Category: Uncategorized

Lyrics of the Month: September 2016

Stumbling drunk off a bus downtown
You’ve got it bad for the system
‘Cause you know it let you down
You see the marks on the whores
And the dimes they lent you
And your paranoia soars
On the wings of your dementia

Without a system that compels
The growth of human compassion
Its a face that will never change
Nobody’s well when even one soul suffers
We’re bound by circumstances
We can’t dissarrange
Does shame prevent you
From engaging in the indigents struggle

Just filling up a vacancy
With nothing new to live for
When I was young and naive
I believed I could be so much more
Out of touch with a world
That never cared or knew me
More dead than alive
when you stare right through me

Its a face that will never, never change
never change
You could be the one
With your hand held out

Good Riddance, Bound By Ties of Blood and Affection, Shame, Rights & Privilege

Lyrics of the Month: May 2016 – Rilo Kiley

Sometimes in the morning I am petrified and can’t move
Awake but cannot open my eyes
And the weight is crushing down on my lungs I know I can’t breathe
And hope someone will save me this time

And your mother’s still calling you insane and high
Swearing it’s different this time
And you tell her to give in to the demons that possess her
And that God never blessed her insides

Then you hang up the phone and feel badly for upsetting things
And crawl back into bed to dream of a time
When your heart was open wide and you loved things just because
Like the sick and the dying

And sometimes when you’re on, you’re really fucking on
And your friends they sing along and they love you
But the lows are so extreme that the good seems fucking cheap
And it teases you for weeks in it’s absence
But you’ll fight and you’ll make it through
You’ll fake it if you have to
And you’ll show up for work with a smile
You’ll be better you’ll be smarter
And more grown up and a better daughter
Or son and a real good friend
You’ll be awake and you’ll be alert
You’ll be positive though it hurts
And you’ll laugh and embrace all your friends
You’ll be a real good listener
You’ll be honest, you’ll be brave
You’ll be handsome, you’ll be beautiful
You’ll be happy

Your ship may be coming in
You’re weak but not giving in
To the cries and the wails of the valley below
Your ship may be coming in
You’re weak but not giving in
And you’ll fight it you’ll go out fighting all of them…

-Rilo Kiley, A Better Son / Daughter, The Execution of All Things

Solitaire.

Brandees is a four-and-a-half-block walk from my bachelor apartment. My building, an 88-year-old three-storey brick structure called The Kenora, is equipped with bathrooms that make phantom popping sounds like peculiar lip movements of a large-mouthed old man. Plop poppop plop pup pop. And pipes that sound like a monkey is hitting them with a hammer in the basement. And pigeons that flutter and coo, waking me like the cocks of the city.

Brandees is a convenience store with a post office open until 11pm. A convenience store that at one time sold bannock in a brown paper bag. But most importantly, a convenience store that rents DVDs for $3, or two for $4.

My laptop died several weeks ago in the first month of death. My new laptop, replacing the creator of two books and countless jeering essays, is thinner than a pancake and has fewer orifices than a three-eyed human, excluding the hardware that reads any media that can be rented at Brandees.

My friend Mike once said that the only honest place left in Regina is Country Corner Donuts on the corner of Dewdney and Broad St. A sandwich as tall as a five-dollar-bill only costs four. Stan has his own corner called Stan’s Corner. It says it is open 24-hours but you get kicked out at 11pm. (Though that seems dishonest, it isn’t.) Brandees is one of those few honest places left in the city (except the one time they fined me $25 for not returning a movie that I did indeed return, but again, honesty is subjective). Brandees is a dry oasis in a city soaked in booze.

So now I count down the days until I can no longer watch Brandees DVDs on my work laptop because I will soon be fired for doing my job too well and by then I will have absolutely no way of watching movies rented from Brandees and I will probably die from irony and desperation and chest pain from losing at solitaire too many times because I can’t just double click on every card until something happens because I have to flip the cards by hand and look at a rubbermaid coffeetable instead of a screen.

Because without Brandees movies and without the internet and without the motivation to go to the library to steal the internet I have no distraction and with no distraction I have to remember that all my friends at work are dying because good people are scared at the backlash of ignorant people when those ignorant people find out that all people are actually being treated like ‘people’ and not like the ‘ideas’ that they see them to be.

