STAR WARS and the beginning of adulthood

Oh God, not another think-piece about a certain pop-culture juggernaut and What It All Means. Well no, just what it all means to me.

2015 was a rocky year. It started with a glorious visit to Ireland with Darcy and his sister and her kids (a terrific group!) but the stress of driving across country from coasts to cliffs tore at all the usual strains in our relationship. As the bookshop continued to struggle, my personal finances got tighter and tighter and then, right in the weeks before Christmas, my wee dog picked up some intestinal infection that cut a third of her body weight. She’s getting better–taking steroids and eating egg whites, she’s now a bodybuilder–but it’s been a terrifying couple of months.

I spent much of 2015 feeling helpless and that’s not a good look.

But then, how many felt that way in 2015? Political cartoonist Matt Bors summed up the year with this:


Yeah, this year was really ugly for a whole lot of people so it’s hard to feel sorry for myself, especially when I have the privilege of being able to help people in my own small way. With my book column at DailyXtra, I can help promote the work of talented people and as the manager of Glad Day Bookshop, I got to connect visitors from around the world with stories and information and images that entertained and inspired them. I had long conversations with a nervous father trying to help his 13-year-old son come out of the closet, with an army medal-maker working through a history of sexual abuse from a priest, with queer Muslim kids excited to finally see their stories on the shelves, with a huge variety of trans men and women and genderqueers far more interesting than Caitlyn Jenner. I’ve been honoured to help whenever I can, inspired by the people I’ve met and so so lucky to have a job that means so much to me.

And yet my resolution for 2016 will be to leave. I’ve worked in bookshops for 20 years now, choosing happiness over money, and I’m good at what I do but I’m also watching Amazon strip-mine everything I love, Toronto is no longer an okay place to be fortysomething and broke, and maxing my credit cards on vet bills has proved a frightening Ghost of Christmas Future. I don’t know what to do next.

britnellpicI happily gave some of my best years and energy to Glad Day and two other incredible but now defunct TO institutions–The Albert Britnell Bookshop and (to a lesser extent) This Ain’t the Rosedale Library–and in my darkest moments, I think: maybe the problem is me. Mediocrity is a tougher thing to face than outright failure, though I’m cheered by the above article noting,”While other independent book stores in the city fell like dominoes, Britnell reported record sales in 1998.” That was me, baby! But the scary middle-aged question lingers: did any of it matter? Decades later, I see that I may love what I do but if it isn’t loving me back, then it’s time for a change.

So what does all that have to do with STAR WARS? Everything. The movie deftly recaptured the past, remixing everything I loved about my childhood favourite, while creating a springboard to the future with its instantly endearing new characters, and I’m enjoying the mass cultural reaction to it. Yes, even the think-pieces, like this thoughtful back-and-forth over at PopMatters. What intrigues me, as I joked above, is the arguing over What It All Means, which can be summarized like this:

STAR WARS is a triumphant return to a galaxy far, far away!
STAR WARS is devoid of any originality, a mere copy of the original!
STAR WARS’ female and black heroes are a bold step forward!
STAR WARS enables grown man-children in their feebleness!
STAR WARS is a dream for a whole new generation of kids!
STAR WARS is merely a money-trough for the Disney corporation!
STAR WARS distracts our focus from the real world!

Oh good grief, stop your fighting. All of you are correct. STAR WARS is all these things and more. Like any Hollywood movie (or increasingly anything), it is art and commerce in one, with all the delights and concerns that combo always brings. All that matters is what it means to you and your family.

I went to see it opening night with Darcy. We hated waiting in line, because we are now old, but enjoyed the energy of the crowd and the kids in front of us being interviewed by CityNews and the movie was of course pure fun. Meanwhile, unable to resist a good tech toy (and flush with gift cards, Shoppers Optimum points and Darcy’s Indigo staff discount), we bought the Battlefront game for our XBox (SO PRETTY!) and the remote-control BB-8 toy, which delights as it should:

Then, Darcy ran out and bought a flying Millennium Falcon toy. I thought I was the nerd in the family but he often surprises me. Now, we are once again two delighted man-children with a little dog happily chasing a roly-poly robot about the living room. Thanks, STAR WARS!

On Boxing Day, I saw the movie again, taking my niece and father and stepmother and  sister and her boyfriend out for a matinee. Thumbs up all around, along with much happy speculation about where Episode VIII will take Rey in her new adventures. Thanks, STAR WARS!

