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.

This Hybrid Masterpiece of Dreaming

I’m tired in a very specific and familiar way right now. I’m not sure if any of these essays say much about my work. I’ve spent the last week at an old army barracks in the southern part of Whidbey Island, Washington, running a week long gathering for about thirty-five people who all use a particular method of using “the arts” to create transformative residential gatherings for teenagers.  I was one of the two facilitators of the gathering, with Peggy, who I’ve mentioned before. I love love love group facilitation. When I first started I had never heard of it. My first inkling in what would become a big stream for me started with Jerry Springer.  I loved his show. I loved how he could create a field, and use sharp, penetrating questions to unravel people’s secrets and, mostly in very explosive ways, bring them into connection and contact with each other. I’ll tell you sometime about the Psi Co Sly Sho, my first real attempt at group facilitation which actually modelled on what I thought I saw him doing. Ah. The embarrassing truth.

A quick side note, since I’ve made these essays available for my network to read I’ve been feeling very strange about using my friends’ real names. I am going to slowly change them all to super hero names kinda like Jack Kerouac did. But I’m going to have to do that carefully so I don’t get it all mixed up, so I’m not going to start today. I feel that I have been so careful to only write what people would be okay with reading, but maybe that isn’t the point. Or maybe it is? I don’t know. Simon got me tangled up about this two weeks ago and I haven’t been able to decide where to settle. I’m also ten days late with this essay, which is causing me to feel a gnawing kind of anxiety. I want this project to work. I feel like I am very invested in these essays at this point, and when I get deeply invested in anything it can become a little obsessive.

I want to tell you about this gathering we were at, but I don’t feel like talking about it.  These kinds of events have so many threads, so many details, so much movement, it makes me think of a knot of roiling snakes. When I’m in it, the patterns all makes sense.  My intuition is tuned in to its finest grain and I can make sense of it as a tiny self-contained world. But when I am done it feels like a dream. So hard to piece together. I’m not sure where to start.  One thing I know is that I don’t feel like explaining what the work is.  That feels like it will exhaust me even further. I can’t see straight right now, I keep knocking thing over. I get tired because I stretch myself to do this.  I stretch out my whole psychic, emotional and sensory being so that everyone is inside, as if they are in a way parts of me. Which I suppose is a truth in a way, that we are all Another Me, in that wonderful house of mirrors way of thinking of the world as an inside out dreaming self who has purposely concealed itself to seek and find itself. It’s a bit like that, this work. I’m so grateful for it.  I’m thankful to have a clear path that sustains me and gives me a deep sense of purpose. It’s a way of working that continually asks me to look at myself. We work in relationship, and we work on relationships, so we do our teaching and learning by witnessing and challenging each other. And the outcome is meant to be that we all feel more seen and more like our selves our true selves, so we can go out into the world and feel good, be creative, and take action on what matters most to us.  It seems so unlikely when I write it here, but now, about fifteen years later, I’ve seen it work a million times.  I get exhausted by the humanity of it, the relationships, all the language, all the emotion. It’s easier to be alone, drawing or writing, and it’s even easier to watch a movie or something.  I mean, this entire week I haven’t opened a book, not once. For me, that’s my most important food.  But there is something about the struggle to do this work, to stay awake and stay connected that has deepened me.  It’s made me appreciate more of what it means to be alive.  Even though I still get depressed, I still feel horribly lonely, it’s as if those feelings exist in a plane that has different rules. It’s hard to explain.

And it’s not exactly what I want to write about right now.  I’m aware of how incoherent this essay is already, I know it’s because my brain is so tired, but I’m going to keep going. Like that 1999 Nuyorican champ said, it’s when I show up when I don’t want to write that I learn something about myself.

You know that I track my dreams. I write them down, and about once a week I have a call with my friend Doug to help me interpret one. I also use Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ method of working with dreams, where I list all the nouns, then write a definition for them, then rewrite the dream with those definitions replacing the nouns. It can be very helpful.  But this week, when I arrived in Seattle, I received a dream syrup from my friend Cristina. It’s made of three herbs, she told me what they are but I can’t quite recall them. I will ask her, and slip them in here later. It is meant to help you see your dreams more clearly, and to be able to dream lucidly. My dreams are a wonderful medicine for me, and sometimes also give me information and helpful insight for my friends. I have been wanting to go more deeply into that practice and learning.  It’s incredible to me, especially when Doug helps me work through them, how there can be such a wise knowing that comes through these dreams. That we sleep and dream helps me so much with my fear of death, knowing that there is a beyond (an inside?), and that I enter it every night, helps me to believe in the unknown with open arms.

So I got this syrup from Cristina.  It came in a beautiful blue bottle. I guess she calls it a syrup because of the consistency, but the taste is extremely bitter. I started taking it when I arrived on Whidbey Island, the first night at Peggy’s and I’ve taken it every night since.  Maybe that is why this gathering seemed even more surreal that the others (this is the 53rd time I’ve facilitated a gathering of people using this particular method which we call the Creative Community Model).  Though, if I look back they are often quite surreal.  I think anytime you get a lot of people together and methodically unleash the creative impulse you will have a sense of the world coming a little unpinned.  But this one was different.

First, there were two dream-healers there. One a first nations woman from the interior region of BC and one an indigenous woman from El Salvador. While Peggy and I were running the main training, which was focused on the camps for teens that these folks all run in the summer, there was a time during each day for the participants to offer workshops.  This is a normal part of our model. (Ugh, I am hating the flow of this essay.  I’m really too tired to be doing this. I wonder if it will be my least favorite. But that is okay. That’s how I came to my drawings, as well. They are allowed to be ugly. I am allowed to be ugly. This is how I stay centered in my life. I don’t have to be more than what is, what I am. That is impossible. And those kinds of false and flimsy ideals play directly into colonial patterns of control and domination. So, this essay may suck. But it will live.) Right, so I went to the first woman’s workshop, Cindy. And with a little introduction she had us journey actually into the landscape of her medicine wheel. I did a number of years of focused trance meditation work, with a wonderful teacher called Geri DeStephano, which included a lot of journeying in this way, but I’d never tried anything like this.  We were to ask for a dynamic that we wanted to transform. Well, as you know, I’ve been suffering pretty deeply about this question of love.  Of having my dear friend still needing space since I told him I loved him, and then meeting that nice man who tuned out to be so racist, and of course, since that excruciatingly brief but lovely affair with Helen, which turned out so confusingly.  So I went in with this, wanting to transform my relationship to love. And I am shocked, still, by what I saw:

When I was maybe three years old, my family was preparing to take a trip to India to see our grandparents.  I had a little bear, called Squishy, that I was given when I was born.  A little pink bear. Squishy was my dearest friend. I have memories since I was about eighteen months old, so I remember this relationship very clearly. He was a being of his own. He would speak to me, sing to me when I slept, he would explain things about the world to me. I told him my secrets. I carried him everywhere. We were as close as two people could be.  Until today I have the ability to sense the being, the life, in inanimate objects, and of course when we are that small these nascent powers can be very potent. I wanted to be absolutely sure that Squishy was coming with us so I packed him into a suitcase. We left for India the next day. When we arrived, Squishy was not in the case. I was devastated. I remember now the sick feeling of loss, the scary feeling that the world had betrayed me, that it was not to be trusted.  I remember the cold creeping feeling along my back when I tried to sleep for the first time without him. They bought me another bear, who I later learned to love, but it was a bad time for me.  I had forgotten this memory until this journey with Cindy. When we returned home from India, there was another blow. The suitcase that I had put him in had been sent for repair. It was returned, and he was with it.  But he was badly injured, shredded, suddenly threadbare.  He was returned to me, broken. As if he had been in a war, or lost for a long time at sea. I remember seeing him, and holding his now fragile little body.

In the trance journey, Squishy suddenly appeared in my hands and I took him to the altar, the central stone in Cindy’s mandala, but I slipped in too deeply to remember anything more of what it was transformed into.  But I know this.  That this memory is a very important one in understanding why I have these awful, terrifying relationships. Where people disappear suddenly without warning.  Where I am always trying to prove I am worthy, that I won’t hurt the other person. Where I feel inadequacy and guilt. Where I become overinvested in the healing of the other person, as if their illness or issues were my fault. It is a precious thing, to have this memory back. There is no way that anyone, no psychologist or friend, could ever have helped me find this memory.  But without it I have been looking for the source of trauma and ascribing it to things, like maybe my dad, like the birth of my brother. I knew it had started very early.  Now I have the root (or one more root) of the rejection complex.  It is a major gift.  We journeyed again with her and I saw more, and then later with the other woman, Patricia, and there was more sweet magic, but this was what I wanted to tell you. I feel like while I want these essays to be about books and ideas, and even more I want them to be about politics and the world and the change that I dream of and how I imagine it will come, it is about love that keeps coming out.  When I let myself just flow it is love that wants to come through.

And I do think there is a way of looking at this politically.  It is a bit of a stretch, but try to hear me out.  This buried thing, this deep bitter sadness and sense of loss from the loss of my little bear was no one’s fault.  It lives inside my consciousness as a formative event, and it had created a powerful ripple in my life.  Where my relationships have been hard, not only for me, but for the people I’ve loved. I have looked only for partners who would disappear. I have hated myself, and worse and more consistently projected that hate onto others, always afraid that they would hurt me the way I hurt that little bear. As a three year old I had no way of knowing that it was not my fault that my sweet friend was injured. I only knew that I had done this.  And that I could not trust myself. A few essays ago I told you about the long scream. That was another instance where very, very young I learned not to trust myself.  Again, through no one’s fault (that story is still coming, I think.  It is important to me).

