Friday, October 20, 2017

Spaces I Love: The Shed

I'm doing a new writing project because everything I write about is intense and/or political and/or me dealing with the flaming sphere that is the Earth. Here goes:

The Shed, Meadow Crescent, Sussex Corner, New Brunswick, Canada. 

In the back left hand corner of my mother’s yard, there’s a shed I loved.

The only pic I have.
The shed must have been built a couple years before or into my life. I never remember it not being there.

It started a dog shed. The area was a kennel when it was functioning as intended. There was a perimeter of wire fencing panels around a poured cement slab, and doggie doors were cut into the side of a sturdy purpose-built 4m x 5m structure.

Rather unfortunately, the setting of this memory is also a flood plane. Trout Creek, a tributary to the Kennebecaisis and later Saint John rivers, occasionally swallows chunks of the Meadow Crescent/Cunningham Ave area. The house has been completely surrounded by water more than once.

This shed had the shit kicked out of it. When my parents divorced, and no dogs lived there; it became an unsightly storage shed.

Someone at some point gave my brother and I neon pink spray paint, which ended up in mostly abstract/illegible splashes of color inside and outside the shed. Against the dark wood walls and rotting wood floor, the neon pink was a pleasant contrast.

Aftfer my MA, I landed in Sussex Corner for 10 trying months. The winter was harsh as fuck that year. There was so much shoveling. I baked, and I cleaned, and that’s when I finally started exercising regularly.

So my cleaning impulse was particularly ambitious a set of warm spring days. The space I began with was awful. There was garbage covered in rotting leaves grown over by saplings and weeds. The yard was destroyed by the Winter; whole trees had fallen, and chunks of bark littered the back half of the lawn.

So much sweat and muscle strain went into cleaning up that lawn and shed. I suppress that part of the memory wherever possible.

I was motivated by a clear vision, a cement patio with a bistro set and white lights wraped around the 10-15 year old trees growing up beside the slab. Tbh, if you were looking into the woods and not at all at my mom’s house, it totally would have felt like a shed you’d find in the woods of a Disney tale.

Among the things I hauled out of that nasty corner:  a plastic wagon, turtle shaped flutter board, rusted tonka trucks, ~2 broken windows worth of glass shards, and two of those weird snow brick makers.

The shed hosted a selection of wood panelling that used to hang on the basement walls. Eight or so panels in various states of moisture and decay. But sandwiched between two of these pieces of paneling, I found an antique coca-cola sign, which turned out to be quite valuable.

Structurally, the shed was sound, but large chunks of the floor were rotted through, and a thick layer of moss covered the roof. It didn’t leak, and it offered some privacy and shelter from the wind.  I epoxy’d a window back into place - like a pro.

It smelled earthy - almost a smell I'd call innocent like that rare instance when nature’s on your side. It kept cooler than the house in the height of the summer. Goddamn, New Brunswick has extreme weather.

I emptied it entirely, and I swept until I couldn’t sweep anything else up. The process started with a shovel, box and dust mask, and ended with windex and paper towel. A meager furnishing; a lawn chair, a card table, and more often than not my foam mat, initially for camping but re-purposed for exercise, and a few blankets.

This was my kingdom. I forged it from a wasteland into my favorite space on the property. I made myself an escape from my mother and her regular string of guests. I mostly used/loved the space because I could smoke weed without having to worry if anyone would care. I would load up a show on Netflix or a job posting I was responding to and bring my laptop down to the shed for a couple hours.

I got a little smarter though. The router was in my room at the back of the house. I found a longer coaxial cable and hung the router out my window and the signal was weak, but it made it to the shed! Game-fucking-changer!!

I also had mediocre sex in the shed twice. Couple of super closeted bottom guys off of grindr probably a month apart.

As much as I love weed and sex, the space meant so much more than that. It was a metaphor for survival and grit. It was a project of renewal and re-purposing, and it was a space I loved.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cruel Summer: A Biopolitical Diary Entry

That feeling of clarity when you’re on the other side of something awful is one of the best feelings in the world. I have that feeling.

Today is my last day in household agony. Well, it better fucking be. Until recently, I was smothered by things I couldn’t control, but my senses of purpose and hope have been replenished. A very dark chapter in my life is closing today.

As I’ve told the internet, I think about suicide all the time, but it’s usually not an issue. Things are bad when suicide dances on the line between benign consideration and desire. Things are worse when those thoughts get played on high rotation in the internal narration of my life. Things are dangerous when a desire becomes a plan. Thankfully, a suicide plan was never part of the summer's trauma, but the thoughts on repeat were enough for me to ask for an increased prescription. 

