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Archive for July, 2008

Last night, I was supposed to be amid 10,000 denim- and leather-clad headbangers, screaming, singing, and generally rocking out with Rob Halford, icon of queerdom in heavy metal, and his bandmates, icons of metal more generally. Judas Priest.

Alas, it was not to be. With my ex moving out last week, and me moving upstairs next, and a very full summer-schedule overall, these few days became the only opportunity to get Mica over to visit my folks for a few days and to arrange Meg’s meeting of the parents.

Instead of breaking out the leather, stepping into Dayton’s, and reaching back into the closet for the tightest and most torn-up jeans I can find, I entertained myself with a bike-ride along a country road, a scurry 35 feet up a tree to retrieve a child who climbed too high too fast, a few hours with a country-folk band on the beach, and a sunset over the lagoon while kids splashed and played in the old pipes that connect wetland to ocean.

Not the day I was planning a few weeks ago, but a good day nonetheless. And while I’ll admit to pangs of regret and a yearning for crunching guitars and operatic odes to rough sex around about 9:00, I was pretty damned content. Meg had changed plans last minute and was on her way up to join us a day earlier than expected, and knowing that I’d have my girl with me for the night was easily enough to compensate.

It’s been a challenging time for us lately, as you’ll know if you read Meg’s blog regularly. Not a bad time. Indeed, last weekend was simply awesome, as I wrote about here. But a challenging one, as we increasingly work to integrate our time with family time.

That means we need to manage a child’s schedule, and her mom’s, in a way we haven’t before. That means Meg needs to get used to even more shifting ground in the hows and whats of planning. That means I need to shift my sense of family from me and my child to me, my child and Megan. That means Mica needs to adjust herself to a new adult in her life while processing her mom’s move and a new home at the same time. It means all of us are stepping into a new place – a new set of relationships, a new set of expectations, a new version of ‘family’ that is only just beginning to be made.

A while ago I wrote here about a conversation with Megan in which we discussed this process as similar in some respects to the arranged-marriage. And I still think that holds. But we’ve moved from theory to practice, from the abstract to the concrete, and that’s not an easy walk.

Still, we do pretty well, for the most part. Meg and I both feel loved and cherished. We have loads of fun and awesome conversations and great alone-time. We are enjoying cooking and sharing meals, and both getting healthier than we have been, and finding we support each other well in that process. And Mica’s handling all the transitions incredibly well, articulating what she needs when she needs it, talking about what’s hard sometimes, but still stepping up to make this process successful.

Yeah, it’s got its moments of anxiety and tension, and we’re all struggling with our insecurities and expectations as we merge lives. But I’m hopeful through it all, because there is so much more love than hurt, so much more laughter than sadness, so much more promise than fear.

And this weekend, through all of this, missing a metal show ain’t the end of the world. There are many more concerts to come, many more opportunities to feel my ears bleed. And sunsets like this one, with kids swimming and warm salty air and a lover on her way…these are pretty damn precious.

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Canoes

Came over to the Island with Mica last night, Megan joining us this evening (yay!) for her turn at ‘meet-the-parents’. My folks live in Fanny Bay, but we instead went straight to Comox to see a fleet of massive canoes arrive as part of Tribal Journeys.

This canoe voyage sees bands from not only BC but also Alaska, the Prairies, Australia and more travel in a sea caravan to the Cowichan Valley for the 2008 Indigenous Games. Massive canoes, gorgeous canoes coming from all over, meeting in various communities as they make their way, so that by the time they reach Cowichan later this month there may be as many as 60-70 canoes travelling together.

Last night Tribal Journeys hit Comox. One part of my extended family is based here, including very close relatives of the second-cousins my folks adopted last year, so we joined the crowd on the beach to participate in the larger welcome. Always a joy to be around for things like this, and always awesome to put Mica more directly in touch with aboriginal communities and remind her that this is part of her family. Really, though, I am mostly just thinking of those canoes, and of these groups travelling masive distances in some pretty damn rough water. It’s something else.

