“There was one guy that came by—he was an old guy—he said, “You know,” he says, “if you get tired of the people, just close your eyes, and remember that this here is the Grandfathers!” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “A long time ago, we used to bury ourselves in the trees and then when we put ourselves down after five or six years, we buried ourselves under the rocks, and when we were buried under those rocks, we became part of those rocks. So when I say the Grandfathers, I mean all the rocks are the Grandfathers. And they are there to help us to be able to rise up and understand.” And then he said, “Close your eyes sometimes and remember. Use your imagination and see them dancing when the rest of the world pisses you off!”
Stripe and Daisy encountered Forgotten Warrior last December on Spadina Avenue in Toronto or, more accurately, on Ishpadinaa in Tkaronto.
Forgotten Warrior and the Aboriginal elder remind us of the power of meditation to get past the noise, bullshit, aggression, or distraction of people who, like most of us, are disconnected from the wisdom of the earth, the Aboriginal ancestors, and Spirit.
If we close our eyes and imagine, we can remember and tune into a powerful healing energy that is here with us even though we live in a big modern city. We can transcend the concrete, plumbing, electricity, cellphone waves, and pollution to touch the land and receive its gifts and wisdom.
If we close our eyes and imagine, we can rise above our colonizing history to honour and communicate with the Aboriginal ancestors. We can celebrate the history of this land, all its inhabitants, especially those who shaped the energy we benefit from by they themselves remaining connected to and respectful of the land and its gifts and wisdom.
If we close our eyes and imagine, we can “see” the spirits of the trees and rocks and “hear” their guidance. We can remember the remedies and the beneficial vibrations of the plants, trees, and crystals, to benefit from their gifts and wisdom.
If we close our eyes and imagine, we can soften into our hearts to hear the heartbeat of the earth. We can remove the obstructions that disrupt harmony on all levels and in time deconstruct the social and political hurdles we have erected.
If we close our eyes and imagine peace, in time, we will live it.
Excerpt from an article in the Toronto Star by Eric Andrew-Gee, June 2, 2015
Toronto street signs a reminder of First Nations heritage:
Group renames streets to draw attention to the overlooked aboriginal presence in Toronto.
…The project is run by Hayden King, director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson, and Susan Blight, student life co-ordinator at the University of Toronto’s First Nations House. Inspired by the Idle No More movement in December 2012, they set out to remind the city that it stood on aboriginal land, and that it still has a vibrant aboriginal community, often overlooked in discussions of Toronto’s past and modern identity, they thought. “The message is that indigenous people were here — are here now,” said Blight, a member of the Couchiching First Nation.
Tuesday’s signs, still posted at press time, were inspired by the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report summary, which found that Canada’s residential school system amounted to cultural genocide. Blight and King say that by giving prominence to Ojibwe words, they hope to heal some of the damage caused by educational policies that long discouraged the learning of aboriginal language, sometimes violently.
“Ishpadinaa,” for example, is the word on which “Spadina” is based — it means “a place on a hill,” said King, who is from the Beausoleil First Nation. “Toronto” itself comes from a Mohawk word, according to aboriginal language scholar John Stackley — “tkaronto,” meaning “where there are trees standing in the water. The phrase refers to stakes that members of the Huron tribe installed to make fishing weirs where Lake Simcoe meets Lake Couchiching.
Still, King and Blight believe the city “erases” its aboriginal history, which goes back thousands of years and contains its share of abuse and betrayal.
In 1787, the British government bought the land between Etobicoke Creek and Ashbridges Bay from a group of Mississauga chiefs for 10 shillings —$60 in today’s money. Historians now agree that the chiefs believed they were leasing the land, not selling it. In 2010, the Mississauga of New Credit won a $145-million land claim related to the territory.
In 2013, King and Blight pasted a sign onto a plaque outside Queen’s Park that summed up the goal of their project: “We all live on Native territory,” it read. “Welcome to our community. How do you recognize it?” In an interview Tuesday, Blight said she was fighting the “erasure” of aboriginal language and culture in a city that celebrates its diversity while ignoring the land’s original inhabitants.
“Oftentimes what we see — and these plaques are a good indication of this — is that indigenous people are seen as a blip, a line in a longer colonial history,” she said. “There’s a kind of erasure that happens, and a kind of alienation that happens.” Asked if she had other locations in mind for future signs, Blight demurred. “We kind of like the element of surprise,” she said.
“We’re a bunch of thieves and we don’t have any regard for the fellow person … not many of us anyway … most of us take as much as we can and disregard the person we are taking it from and that’s what’s been happening to my people all along.”
Sometimes, it’s poignant, inspiring, and irreverent messages of hope—like from Prudence Mabhena, a 21-year-old Zimbabwean singer-songwriter who was born severely disabled and has struggled to overcome poverty and discrimination, and Talli Osbourne a.k.a. Nubs, a Canadian inspirational speaker who was born with no arms and missing bones in her legs—that remind us that genius is an inherent trait in all human beings. Our genius is our life purpose, and that treasure is not defined or confined by external, circumstantial, physical obstacles or privilege. It is unconditional.
We all, by virtue of being born, have the privilege of a purposeful, important, unique human life. We all have the very specific and essential raw material built in to weave the fabric of a life well lived, a life that is purposeful, a life that fuels happiness and well-being in ourselves and others. It serves us and others to go beyond the descriptors that come with our biography and various identities. These constructs are usually built on what has happened to us to date and often focus on the adversity, injustices, scarcity, or trauma we have experienced. Our genius, by contrast, is the treasure trove in our hearts, not the this-and-that of life to date. No matter what all has occurred, this inner core is present, potent, and remains intact. The resources within our hearts are as vast as the Universe because they are the Universe, they are the Buddha within, they are the expression of the life force inherent to all human life. In other words, it’s who we really are and who we all are.
“Disability does not mean inability!”
Together with her band, Prudence Mabhena overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds and in her own voice conveys to the world that “disability does not mean inability.” Music by Prudence, the Academy Award–winning documentary by Roger Ross Williams, tells her self-empowering story. Not only does Prudence live her joy and passion but the documentary has become the cornerstone of an advocacy campaign and has been embraced by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, UNICEF, the U.S. State Department, and the international disability community.
Link to a clip from Music by Prudence:
Link to an interview with Roger Ross Williams, director of Music by Prudence:
“No matter what you look like, or who you are, if you love those differences and embrace your body, the world will see you as beautiful!”
People always say that it’s inner beauty that counts. And Talli Osbourne, in her inimitable brashness, says, “Bullshit!”. She travels to schools and corporations not only to advocate for the celebration of difference in a general sense but also to encourage people to really let their differences sparkle, to really love themselves. Her message to quit trying to fit in is a powerful reminder that we are not like anyone else and that’s a really good thing. Talli’s joy, conviction, and life-affirming call to action shines so far and wide that her enthusiasm for living life to its fullest, whatever that means for each one of us, is thankfully influencing a generation of Canadian children.
Link to Part 1 of Dany Lyne’s Who’s Making Waves video featuring Talli Osbourne:
Link to Part 2 of Dany Lyne’s Who’s Making Waves video featuring Talli Osbourne:
Life, Animated is an exceptional documentary from Academy Award–winning director Roger Ross Williams, based on Ron Suskind’s best-selling book, Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. It is the inspirational story of Owen Suskind (the son of Ron Suskind, the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist), who just shy of his third birthday developed regressive autism and essentially stopped communicating, with one exception: Owen loved to watch Disney movies with his brother, often watching the same scenes over and over again. He nonetheless remained isolated until he and his family discovered a unique way to communicate by immersing themselves in the world of classic Disney animated films. Not only did the family reunite, in a sense, but they’ve also managed to harness this insight for therapy and tremendous opportunity for intimacy, growth, and fulfillment.
This emotional coming-of-age story follows Owen as he graduates to adulthood and takes his first steps toward independence. As Owen gleefully points out, “I wanted to be more popular and have more friends, so I started a Disney club … and it worked!” Worked so well, in fact, that Owen eventually manages to live on his own in a group home and later gets a job. Owen’s story and his family’s journey are awe-inspiring because we witness not only their successes but also the director’s intimate portrayal of Owen’s and each of his family member’s challenges and emotional turmoil. The elaborate and expressive yet cohesive visual language—four different styles of animation no less—is so exquisitely executed and integrated with the family’s home movies, in situ filming, as well as vast array of interviews that Owen’s world opens up to us. We observe the wealth of his experience and the shortcomings of the world and perception we call reality. This documentary is also an artistic tour de force!