I walk to Brandees instead of biking or driving or jogging. Because the four-block journey there and back, stepping over the same dead bird four times in a week, walking past the pub and through the Safeway parking lot is guaranteeably more enjoyable than the destination, especially when the destination is in the apartment listening to popploppupploping and accidentally watching a Woody Allen movie.

I guess there’s always the arcade.

 

Lyrics of the Month: December 2015

The Funeral Procession

The funeral procession passed by here today. Confusion and questions left strewn in its wake. But I feel like I knew his pain-a mechanical failure while enduring the norm. Some of us fracture, others simply deform and lose their elasticity, never to return to the shape they were. I wonder which is worse? I try to keep my composure amidst the insanity, resigned to the truth that I will not live to see the dawn of a better day that might wash away the sadness of this age. I try to keep the voices calling me at bay, desperately clinging to any futile act of human decency. The voices love to remind me of my futility. Sitting on my hands hoping anyone else than me will do what should be done, it’s hard to not succumb as they call my name. You gotta keep on truckin’ anyways.

-Propangandhi, Supporting Caste, The Funeral Procession

Good People

I sat cross-legged in the cushioned armchair, scratching paint off my water bottle in the cozy, warmly coloured, obviously intentionally non-institutional office of my psychologist/psychotherapist/whatever.

Isn’t it enough to just be a good person and treat people well? she asked after a near hour-long discussion of how far one needs to go to make the world less of a festering shit hole, with me grinding myself into a hole trying to figure out how to do so.

I thought it over. I pictured the tax-paying, maybe church-going, home-owning, child-rearing city councillor who occasionally shovels his neighbour’s sidewalk and might even give a few bucks in December to one of the organizations that sent Christmas mail-outs. His kids are in hockey. He loves his spouse.

No, I said. That’s a cop out. 

I wondered what she thought—-that I was attacking her personally—-or if she was clinically breaking down my obvious guilt that stems from years in conservative religion, my fear that comes from the insecurity issues of being the youngest child, my anger from decades of not expressing myself in healthy mediums, and my depression which is induced by the daily watching of my friends dying while my other friends are not even able to give a shit. She was likely doing neither, she is significantly smarter than I.

Because of constant deconstruction of social programs, the development of neighbourhoods that are exclusive in nature, and the importance financial-driven success, being a good person means keeping to one’s self. It means not being an evil person. Not being a murderer, rapist, tax-evader, alcoholic, street worker. Not beating your children or spouse. Not pouring toxic waste into a animal rescue facility. Not bothering your neighbour. Being a good person, by the standards of our colonial, patriarchal society, means staying in line. The fact that my day job exists entirely to remind people of their worth, that they aren’t bad people for needing a shot of morphine everyday by noon, that they aren’t bad people if they fall off the wagon, that they aren’t bad people for being on welfare, that they aren’t bad people for having a culture that precedes the current—-the fact that this day job even exists, shows that good people, in today’s standards, are those with privilege.

I drank a sip from my water bottle, an action steeped in anxiety, done to make me look more natural. After a near hour of discussing my rage, my mind became blurry. By the time we got around to ways I can improve upon myself, I didn’t have the energy to comprehend new ideas. I pretended to take another sip of water from the empty bottle and nodded along with my psychological professional.

Being a good person and treating people well wouldn’t be a cop out if it meant something else. If it means more than smiling in public and not using racial slurs, then it may be enough. Enough to make changes that matter, to staunch the wounds that pour blood into the alleys. But until it does, until the characteristics of being a ‘good person’ include understanding and standing up for those our system have methodically destroyed, being a good person is not enough.

It’s not the fault of the good people that they are good people under the current model of good. We have been gutted and replaced with slop from the machine of individualistic, selfish commercialism. Our jobs don’t allow us the time to give a shit. In order to stay sane, we bask in the glory of our beautiful families and don’t look out the window to the family being kicked to the curb by a police officer, because we legitimately don’t have time, because the Mayor has stricken that topic from discussion in council, because if we do, we’ll get depressed. Good people everywhere don’t know how to participate in a change they want to make, so they rely on posting on internet, or they don’t do anything. I am that kind of good person.