I loved Stephen Thrasher’s Guardian column asking how cool would it be if STAR WARS is now an Afrofuturist fable, and I loved Natalie Fisher’s Hypable column asking how cool would it be if dashing X-wing pilot Poe Dameron were a gay man? Yes, that would all be deeply cool but either way, it’s great that the movie, whatever its flaws, leaves enough wiggle room for us to imagine these things. As Thrasher writes, “we, the viewer, have a role in making the world we see on screen.”


I loved that the new STAR WARS sets Rey up as an ideal female protagonist (why should boys have all the fun?) and she’s smart, tough and likeable, yet would still be sitting around her desert planet had Poe not rolled his little droid her way, while Poe would likely have been tortured to death on the planet he later blows up had Finn not renounced his upbringing and rescued him during his escape. And none of them would’ve got very far had Han Solo and his Princess–sorry, General–not welcomed them as allies.

From what began as Luke Skywalker’s Hero With a Thousand Faces mythic lone journey, we now have a celebration of cooperation, teaching us and our kids that our salvation can lie with a single tiny girl, a black man who’s welcomed instead of feared, a military dude with an open heart, and an old white guy still doing what’s right. The movie is a bright, brash reminder than good can still win over evil but it’s all based on the choices we make together, the light or the dark. I hope to make wise ones in 2016, I hope people keep asking me for help and I hope I can ask others for it as I move forward. May the Force with be us, always.



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STAR WARS and the end of childhood

We’re two weeks away from the premiere of the new STAR WARS movie. Exciting, isn’t it? Especially for forty-something dudes like me and Kevin Smith, whose lifelong love of movies was completely and powerfully sparked by seeing the original film in 1977.

My dad took me to see it that summer. I was six and he still dressed like Serpico. We both adored the movie and driving home, up the Hamilton escarpment, he said, “Too bad this car isn’t a land speeder, eh?” and gunned the engine, to my immense delight.

Later that summer, I awoke on my birthday to find a little suitcase on my dresser. Did I say ‘little suitcase?’ This was the STAR WARS Mini Action Figure Collector’s Case, which my parents had helpfully pre-filled with a number of just-released figures, purchased in Buffalo! My parents were very proud of their international smuggling operation. Many years later, in a teenage fight with my mother, she whined, “You were never hard done by! You were the first kid to have those action figures!” and I had to give her that one. STAR WARS was the luminous focal point of many a 1970s boyhood.

star wars action figures

“Growing up” meant abandoning these, which I obviously regret.

I could write a whole other essay on how, three years later, my personality (for better or worse) was forever shaped by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the superior sequel that induced my adult love of Buddhism, stop-motion animation, Carl Jung and scoundrels. I remember my great-uncle standing in a drug store, confused as to why this frantic nine-year-old was begging him to buy him a tiny doll of a bounty hunter. “If that’s what you want,” he said, “but what the hell is a Bossk?”


That’s right, Kids Today: we didn’t have iPads, we had moulded plastic!

I was an addict, that was obvious, but I was only trying to keep up with my friend Greg down the block. He didn’t just have action figures, he had entire playsets. His parents had kitted out their basement with a giant wood platform that now housed the ice planet of Hoth, with all its snow speeders, gun turrets, probe droids and Wampas. A dorky ginger boy like me, Greg also dreamed of one day owning the giant AT-AT Walker that made every lower-and-middle-class parent say, “$150 for a toy?? I’m sorry, but NO.” Still, Greg and I bravely soldiered on, inventing scenarios for our little plastic Rebels and Imperials, until we eventually drifted apart, as childhood friends often do. I can’t even remember why. I recall another friend who didn’t care for Greg, a more-worldly friend who knew the things I needed to learn. Did I choose between them? My only memories of Greg are of our toys and lunches and tree-climbing before life carried on and the anxieties of high school became all-consuming.

Then, all too suddenly, it was 1998. I had moved to Toronto, grappling with adult life, looking for love and stressing over my career, but now suddenly and happily, the thrill of our collective childhood was returning…!!!

Well, we all know how that turned out. What we thought would be the greatest movie ever became the Worst. Movie. Ever. and creator George Lucas admitted this week that the global condemnation from angry nerds made him leave the internet and never look back.