Don’t have the luxury of a long post here. Also don’t have much good as images go. So do hit the link at the top of this page to see the Tribal Journeys blog. The pics below just come off my camera phone, so sure ain’t much to look at.

I also promise a longer post soon on something else entirely – the process of family-making. That, however, needs some time to write, and it’s time I won’t get on this trip. For now, then, crappy cel phone pics are all I got.

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Simply Awesome

Sometimes everything just seems right. And this weekend was one of those. There was stuff to do, and it was even a bit busy and stressful at times, but as I hit Monday and start a new week, Mica back with me after some time with her mom, I just feel so damn good about the last few days.

Friday was a too-late wake-up after a couple of nights out and a bit of tension between Meg and I, just cause we’re in a relationship-growing phase with many changes, and that takes extra care and consideration that we don’t always give each other. So, we opt to make it a long weekend to buy us some together-time amid what promises to be a pretty full couple of days.

Step 1 – the wedding present. My friend Colin is getting married in a couple of weeks, and while he’s sent out the registry we wanted to do something different. As he reads the blog, I can’t give the specifics here, but we found a couple of well-matched things that we both thought beautiful and suited for him and his partner, Marion. A day starting with success, and we wander out of the shop very happy with our selection, very happy to strike task 1 from the list, and very happy to be just down the street from our new fave brunch spot.

Mmm, eggs and hasbrowns and toast and lox and avacado at Theresa’s, a workers’ collective just around the corner from Meg. Crazy busy on weekends, but we can get a table just fine now, to celebrate our wedding find with a nice americano and the perfect lazy-day, sleep-too-late, ain’t-it-grand-to-not-be-working meal.

But the task-list remains, so now with bellies full it’s off to see if there’s anything in the dress shops that Meg might want to wear for the wedding itself or one of the wedding-related gatherings. And we stumble upon a few dresses by Kollontai, a Montreal designer.

Can’t find pics of the exact dresses on-line, or I’d include them here. But damn. Meg steps into the dressing room, Meg steps out, and I am overcome. Like really overcome. Like, ‘get-your-ass-against-that-wall-now’ overcome. It was fucking awesome. Megan got it immediately – she takes one look at my face and says, “Yeah, I have to buy this dress.” The salesperson takes one look at my face and says “Yeah, you need to buy that dress…And I need to start taking someone like him shopping with me!”

Then its home, with a couple of dresses from this line. I’m due back at the house soon to do a showing of the suite, but we have time for a little testing of various dress-plus combos. The red dress plus stockings. The blue dress plus fishnets. The red dress plus  high leather boots. The blue dress plus ankle boots. Both outfits with various combos of footwear and leggings.

I watch. I occassionally reach out, but mostly I watch. And that is fucking hard! Meg is amused by this, of course, taking a certain pleasure in making me squirm as she tries on a few kinds of damn sexy. And squirm ain’t the half of it. Cause what I notice is that a full half hour after this fashion show I am still trembling.

That’s a huge reaction. That’s not a run-of the-mill ‘you-look-hot’ reaction, it’s way intense. It’s a whole other level of desire, and one that, as the day went on and I got through housework and shopping and dinner and all, stayed live. And that, in my book, makes for a pretty damn good day all on its own!

Definitely the right start to the weekend! And set us up well for the next few days of success. I got a posting up for the suite I’m renting now that my ex is moving out, and found what I hope are some good renters within a day. A trip to Ikea to get a bedroom set for Mica’s room at her mom’s new place, and it’s paid for an delivery organized in about an hour. Some home-type work packing boxes and taking down pictures in my current suite, and things are looking pretty damn do-able. That checklist of chores is getting smaller, and each one just seems to fall into place quicker and easier than we ever could have hoped.

