Friday, 8 November 2013

de/institutionalizing children in an institutional world

As a young adult who was raised without school, and who has remained a life-long unschooler, I am beginning to notice that my ability to handle institutional violence is very low. I'm interested in considering the bigger meaning of this, in terms of how we can best support children to function within this institutional (fucked up!) world, without simply requiring them to get used to institutionalization. While unschoolers aren't saved from all forms of oppression (systems of oppression can play out in the home, or in other institutions such as hospitals, or like, pretty much anywhere), we do have the privilege of skipping out on the every day institutionalization that the majority of children experience. I've always thought of this as a net-positive, hands down. Skipping violence? Good! I've wished to pass on these experiences to other children and I still dream of this. I've started to notice, though, that I am exceedingly, sometimes incapacitatingly sensitive to institutional violence, which makes functioning in this world really fucking difficult. Could this be related to the relative little experience with (educational, particularly) institutions that I've grown up with? I'm not about to say we should keep institutionalizing kids so that they're equipped to handle institutions later in their lives, as they inevitably will have to (until the revolution, of course!). I am looking for a way to deal with this as an adult unschooler, committed to anti-institutional values, interacting with work place institutions and 'higher education' which, while elective, is hard to get by without at times. To deal both with my own experience in the world (crying every time I interact with an institution is unsustainable) and with questions of how to support children who will grow up in a similar world.

My path at this time seems to be leading in the direction of working with children, and I still don't know what that will look like in the long run (most likely it will look like many different things). I must balance my values and goals for positively impacting the lives of children and families with the reality of my abilities/desires/protective needs. There may be spaces where I can seemingly be most useful, or impact the lives of 'average' kids, but which will destroy me. There may be other spaces which fit my ideals at face value, but fail to engage with the children most at risk of institutional violence. How can I (and we) manage these complexities?
I've done a lot of "this is radical, that's not radical, you can only do any good in this environment, that environment, blah blah blah..." and I'm bored of that. I've devalued my own work and trials and have dismissed the work of others. I've had huge defensive fights with people who've had different experiences than me and thus see different problems and different solutions. I'm working really hard now to value my own efforts and that of others. We're all fucking trying, and it's all imperfect, and we need well intentioned folks in all sorts of environments, institutional or alternative or what the fuck ever. Above all, I think that any of us trying to work with young'uns (or in any work, actually) gotta base it on what we can do without crushing our own fucking souls. If we try to be self-less, we will end up soul-less. Luckily, we each need and want different things and thrive in different environments, so rad folks do end up everywhere.

Okay, back to my experience as an unschooler.
It's important I don't generalize that my experience of extreme sensitivity is shared by all or even any unschoolers. I don't know enough life-long unschoolers to really survey this. I do see, though, that many of my friends, peers and comrades who have been in 'educational' institutions for most of their lives, while sharing anti-institutional sentiment, can manage this contradiction (participating in something which they have deep critical analysis of) much more smoothly than I can. Having been forced to do very little, really, in my life, I freak the fuck out when I am in coercive environments (even if I'm choosing to be there). Perhaps the world would be better off if more of us had a deep visceral reaction to the injustices inherent in institutions, but we do live in this world, and does it serve us to not be able to function in it?

When I complain of the violence I witness or experience in the institutions I now interact with to folks who have been schooled most of their lives, I come off something like an upper-middle class art school kid complaining to his working class friends that he is broke. Boofuckinghoo, I'm getting a taste of what others chew and partly by my own choice? But because my reactions are congruent with my (and my friends') politics, I easily feel justified in my complaints. Yes, we all wish these institutions didn't exist, so yes, we are all critical. But how useful is it for me, as someone in this regard privileged, to just crumble under the stress that many face their entire lives, and subsequently expect the sympathy of those with more experience of ('educational') institutions?

I've been thinking about this, fretting about it, fighting about it, talking about it with a lot of people and these are all just questions and realizations I've come to with a lot of help. Certain people very close to me deserve huge props for tolerating it and immensely aiding in my development of ideas. When it comes down to it, I can't tell if I'm just really sensitive, or if having been unschooled has something to do with it. There's no perfect way to raise kids in a fucked up world, or to function as an adult in a fucked up world. I'm just trying my darndest, and I guess I hope that the more I understand my own experiences, the better I can move forward inevitably impacting the experiences of little folks (for better and worse).