As a full-grown yet emotionally stunted man-child, I’m often forced to defend me and my nerd people. I’m not a child, thank you very much. I run a business, I’m in a longterm relationship, I pay my taxes and I take fine care of my dog, kitchen and teeth. Six STAR WARS films, dozens of pulp paperbacks and 50 years of DOCTOR WHO haven’t interfered with any of that, only enhanced it.


You may not care that I met K-9 in Cardiff BUT I DO!

You see, people have it backward: they think a love of childish things makes one childish, that enthusing over comic books or video games or TV shows or toys diminishes our ability to deal with the real world, when it’s actually those escapes that enable us to cope with the real world. I fear for the accountant who doesn’t play video games to unwind, even as the manic, wide-eyed glee of nerds unnerves those who don’t share their passions. But that’s what it is: passion. Sometimes unwise, easily manipulated, but giving our lives extra juice and delight. I like passion, even if it means sitting through race day with my NASCAR-loving hubby. Everyone’s a nerd about something so show me your fan art! Bring on your insane homoerotic subtext theories! Open your cosplay closets!

No, it’s not enthusiasm that earns nerds a bad name, it’s anger. It’s when that passion sours. When dreams of superpowers curdle into impotent rage, geeks can be nasty, especially the male ones. George Lucas might have thought the criticism was rough in 1999 but after the release of his first Indiana Jones movie in 19 years (one that, well, wasn’t great), he got depicted on SOUTH PARK as a rapist. “He raped my childhood!” the nerds cried, lacking all perspective. Next summer, we’ll have a new GHOSTBUSTERS film starring the hilarious Melissa McCarthy and several of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’s funniest people, yet nerd-bros are frothing at the mouth with misogyny and more despair at how even a potentially bad movie sequel or remake can ruin a childhood.

I haven’t thought of my boyhood friend Greg in a long time but this week, I read his obituary. It hinted at some long illness. He was 45 and the “likes” on his Facebook page include the NDP, Tim Hortons, atheism and dogs of every type. It’s very likely we would’ve stayed friends these past decades but we didn’t. We found different jobs, different friends, different cities. Toys and movies and nerdy things brought us together but growing up drove us apart. It was worth it — aging has its quieter pleasures — but all the losses along the way still ache.

So yes, a new STAR WARS film! I hope it’s fantastic. I’m taking my dad and my teenage niece to see it on Boxing Day and I hope it delights us all. I want to see Han, Luke and Leia again, heroic as ever, and I want to meet Rey, Finn and Poe, new friends who will hopefully inspire the next generation of kids.

obiwanloved.gifI watched REVENGE OF THE SITH with my then-tiny niece a few years ago and while I thought it was still a disappointingly mediocre movie, she sat wide-eyed with horror at Obi-Wan’s final battle with his former student, grappling with the fact that Anakin could love Padme yet still end up transformed into Darth Vader. She asked me why good people become bad people and I told her that’s a question we’re all still trying to work out. Not bad for a kids’ sci-fi flick, Mr. Lucas.

It’ll be lovely if this new movie can make me feel like that boy whose dad’s car became a land speeder for one magic moment, but if it turns out to be merely two pleasing hours of diversion from all my grown-up worries, that’ll be fine too. I don’t want to see my fellow man-children angrily clogging the internet with death threats against director J.J. Abrams in two weeks’ time (though I’m sure some will) because they refuse to see how this film will neither restore nor ruin their childhood. It’s already gone. There’s nothing wrong with trying to hang on to it, just as long as we remember the parts that really matter.



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Toronto, city of dreams?

How Hogtown helped a queer femme of colour dream her way home

[originally published on, November 30, 2015]

“I still don’t see why you don’t go back to the States. Everyone wants to go there, and you can.”

I often joke that Toronto is the only major city on earth that’s hated from without and within — derided by the rest of Canada as the pompous “centre of the universe” while pitied by its own citizens for lacking the style and infrastructure of New York, London or Berlin — but in poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s bold and nourishing new memoir Dirty River, Toronto was a great help to her in her journey (both literal and spiritual) from abuse and oppression.

“This is where I dream for hours,” she writes of her little house near Dupont and Dufferin. “This is my first home. The first place I can shut the door and when I do, everything exhales. I tried to find this place for years in New York. Even before Sex and the City ultra-gentrification, I could never afford anything.”