Tonight as I watched city council directly shut down citizen concerns, bully them by calling requests of accountability disrespectful, and promote gun violence as seen on their favourite television shows, I watched a room full of good people fighting for their definition of good. The uninformed relied on tokenism, touching stories, and fear tactics to justify their definition of good, that is, to justify the increase in funding for the organization that protects their privilege. The informed stood up and defended their idea of good, that is, they were willing to understand and stand up for the good people outside of the room who have been trampled by the uninformed, power-protecting policies of racial profiling and bad-person profiling. Everyone was working for their own idea of good. Some of them were just unfortunately, painfully, and dangerously uninformed. I left city hall with a renewed interest in changing our current definition of what makes a good person. How we go about doing that has never been my strength.

I left the psychologist’s office $160 poorer, one-hour later, one vague understanding of fear and guilt, with one empty water bottle. I’m going to have to book another appointment. Or two.

 

Don’t Forget

Nightly Inspection

Tie a string around your finger so you don’t forget. Use different coloured string for different levels of forgetfulness. A ribbon on your pinky reminds you to make kale chips when you get home. A shoelace around your thumb reminds you to tune up your vehicle. A wayward greasy carpet string around your ring finger reminds you to keep in touch with that person you’ve had a crush on for a few years. A wire coiled around your index finger, gouging your knuckle each time you make a fist, reminds you, most important of all, to remember the other strings on your hand.

You need a string on your finger to remind you of leisure. Leisure that isn’t slovenly but leisure that is joyous, relaxing, not overthought. So you go for lunchbreak for the first time in years. You lounge next to a tree in the park with a friend, discussing light topics such as bicycles and ice cream and green grass and cats. You are succeeding at the leisure-string that you haven’t even tied on your finger. Maybe you don’t need to tie one on your finger at all.

Then a man, the same one you heard at the cenotaph gracefully preaching fire and brimstone to Friday Noon-Hour Lunchers, walks up to you and hands you a wallet-sized card, a fear-mongering reminder of your chronic problem with sin. He, a thirty-something-year-old touts ideas you thought were reserved for the fundamentalist old people, but doesn’t make you uncomfortable because your beliefs aren’t accidental but somewhat calculated and purposeful. He openly and strongly curses murderers and rapists and liars and thieves and those who use the Lord’s name in vain. He curses them to hell (the last three of which he asked if you do, to which you flatly respond, of course, daily) because he knows the grace of God better than you, and nearly, without so many words, accuses you of being a rape apologist, something like Norm on Bill Cosby fans. Because you don’t believe in the right kind of justice.

It’s difficult to have a conversation with a walking hate-filled preacher of love, a tape-recorder repeating language of heavenly bodies that is so far removed from the injustice of reality that a comprehension of human suffering is lost. His idea of justice is burning alive anyone who has ever farted and doesn’t share his belief system of how to get forgiveness for passing gas. Your idea of justice takes into account the victim, previous injustices, and human nature.

These are some big ideas, you tell him, we’ll give them some thought. He leaves to make the next group of people he talks to feel scared and angry, just like what his teacher told him to do, right?

A blue piece of floss around your outstretched middle finger. Remember that everyone has a right to a belief, but that right and wrong aren’t as clear as a heaven and hell.

James E. Harper: 2 (Lyrics of the Month: April 2015)

“A story has got to have a beginning, a middle, and an end,” James told me over the phone from his care home in his small city in Arkansas. “That’s it. I don’t care if it’s a song, a novel, or just a story you’re telling your friend.” He coached me even though we’d essentially known each other for three minutes.

I met James E. Harper (a.k.a. Poet) nearly four years ago with a friend in downtown San Francisco. James was introducing himself to people on the street, selling his book of poems, three or four roughly photocopied pieces of gold-coloured paper, so he could afford to grab a meal or some hygiene products for his wife. He mentioned that more of his work was available if you searched his name on the internet. In doing so, I couldn’t find any writings, so I transcribed what he sold me and posted it here. He deserves credit for his work. His poems are powerful and real. Read them.

As simple as it sounds, this is the writing advice I’ve needed for months, years perhaps. James’ advice, to simplify and be natural, speaks to why I find his writing to be worth noting. Honesty. No bullshit. I spend hours at the Bernal Heights Library, staring into the eyes of Antonio Banderas encouraging me to read, while I try to sort out the several dozen metaphors I have choking every story. When really, all the story needs is a beginning, middle, and end. I am mid-read of Crash Landing on Iduna by Arthur Tofte, a sci-fi paperback I found in a Wyoming truckstop for $2.99 with incredible cover art. In contrast to my overcomplicated way of thinking, it is the perfect example of oversimplified writing. Now to find the middle.