I was sitting with Charlie’s husband Eric at lunch today and we were talking about Whiteness. Talking about the imperial impulse, the impulse to dominate, and how it must have roots in deep trauma and dislocation. And while this is never an excuse, it is so healing to have the images back, to find out where the roots of the pain are.  Because, to flip the example back again, I’ve been acting out this sadness for thirty five years, not knowing that the event was so slight, and that there is no one at all to blame. Least of all myself. So the deep self-hatred that has motivated me maybe can begin to shift. What if there was a way to dream back the wounds of our peoples?  What if it was possible to bring peace to the parts of this precious world that are most harmed, or more so those that are most harmful?  I wonder what can happen in that world of invisible magic, that world of the dark dense forests, and the morphic, hypnogogic images.  I wonder what my responsibilities are? I have known that it was my responsibility to heal my rejection complex, and beginning seven years ago I have been working towards it, one image at a time, one past life, one somatic dance class, one illness, one journey, one relationship at a time.  Once the intention to heal had been set everything began to point towards it.  As I mentioned I think not too long ago, it has been an alchemical process, a process of refining. If I am able to heal this, which is what Gurdjieff would call I think my chief characteristic, that which blocks my self-realization, do I then move into the possibility of being able to help dream with the world? I hope so.  I love this planet so deeply, like so many, many of us do.  The stars, the sun, the water, the birds. The blood, the bones, the boulders, the clouds. The trees, the seeds, the farms, the beetles. The cities, the schools, the daffodils, the whales. So much love it hurts.

The gathering ended today. I’m sitting in Peggy’s living room typing this, with big purple lilacs overflowing in a vase filling my senses.  I woke up at seven thirty and met some of my friends, Oliver, Yoko, Thomas, Hazel, Reid.  It was five degrees Celsius, and the sky was deep white-gray.  We walked the few steps to the wide ocean, the wild pacific ocean, the great chthonic mother of the world. Stripped off our clothes. The water was icy.  I couldn’t bear to swim, but I dipped myself in.  A gratitude.  A willingness.  A deep bow to the dreaming water of life. As we dressed and joked on some large pieces of driftwood, a golden eagle drifted down from the heavens, and slowly blessed us, maybe twenty feet above our heads.  The world dreams. It is not two worlds.  I offer my little broken bear on the altar of my life, knowing that my wounds are my gifts. Knowing that my little childself heart was so open it could love with abandon a little toy who was more real than real. More real than a dream.

Matter is Worlding

When people show you their boundaries (“I can’t do this for you”) you feel rejected…part of your struggle is to set boundaries to your own love. Only when you are able to set your own boundaries will you be able to acknowledge, respect and even be grateful for the boundaries of others. –Henri J.M Nouwen (The Inner Voice of Love)

I’m in the airport lounge in Vancouver, waiting to fly to Seattle. Twenty-five days on the west coast. Exactly what I need to resettle myself in the centre of my life. So much has happened in the last two months to destabilize me and muddy my soul-streams.  I’m in the lounge dining room. All the walls are glass, so my peripheral vision is going a little crazy watching passengers moving around on all sides, walking seemingly into nowhere.  There is an older French (not Quebecois) couple beside me playing Scrabble. The place is pretty crowded with travelers, in their own worlds, all in transition. The only brown faces other than mine are the women who are switching the food from breakfast to lunch. The younger one keeps smiling at me, and looks like she wants to talk. Once my hour is up for this essay I will chat with her. My table is almost holographic, covered in scalloped steel disks, and with faux mid-century red leather chairs. When I took off my sweatshirt my denim shirt had come undone under my sweater during the last flight, so I flashed everyone in here for a couple of seconds while I re-buttoned.

Yesterday was ultra disappointing, and I do want to write about it. Honestly, as much as I always intend not to make these “essays” into “diaries” it feels like the only route to impulse is through my truth. Not sure how to manage that, maybe it will transform as the weeks continue.  But right now I feel quite grounded because I had a long “conversation” (meaning a written dialogue in my journal) with Shams and am coming to understand something that has evaded me for a long time.  It’s connected to the chaos from essay ten, after Jarrett talked to me when he visited in Feb about how when I get what I want I’m not being rewarded by the universe and when I don’t I’m not being punished. Really, a lot of the high waves that have been happening go back to that moment, or more specifically the hallucinatory migraine from the day before. That migraine signaled something, some kind of shift for me. It’s as if a storm came into my life that night and has been whipping up waves ever since.

I also made my way through chapter four of Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway while on the plane. It is truly extraordinary. It’s only the end of April and I have a feeling this will be the book of the year for me. Partly because, as so often happens when something feels right, there is a kind of confirmation or familiarity bias where the ideas that I worked so hard to cook up in my master’s thesis are not only affirmed and extended, she also is proving them using quantum physics. It’s incredibly satisfying.  That thesis, which I think I will post a link for maybe even on this blog or something, was a work I was very proud of.  I still am. About four people read it (thank you, Erin!) and no one at all came to my defense (Rup tried, but he was late) but it remains the thing I’m most proud of until now, except maybe my collection of drawings.  The title that Tammy and I came up with, “What Matters” is a phrase that Barad uses as a refrain throughout her book.

One of the fascinating things about chapter four is that it clarifies something I was trying, aching really, to articulate.  I was looking to the phenomenologists, to surreal and improvisational artists, to poets, to biologists, ecologists to try to grasp with words something I know in my bones, my skin, my dreams.  I have no formal background in philosophy other than a one hundred level course on Hobbes and Locke that I loathed and a research position for a semester at SFU under Sean Blenkinsop where he wanted Mike Derby and I to look into the biographies of Western philosophers of note to try to determine if and how the influence of the places they lived in shifted in their theoretical work. Which itself, as a project, connects to Barad’s shimmering piece. I love philosophy and critical thought, but I feel I’m always at arms length from them. Maybe that’s why these essays feel so important to me.

I became so fascinated with metaphor in my MA that I could not stop tugging and unravelling, until I wanted to build a theory of mind that centered it, and then eventually it became a kind of mini cosmology. Ah! I loved the work so much. But one thing I had to articulate to make the whole thing work was the indivisibility of the world.  I got as close as I could with Merleau Ponty and his ilk, but it wasn’t close enough. I found Jan Zwicky’s work, and that was much easier to relate to, and with her frameworks and forms I managed to make something I was happy with. I got into the idea of a radical contiguity, where the edges of what is/isn’t a self shifts according to transformations/exchanges of meaning, which are determined by being/materiality. But Barad, she has it.  She has it so clear with her methodology “agential realism.” She says everything is not only contiguous but interpenetrating and inseparable, and that individual traits appear for seemingly discrete phenomena only when an apparatus is included and applied which itself is also inseparable from the phenomena in order to measure certain features which themselves are not pre-existing but appear as the measurement is in process.  Oh it’s brilliant. I am just barely beginning to absorb the implications. And in a sad but hopefully soon maybe funny or at least interesting way it applies to what happened last night.

In my last essay I told you about the man I met on the street. Really, he has a lovely light.  Golden, healthy skin, deep soulful eyes, mature, wise, sweet, attentive. A big, deep, soulful story. A love of nature. He’s even a Virgo. We went out five times, three before I went to New York and two after.

While I was in New York I went through another cataclysmic shift, but this one of a very different kind than the migraine, though perhaps it is actually not separate (haha) but is more like downstream from the migraine. I had a miserable morning that by now is so over processed I don’t even want to share it with you. (It’s about rejection. The complex. I’m so bored of myself with this shit.) In the evening I had plans to go with Sean to the Nuyorican Poets Café.  It’s a legendary spot, and I wanted to read in a slam there, just to satisfy my teenage self who would sit in my mauve-walled bedroom and look out over to the Gatineau hills and dream of New York and dream of creation, of poetry and music that I could hear in my bones, but couldn’t get out of my body. At that age I was writing poems about the colour maroon, and in a band covering the songs of Quebec prog rock band called Harmonium, and memorizing jazz solos on my trumpet.

I didn’t feel like going but we went, my self-pity dragging behind me like a sad wedding dress train. There was some pretty wild magic at work, though. Sometimes, even when I’m going in circles, if I am right with my root, with my ancestors, the world will come and blow with a fresh wind and clear up even my most personal troubles. It really does make you think that it is all moving together, only seemingly separate because of the millions of embedded apparatuses (I looked it up, Latin geeks) that cut it into its prismic millions. It makes me feel known yet wonderfully insignificant. Like an egg. Like a silver hair. Like a red leaf. Like an ocean wave. All of us. Equally nothing and everything.

We stood in line outside the famous café, leaning on the graffiti, and Patricia took my name. I was fifth. Having been to numerous slams in various parts of the world I know this is not a great spot because the audience tends to forget the early readers. Also five is not a lucky number to me. The number of challenge. The number of war. The number of the expansion and retraction of boundaries. But there it was. Fifth.

When we got in the door there was a young man standing there in the narrow hallway. I caught a tiny shiver of recognition but I ignored it. I gave the doorman my name and the boy said, Nadia? It turns out to be Emmerson. A former Power of Hope youth. And not just any youth. One that spoke at Charlie’s celebration of life. We hug. I introduce him to Sean. And he tells me that he spent the day with Charlie’s husband Eric. If he’d known you’d be here he would have come, he said. Just to hear the name of my dear late friend and mentor invoked felt like a blessing.

