Posted by: Dan | November 6, 2018

October Reviews

Discussed in this post: 8 Books (Modernism and Fascism; Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia; The Second Sex; Gender Trouble; The Spinning Magnet; The End; New Poems; and rest in the mourning); 4 Movies (Hereditary; Marrowbone; Suntan; and The Edge of Seventeen); and 3 Documentaries (People of the Po Valley; The Dawn Wall; and Generation Wealth).

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We ride bicycles until the trails end and follow creeks to culverts, under roads, far away, vast domains.  At night, you are a king in a castle and I am a knight in a tower.  We battle giants and talk with dragons.  In the winter, we go to school along a road with no sidewalks.  The slush and ice from the plows are often as deep as our knees.  I walk on the side closest to the cars because you are my little brother and it is part of me to try and keep you safe.

And I try but you have always been courageous.  Hitting ramps on rollerblades, crashing and scraping and bleeding and going back again, over and over again, until you had learned how to fly and how to land.  Standing up to the bully who was mocking the knock-kneed kid in class who never bothered anyone.  Doing the flips I was always too scared to attempt on a trampoline.  And now, trying to wring some good out of massive institutions, convinced that you can be a part of making the world a better place, convinced that things don’t have to be this way, convinced that they can be changed, convinced that you are changing them—you are still battling giants and you are doing so optimistically.

But still, in my heart, I want to keep you safe.

At the start of high school, it was you who first introduced me to the people who would become my friends.  In our room, after our parents had kicked me out, you put up pictures and items on my now empty bed, as an act of grieving, love, remembrance, and rebellion.  In all my years of talking to people about the ways in which lives are devastated by homelessness, you were one of the few who listened and took it all very seriously.  And when I forgot my keys and came home late from work and was terrified to ring the bell or knock because I didn’t want to wake my father and face his wrath, you were the one who opened the door after I threw gravel at our bedroom window.  You weren’t too happy about it, but you did it.

In your heart, you want to keep us all safe.

I know this, although your heart has often been a mystery to me.  A mystery and a wonder.  This man who speaks with quiet confidence was a king inside a castle, this professor being quoted by scholars and journalists was a boy using tap water to part his hair in the middle, this advocate calling for love and attention to the most vulnerable members of our community was sleeping beside me at our grandparents, making blanket forts, barricades of pillows, mountains and river valleys in the bed sheets.  We created lives, we created worlds, we created safe spaces and love—we created them out of nothing.

And you haven’t stopped.  Only now the blanket forts you build are other people who care, and programs, policies and community development projects for people experiencing poverty, people experiencing homelessness, and people experiencing domestic violence.  I’m proud of you, Giantslayer.  I love you.  You’ve got this.

(But if you ever get tired, if you ever feel doubt, if you ever feel you don’t, I’ll happily take the side of the road closest to the cars for a little while more.)

Posted by: Dan | October 8, 2018

September Reviews

Highlighted in this post: 8 Books (Eating the Sun; Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony; Decolonizing Methodologies; Half a Yellow Sun; The Lover; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; Jerusalem; and Hasib & The Queen of Serpents); 4 Movies (The Karamazovs; Old Czech Legends; Marketa Lazarova; and Eighth Grade); and 3 Documentaries (London in the Raw; The Most Unknown; and Blood on the Mountain).

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Posted by: Dan | August 31, 2018

August Reviews

Discussed in this post: 9 Books (The Master and His Emissary; One Plus One Equals One; The Soundscape; The Undiscovered Self; A Room of One’s Own; Minima Moralia; Whereas; The Spy Who Came in From the Cold; and Sabrina); 3 Movies (November; Thoroughbreds; and Happy End); 7 Documentaries (No Stone Unturned; Operation Odessa; When God Sleeps; Radio Bikini; Tawai; The Road Movie; and The Devil and Father Amorth).

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Posted by: Dan | August 7, 2018

Akin to Peace: A Birthday Card for Ruby

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I only need to pretend a little bit to believe that the sound of traffic outside my window is the sound of the sea.  But when I walk that street at night the lights from the hospital, the rivers of headlights, and the overhead wires illuminated by lamps, block out the stars and the sky looks like the sun is starting to rise but I know it’s just light pollution taking the night sky away from me, like the concrete under me stopping my feet from walking on the earth, and all I smell is gasoline.  This used to be a forest but all I see are buildings, streets, and the expressions people make when they realize you’re looking in their car windows as they hurry, hurry, hurry home.

