How to Build a Community

24 Sep

I found this amazing poster in Oregon.
Here is the advice it gives to build a community:

Turn off your TV
Leave your house
Know your neighbours
Look up when you are walking
Greet people
Sit on your stoop
Plant flowers
Use your library
Play together
Buy from local merchants
Share what you have
Help a lost dog
Take children to the park
Garden together
Support neighbourhood schools
Fix it even if you didn’t break it
Have pot lucks
Honour elders
Pick up litter
Read stories aloud
Dance in the streets
Talk to the mail carrier
Listen to the birds
Put up a swing
Help carry something heavy
Barter for your goods
Start a tradition
Ask a question
Hire young people for odd jobs
Organize a block party
Bake extra and share
Ask for help when you need it
Open your shades
Sing together
Share your skills
Take back the night
Turn up the music
Turn down the music
Listen before you react to anger
Mediate a conflict
Seek to understand
Learn from new and uncomfortable angles


“America I’ve Given You All…

3 Aug

…and now I’m nothing.”

Very few poems have stuck with my brain over the years. My mind is mathematically built and, more often than not, I just don’t get poetry unless someone holds my hand and helps me cross the metaphorical street. This can be done in a few ways. Either someone can just tell me what the bloody thing is about, or the poet has to make what they’re talking about so freakin’ obvious that even one of my ESL students can get the cartoon light bulb to appear above their noggins.

E.E. Cummings (and yes, it’s capitalized) is an example of the former. I’m obsessed by his poetry, but I’ve needed someone to tell me what every single one of his poems was about. I love where they take me once I know, but I can’t get there by myself. I just don’t know how to read the map.

Poets like Shane Koyczan and Maya Angelou are perfect examples of the latter. It’s pretty damn easy to see what they’re talking about and their genius comes from the way they craft the obviousness of their point. There’s no map needed because they’ve left sign posts all over the place.

But every now and then (and more then than now), a poem comes along that just eats at me. Maybe I don’t understand it at first, but I don’t want to ask anyone about it either. I just stare at it. I pick at it. I repeat the lines to myself. It haunts me. I can’t stop listening or thinking about it. It’s like the thing has crawled in through my orifices and is now seeping out my pores. It bleeds out my eyes. I see it everywhere. I can’t stop.

the glorious man himself

America by Allen Ginsberg was the first to do this to me. It’s still with me. The line “I’m obsessed by Time magazine” has dogged me for years. I’ve never been able to get that strange preposition out of my head. I spent months thinking about why it was used, and then years marvelling at the genius of the usage. It became a part of my lexicon.

Even the first line of the poem has stuck to me like a freakish nightmare–the kind that is terrifying because for some unknown reason you don’t want it to end.

There is a recording of Ginsberg reading the poem. iTunes tells me that I’ve listened to it 34 times. And that’s only on this iTunes. And even that is only since I’ve had iTunes.

His voice is addictive. Here is a recording:

I’d love to know if there are other poems that do this to people. Am I alone in my queer obsessions? Are there other examples?

You can check out the poem here.

Or I guess I could just copy and paste it…that works too.

by Allen Ginsberg

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
from Russia.

I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and
twentyfivethousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his
automobiles more so they’re all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they
sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the
workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party
was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have
been a spy.
America you don’re really want to go to war.
America it’s them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

China Dolls vs. the Tinted Tangerine

25 Jul

China, and most of Asia for that matter, has an obsession with white skin. Whitening shit is in EVERYTHING. Face creams, body wash, toners–you name it, it’ll make you whiter.

It’s a historical trend:

But it’s also gotten completely out of hand:

Her eyes are the headlights

When I first got to Asia I was blown away by this. Especially since the level of white they’re striving for is the kind of pale I associate with sickness and hospital visits. Of course, I wanted to know why. The theory I’ve heard kicked around most often sounds something like this:

In the days of yore, white skin (in Asian societies) meant that you didn’t need to work outside. Read: You had money, status, and power. White skin=high class. And since, generally, high class is equal to or greater than beauty, it came to be that sickly pale bitches equalled beautiful bitches.

It makes sense. Whether or not it’s true is probably something someone with a degree in economics should sort out. But it got me thinking.

You know those tinted tangerines that seem to float around our culture? Those girls (and guys) who have spent way too much time tanning and are unaware that they looked like a slightly burnt orange?

Oompa Loompa gone wrong

Well I wonder if this Caucasian♥dark pattern follows the Asian♥light principle. Because, traditionally speaking, we whiteys tend to be cold-climate folks. The only way you got to have dark skin in the good-old-days was if you had enough money to take you to warmer climes.

