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Archive for November, 2008

Workaday Life

Madness. Yes, we are about to embark on a month of madness. And more than anything else now, Meg and I could really use a few days of downtime – days without work and union responsibilities and meetings and travel and all the little tasks that consume each day.

Meg’s just back from Ottawa, where a quick presentation for her paid job with Fisheries turned into an extended trip to get a collective agreement after the government decided it was going to push hard, as employers do, to get public service bargaining settled for the next few years. That meant not only several days added onto the trip – each day learning that she could not fly home tomorrow as planned – but also all the emotional and psychological stress that intensive bargaining entails.

She flew back Monday evening and went directly into BC Fed convention – not something that holds much appeal at the best of times! So it’s been a couple of weeks without a day off, with a frantic but so far unspecific schedule of union meetings across the province to present the tentative deal and move toward ratification by the members. Add onto that some long-standing personal commitments, the fact that Darren is still only recently out of jail and she’s had almost no time to catch up with him and help him get settled, and before we know it we’ll be into the insanity of Christmas.

Holiday season promises to be even more crazy than normal, as this year we are balancing two families in two different cities, and Mica’s birthday is just a week before Jesus-day. Plus school concerts, piano recitals, work funcitons for the holidays. Yeah. Gonna be pretty fucking busy – some good, some not, some work, some play, but busy all of it.

Me, I’ve been in bargaining for our staff agreement the last few days, after a month of waiting for dates. Good to be back at the table and moving forward, but meaning some longer work days and less time to get my regular work done in office hours. As some of the most thorny cases on my shoulders have all come to a head at once, it means I am spending even more time than usual on email and telephone in the evening and early morning hours. Luckily, insomnia helps – been waking at 4:30 or 5:00 every day the last couple of weeks, so while exhausted I am able to use that time to get work done.

Tomorrow I am off to Ottawa. I’ll spend the weekend in meetings formal and informal, then race back just in time to go to work and hit the Vancouver treadmill again.

Yup, all a bit much right now. But Meg has some kind of surprise planned involving a weekend away together at the beginning of January, and the prospect of that is going a long way to get us through the madness that December holds in store. Delayed gratification, perhaps. But that’s something I can handle. And Christmas holidays, though busy, provide much opportunity to start some family traditions of our own, and much opportunity to get excited about little gifts I find and store away for the next month.

So, really, not so bad after all, I suppose. It’s all about finding the sources of joy and positivity amid the noise pollution of workaday life.

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135iww

As we near the end of November, Meg is returning from the bargaining table, and I am about to take off for union meetings in Ottawa, with a fresh tattoo on my arm of the IWW sabocat – symbol of the wildcat strike and industrial sabotage.

I won’t write much myself today, but instead want to take a moment to remember our martyrs of the struggle – those few names we know, and those countless others in un-marked graves or left by the side of the road. They are in all times, in all countries, in all struggles, so what is here is only the smallest remembrance.

The IWW has long marked Red November, Black November – an occassion to recall all of those killed by state and capital – because that month, particularly, is the anniversary of some of the most notable murders, among them:

Nov. 22, 1886 – Thibodaux Massacre. Dozens of striking Louisiana sugar workers massacred. Newspapers of the day note, “Lame men and blind women shot. Children and hoary-headed grandsires ruthlessly swept down! The Negros offered no resistance, they could not as the killing was unexpected.”

Nov. 11, 1887 – The Haymarket Executions. Four leaders of the campaign for the 8-hour day in Chicago, Illinois, are executed by the state.  Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engle, and Adolph Fischer, whose struggles and murders are commemorated in the mural that is reproduced as the banner of this blog.

Nov. 19, 1915 – Murder of Joe Hill.  IWW organizer and author of countless labour songs and poems, Joe Hill is executed by the State of Utah on a trumped-up murder charge that even the US president of the day, Woodrow Wilson, didn’t swallow.

Nov. 5, 1916 – The Everett Massacre. Cops and deputies kill 11 Wobblies when they open fire on a peaceful crowd of 200 attempting to dock at Everett, Washington, for a free speech fight.

Nov. 11, 1919 – IWW organizer Wesley Everest, arrested after a confrontation between Wobs and Legionnaires,  is taken from his cell, castrated, and hung beneath a railway bridge. After his death, his body is riddled with bullets and returned to the jail to be laid on display as a warning to the other Wobs in custody.

November. A time to remember struggle and resistance, and captured by another Wobbly songwriter and poet, Ralph Chaplin:

Red November, black November,
Bleak November, black and red.
Hallowed month of labor’s martyrs,
Labor’s heroes, labor’s dead.

Labor’s wrath and hope and sorrow,
Red the promise, black the threat,
Who are we not to remember?
Who are we to dare forget?

Black and red the colors blended,
Black and red the pledge we made,
Red until the fight is ended,
Black until the debt is paid.

