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Let’s talk about this idea of community.

As artists, it is something we often seek out: to find like-minded people to share in our passions, to have not just a poetry show to attend but also a place to enjoy milkshakes together afterwards.

Community is about inclusiveness, but also exclusiveness. We say we want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our community, but in order to do so, we must restrict certain freedoms and the participation of certain people. We also have to make choices about whom to include in our community when there is a conflict between two or more people: we have to consider who benefits our community more greatly, who has earned the right to an unquestioned place in our community.

I remember you. You designed the CD cover for one of the poetry collective’s first albums. You were sweet, short, blond-haired. You volunteered at the first national poetry festival and welcomed me to the events. Then you got pregnant, and your poet boyfriend left you, and we never again saw you at those events.

I remember you. You organized showcases and women’s events. You brought passion to your work. You married a young, fiery poet for love in a ceremony that I’m sad to say I missed. You also got pregnant, your marriage fell apart, and you no longer felt welcome at those events. I’m sorry.

I remember you. You moved here from Nova Scotia, for love of another poet, and shared your sensual work onstage, and I was glad when we eventually became friends. You said you only felt welcomed by association with him, and when he left you, carelessly, you were suddenly a stranger in a place you hoped to make your home. I hope your memories are better now.

I remember myself, also. I was 19 (in 2005) when I started attending poetry events regularly. I was invited to run my own side project. I was encouraged to start performing. I was made to feel special. I was desperately in need of community, and I felt flattered when a certain poet began to take an interest in me. Even then, I recognized that he was not a good person. I had heard things, but I chose to ignore them, thinking – as long as he is good to me, that is what counts. But he wasn’t good to me. He treated me badly, both in a personal and professional capacity. He raised a hand to me once, but I stepped back in time, so I suppose I can’t officially complain about that.

My experience with him was not a positive one, and yet I do not consider myself a victim, as it was my choice to get involved with him, and I take full responsibility for that. But I am disappointed by how other people responded to what happened to me: at the time, I did report his behaviour to other people in the community, and the response was often – he just needs more love, more understanding, so we can’t give up on him… and think of how much he gives back to the community.

By the end of that very difficult year, I considered ceasing my involvement, until the final meeting when he announced that he was revoking his role as director and would no longer be attending the events. He recognized that people were not attending the events because of him and that there was tension due to his presence. I was relieved and grateful. But only for a short time, as a few months later, he was back again, welcomed back heartily, and no one seemed to remember any past wrongs. People can be so forgiving when it’s convenient to them.

In 2010, the poetry collective held a meeting to determine whether the current director would remain in his post, or if another member would assume his responsibilities. At this point, the poet in question decided to apply for the directorship. And you would not believe the turnout for that meeting: perhaps the most well-attended in collective history. Twenty-or-so poets showed up simply to vote against him. Only three people – still taken in by his goofy charm, and seeming professionalism – voted for him, insisting they could handle him despite his reputation.

I understand why people made excuses for him, and continue to do so even now when he is accused of sexual harassment and taking advantage of minors. He was, after all, one of the people responsible for starting the poetry collective in Ottawa, for hosting a multitude of community events, for tackling issues of mental health in his poetry, for being a mentor to young poets, particularly in launching a youth poetry slam. (On a side note, who in their right mind allowed this person to receive funding for a YOUTH poetry slam?) And just last year, he was included in a ‘hall of fame’ for his contributions to the poetry community. How can you fault someone who seems to do so much good for the community to which they belong?

The question we need to ask, perhaps, is what these people gain from being in a leadership role. In this case, this particular poet gained for himself immunity from taking responsibility for his actions. His seemingly small faults could be excused because of the persona he chose to project within his community: one of social awareness, human compassion, and encouraging the youth of today. Artists and leaders who preach these things can be some of the best people around, or they can be some of the worst. It can be difficult for us to wrap our heads around this hypocrisy, to recognize that people who purport such ideals – “especially people who care about strangers, who care about evil and social injustice” – can be so carelessly wretched to those who love them, look up to them, and work alongside them.

This poet is now being banned from poetry events across the country; his features are being canceled; he is being reported to the school board; his name is being held up as an ‘example’. An example of what? Of someone who got away with this type of bad behaviour for ten whole years, possibly more? If I were a young predator – since now it seems fashionable to use this word – I would consider this a success story: indeed, I could get away with the exact same behaviour for over a decade, especially if I’m a little more careful (I can learn from his mistakes!) about not getting caught.

