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Archive for August, 2008

Nope. Not Writing.

Well, after a couple of months of this, I think we can say it’s official. While Meg and I are hugely encouraging of each others’ writing, and while we can develop ideas and projects and write together, we are certainly bad for one another’s discipline. Both of us have seen our posts drop way off this summer, only cropping up intermittently and only when we spend a day or two apart. We’re aware. Aware that we’ll need to find ways to ensure we build time to write into our days if we’re going to be together more often than not, as it appears will be the case, Almost enough to make one miss work, and the built-in screw-around time that provides such fertile ground for blog posts and reading the news and so on.

We have not been writing. We have been travelling. Alot. Most recently Quebec City, with today as a brief pause to unpack, do laundry and re-pack before heading to the Sunshine Coast for a couple of days. It was, then, to be my blogging day. A day I’d spend a couple of hours, think about something amazing or amazingly-fucked-up or simply demanding a rant and get it written up and posted.

Alas, twas not to be. No, instead I spent my writing time on just-for-fun projects, had several long hot baths to help my bones recuperate from too many days involving several hours of walking on cobblestones and too many nights in a shitty hotel bed, and generally lazed around my house doing nothing of any value. My dog appreciated that, I’m sure. And my body certainly appreciated it, which is good, too. But my brain? My creativity? Anything remotely connected to my politics? No. These parts starve today.

And that, he said, is that.

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We look out the hotel window over the Plains of Abraham, the St. Lawrence loping along one side, three-hundred year-old cathedrals and row houses jostling with chain restaurants along the other.

I arrived a few hours before my luggage last night, early enough to meet Megan after her first day of union convention and have a drink and appies with PSAC folks from across the country before heading off in search of dinner. We skipped the tourist ‘hood for Cartier Street, its line of bistros and bars serving a primarily-local clientele. Lovely dinner of scallops and prawns and venison, and we are so happy to be in Quebec! And then, a little pub where we find a quiet, dark nook to start our drinks, soon to be joined by a few older and drunker Quebec nationalists who recognize our spot as the prime place to smoke some hash.

What follows is a couple of hours of laughter and ranting in three languages – Spanish being the one we revert too when their decent English and our pitiful French fail us entirely, and hand gestures won’t do. What you expect from an alcohol-fueled conversation – some knee-slapping and sex-talk, some work and personal stories, some jokes and well-intentioned slurs. And frequent trips into nationalism and Canada and the ongoing fascism of the English, initially to let us know our place, but increasingly as the night goes on to bond over, as these two Anglos seem somewhat sympathetic to the cause.

Yup. A good first night in this town, spent in exactly the way we wanted, far from the crowds here for the McDonald’s and Celine Dion version of 400-year celebrations.

And this morning, a breakfast of good strong coffee and mounds of fresh fruit, leading Meg off to another day of resolutions and interventions and votes, leading me off to the Plains of Abraham with a notebook and a fresh pack of smokes.

I don’t normally write here the sometimes-stream-of-consciousness, sometimes-poetry ramblings that fill my Moleskine, but today I can think of no better way to capture what’s in my mind. And so..

It couldn’t be more grey without rains

But the Jardin Jeanne D’Arc bursts with fragrances yellow and violet.

Mostly, though, there is the orange-red of fire in these beds,

Each petal licking at my fingers where I scribble.

Somewhere here those farmers, furriers, fishers

On whose throats stood Montcalm and Wolfe

Lie scattered together, arms and legs and bits of steel

In this dry, dark earth.

Yes, one statue reaches past her puberty here.

Yes, one table invites us to recall that fascism makes a country more than any railroad.

But more than that, it’s something in the maple taps and the sweet sticky syrup on snow

That still tastes of blood

Thick like history, salt like our three oceans.

The bees know.

Fidgeting and flitting in the yellows and violets,

They find their rest and their nectars in the oranges and reds.

The bees know what grows these Plains of Abraham.

The bees know who nurtures and how.

The bees tend to deeper memory.

Yeah, not great poetry, but it’s a pretty accurate picture of my head-space in this place this morning.

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Released, says the headline on Meg’s blog today.

 

Darren is officially out of the cage that has held him, and now sits with immigration cops while they decide when and where to spit him out this side of the border.

 

I’m thinking of Megan. Trying to imagine what this must be like, as a whole other life comes back before her. Not unanticipated. Not unwelcome. But hard. Never what the imagining looks like. Much memory, much loss, much love, much grief.

