Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obscenely long post! Are you ready for this?

Hey pudding,

(I’ve decided to refer to the readers of my blog collectively as “pudding”. Maybe just for today, maybe indefinitely. You’ll simply have to stay tuned to find out!)

This post is going to come at you in two parts, vlogbrothers style.

First part: catching up on some cool things that I’ve experienced as a Mt.A. student so far this year.
Second part: Remembrance Day observances at Mt.A.

Part One:

Whee, there’s a lot to sum up here, and I’m sure I’ll miss a lot of stuff, but I’ll try and pick out some highlights.

I’m actually going to begin before the start of the school year. One of the things it’s easy to stop noticing sometimes when we get wrapped up in our bubble of studenthood is that New Brunswick is friggin’ gorgeous. It was really nice to have my family visiting the area with me as I moved back at the end of the summer, because it meant going out and appreciating said gorgeousness in a more conscious way. One evening we ended up on a beach in Shediac (just a little ways down the road), and my dad managed to capture the sunset quite impressively on his little green cell phone.

The silhouettes there are me and my brother. I feel almost embarrassed about how much this resembles a tourist shop postcard, but damn. Gorgeous, no?

You’d hardly guess that, probably as this picture was taken, the two of us were bantering about our desire to see as many of the posted beach rules (No Pets, Fire, or Nudity) broken as possible. Later, a man passed by with a little dog. The dog, being a dog, wasn’t wearing any clothes, so...2/3? If only any of us were smokers, we could have whipped out a lighter and made it an even 3, but no such luck. Alas.

Then I chased my brother down the beach trying to put sand in his hair. You have to understand that when you move away from your sibling(s), you have to compensate for the lack of shared daily experience by being extra-annoying to each other when you reunite. I think I did a pretty good job that day, if I do say so myself.

Jumping forward a couple weeks...
One of the groups I’m quite active in on campus is Catalyst, Mount Allison’s Queer-Straight Alliance. (In fact, I’m so active that they elected me as the Activism Chair this year.) We’re fortunate that, while most Pride parades/events take place during the summer, Moncton for some reason has theirs in September, meaning that students are back in Sackville, and our group can pile into a vehicle or two for a jolly gay outing.
(Photo Credit: Brittany Snow. She's pretty fab.)

This year we inadvertently ended up at the front of the parade, as we arrived and discovered that people were needed to carry the maritime provincial flags, and there were just enough of us to do the job. Now we’re famous! Or something.

Funnily enough, the day after the parade was the SACtivities fair, when clubs and societies set up tables in the student centre, and first-year students have the opportunity to speak with the people who run them and sign up for any mailing lists that interest them. Catalyst has always (to my knowledge) been a pretty modest-sized group, so we were expecting maybe between three and five new names on our mailing list that afternoon. We were hugely, awesomely wrong. By the end of the day, our President was holding a list of forty-odd new email addresses to type into her computer. Now, not everyone who is on the mailing list attends meetings regularly, but even so, our meetings have grown from gatherings of about five students each week to twenty or more. Good thing we moved into a bigger room this year! (We’re now meeting in the basement of the chapel. Many people seem to find this comical, but Rev. Perkin is actually one of our greatest allies on campus, and our group is centrally concerned with supporting each other’s wellbeing and with social justice activism—both very Christian principles, although the group itself is comprised of people of many different faith backgrounds, as well as atheists and agnostics, like me.)

Anyhow. With such a large and enthusiastic group, we were able to really expand our Coming Out Day activities this year. In fact, we didn’t just have a day, we had a whole coming out week, beginning on October 14th, as students returned from their Thanksgiving adventures. There was a screening of the clever Canadian coming out comedy (if you think I can fit more c-words into that phrase, let me know) Mambo Italiano, following which we went around campus and chalked a selection of queer-positive quotations on the sidewalks, and a huge Kinsey Scale in front of the Student Centre.
This picture is actually from last year’s “chalk the town gay” night, but I still love Tony Kushner, and I did put another quote from him on the sidewalk this year as well, but it was not photographed, whereas this one was, by then-Vice-President (now President) Katie “Gaypants” Saulnier.

In the middle of the delicious gay sandwich that was Coming Out Week, we had a very special treat: a lecture by our own wonderful Dr. Lapp, about queer theory as applies to his discipline, which is English. I had the privilege of introducing him on this occasion, which was kind of special, as I believe Dr. Lapp is a large part of the reason I decided to major in English. He’s well-known in the shire for his dramatic poetry readings, and a particular highlight of this evening for me was when he read W.H. Auden’s Lullabye. I have to admit that poetry is not my principal area of interest in literature, but I do have a soft spot for Auden, and Dr. Lapp has a way of bringing all the really juicy stuff to the surface when he reads. Not only that, but he frequently gets so excited by his subject matter that he giggles, and you can’t help but giggle in response. Basically, a class with Dr. Lapp is the ultimate combination of education and adorableness. Have I said “Dr. Lapp” enough in this paragraph? Dr. Lapp Dr. Lapp Dr Lapp! He even has a facebook group in his honour.