Let me be clear: I am beyond grateful to the people who are now speaking out and making an effort to make amends. I think they are doing absolutely the right thing, and I applaud them. But I think we also need to consider how this might have been prevented, or dealt with earlier. And how we can better handle the next generation of so-called predators, disguised as mentors, colleagues, and friends.

All those poets who attended the poetry collective meeting simply to vote against him, you must have done so for a reason. But did you ever speak out against him, or did let your anonymous vote speak for you?

I spoke out at one time, but I should have spoken louder and more frequently. I gave up and I quieted down because, frankly, I wanted my community. I still do. I didn’t want to be yet another young woman pushed out of the community because I couldn’t stand to be in the same room as a man who treated me badly and treated others worse.

Especially in the arts, there is this liberal-minded attitude that artists can get away with all types of bad behaviour because they are artists. As though carelessness and fiery moods and sexual aggressiveness are all part of the artistic temperament, inherently. I assure you, they are not.

There are many other people like him out there. Poets in Vancouver created a blog about it a few years back, sharing their experiences of being harassed, assaulted, and misused, then ignored or shamed by their community when they tried to say something about it. Of course, the names of the abusers were never included because that would constitute ‘defamation of character’ – at least until the culprit is publicly deemed dangerous by an organization (rather than a number of individuals), and then we can say their name all we want.

Funny how, technically and legally, I could have used ‘his’ name throughout this article, and yet my gut instinct told me not to. Perhaps because, really, this isn’t about him. This is about a community that supports and excuses and sometimes even defends people like him. To be clear, I don’t like the guy, and I’m certainly not sorry to see him being held accountable in this way – but I also don’t want to see him reduced to a scapegoat for a community whose problems are far bigger than one bad egg.

As cynical as it may sound, perhaps the first step toward positive change is recognizing that ‘community’ is not always what it may seem. We may feel the temptation to involve ourselves wholeheartedly, embracing the warm feelings associated with having a group to which we belong, and, in doing so, fail to step outside the inner circle to acknowledge the problems inherent therein. At least, that has, I think, been my predominant weakness in my ongoing search for community. Perhaps it is a little foolish, but ‘community’ is still something I idealize and strive for in all aspects of my life, so I do understand where that feeling comes from, and why it is so important.

And let’s also remember and acknowledge those people who once belonged to our community and who, for whatever reason, were made to feel excluded or felt obligated to leave: I’m sorry for what happened; I’m sorry we didn’t do more to help; and I hope you found joy in community elsewhere.

We’ll do better next time.

Pineapple Wedding Rings by Aaron Paul Designs

Pineapple Wedding Rings by Aaron Paul Designs

Before you get too excited, this is not a how-to-find-a-spouse manual. The only advice I can give in that department is that you should ask someone – preferably someone you know and like – to marry you, and hope for the best.

This is simply a quick-and-dirty guide for those who have already found that special someone and who – for whatever reason – want to tie the knot as soon as humanly possible without all the usual muss and fuss of elaborate wedding madness, infused with bridesmaid dresses and bachelorette parties and drunk relatives. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I should note that this guide is London, England specific, as the process may be (and probably is) different elsewhere.

STEP 1: GIVE NOTICE TO GET MARRIED

First things first, you need to give notice at your local register office. Just look it up online and browse for the ‘marriage or civil partnership’ section (follow the link to view the one on the Waltham Forest website). Read through the directions thoroughly and make sure you are eligible to get married in the UK, and then call the phone number on the page to book your in-person appointment to give notice. Over the phone, they will ask you for the following:

  • Payment of £35 per participant (i.e. £70 total) to be paid prior to booking the appointment
  • Proof of identity, such as your passport (to be brought to the appointment)
  • TWO proofs of address each (to be brought to the appointment)

    Depending on the register office, they may ask you to provide very specific proofs of address, such as electricity bills. At the Waltham Forest Branch, they accepted our lease agreements and bank statements with our respective addresses.

    If either you or your partner are NOT a UK citizen, then you must get married in the local borough of the person who IS a UK citizen. For example, I am a UK citizen and my partner is an American citizen, and we weren’t sharing an address ; so we gave notice and got married in my borough, rather than his. 