Saturday, 26 October 2013


home is a fruit fly fortress, a slow-cooker cave
we want wild and slow, unplugged connections
there is broth boiling, there are herbs drying
aroma seeps into my dreams

we operate on warmth, avoid burn-out
following our hearts as they lead us homeward, always homeward
homebody hearts and defiant souls ask
Are the streets the only places for struggle?

there is a yearning for more
collectivity, interconnection
in the comfort of our fortress we are safe

where is the in between? where care and combat come together?
i dream of warmth from the ashes of this city
and home cooked meals to share

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Fermenting Revolution, Culturing Care

A lot of response to my last piece touched on the idea of "self-care."
It would seem that this is what I was writing about, or at least what ended up being read. I am disappointed by this, not because I disdain all elements of self-care culture/rhetoric or because I don't factor that into my life, but because the fact that self-care ended up being the topic of what I wrote tells me a lot about why, though I am feeling much better, I'm still feeling hints of depression in odd moments. It is the reason why "My life is meaningful because..." isn't enough to keep me out of a funk.

Don't get me wrong, I respect people that practice (non-consumption based) self-care and I certainly practice it myself. I am not trying to write (yet another) critique of the concept. The reality is, however, that the revolutionary spirit that drives me is towards cultural shift, not private well-being. I want to blur these lines because for me to really be well, caring for others is integral. I cannot take care of myself alone, and without taking care of others (or a broader "community") my self-care goals are unattainable. While I recognize the importance of crediting myself for living the way that I do, it's just not radical if it is individual. Yes, the personal is political, and we should all strive to live our ideals in our personal lives, but if we aren't bringing our ideals into the public sphere, it's not revolutionary.
ALL THAT SAID, there are times and places for focusing inward! I have gotten to this place because I have needed it, my personal life has felt unstable enough that I must focus on righting it before I could look outward again.  There is no shame in this, and we must respect each others' choices and reasons for doing such.
For myself, though, I am tired of focusing only inward. I feel an urge and an impulse to live my ideals in another direction. I want to create care culture, not just self-care accepting culture. My utopia does not consist of a bunch of people cooking their meals, meditating, reading, writing, or making sauerkraut- alone.

When I wrote about how our focus on "action" can be really dismissive of those who do not "act," I suppose I was looking primarily at action that builds a culture of resistance. I am so happy that there are tons of people building this culture! I am equally excited about action towards solidarity culture (maybe this is a vague umbrella), and a culture of consent (for me, this action usually looks like setting good boundaries in all areas of life and handling the discomfort created). What I think is missing in focus, is culture of care. Maybe it's there to some extent, and we don't talk about it. Maybe we don't talk about it because patriarchy teaches us it's not worth noting. Maybe we don't talk about it because we've all been trained that (once we are adults) it is the role of a) ourselves, b) institutions/profesionals, and c) our monogamous partners to care for us. All of us who are involved in radical cultural struggle are doing it because we "care" at an emotional or intellectual level (hopefully both), but not all of us consider the direct and social labour of caring.

So I am looking for feedback, for what people think creating a culture of care (outside of self-care or even 1 to 1 relationship care) would take. What kinds of public "action" demonstrates radical generousity, mutual aid, and caring culture?

For now, I am fermenting.

Here's my recipe for self-fermentation:

Step 1: Harvest
As soon as a vegetable is separated from it's roots, certain organisms (heterofermentative bacteria!) begin to flourish. To take advantage of this, I must accept I am no longer rooted. I do not have what I once did, I am not connected in the ways I used to be. My identity must shift from plant to food. It's hard to accept that I am no longer what I once was, that what built me (in this case, as an anarchist) is no longer in my life. What I have depended on to feel useful, what others still point to when they say "you do lots of rad stuff," I no longer do. This is okay. Let the next phase begin.

Step 2: Chop
Need I say more?

Step 3: Salt and massage
This part still stings. I think it's where I'm at right now. Salting and massaging chopped cabbage breaks down the cell walls, lets the moisture out. I am raw, vulnerable, aware that my state is shifting but it's hard to know what into. It's a scary place to be, one that works best if not rushed, and pretty uncomfortable.

Step 4: Submerge (heterofermentation begins)
This part stinks. Literally. Heterofermentative bacteria produce carbon dioxide, acetic acid, lactic acid and more, and smells like rot. It's bubbly, it's messy. It serves to create the environment (acidic) for homofermentative lactic acid bacteria, which is what creates the desired result. So it's a messy phase, and a necessary one. It produces many products, one of which turns out to be particularly useful.