Let's start at the beginning, After a series of dispensary raids, my tenure as a well-paid budtender on Toronto’s Church Street came to an end. I had saved responsibly, and I was in good financial shape in April, when life began to crack apart ever so slightly.

It began when I found a bed bug on my pillow.

Sidebar: pests are a common urban issue, not a measure of cleanliness or poverty. Google it before you embarrass yourself with a douchey comment.

Naturally, we put on our grown up shoes and told our rental company right away. They scheduled Orkin bedbug treatments, two chemical sprays two weeks apart in early May. 

Because nothing is ever easy, the next months snowballed from a routine pest control incident into months of feeling homeless, hopeless, and suicidal.

In order to prepare for the chemical sprays, everything had to be stripped from dressers, closets, desks and shelves then stored in sealed bags or bins. All clothing was to be washed in hot water and dried on high. It was fucking arduous.

I love my roommate, but she owns an impractical truckload of belongings. The volume of objects she had to pack was just stupid.

Courtney is half of Drag Coven, a creative duo that documents and does drag, so she travels a lot. I would say she’s gone 50% of the time, if not more. Travel schedules meant Courtney's unpacking/ prepping availability was quite limited. The balcony hosted many of her belongings the entire summer.

A post shared by Drag Coven (@dragcoven) on

(I can't shrink this embed..)

Mental state level: Not good, and declining proportionally with savings, but Europe!!

Evelyn, the best friend I got out my MA at Carleton, and I had been dreaming of Iceland for 3 years. She’s living in Geneva, so we knocked one off the bucket list and met in Iceland to begin our mini Eurotrip (Reykjavik, Zurich, Geneva). It’s great feeling to know you have someone who will meet you on a cold island in the middle of the North Atlantic.

Zurich was the runway favorite destination of the trip. The city let me learn about myself in ways I hadn’t.

Zurich made me think about my relationship to space and language. I am not a fan of Toronto, and it was so nice to feel genuine appreciation for the space I occupied. I realized space and place are elements of life I need to prioritize for my ongoing well-being.

The Toronto I live in (Church-Wellesley Village) is daily displays of poverty, starved for social services, and fueled by a culture of drug and alcohol use. The queer communities here are rife with internal discrimination and advertisers and non-profits use stereotypes to decorate most of the villages's posters. Nature is a subway ride away, and housing is expensive and scarce. Toronto has lots of nice places and things to do, but the bare bones of the city are ugly. If money was no object, I could like my life in Toronto, but I don't.

Zurich tuned me into the importance of sense of place. I realized I’m happier in non-English cities. My anxiety is calmed by being required by surroundings to be more present in the moment. Having to pay more attention to the space I’m in occupies my mind, so that I don’t have the capacity or impulse to overthink and project myself far into the future.

So the summer started with a nice boost. Things were manageable, but unemployment was a source of stress.

Then we found more bed bugs in July. Courtney was being bitten, but there were no traces of bed bugs in her room. Then I found bites and went looking. I found them living in the tiny holes in my bedframe. It’s an Ikea bed that had different pre-drilled holes to adjust the depth at which the mattress would sit. My bed sits on the middle one.

Obviously when I see a bunch of tiny beetles living in my bed frame I freak the fuck out and grab a torch to kill them with. I crushed and roasted all of them I could find and soaked my whole bed frame with furniture polish.

So once again, we had to pack our lives away.

At least we were smarter, if not more fortunate, smarter about how we were going to store all Courtney’s stuff. We missioned to Ikea to buy pop-up tent style wardrobes. They each held about a closet’s worth of crap, so Courtney bought and filled three. I bought one that still isn’t built. (TBH building tents was my least favorite part of camping.)

With this preparation, my sense of home evaporated. The balcony was refilled to the rail, and three ugly white wardrobes took up permanent residence in our dining room (craft room). I lost all will to host guests, maintain the space to my usual standard, and I noticed deep depression when I spent too long at home alone. I felt I was living amidst constant reminders of failure and poverty.

The visual imposition was not good. Even just the balcony being literally filled against a wall to wall window with no curtain dragged me down mental health wise. I used the balcony almost every day. It was one of my best thinking spots, and I still miss it.

It got worse.  As Courtney went the summer in various degrees of belongings sealed away between the balcony and in the three space pod style wardrobes, I lived off dwindling savings and became increasingly stressed about job prospects.

