Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Now...Forward Again

We've completed a sweep through my past; we've visited all the west coast cities I ever lived in: Seattle, Seaside, and yesterday, San Francisco. Nostalgia ran deep. My time in Seattle ended 25 years ago; Seaside, 37, San Fran, 44. In each place, we drove by places I lived, worked, hung out. The folks I knew then are mostly gone, moved - I was never great at maintaining any but the deepest relationships.

The reconnections I was able to make, and those still ahead, in L.A., San Diego, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta...all have a future as well as a past. And aside from Atlanta, these are places I know very little or not at all - new landscapes and city-scapes to learn.

This is a great trip to be taking with Ponczka. We've now been together through almost all the places either of us has ever lived, and quite a few more besides. We've travelled one another's geographies. And geography means something, means so much. I feel the effect these different environments have had on me.

Yesterday, I was remembering hitch-hiking to San Francisco from Atlanta, just after turning twenty and being out of school for the first time in my life. That trip was very much about opening up new pathways into a different future. Back then, what San Francisco represented to me was alternate lifestyles and alternate ways to thinking and being. It was, for example, the place I first allowed myself a self-definition that wasn't centered around being Black. When I arrived, I did not immediately go to the Fillmore, San Francisco's Black community, because I was much more interested in Haight-Ashbury. I allowed myself that: to be moved by what I was drawn to. rather than what I thought I was supposed to be drawn to. And therefore, I found myself mostly meeting young White people, some of them hippies, mostly travellers as I was, mostly explorers, as I also was, looking for how to be other than how they'd always been defined.

Ponczka and I are exploring what our next years will bring, where we will be and what we will do. We know it won't simply be an extension of what has already been. One of the most special things about her is her capacity to imagine the new and to nudge out lives toward it. One of our favorite games to play together is imagining living in places we don't live. So more than a dozen times already, one of us has said to the other, "Okay, let's buy THAT place, and move here." And the other will agree and speculate about where we might work, and we'll be off into imagining parallel lives for ourselves.

After thousands of kilometers West, then South, we've almost at the point where we'll turn East again. A few old friends still to see, and mostly new places to explore. It won't be so much about nostalgia. Much more about what's next. One of the best things about a trip like this is how it opens possibilities. The world is so, so full of possibilities. So many different environments. So many different life styles. So many different ways that human beings can be creative. It underscores the reality that our lives at home are in no way inevitable. There is no such thing as inevitability. We create in every moment, and possibility is unlimited.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Glance Backward

We’ve just spent our second overnight in Bellingham, Washington, a small city between Vancouver and Seattle that’s home to Western Washington University. Our host Scott drove us around the oyster farming bays with views westward to the San Juan Islands yesterday. We stopped in the tiny village of Edison and ate fried oysters, reminding Scott and I of a similar trip on the east coast when we sought out and devoured fried clams.

I’m in downtown Bellingham this morning to get an oil change for the Nissan Micra that’s carried us 4,700 kilometers already. Later, we head for Seattle, the destination that inspired this trip – completing the re-tracing of the route I drove in May 1993 with my new wife, when I moved from Seattle to Toronto. I’d never have believed that it would be a quarter century before I returned. I had just turned 39 then, and was finishing up 12 years in Seattle. Now I’m 64, much changed in some ways, not so much in others. I expect to find Seattle the same – altered yet familiar.

Some things are already familiar, being this close. The West is easier than the East. People are better at taking their time, they move with less … what’s a good word that falls between determination and desperation? It feels right to say that there’s less gravity here and more space. It seems there’s less obesity. I think that here one feels more free and open in ones body, has a more balanced relationship with time. Our brief time in Vancouver has already confirmed my memory that even the big cities feel less removed from nature, from wilderness, from Wildness. And this too is a kind of freedom.

This time in and around Seattle will mark my deepest brush with memory, with nostalgia. I did so much growing up and exploring here. I’m excited to walk Capital Hill and Fremont, the U-District and Beacon Hill. The handful of visits will be bitter-sweet. These relationships were interrupted and for the most part, I haven’t been a good long-distance friend. I’ve completely lost touch with most of those who shaped my life back then. But I’m so glad to be here, to reconnect where I can, to feel gratitude for what my time here brought me.

