Sticks and Stones…

I’d imagine it must be painful for a parent to have to impart to their children those familiar words, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”

I was certainly skeptical.

Long before summoning the courage to come out to my parents at age 21, I had known that I was different from other kids in elementary school. I instinctively knew that I shouldn’t express my admiration for the exemplary physiques of Batman or Tarzan. So it was for many years – all the way through high school – that, while feeling no sticks and stones of any consequence, plenty of names hurt me and none moreso than those flung at me by my elementary school head teacher/principal. I attribute his monstrous bullying and physical abuse with setting the stage for all kinds of acting out behaviour detailed in other parts of this blog.

It is difficult to imagine that a man with such responsibility would have a place in today’s schools. To that extent, IT GETS BETTER.

Perhaps because we’ve applied ourselves to studying more diligently, or are just naturally gifted, it has been my observation that lgbt kids are smarter than average. There’s something to be said for being a nerd! I know, because I remember, that as a teen it seems like the freedom of adulthood will never arrive. It will, and IT GETS BETTER.

Almost without exception nowadays, schools have a zero tolerance policy for bullying. Use that for all it’s worth. You have a right to being safe in school. The same goes for the internet.

I won’t lie to you. What your parents have probably called “the best years of your life” (I know mine did) will seem unbearable at times. Just remember that things have come a long way in terms of lgbt rights and acceptance since I, or your parents, were in school. Hang in there, IT GETS BETTER.

I’m going to close with three of my favourite messages from the YouTube “It Gets Better” campaign.

Episcopal Bishop Eugene Robinsom

Fort Worth, Texas Councilman Joel Burns

New York City Gay Men’s Chorus

A stroke of spirit

Jill Bolte Taylor, author of “My Stroke of Insight” and featured in a popular TED lecture, was this week’s guest on CBC Radio’s Tapestry program. I still get goose-bumps listening to her story, in which she “experienced that absence of experience which becomes one of bliss” as I shared about a year-and-a-half or so ago.

Whatever was going on with me during what I called, among other things, my “Uncle Albert” experience several years ago, I certainly identify with JBT’s descriptions of nirvana, euphoria and losing her mind. (Uncle Albert was a character in the movie “Mary Poppins” who, when he laughed, would float up to the ceiling which is what I experienced feeling – even without laughing.)

Here’s Jill Bolte Taylor’s twenty minute talk:

Although I do not know the year of my experience I know Jim was in the hospital at the time and it was June because I remember going in this state to the annual vigil at Toronto’s AIDS Memorial. It was in the hallway outside Jim’s room I first noticed myself floating above the friends I was leaving with.

Could this have been a form of mania long before my bipolar II diagnosis? I hope not. It felt different than any hypomanic episode I have experienced consciously.

I am absolutely certain that my friends at the hospital that day – and friends at the vigil – with pandemic-fuelled compassion which had become instinctive, must have thought that AIDS dementia had set in. I, like Jill Bolte Taylor describes, couldn’t care less and, while experiencing euphoria, was also aware that this sense of complete sense of ease was new to me (without being chemically-induced) and so I questioned it.

So, while I vividly remember getting some wondering looks from friends in the hours and days which followed during my experience, I also recall sitting with a friend who is a therapist, though not mine, and she just revelled in my descriptions of what I was experiencing, even a day or two later, and encouraged me to just “go with it”.

One of JBT’s take away messages/questions from her “Tapestry” appearance were:

“Would I come back, if I come back, what would it take for me to come back, what would it take to motivate me, to want to recover when recovery meant pure pain and the world was spinning a million miles an hour, much faster than my mind which has this enormous hole in it, to ever be able to contemplate and make sense of again?”

I forget the ingenuity of the brain, how the left and right hemispheres are physically separate, as if to emphasize their distinctiveness. She describes the left as “separate from, single, intellectual, worried” while the right is “enjoyment, the present moment, I am life-force”.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s experience, and now her life’s work, shows us that we get to choose, or train ourselves, which hemisphere of the brain we wish to be in. I need all the encouragement I can get to step out of the left side.

Calling Uncle Albert…

The World Cup, CBC and Soccer4Hope

What an inspiration to see the CBC’s Scott Russell on The National Tuesday night with his profile of Soccer4Hope! (It’s at the 36-minute mark of the video) which probably only stays up until Wednesday night’s broadcast.