 

Mixed feelings on her end, I am sure. A former lover, with whom she shared what can only be described as a pretty fucking intense history, back for reunion and catch-up and all the things that need to be said and could not be before now. The prospect of sharing a home again, in the midst of just getting used to sharing someone else’s home – many questions about space and self and where we belong. And trying to sort all this out while also dealing with a current partner, and one who – though he tries his damndest – doesn’t always make it easy, his petty jealousies creeping up at exactly those moments she most needs him to just love and support her.

 

No. Not an easy time. And there will be sadness and confusion and hurt, and possibly some anger, too. 

 

I know, though, that there will also be joy. There will also be excitement and healing and laughter and much to celebrate. I am, then, working hard at keeping these first in my mind. God knows Meg deserves that healing, and deserves the release that this other release might bring.

 

As for me, I’m going to escape into my other brain for a while. Go academic, go theoretical, do some reading and some writing and some thinking, and then escape from my brain altogether, and spend my evening with drinks and a little Motorhead, a little Hanoi Rocks, maybe some Dragonforce if I’m feeling the need for something particularly frenetic.

 

All therapeutic. All good.

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Struggling a bit these last days. And out-of-the-blue struggling, too.

Meg’s got an ex whose been in jail for some political actions in the States. He’s due out very shortly, and needs a safe place to land when he leaves the cage behind – a roof overhead, food to eat, and folks who care. A total non-issue for me, generally, this is something we’ve known and talked about since we first got together, and though the day has come ever-closer, I’ve still been feeling pretty OK about it all. Actually, not anxious in the slightest, which has been a happy surprise.

Perhaps, though, what has been really happening is that his release and move-in with Meg is all still just theory to me. Knowing myself, I don’t have a consistent way of reacting to these kinds of situations. There are times I will be fretful and anxious and turn myself inside out just anticipating a difficult scenario. But there are other times that I just don’t even confront an issue at all until it is right on top of me, and feels too overshelming to deal with. So, not sure here whether to interpret my feelings thus far as a denail of what’s to come, a real feeling of peace with it, or simply an inability tell at this stage what might be easy and what might be hard.

Now, clearly, the fact that I am writing about this indicates that it is indeed in my consciousness, and something has shifted a little. And that comes about as athe result of a late-night talk which arose out of a casual comment that Meg was thinking of a trip away for a couple of days with the ex sometime after he arrives. There will be much to sort out, and the kind of discussion that really needs some space, some distance from the madness of the world, and lots of time for quiet.

Yeah. I totally get that. However…

Bang. All of a sudden, I was a bag of insecurity and fear and anger. All of a sudden I was facing that timeless dilemma – to say I am uncomfortable with something, and make myself a barrier to my partner’s wishes, or to keep quiet and potentially feel resentful down the road? That is not an easy one. It is a no-win scenario either way. Yes, the ‘processing’ approach would be to state my fears, but make it clear that they are irrational and my own responsibility to deal with. And this is indeed what I tried to capture. But really, though that may all sound good, the fact is that in such situations either the partner will go ahead and act in way that hurts, or the partner will opt to drop her intended plans, leaving both parties very aware that the insecurity of one has become a burden on the other.

Fun stuff. I would rather not have any fucking part of it. Alas, I’ve got it, and it really was inevitable that at some point this would come up. Indeed, I know it’s been an issue already on the other side, as my ongoing work with my own ex has put Megan in exactly this situation on a number of occassions. In those cases, it’s been talk and some tears and some frustrations for both of us, but we’ve muddled through and always come out more loving for it on the other side. Gotta give that to Megan. She was incredibly patient with a really fucking untenable situation for many more months than was reasonable.

But clearly it is now my turn. And that means alot of thinking, alot of reflecting, alot of talking through things both with myself and with Meg. And I guess, more than anything, what I’m feeling right now is a fear less about the ex getting out, less about Meg and what that means for her – cause obviously it will be an emotional time – and more about my own lack of confidence in my ability to handle my own shit appropriately,

Hence the challenge. It’s down to me. Down to me to communicate where it’s hard, but to do so in a way that doesn’t make Megan responsible. Down to me to remember that intimate friendships do not lessen a love. Down to me to remember that my own situation has been far from easy, and there have been plenty of moments Megan has had to deal with her own jealousies and insecurities about pasts that continue to live with us in the present. Down to me to emphasize the love and the caring and the closeness we have. And down to me to remember how fucking hard it must be on the other side of this. To process all the mixed-up emotions that come with such a reunion. To work through the legacy of arrests and imprisonments. To come to terms with a friendship that’s been in limbo, because how can it be anything else when it’s hunted down and locked away for several years?

