Thursday, January 24, 2019

Thursday January 24th 2019.

Losing specific memories isn't just a protective act.  Sometimes our brain holds on to things, in secret - to surprise us with them later.  And in truth - I like that.  For someone whose brain chops out large parts of their past events, it is good to believe that perhaps my brain likes to balance that remembering out.

Recently, I was leading a discussion on Resiliency and self-care.  The discussion turned to giving space and time to other peoples' self-care acts - and I told this story:

I am no stranger to insomnia.  As a child, I would suffer from the worst sleepless nights.  While some children could knock themselves out with a mere pillow, I could never sleep.  Oddly enough, even at the age of 10, I caused myself the worst anxiety about it.  The resentment I felt toward my sleeping friends and family is something I still sometimes feel.  (though I love the sound of snoring - oddly)

At that time, our family lived in Germany.  We lived there for four years.  Those years appeared to be the happiest time of my parents' lives.  Something about life there seemed to ignite something in them that I'd admired in them since. 

What was also noticeable about Germany was that Canadians and Americans had more of a disposable income - or perhaps the tax rules around things there made stuff cheaper there; Canadians and Americans collected more stuff in Germany. 
Part of what my dad collected were component stereo systems.  Reference sound amplifiers, CD players, Reel-to-reels, large, ugly (though sometimes beautiful) speakers - and all of it seemingly cheaper than back home.  

And he was protective.  With good reason.  A 10 year old child had little appreciation for the fragility and cost of such things.  (though it didn't stop my sister and me from singing duets together when they weren't home)

One rule was that we weren't allowed to turn the stereo on, without permission or accompaniment.  It was delicate and expensive stuff.  My father even had a science to turning each component on. (Pre-amplifier, Amplifier, components, Television.)

For the most part, I tried to follow Dad's rule.  I did break it, though I felt sufficiently guilty for doing so.   I think. 

But I never hesitated whenever it came to my insomnia.  Through all the years of rocking myself to sleep, talking myself to sleep, getting up and sneaking out into the town at night, no technique worked as well as cartoons at that time. 

The problem was that we had to turn the stereo on in order to get sound through the VCR.  .

At any given night around 1 or 2 am, I'd spend minutes on each button.  First, the Pre-Amplifier - listen, wait.  Then the Amplifier, listen, wait.  Then the VCR, listen, wait.  Then the television. Listen. Wait. Then put the tape in, listen, wait.  

After about an hour of sneaking around to do this, I would run the tape, lay on the couch, and wait for sleep to catch me.  Then when sufficiently tired, I would get up and go to bed.  

Only that I don't remember ever going to bed.  

Or how I got to my own bed.

When I was 38 or so, My sister confirmed that Dad would find me, and carry me to the bedroom.  Nearly every time.  He never gave me shit about it - and he always let me do what I could to get to sleep. 

This - this is my favourite picture of him, my dad.  It's of him carrying my nephew, Jonathan - roughly 5 or 6 years later.  It was always my favourite - 

Only now, I finally remember why.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sunday, Jan 6, 2019

In one of my poems, I ask - how many people follow their dreams?

This is a trick question, because the question can be answered multiple ways, depending on your culture.
I see two ways to answer this.
The first, (as I have been raised) sees dreams as a goal, as something to attain, complete with struggle, difficulty, and a goal of some kind.

Want to become published?  Work hard.  Struggle, stay up late at night.  Work Harder.  In the end, you may or may not succeed.  In this, you are the product ... of your product.  Your hard work made this possible.  Because, after all - it's a hard life, living in this world.

This is - of course, a lie.  We know that if my skin colour were any darker, I would have to work harder than others to maintain the same reward.  There would be opportunities not available to me.  I write this knowing that I'm an Indigenous person from another territory, not easily recognized as Indigenous here in Ontario.  I write this having had some of the privileges of being educated and raised in a European dominated world.  While the statistics won out, and I had a difficult time (as they say Indigenous people do), I did have access to things that my blood cousins and siblings did not.   In the very least, who I am (as viewed by others) determines my chances of 'success'.

The question then is - who determines my identity, and how?

Am I a bunch of nominative forms, where labels point to information of how 'those people' live?

Does OCD doom me to a life of cleanliness and compulsive locking/unlocking behaviours?

(The answer is no)

Does Complex PTSD ensure I'll never have meaningful relationships?

(hell no)

Does my indigenous blood ensure that I will be moulded only by the tragedies in my life?

(You should be smart enough to answer this on your own)

The second cultural interpretation of dreams is this - that dreams are an expression of your existence.  They are a naturally occurring phenomenon, a product of you and your place in the natural world.