I have a lot of catching up to do! This is the first documentary I’ve seen by Roger Ross Williams (born September 16, 1973). He is an American television news, documentary and entertainment director, producer, and writer. He wrote, produced, and directed the 2010 Academy Award–winning short documentary, Music by Prudence; his first feature-length documentary, the critically acclaimed God Loves Uganda (2013); as well as the celebrated documentary short Blackface (2015), now on CNN.com; and so much more. Let’s make note of the fact here that Roger Ross Williams is the first African American director to win an Academy Award in his category of Documentary Shorts, and the first-ever African American director to win an Academy Award for directing and producing a film, short, or feature! As in, WHAT? Here is an interview that focuses on his award and the changes and mentoring he is engendering in the academy and Hollywood:
This documentary, now available on Netflix, is an inspiring look at the brilliant, outrageous women who spearheaded the 1960s women’s movement. It’s celebratory in tone, capturing the exhilaration felt by a generation of women who challenged and shed age-old gender role limitations in a surge of rebellious energy. The massive amounts of yummy period footage and photographs drop you into their struggles, battles, and victories alike; plus, the soundtrack is infectious. This rousing summation of the American women’s liberation movement is a red-carpet procession of the shit-kicking dames we owe so much to, including:
- Mary Jean Collins, who can’t be convinced that you can’t change the world because she saw it happen to Muriel Fox, one of the founders of the National Organization of Women (NOW), the first civil rights organization to focus on women’s rights;
- the women who rallied for abortion rights: from Ellen Willis, who spoke of the double message in the 1960s (“… that first of all sex was okay now, but if we were pregnant it was our problem. The HORROR—the fear of pregnancy—loomed over anything one did”), to Judith Arcana, one of the brave women who worked in JANE, the underground abortion service in Chicago;
- Fran Beal, who fought for liberation and freedom on the racial side and then along with other black women founded the SNCC Black Women’s Liberation Committee in 1968;
- Linda Burnham, one of the founders of Black Sisters United, who perceived that black women had a different perspective on women’s places in the world than what they were hearing from the white majority in the women’s movement;
and last but not least, Rita Mae Brown, who was the youngest woman to join NOW and called them on the carpet about class, race, and then lesbianism: “I said, ‘You are treating women the way men treat you. And those women are lesbians.’”
This body project reveals the relationship between body and self.
This body project is an artistic engagement that seeks to discover and transform the relationship between self and body. Via the mediums of photography, audio recordings, and the written word, individuals explore the question: “what is your relationship with your body?” In the space of this question, this body project invites the individual to become the author of their own story.
— Sarah Jurgens
You can view/read/witness the many humans who have participated so far at thisbodyproject.com
What story do you want?
The story of how I was perceived as a white, blue-eyed, blond girl?
The story of the princess in a cardboard castle?
The story of my father’s and grandfather’s sexual abuse?
The story about mother knowing?
The story of my grandmother loving me to bits?
Their stories and why they couldn’t protect me?
Or do you want the story of how I coped?
How I forgot it all?
How fucked up and fucked over I was?
How addicted I was to over-the-counter and street drugs?
To just about anything that would numb me,
Or maybe you just want to know how it stopped?
Or how I stopped?
Or what the fuck rattled me so hard to kill the blur?
Or maybe you just want to know the end?
When art screamed through my veins loud enough to
screech the truth,
to raise the curtain
and let it fall,
waking me up to my memories
of my victimization
again and again
until it stopped,
until I stopped.
When I sat.
When I paused.
When I meditated.
When I practised yoga.
When at fifty-two I stand on my head.
Because the whole thing is behind me.
The world is upside down.
And, in case you don’t know yet, there’s a new documentary!
International Plaza Hotel – Toronto Airport
655 Dixon Road
Monday, July 11 (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.-ish): Free day program
Monday, July 11 (7 p.m. to 3 a.m.-ish): Free evening program
Tuesday to Thursday, July 12 to 14: Retreat (registration fee required)
Thursday, July 14 (7 p.m. to 9 a.m.-ish): Free Devi Bhava evening program
If you are meeting Amma for the first time, I recommend you attend the first free day and/or evening programs on Monday, July 11. If it’s all very inspiring, exciting, and delicious, you can decide to attend the retreat (you can always register on the spot) or/and you can attend the Devi Bhava free program on Thursday evening. The first programs are very beautiful, peaceful, and soothing, considering the throngs of thousands. You can rest assured that there are no long lineups. One is free to meditate, roam around, shop, and eat delicious South Indian food! The token system to receive darshan is brilliant. They have it down to a science. Please view the detailed program information below before heading out.
Do you know Amma?
Amma, a.k.a. Ammachi, a.k.a. Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Sanskrit for “Mother of Immortal Bliss”), is a woman embraced by many as a guru, an enlightened being who has attained God-consciousness. Based at her main ashram in Kerala, India, Amma is renowned for spreading her compassion, acceptance, love, and spiritual energy through a unique yet very human form: hugs. When she tours throughout the world, legions of followers, devotees, and the merely curious arrive and line up, waiting to be hugged by Amma in a ritual known as darshan. One after another, for hours upon hours at a time, Amma embraces thousands of people; she is said to have hugged 34 million to date.
Amma inspires, uplifts, and transforms through her embrace, her spiritual wisdom, and through her global charities, known as Embracing the World.® A recipient of the esteemed Gandhi–King Award for Nonviolence, she has established an extensive network of humanitarian organizations throughout India, including housing- and food-for-the-poor programs, orphanages, and a high-tech hospital providing medical care for the needy. When asked where she gets the energy to help so many people, she answers: “Where there is true love, anything is effortless.” While Amma is widely regarded as one of India’s foremost spiritual leaders, Amma says that her religion is love. She has never asked anyone to change their religion but only to contemplate the essential principles of their own faith and to try to live accordingly.
A recently released documentary on Amma will give you a taste of her energy and spirit:
SCIENCE OF COMPASSION (2016)
Renowned director and artist Shekhar Kapur focuses on Sri Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), investigating the source of human compassion and creativity. The film includes beautiful footage of Amma’s three-day 60th birthday mega-celebration in 2013, devotees meditating with Amma on the beach at her ashram in Kerala, the hubbub and ceremonies that shape the devotees’ daily life at the ashram, a rare lengthy private interview with Amma, as well as interviews with Nobel Prize–winning scientist Dr. Leland Hartwell and many others about Amma’s unique approach to life and how Amma’s love has touched and, in many cases, transformed their lives.
And if you haven’t seen it already or recently, Darshan: The Embrace is a haunting, trippy, and informative portrayal of Amma.
DARSHAN: THE EMBRACE (2005)
(with English subtitles)
This film is an evocative and moving portrait of the inspiring and multifaceted presence that is Amma. At times more like a music video, a poem, and prayer, its footage and soundtrack are intoxicating, whether we are blessed with a bird’s eye view of a highly charged puja ceremony, the magical landscape of the backwaters in Kerala, the hustle and bustle of the ashram, or markets and street life in nearby towns and cities. Jan Kounen documents the various manifestations of Amma’s wisdom, spiritual power, humanitarianism, and love. He shows her at various rituals and bhajans (chants); he interviews her and records her talking informally to followers; weaves in historical footage that explores her earlier years and showcases evidence of her acceptance by mainstream institutions; and, of course, he films several darshan ceremonies. Throughout the film, Amma is alternately solemn, mischievous, mystical, wise, and never more hauntingly beautiful and enigmatic as when she walks off the stage after offering darshan to 45,000 people in 21 hours on her 50th birthday in 2003!
THE LAY OF THE LAND, JULY 11 TO JULY 14
Monday, July 11:
Free Day Program, 8 a.m.
Everyone is welcome! To meet Amma and receive darshan, you will need a token, which is issued on a first-come-first-served basis. Tokens are limited, so I suggest you arrive at 8 a.m. Please note that everyone in your party must be present to receive a token. The morning program begins with a short meditation with Amma and then she welcomes visitors for an embrace. During the darshan, you are free to meditate in Amma’s presence, observe Amma giving darshan, bask in the devotional singing, visit the informational booths, shop in the various kiosks, or book sessions with therapists who travel with Amma. I highly recommend Dr. Paul. Delicious meals and snacks are also available for purchase. Let’s face it, it could be about the food alone … YUM!
|8:00 a.m.:||The token line opens.|
|8:30 a.m.:||Tokens are handed out and guests are escorted to seats.|
|10:00 a.m.:||Amma enters the hall and conducts a short meditation.|
|10:30 a.m.:||Amma begins to embrace those with tokens.|
|12:30 p.m.:||Lunch is served until 30 minutes after Amma leaves the hall. The cost is usually around $7.00.|
Monday, July 11:
Free Evening Program, 7:00 p.m.