Hello Seattle and  Goodbye again. Thank You, Great NorthWest. It was a great Blessing to have this place as Home.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Road Trip

     We're seven days on the road now - We've made it from Hammertown to Vancouver. It's raining and it's perfect.

     We have another three weeks ahead of us: another three weeks of not thinking about the job, not worrying about the cats at home, or getting the trash out, having no schedule or role except to be nomads together, and to run these roads, between friends and once familiar places.

    It was pure coincidence, but is adding spice to this journey, that it began just before Halloween, finishes with Thanksgiving, and that this hysterical and panicked race for political supremacy reaches one of its climaxes in three days. I've voted as an absentee for twenty-six years, and though I will again on Tuesday, I'll be doing so while in Seattle, where I'm still registered.

     The continent is majestic. We've stopped for the night in Spragge, Ontario - north of Superior, Thunder Bay, just west of Winnipeg, in Swift Current, Calgary and Revelstroke. I love that name...Revelstroke. I once had a friend who grew up here - an unhappy childhood, she said. But as I bought take-out downtown, and imagined one of the waitresses was her sister, and drove between those towering and inspiring summits, draped in wisps and splashes of cloud, I thought - at least she had this magic, and knew that was part of what had made her special to me.

     It's a huge land. In space, in breadth, in imagination. So many memories crowd in, of times I've crossed the continent before, in cars, on trains, hitch-hiking. In a hurry to get back someplace, or reaching for someplace I'd never been; loving, longing, sometimes lost.

     It is deep and humbling Earth we're crossing, doing it together for the first time, and it's her first time ever. We feel seeds being planted in us as we observe this land, and the people on it, how they are part of a place and that place part of them. It's felt like a grand sweep, rolling west along the Trans-Canada, through the tumble of northern Ontario, the lakes then the flatlands of Manitoba, the country they call Living Sky for millions of reasons, the Rockies thrusting up, the bulge in the mantle that it is. Sometimes its good to feel so small. It's small and a piece of something grand. How lucky we are.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Legal Pot: Celebration & Concern

      I love marijuana. And I’m very glad that now, finally, I live in a country where using it is legal, where I’ll never again have to sneak, hide, or deal with people I don’t really want to deal with in order to get it.

     But I’m also a marijuana addict, and I know how much it can fuck up a life. So while I applaud legalization, I’m also concerned. I know that, just as some people insist that marijuana has no positive qualities, there are others who mistakenly imagine that no harm can come of it. And I know better.

     I started using marijuana occasionally when I entered university. The summer after my freshman year, I began to use it regularly. And within another couple of years, I began to realize that I had a bit of a problem.

Image result for marijuana canada

     My roommate and I began our use of marijuana at about the same time, and we enjoyed it together. I’ll still argue with anyone that marijuana enhances creativity, the perception of beauty, can promote a mental agility and flexibility. And, perhaps best of all, it can substantially enhance the ability to synthesize information, to view things from novel perspectives and to transcend an habitual attitude or viewpoint. Being progressive rather than conservative in outlook, I see these as very good things.

     Marijuana was also very helpful to me in that it helped me to overcome a shyness, a reticence, a limiting self-consciousness in social or intimate situations. It helped me to open up, to express myself, and to connect with others. It empowered me to take reasonable risks and to make bolder explorations. I consider it an amazingly useful and transformational substance.
But I became dependent. I began to turn to marijuana for an everyday boost, as a kind of ‘cure’ for what I perceived as my shortcomings. So my addiction was underway.

     I didn’t see, at the time, that I was using herb as…medicine, shall I say? And by over-using it, I was cancelling out its most beneficial traits. Every high has its low, and daily use of herb had the side effect of reducing my 'sober' hours to a duller, foggier and more lethargic state. Getting high was then necessary to gain back a spark that felt more life-like. I knew that 'Yo Highness',  kept me from being bored, not realizing then that boredom, like every kind of natural pain, was a powerful and useful signal about my situation, circumstances or state of being. And in this case, the boredom was substantially a sign of withdrawal, a direct by-product of the, by now, faint and foggy highs that were the most that my abuse permitted. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

     The way I learned that I had an issue was through the mirror of my roommate, and others. We’d go in on an ounce together and a week later I’d be all out, and his lid would seem almost intact. I began to see that while lots of friends got high on the weekend, I was continuing to indulge all through the week. Despite the rhetoric that weed was not addictive, it became very clear to me that it was very addictive to me.