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The other day, Meg wrote a post about poetry and story-telling which was inspired by a commentary she had read – and read to me – that suggested poets have too much abandoned stories for word-play, making them increasingly inaccessible and irrelevant to all but a small segment of the population.

Now, I confess. I am one of those who likes wordplay, and it’s easy for me to get caught up in language when I’m writing, rather than to keep focused on the storytelling and let the language flow from that. But, as I’ve been thinking on this over the last few days, I’ve played a little with writing that begins with the story – not narrative, per se, but snippets of real life.

So today I have decided to post one of these exercises, just cause.

In keeping with plain-talk, let’s call it what it comes from: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, 1985.

there were frogs on the road each morning

hundreds of frogs.

like cow-pats, pressed flowers, hockey pucks, papyrus,

legs splayed on broken ashphalt,

tire-mark-writ patterns on their backs.

odd that at dusk we never heard their croaking.

there were frogs on the road each morning

hundreds of frogs.

for kicking, flinging, crunching beneath our shoes,

one-stop shopping for children’s pastimes from football, stone-skipping, ice-crackling –

or so it would be on another way to another school

some thousands of miles up this pacific coast.

odd that through the night we never heard them shrieking.

there were frogs on the road each morning

hundreds of frogs.

beneath boys in Mexico-made sneakers and too-short, pressed trousers,

beneath girls in bare legs and long-patched, fresh-cleaned skirts,

beneath skies whose post-card-percfect blue cracked open

now and then with rain or thunder or surveillance signals or bombers with no national markings.

odd that in the dawn we never heard their breathing cut.

there were frogs on the road each morning

hundreds of frogs.

but always by the time we’d sung the hymn of the revolution,

by the time we’d stumbled through sums and sandino and sport,

by the time we crossed again

passing the morning-time fishers home for lunch,

passing the teenagers scurrying, suckling, sliding in the brush,

passing the trucks rolling home the coffins, the cripples, the crazy,

passing the troops of trade union internationalists with eyes like Christmas morning and mouths like Good Friday,

passing the carts of tortillas and rum and fresh-ish eggs from Cuba (thank-you-commandante-fidel)…

by this time the roads were always clear

and how so many dead frogs can simply vanish in a school-day

seems, as i look back,

a disturbing kind of magic.

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For the last several weeks now, Meg and I have had a new ritual. Each night before sleep, we read a few poems to each other, alternating responsibility for the reading and the appreciating. We’ve shared favourites, we’ve re-discovered old volumes on the bookshelf, we’ve sought out or stumbled upon voices that are new or at least new to us.

Among others, Megan’s read me Margaret Atwood, Carl Sandburg, Al Purdy, Federico Garcia Lorca and pieces from literary journals new and old. My choices have included Dorothy Livesay, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Gary Hicks and lots of e.e. cummings.  Together we have read aloud poetry-stories ranging from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to A.A. Milne’s rhymes of Christopher Robin to the simply-awesome simplicity of Shel Silverstein.

It’s become one of our favourite moments of each day, and something we are commited to continuing – something that has each of us explore what we like and why, that reminds us to reconnect with old books, that inspires our own writing, that provides countless opportunities for little gists just because, and that gives us a real literary intimacy, a sharing that is almost conspiratorial.

Anyway, for the next few days, Megan is in Ottawa, meeting the pursestrings of the state plan head on. So we are without our ritual, and I am certainly noticing its absence.

For today’s post, then, I’ll share a poem I’ve just discovered, with Meg so many miles away and with anyone who happens by. It’s author is Gareth Evans, and I found it as a the intro to John Berger’s Hold Everything Dear – a set of essays on war and resistance that Meg surpised me with (just because) last week.

Hold Everything Dear

as the brick of the afternoon stores the rose heat of the journey

as the rose buds a green room to breathe

and blossoms like the wind

as the thinning birches whisper their silver stories of the wind to the urgent

in the trucks

as the leaves of the hedge store the light

that the moment thought it had lost

as the nest of her wrist beats like the chest of a wren in the morning air

as the chorus of the earth find their eyes in the sky

and unwrap them to each other in the teeming dark

hold everything dear

the calligraphy of birds across the morning

the million hands of the axe, the soft hand of the earth

one step ahead of time

the broken teeth of tribes and their long place

steppe-scattered and together

clay’s small, surviving handle, the near ghost of a jug

carrying itself towards us through the soil

the pledge of offered arms, the single sheet that is our common walking

the map of the palm held

in a knot

but given as a torch

hold everything dear

the paths they make towards us and how far we open towards them

the justice of a grass than unravels palaces but shelters the songs of the searching

the vessel that names the waves, the jug of this life, as it fills with the days

as it sinks to become what it loves

memory that grows into a shape the tree always knew as a seed

thw words

the bread

the child who reaches for the truths beyond the door

the yearning to begin again together

animals keen inside the parliament of the world

the people in the room the people in the street the people

hold everything dear

That’s Gareth Evans, in a poem for John Berger.