The following evening, we had our Positive Space event. Positive Space is something we put together a few times a year, and it’s proved quite popular. Essentially, it’s an open invitation to members of the community to come and learn a bit about queer issues. Attendees get a basic primer in terminology and concepts such as heterosexual privilege, tips on how to support somebody who is coming out, personal stories from members of Catalyst who volunteer to be brave and share their experiences, an opportunity to ask questions about Catalyst/queer issues generally, and they leave with a pretty little rainbow flying A sticker with the words “positive space” on it that they can display to show others that they are a queer ally. (You’ll see the stickers in lots of different places around campus if you visit or attend Mt.A. I’m typing this up on a laptop with the symbol proudly stuck over the computer company logo, and across the room, there’s another one on my mandolin case. So if you want to come out to my mandolin, you know it’ll be a total sweetheart about it.)

To finish off our week, we held an event known as “Live Homosexual Acts”, which I like to think of as kind of the guerrilla version of Positive Space. We set up a table outside the library with some Hot Gay Chocolate (which is much like regular hot chocolate, only less hetero-normative), and invited people to come learn a little bit about the history of queer rights in Canada (October is gay history month, don’cha know), and hear some poetry/monologues by queer authors and about queer issues. It got really exciting when a guy from CHMA showed up and started interviewing us, and recorded some of our readings for the campus radio station (which is currently essentially on hiatus, but I’ll be ranting about that in a future entry, no dou
bt). Then some students from the commerce society came by with a survey meant to gauge our enthusiasm for a campus sausage stand, and we fulfilled stereotypes by responding, “But I’m a vegetarian...” in droves. So I guess it’s true...tofu makes you gay. Or alternatively, maybe being gay makes you crave tofu? Whatever. I still love this button:

Whee, has this blog been gay enough for you so far? We better make sure.

All right now; I’m gonna go ahead and jump forward a bit. Not that nothing exciting happened between October 17th and last Thursday, but honestly, his post is already pretty epic-sized. That means if you’ve made it this far, you are the elite! You may reward yourself with a cookie if you like. I’ll be waiting right here for you when you get back.

Back now? Did you bring one for me? No? You suck. Kidding, kidding; I’ll get over it some day. In the meantime: why last Thursday was fun!

Actually, every Thursday is pretty fun in Sackville...almost too fun, you might say. Last year, I was a big fan of the film society nights at the
Vogue Cinema. I’ve only been to one of those this year (The Edge of Heaven, which I highly recommend, by the by). In fact, many of the movies have appealed to me, but I am being wooed by another lover. This lover lives just across the street from the Vogue, and it is known as the Bridge Street Cafe Open Mic Night. Technically, the two are not mutually exclusive, as the movie is usually done not too long after 9:00, and the Open Mic goes until 10:00, but on the one occasion I tried to two-time them, it was bad news bears. Maybe you’re more awesome than I am, but I couldn’t transition so easily from movie-watching mode to playing-music-in-front-of-people mode, and the result was a lot of really embarrassing mistakes. So mostly, Open Mic on its own has been my standard Thursday night activity. There’s a nice regular crowd mainly of older musicians that I really like hanging out with. I grew up going to jam sessions with my dad, and spent last summer singing with his band, so it’s pretty nice to have stumbled upon a community of real grown-up music makers here in Sackville that don’t mind my hanging around.

This Thursday, however, was a little bit different. This time around, Open Mic night was hosted by
B.O.D.I.E.S., and there was a special focus on music and readings that dealt with violence awareness. I played two songs. The first was this:

As I said to the audience at the cafe that night, “This song is about relationship violence, but you’re allowed to laugh, because it has a werewolf in it.” Then I asked them if they would sing along on the chorus, and they promised me they would, and then they really did! I’ve always been too shy to try to elicit that level of audience participation before, but it was pretty thrilling, so I think I’ll definitely be doing it more in future. Following that song, I played one I had never shared with anyone before, a fact that only really occurred to me as I was introducing it. It seemed appropriate for the evening in question, though, as it was something I wrote in high school in response to being harassed by strangers when I would walk through the park hand-in-hand with a female friend or sweetheart (something that I’m pleased to say I have not experienced since coming to Mount Allison—the harassment, that is; I’ve held plenty of girl-hands here). I got really flustered and messed up the lyrics at one point while playing, and I don’t really think the song is good enough to become part of my regular performance repertoire, but I’m glad I took the opportunity to play it for such a supportive crowd, nonetheless. I felt so much fondness for the Mt.A. community that night, overall. It was just a really warm and fuzzy feeling I got—but at the same time, not the kind of feeling you get from just ignoring the fact that there are problems that need to be confronted. It was a warm fuzzy feeling of knowing I was one in a room full of people who were into actually confronting said problems, rather than passively putting up with the bullshit. Good times.