     The fact that I’m an addict in no way changes my notion about the supremely positive characteristics of marijuana. Most users I’ve known over the years use it, enjoy it, put it aside and show no ill effects that I’m aware of. But there’s that small minority that I’ve seen use it to the point of disabling themselves, and most of them don’t recognize or acknowledge it.

     Yes, the pothead who loses all motivation or ambition exists. And the one who becomes so muddle-headed as to be unable to tackle any complexity. And the one who loses all sense of responsibility, or of accountability, or punctuality, or even of reality. Then, there are those whose disability never becomes quite so apparent. They still go to work, have relationships, manage their households. But some of them have reduced their … what shall I call it … their Life Force, their Vitality, their Clarity to the point where they are substantially dimmed, diminished, lessened – dialed down to 75 or 50 percent – and they may not even know it.

     I was one of these. After years and years of almost daily pot smoking, I was a dull knife indeed. And it was very clear to me that if I continued on my course, I was committing a kind of suicide. I literally felt that I had to give it up in order to save my life. And I finally did. With the help of a 12 step program, I gave it up and didn’t use for many years. Fourteen, in fact. And there’s no question that giving it up grounded me, brought a kind of clarity and solidity to my life that I hadn’t known was missing.

     At some point – because I still remembered the glories of weed – I told myself that if I made it to 10 years of sobriety, I’d allow myself to try it again if the opportunity arose, and if I felt inclined. And when I did smoke again, I knew instantly that I was still an addict. Because immediately, I wanted to smoke more, I wanted to smoke it every day.

     Long story short, I ultimately found a good balance. Once a month works for me. I allow myself to indulge once every few weeks, for a day or two. Because I’m coming to it from sobriety, the quantity I consume is very little. A single joint will often suffice. It’s amazing to me how much I can get from that periodic indulgence. It’s so wrong, this notion that the brilliant ideas one gets while high evaporate into nothingness when the high is gone.  The insights that come have helped me powerfully in my writing, in my people work, in my personal life. They have often helped me to see things in a holistic way that previously eluded me, bringing together and making sense of experiences and challenges I hadn’t even seen as related.

     But I remain an addict. Sometimes, the indulgence is so good, I want to continue it. So it stretches to three days, four days. By which time, a bit of fog has descended, the world has become a bit less solid, and it becomes harder to put my mother drug away. I have occasionally gotten caught up in that haze again for two or three weeks. It can remain a very sweet trap for that long and longer. So, I’ve learned how important it is – if you’re an addict like me – not to let the indulgence stretch out.

     One of the things I think most pot heads don’t even realize is that, when they use all the time, they rarely if ever experience the glorious high that first committed them to weed. Instead, they may experience a soft, tingly and insulated stasis, like I did. It's often a numb but safe space, full of trivial but reliable comforts, and so easy to get to. A grander, deeper and richer high, in my own experience, demands at least occassional society. Sobriety of the intentional sort, which is not the same as what one experiences when unable to connect with their dealer for a couple of days.

     On top of that, overuse denies us potheads the opportunity to experience the wonderful solidity and clarity of total sobriety. I know, I know…this sobriety can feel extremely oppressive, boring and empty when one is in the grip of the herb addiction. But that emptiness is a symptom of the addiction, not of sobriety. And besides, it doesn’t last.

     So, my worry about legalization is simply that, with the persistence of the myths, that marijuana cannot be addictive, and that there’s nothing to lose, there will be more people falling into the pot haze trap. This is not a call for prohibition or restriction. I think herb is a wonderful gift, and that anyone ought to be able to use it as they see fit , except that I believe it’s a bad idea for kids. And while it will only ever be addictive to a minority, it can be devastating to we few.

     I try to see marijuana as a kind of sacrament, as a precious substance to be used sparingly and with great respect. I try to use it purposefully, and when I'm in a positive frame of mind, never to boost myself out of a bad mood. It is amazing when doing things creative or enjoying art. But I no longer toke up just so the explosions will be cooler when I'm zoning out watching Netflix. If I'm going to experience a temporary, rhapsodic shift in consciousness, I want it to be meaningful. A sacrament is not to be wasted or taken for granted. 