The feds might have their claws into you this week, but I’ll be damned if I’m giving up our rituals to them.

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Good Things

Been feeling pretty overwhelmed the last while. Not bad, per se, but unstable, like there’s so much changing and so many unknowns that it’s hard to really feel settled.

Housing questions, with the market such as it is and Meg and I planning a move-in sometime in the not-too-distant future. Parenting questions, with this family being made, as I’ve written about so much. Work questions, with a new Executive Director in the workplace and my switch from supervisor to union-rep – a very welcome change, and one far more comfortable for me, but one which is also changing the nature of my work and my relationships with folks in the office, elected executive and professional staff alike. Time issues, with work, child-care and union commitments always-changing, and making it seem we spend more time scheduling than living sometimes. Space issues, with it becoming increasingly difficult sometimes to get time alone, and time alone together.

So sometimes it all feels like too much. Sometimes it feels like one or other of us can’t keep up. Sometimes it feels like this madness will never slow down. Sometimes it feels like we just trade off being tired or frantic or both.

Last week was Meg’s turn for that. This week has been mine. So yesterday I spent some time writing it all out for myself, a couple of part-poems and some more general stream-of-consciousness writing. But that, it seems, made it all so much worse, no doubt because my writing exercise came out not so much self-reflective as a release of frustrations. Today, though, substantially better. And one reason for that is simply that I have moved from thinking about what’s overwhelming to thinking about what is hopeful.

There is a page on Meg’s blog titled To Live For – a simple list of things that give joy and meaning, things that nurture and sustain. Though I haven’t looked at it for a long time, it is my inspiration today as I remember that it is not so much what we think of but how we think of it, not so much what is happening in our worlds but how we make paths through those worlds. Today, I know that regardless of the logistical struggles that abound and ever-changing circumstances of day to day life, things are pretty damn good in the grand scheme, and I am better served by taking a moment to recall what gives life rather than what frustrates.

And so, in no particular order, a few of the many many things worth appreciating…

big skies over the grasslands of southern Africa, and watering-holes catching the light of the sun

love songs in war-time

fresh seafood, bunches of basil, and friends to cook for

a goodnight cuddle with a tired child

night in the public square of a small Mexican town

antique books with marbled pages and leather covers

William Blake

nights swapping songs of protest and struggle

lazy fingers exploring my lover’s shoulder and back

letters from across the world

the sound and sparkle of river-water

my girl’s eyes when she is all mine

heavy metal concerts in a black leather jacket and too much cigarette smoke

a perfect string of words in an old notebook

murals in public spaces

the moment at the mirror that shows sweat and exercise is paying off

waking up to skin on skin

impromptu community parades

wildcat strikes and knowing a union has lost control of workers’ rage

toys and ties and time to play

a canoe, a fishing pole, and a backwoods lake

trading rhymes with Mica

ghost towns

foosball and beer in a Zimbabwean village

ruins in the jungle

dirt roads to god-knows-where

Quebec bistros with mussels and wine

fingers touching under tabletops and other such simple reminders

Yeah. These are good things. These are things that lift. Ain’t all so bad, after all.

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After the Wait

Well. It’s about fucking time.

The US system finally got around to releasing Meg’s ex. So we’re chilling out last night , Meg working on some crafty stuff, me dozing on the couch somewhat out of sorts when a 9:00 phone call rouses us both. Darren’s at the airport, home in just a few minutes.

Wow. Weren’t expecting that out of the blue.

Check that the sheets are clean. Open a bottle of wine. Confirm that we have food in the fridge in case he’s hungry. Then sit and chain-smoke and wait for the cab to arrive.

It’s been three months since he completed his sentence. Three months of being shuffled through various detention centres when by all rights he should be free. Three months of wondering and waiting and ups and downs in the hope department. So it’s about fucking time.

Needless to say, today I am thinking about freedom and incarceration, about the anticipation of release, its moment, and the aftermath, and what a strange and overwhelming experience that is. Today I am thinking about struggle and resistance and the triumph of will. Today I am thinking about memory and loss and the ways the past lives in the present and continues to shape futures. Today I am thinking about Meg and what constellation of thoughts and feelings she must be sorting through. Today I am thinking about Darren and his first day in open air, without locked doorways, ever-present state violence, and the transition to civil space where power is less visible, more decentralized.

Yeah, my head is a bit of a muddle. My chest is a bit tight. I want cigarette after cigarette.

It’s not a bad day, by any means. It is, though, a day that focus and intention are elusive, with thoughts and images bombarding me.