Step 5: Lacto-fermentation
The fizzing dies down some, the colour brightens, and what seemed like rot has turned into something super tasty and nutritious. What started as one thing has become another, related thing. A new version of oneself. Through fermentation, a sustainable (preserved), thriving (with bacteria) and extra healthy (vitamin B!) being has been created. The process hurt, but it was worth it.

Step 6: Eat me
I'm better than raw cabbage.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Work and Value. Y'know, the little things.

I've been looking for work for about 2 months, and have become increasingly discouraged. What's been hard to explain though, to myself as well as those around me, is that the primary problem is not a lack of jobs. Granted, I haven't been offered much and the jobs I have found have had so few hours (or such insulting wage) that they don't solve the paying rent problem (the constant problem!), but still, it's something else that is even more discouraging.
I am seeking community, communality, collectivity, and mutual aid. I am seeking these in a job because I am not experiencing them in my life. Until last winter, I had always experienced these things to some degree, but when some shit fell apart, and spaces where I thought I'd find those things proved to be less thriving than I'd hoped, I was left with a distinct lack of belonging. For someone whose anarchistic values are founded on ideals of collectivity and who has been privileged enough to always have it, this is a pretty awful position to find myself in.

Yesterday my mother asked me what job I would have in my dream world, realism aside. Well, first we had to amend the obvious problem with that question which is that in my ideal world jobs wouldn't exist. Work*, of course, would.
So what kind of work would I be doing? I'd be doing the work of every day life. I would be looking after people, cooking food for myself and hopefully many others, as well as contributing to the rest of the things that make things go. Not go towards progress, or capital, just go, to the next minute and the next.
I sobbed as I pictured my ideal world but spoke quite simple words. When I've told people what I would be doing without capitalism, often the response is "Well great, those are employable things!"
And I shut down, because we obviously aren't understanding each other.
Why was I crying when I told my mom about my dream life? Because all I am trying for right now is a toxic mimic of that dream. I will go to school so that I can get better jobs taking care of children. My work and my home will still be separate things, I will remain an isolated individual struggling to get by in a system I can't stand.
Though it is capitalism that is suffocating me, I feel drowned in my own ideals. The more idealistic I am, the harder it is to live with the world as it is.

I have always been someone who has a hard time getting over things if I don't feel like I have changed the situation. When the situation is the world as we know it, things start looking mighty dire.

*I make a distinction between jobs and work. While I know many anarchists deplore the idea of work altogether, with the idea that the stuff of life outside of capitalism shouldn't be associated with the words we use now for job-work, for ease I prefer to simply think of work as getting things done, which can be a super positive thing to go along with play, love, etc if we take capitalism out of the equation.


It's been about two weeks since I wrote the above, and things have changed a little.

1. Through choices, support (professional and personal), and a whole lot of effort put in to functioning/coping, I have gotten out of the pit of depression, for now.
2. I decided to go to school as soon as possible in order to get better* work sooner than later.
3. I found pretty decent temporary work until school starts. In fact, it's pretty ideal as far as jobs go.

*What is good work??
The more I think, talk, read and cry about it, the more I am finding hope or at least solace in the idea that work (job-work) is meaningless (and that this is okay).
My priorities for jobs are currently as follows:
-Do work that doesn't make me miserable
-Make enough money to feel comfortable and safe, and save a little so I can stop working sometimes or eventually
-Get paid enough that I don't feel terribly resentful (see first point) and undervalued, and so that I can work very little to earn the money I need to get by

That last point has been difficult to come to, as my anti-capitalist ideals make wanting a higher wage feel really weird. The reality is, though, that we live in a capitalist society. Job-work is inherently within this framework, and we are not doing ourselves or our fellow workers any favours by accepting unfair pay. Obviously, the whole system is unfair, but allowing our employers to profit off of our labour without struggling together for our share of it just fuckin' sucks. Many people work for exceedingly low wages and in awful conditions, and I am privileged to be choosy about making more than minimum wage, but this doesn't make me a capitalist. Like I said, it helps no one (except the capitalists) to accept unfair wages. If our culture equates money with value, then our labour and time is being undervalued when we are paid poorly. In the realm of work, we have to see value like this or get exploited.