Not that Toronto helps much, of course. Anyone (everyone?) who’s ever been poor in this city will cringe in recognition at her chapter “The Winter You Are So Broke” (“The wait for the Dufferin bus home at three am just about killed me”) but Piepzna-Samarasinha’s tales include odes to Ossington Street grocery shops, to Queen West and Kensington Market, to the way “Toronto has so many ways of being brown and being South Asian . . . Brown that feels miles closer to my kind of brown than New York brown,” and to the ’90s queer venues like Funkasia at the Red Spot and the Desh Pardesh festival.

“The Red Spot was the only club that played our music, and we had to get along, or at least pretend to . . . Here were all kinds of desis who hated each other, maybe had invaded each other’s countries, hacked off each other’s heads back home, and whose families had lost everything when they moved to freezing immigrant apartments in St James Town or King Street. But here, we were all shivering through immigration, doing cab driver and dishwasher jobs and going to George Brown college, and we sort of, kind of, got along . . . And somewhere in that sweaty brown hot box of brown gay, I found myself.”

“I love ’90s Toronto forever!” Piepzna-Samarasinha now declares, “But I see spaces of QTPOC fierce beauty in T-dot now that are in some ways better: spaces like Unit 2Black Lives Matter TorontoBlockorama, Making a Space for Our Stories and Ill Na Na’s Right to Dance collectives, Trans Women’s PicnicSTRUTNo More SilenceMigrant Sex Workers Project,  Performance.Disability.Art’s jams, Unapologetic Burlesque. Also, spaces around kitchen tables, sick and disabled Skype hangs and living rooms and online spaces are crafted by and for QTPOC in their 20s and 30s and older that I see as being just as radical and beautiful, with the addition of a lot more consciousness (hard fought for) about ableism, anti-Black racism and transmisogyny.”

In the past few months, Piepzna-Samarasinha divided her time between Toronto and Brooklyn, where her partner lives. “I love NYC . . . for a few days at a time. There’s some amazing stuff and people and life there, specifically Black and Brown life, but the food deserts, wealth/poverty divide and incredible lack of disabilty access is really really hard. Toronto versus everybody forever. This city can be hard and expensive and bullshit, but it also has heart, secret green alleyways, history, people who stick around,” she says. “The struggle for cheap rent is real and it feels like the push is everywhere for business interests to gobble up cities.  But we have to remember that freaks made use of cities in the ’90s because stuff was cheap here, and we can do our work in places where stuff is cheap now.  We have to keep evolving.”

“Cheap rent is a key thing that allows oppressed, disabled writers time to write,” Piepzna-Samarasinha says. Having written the final stretch of her memoir in “a queer majority of color collective house in South Berkeley where we had a hot tub, fig trees and $175 rent. I was broke, but I could afford to buy time to write because my rent was low.” It was a relatively comfortable end to a writing process that had taken a decade, far longer than her acclaimed poetry collections like Love Cake and Bodymaps. “That’s political,” she says, “There’s a reason why so many oppressed people write poetry — you can write poetry on the bus, on line at the food stamps office.  I write poetry on my phone, in the memo function in public transit or speaking into the voice recorder walking down the street. Lucille Clifton said that her poems were all four stanzas or less because she had eight kids and that’s how long a poem  she could memorize in her head while she was giving them baths.”

“It was easier to fit the poetry in between starting Asian Arts Freedom School with Gein Wong, booking Mangos with Chili shows, being sick, grad school, working a million nonprofit and other hustles and helping friends in crisis. I got a lot of the writing of Dirty River done in chunks when I somehow stole time away — at VONA, the writers of colour workshop, or when I went to Fancyland, a queer land retreat in Northern California that has self directed artist residencies. But it was real queer disabled femme of colour styles — I had to go places where there was no phone and internet, no urgent crisis management and snacks to buy for the queer APIA writing workshop, to get it done.”