STEP 2: ATTEND THE APPOINTMENT TO GIVE NOTICE OF MARRIAGE

The appointment to give notice of marriage will take place at the local register office: check the website for the exact address, and make sure you arrive at least ten minutes before the scheduled appointment. You and your partner will be invited into a private office where you will be asked to provide the aforementioned documents (original copies, please!) and answer questions about yourselves and each other.

Don’t freak out: everyone gets at least one of these questions wrong! That being said, if you haven’t already done so, you should familiarise yourself with the following:

  • The exact name (including middle name) of your partner
  • The exact names of your partner’s parents
  • Your partner’s job or profession
  • Your partner’s address, including post code
  • Your partner’s age and birthdate

These may sound like very basic details to know about your spouse-to-be, but you’d be surprised how many things people forget when they feel under pressure. So go ahead and review all these items before your appointment, but again, don’t worry if you get a couple things wrong. I forgot my partner’s address, and they still allowed us to get married!

If all goes well at the appointment, you will be given the option to book your wedding date. Your notice for marriage is valid for 12 months, so you must get married within the year, otherwise you have to re-register. The earliest you can get married is 15 days after the appointment, so make sure you book your appointment at least two-three weeks before your desired wedding date.

In our case, we booked our appointment for Monday 19 May and booked our wedding date for three weeks later on Monday 9 June. We wanted to get married earlier (i.e. before the 15 day minimum) because my mum was in town from Canada then, but they are pretty strict about the timing, and only make an exception if someone is dying or something.

MONEY SAVING TIP: If you’re keen to save a few quid on the whole thing (hey, romance can be cheap!) then here are a couple things you should consider.

  • Marriage location: if you choose to get married at the local register office (the same place as your appointment) then the cost is significantly less (up to 1/3 of the price) than if you choose to get married at any of the other approved marriage locations (see the website). So unless you’re particularly choosy about where you get married, just get ‘er done at the register office.
  • Marriage day of the week: if you choose to get married (at the register office) on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, the cost is £100. Friday £150. Saturday £230. Sunday and Bank Holidays £385. So we got married on a Monday. Please note, though, that unless you get married on a Sunday, you don’t have the option of reciting your own vows: you have to follow the reduced ceremony format. Which, for us, was great: more time for photos and wedding cake!
  • Marriage certificates: the only other thing you’ll want to spend money on is the marriage certificate, which costs £4 per copy. We purchased three copies, since we wanted to give one to each set of our parents.

Now just a bit of quick math, so you know how much you’ve spent on the wedding so far…

Registration fee £70

Marriage ceremony fee £100

Marriage certificate £4

TOTAL £174 (Not too bad!)

STEP 3: GET MARRIED!!!

Oh my goodness, the big day is finally here! I’ll bet you’re beyond excited. In addition to your wedding garb and possibly your rings (if you’re choosing to exchange them at the ceremony), make sure you bring the following items:

  • Receipt for your marriage ceremony fee: no need to bring your proofs of identity and address again, as they will already be on record
  • TWO witnesses: they don’t have to be related to you, or even super close friends — just two reliable people who will show up and sign papers for you
  • Photographer: you’ll probably want at least a few snaps to capture the event, so do invite along a third person, as your witnesses are not allowed to take photos during the ceremony, since they are part of it
  • Wedding cake: of course this is totally optional, but if you choose to have a wedding cake, you are welcome to bring it to the register office, and share it with your guests after the ceremony

Our witnesses and wedding cake creator/photographer

Our witnesses and wedding cake creator/photographer

On this day, make sure you arrive at least twenty minutes before the time booked for your ceremony (we got in a bit of trouble for being ‘on time’ rather than ‘early’), with your witnesses, photographer, and any other guests in tow.

The wedding officiate will take you and your partner into the ‘wedding suite’ where you will answer questions about yourselves and your respective families. After this portion is complete, the witnesses will be invited in to provide information about themselves for the records. Then everyone else will be invited in for the ceremony itself.

For the ceremony, you’re told what it means to be married (basically, a life-long commitment to being faithful to each other – so keep that in mind!), you’re asked to speak up if you can think of any reason why you shouldn’t be married, and you’re asked to call upon your witnesses to witness your marriage. Then, once the union has been announced and made official with the most passionate kiss ever, you and your spouse (!) and your witnesses all take turns signing the marriage certificate.

Signing the Marriage Certificate!

And that’s pretty much it!