Outside of work, however, we get to decide what creates value. What makes my life valuable is not my job, or even what I do (in so much as what is typically considered action is limited to a patriarchal and dis/ableist idea of such). I don't think it's my place to say what makes life, objectively, valuable. Make your own meaning! To get out of my own aforementioned pit, though, I'm deeply considering the meaning that I make.

My life is meaningful because I share laughter, food, space and time with people. My life has value because I am learning, and because I share what I have learned.  Every time I ask for help, I am doing something radical. I open space for others to be equally vulnerable, and we create the much sought after mutual-aid by just extending generousity. When I am honest and imperfect, I am being generous. When I set boundaries, I am doing radical action. Living my queer fucking life, dancing, creating home, and loving my mom a whole fuck of a lot are all actions in defiance of dominant culture. Every step I take towards solidarity, away from the isolation that capitalism imposes on us, is radical.

I found that, in my depression (and this is a pattern), I become very stubbornly defiant against politics of love, happiness, or hope. These are all things I believe in, but so often, as radicals, we are told by more dominant left-wingers (and just about everyone) to look on the bright side, that love will heal all, blah blah blah and it's really fucking dismissive and often bullshit. This outlook is used to silence dissent, further silence oppressed folks, and shut down any ideas that involve destroying what destroys us. In the face of this, I tend to swing to the extreme which similarly lacks complexity. Fuck you, the world is getting worse a lot faster than it's getting better, and it's hopeful fuckers like you who are ruining everything.
And so I convince myself that if I have hope, if I look for silver linings, or if I believe that joy and love can heal and even destroy what destroys me, I am on the side of the enemy who seeks to sustain the current systems by silencing unrest. No, no, no.

Neither of these positions reflect the complexity of the world, the complexity with which I believe we MUST perceive the world if we have any fucking chance at changing things for the better.

So I'm going to go to work cooking for people and supporting families. I'm going to acknowledge the privilege of making more than minimum wage, and know that if within my work life my value is made up by how much money I make then yes, I am still being undervalued. I'm going to go to fucking school so I can get higher paid work, work which might bring me some joy and that I don't think will make me miserable, or at least not very. And I'm going to keep resisting the idea that meaningful work is the fucking be all end all. No! The work I hope to have after school isn't going to make my life meaningful, just like the work I haven't had the last few months hasn't made my existence meaningless. I'm going to keep fighting patriarchal notions of what valuable participation in resistance communities looks like, and I'm going to keep participating in the ways that bring me joy and that don't feel like work. I don't want to work for a non-profit making bullshit wages, work my life away, and feel fucking righteous about it. I don't want to do work that hurts my body or soul if I can avoid it, and it wouldn't make me more radical to do so in order to not exercise my privileges. When people ask me what I do I'm going to keep telling them what I really do ("well, today I cooked all the meals I ate, tomorrow I am going to go to work, and right now I'm reading a really good book") and exploring the discomfort this brings out in myself as well as the asker. I'm going to work on deconstructing the identity I've created which says I'm valuable because of the groups I'm part of, the activist work I do, or my work and how it's like, somehow better than service work (which I was doing not so long ago) and somehow better than high-wage career work like "ooh aren't I radical for refusing to be valued in capitalist terms?"

And I'm going to keep hurting from the blows that capitalism throws my way on a daily basis. I'm going to keep trying really hard to ask for help when I need it. I'm going to see beauty and ugliness in the same gaze, and keep fighting (which usually looks like making lunch).

Monday, 15 April 2013

Oat Milk and Oat Pulp Breakfast Muffins

i've recently started making oat milk, and, other than oatmeal porridge, i've been looking for things to do with the leftover "oat pulp" that results from the process (and which would be an awful shame to waste).

so here's a recipe! i know that food blog culture would say i really need to take pictures, but i just don't feel like it. i'm not doin' this fer your entertainment!

oat milk is a great non-dairy milk, as it is fairly creamy and tastes nice, and you can make so much more for way cheaper than almond milk. using organic, local oats it was still about a quarter of the price of making home-made almond milk. it's also pretty high in iron and probably other things too.
it's not as popular as almond milk though, so it's hard to find recipes for what to do with the pulp. this morning i made pretty good oat pulp muffins with no flour at all, and i figured other's might appreciate the tips. i recommend you try other things too, just basically imagine you're making your favourite muffin recipe, but you're flour already has milk mixed in, so you will need less liquid. experiment!

my experiment worked out pretty nice. it's definitely a moist oatty breakfast muffin, not light and fluffy but very tasty and filling. especially good with some coconut butter on top.