Everyone is welcome! The evening program consists of a spiritual talk by one of Amma’s senior disciples; a talk by Amma; spiritual singing and bhajans with Amma (she is a most inspirational performer); a short meditation, and Amma’s darshan. Amma often hugs guests until the very early morning hours of the following day. Again, during darshan, you are free to meditate in Amma’s presence, observe Amma giving darshan, bask in the devotional singing, visit the informational booths, shop in the various kiosks, or book sessions with therapists who travel with Amma. As I mentioned, I highly recommend Dr. Paul. Delicious meals and snacks are available for purchase throughout the night and early morning.
5:00 p.m. The token line opens. There is no point in lining up before then.
5:30 p.m. Tokens are handed out and seating begins.
6:00 p.m. Dinner service begins.
6:30 p.m. Talk by senior disciple.
7:30 p.m. Amma arrives in the hall and dinner service pauses. Amma’s talk and devotional singing (bhajans).
9:45 p.m. Amma’s darshan begins and dinner service resumes until approx. midnight.
Tuesday to Thursday, July 12 to 14:
Retreat days with Amma can help to intensify your spiritual practices, allowing you to go deeper within yourself without the distractions of your everyday life. During a retreat, regardless of the size, the atmosphere always feels more intimate and relaxed than the public days, though this is relative. Consider that the program starts at 7:30 a.m. and runs until 3 a.m. easy! Imagine an atmosphere infused with lots of love, music performances, devotional singing, and repeated chanting of the 1,000 names of the Goddess, a one-hour-long Hindu devotional chant. This is not a Buddhist retreat and it is the furthest thing from silent. That said, Amma’s energy can plunge you into the depths of your soul life. In that sense, it truly is a retreat. Since selfless service, or seva, is an integral part of Amma’s teaching, retreats have been structured to include this valuable practice. All participants who are able will be assigned two hours of seva. The Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique® (IAM) is offered at the retreat at no extra charge. A refresher class is also offered for those who have already completed the course.
Tuesday, July 12
Retreat check-in begins at 3 p.m. and continues throughout the evening program. The evening program consists of a talk by Amma; spiritual singing and bhajans with Amma; a short meditation, and Amma’s darshan until the wee hours of the morning.
Wednesday, July 13
The program begins at 7:30 a.m. with a 30-minute guided meditation led by one of Amma’s senior disciples. Following breakfast, Swami Amritaswarupananda gives a class. Amma enters the hall around 9 a.m., leads a short meditation, and then gives darshan until 2 to 3 p.m. The evening program consists of a short meditation with Amma followed by a Q&A with Amma, a meal personally blessed by Amma, and darshan until the wee hours of the morning. She is indefatigable!
Thursday, July 14
The morning and afternoon program is the same as the previous day.
EARLY REGISTRATION RETREAT FEES – BEFORE MIDNIGHT ON JULY 10TH
Double Occupancy (2 nights)
5 and under
Single Occupancy Adult (2 nights)
STANDARD RETREAT FEES – AFTER MIDNIGHT ON JULY 10TH
Double Occupancy (2 nights)
5 and under
Single Occupancy Adult (2 nights)
Free Devi Bhava Program, 7pm
Everyone is welcome! Devi Bhava is a special program that begins with an Atma Puja ceremony for world peace. Amma then receives guests who have tokens for an embrace all through the night and into the next morning. Many stay the entire time to meditate, soak in the uplifting and spiritually charged atmosphere, and enjoy the devotional singing. Devi Bhava is also the time when Amma gives mantras. A mantra is a group of Sanskrit words used for prayer and meditation. If you are interested in receiving a mantra, information will be provided for you to read while you are sitting in line waiting to receive your darshan.
If you wish to receive darshan earlier rather than later and/or wish to be seated for the puja, you should arrive by 4:15 p.m. The Devi Bhava in Toronto usually attracts around 6,000 people. If you come with a group and would like to sit together, everyone in your group must enter the hall together. As with other programs, everyone in your party should be present to receive a token. If you arrive later, you may not get a seat and find that your token number is very late into the next morning. I suggest you travel light. Only bring personal items that you can slide under a chair, like a small meditation pillow or items that can fit on your lap. Bring snacks for the lineup. That’s the only time you may not find what you need. Dinner can be late (it was 10 p.m. last year). Substantial meals and sweet and savoury snacks are available through the night and morning at various food kiosks.
Token line opens.
Tokens are handed out and guests are escorted to seats.
Amma enters the hall and conducts the Atma Puja.
She then speaks and later sings bhajans.
Amma begins to embrace everyone with a token.
Dinner service begins and continues until approx. midnight.
I highly recommend you consider booking a divination. Experiencing a personal divination with Malidoma Patrice Somé is a beautiful, empowering, and healing manifestation of Spirit. It is an opportunity to hear direction from the realm of the ancestors and to connect, more deeply, with what you know “in your bones.”
“Divination is an effective tool for tackling the crisis of the human psyche in modern time. It clarifies the meaning of the soul’s quest and sheds light on the obstacles to overcome on the way to successful living. In other words, divination does not just tell you what is going on in your life; it tells you what you need to do in order to flow into your gifts and fulfil your purpose. Divination provides a positive spin on human challenges by emphasizing gifts and purpose.”
Malidoma utilizes crowry shell divination for his sessions. You will be asked to spread a pile of shells, bones, stones, and other implements on a special “divination cloth.” This spread of items that you infuse with our own personal energy is what Malidoma will read and interpret to receive the message about your life purpose. He will also report if you have disharmony with the elemental spirits of earth, water, fire, nature, and mineral. The fee for a personal session is US$300. It’s a steep price in Canadian dollars but well worth the expense and, in this case, the drive.
Malidoma Patrice Somé, Ph.D., is a West African Elder, author, teacher, and representative of his village in Burkina Faso, West Africa. He has come to North America to share the ancient wisdom and practices that have supported the Dagara people for thousands of years. With a foot in both worlds, he is uniquely positioned to carry the healing and transformative message. At age four, Somé was forcefully removed from the Dagara and taken to a Jesuit boarding school where he was educated by brutal Christian priests. After enduring 16 years of physical and emotional abuse, he escaped and found his way back to his village. Upon his return, integration into his traditional tribal religion and customs was difficult due to his harsh indoctrination into European ways of thought and worship. Elders from the village believed that Somé’s ancestral spirit had withdrawn from his body and that he should undergo a dangerous, month-long initiatory process, an initiation among Dagara males that is believed to reunite soul and body. He survived this potentially life-threatening process and came out the other side anchored and primed to implement his life purpose. His first name, Malidoma, means “he who makes friends with the enemy/stranger.” Somé believes that it is his destiny to come to Western audiences and promote an understanding between Western and indigenous cultures. He is a genuine pathfinder in a time when these two alien worlds can benefit immensely from each other’s knowledge. Dr. Somé holds three master’s degrees and two doctorates from the Sorbonne and Brandeis University.
His first book, an autobiography, Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman, is a gripping tale of survival and spiritual integrity despite the brutality of colonialism and religious imperialism. In his second book, Ritual: Power, Healing and Community, Somé explores the essential role ritual plays in maintaining community and examines the structure common to all ritual. And his third book, The Healing Wisdom of Africa, is a concise outline of the Dagara cosmology and Medicine Wheel. Somé relates the spiritual traditions and wisdom of his people and shows readers how to use them to discover their own purpose and connect with their communities.
Stripe and Daisy got off the bike in early January a mere week before I left for Africa. As the weather shifts into summer, I am reminded of last year’s odyssey on that crazy-ass tandem bike with the huge eyeball. I fail to fully understand what that journey was truly about, but I can say that I will always remember 2015 as the year of white facepaint, outrageous costumes, supreme physical exertion, and flow into the unknown right here in my own city. Amanda’s video, that I am only now making public, is a testament to the mystical potency of flowing outside of the conventional parameters of social and cultural constraints. First, Stripe and Daisy unabashedly interacted with the police on Amanda’s behalf. Second, we quite unexpectedly synched up enough to collaborate despite our improbable get-ups at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, and third—and most importantly—Amanda’s courageous honesty, openness, and trust is a testament to the fact that our uber-white personae give us all permission to push through not only political, social, and cultural barriers but also personal ones.