It’s change. And it’s a challenge. But while a few nights ago, when it first caught me so off-guard, I felt overwhelmed and afraid, yesterday and today I’m feeling capable, I’m feeling loved. I’m feeling like this is nothing too big for us, and like this is a process that we will work through together and support one another through. Yesterday and today, I’m feeling up for it.

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Among the kids and swims and car trips to and from ferry terminals, art and activism always manage to find ways to insert themselves. A couple of Sundays back, while visiting my folks. we heard that a number of local artists wee opening their studios for a little walking art tour of Fanny Bay. Mostly, of course, this would mean your standard coastal landscapes and wildlife watercolours, but it was a chance for a walk and something different, so while Mica took off on a bike with her cousins and my dad, the rest of us – mom, Megan and I – went for a wander. We didn’t expect great art and fascinating characters.

The route we walked took as its turning-around point a place locals refer to as ‘The Wacky Woods’. This four acres is the back portion of a place owned by Pat Help and George Sawchuk. George has long stuck little oddities in the trees behind his place – wooden books with interesting messages and quotes from various philosophers and thinkers, deer antlers, industrial cogs and wheels, old tools, commentaries on oil and machinery, capitalism and religion – and he’s cut trails through the trees for people to explore this gallery-in-nature. A favourite outing of the kids in the area is to wander through the Wacky Woods, see what’s new, and leave little messages for George in the tree designated for that purpose. It’s a neat spot, and, from the time I first saw it, one I clearly knew to be managed by an oddball character of some sort. But the open studio gave us a chance to go inside, have coffee and cookies, and get a little studio tour and alot of conversation with George.

George Sawchuk. Born in Kenora, Ontario in 1927 to socialist parents from Poland and Russia. As a kid, he attended a Catholic school and spent after-school hours and Saturdays studying Russian language and politics at a place run by local Bolsheviks. Catholicism and communism, then, provided the cultural landscape for his life, and remain the central images in George’s art.

After grade six he quit school and started his life as an itinerant labourer in steel plants, logging camps, fishing crews and more. He continued reading and studying Marxism on his own. Red political theory, a life of work and nature, Catholic schooling and active engagement in the union movement became the constants in a life that wandered geographically, professionally, economically. But as George read and studied and kept his communism, 1956 happened. Then 1968.

Yeah, 1956 and the Soviet invasion of Hungary. 1968 and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. But something more, too. In 1956, George was injured in a steel mill accident when a pile of falling metal crushed his leg. He lived and worked with the pain for years, until it was finally amputated in ’68, leaving him one-legged but painless for the first time since his twenties. He also began accidentally exploring art. With the first installment of compensation for his lost leg, George Sawchuck bought a chainsaw, and took to carving nooks into trees, placing into these small wooden books with simple political, spiritual, ethical messages.

George’s art is all about trees and tools; nature and industry; workers and capital; religion and state; sex and denial; desire and repression. A trunk carved out to hold a conch shell behind bars, a keyhole below, and no key in sight – The Convent. A hammer and sickle embedded upon a log, a crucifix in their shadow – The Trinity. An apple in a dark hollow – Temptation. A bowl of red rice, hammer and sickle as utensils, Mao’s Little Red Book nailed to the table – October 1st, 1949, the founding of the People’s Republic of China. An axe and broken shackles – Northward Bound. A cunt-shaped carving with a rosary on a keychain – The Bride. And my personal favourite, which George shows me while talking about the WTO protests in Seattle and the need to drive a stake through the heart of capitalism – a stone, a spike run through it, a crimson-painted hammer. The Red Hammer. Check some of it out on his webpage.

We had a good visit with George Sawchuk, talking about my union work, Meg’s union work. commies and radicals and shitty bosses and crap jobs for low pay. George is clearly in his element, the old worker, the old pinko telling stories to the younger ones, revelling in the attention he gets for his stories and his person as much as his art.

And so it should be. These are our elders, this is our history, this is a merging of art and sex and politics and resistance that is all-too-rare. There are many who stop by this place and just seem amused by this character. There are too many too quick to write him off as an odd relic of the past. But damn. I love this place, these stories, and this guy who is here and now and not giving up and never afraid to call capitalism for what it is. These are the people, the places, the pieces of art and life, that nurture and inspire and give hope.

Thanks, George Sawchuk. And damned if I don’t want to buy some of that art, something like the Red Hammer that is beauty and history and struggle and personal story all at once – that is art not for the wall, not for a picture book, but art to build a home, a garden, a life around.

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Well. it really has been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. Things have been pretty busy, so there is lots to catch up on, but I am finding that holidays make for less blogging, not more – probably because I generally write posts up during slow periods at work. In any event, as it’s been so long I’m a bit unsure whether to put it all in one post, or write a few. Guess I’ll leave that question to be decided by the writing itself. We’ll get something here today, at least.