So, is our formula inversely proportionate to the Asian one? When someone makes fun of how pale my skin is (and it’s bad), are they really just raging against my inability to balance the equation: dark skin=beautiful?

Maybe. I know that I, for one, am hitting the tanning booth this week.

Hero of the Day: Jessi Arrington

29 Jun

Although this is a sad day to not be gay (high fives NYC), I have to say that I’m almost willing to switch sides for this woman:

I'm in love...

Yeah, she really is this awesome.

On her super duper radtastically awesome blog, Lucky So and So, she documents her adventures in secondhand shopping. Her mantra appears to be “colour colour colour”–repeat ad infinitum. And after watching her talk on TED (see below) I can safely say she’s one of the happiest, sweetest, most adorable people I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting.

Today, she is my hero. Tomorrow, she’ll probably still be my hero. The next day, possibly not my hero any more, but still about 14 billion times cooler than me. Or anyone else on this planet for that matter.

Dear Jessi Arrington: You’re awesome.

How Wude

2 Jun

Jiang Zemin, ex-president of the PRC

“Chinese people are so rude.”

At home, abroad, on the internet, in my own house, I have heard that phrase like a mantra, again and again. It resonated with me the last time I was in Canada and heard it repeated by an Aunt and Uncle who were citing an incident that took place in a grocery store. From what I could gather, a group of Chinese people were taking up a whole aisle in the store and wouldn’t get out of the way to let others pass.

“Chinese people are so rude,” the story ended.

And I wondered at it because, I’ll be honest, from this Canadian’s point of view, Chinese people are outlandishly rude. Picking noses in public, screeching into cell phones on public transit, letting kids defecate in the street (and sometimes indoor garbage cans), littering both indoors and out, hocking loogies out bus windows–the list goes on. The language itself isn’t even that polite. “What would you like?” literally translates as 你要什么?–“You want what?” Could you imagine walking into a shop at home and having the clerk ask you, “Hi. What do you want?” It would be a little rude, no?

Yeah, it really does happen

And yet…and yet.

We were in a well-known Turkish restaurant here in Guangzhou the other day. I turned to the waitress and politely asked her if I could have more water. When I turned back around, my flatmate and good friend–a lovely Cantonese girl named Lum Lum–was looking at me strangely.

“Why did you just change your voice like that?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I was a little confused.

“You raised your voice almost an octave. You talked to her like she was a little child. Why did you do that?” She was completely baffled.

This led to a conversation in which Nathan (my other flatmate, really good friend, and Lum Lum’s significant other) tried to explain to her that I was not speaking to her like a child, and that raising the tone of your voice whilst at the same time softening it was actually a sign of politeness in our culture*.

Who does that?

She was not convinced.

“Yeah but, don’t you think she can hear you turn around and talk to us in a completely different voice as soon as you finish talking to her? Don’t you think it’s a little rude to speak to her differently than you’re speaking to everyone else?”

Well how about that. Here I was having a Chinese person stare at me in utter confusion because someone who she had come to see as a polite, well-adjusted person had just acted blatantly rude to someone in the service industry. She was flummoxed.

In the end she begrudgingly agreed that it must be a cultural thing (thank God Nathan was there to back me up), but to this day she continues to remain highly suspicious of the whole voice-change concept.

This is not an isolated incident.

Time and again my students will attempt to understand the layers of politeness that are built into our language**. More often than not they need constant reassurance that, no, saying “please” this many times does not sound fake and, no, you’re not insulting someone’s intelligence by asking them a question in such a roundabout way. And China stares at us in awe for a host of other things: the flaming that occurs on blogs and the horridness that gets printed in our tabloids (and occasionally “respectable” newspapers) being just two examples.

So, are Chinese people really so rude? And, for that matter, are Canadians (I only speak for my own nationality here) actually all that polite?

Well, yes and no. Lum Lum herself gets super choked at people who cut her off when driving or goes off on people talking too loudly in restaurants. And I know lots of Canadians who scratch their nuts in public or grope the waitress’s ass. But at a certain point we have to remember that people are just people–rude people are rude people and polite people are polite people no matter what flag flies over their head. Yes, there is an underlying aspect of culture to a lot of it, and that’s where understanding is needed. If someone is being rude to you, feel free to tell them to piss off, but don’t go about blaming the entire nation for it.

Grow up and go have a conversation with one of these people you keep bitching about. Trust me, most of their cultures are more than willing to welcome you in and share anything you would want to know. Can the same be said of ours?