This video in particular is a clear indicator that Stripe, my alter ego, allows me to break out of a shell that limits my experience more than I am aware. For instance, I don’t talk to strangers often and fail to ask relevant and enticing questions if I do. Partnering up with Michelle Polak, an actor and activist, also boosts my verve because, let’s face it, Daisy is unstoppable. Her ability to crash right into whatever presents itself and pull from it the juicy teachings, truth, and joy is remarkable. If I engaged like Stripe and Daisy do, I would cease to function as a separate entity devoid of direct contact with the vast tapestry of human beings in Toronto whom I do not yet know. My relationships with friends, colleagues, students, and clients—though stimulating, beautiful, and complex—are nonetheless sequestered in a specific context and container. Unpredictability—even if it does occur in every session, workshop, and everydayness—still functions within a very specific framework and contract. To set out in the street (looking like Brynhildr on a bad trip) with the specific intention of discovering other people’s wealth, wisdom, and beauty is a lesson in radical respect, compassion, and daring forthrightness.
As I sit here on my deck, four months after my last outing on the Mighty Machine, I am keenly aware of my systemic loss. Beauty slips between my fingers every day. And for the sake of what? Civility? Courtesy? Politeness? Correctness? Tradition? All of this socializing mumbo-jumbo appears to have taught me respect and grace. But did it really? The code of ethics that governs my behaviour clearly creates walls rather than intimacy or discovery, containment rather than passion or expression, and suppression rather than sharing and community. I am reminded once again of the teachings of the Dagara people and in particular Malidoma Patrice Somé’s plea for us all to align with the element of water, thereby confronting our overwhelming grief and receiving water’s ability to heal, cleanse, and restore peace. “We all need water rituals to stay balanced, oriented, and reconciled. Water rituals help us shed the massive accumulation of negative emotion due to loss, failure, and powerlessness. We all need to keep the waters of reconciliation flowing within the self, in order to calm the inner fires and live in harmony with others.”
In other words, let’s embrace unpredictability and step into radical presence, a state in which we feel our emotions and witness other people’s emotions. Let’s lose our fear of feeling, expressing emotions, and losing control, especially in the presence of others. Feeling is a flow that aligns us with love, the most powerful healing energy that knits our inner being together again and creates a robust fabric that creates community as well. This is a very different recipe for respectful peace. The Dagara cosmology wisely suggests that we create water rituals for our community to express its feelings rather than create a code of ethics to suppress emotion and keep things under control.
I am honoured to witness Amanda’s palpable sadness and, together with Michelle, celebrate her courage and beauty.
Thank you, Amanda.
“Bad Girls,” M.I.A. official video
M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” video is a cheeky and ass-kicking reminder that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving, and it brings me right back to one of the most poignant conversations Stripe and Daisy had on the art bike last summer (Blog 7). One of the many encounters that blew our minds and hearts open was with a Saudi woman in her twenties. She was in her last year of her master’s degree in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, and was travelling in Canada and the United States for a few months.
Though her family is Muslim in one of the most conservative—read patriarchal—cities in the world, she was experiencing more freedom than most young women her age. Most relevant to M.I.A.’s video, she told us of her mother’s brave protest days when she and her friends and colleagues gathered in a supermarket, settled behind steering wheels, and drove cars in a procession through the busy downtown streets of Saudi’s capital city. Perceived as a most provocative act of rebellion—we are talking about women simply driving cars—they were not only brutally arrested but, more importantly, many also lost their jobs and were blacklisted. Their names are apparently still on all kinds of lists, and it is impossible for some to leave the country or have a stable government job. In light of this, it becomes clear why the women in M.I.A.’s video are masked. If their identity is revealed, their safety may well be endangered.
And wait, it wasn’t just her mother. She also told us that her immediate family’s core religion, one could say, is education and reading. Her father’s most significant life-changing experience in university was his exposure to international literature. He quickly developed a profound and, in his part of the world, radical and revolutionary respect for women and girls. I don’t know how many men like him live in Riyadh, but I assume he is a minority. We were agog—her father was actually going through with it and putting his money where his mouth is—he is raising his three daughters with respect, devotion, and concern for their well-being in a world he now perceives as threatening to their birth-right to agency, autonomy, and the fulfillment of their life purpose and gifts.
I’ve heard of all this before, and read about it, but to have heard it live from someone actually living it was a great honour. She confirmed for us that books can be powerful tools of resistance, especially in contexts where they’re banned/devalued. And she reminded us that women have to continue to fight for their rights and that protests and videos like M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” are still much-needed statements of courage, rebellion, equality, and power. Bravo to all women and men who dare align with respect, equal rights, and education, even when their culture imposes severe punishment to those daring enough to take action and protest.
And if you want even more extreme car hi-jinks check out Speed Sisters, the documentary featuring the first all-woman race car driving team in the Middle East. Grabbing headlines and turning heads at improvised tracks across the West Bank, these five women have sped their way into the heart of the gritty, male-dominated Palestinian street car-racing scene. Weaving together their lives on and off the track, Speed Sisters takes you on a surprising journey into the drive to go further and faster than anyone thought you could.
I ran to English school to escape my French perpetrators.
I ran in figure skates and ballet slippers to be away on weekends too.
I ran so the monsters under my bed would not bite me.
I ran and hid in snow forts, the pool, and the neighbour’s yard.
I ran in jungles in my colouring books.
I ran with stuffed animals who loved me.
And I ran with all my might to escape from the truth that would swallow me.
I ran to food to soothe me.
I ran to sex to release me.
I ran to alcohol to raise me.
I ran to drugs to erase me.
And I ran to an English art college to create me.
I ran to Toronto and the Ontario College of Art and Design.
I ran into my mentor, Paul Baker.
I ran wholeheartedly into theatre and opera design.
I ran heedlessly with my creative impulses.
And I had to keep running to forget and survive.
I ran to Toronto with my hellish boyfriend in tow.
I ran hapless and powerless into the jaws of more abuse.
I ran with drugs, with art, with as much of it as I could claw.
And the more I ran, the more circular it got.
I ran to the Banff Centre and the University of Victoria.
I ran in phenomenal landscapes that beckoned my soul.
I ran in clouds of hydroponic marijuana and magic mushrooms.
I ran with Shakespeare, Chekhov, Williams, and Albee.
I ran into my first girlfriend or she ran into me.
And I ran into a new me.
In due course,
I ran back to Toronto to work on my first professional production.
I ran into my first sexy, butchy girlfriend.
I ran into my first therapist’s office.
And then I ran into a me I really did not know.
By and by,
I ran into my first memory of sexual abuse.
I ran into my grandfather and what he did to me.
I ran into my mother and what she did and didn’t do to me.
I ran into my father and the insanity of what he did to me.
And I ran into my grandmother and all the love she had for me.
When Mamy was dying,
I ran into my first big blast of unconditional love.
I ran into the arms of my first dead aunt and ancestor.
I ran into magic, mystery, and invisible energy.
I ran into alternative medicine and Reiki.
And, most importantly, I ran into my innate power to self-heal.
I run to feel the heartbeat of the earth,
to fall into a dance with my beloved Mother
in a way that I have yet to before.
I run because I thrive
And I run to see where my open heart takes me.
Energy Salon is cancelled on Victoria Day,
Monday, May 23, 2016.
Sound Healer Barb McIntosh
will play her CHINESE FENG (WIND) GONGS for us on
Summer Solstice eve,
Monday, June 20.
If our energy is not focused enough by then, that’ll do it for sure!
The Energy Salon’s vibe
will flow through to the Fall Equinox,
most Mondays from early July to late September.
It’s been an absolute joy to explore the Dagara Medicine Wheel and the significance of its energy elements in our weekly healing circle. This ancient African wisdom is serving as a framework to help us expand our notions of what it means to be grounded. Unfortunately, this idiom has found its way into the mainstream clouded by many misconceptions about what it means to be connected to earth energy. So often I encounter a fixed and rigid “grounding” energy in clients’ fields. Their roots are firmly planted in soil and yet their fields are congested, malnourished and depleted. “To ground” is to plug in to the life force in all its vibrant, multifaceted earthly manifestation, not just soil. This source of fertility is found in all the energies: Fire, Water, Earth, Minerals, and Nature.