We go in.  There is a buzz like a jungle in Goa in there.  It’s the Nuyorican. I’m really here. We sit in the second row, Emmerson and his sister and behind us. We start meeting the people around us. Then the women in front of us move and we are suddenly in the front row, in the aisle, right in front of the mic. Jaime Lee Lewis, the 2016 champ opens up the show and introduces Miguel Algarìn, the FOUNDER of the Nuyorican who started it in his living room forty years ago. He reads.  He reads a piece about inseparability. About what it is that collapses the distance between us. But then the question, in order for you to know what I know, do you have to see what I see? Oh, how it all fits together. Why do I try to want and control? I could never make it more poignant, more perfect, more heartbreaking, more beautiful.

Then the 1999 champion reads, and his piece is about showing up even when you don’t want to, to write. How that’s how you learn about yourself. If you write when you are inspired you will write what you know.  If you write when you don’t want to you will learn what is there that you don’t want to see. I thought of these essays, of course, and of you my known and unknown readers, and how much you mean to me. To witness my unearthing here. And then the slam began.

The third contestant was Sean Clarity. I’d seen him outside. I was going to read The Disappearance of Bees, but when I heard his piece I knew I was going to do Coastline, just like my friend Sean had predicted while I was sobbing all over myself in his living room that morning.  I did. As I stepped onto the stage I saw Eric Mulholland there in the back. I knew Charlie was there too. And then I realized all my ancestors were there. Staring back at me through the wild, wide eyes of all these people. And even though it was a split second, something happened. My wretched self-loathing and my deep well of power were reconciled and I regained the soles of my feet and the tip of my tongue and my dry eyes were wet and my voice was ready to fly.

When I picked up the mic I wanted to kiss it.  I love microphones. I love stages. I love performing and more than anything I love audience. Even more than a room to facilitate, I love an audience. Especially a sweet, intelligent room full of NYC people of colour who love poetry and come on a Saturday night in the spring to be moved. I told them how I’d always wanted to be there and then I opened up my faculties. My aperture. I let myself fill that room to the roof, dropping words right into people’s eyes.  When it was done I felt good. I felt empty and good, better than sex, better than food, not quite as good as the summertime ocean from Channel Rock, but almost as good as it gets.

The rest of the show was a journey. Each reader was simultaneously dear and earnest, fierce and ironic, funny and devastated and political and personal and illuminated and obscure and whole. All at once. A testament to the place and what it has held and remembered and forgotten all these years.  There were at least seven others who could have won that night. But it was me. Jamie handed me a black envelope with two hundred dollars in it, and people said things like, I never heard anything like that, and I love your mind, and if this is a hobby drop everything else, and what kind of witch are you, and Jaime said, we’ll see you again. And Miguel Algarìn listened to me gush for a couple of minutes while I held his hand and stared at the crystals around his neck and then he kissed me on the cheek and he said, you are why we do this.

And that was it.

And that was everything.

Back to last night.  The man from the street (now even if I was going to name him I cannot, because I want to out him, and that isn’t cool. I’m trying to find the edges in these essays. I want to name people, credit them with their ideas and how they influence me, but I never want this to be a place where anyone but me feels exposed) came to the house. I had had a bad flu since I got back from NYC. I’d spent the first night with him before I realized I was sick. And then we went out for dinner day before yesterday but I didn’t kiss him because this shit was virulent. But it was weird that he hadn’t gotten it. Yesterday morning I went to a clinic because the fever was back badder than ever, and the doc suggested maybe it was an STD, the kind you get even when you use a condom.  So I told him, even though I hadn’t yet had a chance to be tested, and probably won’t until next week when I get to Van (when is this too much information? I kind of think I burned that bridge a while ago, but let’s see how far it can go. If this is going to be an experiment in truth and fiction, then it will have to be the whole truth, so I can get to the whole fiction). He was worried, obviously, but I was very calm (honestly, shame for these minor STDs is misplaced. I have other shame to burn through), and finally he was calm too. We went to a new Korean restaurant down the street. It was a gorgeous early evening in Montreal last night. The sun was bright and warm, but the breeze was still spring sharp.  We walked slowly and chatted. I was a little put off when he said something nasty about his ex-wife. I was starting to notice that while he was very sweet to me, he was pretty rude about other people. He’d said something uncool about the man who was fixing his car, too, the evening before. But the spring and his cologne, and our chemistry had been allowing me ignore these red flags.  There were some others, the week before, too. Mansplaining is pretty hilarious in general with me, and when I’m dating strangers it can get out of control. I don’t know if I mentioned this when I wrote about online dating, but I once had a diamond merchant explain international youth development work to me for an hour after he asked me what I do. I ate the entire appetizer while he went on. This guy tonight felt the need to lecture me at length about personal development and self-reflexivity, and the value of telling your story, amongst other things. For example, when we had our picnic, he carefully explained to me that the green headed duck in the pair is the male. What can I say? This is why I fall in love with my friends. The way men in general talk down to women is staggering. It’s endemic and it’s international and it’s …funny.

So we get to the restaurant. We chat with the waitress who is very cool. And then he drops it.  He says, my ex used to hate it when I would talk to the people like that. Oh, I said, was she shy? She was jealous he said. And then the world slowed down like it always does when god is tired of giving me signs and doesn’t want me to miss the point again.  All Latina are like that, he says.  They are jealous, and they will never pay. They are all like that. That’s why I’m glad you are an Indian. I will never date a Latina.  I said, that’s racist. You’re totally wrong.  You can’t know how all Latina women are. He said, it’s my culture. I’m telling you. (He hasn’t lived in Costa Rica in thirty five years.) How many countries are in South America, I asked. Twenty three, he said. And you are trying to tell me they are all the same. Yes, he said. I have been to all of them. I said, that’s disgusting. You think I’m disgusting he said. We were starting to get angry. I don’t want to blame the flu for my short temper. I’ll lose it over something like this any day.  I said, I have so many beautiful Latina friends. He said, are they raised here? I said no. He said, they don’t show that part to you. It’s in relationship that they are this way. I said, this is racism and sexism. He said, it’s my culture. You can’t tell me about my culture.  I said, you can’t talk that way about women. It’s insulting. And you don’t represent all people from your culture. You don’t get to say nasty things about women. He said, I’m not insulting you. I said to you that Latina women are greedy and jealous. I said, you think that because you are Latino you can know every women on an entire continent? He said, why are we fighting? I can say what I want about my own people. I said because you are offensive. What are you going to say about Black people, Indians? No, he said. I don’t have bad opinions about them. Only about Latinas, I said. He said, keep your opinion, I will keep mine. I don’t want to fight. He was getting angry, his face was going red. I probably was too. I said, I’m done here. He said, good. I left the restaurant and strode home, the fever burning in my face, mingling with rage. Ever since I was a kid I’ve hated injustice, this kind of ignorance. I can’t take it at all. It may seem small to you, when this guy was so nice and so fun to be around.  But for this is fundamental. This is at the root for me.

The day before, my dear dad had stepped across the old-school theory of why-aren’t-you-married line which already left me feeling pretty annoyed. His theory, I should not chase me, because they like to be the ones to make decisions in a relationship. What’s really funny about this, though, is that when I met this guy I was wearing my This is What A Feminist Looks Like hoodie that Rob Fairchild gave me. He even told me he liked it. So I guess I can clearly understand that this man had no idea what was happening, what he was saying, or where I was coming from.  But I can tell you this, I have absolutely no intention of seeing him again. I went home and luckily Martin was there so I could vent a little. He reminded me that when I met this man I’d said it probably wouldn’t go anywhere since there was no intellectual connection. But I’d talked about it with Laura, and she’d helped me see that that didn’t always matter. You didn’t have to connect intellectually if you feel good and connected in other ways. And Farah, too, had talked about how no one person needs to be everything to you. And I’d read in Henri Nouwen’s Inner Voice of Love (which Evan gave to me when he had to “reject” me a couple of years ago, it’s a good one for the sore of heart) about how you don’t keep asking for everything from one person. You look to the community of love to hold you, and then that leads you deep inside yourself, and there your needs are met by the beloved. So, my guard was down.  But now it’s back. Now I’m back to “love is freedom”, but this time from my own side. Love is freedom for the object of my affection, but it is also my freedom.  And when someone holds tight to constricting, derogatory opinions, treats me like I don’t have a working synapse in my skull, and (I forgot to mention this) buys Nag Champa for his car because, you’ll like this it’s form India, insists that I shave in a certain way, and makes assumptions about my sexuality I don’t feel free. I feel cheap and constrained. I don’t want to date anymore, and I don’t want any more fantasy-fake crushes.

I’m feeling pretty free today. I’m free of the secret love projection fantasy I’d been holding for my friend and I’m free of the desire to have someone just to be in that space of The Lover, good sex without that deep soul connection. What happens from here? Sarah Cathrae and Sean talked to me last winter about marrying myself. I wonder here again what that means? Maybe these twenty five days of ocean, mountains, islands, work, play and breathing will tell me. I’m going to stay with Ani first. I bet she will know.

The Fortress Contains the Universe

There’ll never be a door. You are inside

and the fortress contains the universe.

-Jorge Luis Borges

I’m in New York City, on the seventh floor of Sean’s apartment building in Spanish Harlem, where he lives with his two bunnies, Ophelia and Petey. There is hay and rabbit pellets all over the place. But somehow it isn’t gross. It smells fresh, like a farm. Two walls of the front room are windows, so you have a pretty amazing view of the city below. It’s a homey, farmy, urban effect. Sean works in fashion, too, so all his furnishing are kind of sleek. And covered in fur. The bunnies mostly eat kale, but they’re crazy for fig newtons.