I’ll be frank, I can’t function in traditional job settings. The times I’ve tried, I experienced mental health crises and quit. I had enough saved to spend the whole Summer trying to find a job with a good fit, but that wouldn’t come along until August. July-August was dark for me. I spent too much time alone in a space that I hated.

My anxiety meds got upped, and I found out the hard way how prescription medication is always a gamble with your health. I went on 300 mg of slow release bupropion, and it basically shut down my digestive system. I was in pain and constipated within a couple days of starting the new pills. After 3 days of passing more blood than stool, I stopped the pills and the symptoms began to subside. The fifth day there was blood passed was the last. I got a colonoscopy that would diagnose Irritable bowel syndrome.

Digestive issues and dietary sensitivities have been on my radar for a few years. So not much of a surprise, or an answer. Figure out what fucks with my digestion and don’t eat it. Cool.

Before this wave of digestive trauma, I’d completely cut soy, and dairy was reserved for cereal and coffee. Cheese got phased out over the summer, and I’m doing lactose free milk. Removing cheese had an immediately noticeable benefit, and I think there’s a nominal benefit from the lactose free milk.

This rare reaction does happen to other people. I Googled it, and the guy in the case study didn’t clue in to stop taking pills as early as I did, though. He sustained internal damage that need surgical repair. At least I wasn’t that guy…

Mid-August: I got an interview at a sex club practically around the corner from our apartment, and I was offered a job at the end of it. Since mid-August, I’ve been an employee of Oasis Aqualounge, but I didn’t really feel settled and safe in the position for several weeks. Oh, and I broke my baby toe on my left foot the first weekend after I got the job at Oasis, because the universe hates me.

August wasn’t all sunshine and new jobs. That’s when we found cockroackes! And guess what? There’s an extensive preparation for that too.

Wait for it though.

During that preparation, for a third time, we found bed bugs once again.

The balcony stuff had never come back in, and I own few enough things to have washed it all through in hot water several times. (Oh and fuck the environment, I've been washing in hot water for months because of bed begs).

Whenever something catches my eye I think it’s a bug. It’s unsettling, and it’s been inescapable for months now.

The cockroach spray happened and, we *think* it was effective. There is a period of increased activity when they trudge through the poisoned corners then die. We saw a few shortly after, but haven't in a while now.

Boot to teeth time: the bedbug treatment was being scaled up to a heat treatement. The apartment would be brought up to 60 degrees Celsius for four hours, and that should fry all the bugs and eggs on anything in the apartment. That treatment was supposed to happen last week, but it was rescheduled last minute by our building manager, and is now happening today, Friday, October 13th.

So fucking kill me. I’m still paying $940/Month to feel homeless. We are seeking rental rebates.

My one saving grace over the whole Summer was that I was going to film school in September. Back to school, creative life, new experience blah blah fuzzy feelings that kept me alive. I’m trying to ignore the ruin that is my home space while I start the new adventure of Centennial College’s Advanced TV & Film: Script to Screen program.

It lasted a week.

Film school may have been a description that’s too generous for that program. The program was a post-graduate certificate. Everyone had a bachelor’s degree, and it was only 8 months long. The program was entirely oriented around creating a collaborative short film that could be submitted to festivals. It was all group work and light on technical training. All of the instructors were contract, 3/5 first time instructors to the program.

The grades were made up, and nothing felt serious. The program director and writing instructor begged us so genuinely during both introductory sessions to come to class. That blew my fucking mind.

I realize I went to grad school, and that experience is completely different from undergraduate studies. If you miss a grad class, email your prof with a genuine apology. If that's not your approach, don't go to grad school. I was the MA student who did like 90+% of the required readings. I was there to talk about what we agreed to talk about. And I was for college too.

I’m too serious of person for that style of education. I want to be taken seriously by other serious people. This was not what was going on with this program. The experience was too character driven and not enough focused on imparting skills that would advance a videomaking career.

At the end of the day, the program wouldn’t have given me the proficiencies I would need for working in technical aspects of film and TV. Like, sure, I could edit something, but my 8 month program and collaboration on a short film isn’t going to get me a job at Netflix. And that’s what I wanted.

The logic behind my withdrawal actually came after the emotion of it all. Bodies tell us things the mind can’t accept yet. The “this is wrong” feeling for me is the feeling like my time is being held hostage, and I’d rather be anywhere else. I had two long installments of those moments in the both directing and editing classes. I needed to use my time otherwise. The return was not worth the struggle it would have been study on top of working enough hours to pay bills.