- FIRE, the instigating fuel and the connecting rod to ancestors and the Other World.
- WATER, the cleansing elixir that fosters authenticity, community, harmony and spiritual experience.
- EARTH, the lap in which we find a home, nourishment, support and empowerment.
- MINERALS, the gift of remembering through words and stories, our origins and purpose.
- NATURE, who invites us to change consciously, to be real, to be ourselves and to drop the mask that the world expects us to wear.
It’s so totally 3D! It encompasses all aspects of human experience. It’s a rich and expansive buoyancy that is so much more than a concerted effort to be stable, safe, rooted and/or physically present. The Dagara Medicine Wheel is an energetic circuit that beacons us to be fully present, aware and engaged on all levels. It is the most succinct road map for our spirits while inhabiting the earth in human form that I have encountered so far.
Modernity, of course, plays a huge role is our mass cultural confusion and disorientation. I am reminded of Timothy Leary’s counterculture-era phrase: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” It was all too often distorted and reduced to a static, one-dimensional engagement with the world. Unhappily, Leary’s explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean “Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity.” To be counterculture and stoned amounts to the same thing as being in the dominant culture and safe. Both are numb. Let us consider Leary’s urge for people to embrace cultural changes by detaching from the existing conventions and hierarchies in society:
Turn on—Tune in—Drop out
- TURN ON, become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them.
- TUNE IN, interact harmoniously with the world around you—externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives.
- DROP OUT, discover your singularity, commitment to mobility, choice and change.
See you some Monday soon!
One of the first changes I introduced into my schedule post-Africa is a weekly healing circle. So often clients ask me where they can find like-minded community. And I’ve always known that if my clients met one another, many among them would find refreshing and soul-quenching like-mindedness. The first series of monthly Energy Salons last spring was well attended and much appreciated, but I did not fully embrace the format as an ongoing event.
My impulse post-Africa was to step into my spiritual healing trekking boots in a group setting—in other words, offer guided healing energy to a group rather than only one person at a time. When I teach workshops, I often create healing circles to help students shift energies that are blocking their growth and learning. It’s one of the most powerful teaching tools I offer. However, I have hesitated to create a circle and moving energy for and with people I don’t know. You could say that every first session with a new client is just that, working with someone I don’t know yet, but I always figured that booking a session, investing the time and money, and focusing the energy on making it happen was a necessary preparatory energetic commitment. A month into the new weekly Energy Salons, I can say that by the time people have talked to their friends and have decided to join in, their spirit of adventure and commitment to healing creates a dynamic-enough presence for a transformational process to occur.
Last week I had the honour of welcoming the first guest speakers: Megan Brown, an exceptional runner and coach, and Dr. Elizabeth Mingay, her friend and naturopathic doctor. Megan blew our minds and hearts open when she launched into her personal story and healing journey rather than solely introducing us to her approach to fitness as a catalyst for healing on all levels. It was a thrill to discover that Megan and Liz, who supported Megan for two years while Megan’s radical transformation unfolded, deemed our healing circle safe enough, supportive enough, and like-minded enough to hold the space for Megan to plunge in.
Megan’s email the next morning summarizes her unveiling beautifully:
Thanks Dany – I learned so much, both about my journey and about how to share in a way that can resonate with more people. Yesterday was all about jumping into the deep end and now I’ll find a way to swim there 🙂
I really believe my Purpose revolves around EMPOWERMENT…. which interestingly enough is related to the Earth element.
I want to empower people in a few ways:
1) To walk the tunnel of healing to their True Self (and the Love and Peace and Harmony that resides here)
2) To embrace the change and transformation that accompanies this healing
3) To accept and honour the role that the body plays an instrumental role in soul healing – in my case it was the catalyst and the vehicle.
The Energy Salon has a life of its own. I wish to honour that by creating a circle every Monday in the summer as well.
“So what’s a nice white girl like you doing here?” asks El-Farouk Khaki while we’re on break before a gender-equal Sufi Zikr ceremony on Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto. “I’m going out for a breath of fresh air in the parking lot. Wanna come?” Like, yeah … “What’s a nice gay man like you doing here?” Okay … excuse me while my brain explodes … For one, Khaki loves participating in this groundbreaking gender-equal Zikr. Second, he is one of the founders of El-Tawhid Juma Circle Mosques, not only a gender-equal space but also an LGBTQ-affirming community. “We are Human Positive,” he tells me. “ETJC begins with the understanding that women and men are equal agents of Allah in all aspects of ritual practice, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, race, class, dis/ability, HIV status, language, or any other grounds.” I mean, WOW, how many restrictions can you shoot down dead in one fell swoop?
“Me, you ask? Well, I’m here because this is another thing that happened to me in Africa. I was introduced to the vibrations of mystical Islam via an imam and healer in a village near Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina Faso.” This, to my great surprise, because I expected a field trip to the realm of the Dagara people. After all, I signed up for the “guided” African journey with elder Malidoma Patrice Somé to Dano, Burkina Faso, a village steeped in the Dagara-animist-Christian traditions and all that entails in terms of spiritual practices, conflict, missionary abuse, slavery, colonization, and ongoing turmoil and trauma both in the personal and political arenas. I consciously signed up for that. But this? A bi-monthly gender-equal Zikr on Saturday night in Toronto? Me: chanting devotional prayers and moving in unison with Sufi Muslims ceremonially and experientially remembering Allah? And feeling ecstatic, nonetheless?
Apparently, that’s how the crow flies! The allusion in this idiom to the crow’s ability to fly directly from A to B without the encumbrances of roads and landscape, features that restrict humans, could not be more apt. First, call it Allah or whomever or whatever, my heart opened and healed immensely that night. Second, it felt familiar. I embodied the haunting chants and rhythms initially with ease and eventually with passion. Third, I accessed this community by writing one email to Renée Mercuri. As it turns out, Stripe and Daisy feature Renée, a devout Sufi, in one of my favourite WHO’S MAKING WAVES videos. Unbeknownst to me, I was already plugged into a welcoming, gender-equal Toronto-based Dargah, a bi-monthly gathering of Sufis guided by a gentle, rule-busting sheikh.
And then another DUH moment occurs … likely my 122,999th DUH since January 15, the fateful date I flew to Accra, Ghana. It’s by now 10:30 p.m. and the smell of delicious East Indian food rattles me back to my physical senses. Like, DUH, a huge portion of the people in the room are South-Asian Canadians; they’re not necessarily from the Middle East. My obvious misconception sparked further curiosity. How many Muslims are there in India? A quick Google search reveals (add or lose a few) that 14% of inhabitants are Muslim, which adds up to 133,295,077! This number humbles my perspective on my forays into Indian culture, as my incursions both at home and abroad were within mostly the Hindu tradition. There’s so much more to understand. I mean, we’re 35.16 million Everything in Canada! And 50% of the population of Burkina Faso is Muslim, which adds up to 5.3 million. Despite the prejudices and vilification of Muslims in the media, they should be harder for me to dismiss or ignore!
Actually, the one word that most aptly summarizes my journey to Africa is IGNORANCE. I faced my own and that of many others’ every day. And it has not let up. I continue to face mine every single day.
Inshallah, as they say in Arabic, God willing, I will shed ignorance some time soon—as in not soon enough!
To say that I came back to Toronto utterly STUNNED by my seven, very full-on, weeks in sub-Saharan West Africa is an understatement. I am still actively grasping, digesting, and absorbing the sage African abundance I have been gifted. Even though I recognize, more than ever, the value of living in a safe and sacred space, I am faced with integrating red-earth wisdom rooted in powerful ancient spiritual vibrations, age-old animist protocols with an overlay of Christian or Islamic religious traditions, Burkinabe social and cultural customs, rural and economic conventions and limitations in a developing country, plus a volatile post-successful-revolution political climate complete with a terrorist attack on the day I landed—all this while living and working in Toronto, a large, bustling, yet on the whole peaceful North American city poised to create an infrastructure that enables more and more of its inhabitants. I mean, WHOA!
There is no doubt in my mind that all the perks of being a white, privileged, upwardly mobile Canadian woman in this wealthy city is enabling my growth and my ever-broadening horizons, especially in the realm of alternative health and healing. However, I am confronted by an increasingly high contrast between my spiritual values and practice and the dominant fear culture I no longer participate in. Outside of the frameworks of home, yoga studio, alternative medicine, and a like-minded community, I navigate a landscape sated with more jarring contrasts.