Comments have been posted regularly to James’ poems on Balls of Rice over the past three years by people who also stopped to chat with James and searched his name upon arriving home. A comment arrived in February stating that James now lived in a care home, and included a contact number.

“When you write something, you want to strike the chord. There’s a tuning fork in all of us, and you want it to feel like you’ve hit that,” he said. “If you haven’t lived it, you can’t write it.”

I told him that I am a writer and that I was in San Francisco to finish a few stories, which were giving me some trouble. “It sounds like you are forcing it. You heard of that song, If It Don’t Fit, Don’t Force It? Well, that’s just it.”

I hadn’t heard of the song. Now it is in my head when I need it most.

Just waiting to hear the end of the story.

If it don’t fit, don’t force it
If it don’t fit, nah, don’t force it
If it don’t fit, don’t force it
Just relax and let it go
Just ’cause that’s how you want it
Doesn’t mean it will be so

I’m givin’ up, I’m leavin’
Yes, I’m ready to be free
The thrill is gone, I’m movin on
‘Cause you’ve stopped pleasin’ me

I can’t stand bein’ handled
I’ve exhausted each excuse
I’ve even stooped to fakin’ it
But tell me what’s the use

You’re tryin’ hard to shame me
‘Cause you wanna make me stay
But all it does is bring to mind
What Mama used to say

I know there’ll be no changin’
We’ve been through all that before
I’m all worn out from talkin’
And now I’m a-headin’ for the door

C’mon stop your complainin’
Someone else will come along
You can start your life all over
Sing her your brand new song

You’re tryin’ hard to shame me
‘Cause you wanna make me stay
But all it does is bring to mind
What Mama used to say

-Kellee Patterson, Turn On The Lights/Be Happy, If It Don’t Fit, Don’t Force It

Bigfoot

Photo by Eric Goud

Bigfoot is real. I saw him, his pecker in his hands, last week at Big Sur.

I was eating a breakfast burrito on the coast, overlooking the mist-covered cliffs and crashing Pacific waves, when several kilometers in the distance, there he was, squatting on a rock with his back-end hanging over the ocean. The Pacific Ocean, Bigfoot’s toilet. I was far away, so it could have been a walrus, a sea lion, a humpback whale, a rogue sequoia tree, or beach trash. Or, as I prefer to believe, Bigfoot relieving himself.

When I told a friend of my sighting, she scoffed and told me what I saw was just an amalgamation of seaweed and driftwood, propped up by high tide and made look real through morning haze. She proceeded to show me a very recent UFO video from Kazakhstan. Real, undeniable proof.

Another friend told me to watch out. That the wormhole of bigfoot and UFO videos is a dangerous place for people already uncertain about reality, which is a common symptom of anxiety. She then proceeded to tell me about the peaceful tenets of Buddhism.

Begrugingly I have recently come to admit that what I saw was not, in fact, Bigfoot taking a shit. But rather, simply, my desire to see Bigfoot exposing himself to the endless wonders of the bright blue ocean. But if someone sitting next to me, looking at the same cliff at the same time, believed that they saw him, truly believed that Bigfoot was there, I would support their belief. The reasons they believed with conviction could have something to do with their eyesight, their hunger levels, the animals they saw in the forest when they were children, the movie they watched the night previous, the TinTin yeti episode they saw as kids, or previous sightings of Bigfoot himself. Their previous life events made them more likely to believe, and since Bigfoot’s existence is still truly an unknown, this does not make them any less rational.

Most people’s beliefs are based on secondhand accounts, old books, or internet video footage. Stories told by credible friends over a bonfire. A belief based on a feeling they have that they cannot explain. The same for belief in ghosts, or the resurrection, or of yoga, or in science, or in nothing.