Now, of course, however successful a weekend of chores are, it’s still a weekend of chores. But we managed to get a bit more in. A few kilometres of walk/ jog around Trout Lake – the lake, incidentally, being the topic of Meg’s latest post for Viaduct, And an accidental-discovery of a great walk-with-stair-climb  just off the Baden Powell trail in North Van, complete with shade and silence, two things in short supply in Vancouver this summer. Damn, we’re feeling pretty good – hot new clothes, productivity, and exercise too!

So, with all that, there’s only one piece missing – good food and community-time. Friday sees a brief visit with Meg’s brother and friend, who are over for a football game. A little pita and humous, a little olive and feta, a few drinks. Perfect, simple, summer fare. But Saturday. That’s where the action is.

A very last minute BBQ – on-again, off-again planning for a few days – with a few friends from the hood, and a couple of simply awesome discoveries for the grill. First up, as appies, its a bruschetta skewer – cherry tomortos, focaccia chunks, and bocanccini wrapped in basil and arugala, just toasted so the cheese softens nicely and the bread crisps up. Damn that’s good. Some standard but fabulous BBQ fare – potato salad, grapfruit salad, fish and prawns and tofu and veggie skewers – that makes perfect outside eating. And then discovery number two – medjool dates, stuffed with chocolate and walnuts, grilled to crisp up the date and melt the filling. Fuck, this is just about the sweetest thing you can imagine! We weren’t entirely sure how it would work, but there is no question that we are converts! Finish off with fresh fruit skewers in a chocolate-whipped cream-espresso sauce and there is simply nothing that this meal lacked. (Meg, I confess, did the hard work – date and bruschetta skewers all her, while I stuck the chopping of veggies. Thanks, Doll – you are so fucking awesome!)

Yeah, friends and stories and food and laughing and East Van in the summer. Ain’t nothing like it, and this was pretty much the only weekend we have free and home this season, so it was great to take the plunge and throw a little gathering together while we could. And it’s definitely got me stoked for the real party whenever we can get that together!

And y’know, this was exactly what I needed in the weekend- quiet time for the two of us, socializing time, happy-cooking and happier-eating time, and through that all the ability to look back and say, ‘damn, we got all those ‘far-too-much-for-one-weekend’ chores done.’

Yup. Feeling pretty damn good today about me and Meg and summer and plans and our ability not only to manage some stressful stuff but to have fun and closeness with it. Simply awesome.

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I finally located a song I’ve been looking for for a while. Well, two songs actually. Abdullah Ibrahim, the South African jazz pianist, performing “Tula Dubula” and “Hit and Run”. Generally he was an instrumentalist, but here he sings of the anti-apartheid struggle, and armed resistance.

In the township afternoon, songs of their impending doom

The racists and their puppets are dying

Hit and run, hit and run, hit and run

Freedom comes from the barrel of a gun

Move like a ghost, we’re gonna hit you where it hurts the most

Boss, here’s your morning toast, bah, hit and run

When I was about sixteen, I played this song for my brother’s girlfriend, who was disturbed by it – raised a Quaker, she heard a glorification of violence, and I guess she was right. I got similar reactions regarding my support at the time of South Africa’s Pan-Africanist Congress, whose slogan then was “One settler, one bullet”.

I can’r deny the violence in those words. And I can’t deny that that was, to some extent, something I liked. I confess it’s true. There is a part of me that is in love with the idea of war. There is a romance there that I cannot shake.

Now, I’m not a violent guy. I’ve never been in a physical fight of any kind. I can’t watch movies with much violence in them – it makes me sick, it is not entertainment. I have an almost physical reaction when I hear people talk about violence they have engaged in. Not a pacifist, philosophically, but practically I’m about as close as you can get.

Nonetheless, everytime I go for a walk through the woods, I imagine a gun on my shoulder. I fantasize about guerrilla soldiers around campfires, moving silently, carefully, evading state security, planning that next dam explosion, bank heist or prison-break.