None of this is new. Many would remind me that I’ve been “weird” and marching to the sound of my own drum for decades, first as an artist and now as a light worker. However, the impact I am engaging with now has increased tenfold due to the “African” factor. It’s been trendy for decades to traipse around India and practise, eat, and exude a “South Asian” flare or spiritual exploration. To be precise, it’s been totally acceptable and even expected for us white folks to learn from the East Indian Hindu sages. But to exude “Africa” and align with Dagara teachings as well as the wisdom imparted by a very powerful healer and imam in Burkina Faso is, without question, a less-treaded path. It’s fair to say that I feel out on a politically charged and shaky limb.
That said, the motto I have embraced for a decade—“when in doubt, meditate or do yoga”—has never been more comforting and medicinal. These days I opt for seated meditation more often and for more hours a day, and I practise a fairly rigorous Ashtanga Vinyasa flow six days a week. This regimen smashes the adaptation-contrast-and-integration story to smithereens. When immersed in these sacred practices, none of it bloody well matters. The vibrational realms that were shockingly new and “out there” in Africa and especially disorienting when I first got back are gradually becoming more familiar. With every additional hour practising seated meditation or yoga asanas, I gain freedom and a growing certainty that all I can do and need to do is dive in, splash around, and take the wisdom in incrementally as best I can. Each day presents an opportunity to drink in the teachings, be nourished by them, and gradually learn how to manifest the wisdom in daily living as well as with clients.
So it’s sort of “same old, same old.” Wisdom is, of course, wise and therefore sits outside of damaging divisions based on race, gender, or what-all-else we humans have used as an excuse to rape, pillage, murder, and divide and conquer. Basically, if some amazing human beings in Burkina Faso are helping me align with harmony, then so be it … literally… be it in Africa or Toronto, white or black, male or female, or whatever seemingly disparate labels.
I can’t believe that I have been back from Africa for five weeks. The journey that started in Accra, Ghana, on January 15, 2016, and ended on March 9, 2016, is by far the most haunting yet joyful, complex yet ever so foundational, soulful yet overrun with basic survival challenges, fulfilling yet exhausting trek of my life to date. It was an absolutely perfect collision of opposing forces every day. By night, I was raked over the coals or smothered with love by new and vibrant acquaintances in the ancestral realms, and by day I was challenged or enthralled by a plethora of stimulating traditions in Ghana and Burkina Faso, not to mention a “guide” who seemed to delight in making things as inconvenient as humanly possible for three weeks of that two-month stretch.
For someone who normally travels “alone,” this was by far the most crowded travel scene, ever replete with pleasure and discontent in equal measure. Though I was inconvenienced by irritants such as culture shock, racism, spiritual disorientation, and a well-meaning but utterly frenzied and unskilful guide, I was nonetheless provocatively summoned by new spirit realms and mentored by beautiful African elders and healers who skilfully and generously shared their wisdom and energy. In other words, I totally got what I went for.
I get a call from Jess Dobkin, founder of the Artists’ Newsstand at Chester Station. She would like me to read my manifesto at the Take Back the Nuit event she is organizing. Her plan is to create an alternative to Nuit Blanche on October 3. Wait a sec, let’s back up for a minute … my manifesto? “Yes, the conclusion from your book.” Well … that’s news to me; I never thought of it as a manifesto, but now that I look at it, yes, quite. This is a fantastic opportunity for Michelle and I to stretch our notion of who Stripe and Daisy are and what they get up to. Isabelle Noel’s soundtrack composed for my book trailer is de rigueur, so we throw it on full blast and improvise. Basically, Stripe says what she has to say and Daisy moves to create a foil for the words, either resonating with them or creating visual and poetic contrast. I decide to throw in Anne J. Gibson, our Kensington photographer, to the mix and Maurizio Trezzi on the GoPro. Eventually, I had to hire a more experienced editor, Fiona Sauder, because I was in way over my head with overlapping still images, video and soundtracks. Check out our first Manifesto performance on my YouTube channel or danylyne.com.
The next big item on the agenda was to make sense of my experience on the art-bike. The plot very gradually came into focus. And I mean gradually. The more we rode the streets of downtown Toronto under our glittery eyeball, the more elusive the framework became. Every ride evolved into a ritual of sorts. It demanded endurance, as a ritual would; it was nothing less than an open-hearted celebration, as a ritual would be; and it was definitely an exercise in trust because the current always carried us away from the anticipated. No matter our strategy, our outings defied our goals and demanded nothing less than surrender. I was reminded time and time again of my favourite quote by Malidoma Patrice Somé: “Before you begin, you own the journey; once the ritual begins, the journey owns you.”
Whoa, man, it’s been ages since I updated my blog. I feel like a dog learning to juggle and failing miserably at keeping all the balls in the air. My track record so far this summer and fall is more akin to a quarterback catching a football and running in the hope of scoring a touchdown and then another. Eventually, when I feel I can strike an item off the to-do list, I scamper around, gathering all the balls I dropped in the meantime. Hence, here I am, in late November, updating you on the goings-on since the late summer.
Getting a new website up and running is, as you know, a huge undertaking. My primary goal was to bring all aspects of my practice, healing, writing, and art-ing under one roof. Though it was about as straightforward as herding kittens, I can safely say that danylyne.com stands on its own now, with a few tweaks and perks still to come.
Okay … no rest for the wicked … I come home, shower, eat, answer a few emails, paint myself white, done my wig and costume again, and head right back out. Katherine Dynes and I are joining Toronto’s Bike Rave. I only now understand the vision I witnessed from my window last year: lots and lots of cyclists riding bikes covered with lights, glow sticks, fabric, and fun fur, a thrilling, local extravaganza celebrating bike culture and urban cycling à la Burning Man. They’re gathering at Christie Pits this year. It’s so close to me that it makes it totally possible to consider a second outing today.
If one site in Toronto can be called my neighbourhood, it’s Kensington Market. This unique collision of Toronto history is the vibrant, distinctive, tasty, and delightfully diverse backdrop for all my eras in this metropolis. Whether it’s as an art student in the 1980s; a theatre designer with a few bucks in my pocket to spend on costumes, props, fashions, haircut, furniture, jaguar lamps, or dinner in the 1990s; as an opera designer in the late 1990s and early twenty-first century; or as a trauma intuitive and author in the past decade, I comb through the market for the eclectic, counter-culture morsels that shape both my life and artistic vision. Alongside privately owned neighbourhood shops in Little India, Little Italy, and the Queen & Spadina matrix, I gladly thrive and drop my earnings or budget on the hallowed ground of the legendary Kensington Market, most notably encouraging and supporting the shop owners, artists, and its mindful neighbourhood custodians.
On this hot, sticky afternoon, Michelle and I roll in from College Street onto Augusta Avenue, flamboyantly cruising against traffic amid loud cheers and hollers. Our spontaneous greeters are worthy of the official Burning Man greeters at midnight Sunday, a week before the man burns on Labour Day Saturday. “Welcome home!” “Good on you for leaving the Default World behind!” they seem to say. Armed with wit, rebellion, and infectious exuberance, the unscripted welcome of the Kensington denizens both soothes and electrifies us. We are home. These are our people—whatever that means when one considers the diversity; it’s just that—diversity, imagination, gusto, activism, and joie de vivre in whatever unique combination—as long as it smells authentic.
It’s day one with Michelle Polak. I’m immediately reminded that she is a trained actor when she lays on her makeup in a few deftly directed strokes. She is less streaky in the first two minutes on the job than I have managed to perfect in my five weeks in the street. And within thirty minutes on the bike, she has uttered one of her apparently famous Mama lines: “We are not on the Titanic yet!” This after we find ourselves seemingly shipwrecked at College Street and Spadina Avenue. “I just had the rear wheel and gears replaced! What now?” The bike’s tendency to lean and veer to the right has nonetheless reached epic proportions [GROAN]. Even with Michelle hanging off the eyeball at a forty-five-degree angle in an attempt to counter-balance us, I fail to keep the bike off the curb. Unperturbed, Michelle combs through a construction site for a sandbag. Though she emerges empty-handed, she deftly shifts to Plan B, which I execute: Epsom salts from the Rexall drugstore on the corner. I emerge with the heavy loot to find Michelle discussing bike construction logistics with two engineers from the MaRS Discovery District. They gladly help us duct-tape the bottle of salts into the eyeball and off we go … well, more or less. We huff it and puff it to Bay Street, only to realize that we must seriously reassess our options. We are definitely not making it to the Taste of the Danforth—we might as well be trying to make it to Newfoundland by morning! Plan C: “I know! Let’s turn south on Yonge Street, cruise downhill, and hang out at Yonge-Dundas Square?” Well, why not?