S4H looks very promising, modeled as it is after its basketball counterpart Hoops4Hope in bringing together the issues of HIV/AIDS, poverty, gender inequality and ‘the beautiful game’ as South Africa hosts the World Cup in just a few days time.

Check out this promotional video on YouTube as well!

‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like’ having no score for The Sound of Music wedding march?

As I followed some suggestions, during a morning stroll through YouTube, after viewing an organist handle a Bach piece with flair I found another one with a story much like one I can share.

Many years ago, I’ll bet it’s pushing forty years now, my mother was asked to play for a family friend’s wedding.  Mom was organist for about thirty years, on a beautiful two-manual Casavant Frères instrument, at Valleyfield United Church.

Valleyfield United Church

One of the requests was for the Wedding Processional from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” which, as our YouTube friend explains, was not available on sheet music until fairly recently.  Because this was not a drive-by wedding of people few – if any – in the congregation knew, as was too often the case even then, Mom was determined to transcribe the music.

Mom was a very good organist but the fact is her formal musical training was in piano so it seems pretty remarkable to me, in hindsight, how well she accomplished this task of bringing Richard Rodger’s grand march to life.  (She ended at the part where it bridged into “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria”.🙂 )

It was painstaking work.  I can’t remember precisely how it all came together but I do recall Mom sitting at the piano, playing a few chords, then pencilling them onto a blank sheet of music.  She used the vinyl disc of the soundtrack which, I would guess, she recorded onto a cassette so she could have it near the piano – and that’s how this favour began to be carried out.

Although I wasn’t at the wedding I did hear her rehearse the music on the organ a few nights before and it sounded great to me!

Fast-forward twenty-five or so years and I found, in my friend Jim, someone besides me who could sing the entire Sound of Music soundtrack from memory.  While we did so with much more camp than devotion it indicated a shared affinity we had with the story and the music.

Later still I learned that a friend of friends, who had been married in his youth before eventually ‘coming out’, had been betrothed when his bride marched down the aisle to someone else’s version of this same music.

To think this all started this morning with someone on Facebook posting a YouTube video of an organist playing a hymn written by Bach!

Coronation Street – Barlows visit an alcoholics’ recovery meeting

When I used to deliver the long-defunct Montreal Star through the late afternoon streets in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield there was an elderly customer on East Park, who shall remain nameless lest her great-great-grandchildren read this, who would meet me at the door on pay day, in her bathrobe and slippers, often without her teeth in. Her accent belied her country of origin but she clearly did not speak in the same circles as His or Her Majesties. Her biggest concern, “Have you got the TV guide with’ou?”

You’ll know that the dialect and accents are not the only things I can relate to in this clip and, glaring faux pas aside, I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Velveeta music I still like

So this afternoon a friend’s Facebook status update reads “Feelings, nothing more than feelings” to which I reply “Trying to forget my feelings of luououove…”

70s…Morris Albert…don’t tell me you weren’t there!

So I get thinking that one of my songs from the 70s, thumb-drumming on my desk, was Andrew Gold’s “Thank You For Being A Friend” – a song I loved some seven years before another recording of it launched “The Golden Girls” in 1985.

Thank You For Being A Friend

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
your heart is true you’re a pal and a confidant

I’m not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won’t you stand up and take a bow

And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
You would see, the biggest gift would be from me
and the card attached would say,
Thank you for being a friend

Thank you for being a friend
Thank you for being a friend
Thank you for being a friend

If it’s a car you lack
I’d surely buy you a cadillac
Whatever you need, anytime of the day or night

I’m not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won’t you stand up and take a bow

And when we both get older
With walking canes and hair of gray
Have no fear, even though it’s hard to hear
I will stand real close and say,
Thank you for being a friend

(I want to thank you)
Thank you for being a friend
(I want to thank you)
Thank you for being a friend
(I want to thank you)
Thank you for being a friend
(I want to thank you)
Let me tell you bout a friend
(I want to thank you)
Thank you for being a friend
(I want to thank you)
Thank you for being a friend
(I want to thank you)
Thank you for being a friend

And when we die and float away
Into the night, the Milky Way
You’ll hear me call, as we ascend
I’ll see you there, then once again
Thank you for being a friend

Thank you for being a friend
(I want to thank you)
Thank you for being a friend
(I want to thank you)
Thank you for being a friend
(I want to thank you)
Thank you for being a friend
Whoa, tell you about a friend
(Thank you right now, for being a friend)
Thank you for being a friend
(I wanna tell you right now, and tell you again)
Thank you for being a friend
(I wanna thank you, thank you, for being a friend)
Thank you for being a friend!