It’s essay time. This is the first one I’ve written on the road.  I’ve been sitting on this essay for five days, it’s Friday. I’ve wanted to write it, but I have also wanted to give myself the time I needed to digest. Today feels right.

I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety over small things lately.  Coming to the States, crossing Trump’s boarder for the first time has had my stomach in knots for the last four days.  I’ve also been freaking out about small things, work, my house, emails, the little silver clothes moths that have suddenly reappeared in my house.

There is an important story I want to tell you, of what has been happening since I wrote the last essay, the one where I told my friend I loved him.  But I think I need to start with this morning.  This morning I woke up from a dream, had a quick shower, and zipped up my bag which is my bent but not broken old maroon suitcase that has traveled the world with me but hasn’t moved in nearly three months, its longest break in a couple of years.  I buckled its blue and yellow waist cincture round it, packed my phone and charger into my black canvas back pack, slung Erin’s leather shoulder bag across me, and called a cab.  Which never came.  Called another. Started to worry that I was going to miss this plane. I miss at least one flight a year. I didn’t want the stress today. I have been so edgy.  It’s been in my breath mostly, this tight constricted kind of panting and once, about five weeks ago or so, a terrifying stopping, the lungs just not doing, for the first time, what they have always done. It was just a few seconds, I guess, but it was terrifying. It’s been in sick headaches, nightmares and grainy insomnia, finger biting, teeth grinding, and a deep bone-cold that creeps over me even when it’s warmish outside.  I didn’t want the stress of rushing, of trying to push the car forward through traffic with my mind, of the shoulder tension and backaches that come from trying to control the world. And I didn’t want to feel any stress when I talked to the border guards.

I snapped at the cabbie.

I have my reasons.  The way he was talking to me. Condescending and presumptuous.  But it was out of character for me. I’ve been working with the new energy in my life since I told my friend the truth.  A dawning realization that there is such a thing as a buried truth, and that if it’s down there too long it becomes zombie-like and rotten. And it is linked to my moods and emotions.  The roiling of truths deep under the surface, truths full of shame, full of fear, but also the ones that are just unsaid material, left there to decompose, full of worms and beetles come to the surface in tears, frustration, and all this physical anguish.

I snap at the cabbie, but he must have a nice heart, or else he gets snapped at a lot, or else he is profoundly professional and doesn’t take things personally. In any case, he drives like a fabled Montreal maniac and gets me there on time.  I tip him heavily and thank him with humility.  He said bienvenue, but I still wish I hadn’t done it.  Though, what would it look like just to tell my truth all the time, with exactly the energy it comes with? Instead of implicitly apologizing for myself all the time.  Instead of shifting and contorting myself so that others feel well. Accommodating. That’s what my friend Laura called it last night.

I get into the Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport and it is empty. Almost entirely empty.  I get my boarding pass, drop off my bag and walk to security alone. There are a few employees here and there. It is ten in the morning.  It feels very strange.  It reminds me of what happened in Egypt, but I won’t tell you that here. That’s a story on its own I think. Maybe for next time. In front of me is a tall white man wearing an army green jacket with a patch on the back that reads “All is Fair.”

I get to security and there are just a few people there. One of the security guards is singing to herself, but loudly.  She notices the sweatshirt I’m wearing which says, Bitumen, Don’t Kill My Vibe. Eugene Kung made them to raise money for Standing Rock. She peers at it and says, Bitumen? What is that? My heart immediately starts pounding. I explain, when there’s an oil spill it’s the unrefined oil that spills into the ocean, and she said Oh, and continued singing.  It took a few minutes for my heart to slow down. I’m paranoid, I think. That’s all this is. I see the man in the All is Fair jacket ahead of me.  I pass him while we are at the computers having our eyes scanned.

Then I get to customs. I wait in line for three people. The empty airport is a little eerie. The customs officer is a handsome, dark skinned man, with a wide warm smile. When I lie that I’m going to NYC for a birthday party he asks if he can come. I say yes and he says, if I was evil I would do it. I would just come with you. I said come on, let’s go, and he said, I would. I would love to.  I hope you have a magical time.

After the exchange I get some coffee and find the gate. There is All is Fair, apparently heading to La Guardia too. I read a little of Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway.

She has been blowing my mind with this book. I have always been interested in quantum physics, and holograms, and the nature of light.  My first/only full (but awful) novel was about a group of holograms that are enslaved by corporations and eventually come to life. Though the novel was disastrous, the research I did stuck with me, and informed many of the experiments I did later, both with Time, and the more social and performative experiments. Barad is not using quantum physics analogically. She has created a methodology which she calls Agential Realism to look at the interactions, the diffraction of phenomena, rather than assuming they are objective entities with discrete qualities that belong to them before observation. She is looking at how we can consider the apparatus of investigation as the boundary-distinguishing entity in a contiguous world. It’s very exciting, and I feel quite sure it will be the methodology I use to begin and hopefully finish my investigation into Time. It connects quite seamlessly (pun unintended) with my masters work.

Timing is one of the aspects of Time that I am very interested in. In group process, for sure, but also informally, as I influence and interact with and am influenced by the world. Timing; perfect timing, bad timing, the right place and time, sudden insight, chance encounters, synchronicity, the groove, the split second, improvisation, all of that.

After I told my friend how I feel and he told me he didn’t, not that way, though he did, in the sacred just-friends way, I meditated and prayed. I put aside for two days what I was doing in order to let my consciousness slip into what had happened. It was such a relief to tell the truth. It is not something that comes easily to me. First, to identify the need or desire that I am having, and then to speak it. The relief was incredible, but also the grief. I’d been holding various shades of this fantasy-fake love for a year, and it had become a kind of comforting weight. So for these two days I asked and asked. I sorted in my mind, trying to parse the feelings. I want so much to release the fantasy, I don’t want to lose my friend. I am afraid, so deeply afraid that I will lose him. But I also know that the only way to reduce obsession is to let go, to release the need to be connected. Not the connection, but the need.  So the two days passed.

On the third day I went with Erin to see our friend Evmarie’s show.  It was a very Quebecois show, I’m learning (I’m still so new to Quebec); emotive, showy, funny, sequined, maybe a little heavy handed and yet moving and very human. We left and I walked Erin to her pottery studio. She said, why don’t you come up and see the studio. No, I’m going to walk home.  But I didn’t.  I walked away from the direction of our place.  I turned a corner on Fairmont and walked up Parc a little.  It was a warmish early Spring day, and I was happy to be strolling in the slight rain.

Even though I am mostly traveling, I have managed to meet quite a few people in the neighbourhood since I moved into Mile End. I like to meet neighbours. It gives me a nostalgic kind of pleasure.  When I was a child we knew all our neighbours, and my mother would organize yearly block parties. Nothing makes me feel safer than knowing who lives around me.

I saw one of these neighbours and raised my hand to wave.  He looked at me and smiled.  I was still walking.  As I got closer I realized I didn’t know him.  He approached me.  Do I know you, I asked, even though I knew I didn’t. I don’t know, he said, do you live around here? I do, I said, do you? No, he said. What are you doing now? I don’t know, I said.  Maybe getting a bite to eat.  We paused. I was looking into his eyes.  They were open and brown and kind and I don’t know, I somehow just said, do you want to join me?  Are you inviting me, he asked. He had a Spanish accent.  I used to do things like this a lot when I first moved to Vancouver, when I was recklessly confident.  I still have no problem with strangers and talking to people, but I don’t go this far usually. He said, I’d love to. I have to park my car. There is a tapas place up ahead, I said, I’ll be there if you want to meet me.

I get onto the little plane, and walked to my seat. And who am I sitting beside but All is Fair. I’m looking at his face for the first time, I have only seen him from behind up until now. Even though I can’t see the back of the jacket I know it is him. I mention the jacket and say, All is Fair. It’s been making me think. I’ve been behind you all morning, since I got to the airport. It’s funny that it is just a part of the phrase. It makes me think of what isn’t there. What is unseen. Love? War? He tell me it’s a fashion company.  He is watching airline TV.  The company sent me a bunch of their clothes, he says, so I can promote them. You’re doing a good job, I say, writing their name down in my phone. Are you an athlete, I ask.  I’m a magician, he says.  He sticks out a big hand, covered in tattoos.  The tattoos are beautiful, unusual.  They say things like Carpe Noctem on the knuckles and Smile along the inside of the middle finger, and other things I can’t make out that seem to be in Latin, and there are symbols like an hourglass, and the suits of cards, and a big butterfly on the back of his right hand.  I’m Chris, he says.  I put my hand in his.  I’m Nadia.

I sit down in the tapas spot and order a Negroni. I feel he probably won’t come to meet me. He’s probably realized it’s weird.  He maybe can’t find the tapas place. I’m sitting in the back, far from the window. As the Negroni sets in front of me, he walks in, and sits down.  He has a beautiful face, I think.  It is unlined, and wide in the cheekbones, and he has long hair and a leather jacket.  He has a large tattoo on his neck.  He seems to be in his mid-forties. We begin to talk.  Starting with where are you from, we moved quickly to what to you do and then suddenly we were in what do you take seriously, and do you believe in reincarnation, and Jah brings his children together, and then into personal stories, life stories. We spend about two and a half hours together. I enjoy his company immensely.  I felt that my heart was open in a way it hadn’t been in a year. I felt open to this stranger, his energy, the soft, astonished way he was looking at me.  The fact that he clearly found me beautiful.