Katherine Dynes and I valiantly venture forth to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds to meet the most uproarious explosion of feathers, sequins, and Black Pride that Toronto has to offer. Thankfully, the dark grey clouds blow over—it looked pretty dicey mid-morning. I mean, really: “God” allowed the heavens to open up on virtually all of the Prides in Toronto this year. The Trans March escaped this fate, but the Dyke March and Pride Parade were hit harder than ever before: not only was it wet, it was also bloody freezing. Even my twenty-something tenant was tucked in and watching TV by sunset on Sunday, and some of us were tucked in by 5 p.m. Saturday! But no matter, Black and Brown Pride is thankfully spared.
Katherine and I are rip-roaring ready for the loud, rhythmic cornucopia of sounds and culture. By King Street, however, we’re both off the party trail and seriously wondering how our white makeup covering our white flesh is going to register in this context. Is it too much like whiteface? I’m vividly reminded of how much nothing has a fixed meaning, it’s all about context and juxtapositions. Holy shit! Sure, whiteface is the satirical reversal of the more common blackface performances in the nineteenth-century minstrel theatre and later in vaudeville, but still. The offensive stock characters such as Mammy, Pickaninny, Uncle Tom, Jezebel, and Buck have played a central role in the proliferation of racist images, attitudes, and perceptions worldwide. Is it too close for comfort? It’s not like it’s over either; it crossed over to Broadway, silent movies, racist cartoons, early television, and 1970s blaxploitation films heavy on graphic sex scenes, gratuitous nudity and violence, as well as stereotypes of pimps, whores, and black criminals. The racist and negative stereotypes are still a staple in television and film comedies, and Buck, now a hoodlum with an attitude, has an overwhelming presence in black music videos that glorify gangsterism. This is to mention but a few.
With the lakeshore in sight, we figure, “What the hell! What can we possibly be doing on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Toronto that could be more interesting than to reveal our dormant or not-so-buried racist ignorance and perhaps confront it head-on in a crowd of more than a million people?” Neither of us comes up with a convincing answer, so we recapture our initial enthusiasm and blithely dive into the crowd. The sea of revellers embraces us at the Princes’ Gates, Toronto’s closest thing to the Arc de Triomphe. The “Winged Victory,” that beautiful figure above the central arch aptly floating amid seahorses and waves, is our witness. Though we are relegated to the sidelines behind the tall barricades, an unfortunate fixture of the Caribbean Carnival parade, we are absorbed by the energetic current of merrymaking couples on a sexy date, families celebrating the national colours of their ancestors, single men on the make, youths on a rampage, fashionistas gladly outdoing each other, alcoholics with another excuse to binge, other “white tourists,” and lots and lots of really, really joyous people.
I get an email from Katja mentioning that she can only ride the bike sometimes. You’d think she’d had the run-in with Sleaze Balls. I get another email from Katja stating that she can only ride the bike on big occasions, like Nuit Blanche or Halloween. Wow, she’s thinking ahead. By late July, I get an email announcing that she is never getting on the bike again. The wild experiment that has captured my imagination is having exactly the opposite effect on her. While I thrive on the unpredictability of the outcome, the slog that inevitably sets me up for revelation and the up-close-and-personal encounter with the inhabitants of a city I love, Katja is experiencing a growing sense of unease, exhaustion, and confusion. She feels drastically more suited to work behind the scenes, while I continue to ride the art-bike. My dear friend Katherine Dynes will step in every once in a while; Michelle Polak, a wonderful actor, healer, and activist, will join me in full costume on most weekends in August and September; and I will take on the bike upkeep and maintenance. Who knew?
Let the next chapter begin!
Katja and I head to Kensington Market on the art-bike and, of course, b-line to I Deal Coffee on Nassau street (so YUM). No sooner are we parked—our machine undoubtedly raises parallel parking to an art-form—a man wearing an old, rumpled, vaguely patterned white shirt draped over his bulging belly swaggers toward us. Katja runs in to get her coffee..His frumpy porkpie hat and crooked grin confuse me. I can’t decide whether he’s a sleazy-alcoholic-car-salesman type or an artist embodying that kitschy 1970s character. No matter, because the minute he opens his mouth, his frothy-saliva-embedded words etch his misogynist swagger on the pavement: “So, what are you gals up to?” I give him our usual pitch: “We are authors promoting our work and a platform for writers and readers to discuss literature without a corporate mandate defining the rules.” “HA!” he guffaws, barely waiting for me to pronounce my last syllable. “Is this what it has come to? Writers putting on get-ups and hawking their goods on the street!”
White-tandem-bicycling home from the Canadian National Exhibition grounds on July 12th, huffing north up Strachan Avenue with a borderline case of “Should we get off and push?” we are assailed by an assertive yet imploring “WAIT—wait for US!” The cry pierces the darkness from beyond the gates of Trinity Bellwoods Park. We are, of course, more than happy to take a breather on the corner of Queen Street West. It’s not like we’re going anywhere fast anyway. Besides, the minute we are stopped at a red light, car windows roll down and cyclists and pedestrians gather. Our glowing eyeball is a magnet for curiosity, celebration, memories of Burning Man, for some an homage to Tim Burton, for others a wink to Lady Gaga. At the very least, we are a great photo op.
Wherever we are heading, we always end up on College Street, either coming out of or going into my garage. Boy, did we confuse the guys at the Merit Decorating Centre on July 11th! Katherine Dynes, our mascot for the evening, had to actually go in to the store to let them know it was me—that I was delivering on my promise that I would come by to show them what all the white spray-paint and their entire stock of epoxy glue was for. I just had to share the moment—I’ve been going there for years. In addition to my two house renovations and ongoing maintenance and repairs, that store was host to the traumatic phone call in the summer of 2005 when I heard that my design mentor, Dr. Paul Baker, had died suddenly of an aneurism. Caesar and Tony scraped me off the floor so I could run out to find a public phone to call Katja. They’ve been like family ever since.
I love shopping there. First, it’s nothing like a chain store, and second, it’s like Jacob’s Hardware on Queen Street West near Spadina Avenue: it’s not just a store, it’s also a bunch of really interested, knowledgeable, and helpful people who like to know what the hell you’re cooking up, especially when they know you are an artist and designer. Fundamentally, the people in those stores are a part of my artistic community—it’s richer than Googling. Though the online world is a great tool for writers (I can hardly imagine the time dedicated to research back in the day), it doesn’t offer that warm-and-fuzzy community creation moment that you find at my local hardware store. Mind you, Amanda Palmer blew that isolating digital barrier out the window when she tweeted fans something like, “Hey, guys, I need another word for blah-blah for this or that song on my new album” and forty-some tweets came rolling in, offering lots of options, including the one that’s good enough to be the solution. What do writers do to create community?
“SAY CHEEZE!” We flash our comparatively yellow teeth when framed by white facepaint for Tony’s snapshot, the first of hundreds that night.
By 6 pm on July 10th, Front Street is blocked due to the PAN AM Games opening Ceremony at the Rogers Centre —of course—but not for us. Three cops wave us in: two bewigged-costumed dames, on a tandem bicycle with a huge eyeball, loaded with four large black Tupperware boxes—no potential terrorist risk here! Thank you, Canada!
Actually, it’s been bizarre and totally mysterious in terms of cops in general. First, it was on my list to find out if we needed a licence. One day I happened upon a gaggle of five bicycle cops gathered on the sidewalk at the Starbucks on College Street—perfect. I asked, “What would you do if you saw a tandem bicycle with big training wheels and a huge eyeball cycling the streets of Toronto?” Two cops with blond ponytails strikingly similar to those favoured by athletes looked at me like I had stepped off a spaceship, the other two searched their mental infractions list and simultaneously, bleary-eyed, shrugged their shoulders. The fifth cop, after apparently going through the same mental list, harrumphed, scratched his head, and asked, “An eyeball? Can you describe that, please?” I laid it out in detail and they unanimously smiled and nodded, conservatively but positively confirming that our creation was basically street-worthy and legal. Or at least it didn’t break any bylaw they could think of.