Canada’s government, rightfully shamed in Copenhagen, too arrogant to see it

I say, “Bien oui!” to The Yes Men!

Copenhagen Spoof Shames Canada; Climate Debt No Joke

The Yes Men Punk Canada

Who Are The Yes Men and Why Did They Punk Canada at Copenhagen

Like Rick Mercer and This Hour has 22 Minutes, there’s a lot more truth than spoof in the treatment of Canada’s environmental policy by American satirists/activists The Yes Men. While I used to take great, smug pleasure in Rick Mercer “Talking to Americans” I feel shame for our country with the band of environmental pirates who purport to govern for all of Canada.

Stephen Harper, Jim Prentice and their cadre of environmental hooligans, in encouraging the tar sands development to just keep on going, treat the boreal forests of Alberta like a giant ash-tray, clear-cutting ancient forests and then further degrading the area by strip-mining down and down and down scraping up tar and then extracting the oil – the dirtiest oil business on the planet.

It’s like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble are in charge except that in their quarry the tar sands and their exploiters were just a glimmer in the eye of Bedrock. Dinosaurs, at least in terms of brain size, can still be found in the halls of Parliament.

So Yes Men, keep it coming. The government of my country will not see the humour – they are rarely capable of finding it in anything other than bullying, knee-slapping jabs at anyone who disagrees with them.

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day

Tomorrow, December 1, is World AIDS Day. Let us remember that HIV/AIDS remains an issue the world over 364 other days of the year.

Promising treatments have extended the survival of people in the wealthiest nations of the world but, where available, are only starting to have an effect in poorer nations.

Canada’s promise to make cheaper generic drugs more accessible to poor countries is a law on the books but the medicines have not been rolled out. This is unacceptable. Nothing makes people with HIV/AIDS in rich nations more deserving of treatment than those in poor countries.

Sarah Palin has a tough first week on the “Going Rogue” book tour

The #2 and #1 stories Friday on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” (Lawrence O’Donnell filling in) were a major public relations glitch for Sarah Palin at a book-signing in Indiana and then a montage of the late night comics – Steven Colbert, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson and Jimmy Fallon – having great fun at Palin’s expense this week.

Bookstore by bookstore, this may be an even tougher slog than any political campaign – although leave it to her to claim it as good practice.

More than a few tears of understanding, and being understood, came to my eyes tonight as I watched NBC Nightly News.

Brian Williams featured a report on an initiative of Glenn Close called Bring Change 2 mind.  Ms. Close and her sister Jessie, who is bipolar, were part of an amazing public service announcement shot at Grand Central Station in New York.

I was diagnosed with bipolar II in late 2006 after being untreated – or should I say treated for depression only – for years.  It was an “Ah-ha!” moment that I will never forget.  Accustomed to what depression felt like, having only been officially diagnosed with that shortly after my positive HIV test in 1989, for years I rationalized manic behaviour as merely the absence of depression.  But it really caught up with me, spending money hand over fist, then spending money I no longer had, seriously considering running for national office despite being on long-term disability due to AIDS and, oh yes, drinking even though I had long ago concluded this was a problem for me that required complete abstinence.

Some well-meaning friends have tried to persuade me to do without psychiatric help.  One in particular has severe biases, based on her own experiences related directly to the treatment she received and the host of medications she was prescribed.  Recalling how she was in those days, I understand her bias.  So as conscious as I am of stigma with people who know little about mental health I also feel it with those who have had some experience in treatment.

However that “Ah-ha!” moment came with my diagnosis.  It was such a relief to know that there was something to explain some of my untreated feelings and behaviours.  I felt freedom.  The combination of a tried-and-true medication I am on, along with “talk therapy”, has worked for me so far.

This first clip explains how the PSA project came about.  (I’ll follow that with the actual public service announcement.)