Last week was the trip to the parents’ house in Fanny Bay – Megan’s first meeting with them, and the first time that Mica, Meg and I all travelled together. It was a family visit – pretty casual and laid-back, kids running around and adults chatting idly, reading books, with a few moments found for hikes and ocean swims. I found, leading up to the trip, that I became quite excited by it. There is something special in introducing a love to the family, something about bridging worlds, giving the folks a glimpse into where I am now, and giving Megan a glimpse into where I come from. That was pretty significant for me, and I found myself surprised by just how much it meant to see my partner and my parents talking over coffee about the downtown eastside, processes of gentrification and resistance, books and kids and home renovations, unions and the great Canadian regional divide.

Needless to say, all went swimmingly. My dad doesn’t talk much, but putters around doing chores and crossword puzzles. Mom is pretty quiet, too, but she and Meg talked quite a bit, and I found that I was more an observer than a participant in much of the discussion. That was awesome, seeing that there was interest and commonality here on both sides, and that time together came as easy as could be hoped.

And Mica seemed to handle it really well. Doesn’t hurt, of course, that my folks are raising kids around her age, so there’s lots of play-time to distract from any uncertainty she might be feeling. But she was relaxed with both of us, and made a point of giving Meg hugs before bed. It’s gotta be rough for a kid, to watch a parent’s life change so dramatically, to have a new adult introduced in such an intimate way, to process the natural feelings of guilt about her own mom. So of course there are moments throughout that are hard, uneasy, a little standoff-ish. But generally we seem to be adjusting well – all of us – to a world very different from the one any of us has known before.

Since that weekend, it has continued to be busy, with the move to the new suite being handled in a protracted period of time. But we are in, we are settled, and we are making a new home with a place for Megan in it. That’s pretty special, to see her things in this space, to have her around for the everyday of board games, bedtime stories, and wake-ups. Mica is still coming to terms with all this, I think, as having dad’s girlfriend in the house regularly is very different from seeing her intermittently. But we’ve talked about Meg being around more, and making sure that there’s lots and lots of time just for the two of us, and she seems to trust pretty well that her place with me is secure and things will be just fine. Megan, of course, is adjusting herself, to the very different rhythm of life with a child, not to mention regular negotiation with said-child’s mom about plans and schedules. For someone used to being on her own, making her own decisions and setting the terms of her own life, that’s gotta be a major shake-up. And I know that she finds it hard sometimes, and then worries that in finding it hard she is causing me distress. Really, though, she is just fucking awesome through all of this, and I am pretty amazed at how smoothly things are going overall.

So, meet-the-parents, move-the-house, adjust-the-adult-child-relationships – that should be plenty for a couple of weeks. But no, indeed, there was more. My friend Colin got married in Sooke last weekend, so we made a trip over there for a few days.

A fabulous barbecue with friends in Victoria who are always a joy to see and spend time with, a brief visit with Meg’s mom and dad, and then it was off to our little cottage on the ocean. Nice. The cottage itself wasn’t anything exciting – formerly a cold-storage for fish during the owners’ previous professional lives, it was mis-shapen, awkward, and small. But the location! Right on a stone beach, with a hot-tub just feet from the high-tide line. Each night we’d return from wedding events to sit, sip wine, and listen to the waves, with warm water around our bodies and cold air on our faces. Fucking perfect.

Wedding was nice – small, at the bride’s parents’ house, a massive seven-bedroom thing overlooking the water. There was good food, important words of love and support, and all the core elements of a traditional wedding. I had a bit of a meltdown watching Colin go through this – mainly, I think, because I have very few close friends still living, and male friends in particular. But Meg held me, and encouraged me to speak to Colin about it and let him know how important knowing him has been, and that provided a cleansing and a therapy I obviously needed.

Yeah, a weddding, lots of activity amid an already over-booked time, but we still found exactly what we needed as a couple. A walk up the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, to find the site Meg broke her ankle some years ago. (Check out her write-up and photos here.) A short hike, and two hours of picnic and photos and holding hands on a gorgeous stretch of beach with mad waves, crazy rock formations, a sea-lion in the surf and two bear cubs, a yearling and a fresh new cub. That’s the west coast. That’s the magic of this part of the world. And that’s something that is really made perfect in the sharing with a lover. That’s the kind of place, the kind of day, that instantly refreshes and rejuvenates.

Well. Mica is waiting for a turn at the computer, and the catch-up portion of this blog is complete. More to come, on more specific things, but this, I hope, at least parially redeems my neglect of late.

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