     I hope this legalization goes well, that it brings to any who use it the positive blessings it had brought me. And I hope those, like me, who are prone to addiction, will realize this and never let it take over or reduce their lives, as it did mine for too many years.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Serena: The Greatest Athlete...and a Human Being

I don’t generally go for “Best of All Time” titles.

I think it’s pointless to argue that a particular leader, author, architect, book, singer, president, movie, or anything else was the greatest of its kind for all time. There are just so many factors and differences to weigh and to consider when comparing this brightest star to all others. In the realm of sports you have to consider: the level of competition and the training, nutrition and equipment that is/was available. Even social conditions and cultural expectations play a role. Like, how do we compare a modern “professional” athlete, with trainers and sports psychologists and nutritionists to an amateur from the past who not only had none of that, but who was expected to treat the sport as a hobby, received no pay, and had to get on with establishing a career and a family.
But despite this, I’m going to proclaim that Serena Williams is the absolute greatest athlete – male or female – of ALL TIME. I do so not because it’s scientific fact or anything that I would try to prove, but because I’m so in awe of her talent, her determination and her level of accomplishment. I won’t lay out a pile of irrefutable evidence. Agree or disagree, you have your own champions and biases and stats to cite, I’m sure. I’ll just throw out the single accomplishment (well, eight really; at least two that I consider most staggering:
This is the fact that she won, in succession, the 4 highest level championships in tennis – something only ever accomplished by a small handful of men or women. Then, 14 years later, she did it again! To win even one major championship requires victory in 7 matches, and generally at least a couple of those will be against other top-10 players. And the 4 championships are on different surfaces, on different continents, in different seasons.  And there can be no doubt that tennis is among the most grueling of sports, demanding an extremely high level of fitness and of mental toughness. So the fact that she accomplished this Grand Slam at age 21, then again at age 33, when almost the entire field she dominated the first time around was well into retirement, and some of her competition barely half her age, is, to me, almost beyond belief.

Last week, I watched her lose her latest quest for a major championship – it would have been number 24. And she lost the last time I watched her as well – a couple of months ago at Wimbledon. But my admiration is not diminished by these loses. All champions lose, and lose badly.

Nor am I turned against her by her behavior during the recent U.S. Open. Her frustration and some punishing rulings by the judge got the best of her, and she experienced a near melt down while being trounced by her 20 year old opponent, Naomi Osaka. Yes, I was unhappy, sad, disappointed about several aspects of that altercation. But I don’t see how being a superstar insulates a person against surges of anger or frustration, or from spontaneous self-expression, especially when under such pressure. Serena is human, gloriously so. Given her rage and disappointment, she handled herself well enough, even composing herself enough to comfort, console and express pride and admiration for her opponent. The thing I feel worst about is that all the drama and controversy took the focus and the spirit of celebration from Osaka, who deserved it.

But the other thing I was left feeling after that amazing match was an appreciation that yet another young, powerful and supremely talented brown-skinned girl has ascended to the upper echelons of women’s tennis, along with last year’s winner, Sloane Stevens, just as the Serena and her sister Venus are beginning an inevitable descent. As a brown person myself, I can’t but feel satisfaction in this manifestation of diversity in this still almost entirely white sport. I like it even a bit more that Osaka is both Japanese and Haitian, diversifying the diversity, so to speak.

So, Go Ahead On, Serena. Keep on being yourself, and being the Best Ever!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Walls Tumbling Down

We are entering a remarkable time in American History. The Reign of Incompetence is about to end! A threshold has been reached. Americans are beginning to really come to terms with the consequences of electing a shallow, immature, self-obsessed narcissist to the most important and powerful position on Earth.

A revolution of sorts is taking place. Members of the innermost center of government are actively organized against the agenda and efforts of Donald Trump. And they are doing so, fully recognizing that this man is doing harm to the country.

This on the heels of Bob Woodward's book, of Cohen's explicit guilty plea, the continuing Mueller investigation. Have enough of us woken up?