2 cups whole oats
4 cups water
a pinch of salt

soak overnight or longer. drain and rinse and drain, then add 6-8 cups water (depending how thick you like your milk).
in a blender or with a stick blender, blend for a few minutes until the pulp seems pretty smooth. strain through a fine strainer and press as much moister out as possible. add vanilla to the milk if you like. set milk aside.

your strainer will now be full of wet oat pulp, about 2 cups worth... now it's muffin time!

squash cranberry almond oat quinoa flourless muffins. catchy, right?

2 cups oat pulp
1/2 cup oat milk
1 tsp vanilla extract/flavour
1 beaten egg
1 cup mashed cooked sweet winter squash

2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
dash nutmeg
sprinkle cardamon
pinch clove
shake stevia powder
1/4 cup xylitol
1/2 cup quinoa flakes

1/2 cup frozen coarsely chopped cranberries
1/2 cup almonds (i used ones i'd soaked in salt water for 24 hours and peeled, cause that's the only way i can do almonds)

preheat to 375f
mix the wetz, mix the dryz, mix them together. grease a muffin pan. fill the cups all the way up (this is a pretty dense muffin, doesn't rise too much). bake for 25-35 minutes (i made 18 smaller muffins and they took about 25 minutes, but full size ones will take a little longer). let cool in pan at least 15 minutes before moving to cooling rack.
delicious with a big dollop of coconut oil on top.
also would likely work without the egg, or with an egg substitute (like ground chia seed) if you're wanting a vegan version.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Nettles for breakfast!

It's nettle season, buds!
i haven't had a chance to go foraging yet (but i can't wait!), but i did splurge on some nettles at the farmers market this week and have been enjoying them daily.

so, with plenty of time for you to snag some before the seasons over, i'll share the two recipes i've enjoyed the past 2 mornings. thanks to those who i experimented off of.

if you have a favourite thing to do with nettles, a favourite nettley experience, or favourite place to find them, leave a comment!

1. NETTLE ONION GREEN PANCAKES (gluten and potentially dairy freeee!)

serves one quite hungry person or two just peckish people as a main dish.

2/3 C quinoa or brown rice flour, or a mix
1/8 C quinoa flakes
3/4 TB baking powder (i use a gluten and corn free organic one)
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
3/4 C water, milk or broth (i used leftover nettle blanching water from when i was blanching nettles to freeze)
1 1/2 TB coconut oil (or butter) melted and cooled slighty
1/2 C fresh nettle leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 C fresh onion greens/sprouts, chives (chopped), or green onions (diced)
2 cloves garlic, minced and sauteed slightly (if you want, fine raw too)

in your cooking pan (i <3 cast iron) melt coconut oil until just liquid and then take off heat. mix dry ingredients in larger bowl. mix wet ingredients together, careful to cool oil/butter enough that it won't cook the egg. in your nicely greased pan from melting your oil, saute garlic a few minutes before setting aside (don't wash the pan, it's nicely oiled to cook the pancakes on!). mix wet into dry and let sit for quinoa flakes to absorb moister while you chop up your veggies (i wear a glove on my left hand to avoid stings while i chop nettles with my right, just sayin').
add veggies and garlic and fold in. if dough seems too liquid, sprinkle a little extra flour and mix gently (but a little wet is just fine).

heat your pan til it makes water fizzle if flicked on, then start frying up your pancakes in whatever size you like! make sure to wait until bubbles are popping through before you flip 'em, otherwise they may fall apart.

super delish with yogurt or sour cream, extra onion greens, ground black pepper, sauerkraut, or feta cheese... or whatever you like!

this recipe was adapted to meet my dietary needs from this other blog, check it!


adapted from this "crustless spanakopita" recipe that made my mouth water.

feeds 2 moderately hungry folks

4 large eggs
1/4 C broth or water (or nettle blanching water)

teaspoon dried dill
sprinkle dried oregano
teaspoon salt (less if your broth is salty)
a bit o' ground pepper