Finding that time is the work of every writer but Piepzna-Samarasinha’s bigger struggles in writing her memoir were emotional. “I had to figure out how to write the story I needed to write,” she says, “and that meant figuring out how to write about some of the most traumatic things I’d ever had to survive, when I was no longer in survival mode and could actually feel them. When I started writing Dirty River, I had just read Michelle Tea’s book Valencia, which I really appreciated for the voice and how she captured what it felt like to be in a certain white queerpunk subculture, and I was like, I’m going to write a brown girl’s version of that! But as I got into it, I was like, oh yeah, my shit is me writing about internalized racism in my family, about my mom’s abuse, about running away from the US as a brown girl, about documenting QTPOC history, about being in a transformative QTPOC survivor relationship with the person sponsoring my immigration who turned abusive. There were so many chunks of time where I would want to write about stuff and I would just freeze. Nowhere in grad school MFA programs does anyone teach you about how to write decolonial trauma stories as a queer person of colour. I had to figure that out from POC mentors and community, through building writing altars and doing somatic work.”

Going to grad school in Oakland was a mixed blessing as she continued work on her memoir. “I had a much less bad experience than many people of colour who go to MFA programs, because Mills College, where I went, does have POC who teach and attend,” Piepzna-Samarasinha says, “But it was still filled with truly clueless white people saying the most basic shit ever about how people of colour character’s ‘accents were cute’ or calling POC language ‘dialect’ and, beyond that, just having very standardized, boring ideas about how memoir could look. I appreciated some of the things I learned but a lot of what I was taught was that memoir had to proceed in a really linear way, with a standard plot and characters, not that you could write a biomythography — with dreams, mixtapes, recipes — that moves through time in a way that’s not the Western point A-to-B way. I remember someone in class saying that ‘obviously’ my main character (me) was going to ‘grow out’ of being an activist and an organizer because ‘that’s what everyone did.’ What do you even say? It’s not just totally off base, it’s a waste of time and unhelpful.” Worse, she says, “I got put on probation from my grad assistantship because I am disabled and I was often 10 minutes late to meetings because the access centre wouldn’t give my accommodation, so I had to walk around a mile from where I parked to class, often. All the typical micro-aggresssion clusterfucks that tell disabled queer students of colour that we don’t matter and aren’t wanted in higher education.”

“So I didn’t work on Dirty River for about a year after I graduated, because I needed time to get those voices out of me. I went to a hostel by the ocean for $20 with one of my best friends and memoir partner, Liz Latty, and she gave me The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch and I was like, oh yeah, you can be a crazy survivor slut bitch and write your ass off, your survivor story doesn’t have to be simple and neat. That opened the door back up for me.”

The next step was getting her completed memoir published. Piepzna-Samarasinha faced much rejection, even from presses that had previously championed her work. “Presses who had published me in anthologies (pieces of which are still favorites and widely taught in gender studies classes) and had given me awards repeatedly told me that queer people of colour are too small a target market and said no,” she says, but like Vivek Shraya, Amber Dawn, Daniel Allen Cox and other Canadian queer artists, she found a home with acclaimed Vancouver indie publisher Arsenal Pulp Press.

“Arsenal Pulp was both my number one desired press, and my last resort,” she says, “If they didn’t say yes, I had resigned myself to doing an Indiegogo to pay for self publishing because literally every other press I’d approached had either said no or gone out of business . . . I screamed really, really loud when I got the email saying that not only did they want to publish Dirty River, they were excited to and they thought the voice and story were important — things that almost every other place I had submitted to had wanted to sanitize. I have nothing but love to give them. They are one of a kind: a press that publishes queer people of colour, sex worker and femme works, and works really hard to get them reviewed and in bookstores. I mean, I want there to be so much more of them. It’s been kind of amazing. I am used to hustling my book into every bookstore it gets in, so it’s been kind of amazing seeing that it’s being bought in places I didn’t personally call and talk into carrying it. As multiply marginalized, brilliant writers, it is amazing to have a press that actually celebrates us and gets us.”

Finally on bookshop shelves, clad in a vibrant cover from artist Cristy C Road, Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book is worth the long fight, giving a fascinating context to her previous poetry, lyrical writing, and a strong voice for queer, brown, femme and/or disabled people and for those who’ve survived abuse. “Sometimes I call Dirty River a transformative justice memoir,” she says, “I wanted to write about the violence in my family in a way that honoured my right as a survivor to tell my story, and also understood my parents as survivors of abuse, migration, racism, classism and ableism and intergenerational trauma, while still holding them accountable for the harm they caused. There are so few abuse survivor narratives, period, and so many of the few we have fall into one of two camps: either the person who abuses is a monster with no other qualities, or they are “forgiven” in a Christian way by their survivor. I wanted to do something else. I respect people for whom their abusers were 100 percent evil, but I know so many people out there, particularly QTPOC, whose abusers were complicated human beings. If abusers were all 100 percent evil, they wouldn’t be people we also love(d). As a transformative justice organizer, I believe that anyone can chose to cause harm and anyone can be harmed — people are not born as abusers — and the challenge and choice is there to take accountable and make reparations when we cause harm. I knew I was taking a huge risk in writing about mother-daughter sexual abuse, white-mama racism and more, and I wanted to do it for other survivors out there with similar stories. I also wanted to write something that felt emotionally true — that my mother loved me and taught me some things that saved my life, and that she also deeply harmed me because she didn’t have the resources to get healing, because of ableism and classism.”