I’ve written here before about the community of Central American resistance fighters that I grew up around. I’ve written here about Nicaragua and the contra war and the fear and exhilaration of that time. And that history brings with it so many contradictions.

Funny, y’know? Violence was real for me. Civil war was real. The blood and guts and crying and the devastation of lives and communities. And more than that, the very real way that a life amid that kind of brutality destroyed so many of the good guys, too, acclimatizing them to violence, dehumanizing them.

I remember a time many years ago, a conversation with a woman who was like a second mom to me, who represented the Guatemalan resistance movement, talking about the emotional and psychological toll of armed struggle. Reports had come in of guerrilla fighters taking trophies of battle – cutting off the ears of the state terror squads they fought, in order to memorialize their victories. For some – including this thirty-plus year veteran of the struggle – this in itself was enough to raise the question, “Should we drop arms?” If this is what we’ve come to, if this is a practice in our fight, we have already lost our purpose, we have allowed our means to become our ends. The resistance has eaten us. We cannot make freedom this way. She was devastated.

That conversation is one I will never forget. That conversation did alot to teach me that the ways we struggle determine the liberation we make, that alternatives are not something we await in some future utopia, but are built in the every day of our relationships and our resistance. That conversation forever changed how I thought about armed struggle. No, I didn’t become a pacifist. But I certainly started thinking more carefully about what I was willing to justify and when. I certainly became a whole lot more critical of the Leninist mantra, “the ends justify the means”.

But despite that, despite the very real aversion I have to violence in just about any form, despite the traumas I’ll carry with me – or perhaps because of them – I can’t shake the romance. I can’t walk away from that notion somewhere inside me that says there is no community like a community built in the kind of intensity one finds in war. Those are bonds like no other. Those kinds of struggles are where we can become our best. Now, clearly, those moments are also where we become our worst, where the violence becomes an end in itself, where we see just what kinds of cruelty we are capable of. But also our best, where people lay down their lives for one another, where people keep going against all odds, where people establish the kinds of trust and love that only such intensity of shared experience can bring.

Yeah. It’s a funny relationship I have – a romantic draw to people’s war, combined with a really clear knowledge that people’s war is war in all its brutality, and that there is not a damn thing pretty or romantic or fun about it, and that more often than not the violence becomes an end in itself, and the strategies employed to resist seamlessly become strategies to discipline and govern. I have no illusions about that.

So, I listened to Abdullah Ibrahim again, after alot of years. And the songs still turn me on. But it’s a bit disturbing now, too. Not because of what they say, but because of how I react . Because I like it so much. And because I know better. I mean, fuck, all we need to do is look at the post-apartheid violence in South Africa to see an all-too-common legacy of armed struggle. This shit isn’t hard to find.

I know better. I know how thin that line is. But I can’t shake the romance. One of my many contradictions, I suppose.

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Today I am thinking of Steven Biko. Student leader and a central figure of the anti-apartheid struggle in the mid-1970s, Biko founded the Black Consciousness Movement. He spoke a very different language that that of the better-known ANC – a language not of multi-racial organizing, but of autonomy; a language not intended to bring whites away from apartheid-sympathies, but to stress African-ness. For Biko, there was no separating race from class in South Africa, so nor could there be a separation of race and class in the resistance struggle.

He was called a racist, a hate-monger, by the ANC as much as by the apartheid state, for his insistence on placing blackness and whiteness front and centre, his insistence that the liberation struggle was an African struggle, a black struggle, his insistence that white participation could do as much damage as good. Biko understood that political struggle involves real human bings, human beings who have histories and emotions and psychologies.

But his was no simple identity politics. It was something much more nuanced, about how political movements take shape at different points. This was no mean separatism, but something altogether different, articulating the need to form a viable political community among one sector before entering coalitions – simply because a coalition can only be successful when its members are equals. That is, Biko got that “non-racialism” is not the same as anti-racism, and is no sufficient response to the colonial or apartheid state. Biko got that the psychological legacy of instititutional racism involves a certain deference to those who look like, sound like, speak like the powers of state and capital, and that this acted as a barrier to meaningful autonomy in the anti-apartheid struggle.