 If you live, you dream.  Cease dreaming, and ... well-

I'll tell you a story:

When I returned home to my parents after a year away, severely underweight, involved with the wrong crowd, and generally being a fuckup, my father's daughter arranged a small sit-down so that I could come clean.

I told him, "Dad, I'm a vegetarian, addicted to coke, and I'm gay."

His response was to accept two of those things, and to get pissed off about one of them,

"In my house you will goddamn well eat meat.  Even if I have to force feed you, you will eat meat."  I love him for this, and still smile at that moment.

The lesser known part of this story was how I witnessed my dad work very hard to incorporate me into his world, in his own way.  Through tears, and many incomplete thoughts, he said:

You are my son, and I love you.  My door will always be open for you.  You will always be welcome in my home.

Later, I heard that he still struggles with understanding it.  But he never harms me - and he never asks me to not be myself.  He is, quite simply, my father.  And acts no differently toward me.

That's acceptance.  He doesn't challenge who I am.  He accepts me.

My queerness is as natural a thing as my hair colour.  Is as natural a thing as my dreams.

Dreams are not something to be won or fought for, like any other aspect of identity.

Rather, they are something to accept.

Someone once told me that you never disparage a naturally occurring thing.  Ever.  Which makes me wonder ... which of these is better?  The world of challenge, or the world of acceptance?

So when I ask how many of you follow your dreams, how you view that question is a testament to the culture you're in.

Knowing this,

How many of you follow your dreams?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Endaayaan - My home

Why Land Matters

Take a look down every now and then, to the concrete around you; And look at the cement beneath your feet.  It’s a little odd, isn’t it? Concrete is itself stone; crushed, reformed, mixed in with other larger bodies, and laid down in liquid form.  Then it hardens, holding on to a single property it had (hardness), yet wholly different. It’s funny how even the land upon which most of us stand is displaced, shaken up, and reformed into something it’s not.
This is in a way how we are as people. We too, are often removed from our homelands, shaken up with others and placed down in different form. And the expectation is that perhaps we will harden this way, and never change.
But that is not who we are. We cannot be re-formed into another image of ourselves and kept that way.
In light of this, I ask all of you:  Who are we?
Is it that we are a product of our families, and how we become a confluence of our parents’, siblings’ and Aunties’ expressions, opinions, and beliefs? Perhaps.
Are our identities then a product of our unique experiences? Are we a product of ourselves then? Is the shape of our being pounded into existence by our interactions with the outside world? Really?
When someone is asked who they are, surely there’s enough material out there to point to. There are countless identities that a person can fit into, and the limit of that identity is truly what they feel fits their own perspective. I myself can say I am Aboriginal, Canadian, An Albertan, Queer, Two-Spirit, a Man, An outreach Worker, a Writer, a Teacher, and a Storyteller. All of them are true in that all of them bear some form of truth for me, and my sense of identity. Any person could now write my Bio, and include any one of these titles, touching a small semblance of truth in any one of them. But would that person know everything about me, and know the full sense of my identity? No.
I am far more than label, any statistics Canada categorization, and I am most certainly larger than any box that can be made for me. This is because every event I’ve experienced, every story I’ve ever heard, and every person I’ve ever met is a part of me. They are all parts of me that will never leave. Conversely, every event, person, and story retains a piece of me. These are the footprints that I leave wherever I’ve been.
In this, the land on which I stand also bears some of the memories of my existence. Wherever I’ve been, the context of the world I’ve experienced are a cardinal point in my existence. Where I felt my first kiss is as important to me as the feelings my lips translated for me. The house in which my father and I reconciled is as important to me as the work it took for us to see past our differences. The house I spoke of held my tears, my happiness, and all the anxieties I felt when imagining the man I was about to become. In this, places are sacred to all of us.
Now, if you take such places away from me, a small part of those beautiful memories die. And when you take a piece of memory, the foundation of that memory becomes a little shaky. It is the same as if you take the forest away from a person and replaced it all with concrete. You remove their world, their understanding of place, and you remove part of who they are. We are lost.
This is why I am afraid. I am afraid because there are youth in our country (particularly in the north) who are fighting to keep this vital sense of who they are. The lands on which generations before them lived are changing, being removed, or even being destroyed faster than they can adjust.
I am writing about Youth like those in Grassy Narrows, who stood in front of the Ontario Legislature Toronto on June 2, 2016 to raise awareness around the Mercury poisoning in their river.
I am also writing of the youth in Attawapiskat, who – like those in Grassy Narrows are calling on whomever they can to help them reverse the rise of Suicide attempts and Suicide ideation in their communities.
I am writing about the youth of Iqaluit, whose world was thrown into turmoil by a forced relocation, and the decimation of their culture.
I am also writing of the countless other youth on reserves, and in the North who fight the same battles, but whom Canadians are not yet aware.
I am writing for every Indigenous youth who fights to survive in a world who’s concept of culture looks nothing like the land they – and their ancestors – grew up on.
I am writing for every person who seeks to protect what they have. Their land. The sacred place on which their culture, memories, families, friends, and entire world is meant to thrive.
In this, it’s my hope that all Canadians can pay attention to the lands our youth hold sacred. They are not stones to be crushed, mixed, and reformed into something hard. They are people – and they have the right to thrive in a place they hold in their hearts, a land that holds them and their memories sacred.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Grow Old