Chris turns out to really be a magician.  We talk for an hour and a half, while we’re on the plane.  He is very generous with the knowledge he has developed about magic, the philosophy, the psychology, the narrative arc, the engineering and research, the community, the personalities.  There are a number of things from that conversation that really stuck to me.  One of them was that even though secrets are the main commodity in his work, he doesn’t believe in lying.  Don’t lie if you don’t have to, is apparently an edict, but he takes it further. You have to be true to the fiction you are in, he says.  We talk about meaning and he says about meaning making: just because you can, doesn’t mean there is. It’s like this with him.  I learn so much, I think so much. I think so much about truth, fantasy and illusion. I realize that there is more power in having told the truth to my friend than I realize.  The truth telling is a powerful elixir.  Chris is in the business of illusion and he is deeply into the truth telling. The truth telling of art.  Of helping people see the sense of wonder that they long for, even when (and he wants them to) they know they are being tricked.

And I think about my fantasies. And I think about my drawing. And I think about Shams. And I think about complexes, projections, and transference.  And I think about these essays. And the truth. I’m trying to think about the slick, slippery truth. He makes illusions to give people the sense of the unknown, of facing the world and having it shift, the foundations of what they know.  Shift.

As we leave the tapas spot he kisses me.  I don’t know why, or how, but it felt right. I am shocked at myself. After a year (really seven years, actually) of being so afraid of my own feelings, I am kissing a stranger on the street in Montreal. The next day he calls me.  We go out walking, and then have some dinner very late at Aux Vives.  Now I’m learning more about him.  Now we are exchanging more depth. We kiss again, on the corner of St. Laurent and Laurier, in the dark, in the moonlight. He walks me home. I invite him in. We make out on my couch.  He is beautiful.  He sees me.  He is open. He is opening me. I have been so closed for so long, hating myself for the feelings that I knew in my heart were not returned, and in my even deeper heart that I knew weren’t even real but were like barnacles on the sunken ship of my romantic nerves. Needing in my heart to have that rejection, needing that thing I am so hooked on.  That person to tell me that unless I work hard I will never be enough, and not matter how hard I work, it will never be enough. That old hungry predator. That old complex. That vampire.

This was not my friend, by the way.  I mean, this is the twisted projection, the way I was seeing it, though the complex. But here I am, at the end of seven years of hunting and stalking this complex, and in one moment, the truth telling, it broke open the world. This happened when I left my parent’s home, and I feel it happening again.

I told the man I met on the street that I would not sleep with him, I could not. I told him that I had recently told a friend I was in love and in wasn’t returned. I said, I don’t want to use you just to move my feelings. But then I went home to see the family over the Easter weekend.

The first night I told my mom everything. About the friend, about the man on the street. (I didn’t tell her about the kiss, but I guess she knows now.  Hi mom.) Then we had the Easter celebration with my nieces and nephews. And then I saw on IG that my friend had traveled to Ottawa and was in town and hadn’t told me. I phoned him. I wasn’t going to fall back into the pit of despair.  But in that move I also realized the fantasy was over. When I got back to Montreal I called the man on the street. I have been enjoying him so much.

This essay is rambly, I think.  I will find out when I reread it.  Again, I wish it was more of a story and less like a diary.  But I get what I get.  When I started I hoped you would get the feeling of how huge this has been for me.  That releasing the feeling I was holding for so long has brought me an incredible lightness of being.  That even though I am still feeling deep fear and terror that the friendship is over, or that I have damaged it beyond repair, and I wish I had said something sooner so maybe it wouldn’t be the stinky skinny half dead zombie thing it is now.  I am hoping with my whole heart that the friendship survives.  But also that the truth, in coming out, is getting fresh air, and letting fresh air into my heart, and into my world. The world feels magical in a way it hasn’t in a long time.  I feel that sense of flow. I think keeping that secret for so long had affected my flow, like it was a big boulder of shame sitting there in the river of my life.

But somehow I feel I haven’t gotten it fully across. I guess I should describe to you, maybe, what it felt like to get some falafel at the Green Panther, and to flirt, and then sit in Parc La Fontaine, and eat and talk.  And just to feel seen, to have someone touch my knee in that spiraling way, like they are excited about being close to me. I am feeling how different it is to feel this kind of physical mutuality.  How thin my fantasy feelings actually were, even though they felt so deep.  How different the fantasy is from the friendship, too.  How rich that old friendship feels. I wish I could tell you all this again, that I could go back to the top of this essay and write it in a different way.  Because it is so big to me, so magical, but here it seems maybe a bit mundane.  But I won’t.  I am going to be true to my experiment and leave it the way it is. Maybe next week I will tell you about Egypt to make it up to you.

Overlude

She said she sensed an urgency afoot she hadn’t felt for some time, that she felt feeling itself was only a mirage kept alive by a ghost of what never actually was.

-Nathaniel McKay (From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate)

It’s one-hour essay time again.  I want to write about the show I’m working on, Indivisible.  Indivisible is both the name of the show and, I’ve realized, the heart of what I work on not only in my drawings and writing, but in my creative facilitation, my personal development, my relationships, everything. Indivisible. In particular, that opposites are indivisible, that they are connected by their opposition.  In the book I wrote about so much a few weeks ago, The Great Image Has No Form, this idea is explored from the point of view of transitions states like the haziness of dusk and dawn, or the slow lifting of a fog from a mountain.

I’ve worked with this idea before in various ways.  There is a game I invented to practice non-linear logic and free association, the “Opposite Game.” You pass opposites around a circle in the form of saying the line “the opposite of X is Y.” The next person picks up your “Y” as their “X.”  It is interesting when you look for the opposite of things like canaries (penguins? Rhinoceros?), computers (bunnies? Blades of glass?), thunderclouds (the milky way?), and states like the end of bliss (the beginning of terror) or the indignant refusal to vote (channel surfing?). You are trying to throw your thoughts far, as far as possible, to something as intensely different as you can think of, but still inextricably connected; an opposite.

Also, I’ve written about the inner separation of the first generation immigrant child, being neither from here nor there.

This kind of shape-shifting is a practice of forgetting and erasure of the self.  It’s brilliant as a coping mechanism: instead of a self (who can get hurt) one becomes a kind of mirror, an object. Instead of having a sense of my own needs and desires, I submitted everything to the environments I moved in.  I distanced my emotions from my experience of the world, and existed only in response to stimulation.  This allowed me to experience two completely different environments without having to explain one to the other.  I became the wall between my worlds.

-In issue 24, The Chicago Quarterly Review (link to issue on amazon)

We are separated from ourselves, split, cracked, torn in so many ways. Trauma, abuse, neglect, disappointment, distance, grief, divorce, discrimination, oppression, even by conscious choice, by choosing to be different than our ancestors and communities, there are so many ways we are pushed apart.  But we are also, at the same time, never apart from ourselves. We cannot be entirely cleaved apart along these fissures.

I want to write about this, but there is something else pushing on my mind, so I will return to it. I want to write about longing.  Longing, I think is a way that space is opened up between what is and the orientation towards which we intend.  Longing creates directions for the soul to trace its path on the world.  Longing is a well, and sometimes into that well a spring of fresh cold water can burst from the earth.  I’ve known so much longing in my life.  It has motivated me to grow.  Unrequited lovers, in particular, are those from whom I’ve learned the most.  Because there is a specific kind of blessing that comes from not getting what I want.  When I long for something and then I get it, it is often not what I hoped.  But when I long for something (in my case mostly someone) and that longing is never satisfied, then the space that is opened, that vast, glittering dark, fills with something else that comes into my life as a gift for opening in the heart and not for fulfilling.

This week I told a dear friend that I love him.  It was something I had been holding back from saying for some months, as we grew closer and more trusting, as I invested more and more energy into his life, into his work, into his interests and his survival and thriving. Love grows simply sometimes where attention rests, I think.  Eventually I could not hold it back any longer. The truth became so overripe it simply fell from the tree, oversweet and sticky.  As so often happens in these situations, he told me he cares for me a lot (he has many times told me he loves me, but I always knew it was as a friend, I wrote in essay ten about “just friends”) but is not in love with me. My initial reaction was inner panic.  What if I lose the friendship?  What if I am horribly grotesque and am impossible to love?  What if I have harmed him in some way with my desire?  But this morning I awoke from a dream with the realization that my love is not a sour milk that he has to throw away.  He seems to have withdrawn a little from our connection now, but I feel I can trust he will be back soon. Because my love is a gift. He may need space and I will need to change the way I have been relating, to relax my desire to connect with him as a lover, to drop expectation and allow a loving friendship the freedom it requires to live. And because the universe will come and fill the deep well in my heart which was opened by my longing, I’m always whole.

When I began my current drawing practice on Jan 2 2015 I was aching for something, so many things.  I was sick, broken, exhausted from work and travel and (a different) unrequited love.  I was spending days in bed with shingles, just sleeping.  The only thing I wanted to do was draw as I did as a child, to soothe myself by entering a world of my own making.  I began to scribble, to draw from the simple place of allowing.  Allowing them to be whatever they wanted. Allowing them to be ugly. Two and a quarter years later I have about 300 of these drawings. Last May I showed them to Khosro Behramandi, an artist here in Montreal, who runs a festival called Acces Asie.  When he offered to help me make them into a show I wasn’t sure what to think.  I wasn’t sure how to believe him.   He told me to go meet a woman called Farah Fancy from Le Groupe Herencias to see if she wanted to manage the show.  The next day I met her, at a little cafe called Coin B. She seemed to say yes, but I still couldn’t believe it.  Now, almost a year later, we are well into creating this show, have a wonderful venue, with opening night on May 10 2018 (save the date, my three lovely friends who read these).  The drawings had opened a space.