Okay, moving on to...

Part Two:

Remembrance Day has always been a kind of iffy holiday for me. I can appreciate that it is definitely (at least usually) more oriented towards peace rather than the glorification of war, but I still find that some of the patriotism/militarism connected with the day makes the semi-Quaker hippy child inside of me just a tad uncomfortable.

That said, there is at least one part of the observance of Remembrance Day that I find very moving: the moment of silence. National anthems and military insignia may not be very Quaker-kosher, but silence sure is. Anyone who’s met me knows that I have a sometimes aggravating tendency to scurry to fill up the blanks in conversation, and as my flat-mate can attest, I’m not very good at functioning without my constant soundtrack—but I do value silence, particularly when it’s shared with others.

Last year, I was in my pyjamas, reading a book in bed at about 5 minutes to 11 when a boy from down the hall knocked on my residence room door and asked if I’d like to join a group of people meeting in his room to observe the moment of silence. I had actually somewhat forgotten the reason why wasn’t required to be in class that day, but being reminded, I cast off my covers, followed the boy back to his room, and stood in the door-frame while his room-mate clicked “play” on a laptop screen, causing “The Last Post” to be broadcast through tinny computer speakers. Then silence. It wasn’t a very formal affair (I was not the only one wearing the clothes I’d slept in), but it was very poignant.

This year, Remembrance Day would probably have slipped by me entirely, but last night I received a call from my friend Katie (a.k.a. President Gaypants), asking her if I would accompany her to the ceremony on campus this morning. I agreed, and although I might have preferred to sleep a little longer when my alarm clock squawked at me this morning (I was dream-skiing with Michelle Obama and suddenly becoming aware that she had a remarkable number of classy, discreet facial piercings that had somehow completely escaped media attention throughout her partner’s campaign), I hauled myself out of bed and put on the most suitable clothes my ramshackle wardrobe could provide (hoping nobody would notice the occasional paint stain), hopped on my bike and pedalled off to met Katie at her house.

It was a good move. The first part of the ceremony was at Convocation Hall: prayers, readings, addresses, wreaths, and lots of people in uniform. Following that, the group split. The majority (including all the people in uniform) proceeded downtown, while Katie and I and a handful of others went to the Student Centre to observe a special ceremony specifically in honour of those Mount Allison students lost in battle, dating from the South African War to the Korean War—with the majority of the names falling under the First and Second World War. Then the Last Post, played by a trumpeter standing on the stairs between the two atriums. I realised something I’d never had occasion to be aware of before, which is that our new Student Centre has incredible acoustics. It seems like an odd thing to be true of a building not particularly designed for musical events (mostly we go there to check mail, buy textbooks, and create more work for the various good kind people who have offices there), but I hope today isn’t the last time I get to hear it put to such good use. I might be tempted to sing out loud as I lollop down those stairs to check my mail from now on.

Anyhow. The silence.

I think one of the really powerful things about silence is that it opens up a space in which we all become very aware of our own bodies. I don’t know about you, but when I’m asked to be silent, the first thing that happens is I have to swallow. It’s not a very noisy action, not a terribly disruptive one, but in the face of silence it becomes a noticeable one, at least to the person doing it. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, particularly not when the silence in question is meant to commemorate the sacrifice of those killed in warfare—the sacrifice of their bodies under violent, horrific circumstances.

A few weeks ago, I took myself out on a movie date to see Passendaele, Paul Gross’ much-anticipated great Canadian war epic. I definitely wouldn’t give the film a perfect review (there were several aspects of it that made me pretty uncomfortable, and not in a directorial intent kind of way) but one thing I do think it dealt with very effectively was the bodily experience of trench warfare—both among those soldiers who came home and those whose bodies never left the battlefield. Watching the terrible abuses of the human form in that film, I found I couldn’t just dissociate, dismiss it as a fictional representation fabricated out of corn syrup and camera tricks and sit easily in my chair watching it happen. I became very wrapped up not just in the fact that historically, such things did happen, and do happen to the bodies of others, but also in the sacredness of the body, which is what makes those facts so appalling.

Love your body. Take care of it. Don’t let anybody else tell you what to do with it. It’s yours. Remember that, please.

I’m gonna let Buffy Sainte-Marie play us out here with a song a beloved old hippy teacher sang to our theatre class one sleepy 11/11 morning.

More Life,

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