There are little grey birds that live high in the mountains of Iceland and they sing the sweetest little grey songs and I was surprised to hear them up so high where the snow still hasn’t retreated and where almost all one sees is rocks and mosses and minerals and ice, and all one hears is the wind and the thundering of glaciers so large that they bury whole ranges of mountains, but there are spiders there, too, and I imagine the little grey birds sweetly gobble them up as the spiders scurry, scurry, scurry home.

I went camping last week with my kids and two of my brothers and their kids and I couldn’t hear traffic and I couldn’t hear the sea, and the birds, the grackles and crows and jays and sparrows and other birds whose voices I didn’t recognize, sang and talked and called and squabbled, and I thought about what the soundscape used to be before the land where I live was urbanized like a reef bleached white and emptied by rising ocean temperatures, and I wondered if I was catching a glimpse of how things might have been, once upon a time, or if these birds and their songs were only present at the campground because of the people and the wake of garbage they leave behind.

Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason why some of us love our children so dearly is because they are the only solid point of connection to Life and the Living we have left.  We go to jobs where we are paid to waste our lives, stay out of the way, accumulate credit and debt, never do anything significant, never disrupt anything, in cities removed from the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and feel of the land, and then our children crash into our lives like an apocalypse fresh from the Spirit world, so bursting with life that their bones are literally stretching and we think, Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God, and cry tears of gratitude in cubicles haloed by neon lights.

I used to want to make something of myself. Teachers and bosses and mentors and peers had great expectations.  Great expectations.  The greatest.  When I was younger, I internalized these expectations and they oppressed me.  A few years ago, I shrugged them off.  These days, I’m content to be just who I am.  A father, a lover, a fighter, a friend.  And a disappointment and a failure, too.  But, also, I am stardust and earth and water and air, carbon and iron and helium and calcium and adenosine triphosphate.  I am everything and forever and nobody and nothing and soon it will be as if I never was, although Life will continue living and I, too, endosymbiont and ecosystem that I am, am alive, alive, a Life.

When we were camping, we celebrated Ruby’s birthday with a unicorn cake my co-worker made and presents from a kids’ clothing brand called “Justice.”  She’s seven now.  She likes to say, “I love you just the way you are,” and she sleeps in a hammock I made for her above her bed.  On lazy summer mornings, she likes to cuddle me after she awakens.  I still rub her back at night and, in a world awhirl with wars and rumours of wars, she likes to do chalk art on the sidewalk.  And what matters more than all these pretty words and the love letters I write her, are the times I play with her.  Play, for Ruby, seems mostly to be an opportunity to rejoice in the company of others.  She rejoices in them and in herself.  She laughs a lot when she plays.  “I love me just the way I am,” she says.  “Oh my gosh, I do, too!” I say, and I tickle her neck with my moustache and she squeels and runs away from me.  But she never runs very far.

Shortly before celebrating Ruby’s birthday, Jess and I went to Iceland to hike the Laugavegurinn.  I was transfigured by our first visit to Iceland in 2016.  I don’t know how else to call it.  My insides shifted, my outsides became more porous.  I blurred into the everything even though I also felt more solid than ever before, and I felt a sense of connectedness and interconnectedness that made me tiny and made me vast and made me real and made me belong.  It was this sense of belonging — both in the tiny, brief “I” that I am and as a part of the everything that always has been and always will be — that I carried back with me.

I’ve been abused as a child and abused as a worker and abused by the people who most say they want to help.  And while everyone in social services takes great offense when people try to “abuse the system,” nobody seems to heed the fact that it’s their very own bosses who are the worst abusers as frontline staffing levels are cut and wages are frozen and benefits are canceled and people with the most acute needs are boxed out of services and I ain’t never seen a boss miss a raise or take a pay cut in all of this, but if you don’t sacrifice yourself until you’re no longer brave enough to get out of bed, then you’re selfish and not a good team player.  But the truth is that people can’t abuse the system.  It’s the system that abuses people.  It’s the system that doesn’t belong.

And I’ve been listening to AJJ a lot lately and singing along with my fist in the air and when he says, “there’s a bad man in everyone no matter who you are/ there’s a rapist and a nazi living in your tiny heart/ child pornographers and cannibals and politicians too/ there’s someone in your head waiting to fucking strangle you,” I nod along and I know what he means — not because I identify as a rapist or nazi or politician or any of these things, but because I know that those who have abused me have gotten themselves deep inside of me, and it takes a lifetime to root them out.  Because the someone in my head, waiting to fucking strangle me, isn’t me.  For a long time I thought it was.  I thought that voice of guilt, of self-loathing, of negative self-talk, and of suicidal ideation was mine.  For a long time, I thought I hated myself.  But I never did.  They were the ones who hated me.  It’s their voice, not mine.  I think I’m lovely.