I’m still interested in creative work, but I would not be comfortable pursuing a technical film career without a more serious education. I am not stepping away from the medium, and I plan to acquire editing skills through other channels.

I’d also been torturing myself with thoughts of doing a PhD in September 2018, and the voices finally won. I ran out of reasons not to. I miss having peers. I miss the hope of working with students in critical social sciences, and I’d like a better dating pool.

The least alone I’ve ever been is in school. I don’t know if that’s sad or empowering. I want to do a doctorate because that’s how I want to spend the next 5 years.

It will be important for me to maintain creative outlets throughout the process. I will write every assignment for public consumption and real-world application. If I'm going to be writing anyhow, how can each paper I write make the world better?

I'd also like to vlog through my PhD. I want to share the human side of doctoral studies and use new media to ensure any valuable work I do doesn't get stuck inside the ivory towers. Creative productivity will be a core plank in my approach to avoiding isolation throughout future studies.

My applications will not be like the last time. I accepted my offer from the University of Ottawa’s Department Political Science, but I did so for the wrong reasons. I wanted the class privilege that academic life can provide. I wanted to out-compete my peers for prestigious grants and teaching positions. I wanted what I thought was on the other end of the PhD. I wanted to indulge in the propriety and peity of academia. I was chasing “The good life”.

I would have been miserable. I chose right. I needed to leave Ottawa, and I needed to come to terms with my mortality. That sounds dramatic, but it isn’t. I knew when I moved back to New Brunswick in January 2015, I was not well. Fast-forward a couple years and that generic “not-well” is now diagnosed IBS, GAD, and a bunch of back and shoulder problems.

More than getting my health in check, I needed to evolve before I could advance in my career. I needed to stop spending energy lying about my (lack of) wellness and caring about how my private life may compromise my professional life.

The internet is a lovely place for catharsis. I distilled the things I was trying to say over my MA into a manageable length paper and slapped it on The paper I wrote was more creative than analytic. I now understand that I was too close to the project, and it was too abstract for the structure of a PhD. I needed to get the idea of universal design as a public duty out of my head and into words.

That paper is basically one of my horcruxes. No one asked me to do it. No one gave me a gratifying grade. I did it to put my most valuable thought out there for the world on my own terms.

Then I went one step further.

As a project of radical authenticity, I aired all of my dirty laundry here. It was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. Sometimes I look back at my radical disclosures, and I feel bulletproof. What could anyone say about me that I haven’t said about myself (probably more articulately)?

When I walked away from PhD round 1, I thought I’d be better off writing books and scripts than papers. That's probably still true. I was right that I didn’t need the academy to keep me writing, but I do need some kind of sustenance. The mental drag of meaningless work was not a factor I could have planned for in my considerations walking away from U of O.

Here began my upswing. Several I told you so's are coming my way. I'm ok with that.

I am applying to doctoral programs to use their opportunities to create my best life. I am not saying nothing could lure me away. For example, the budding cannabis industry has a lot to offer. This is my adventure, not my destiny, and I'm excited about my life again.

The best thing about a PhD is city shopping. I might finally get to move to Montreal, something I’ve lusted after for years. Otherwise, I have reconciled I’d rather move back to Ottawa than stay in Toronto if McGill rejects me. Both Carleton and the University of Ottawa have appropriate expertise in the area of my proposed research.

The other side of the PhD doesn’t matter to me, which is super liberating. I don’t need to be a professor or researcher. I may be, but I’m not giving up on creative and media careers.

In reflection, I know that the confluence of three things got me out of the slump: finally feeling a sense of belonging at work, forming an escape plan from Toronto, and looking fucking awesome at Nuit Blanche.

I didn't try to look like Storm, but I'm not mad.

It’s been a while since I rocked a high-effort costume, and I’ve disappointed myself this year for being so creatively unproductive. That was the final boost I needed to get into stride and rise the onslaught of challenges I’m about to face.

Yes, I was lit.

When I wake up tomorrow, I get my home back. I have a job I can live with and co-workers I like, and I have a plan to spend the next 5 years in Montreal doing meaningful work. Fuck yeah.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Making Peace with the Penalty Box

There’s a deafening silence at the intersection of slut-shaming, toxic masculinity, and stigmatizing mental struggle, a hole where a conversation ought to be.