STEP 4: CELEBRATE BEING MARRIED

You’re hitched and it feels totally awesome! Go ahead and celebrate with your spouse and all the people you love. My husband and I enjoyed a stroll through the Walthamstow marshes before heading over to our evening party at a fabulous cocktail bar on Southbank. But you can do whatever the heck you want.

We are so cool.

We are so cool.

Just remember: this day is for you and your partner, and you can do as much or as little as you want. If you want to wear a big fancy white wedding gown, go for it. If you’d rather wear a multi-coloured vintage dress that you’ve owned and loved for years, that’s okay, too. Stag-and-Doe party, or no, the important thing is that you’re marrying the person you love and can stand to be around for the foreseeable future. All the rest are just details: to be enjoyed, and not to get stressed out over.

From me to you, have a wonderful, marvelous, memorable wedding, and an extraordinary lifetime together x

My Mum visiting me at work. I had to tell her off for drinking on the job.

My Mum visiting me at work. I had to tell her off for drinking on the job.

Man, I’m going to miss the Borough Market.

Seriously, folks, if you’re seeking a community that exemplifies affability and togetherness, ultimately void of pretension and egos, and full of vibrant characters that would and should be featured in the world’s quirkiest sitcom, you needn’t look any further.

Sure, it’s difficult getting out of bed early in the morning, but as soon as I arrive on site, I’m greeted by a chorus of hellos and smiling albeit sleepy faces, and soon enough I’m dancing to the tunes from Paul the fisherman’s speakers, and chatting with the cereal girls, and saluting my Mexi-Moroccan market soulmate, and opening boxes radiating deliciousness ready to be shared with the many wonderful people from around the world that I have the pleasure of meeting each day.

My lower back hurts, but my heart is full. A million times, thank you x

Reader, I married him.

Our Wedding!

Our Wedding!

Far more than the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre, I realise that this – my whirlwind marriage to Royce – may come as a surprise to most people. I have been very quiet about it these last few weeks: partly, admittedly, for the delightful shock value of suddenly changing my Facebook status to ‘Married’ and enjoying the various responses to the news; partly, also, because I didn’t want to go through the rigmarole of being temporarily ‘Engaged’, a gushy state of being which has never appealed to me; and, finally, trying to decide who to tell and how and when was just too daunting an activity in these fast-moving days before the wedding, when there was already so much to sort through with my beloved partner.

 

A little about our relationship thus far: we met at a production of Macbeth back in October where, at intermission, I interrupted his conversation with a fellow theatre go-er to give my two cents on the performance. Upon leaving the theatre together, I also burdened him with my life story, because I figured I could do that with a total stranger and not have to suffer any consequences. But instead of being scared off by my dramatic existence, he calculatingly held onto the business card I had thrust at him and sent me a ‘touching base’ email that evening.

 

Fast-forward a couple of months, I signed up for a six-week course he was offering on using the Meisner technique in classical and contemporary two-person scenes. I was given selections from Betrayal by Harold Pinter and Footfalls by Samuel Beckett. Thanks to his expert instruction and the generally positive attitude of the class, I have since been inspired to get back into acting, a venture I had not been brave enough to revisit for several years now.

 

Over the course of these weeks, I realised I was falling in love with him. I acknowledged this after having already booked a flight to Tokyo to spend 9 whole days with him while he was there studying Noh Theatre for a month in March. I wondered, should I communicate my feelings for him before the trip, or wait until I’m there with him in Japan? And how would my potentially awkward confession change the beautifully subtle and unspoken chemistry between us? I was determined not to make the same mistakes I had made with previous relationships, and so I held off telling him as long as I could.

 

First dinner

First night in Tokyo

Our first kiss took place at the tail end of a two-hour plane ride from Tokyo to Okinawa, a collection of tropical islands where whale watching is the native sport. It was perfect. The kiss, that is. And the kisses that followed were perfect, too. For the whole trip, I don’t believe we spent more than ten minutes apart from each other. And neither of us would have wanted it any other way.

 

Choosing to get married – as opposed to getting married because you feel you ‘should’ or because it feels like the ‘right thing to do’ – we discussed, is a true act of optimism. Of course, divorce is tremendously common – inevitable, some would say, with the prevalence of the prenup – and people do change and sometimes grow apart over the years. Neither of us can predict how we’ll feel about each other or about our marriage ten or twenty years from now, but both of us have agreed that we’re willing to give this lifetime partnership thing a darn good try.