On the beach with the children, a helicopter passes overhead and everyone oooohs and aaaahs.  But I think of the young Palestinian man I knew who was a boy when he saw his uncle’s living body, his living uncle’s body, ripped to shreds by the high caliber ammunition of an Israeli helicopter machine gunner because, when the choppers came, they couldn’t flee into the water since the Israeli gunboats were already waiting there for him, and they had already missed him once with a missile into a parked car that killed someone else’s wife, and he couldn’t make it to shelter in the palm trees in time, and the bullets were so large and flying so fast that his body exploded and his nephew helped gather pieces of him out of the sand once it was safe to do so, because the Israeli military had missed him once before but he had blown up an Israeli tank that was driving through an occupied city in an occupied land over occupied people who would have been otherwise occupied if Europeans hadn’t become so preoccupied with solving the Jewish problem and fracturing Arab nations and Americans weren’t so addicted to oil and fracturing Arab nations, and so they weren’t going to miss him again.  But my nephews and nieces dig holes and my son jumps waves and my daughter makes her cousin into a sand-mermaid and I sit close to my brothers and I feel okay.

Ruby is an amazing girl.  I never feel the inadequacy of words so much as when I try to describe Jess or my children (who aren’t really mine — they are their own).  How can I describe Ruby or the way she makes me feel?  I can’t with words.  But my actions, the ways I treat her, the attention I give her, the ways I am with her, describe her as I experience her and as I feel about her.  One of Ruby’s names is Beloved and that is how I treat her.  Because I treat her that way (and other do, too), that is how she knows herself.  The someone in her head isn’t waiting to strangle her — the someone in her head adores her.  And Ruby, what does she think? “I love me just the way I am.”

Last year, experiences with an abusive teacher at her school, challenged Ruby’s thinking about herself because the teacher’s actions communicated to Ruby that she wasn’t Beloved, that she deserved to be mistreated, that there was something wrong with her and, as the teacher said to Ruby, that nobody would believe her if she “tattle-taled.”  It took me months of writing letters, going to meetings, negotiating various hierarchies, studying polices and procedures, talking with H.R., with the Principal and Superintendent, with the Trustee, with the Ontario College of Teachers, and persisting, persisting, persisting, to get the school to respond to this matter in anything close to an adequate way so that, on the very last day of the school year, someone finally apologized to Ruby, told her what happened wasn’t right, and told her that it should never happen again.  I have been thinking about this event in light of the closing line from the AJJ song quoted above: “So here’s to you Mrs. Robinson/ you live in an unforgiving place” and I have been thinking about how institutions driven by a desire to protect profit margins and brand equity and avoid lawsuits at all costs, end up making things like forgiveness or reconciliation or grace impossible because their entire approach is premised upon formulating plausible deniability and the refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing.

There are some risks that one faces when hiking the Laugavegurinn.  Even at the height of summer, there is the possibility of blizzards and white outs, or fogs that can disorient hikers and cause them to lose their way on snowfields at high elevation, or one hundred mile per hour winds that can blow you off narrow mountain passes, or snow bridges that suddenly collapse due to water flowing beneath them, or rivers that might flood and become impassable.  There’s even the possibility that one of several active volcanoes nearby might erupt, at which point you better get to high ground and you better get there fast.  There are cairns along the way marking where people have died.  On average, someone dies on the trail every other year, and the week before Jess and I went, the wardens had to do search and rescue missions for six different hikers.  Large sections of the trail were closed due to snow and wind and poor visibility.  The week after we went, sections were closed due to flooding.  You have to be careful when hiking in the wilderness.  But accidents happen and, out there, small accidents can have large consequences.  But I wouldn’t say that the Laugavegurinn is unforgiving.  It took people to make places that way.  And not just any people — it took specific people who loved money and power and accumulating things, things that they claimed to own, and who loved all those things — the money and power and things — more than they loved other people, to make places that way.  It’s a terrible shame, although those who profit most from this might disagree with that conclusion.  But there is a mountain that is blue and yellow and green in Landmannalaugar and the mountains there fold in ways I have seen nowhere else, and the wind we felt when summiting Hrafntinnusker feels like the wind that circles the top of the world, never coming down to the grasses or sands or water that cover its surface, and the view looking down to Álftavatn may very well be the most beautiful vista I experience in my life, and after spending a day traveling through the black sand of a lava desert, and after fording the Þjórsá and entering the Þórsmörk, the sudden lushness of the woods, with crippled birch trees and a forest floor entirely covered with yellow and purple flowers, I knew that although a part of my heart will always be mourning, another part of my heart will always be saying thank you, and I knew that these two parts are all part of one heart, and that this heart knows these things, sorrow and gratitude, because the everything knows them, too.  But I also know this — the more intimate I become with the everything the more the sorrow recedes, the gratitude grows, and something akin to peace appears, takes root, and grows.  Like a crippled birch tree, twisted by winter winds, with only the shortest growing season, small but strong, strong, strong.  And if you want to know the thing I loved the most about the Laugavegurinn, it was all of it with Jess.