It’s a green light, legally. It’s hard to believe, but at this point it’s our third time on the road and cops are helpful, friendly, or seemingly unaware of our blaring presence from as little as three feet away. In general, it’s not even a blank look; in fact, the only time I have witnessed this particular glazed blindness was in my dear Minette’s preferred tactic when sensing a raccoon presence. Our guess is that we don’t fit on any list so we might as well be met either with genial complicity or curiosity, or not all.
Photo ops galore at the ticket gate of the Rogers Centre, then we head off to City Hall, where the opening ceremony will be diffused on large screens along with live entertainment and whatnot. Well, first off, we don’t fit under the concrete archways surrounding City Hall. Just as well. We get to hang out with the trucks selling the irresistible junk-food options ranging from hot dogs, sausages, and fries to megalicious fudge-stuffed Fudgsicles. These have to be the most ridiculously super-sized, over-the-top invention of the frozen treat world! We undeniably almost have it all. It’s only our third night out and we haven’t fully taken in the extent of the physical exertion involved. It’s more like a night at the circus and the clowns get to eat too—and it’s definitely more than a green smoothie operation.
We head out in the late-afternoon sun on July first to meet up with Cylla von Tiedemann, a wonderful photographer who has photographed many of my theatre designs at the Stratford Festival and other theatres. Though the weather is perfect for a shoot, it’s more than a little dicey due to wind. By the time we reach King Street, our rear flagpole flies off the bike into the middle of the intersection. Thankfully, no cars, cyclists, or pedestrians are in its path. I have to jump into a cab to retrieve the duct tape from my garage. Of course, this is the day our trusted companion did not make it back into the emergency kit. Take it from me, never leave home without colour-matched duct tape when riding an art-bike!
Adventure one complete, we tackle the anticipated second adventure of pushing the bike up the steep hills offered up by the bridges over/under the railway tracks and the Gardiner Expressway. If you are not familiar with this landscape, I introduce you to Toronto’s infamous no man’s land: an engineering scourge conceived in the late 1950s that destroys waterfront magic for a huge swath of the downtown’s shore. Our destination is Harbourfront Centre, one of the hugely popular band-aid solutions attempting to invigorate a portion of the thin ribbon of land trapped between one of the worst Canadian city-planning blights and our lost treasure: a lake more vast than some inland seas.
Thankfully, we are not too much the worse for wear for our photo shoot, and neither is Cylla! She is celebrating Canada’s birthday in high style: red and white from head to toe, not the least of which is a vintage ruffled tuxedo shirt edged with red thread. Our professional shoot consists of us weaving through the crowds gathered at the WestJet Stage while Cylla scampers right and left, deftly catching the last precious moments of the magic hour. Even though she captures hundreds of photos, it’s but a small percentage of the photos taken that evening. Every brown, black, and white Canadian, it seems, wants to have their picture taken with us. Fashionistas, insistent toddlers, attentive fathers, non-English-speaking grandmothers, offbeat youth, dudes, dudettes, librarians, and Canada enthusiasts, who, like Cylla, are sporting red-and-white everything. Except for the prevalence of maple leafs, it looks more like World Day than a specific national celebration, and yet, while the implications are impressively grandiose, it’s so utterly cozy. Paparazzi-overwhelm aside, I ride the wave of my warm-and-fuzzy reverence for the peaceful tapestry we call Canada, even if it’s not the whole truth.
It’s June 26 I’m beyond exhausted at this point and I’m not even on the bike yet! Katherine Dynes is still sewing on CDs, and I’m fussing with our costumes. In fact, just yesterday, I bought a dress that is now at the dry cleaners becoming a tank top, and we ended up at Grateful Head on Dundas Street so Paul Shepherd could style our wigs. My cohort has gone from an all-black military rebel with a balaclava to an anti-war protester, a punk guru of sorts, covered in printed and three-dimensional daisies. Endless sartorial concerns aside, I’m still building props, and it’s plain as day that efficient prop-building is not in the cards for this lifetime: fussy mechanical dexterity is challenging and I really despise epoxy glue!
Geez fucking Louise—who had these ideas, anyway? I am texting and emailing everyone on the team many times a day.
I am painfully reminded of how much work it is to assemble costumes. I studied and dedicated my life to costume design for twenty-four years (twenty-five, if you count the year I slept to recover from it all), and I still have a hard time fathoming the amount of schlepping involved for each inch of schmatta. Every itsy-bitsy detail can make or break your high hopes of creating theatrical magic on a human canvas—or at least this is my motto, then and now! When it comes to sets and props (yes, I designed those too for all that time because god forbid I do two shows in a row with costumes only to be relegated to wardrobe forever), the pitfalls tend to read large, like, we’ll get on the bike and the eyeball will be too heavy and too high and the training wheels will not be wide enough and we’ll fall over and our legs will be smooshed on the pavement and it will be game over. But with costumes, if you dare say out loud why you are losing your mind on any given day, you sound like a neurotic and obsessive fashionista in a trivial nightmare of her own making. It’s even hard for me to take myself seriously when, after four hours of pounding the pavement, I brandish a few little plastic boxes with the perfect, I mean perfect, eyelashes.
Katja picked up the bike in Ajax last night so we push off to test-drive the skeleton on which we will build our art-bike creation. Holy mother of god—riding a tandem bicycle is not for the faint of heart! Katja has her own worries up front, it’s more like steering a Mack truck than a bicycle, and I basically yelp, scream, or grind my teeth the entire time because no matter what I do my handlebars are nothing but appendages to lean on. The bike sways left and right, echoing Katja’s cadence as she stands to get more power in her pedalling. I come to the grim and scary realization that I have no control back there. Whoa—cold shower time—this is going to be quite the experience and we don’t know the half of it yet.
All matter of reality aside, we are hungry for first impressions. We are eager for a think-tank with Maurizio Trezzi and Joy Dorsey, close friends of mine who were instrumental in the endgame of publishing my book, and keen on having a confab (my design lingo for “conference on fabrication”) with Aly Drummond, our lighting designer, and James Bloomfield, our welder. Maurizio and Joy are very enthusiastic about the idea as a whole. They agree that we are not totally crazy, just crazy enough to make a wacky, fun thing happen. Though Maurizio likes the plot, he’s not so sure about the phallic weapons idea. Everyone then chimes in and the weapons hit the skids. Regardless of the shape our contraption will take, we discuss building techniques, and the enchanting eyeball art bikes at Burning Man in 2006 are in the forefront of my mind. When the two eyeballs, each one mounted on a bicycle, criss-crossed each other on the Playa, they created all matter of implied facial expressions. I was totally enamoured with them, and I’m convinced that their lightweight and light-permeable structure is a fabulous template on which to base our approach.
Sometime around three a.m. on June 1st, I wake up, like back in my designer days, full of beans and images. You have to understand, just in the past week I have been guided in ceremonies to heal my relationships with my ancestors, celebrate my connection to defunct swamis, and have knelt bare-chested in a ditch closely surrounded by three raging fires, to name but a few of my spiritual adventures in North Carolina. So, whatever I think and imagine is bound to be outside my therapist/trauma intuitive/author/yogi box. So I’m lying there, inundated by images of Katja and myself wearing knee-high Docs on a white tandem bicycle with lots of lights. It’s unabashedly theatrical and outside of the literary norm.
By then I’m a little more awake and my consciousness is a little more focused so I deliberately think about the overlapping themes in our books. The cycle of violence figures large: Katja’s intragenerational emotional landscapes, whether it’s in her published book or the other two that are almost finished, are fractured by war and post-traumatic stress; my life and that of the nine women I chose to focus on in my book are pitted by trauma and the brutal impact of sexism, whether it is our own close encounters with sexual abuse or that of our grandmothers, mothers, or sisters. By now I see Katja perched up front because I have already decided she’s driving the bike, her presence dwarfed by our humungous maidenhead torpedo/bomb-type weapon shooting red smoke, and I’m sitting behind her with a gigantic phallus-turned-weapon towering behind me. We’re wearing black T-shirts branded in large white letters: Artist + Activist = Author. I know, I know—not really good enough ideas yet—but the message is loud and clear: we need to be out there, in the street, with our books, big visuals, pamphlets, T-shirts, and all we’ve got in terms of outrage and devouring love for books, writing, and literature.
I just got back from a Malidoma Patrice Somé intensive workshop in North Carolina in late May. It’s a huge honour to dog-paddle in the wake of an African elder from the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso who also happens to have three master’s degrees and two PhDs. I was most assuredly and expertly taken to my edge. I feel like every single cell and molecule has been scrambled and reprogrammed. And let’s face it, the timing is right because I have been totally stumped for almost six months.