Actually, yeah, it is in this case

That's what I thought

*Seriously, try it out yourself. When you’re trying to be very polite, your tone of voice changes.

**For example:
What’s the time?
Excuse me, do you have the time?
Would you mind telling me the time?
Could you please tell me the time?
Sorry to interrupt but I was hoping that you’d be able to tell me the time.

The number of ways to be polite in English is actually staggering.

A Public Service Announcement

31 May

I haven’t been paying attention to my blog for almost a month now as there have been other things taking up my time: organizing the 150GB worth of music on my portable hard drive, editing two years’ worth of pictures, and crying myself softly to sleep over the Conservative majority that swept through Canada earlier this month. So things have been a little busy.

And with that, I’d like to bring you some public service announcements. We’ve been joking lately about all the ones we remembered from our childhood while at the same time realizing that if we still remembered them, they must have lodged in our little kiddie brains and probably did us some good.

I’m going to show you two that had zero effect on me:

Drugs Drugs Drugs

And my ultimate favourite: Don’t You Put It in Your Mouth

This all came to a head while I was reading a post by one of the bloggers/writers/awesome-people I follow, Peter Nowak. He posted a NEW public service announcement featuring–I shit you not–Pete the Porno Puppet and Ron-freakin’-Jeremy. Enjoy your childhood in a much creepier way:

Stephen Harper is a C*nt

1 Apr

And I’m shocked by how many people don’t seem to know it. I mean, seriously, look at this guy:

Oh yes, it's real.

It would seem that in an effort to avoid looking like he’s holding a puppy, Harper has decided to hold a kitten. This is like when I’m walking my dog and I tell her that it’s time to go home, but she tries to be tricksy by pretending that she’s sniffing at the ground like she’s gonna take a piss and then slowly beginning to walk in a different direction from home hoping that I won’t notice.

Trust me, dog, you’re not pulling a fast one on me.

Trust me, Stephen Harper, even a kitten can’t hide what a spunkdervish you are. Even your sweaters failed. But damn were they funny. And they give your opposition some great material:

Let’s start with a point that’s close to home for me.

Stephen Harper hates women.

Why? Well I don’t know why. But scrapping universal daycare; cancelling the court challenges program (because who really cares if we violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?); removing abortion from Canada’s G8 maternal health funding (“67,000 women die every year? Pfft, I eat more Cheerios for breakfast”); and revoking women’s right to vote all make a pretty clear statement on how Harper feels about the ladies.

Okay, maybe not that part about taking away voting rights. The first three are bad enough anyway.

Next, Harper hates the environment.

I don’t even want to talk about what happened in Copenhagen. It makes me want to throw up. He basically gave Kyoto the finger and not only has Canada NOT reduced our greenhouse gas emissions since then, they’ve actually risen by 26%. Our role in Copenhagen was so thoroughly disgusting that it prompted Ben Wikler of to award Canada with the Fossil of the Year Award and this scathing comment:

“Fossil of the Year goes to CANADA, for bringing a totally unacceptable position into Copenhagen and refusing to strengthen it one bit. Canada’s 2020 target is among the worst in the industrialized world, and leaked cabinet documents revealed that the governments is contemplating a cap-and-trade plan so weak that it would put even that target out of reach.”

Which leads to my last point: Harper and his government have made Canada the laughing stock of the democratic world.

Ramesh Thakur through the Australian:
“Edmund Burke noted that all that was necessary for evil to triumph was for good men to do nothing. At a time when Arabs risk life and limb for political freedoms, Canadians seem largely apathetic about the erosion of their democracy.”

George Monbiot of the Guardian (UK):
“This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party.”

Even Obama knows what’s up:

Trust me, you don't want to see.

I should probably say that I do make a distinction between Harper the Politician and Harper the Person. I’m sure that Harper the Person is very nice. He probably really does love kittens and sweater vests. Maybe he even hugs a tree sometimes. And he had to be good with the ladies somehow because, seriously, his wife is HOT:

How did he do THAT?

It’s Harper the Politician I hate. Harper the Prime Minister. Harper the Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. It’s the Harper who has made me hang my head when facing the rest of the world on environmental issues, who made me even more afraid as a woman in Canada (especially if I get raped–thanks asshole), and who has turned our democracy into a joke with his suspensions of Parliament, concealment of information, and outright lies, prompting a majority of MPs to vote that they believed the government was in contempt of Parliament (the first time in Canadian history) and ultimately leading to the federal election on May 2nd.

There are literally 100 reasons not to vote for Harper’s Conservative Party. But the number one reason for me was, is, always has been and always will be one thing:

Stephen Harper is a cunt.