Of course, so much of Trump's fervent base is tied to him because of his commitments to a right wing court, the repeal of Roe v Wade, support for guns and for coal and for de-regulation. They will never again have a champion like him. And they won't give him up. Trump and these will cling to their power. Would they accept Pence? Would the rest of us? Regardless of that, some of them must simply be able to separate the politics from this pitiful, limited adolescent they are serving and adoring.

Huge problems are that Trump has consistently peddled his messages against the media, against the left, the courts, against any entity that resists him. And so many have bought in to the conspiracies about all the powers arrayed for the sole purpose of unfairly bringing him down.

A wild time. I haven't read the Times editorial yet. Apparently it calls for activity from the people. I want to be, need to be, more involved in this. It's such a crucial time. And there is so much complacency, cynicism, rejection of personal responsibility. I must choose to be active in this. Speaking out. Raising my voice more regularly will be the start.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Trump: America's Anti-Hero

Trump is demeaning and weakening America. He is undermining our country’s strongest values and institutions, in pursuit of ego trophies and personal victories. And the ugliest part of America, the entitled, spoiled, narrow-minded, self-centered and arrogant part of us has hailed him as its champion.

Trump is like the  action movie “Good Guy” who – in order to save his sweetheart – drives furiously through rush hour traffic, unconcerned about the trail of destruction in his wake. He’s the defiant rogue who breaks every law and thumbs his nose at every convention, because he knows best and cares least. He mows down dozens, or hundreds, of baddies; the body count doesn’t matter when measured against his precious. He wins the day, his model-gorgeous girlfriend, and the adulation of the masses. And he gets off without so much as a scratch or a traffic ticket.

Trump is like the bully we want to turn to when we’ve lost every logical argument and flip of the coin and just want to punch the other guy in the mouth. Trump is every irreverent anti-hero Hollywood has ever dreamt up, who kicks ass and asks questions later, or more likely, not at all. Because, forget the reasons and calculations of the snobs and the nerds, who look down on us, who don’t fear our God and love our truth. We know when we’re right! And anybody who tries to tell us different deserves a punch in the mouth too!

This is what’s happening to America. The self-righteous rage against the ‘other’ that reached a new level of simple-minded virulence when Obama came to power – no, it was not new; it’s as American as apple pie – found its focus and its symbol and its hero in a disrespectful, insecure, tell-it-like-it-isn’t egomaniac who unashamedly roars that he’s smarter than anyone else, more important than anyone else, and who puts his version of “winning” above all else.

I’ve never been so afraid for America as I am now. Because America, still a young nation in historical terms, is behaving like the brash adolescent it put in charge, big on brawn, short on wisdom and maturity, who wants what it wants and doesn’t have the patience to introspect, to see its own responsibility for its plight, and simply wants to attack anyone who has what it wants and knock down anyone who stands in the way of getting it.

Trump is undermining all of America’s international alliances, and dismantling the diplomatic service, and he doesn’t seem to care, or to even be aware of the potential long term consequences. He’s steadily working to undermine whatever faith Americans have left in its courts and investigative agencies, because they challenge his power and judgement. He isn’t concerned about how this erosion of trust could cripple the nation’s ability to reform and improve itself for decades to come. And he has been so relentless in his attack upon the media, and upon expertise and scientific judgement of all kinds, that he’s damaging the very ability of governments to act based on knowledge, and the ability of voters to choose based on fact.

The Republican party – which used to proclaim itself the party of values and standards – has been so beaten down by Trump's base that otherwise intelligent leaders have been reduced to Yes men and women, afraid to peep out of turn. Those who two years ago seemed determined to uphold some standards of character, professionalism and integrity have given up the fight. The very few who continue occasionally to call out Trump and his policies have announced their retirement, admitting their defeat. So Trump’s lies and distortions, his bullying, his over-reaching egotism and his chaotic style of governing, have all become the new normal.

I’m not a defender of the status quo. I want change too. By and large, I side with the progressives. To my view, and drastically oversimplifying it, the fundamental difference between them and the conservatives is that they choose a course based more on love and inclusion as opposed to fear and exclusion. It’s a matter of the kind of society we want to live in. But I am fearful of Trump, and of his base, and of the narrowing of the mind and the clogging of the heart that their brand of politics has brought us.

Anti-Heroes can be fun in the Cineplex. Not so much in the White House.