Bacterial STIs happen. From experience, I tell you they suck, but they pass. And we never talk about it.

Silent survival is expected during the 7-14 days following treatment when sex is medically discouraged. The mental health implications of BSTI treatment are significant but smothered. In order to break this silence, we need to name and unshame the penalty box that comes after BSTI treatment as a valid experience.

Three discourses ensure the penalty box stays quiet. Slut-shaming, poor health as weakness, and mental illness as weakness. For masculine folks, the penalty box picks up another layer insulation though gendered expectations of stoicism and unwavering strength.

It’s ok not to be ok.

Anxiety in the penalty box is particularly arduous. Having a BSTI is the ultimate forum to question your self-worth, life decisions, reasons for living, etc... People may cope with substance use, and/or disregard prescribed abstinence.

We can make it easier.

“I’m in the penalty box” needs to mean something; it needs to kill the dead air around sexual health by completely normalizing two things: 1) I’m not having sex right now because I have/had a BSTI and 2) treatment may have mental health implications.

The penalty box can manage sexual expectation without disclosing any details. If someone says they're in the penalty box on Tinder, you can actually take a second to be thankful that this human is choosing sexual responsibility and consider that they might be going through some heavy stuff.

My trip to the penalty box.

My recent week in the penalty box got off to an insane start. A hot week in July, I had did some drugs and guys. It happens. So in the week, I had safe intercourse with 4 guys. All of the guys I fucked were on PrEP and preferred bareback. One of them straight up condom-shamed me to no avail, and the other three were chill about condoms.

Gonorrhea strikes, go figure, but why did it have to happen like this?

Allow me to set the scene. I logged on Seeking Arrangement for the first time in 8 months and saw this guy in Toronto, who was gainfully employed in the cultural sector and looking for what I’d call a courtshipwith a younger suitor. My Seeking Arrangement profile was a “why the fuck not?” project that somehow spat me out on a date with this wealthy bachelor.

He was neither ugly nor handsome. He was bullish and clearly liked things his way. He was demanding just under the point of being rude. He put our server on eggshells for no reason other than his concept of good service. He kept her busy; one of the ways he liked to have things was half-in-the bag.

I had, prior to our meeting, expressed my disinterest in drinking over our dinner, but I didn’t mind if he did, and I didn’t. I did mind his repeated insistence I join him in drinking. I don’t casually drink, I never have. If I’m going to drink it’s for a reason; otherwise, I don’t really like the taste of alcohol, and I try to only drink coffee and water for health reasons.

During our two hours together, I estimate he consumed a bottle of wine and 3 spirits on the rocks. With each drink order, he’d blatantly insist I have one with him.

He’s the kind of person you casually disagree with but try to find some mid-ground with because you’re trapped in the same space with clearly nothing similar about your lives.

Disagreeing can only proceed casually so long. His racist uncle style anti-indigenous rant was my breaking point. I’m not one to hold back, so I nailed him to the wall for homogenizing indigenous people as a singular problematic race.

Then my heart sank. He felt it too and excused himself for a cigarette. The ideal arrangement, where we both liked each other was out of reach, but he still wanted to bang me.

He did get around to suggesting returning to his condo for sex, and that's when I had to bring up the penalty box. I disclosed that I had just been treated for an STI, and I medically couldn’t have sex. He was rather unconcerned by this information, but I had just told the best kind of lie: a 90% truth.

I hadn’t sought treatment yet. Symptoms presented an hour and a half before our meeting. It was cancel and make it to a clinic or meet him and go first thing in the morning. I chose the latter.

Let this information sink in…. I’m ever-so-slowly leaking mucus during dinner with this awful human trying to see if a viable arrangement can be salvaged.

The answer was no. It came down to the fact that I didn’t care how wealthy he was; I would be embarrassed to introduce him to my friends because of the entitlement and ignorance he wore like armour.

The next night, I ended things with this text and no regrets:

“Another meeting is not in our future. I was extremely disappointed with how hard you pushed booze. Also, not a fan of loud ignorance about aboriginals.”

I couldn’t say he was a good person based on what I know, but I’m actually kind of sad for him. It suffices to say I’m happy my life isn’t that lonely or liver-damaged.

Behind all that dinner drama bullshit, there’s the mental side of the penalty box I mentioned earlier. I spent the night feeling like I didn't fully own my body. It was like a stranger that I let in had some lingering insidious control over me. Further, I chose a date with a sub-par suitor over my own health, and I proceeded to beat myself up over it during my whole week in the penalty box.