“You have a yellow fleck in your eye. Have you noticed that?” You said that once, yes? Women are easy to remember, and yet I only remember that about you. I could say there was a smell to you, or perhaps a particular gait for which you stood out to others. Or maybe you are the sort of woman who wears back seamed nylons to the office. Perhaps boys snickered when you passed, and keys fumbled the hands of men getting into their cars. But time is an acrid black smoke and so much has passed between us.  All I can remember is your voice. Shit I can’t remember your voice, just that it was your voice that put the yellow spot on my mirror around which this old face grew. Why don’t eyes wrinkle?
I have to lift my neck to shave it.  Applying my shaving cream now makes the noise that my razor used to. There’s a race going on – and I don’t know which will win, my nose hair or my neck hair.
Concrete sidewalks are difficult for me. The uneven slabs rise quicker than my legs can compensate. It's like I'm walking on piano keys every day, except that they’re not black and white. They’re grey, slabs of grey. I fear. I fear and question which one will release and rise ahead of me to kiss my toe. Pavement kisses the face like I heard people in Glasgow do. I’ve traded the fear of losing my teeth for the danger of choking on false teeth. Do you still have yours, I wonder?
We’ve fallen from a world of grass and flowerbeds into nails and hot irons. Gleefully they remake us into this – skin trying to cover bones and losing in the process. If only. Just give me the clarity to remove one distant memory from this past of ours. I grow old I grow old. Groans now issue from my knees and hip – pushing past my fake teeth like peanut butter and honey.
If I could pluck a moment from time’s needle I would sit and try. Try to remember your face, and the coolness of your cheek on mine. But all I do is remember what you said. You have a yellow fleck in your eye. A flickering yellow shard sitting underneath water – nestled in white. The softest flesh I have, still easily preserved. And you noticed the imperfection.
Come back to me, so I can point out yours.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Avoided, Averted

This was published in the fall 2008 edition of Yellow Medicine Review. It's a very early poem - thought I'd put it out there. Again.

Avoided, Averted

Somewhere between St Augustine
and Nunavut
Someone created a policy
of Fear.

Somewhere in the hallowed halls of our history
is a room made for undesirable things.
behind mahogany doors
teak tea carts, folded table cloths
and discussions on another Indian Summer -

The remains of our lives lie still

Wrapped in the event horizon
of side glances
averted gazes
and ellipses not of our making.

Nestled deep in these cities
lay pockets of fear and worry
cradled in a nest of infinite density …

Tip toe past
Breathe lightly
Do not disturb the dividing line -
Of undesirable things

Place all your fears,
All your weapons
Place all your waste,
regrets and hesitations

On the other side.

Reserve a place for these things
Keep them with us

Maintain a steady stream
of your fears –
circling around in perpetual accretion

And as the candescence of ignited waste
Lights this world –
We will reveal your reflection to you

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Coffee. House. Memories.

At eighteen I walked into a coffee shop-  while my conscience was just begging to escape the shell I'd built for it. Back then, I could feel every person and surface from inside the pit of my stomach - the kind of sensation only a teenager could have. It seemed fitting then, that the first thing my eyes were trained to were the walls ...

Brick walls
A couch on the landing
Where an older man sat
And smiled – I was undone
While his girlfriend watched from the bar

I sat on the balcony
With close friends who were aware
That our return downstairs was anticipated - 
By eyes eager to see how we moved in our youth

Whether we did it smoothly
Were confident
and Calculating – 

Whether we moved like water:
Flexible and insistent
Strong, smooth
Soothing to those who might
take us in

Brick walls
Couldn’t keep the ghosts
Of long nights, moving lights, house music,
Or the recklessness of young bodies:
Fast. Fickle. Temporary.

As we left we passed
A vase holding biscotti
- that no one bought

And a sign that read:
“The bread that goes both ways.”

(Java Coffeehouse – Victoria BC 1996)

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Grasp the frigid air
Directions pulled out
Of a liquid slowly dying

a starburst of water
A branch of light crystallized
Amidst darkness

A soft movement
A dance played out in fractal precision

Elsewhere, uniform shadow
Reveals the same -

Liquid and night
Caress each other
With the precision of careful lovers

That couple in solitude
While falling to a canopy

of one hundred billion similarly captured lights.