I’ve always been grateful when celebrities have lent their names in the fight against HIV/AIDS issues. I am now also very thankful that Glenn Close and her sister have put themselves out there in such a personal way to help fight the stigma of mental illness.

Thousands rally in Thunder Bay for Jake Raynard, who speaks out on gay-bashing

Thousands, from all walks of life, gathered in Waverly Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario’s Port Arthur district Friday to support the victim of a horrendous beating a week ago.

Here’s a more complete recording of the event from my friend Sue.

Earlier, Jake had released this video statement via YouTube:

Like many LGBT youth Jake has lived in larger cities such as Toronto where being different, while not always safe, is at least supported by greater numbers.

It is not too much to ask that anyone – anywhere – be entitled to safety and treated with respect. Jake has a long road ahead of healing before him – physical and otherwise – and I can only thank him for speaking out and wish him well.

Sen. Kennedy, Facebook and looking back fondly

Ted Kennedy Tribute: 2008 DNC Convention in Denver

Over the din of commentators, warming their robotic hands against the barely dead Ted Kennedy, and please read this report on his pioneering political fights against AIDS, I have been trying to remember the 1980s with a little more precision than is usually called for.

See thanks to Facebook a friend of twenty or more years ago whom I had given up for dead, and the feeling was apparently mutual, sent me a note and got me caught up to speed very succinctly.

When we last spoke he was living in London, having split up there with the man he had met when we both lived in St. Catharines. He then had another loving relationship with a guy in London, who became very ill, and they moved out of London so he could be closer to his family in the country. He died there close to their tenth anniversary together.

Perry, my friend, moved back to St. Catharines where he could begin to recover from his terrible loss among friends and family members.

Fast forward a few years and, having almost resigned himself to being single, he met Joe. After a long courtship, which included Joe moving from out of town, Perry and Joe were married at a United Church in St. Catharines. Ah, the United Church, which brought me to the subject of my brother. (There’s so much to try and recall from twenty-odd years but, of course, I had the lowlights – my accident, Craig’s death, etc.)

I’ve even hinted at possibly participating in Perry’s local AIDS walk in September. I had not planned to do so here – not for any particular reason – and it would be a terrific way to get caught up in person.

Things I have avoided, not just while writing today but for several weeks, are my mood diaries (that’s an over-simplification) and thinking about and naming some of my deepest desires which, I am the first to admit, I have too long covered over with fear wrapped in bacon and rationalizations.

Well it is time to either get on with it or get some shut-eye before the first signs of sunrise appear.

Merde, il pleut!

Singing self-acceptance

This was a therapy day so, as the subject of self-love came up, I did a search for Jai Michael Josephs’ song “I Love Myself the Way I Am”, which was included on an early Louise Hay tape I bought in the late 1980s. I’ll paste the lyrics below the YouTube recording by Steve Stay:

I Love Myself the Way I Am

by Jai Michael Josephs from Carry The Love

I love myself the way I am,
there’s nothing I need to change
I’ll always be the perfect me
there’s nothing to rearrange
I’m beautiful and capable
of being the best me I can
And I love myself just the way I am

I love you just the way you are
there’s nothing you need to do
When I feel the love inside myself
it’s easy to love you
Behind your fears, your rage and tears
I see your shining star
And I love you just the way you are

I love the world the way it is,
’cause I can clearly see
That all the things I judge are done
by people just like me
So ’til the birth of peace on earth
that only love can bring
I’ll help it grow by loving everything

I love myself the way I am
and still I want to grow.
But change outside can only come
when deep inside I know
I’m beautiful and capable,
of being the best me I can,
And I love myself just the way I am
I love myself just the way I am

We used to sing this song in a healing circle held back in the early 1990s each Sunday evening at the AIDS Committee of Toronto offices (on Yonge Street at that time).

It was an emotional way to close after checking in with each other as we navigated the waters of caring for people living with AIDS, caregivers and those of us infected alike.

I used to say that while I may never be cured I can always be healed.

I wondered today whether I will ever internalize the positive feedback I get about my life and silence the doubting, self-critical, haunted guy who brings me down so much, at which point this poem was brought out for me.

When Death Comes
Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

from New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
(Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108-2892, ISBN 0 870 6819 5).