I refused to suffer in silence through treatment and the penalty box. I talked it out with a couple of close friends, and then I digitally purged my shame in a set of TMI confessional tweets.

Knowing and asserting that the personal is political is how I made peace with the penalty box, and you can too.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Condom-Shaming is Rape Culture

From experience, I tell you that there is mounting pressure for queer and gender diverse men to abandon condoms. I didn't have the words to express my discomfort with this phenomenon until recently, and I need to name and shame the dissuasion I've experienced adhering to condom use while participating in hookup culture.

Condom-shaming is rape culture.

I want to start by saying that I've been grey raped. I was consensually having sex until I realized that he didn't have a condom on. Condom use was discussed and expected, but that wasn't the idea this guy had. I was consenting until I wasn't. The conditions of my consent were not being met, but I assumed they were because of intentional deception. After the panic attack stopped, we proceeded to have sex with a condom.

That hookup will never leave me. It made it hard for me to relax and trust that my conditions of consent will be maintained with new partners.

They call it stealthing, and I'm happy Canadian legal institutions have identified this deception as legal rape. If stealthing is rape, then condom-shaming must be rape culture.

Advances in treatment and prevention of HIV have emboldened men to expect and demand condomless sex. We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the conversation about condom use between queer and gender diverse men.

We're in a culture war largely being fueled by PrEP. PrEP is pill-a-day prevention regimen prescribed to people at high risk of HIV contraction, it is not a substitute for condoms, given that it protects against no STIs other than HIV.

The context of bareback sex is changing from product of negotiation to an expectation/demand. The practices that move the social context of bareback toward an expectation/demand directly inculcate rape culture by detracting from the acceptability of a person setting their own conditions of consent, in this case condom use.

The solicitation of bareback sex needs to be taken with the same gravity as stating racial preferences. Most people can wrap their heads around how writing "whites only" on a dating profile is an expression of racism, but why is no one calling out the growing number of guys seeking "bb only?"

Whenever we write "only", we ought to reflect. "Only" is exclusion, and you should be sure who you want to exclude and how you're doing it.

In addition to rape culture, blanket exclusion of condom users reinforces classism and ableism. The ability to demand highest risk sex activities is a position of privilege. Many people (especially in the US) are too unhealthy or too poor to desire the risk of sex without condoms, but no one needs a reason for demanding condom use.

Some advocates have it twisted. The ill-considered argument goes: because the risk of unsafe sex is now primarily bacterial and manageable, people who discourage bareback sex are ill-informed and discriminatory against people with HIV.

False. Consent is a right, and unsafe sex is a preference, condoms were the original HIV(=), and super-gonorrhea is not treatable by any known antibiotic.

Citing PrEP or an undetectable viral load as evidence against a partner's preference for condom use is rape culture; therein, the partner seeking bareback sex is actively trying to replace their partner's context of consent with their own by deferring to decontextualized scientific authority. Condom-shaming is a one-sided negotiation tactic that should be seen as both gas-lighting and symbolic violence.

Obviously, HIV risk can be discussed without rape culture, but we can't do that in a "bareback or fuck off" chat setting, no matter how nicely it's spelled out.

By all means, select partners however you see fit, but it we're calling in/out the racism & femme-phobia of hookup culture, let's talk about the ableism, classism, and rape culture of condom-shaming too.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Calling Out Cultural Plagiarism

Identifying instances of celebrity cultural appropriation has become increasingly published mainstream fodder. The good intentions of politically recognizing and reconciling power relations evaporated when cultural appropriation became a profitable context to write about the arbitrary actions of celebrities - when it became fashion.

Like globalization, cultural appropriation is a neutral process that has both good and bad implications. It has always and will always be happening. The argument that cultural appropriation is an inherent evil inadequately/incorrectly defines culture as a product owned by a group determined by biological descent.

Marxist and essentialist theories define culture for the zealous opponents of cultural appropriation. Marxism suggests that culture is a good that is produced and owned, and essentialism adds that cultures self-reproduce by creating immutable stereotypes of themselves. Cultural appropriation is always bad if you believe culture should be owned by its "rightful" creators, who are "authenticated" by stereotypes.

Post-modern theories offer a more accurate account of culture as a set of practices that characterize a distinct group of people. There is no division between culture and knowledge; culture is language, music, dance, dress, food, storytelling, political traditions, sports, and relationships with animals and environments.