And Jess and I took Ruby and Charlie to a campout last weekend, and the kids stayed up late to watch the fireworks.  Explosions of colour and light and sound in the night sky.  Fog drifting across the lawn from the farmer’s field beside the house.  Ruby sat in her folding camping chair and as the explosions lit up her face, I saw that she was smiling her biggest smile.  I love you, darling.  Happy birthday.

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Posted by: Dan | August 2, 2018

July Reviews

After wrapping up my major writing project of the last twelve years, I went on a bit of a fiction bender.  Therefore, very briefly discussed in this post are: 7 Books (Reading Lolita in Tehran; The Assistant; The Summer Book; Bro; Ice; milk and honey; I hope this reaches her in time); 2 Movies (Isle of Dogs; and A Quiet Place); 2 Documentaries (HyperNormalisation; and Pornocracy).

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Posted by: Dan | July 5, 2018

June Reviews

Having completed my massive Paul project, I went on a bit of a bender.  Woefully inadequately discussed in this post: 8 Books (Remnants of Auschwitz; The Art of Cruelty; A Brief History of Infinity; The Girl from the Metropol Hotel; There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby; the princess saves herself in this one; the witch doesn’t burn in this one; and How I Became a Nun); 4 Movies (Revanche; Anomalisa; Carnival of Souls; and Werewolf); and 2 Documentaries (Into the Inferno; and Under the Sun).

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Posted by: Dan | June 23, 2018

If I Were To Do It All Again

I know that everybody nods with admiration, when those who go through hard times say:
“If I were to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Because this speaks to their wisdom, maturity, and power to overcome adversity.

“Isn’t it true,” the nodders rhetorically nod, “that all their strengths, virtues, and positive characteristics, were developed in the tumult, heartache, pain, and sorrow of those times?”
“Are they not the truly wonderful people that they are, precisely because they experienced and overcame those things?”
“Who knows,” the nodders ponder, “perhaps they would have been quite awful, boring, mundane, selfish people, if they had not been burned and transformed into agents of love.”

But me,
I would trade my wonderfulness, my strength, and wisdom, and my ability to overcome,
To go back into a childhood
Where I was never fucked by my dad.

I’d be willing to take the chance and believe that
Having learned to love despite being fucked,
I would still learn to love
Without being fucked.

Because if I am wonderful now,
I think I could have been that much more wonderful,
If I hadn’t spent every day of my childhood afraid,
If I hadn’t been taught to blame myself,
If I hadn’t been left for dead.

If I were to do it all again, I’d go back to a childhood where I was safe.  And my father would love me, the way I love my children; and my father would teach me, the things I teach my children; and my father wouldn’t touch me, the way I never touch my children; and my father would be gentle, kind, and comforting with me, the way I am gentle, kind, and comforting with my children.  And perhaps, one day, my children will speak of the things that they would go back and change.  But I will not be one of them.

Posted by: Dan | June 9, 2018

May Reviews

Very briefly discussed in this post: 4 books (October; The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating; Ema, the Captive; and The Unbearable Lightness of Being); 3 movies (Hyenas; I, Tonya; and My Life as a Zucchini); and 1 documentary (One of Us).

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Posted by: Dan | May 6, 2018

April Reviews

Mentioned in at least some capacity in this post: 8 Books (Of Grammatology; Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals; Unsettled Expectations; The Value of Homelessness; Welcome to the Microbiome; The Sexual Healing Journey; Three Novels be César Aira; At the Mountains of Madness & other novels); 3 Movies (Every Brilliant Thing; The Witch; and The Florida Project); 2 Documentaries (Jane; and Wild, Wild Country).

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