There’s no “let’s be class-less” under capitalism. And there’s no “let’s be colour-blind” under apartheid.

When I was living in Zimbabwe, participating in some meetings of a village-based youth organization, I tried to get conversation going. A question would come up, no one would speak. So I would, Everyone would nod and indicate assent. Another question, more silence, so I’d speak again, with the same result. After a few rounds of this, my friend Max, who was facilitating the session, pulled me off to one side. “Shut up,” he told me. “You can’t participate in this like an equal, because you are not an equal. This is a country coming out of colonialism and white rule. Don’t you understand that when you speak they have to agree with you, whether they want to or not? Until each person in this room can tell you to fuck off, you need to walk carefully, speak carefully. Until each person in this room can tell you to fuck off, you need to remember that, while you may be a friend and comrade, you are also white, and there is no whiteness without power here.”

Wow. That was hard to hear. Max gave me a book of Biko’s speeches and newsletter articles to read, and then I started to really get it. Attacked as a racist for his endorsement of explicitly black resistance organizations, Biko responded to the effect: You whites have displaced us and taken our country, regardless of how you feel as individuals. Offers to share South Africa with you are not freedom. It is ours. We will take it. You may support our struggle, but make no mistake, it is our struggle. Who makes the struggle makes the liberaton.

Biko got that people make their own liberation, and that what freedom looks like depends on who makes it and how. He had no issue with the intentions and sympathies of white Marxists, or even white liberals. But he knew that a post-colonial freedom has to be defined by the colonized, not the colonizers. Biko got that black South Africans would never find liberation until they stopped caring about permission or approval from, or compromise with whites, radical or otherwise.

And Biko got the power of resistance – psychological as well as physical resistance – and its relationship to state violence. He knew how to find the hope in the most brutal represstion – because repression is always a last, desparate attempt to hold power that’s slipping away.

“If you guys want to do this your way, you have got handcuff me and bind my feet together, so that I can’t respond. If you allow me to respond, I’m certainly going to respond. And I’m afraid you may have to kill me in the process even if it’s not your intention.”

Don’t know why I’m thinking of Biko today. It just came out of the blue. But he was a huge influence on me at a very impressionable age.

If you haven’t seen Cry Freedom, do. It’s not the best movie going, but not bad. It’s Hollywood, and as a result focuses more on the white journalist touched by Biko than Biko himself. But it hits me hard nonetheless.

Steve Biko was murdered in prison on September 12, 1977.

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Home Again Home Again

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

A thirteen-hour trek door to door yesterday, from Queens to Vancouver. A tired kid, and a tired dad who also was one guy very very keen on getting back to his lover and partner.

New York – hot as hell, with a freakish wall of rain at exactly the moment we ran for the cab to the airport. But an awesome trip. Mainly, I think, it was just so good to have some time to connect with Mica, to just be somewhere new and wander together.

Three days isn’t much to get to know a city, particularly a city as massive as NYC. But I’m happy with the trip, and felt that at least we got a good sense of the East Village. Awesome food, the most notable being a Moroccan place called Mogador, that provides a brunch of eggs, falafel and humous with sweet, minty iced tea.

And the bookstores. Fell in love with one in particular – though the name is gone – that had a wide range of radical and just damn cool stuff. Tucked into a basement between a couple of tattoo and body piercing parlours, I perused shelf after shelf of dust seeking out neat finds for Meg, the most exciting being a signed first edition of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book. That’s just fucking cool to find anytime, but I was particularly stoked having just recently written up a post here about my own discovery of the Yippies.

So now it’s back into the routine, getting settled at work, catching up on messages and making plans to see people I’ve been neglecting, and getting moving on the internal house-move, which is coming up all too quickly. It’s gonna be busy the next while, but good kinda busy, me-and-Meg kinda busy, and makes me just plain happy.