Calling cultural appropriations injustices also misrepresents consensus on what injustice means. The dominant narrative of injustice is an understanding that an unacceptable rights infraction has occurred and requires remedy. If you can't directly replace the words "cultural appropriation" with "racism" in your pop cultural critique, you're probably missing the point.

Speaking of all cultural appropriation as injustice proverbially throws the baby out with the bathwater. The effort to curb injustice incidentally commits injustice through heavy-handed cultural policing.

Cultural policing is a censorship phenomenon with roots across the political spectrum. Conservatives eschew sex, violence, and non-traditional values in TV, film, and video games. Meanwhile, progressive factions have taken to policing 'insensitive' cultural elements. Regardless of motivational divergence, all practices of cultural policing present relative moral narratives as justification for challenges to free expression.

An instance of cultural policing can be of net benefit when it's motivated by the correction of injustice. I do not write "the pursuit of justice" because the tense of cultural policing is the point where the practice pivots between corrective and intrusive. Using a flawed method to correct a flawed world is reasonable, but using a flawed method to create an ideal world is illogical. Cultural policing is either corrective (justified) or moralizing (intrusive).

The corrective capacity of cultural policing is assumed in the project of political correctness. Political correctness is a commitment to correct injustices that language conventions (re)create. Solidarity across immeasurable difference and individual accountability for words spoken into reality are the desired outcomes of political correctness. The cultural policing of political incorrectness is justified because it corrects unequal power relations actively and passively entrenched in language.

Moralizing instances of cultural policing from progressives are motivated by the movement toward empathetic correctness, a doctrine that asserts that individuals should take responsibility for the emotional reactions to their free expression. Empathetic correctness is an approach to build a specific and contested vision of justice at the cost of civil liberty. Empathetic correctness values a non-offensive character to culture over the critical consumption of freely produced culture.

There's just one glaring problem with empathetic correctness. Hurt feelings are not injustices.

The power relations that need to be critiqued between privileged and underprivileged cultural producers is legitimate in a context of plagiarism. Plagiarism sets cultural critique in the paradigm of intellectual property rights. Imitation within reason is acceptable, but there are economic rights protecting intellectual property. Where rights are infringed, there is injustice.

Cultural plagiarism affords us outrage when Navajo designs are printed onto Urban Outfitters t-shirts, but tells columnists that Justin Bieber's corn rows aren't worth writing about. If we talk about cultural appropriation like we talk about fashion, we make discussion indivisible from the socio-economic relations of production. The privileged produce and reproduce cultural elements for personal gain too often without the due diligence of credit or payment to original creators.

Definitively, it is within your rights right to both culturally appropriate and police, but I implore you to consider why exactly you're doing so. The world would be a better place if people stopped to ask themselves "is my costume fetishizing or trivializing anyone?" or "is my public confrontation/keyboard call-out based on a subjective moralizing argument?"

Reflection is better than judgement.

Friday, May 26, 2017

John Campbell is Right About Pride

But he could have explained himself so much better...For readers out of the loop, Toronto city councilor John Campbell introduced a motion to strip Pride Toronto of their city grant for a decision to restrict the dress and conduct of police officers in attendance of the festival.

Censorship is a tool of oppression. It cannot be used to create anti-oppression.

I am a realist. Pride Toronto is a private entity. As much as they'd like to claim they represent Toronto's immeasurable diversity, they don't. Private entities have the right to organize themselves as they see fit. However, private organizations who take public funds are bound to the conditions of public opinion.

Let's get some facts straight about Toronto Pride.

Fact: Many community groups, businesses, and non-profits run events that contribute to the overall economic impact of the Pride Festival. Giving all of the credit to Pride Toronto is a beat up strategy non-profits use to lure funders.

Fact: Taking away $260 000 hurts not a single queer person. It forces a very problematic organization to examine their conduct and realign their policies and expenditures within a financial reality that does not sponsor their censorship of parade participants based on occupation.

Fact: Pride Toronto is a white, gay, capitalist institution. There's no rational disagreement with these descriptors. Pride Toronto is not entitled to public money.

Fact: Legally, a university couldn't censor event participants like Pride Toronto plans to.

Fact: We can give the money to more deserving applicants.

Propping up Pride Toronto and saying "well, if you have a problem, get involved" is asking the oppressed to save themselves. Why should more people need to get involved when funding can just be given to less problematic recipients?

The non-profit industrial complex is an axis of evil until it's something you like, right?

