.  We were outside of the Patricia Hotel. M told me that was where I would be staying. It was the first clear feeling I had that I would not be safe with this person, even though I could have clearly seen it before.  M spent much of the next year and a half find subtle vicious ways to torture me. Like many of the other important people in my life our interaction was not safe or healthy, but it changed me and helped me to awaken myself, toughened my skin a little. I wonder if my emotional chaos is related to the ways these lessons have unfolded.

 

I realized there was no way I could stay at the Patricia. Now that I have lived in many places and seen many lifestyles and learned about many people I would be able to articulate why, but at the time it was just a feeling. I went up the street to the YMCA and stayed the night there for forty dollars. But I had four hundred dollars, no job and no idea really how to get one, so I knew I couldn’t stay there more than one night.  I called the older brother of my brother’s best friend, Mel, and he let me stay in his community house for a month in exchange for washing dishes for him and his grad school friends. I continued to meet M and Fitipaldi every day during that month, while they got settled, stayed with friends on couches.  I got into their world.  I learned about them.  It was a world of drugs, weird video games, lies, and conspiracy theories.

 

That first night we went to a club, called Sonar. I danced, but M and Fit were up to something I couldn’t’ quite suss out.  It would all come to make sense later. We met a group of their friends there, and then we all went to a warehouse party.  Three storey ceilings. Lots of ecstasy.  Lots of gorgeous ravers. I spent most of the night talking to an extremely handsome blonde man from Regina, Bold. I would later fall deeply in love with Bold, in one of the early iterations of the rejection complex I’ve been working through. But that night he was an angel. I was swinging  in an arm chair that had been hung from the ceiling, while extraordinary music was spun by a dark skinned man in neon pink everything, and Bold came up to me, he pushed the swing a little and then curled into it.  He said something that I had longed to hear, and that was true then, and is true now, and as often as I forget it I am reminded, You’re with friends now.

 

These five or six men ( for the most part) became my world, almost like family, in those first couple of years.  The days were often very long, sometimes thirty or forty hours long or more.  We found various schemes and hustles, and they used me in ways that I could not understand. I was a good combination of smart and naive, and they were always looking for creative ways for us to make money.  Eventually this led me to Burnaby, to Molly Rao, and to Gold Seal Corporation Limited, which I think I will get into next time (I might even try to write next week’s essay tomorrow, so I’m caught up).

 

I loved those days.  When I think back I remember the rooftop of our apartment complex, Anchor Point.  The sunset glinting off the mirrored buildings.  The cigarette burns on our carpet.  The endless weird meals of ramen noodles and peanut butter.  How we never, ever cleaned the bathroom.  The nights of dancing until I was higher on the music than the drugs.  The expansion of consciousness and the erosion of values and the eventual emergence of myself with wings.  I look back and remember how I slowly started to be able to tell who my friends were.  It was as if they suddenly stood out in relief, once enough ocean, mountain, weed, music and maybe more than anything endless days of doing nothing started to heal the hyperactive overachieving world I’d come from.

 

Even now I fight against that clamped down message, you’re not good enough. There was something about those days.  When I would walk home from a series of parties at seven in the morning and smoke cigarette butts I found on the sidewalk, and crouch down next to my friend Lion who lived on the street and always shared his food and his wisdom with me, when I didn’t have to be anywhere or account for anything, when we smoked all our money time and again and then had to think of something quick at the end of the month.  Where we sat at the beach and looked at our toes and we leaned on each other, but were hard on each other, and didn’t really trust each other, but were all we all had and how I got to undefine myself, and get real blurry at the edges; there was something about all of it in those first few years that spun me around and around and then pushed me forward, with one hand out, dizzy and happy, to pin the talk on the donkey.  The life I have now comes from the spinning risks I took then. I hope I never stop being that girl, and i guess I couldn’t if I wanted to. Because if the future is all woven right into the present, the past is too; it’s more like a fragrance, a temperature, the past is everywhere, it permeates everything. She’s here right now, that young me, laughing at how I’ve told this story. Remembering so much more of it, holding all the details, every moment, keeping it all sacred, stored in my soul, my little compartment of self in the vast, vast endless illimitable universe.