“And yeah,” Piepzna-Samarasinha says, “it was hard as hell to write. Not so much at first — then I just told my story to the paper. But this summer, as I went though final edits, there were weeks where I couldn’t even open the file because it felt like opening a box of flames. It’s intense, the ways we are still silenced from writing our memoirs by the voices of those who hurt us. And it’s also a lot of responsibility to get it right. I was terrified before I released the book into the world that I would be causing harm by telling my story, that I wasn’t fair to me or her, that there were other things I needed to tell. It’s been worth it to hear feedback from other queer people of colour that they are grateful for the book.”

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Whoa, nelly!

I suddenly notice that it’s been precisely ONE YEAR since I updated this blog! Oh dear, that won’t do at all. Time to fix that.

But what a year it’s been…! Moved in with the Mister after renovating the ruined second floor of a Danforth house into something liveable, continued bringing Glad Day Bookshop into the 21st century and began a new book blog for Xtra. Busy but happy times!

More to come…

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Thanks for everything


Happy Thanksgiving weekend, Canada!

It’s a cool grey day and I’m just starting to move after working a 17-hour day yesterday. I’m exhausted but content, the perfect mood for reflection and, given the day, dusting off the old giving-of-thanks format. I’m very grateful these days for this list:

20121007-160722.jpgMy family, consisting of my Mr. Darcy and Tegan the Jack Russell Terrorist — who delight me every day — and my faraway sister, parents and amazing niece I see on holidays like this. I wish I had enough time and energy to give them more than I do.

– That goes double for my friends. Being grateful for them is a given, of course, but I am so lucky to be surrounded by some truly great people.

Riverdale Park, a place I’ll miss terribly now that summer has gone. I spend so many happy hours there, as pictured above.

Glad Day Bookshop, the little LGBT shop I once loved managing in the mid-nineties and now, through the magical mysteries of fate, I am now managing again. While I loved how my freelancing schedule allowed me more flexibility to spend time with those aforementioned friends, it’s been amazing to go to work each day and truly love it. Every day, I feel needed, stressed and happy.

Facebook. Is it evil? Of course it is but it keeps me in touch with my friends, the daily news and our customers (a strongly overlapping Venn diagram there). Its strange mix of work-and-play is a constant source of pleasure so thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, you little megalomaniac.

Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun who’s the closest thing I have to a religious leader. She’s salty and wise and guides like a lighthouse in the storm.

Super Fresh Mart on Church Street, for carrying bags of crazy-delicious British-import jelly babies at an actually reasonable price. Also, their late-night bacon-and-cheese croissants are lethally delicious!

Matt Elliott and Andrea Houston, two reporters relentless in their efforts to improve Toronto for citizens in general (Matt) and for queer teens in particular (Andrea).

Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto city councilor for Ward 27. It’s a great relief to have someone who works on behalf of my neighbourhood, who’s smart and engaged and who isn’t totally fucking embarrassing.

The end of “normal,” at least in vocabulary. I love how we’re all slowly but surely wrapping our tradition-crusted brains around words like heteronormative, privilege, cisgendered and neurotypical. Solving the problem of labels by adding more labels isn’t perfect, by any means, but they’re creating positive discussion.

– The Chipotle barbacao burrito. Seriously, I’m so grateful this exists.

– The BBC’s Doctor Who, my favourite pop hero since I was a kid and a concept that, despite indifference from the mainstream public and active hostility from broadcast execs, has remained unstoppable for 50 years now because its creators and fans (usually one and the same) have loved it so much. There’s a lesson I strongly heed there.