Some create elaborate hoaxes—a tall hairy figure with massive strides saunters towards a body of fresh water to wash his/her own personal holes—but their commitment to false evidence does not disprove the existence of a bipedal woodland creature. Some, presumably most, film what they believed to be the outright truth, an accidental stumbling across the unknown. Discussions of incredulity of people’s beliefs, denouncing what some hold true, break down any level of human connectedness. But people’s absolute conviction in the existence of Bigfoot, or their utter insistence on the excessive nature of his legend—people’s certainty and what they will do in its name—will forever impress, entice, and scare me.

Their desire to be part of something, whether it is the glorious triumph when scientists find the first Bigfoot skeleton in northern B.C. or by pointing and laughing when it is proven to be an elaborate folktale, is the same unexplainable, at times unproductive desire that is a side effect of the destruction of real communities, the same desire that concretes people to a sports team, a country, a tax bracket, a t-shirt company, that is, the human desire—opposite of Bigfoot’s desire to be solitary, separate, unseen, anonymous—to be part of a greater whole.


 

I visited the Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wandering around, haggard and tour-worn, I noticed the disproportionate number of attractive women aged 20 to 25, the flags of their home nations pinned to their blouses, welcoming wayward, lonely travellers in dozens of languages into the many ornate buildings of Mormon history. I was drawn to the domed Tabernacle where an organ rehearsal boomed triumphantly, peacefully. There I sat, recent non-believer, truly thinking how lovely it would be to fall in love with a Mormon girl, accept the general tenets of her faith, and start a simple carefree life as a closet Mormon in some foothills town in Utah, the ‘Life Elevated’ state. Sometimes, like this time, I would be elated to hand in my anxieties, loneliness, my overthought, for the absolute certainty that some can hold, and the happiness and joy that comes with being part of the greater whole. But in order to do that, one must believe.

Books of the Year: 2014

Roof-Ready Regina – Round 2

The following was presented at the Alternative Housing Summit Press Conference on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 in Regina, Saskatchewan to put pressure on the City of Regina to take serious steps to improve the affordable housing crisis in Regina.

Right now the City and developers are upstairs patting themselves on the back for a year of inaction and bare minimums. They’re talking about purportedly innovative housing starts in the city that won’t even put a dent in the affordable housing crisis that still exists in our city. Since the Mayor’s Housing Summit last year, the City has been paying developers to build normal, everyday, market rental units. Because of pressure from the community through Roof-Ready Regina project, they have recently changed their subsidy program and now use the CMHC definition of affordable housing, that is 30% of an individual’s income.

This past year developers built more market rental units and sucked up as much of the municipal subsidy as they could before the unsustainable, nonsensical program inevitably changed. Housing starts were up, the vacancy rate went up, but more importantly rental costs continue to soar; that is what they’re here celebrating.

Locally and provincially no firm plan has been created to address homelessness when similar cities in the country have set specific goals and measures to ensure the end of homelessness within ten years. Instead the city has gone as far as to subsidize and entirely rely on the market to do what is the government’s job. The municipal government repeatedly claims that housing isn’t their fiscal responsibility, however this doesn’t absolve the city from being a proactive player in ending homelessness.

Several small steps could be made to keep developers accountable and to improve the housing situation of the most marginalized in our city.

  1. Requiring developers to build a certain percentage of their units as affordable housing, or requiring them to pay into an affordable housing fund would be a progressive step to ensure adequate amounts of affordable housing was created, and to make a sustainable housing program run by the city.
  2. Forming true partnerships with the provincial government to align programs and funding is the logical step for the city to move forward. Creating an Action Plan with solid, measured, and attainable goals in affordable housing is the responsible thing for the City to do, with the help from the provincial and federal government

In working with community I have seen dozens of people living in substandard housing that they can still barely afford because of rental costs in the city, and for many, the idea of living in a safe, healthy, and affordable place of their own is a pipe dream. It takes a responsible community and more importantly a responsible, just, and moral government to ensure that housing is accessible to all.

Decisions of policy makers have not been made in the public interest but in the interest of private developers and in the interest of garnering votes. Focusing on low-income seniors and single-parent families is incredibly important, but is often done to sway the public interest and not to truly cover the marginalized in our society. The municipal government has the opportunity to be a proactive player in developing policy to ensure that adequate amounts of affordable housing is developed in our community, and they have the responsibility to partner with all levels of government to do so. We call on the City to develop proactive and concrete plan to improve housing for everyone, not just everyone who can pay for it.