The word Indivisible is not just an adjective here.  It is the name of a space. The name of the place that is created in between opposites.  When we are split into opposites like home and away, safe and unsafe, love and hate, in this space is a flexible, invisible world that stretches and twists and contorts itself so that we can remain whole.  And out of this space emerge our dreams, emerge beings and landscapes, emotions and images.  This is the place I am exploring with my surreal, automatic drawings and the set and scene of the show.

I want to know more about how the self works.  I want to see the special instant when the dream maker conjures images, in their contortions that help to heal and seal the vast, too vast, particulate world of the self and keep it holding together until death makes it come flying apart and returns it to the limitless potential of the infinite universe. I want people to come to the show and witness the inner life taking flight.

In writing these essays, sometimes I find myself at a bend in the path, a place where I’m not sure what is coming next. I am at such a place right now.  I close my eyes and let my hands keep typing, the tapping of the keys, their smoothness, all allow me to believe in the rhythm of consciousness.  This morning I had breakfast with my friend Naava.  We began the morning with an argument as we walked to breakfast.  Fortunately, neither of us is put off by conflict, so we were able to get to quite a deep place.  Like longing, conflict can open spaces that are then filled by mystery.  I was telling her about my revelation this morning, that my love is not sour milk, or toxic sludge.  It is a gift, my attention is gentle and my insight is deep and I am a loving, attentive, creative interesting friend to have.  But being in love is something else.  It is connected to the body by attraction, and it is woven into the past by the threads of memory.  We cannot know if someone will return this kind of love.  It’s not the kind of human movement that is consistent or predictable, like eating, drinking, shitting, fucking. But I also know that there are other kinds of romantic love.  There is the kind that grows, like hair, inexorably, into old relationships.  There is the kind that comes and goes like waves.  There is the kind that burns not bright but long and the kind that is too bright for more than a single encounter.  My friend has told me so many times he loves me, and brought me so much comfort in that way, and showed up and shown me how much he cares.  It was easy to believe that he was in love, but when he has now clearly said he isn’t I realize that it was not romance.  There is no one-sided romance.  I suppose there is not one sided anything on this planet.  Everything that is has dimension, has shape, the visible and the invisible, everything that is has energy, emitting time and light.  No, if he does not return my feelings, then these powerful feelings must be something else, opening a space for the unknown to put down it’s bags.

By the logic of indivisible, my feelings are creating a split, out of which newness will emerge.  Though the process of this kind of cracking is excruciating, I know that it will come to beauty in the end.  Having learned to make the drawings, and the piano music that came before it, and the poetic freestyling that came before that, and the somatic and improvised dance forms that came after, and now making these essays, all in this same way of simply opening the gates and letting the soul flood forward; learning to open the aperture to allow the light to come through me, like in the famous two slit experiment that showed us that matter is both wave and particle, I am learning to participate in the justified and everlasting principle of creativity on this planet. That from opposites that pull apart a space is made, and into that space new beings can emerge.

I forget the importance of this aperture now and then, but those days, when nothing comes through, I feel clogged and heavy.  When I let it through I feel light and strong. I feel like how we used to see Wonder Woman stand, akimbo, with my thighs strong and gleaming and my third eye covered with a star.  The creative force that comes from my struggle to survive this sticky, stretchy, short thing called life is itself the life giver.

I told myself that the best way to rebalance the love I feel for my friend so that he is not overwhelmed and flooded by my desire and so I don’t have to panic about losing him into the eighteen-billion-eyed monster that is humanity on this planet, is to find myself a lover. Or maybe a few. It was a sudden lover, actually, who pushed me to tell him.  We had spent a few evenings together, and she had been telling me about how she would always “detonate” a crush, just tell the person, and see how they react.

The next day, after a sweet, sweet night with her, all I could do was cry.  I realized that in the stretchy indivisible place where loved/not loved had stretched apart with my friend for so long, a being had arisen, a fantasy I had attached myself to.  This is how I realized that it was time to press the red button and simply tell him.  I knew it would be risky, because how can you ever tell someone (especially by email and text message) all the nuance of a fantasy affair in which the apparition looks just like them, but isn’t?  I knew it might push the friendship to an edge, who likes to find out that they now have to be careful and that there is not a natural balance in the relationship?  And I also knew that it would likely end the fantasy.  Now, I’m in a place of tenderness, not sure what will happen next, but it is also a place of possibility, because the heavy mantle of the unrequited has become the bright zigzag of lightening with it’s accompanying rumbles from the sky.  Now that the arousal has been burst the air will clear and a new space will open in the indivisible.

I’ve always cried very easily so I am crying over this, but they are not the old tears. Over the seven years that I have been actively working on my deep seated (ancestral? Karmic?) rejection complex the quality of my tears have changed so much.   I even find their taste has changed. The pungent coppery salt of the tears of betrayal and rage when I would not be able to control the world and the people around me, when I would manipulate people into rejecting me to prove to myself that I was unworthy of love so that I could release these dank, stormy, tears, are no more.  Today, when I cried, I tasted a lighter salt and in the front of the tongue, something like bergamot.  A citrusy salt.  A change of the chemistry of the soul. Alchemy.

Healing.  I will always be someone who falls in love easily and deeply.  I will always be someone who explodes with anger and bursts with tears.  But it’s reassuring to see the flavours and hues of these emotions shifting.  As I lose the desire and ability to control myself and others I am gaining a finer grain, a truer rendering of the matter of my soul.  Faith.

It is the warmest day of the year so far.  Today, in the sun, I felt my skin deepen in its melanin and the wool of my sweater give off its earthy fragrance.  I looked into my journals because Shams told me a few days ago that I am becoming my future self.  A couple of years ago I had begun working through Jodorowsky’s Metageneology, and had uncovered a super-self that I realized was Star Woman, who is in many of my drawings. I wanted to find the first description of her. I used to write voice dialogue with her, as well as with Shams, but in the last six or eight months have not been able to. Shams says it’s because she has been fully integrated.  It was, for a moment, a bit disappointing to me to hear that I had attained this stage of maturity, yet I was still in the throes of unrequited love. But I’m not.  First, the love is requited, even when it is different and needs to be tuned so it can nourish us both in the proper way.  But second, Star Woman is not afraid to love without control. Which means she risks her heart.  She knows that love can never coerce.  When it does it is the opposite: fear.

When I looked into the journals I also remembered that another dream character had appeared to me a year ago.  It was a non-gendered character called Hamentot.  Hamentot, I learned in the dream, is the sovereign, the guide and protector of all my other parts. I’d forgotten about them, even though over the winter I had read Edward Edinger’s Anatomy of the Soul (as I mentioned a few essays ago) and been through a period of illness and dreaming (precipitated by the first intimation that this current longing I’m experiencing was not romance, but the opening of my being for something else) and had gained through going through all those stages the walls, brick by brick, one for each day, (as I sat on my hands for a month not speaking with this person), of an inner garden, a place for my sovereign self, my Queen to sit.  Today I realized that she has been waiting at the edges of my consciousness for a year, Hamentot, to take over the role that my ego has been playing, of governing and nurturing the multi-faceted rainbow window of my Self.

The River’s Nervous Surface

“Closer, at the base of the hill, fish and eels drew quick seams along the river’s nervous surface. From hideouts in the rushes frogs serenaded.” -John Keene

Instead of going to Toronto this weekend to hear Fred Moten speak, I ended up last minute getting to hear John Keene just around the corner from me here in Montreal, reading from Counternarratives and a new novel. When I told him that his writing inspired me to write these essays he asked for the url. So, on the off chance that he finds the little receipt I wrote it on…a couple of his gorgeous sentences to begin.

It’s midnight again. I don’t have my computer. I have a computer I bought at the big chain electronics store downtown which they told me to use while mine is being repaired. Not that they loaned it to me.  I had to buy it, but the sales girl signed the receipt so I can return it easily. This one is incredibly difficult to type on, and the space bar sticks. I fear this hour is going to yield much less than usual. There’s also the low grade misery I’ve been dragging around all day, for no good reason.  A day of little mishaps and neurotic musings in a life of abundance and privilege.  My misery repulses me from myself, which makes me more miserable.

I’m also at my kitchen table instead of my desk, because this ugly beast doesn’t fit on the desk.  I don’t know if any good at all can come of this hour.  I have to press the spacebar three or four times for it to respond. So much of the flow of the last fourteen essays is to the credit of a great spacebar.  It happens like that, so often, doesn’t it. You never can know the true source of your troubles or deliverance.  Not when it comes down to the details. I didn’t know how great that old spacebar was. How much of my rhythm and momentum were resting on it.

My thoughts can’t move at this pace.

I don’t want to tell you about my moody, grim day.  Too many of these essays have been in that diarist vein.  I have piles of diaries. Full of nothing.  The gassy spill off of my emotions.  I’ve always been susceptible to moodiness. I don’t know.  I don’t think I can pull this off without a working spacebar.  But my computer might be gone for up to three weeks.  I can’t wait that long.  I’ll lose the momentum I’ve gained here. My experiment will be ruined.