The end of a  very long chapter. A long-awaited freedom and all that implies. If I am this affected, I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like for those so much closer.

One of the moments you wait for and wait for, but whose arrival is never exactly how you imagined it.

But here. Finally. It’s about fucking time.

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November Days

Fuck it’s been hard keeping this blog up lately.  Between daytime breaks devoted now to the gym and free evening hours to a holiday project, I’ve done absolutely nothing for quite some time, and have had a few people on my ass about that lately.

Well, in an effort to find fresh ways to disappoint, here’s a post, but one that doesn’t say a hell of alot and promises to be of no interest whatsoever.

It’s mid-November, and I’m not entirely sure how the hell we got here so quick. Christmas and Mica’s birthday now only a month away, and I’m woefully-behind on planning. Expect it to be tricky this year, as we try to juggle multiple family commitments both on the Island and in Vancouver while also working out a reasonable schedule for the holidays with my ex. Mica’s birthday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day – each needs to be managed for fairness and ease and take into consideration what Meg and I want, what my ex wants, and what Mica wants. Yeah, gonna be a fun set of negotiations, I’m sure! However, it’ll also be a good test of how things are progressing on the parenting front and what we can expect over the next year.

In other stuff, Meg and I are talking more and more about living together, and what the timing and logistics of that might look like. With the housing market what it is, alot is less certain than a year or so ago, and how exactly the financial crisis will impact our own plans remains to be seen. We also need to consider the impact of whatever we decide on other people, most notably Mica and Meg’s ex, who will need a place to stay for a while whenever the US immigration system finally decides he’s done enough undue jail-time and let’s him come home. But for all of these questions and unknowns, we’re getting excited, and nothing lights us up more than to find a new perfect little home on the listings and imagine together what we could do with it to make it ours.

That, of course, is all about the formality of living together. In real terms, we’re getting there already, as we are now together the vast majority of the time and all adjusting to a bigger family and a changed home-life. Mica’s dealing with having another adult around all the time, and the growth of that relationship into something more permanent and more present than “dad’s girlfriend”. Meg’s adjusting to kid-based rhythms as well as the ups and downs of kids’ attitudes and levels of engagement – not to mention a tremendous drop in the hours she has for herself and friends now that we’re in this new world. And me, I’m still learning how to negotiate all that, to find ways to give Meg the place she needs in our home and decision-making while also trying to make sure I’m pretty consistent in my relationship with Mica so that she doesn’t experience dad’s relationships as a change in her place in the home. It’s all very confusing sometimes, and I’m sure I haven’t managed to articulate it in any way that makes sense. But you get the picture – it’s upside-down and inside-out and a whole lot of people with a whole lot of feelings trying to figure out what our new family equilibrium looks like.

In quick news, Meg and I were in Ottawa for the US election, which we watched with folks from her union bargaining team. We celebrated what’s important and significant about this election while maintaining a healthy dose of scepticism about any real fundamental change Obama will bring. But were interested to see the general reaction of Canadians – upon Obama’s election, shouts and cheers were heard up and down the street as folks hit their balconies and street-corners to celebrate the end of the Republican run. Was like the reaction to a hockey victory, something one would never see inspired by a Canadian election.

Last weekend was busy, with a burlesque fundraiser for Pivot Legal Society, an informal gathering of PSAC folks at the WISE Club, and then an afternoon with my mom to see “Bruce: the musical”, a play by Bob Sarti about Downtown Eastside activist Bruce Erikson. A fun little show, and one that I’d certainly recommend to people who are connected to that scene in any way. Meg is teaching Mica cross-stitch, and Mica’s liking it so far, having already produced a little piece to use as a card for her friend’s birthday this weekend. We’re reading aloud to each other, poetry before bed, ranging from Sandburg and e.e. cummings and unknowns (to us) to Milne’s Christpher Robin verses and the Canterbury Tales. An awesome ritual, in my book. And we work, and we volunteer, and we write, and we read, and we try to get out to socialize and have drinks at least once a week. And that, my friends, is about it these days.

In work, not five minutes ago we got word that our members have passed a dues increase which will take some pressure off and allow us to rebuild our legal reserves. A new Executive Director starting Monday in my old job, so that will be interesting. Too many really fucking crazy-demanding cases on the go at the moment, and a Dean who is acting more erratically than normal. And bargaining our first staff collective agreement continues…

An exciting life? No. A busy life? Certainly. But a good life, and one that is at once frantic and low-key, work-a-day and creative.

So. There you have it. The requisite update I’ve been pressured to provide. And all without a lick of anything remotely interesting to anyone.

I do promise to get back to it. Actually have a few posts that are half-written, and a list of other things I want to write about. It’s only been time and laziness standing in the way, and I commit to doing something about the laziness, anyway. Til then, the details of my mundane, sometimes-confusing and yet entirely happy life will have to suffice.

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