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New York Update

Hot in the New York summer, even now around 10:30 at night. But somehow it feels good – perhaps for the beer, perhaps for the day that this follows, perhaps for Mica reading quietly beside me, perhaps for all of the above.

A simple post today, just a quick update on our day.

The morning was intended to be a ferry to Ellis Island. At one point the main entry-station for European immigrants to the U.S., this is where a part of Mica’s family begins its North American history, and the place that gave one branch of the family its name. Jews from Poland in the early years of the twentieth century, their real name is lost in history, replaced instead with something scrawled by a border guard at the time. So we thought we’d check it out, see the museum, talk a little about families like this and where they came from and why, explore the photos of textile mills that employed so many. But Lady Liberty had other ideas.

Apparently, Ellis Island is not such a draw. The Statue of Liberty is. So, New York tourism has combined the two ferries into one, meaning there is no way to explore Ellis Island without stopping by Liberty Island to look upon the green monster herself. Huh. Well, why not? A two hour wait is why not. Tourists lined up for hours to catch a glimpse of freedom’s pose. Fuck the ferry, we’re back on the subway, making our way to the Metropolitan Museum, located in Central Park.

Now, I’m not much of an art afficionado. Sure, I can appreciate a nice piece. Yes, I have a few artists I really quite like alot. But galleries are rarely my thing, and a few years back I was quite surprised at how much I thrilled at the Art Institute of Chicago. But Mica and I have recently read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a 1967 book about two kids who run away from home and camp out in the Met. So we wanted to see what they’d been talking about.

A gorgeous museum, no doubt. The ten-year-old was interested. I was interested. No small matter on either count. It’s a hell of a way from being an Art Institute of Chicago, in my book, but still quite an incredible collection and worth the visit. What’s most notable, though, is one piece that struck both Mica and I, to the point that we stood ten minutes gazing at it and commenting to one another. This is a piece I had never heard of, an artist I had never heard of, and a far from original subject – a woman’s portrait, plain and simple.

But damn what a painting. La Princesse de Broglie, by J.A.D. Ingres.

It can’t be captured here, and no print in the Museum did it justice. Something here, in the colour, simply blew both of us away. It’s the dress, particularly. I’ve never seen that colour painted before. And this artist manages to capture light and shadow on the fabric in the most perfect way I have ever seen. Wow, is all I can say. This is the kind of painting that makes a casual observer into an appreciator. Ended up the highlight of the whole day for me, and I never expected that walking in!

Following the Museum it was out the back to Central Park, where we sat by Turtle Pond, ate ice cream and lay on our backs watching the sun filter through the leaves of the trees. One of those rare days in which a dad and his pre-teen girl can sit for two hours and simply enjoy one another’s company quietly, calmly, because the space, the warmth, and a little well-deserved tiredness come together to facilitate some pretty natural connection.

It was also a place for other thoughts. From the moment I entered the park I wanted Meg with me, to lie on that grass by those lakes, kiss beneath the trees, row around in the water. Sickeningly-sweet images, and not the New York we would explore together at all, I’m sure. But damn I wanted that today. And I figure it’s alright to celebrate those romantical notions when they come!

Finally,  we meet up with my brother and sister-in-law and head to the East Village for dinner at an ostensibly-Cuban but more accurately pan-American place. Awesome. Simply awesome. Indeed, that whole neighbourhood’s great, and almost made me forget for a moment I was in the States. Radical bookstores, door after door of Latin American and African foods, tattoo parlours, seedy bars for bluegrass and gambling, and a vibrant street life as diverse as my own East Side. Nice. Not the New York I explored with Mica today,  but definitely one I would come back for.

All in all, a good day. A long day, a hot day, a tiring day, but one of those that ends with quiet, calm contentment. So now, it’s computer off, lights out for the kid. Tomorrow brings Broadway and music.

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