My emotions have had the better of me since my earliest memories.  In fact, my very first memory is of me screaming without cease for hours.  I was less than two years old, younger than my little nephew, T-bird, is now. I remember the sensation of the sound in my body, remember holding my mouth open. I remember clenching my hands closed. I remember when the breath ran out and how it would rush back in on its own.  I see my father in the doorway to the kitchen.  He is so tall. My focus in on his denim knees. But my eyes are blurry.  I have this memory.  Actually, I can go back in the memory to what came before.  The reason I was screaming.  The scream, though, I still consider the first, because it is ringing in my mind even now, thirty seven years later.

I have other memories like this.  Of my body in some kind of extremis. They are special memories, in the sense that they have a particular taste, a particular hue. There are so many kinds of memories. Each part of the body has a different way to remember.  The hands, the nose, the dreams (dreams? A body part? Interesting.  Like an organ?  Like eyes, but to see into the dark.)

Another memory I have like the scream is the day I first dislocated my kneecap.

Damn. I’m halfway done the hour. This feels awful.  I don’t know why I’m doing it.  My entire day has felt like this. Things I love are full of obstacles.  Today my speaker, my headphones and my computer all broke.  Today I went to Linda Rabin’s continuum class (a sound-and-movement somatic practice) which normally sets my whole body into shimmering light but today it left me feeling awful.  Heavy and misaligned, leaden, lumpy, grumpy, disoriented.  The other times I’ve tried this practice it’s been the deepest kind of illumination.  It’s a wonderful thing.  You begin with sounds, making syllabic sounds that are (to me) like the sounds the universe makes in its myriad voices. Whispered Ahhs, Puffed Cheek Os, the gruff sound of an espresso machine’s steamer (a kind of front-of-mouth gurgle), Shhhhhs, Eeeees. You use the sounds to awaken and relate the body to itself.  At a certain point, the Will recedes, and the body takes over.  Then, after moving without purpose, rhythm, melody, but simply following what seems irrational but is full of more  intelligence than all my books combined and yet which is unnamable. But, like memory, there are so very many kinds of intelligence. (What if I just write without spaces? Could I manage to add them all in during the thirty minute editing time?) But, once the body is speaking, the Will reappears, now a partner. It becomes like a call and response.  The instinct leading, the will responding.  The inner landscape of sensation becomes a place of its own, a place to dance.  But tonight did not feel like that at all.  First, I was already in pieces over the day and its weary ripples, but also we worked with the legs.  Linda said to me, after the class, the legs are hardest  to access with the sound. Indeed, I felt unrelated to mine.  Except that the old dislocation of the knee returned to my consciousness.  She said the legs are so imbued  with their habits, they are hard to reawaken. We just use them to propel us from here to there. I felt it.  Even with my eyes closed I could find no grace.

My parents put my brother and I into Tae Kwon Do classes when we were little, and living in Ottawa.  Our teacher was Mr. Phap Lu, now Master Lu, then he was a new Korean immigrant, a young man, short and shiny haired and broad-shouldered and boulder-calved, who was winning big competitions, and had a relationship with the founder of our branch of Tae Kwon Do (ITF). He had a wonderful humour, but he was very strict with the form and matter of what he was teaching us.  I was nine and Aron was seven. We loved it. I remember that I often felt overwhelmed walking into the group.  It was in a strip mall, upstairs, gray carpet, a wall of mirrors, the tenets and agreements high up near the ceiling.  Tenets: Courtesy Integrity Perseverance Self Control Indomitable Spirit. I still live by them. Oath: I will observe the tenets of Tae Kwon Do. I will always respect my instructors and seniors. I will never misuse Tae Kwon Do. I will be a champion of freedom and justice. I will build a more peaceful world. We said these weekly, then bi weekly, then for the last few years, three sometimes four times a week. I’m realizing just now how deeply they laid their routes in my body and soul.

I remember when I was ten breaking my first wooden board with a kick. It’s an incredible feeling.  As we approached our black belts, there were more and more boards, held together by three or four other students, two people holding the wrists of the two who gripped the boards, and sometimes a fifth behind them all, bracing.  Three, four, five inches of wood. Every year another was added. Spinning kicks, flying kicks. I think this shaped my creative imagination as much as any of my more esoteric experiences.  In fact, this is where we learned to meditate and visualize.

There are so, so many Tae Kwon Do stories I want to share! If only I wasn’t writing so slowly, and hammering helplessly on this spacebar.  Maybe next time.  And I wanted to tell you why I was screaming, when I was sixteen months old, so loud that my thirty seven year old self still responds. In fact, the scream was the root, not the reason but the root, of the rejection complex I’ve spent the  last  seven years working with.

I’m opening up more threads than I can follow in this piece. I want to apologize to you, my few readers.  Not being able to type means that the no-hesitation flow is impeded, and it’s affecting the thinking.  No longer the fiery whisk of a dragon’s talk to follow into the sentences.  Instead, I feel like I’m walking a very big, old, grumpy dog. Eighteen minutes left.  Ugh.

Well, the day of the dislocation was a Saturday.  I was eighteen.  I had short curly hair, and what I now know but did not know then, had a lithe, lean, fierce body.  We had earned black belts, maybe eight months or a year or so ago.  We were competing at the Canadian National Championships. We had been training.  For the black belt test we did a hundred pushups and a hundred sit-ups.  I can’t imagine it now.  Memory. And body memories.  That one is gone.  Why? I can recall that I did it, but I can’t remember how it felt. Maybe because the body wasn’t flooded with emotion. It was something we’d built up to over time.

In any case, on the day of the tournament I remember we were about to get into my parent’s car. I had to go upstairs to put on the freshly ironed top of my dobak.  I remember being in my bedroom, with the little single trundle bed that is still there, and looking in the mirror, and throwing punches and kicks to the soundtrack of Naughty by Nature’s Knock Em Out the Box. Which is pretty funny to me now, but at the time I was not being ironic. I was planning to win.

I remember before that, during the training for the Nationals, after running five miles (which even at that peak of my physicality was awful, I’ve never been a good runner, maybe that’s why the legs were so awful in Linda’s class today, I don’t know) after the run we watched some tapes of some sparring matches, practice matches that we’d done earlier in the week. In one of them, which I won by points, I had been kicked or punched in the face fourteen times.  Mister Lu was furious, of course, because I wasn’t blocking, but when I think of it now, I wonder how much adrenaline there must have been for me to not feel those blows.  I also remember the blows I took as a little child in the Saskatoon schoolyard, and how different those felt.

Only six minutes left. I resent this spacebar so much. There is no way I can tell you the story.  I’m going to try.  But I feel sad to rush it.

We got to the school, Pinecrest, maybe, where the tournament was being held.  It was a hot, sunny, muggy Ottawa day. I had been dating one of the third degree black belts, Mpinga Ngoy. There were two young teachers, pretty much the same age as I, who were about three years ahead of Aron and I in training.  Richie and Mpinga.  I’d been in love with Richie since I was nine years old, but I was dating Mpinga. Who was also an amazing young man. He was gentle, and extremely physically strong, and easy to laugh and tease, and an exacting but gracious teacher.  Mpinga taught me to kiss in movie theatres. He’s gone now.  He died suddenly on a treadmill two years ago. I don’t think he could have been forty. But, his sister, Cherrie, trained at a different dojang.  And she was my competition in age and rank (men and women competed separately.  She was my rival.  And, I think because I was dating her older brother, couldn’t stand the sight of me.  I decided to intimidate her.

I began leaping around, showing off the spinning flying kicks that I’d been practicing for the patterns part of the competition. (Rats.  There’s my timer.  I’m just going to give myself two paragraphs to finish this.) Cherrie was stretching, and glaring at me.

I felt it as I took off. A bad angle. When I landed on the sweaty lawn my foot slipped into a little divot in the grass.  I felt it slide down, then backward.  I heard a loud crack. It took about five long, slow seconds for the pain to arrive. It came from above me, and settled on me like ash or a smothering blanket.  I tried to touch my leg but I couldn’t. I didn’t know where to look. Aron and my parents were already inside.  It was Cherrie who came running up.  Are you okay?  Get me some ice, I said. I pulled my pant leg up.  I could see a lump on the side of my leg.  I could see the weird, unfamiliar shape of it. I don’t know what came over me. I put my hand under the lump and shoved my knee cap back into place. She ran.  She came back with ice, Tylenol and my mother. I iced it, and after about twenty minutes, I stood. I managed to walk into the gym.  I didn’t see Mpinga or Aron, but Richie was sitting in an empty ring.  I saw my dad in the bleachers, and mom went to join him.  I don’t remember if she tried to stop me from competing, or anything. I remember walking into the school,but the memory is all of the sole of my left foot. Nothing else.

Richie was judging. Cherrie sat down, I was up first. There was another girl with me (we did the patterns in pairs). I made the first move, which landed all my weight on my good leg.  The second one was the same on the other side. Crunch. I was down. Rich was beside me in a second, then I saw my parents, my brother, Cherrie all around me.  Rich was kneeling beside me.  Canyou tell me what happened, he asked.  I’m too embarrassed, I whispered. My mom said, an ambulance is coming.

Why was I so embarrassed? It’s always been that way.  When I’m sick, or injured I feel humiliated. I’m not entirely sure why.  It might come back to the scream, which maybe I’ll get to next time.

That was pretty much the end of a decade of Tae Kwon Do for me.  After my knee healed I kept going back too soon, and it never healed fully. I was never able to leap and fly and swipe my legs the way I used to.