Friday, May 5, 2017

For Clarity: A Biopolitical Diary Entry

I haven't written in so long that it actually disappoints me. I accept my struggle with balance; I tend to pick one thing and do really well at it alone, and for the last six months that was working 40 exhausting hours a week at Cannabis Culture in Toronto's Church-Wellesley Village.

An early November afternoon, I handed Marc Emery a resume tailored to the Prince of Pot. Unexpectedly, I was hired for a trial shift that day and spent the next six months selling cannabis for recreational use in open defiance of prohibition laws.

Officially, I was a budtender, though that's getting punched up to "CSR for special retail" on the resume. I can't tell you how many times I heard "you have the coolest job ever".  Straight up though: budtending is exactly like bar tending, sub weed for booze. I don't love customer service, but I like weed and money! It was my most memorable job to date, certainly.

I know a lot of words, and none of them in any combination can speak to how much my life changed over the course of my employment at 461 Church Street. I landed in Toronto June 30 on the final leg of what would be a two year stint informally housed. With stable income and welcoming work family, Toronto became home. Do not take any of this as a love letter to Toronto; the feeling is tenuous.

Comforts of home burnt out for me a while ago. It hasn't been New Brunswick for years; I doubt I'll spend more than a few weeks in Sussex the rest of my life. Ottawa lost its luster after 9 years too. As I hit my late 20's, I fell out of love with Ottawa's double lives, zealous partisans, and golden handcuffs.

Working at Cannabis Culture was unique. I was day staff and immediately realized the stream of humans at the LCBO was as diverse as the stream of our customers. Blatant wealth and poverty were on display at 461 Church, as was every other facet of life. Being nimble at working across class and cultural differences made some of us better at budtending than others.

I need not recount the history of dispensary raids that put me out of work, but know that I've had some time to consider my options the past couple weeks.

Clarity is priceless. I learned this young. Thinking an option through is far more important than acting immediately, despite any pressures otherwise. Without a job, I was imploding trying to figure out my next move. For the first time in my adult life, I have enough money saved that I can comfortably investigate self-employment prospects.

These prospects were dizzying. I don't mean that in a self-congratulatory sense; I mean that I made myself sick with consideration. The pressure I was putting on myself to act quickly was too much. Days of stressorexia preceded me getting worst stomach flu of my adult life. Through the anxiety and illness, I researched a cannabis business proposal that would have made me a millionaire quite quickly, and then I decided against the whole plan.

The level of completion at which I walked away from the proposal frustrates a lot of people. It felt familiar to me, but more imortantly, it felt right. The other time I felt this was withdrawing my PhD acceptance. Something, in this case horrible physical illness, prompted me to identify and purge disingenuous internalized classism.

So how much had I done? I took an online cannabis studies program, I incorporated & trademarked, I did all the sales projections, I listed all the community partners, I found the site's investment package from it's receiver, and I shortlisted three of my most trusted friends to ask in on it. I did everything short of typing it up.

The pitch was to re-purpose the abandoned Sussex Mall in Sussex, New Brunswick for licensed cannabis production. Conservative sales estimate was 16 million dollars per year. I still get a pang of excitement thinking about the potential of the idea, but I need to smother that shit with reality.

I would be rich, but would I be happy? The answer was: not for a few years. Life would suck until I could walk away and just cash cheques.

Minus one: my relatives are batshit crazy, and I'm not in regular contact. If I was going to pursue this opportunity, I would be in town just in time to see my brother stand trial for assaulting my mother. Uhhhhhhhhhh.

Minus two: I'd have to give up film school in September. Check myself. I'm already on the path to the life I want. It took one of these fucking epiphanies to get here.

What's my best life?

It sounds like an MTV commercial, but it's a really useful consideration. I'm an artist. I want to create until I die. I would rather die making culture than making money. I can figure out wealth after I figure out happiness.

Working in weed is the first time I've ever been tempted to "sell out". By "sell out", I don't mean "environmentalist takes job at Shell". I mean on an existential deviating from my intended path to happiness for money. I have path, and I flirted with a less certain possibility of happiness via wealth.

Wealth can buy a lot of things, but time isn't one of them. I have dreams and creative goals that money doesn't advance. I've always wanted to be a meaningful force in cultural production and a lawyer, specifically a jurist. My dream job is at Netflix, and I plan to combine my interests practicing entertainment law later in my career.

I love weed, and I love working in weed, for now. I don't have the technical skills for the life I want, but I will.