 

A few reasons why I am optimistic:

 

-       Even though I’m now in a committed, legally-bound, long-term relationship, I feel, perhaps paradoxically, that I have more freedom and opportunities than I have ever had before

-       Expressing love, verbally or otherwise, comes naturally to both of us, and neither of us are hesitant about showing affection, even if it makes us vulnerable; an expression of true bravery, if you ask me

-       When I cry, he doesn’t take it personally, and it doesn’t make him nervous or upset. He has even said to me explicitly, ‘I’m not afraid of your feelings,’ which is an absolute novelty, in my experience

-       My mother has met him in person and loves him

-       I speak about him to other people the same way my friend Nadine speaks about her husband: proudly, glowingly, and without reservation

-       We laugh. Oh, how we laugh

 

From the time we started discussing the idea of getting married, he always put it to me that we could change our minds at any point: even after we told our respective families, even after we designed our pineapple wedding rings (!), even after we booked the date and paid the registration fees. In fact, yesterday – the day after our wedding – he asked if I was still okay with us being married. And I replied that I’ve already ceased questioning our union, that it would be like questioning the fact that my parents are my parents: they just are; just like he is my husband, my partner, unquestionably, and I cannot now imagine being married to anyone else, let alone not having him in my life.

 

So what now? We’re planning to stay in London for another couple of years, form our own international theatre company with the aim of producing great shows and offering workshops (stay tuned!), and then perhaps returning to North America once we’ve amassed a sufficient amount of street cred from the big city.

 

Now, to my Ottawa friends: please mark your calendars, because he and I will be visiting for a few short weeks this September. And take it from me, this guy, whom I’ve been lucky enough to marry, is one of the most charming, most brilliant, and most extraordinary people you will ever meet. I simply can’t wait to introduce you to him.

I will wait for no other sushi but this.

I will wait for no other sushi but this.

Two travellers wander down a street in Japan. They are searching for an ‘anago’ (salt-water eel) restaurant.

Jestragon: (despairingly): You’re sure it was here?

Roydimir: What?

Jestragon: That we were to wait.

Roydimir: The book said it was down this street. (pause) What are you insinuating? That we’ve come to the wrong place?

Jestragon: It should be here.

Roydimir: It didn’t even say for sure that we could get in.

Jestragon: And if we can’t get in?

Roydimir: We’ll come back tomorrow.

Jestragon: And then the day after tomorrow.

Roydimir: Possibly.

Jestragon: And so on.

Roydimir: The point is -

Jestragon: Until we can get in.

Roydimir and Jestragon eventually find the anago restaurant with a small gathering of strangers sitting outside. No one speaks. They are all waiting to get in. There is a glass case that displays anago model dishes, but no actual food. There is tea, but no one touches the tea. There is a list where everyone writes down their names. Soon the hostess comes out of the restaurant and checks the list, takes orders from the door, and then disappears again inside the restaurant. When one stranger attempts to enter the restaurant, he is pushed out and told to continue waiting. Everyone continues waiting for over an hour (i.e. one act).

Jestragon: Let’s go.

Roydimir: We can’t.

Jestragon: Why not?

Roydimir: We’re waiting for Anago.

Train ride on our way somewhere: we sit opposite a Japanese mother with a young girl and a baby boy.

The young girl – maybe 5 or 6 – watches us as we chatter away, as usual. She smiles.

‘She likes you,’ I say to him. ‘She’s looking at you.’

He smiles back and waves at her. She beams.

‘Shall we make her day?’ I ask, as I reveal to him a clown nose in my little blue purse.

‘Go for it,’ he says.

So I put on the clown nose, and he and I engage in a strange little exchange, throwing around noises and words, gestures and movements, facing toward, facing away to the window and back again. We are exhilarated. We are exasperated. We are arguing. We are agreeing. We are joining hands. We are making plans. We are rolling eyes and spitting sounds and holding our breath and taking breaks and taking chances and trying things out. And she is watching.

It’s our stop. We get up from our seats, and I remove my clown nose as we head toward the door.

‘Look,’ he says. And the young girl and her mother and her baby brother have turned around in their seats and they are so joyful. We exit the train and watch them from the window. They wave goodbye.

‘That was your professional Japanese clowning debut,’ he says.

‘Wonderful,’ I say. And the day continues.

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