The Air Above Our Tongues

The air above our tongues / prays for us to speak. -Ruth Forman     

It’s one minute past midnight on Tuesday night. I try to write these essays on Sunday evenings. But Time has been slipping through me lately, and I through it, of course.  My sleep pattern is starting to rock dangerously.  The way this week is galloping I want to write this essay now, though. I feel attached to this pole, this trunk, in my life. I don’t want it to slip away.  Now that spring is here the pace of the year is going to pick up.  But I know that if I stick to the things that matter most to me the rest will always fall into place. These are the things that make the shape of my life. I’m going to Toronto this weekend, to visit with Jarrett and hear Fred Moten and Robin D. G. Kelly speak.

I’d never heard of either of them until Laura had the idea for a small group of us to read Jarrett’s doctoral thesis together. It’s called Creative Combat. There is so much to say about it, even though as a group we have only reached the third chapter. It’s okay.  There’s something so special about reading in a group, I find I live into the readings so much more.

Fred Moten’s In the Break was one of the things J’s thesis introduced me to.  Also N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, which is easily the most beautiful novel I have ever read.  To be more specific, the world of House Made of Dawn is alive, the land and the sun are characters who wrap the whole story around and live there, it’s the most incredible effect.  Because the sky and the roads and the bodies are so alive, so present, it’s as if the Time of the book is alive, too, pulsing and rhythmic.

In the Break is also an extraordinary book. It’s a work of critique, and a chronology and a hymn and a devolution and a scream, but all of it so perfectly articulated, and so deeply coded that to read it (it’s a work about the depths and heights of Black American art) from my cultural distance is like watching a rainbow form and disappear in the sky.

The morning of the election of Donald Trump I saw this very phenomenon.  I was sleeping on the floor in the front room of Joel and Dana’s waterfront condo in Vancouver.  The one whole wall is windows.  And I had not been sleeping.  But that night, I did.  I slept through the night and woke up just as it was barely beginning. A trickster’s charming grin. It climbed from the horizon on one side and then travelled down to the other. And then the second one appeared.  I was leaping.  I was calling to Kelly who was upstairs, I was taking pictures, I was standing on the balcony with my arms out to it, I was shouting down to the street below, I was ready to weep. Since then, I have had that light with me as the news travels and the sickening march of illness and greed moves across the tickertape, the out-there, the in-here.  The mobius strip of the News.

Khari has been reading a little book called On Tyranny which I picked up since I love to read what he reads. Since I’m about two hundred pages into Stamped From the Beginning (also read first by Khari) and trying to read a chapter (they’re short) a day (before I pick up Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway—but I won’t get into that one in this session, I think.  I really want to get back to Jarrett’s thesis.  But the flow flows on. We’ll see where we go. I’m not writing as furiously as I did last time.  I cracked 3300 works in an hour last time. How? Tonight my hands are moving at a different canter), since I’m reading Stamped in the mornings On Tyranny isn’t very impactful.  It’s too easy to see through the whitened perspective of Timothy D. Snyder and see how closely he holds the founding principles of his country. How can he write a book against fascism and still have nostalgia for a government founded on slavery and genocide?

In reading the first parts of Stamped, though, I feel re-armed. It shows without a doubt how there was hate, and fear and suspicion and ignorance against enslaved blacks (I’m in the time of Abraham Lincoln currently) but that was NOT what entrenched the racism that created the heinous conditions of the current era. The racism doesn’t come from hate.  The racism is callous, intentional, morphing and it is connected profoundly, explicitly and continuously to the amassing of capital.  Greed. Oh, it’s a chilling thesis.

I push the cold light from his thesis through the cracks in my own integrity. Ever since I heard James Hollis say a couple weeks ago, “there is nothing in humanity that is not within me,” I have felt closer to my own hidden hatreds, my slippery ignorance, my quick defense of the worst parts of me.  I told you about the vampire, Uzl Rahl, in the last essay. The light from Kendi’s book stings and illuminates her.

What is greed?  It’s connected to the theme of my little Love Trio of the last three essays.  I came to realize that when I want something from the object of my love, well then, I love an object. And the love toward an object is a love made of control. Made of domination.  Made of taking. Made of greed.  No.  The anti-capitalist cannot HAVE love. Love is the first thing that must be free. Not naive.  Free.

In the little book On Tyranny, there are ten principles, he calls them lessons from the twentieth century.  They are lessons on how, as an individual, in the field of choice I encounter every day, in each changing moment, I can push back against the rise of fascism, of totalitarianism.  One of them, maybe the fourth, is “don’t obey in advance.”  In advance of being forced into a change.  Don’t go ahead and pillage your neighbour’s home because they have been detained indefinitely. Don’t. The fascists never thought of that. They couldn’t plan for your obedience, your vampirism, your corruption.

To express love as domination is to obey fascism in advance.

Corruption. Greed. One of the loveliest parts of Jarrett’s thesis, which is itself a work of art even as it offers readings of some stunning works and collections of other artists, is how he opens up the idea of the “abject.” I’ve found this concept very helpful in finding ground to work and live from in the last year.  The thesis takes the idea of the abject from In the Break, but in the context of Indigenous resurgence. Here, though, not having read it since last Fall, I can only tell you what the idea has become in me.

Think of the subject-object. This double is a spectre that you find just everywhere, as soon as you try to look beyond the thing “everywhere” is trying to be. Now put it in the context of the Empire, of the Imperialist, of the colonizer.  Now, imagine the power holder creating through extreme violence an enslaved body to re-produce wealth (through unpaid labour and stolen/enslaved babies). This relationship is not one way. While it is the specifically controlling and dessicative gaze of the power holder that instigates the bond, the subject looks back.  And both, in being bonded together by this relating, become each other’s insight, each other’s “projection.”  We see ourselves as if we are weak, less, tortured, unwilling, unworthy under that gaze.  Or as special, as different than our peers and cohort, selected and superior (that’s what Kendi in Stamped calls uplift suasion.  He makes a very, very important point with it, I’ll try to come back to it) But what Moten and Jarrett offered (in my reading at least) is a third space called the “abject.”  Abject is commonly used, as Jarrett breaks down, to mean utterly impoverished.  But here they imbue it with another meaning.  It means coded, hidden, kept back from the Imperial gaze. It is everything the colonizer, Patriarch, Mediator, cannot see. Because they come with the eyes of greed and they see with the fingers of transaction. They do not see the holy, the spirit, the ancestral, the magical, the personal, the familial, the oral, the moving. Like a doctor trained to work on cadavers, they are not prepared to intuit and to unite.

For me, my drawings belong to this realm of the abject.  I think that’s why they have been so healing for me.  It’s like reaching for a power that has not been conditioned, and corroded. In internalizing the messages from my childhood, and from the bombardment of images, words, and acts against my body I lost track of parts of myself.  The parts that could not be seen by the Gazer.  In my looking back I could only see what It saw. I became a mirror, flat and vulnerable to what stands in front of it. Painted on.  My name full of things that never belonged to me.  But these drawings go, as Jullien calls it in the Great Image, upstream from the formation of my “self” as an object.  Up before the selfness emerged. They go up almost to the edge, the event horizon, of the collective unconscious, the swirling undefinable mass of disidentity, of de-ontology, where all is all is thou is I. They pour out from there, I move with them, they appear.

The abject is more than that, though.  It’s also things that do not need to put into code, they are codes because they can only be understood from the inside out. The code is not a barrier, it is more like DNA, a set of instructions that are inextricable from the matter itself, self-existing, self-locking and self- unlocking, and you can only know them by being them. This is the throbbing energy upstream from ethnicity.  Ethnicity is not clothes, or prayers, or names, or facial features. It isn’t gurus or history or geography. Ethnicity, upstream, is a set of interlocking, interpenetrative codes  that exist before behaviour, before words. The DNA of culture. The messages that string, invisibly but everywhere, across the universe and time.

Wow. I don’t know where this piece went. Firoze, I know it’s been four weeks since I wrote a proper story.  This rambling-thought style is exactly what you cautioned me against, isn’t it? But to me, with these essays, while I want to write more stories, I do, the joy of these essays is that I’m not trying to make anything in particular.  It’s the same process as with the drawings. The essays can be ugly.  That’s the premise. They can be whatever they are. They have to stick to an arbitrary convention of time, one hour to write a half hour to edit, and that is it.  Otherwise, it is not an act of respiration. It becomes an act of greed, of control, of corral.

There are seven minutes left.  I’m glad I sat down to do this even though it’s almost one a.m. It’s the time that makes the trunk strong.  It’s just growing, ring by ring.  When Jarrett was here last I took my hour to write one, and he said, it’s that you show up.  When you show up, then the work has an opportunity to come to you. I guess that’s true of everything.  I see it in my life, now that I’m living alone for the first time.  All those years in community houses, it was hard to see what I was showing up for, in a way, because of the noise of other bodies, the immediacy of interactions.  Here, I see my dishes, I see my prayers, the piles of books, the pencil crayons growing short, the clothes as they get worn, the dust that gathers.  I see my Time, manifest around me, and I see clearly as if it was a big, husky mirror, what it is that I show up for.

Life could be short. That has been so much with me all week.  I could die tomorrow, tonight.  With the way the body has been feeling, the pain in all the joints, the headaches, the stomach aches, it’s hard not to think about it.  I went to see a naturopath.  Had the second appointment today. She is a very, very loud talker and there is an echo in her office.  So she was screaming at me, sugar is a cancer, sugar is a neurotoxin.  It was terrifying.  She gave me a diet that will apparently help. No sugar, no dairy, no gluten. Seems extreme, but then, I have been in some extremes of distress in the last little while.  I wonder if I can show up for that? Can I show up for my body and its well-being the way I show up for these weird little essays? Is that part of unstopping? I want a permaculture approach to the earth of my body.