– And that other UK hero, James Bond movies in November. Their release dates always come around my father’s birthday, making for a happy tradition of taking my dad out to a movie, one that stretches back to 1987’s The Living Daylights. I’m also thankful that the producers of the new Skyfall had the good sense to ask Adele to create its theme song and that she absolutely nailed it. I’ve been playing this gorgeously apocalyptic ballad for days now:


And there’s a good message for any Thanksgiving, the one day we try to ignore our struggles and focus on family, friends and the things that inspire our gratitude: let the sky fall…we’ll face it all together.

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Katrina: I’m still furious but fixing

As Hurricane Isaac bears down on the US Gulf Coast, seven years to the day of Katrina doing the same and worse, I still can’t forget these simultaneous images from August 29 and 30:

The rage I felt back then has never really subsided (nor should it, I think) but I got the opportunity to channel it into something productive when Darcy and I took a vacation down to New Orleans in October 2010 and spent a day volunteering with the St. Bernard Project. We spent a Monday afternoon with a dedicated group of volunteers, smearing spackle over drywall and trying to rebuild a neighbourhood still devastated after five years.

Today, St. Bernard Project writes:

While Isaac’s path is still uncertain, today our staff and volunteers are working with our current and past clients, making sure their homes are secure and they have an evacuation plan in place.

SBP needs your help to purchase materials and supplies necessary to secure the 40+ homes that are currently under construction. And more than ever, we need your help to continue our work rebuilding New Orleans long after the threat of Tropical Storm Isaac has passed.

Seven years to the day of Katrina, I made a small donation to help and I hope you may too.

There are still some who say, “Why bother?” Why bother trying to rebuild an area that just gets pummeled by a major storm at least once a decade? But you could say the same about cities built on fault lines or below sea level or at minus zero six months of the year. We bother because they’re people’s homes. And when terrible things happen to good people (as they always will), we must step up and pitch in. Otherwise, well, why bother?

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If the first trailer for THE AVENGERS back in October inspired this reaction, imagine what this new one has done to me…

If you need me, I’ll be holed up watching this obsessively for the next two days.

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Jack, meet Oscar

Left out in the discussion around the Academy Award nominations announced yesterday was any talk of the year’s happiest movie trend: the rise of the Jack Russell Terrier.

Sure, I’m biased but hearing people walking away from The Artist and Beginners (two utterly marvellous films, go see them now) and going on and on about just how damn fantastic that dog was is pretty satisfying to someone who loves his own like I do.

Yes, two of my favourite acting performances this year, by Michael Fassbender and Kirsten Dunst, were robbed of Oscar recognition this week but at least people are recognizing my favourite dogs, even lobbying for their new superstar.

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An early Christmas present

…from The Globe and Mail as city reporter extraordinaire Jonathan Goldsbie alerts me to this reprint today of a tweet from three weeks back:

I’m delighted and, yes, proud to have been doing a tiny part in this cause. I’m horrified that it’s taken the death of children but I really do feel like our society has turned a corner on gay and lesbian rights, especially when I read about the UN appeal this week or this blog post from a mom that went viral last August. On this score, at least, I feel like we’re heading into better times.

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Ryan G. Hinds’ tips on tunes for the holidays

Toronto cabaret performer Ryan G. Hinds loves the glitter and warmth of Christmas but not its soundtrack. “Bad Christmas music is a great way to torture your guests,” he laughs. Hinds once endured James Brown’s “Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto” at a party and don’t get him started on what Christmas has done to Barbra Streisand: “All these Christian carols when she’s the biggest Jew ever! It’s sad.”

“There’s so much heinous music out there it overwhelms the good stuff,” Hinds says but he recommends “A Christmas Cornucopia” by Annie Lennox. “It’s so pretty and not overly Christmassy — nice traditional music that sets the mood without all the clichés.”

“As an adult,” Hinds says, “Santa Claus imagery just makes me sad because I don’t believe any more.” Religious holiday music, he says, “is easier to connect to somehow. We may have walked away from it (or been driven away from it) but the old feelings are still there. ‘O Holy Night’ brings back memories of going to church with my family and I like that.”

For me, there’s no better Christmas music than the sugar-frosted jazz Vince Guaraldi composed for the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special but, should I wander near Hinds’ church, I do love this version of ‘O Holy Night” from an odd source: the soundtrack to Home Alone. Composer John Williams found a children’s choir that really makes the carol a thing of beauty. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas, Ryan!

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