1 large handful of nettles
1 handful of spinach, chard or young kale
1 little onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
a bit o' coconut oil
a big hunk of feta (i love goat or sheep feta the best)
handful onion sprouts (if you got 'em)

preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
bring about a cup of water to boil in a pot with a lid. when it is boiled, add nettles and submerge, put the lid on for about 60 seconds and then scoop into a colander. repeat with additional greens. set aside left over water to cool.
in a small-mid size cast iron pan, heat oil and lightly saute onions and garlic, then pop the pan into the hot oven (onions and garlic and all).
beat eggs and add (cooled) blanching water, salt, and herbs.
press excess moisture from blanched greens and chop - don't worry about getting stung by the nettles now, as the blanching has domesticated them.
carefully remove hot pan from the over and immediately pour in egg mixture - the hot pan will make the eggs turn into a self-made crust - awesome!
distribute greens and press them in a bit, add onion greens on top and the chunk the feta all about. i like to use lots, but it's up to you.
return the pan o' goodness to the hot oven and bake about 30 minutes, or until the top centre egginess is no longer runny. turn oven up to broil for 5-7 minutes to crisp the top a bit, then remove and serve. don't burn your tongue, it is tempting to scarf it.

i ate all these things to fast to take pictures, so you'll have to make 'em yourself to see the beauty!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Relationships as Microcosms of Culture: Hierarchy Part 2

Since publishing my last piece, I’ve continued to think a lot about the issue of hierarchy in relationships, and in the broader societal context.
I began, almost immediately, to question my assertion that hierarchy is unhealthy (for me, at least), and then realized that that’s partly just because I haven’t even figured out exactly what hierarchy means.

So I want to explore that more, explore how else hierarchy plays out in our lives, and other ways to perceive the world that still respect difference, but do not ascribe higher power or value based on those differences.

What is hierarchy and why do I want to challenge it?

The first context in which I learned the words ‘hierarchy’ and ‘horizontality’ was at the Purple Thistle Centre, a radical youth run arts and activism drop in centre located in East Van, Unceded Coast Salish Territory. It is run by a youth collective, funded by grants, free to all who use it, and as much as possible tries to stay ‘horizontal’ in its organizational structure.
Oftentimes there was (is, but I am writing from a place of having been on the collective for a long time and no longer being directly involved with the place) confusion about how we could call ourselves non-hierarchical when we had some clearly defined roles such as director, coordinator, mentor, intern and collective member, and especially when we considered that some, but not all, of those roles involved an exchange of money. In that context, having clearly defined roles was useful for organizing purposes, especially considering that not everyone had time/energy/desire to have roles with more responsibility and some shit just had to get done if we were going to stay open. The paid positions were generally temporary and whoever wanted to be involved in the decision making (or “hiring”) process could be, and we paid people based on an understanding/ideal that considering that we live in a capitalist context, people have to pay rent and have money to survive, so it is radical to support them in living their lives while doing meaningful and enjoyable ‘work’. We paid people when we were able (our funding was somewhat unpredictable) and hoped that by supporting them, they would continue to support us with their time whenever they could, even if we couldn’t pay them. This generally worked out really well, and we always had tons of amazing people supporting the space with their time for no other reward than fucking loving to be there and being stoked on what the space was about.

The point is, I think that the Thistle, in all it’s imperfection (it’s a radical learning centre! how do we learn? by trying and sometimes fucking up!), is a successful horizontally run organization. Some people put more time and energy into it, sometimes they were supported in doing so by being given money so they would be able to dedicate their time without concern for their basic needs, but overall no one had more POWER than anyone else. And that is what hierarchy is really about - power.

Inherently, (it is my belief that) there is nothing wrong with power. As long as no one has power over others, the existence of power is just fine and dandy. Ideally, however, our power comes from within ourselves; from our skills, our knowledge, our self-respect, our experiences, and so on. Think empowerment.
Things get sticky, though, when our power comes from external sources, like a cultural bias about what earns people power (read: societal values) and structures set up to keep some in power over others.
Not only does this pose the obvious issue of people abusing their power, exerting violence and force to keep it, doing just about anything to make it stronger... y’know, the usual, but it also has the effect of decreasing peoples’ internal sense of self-worth, because their identity as an important human being is now tied to this power that is coming from external (and therefore unstable) forces. Sound familiar? I mentioned that idea in my last piece on this topic, and many many people have talked about a similar issue in the context of education/childhood development and intrinsic/extrinsic motivation.

At the Thistle we tried our best to be open about the powers that come with certain responsibilities and roles, be pragmatic about the usefulness of those structures, and diffuse the potential for anyone having power over others by intentionally sharing skills and information, distributing money (which unfortunately is linked to power in capitalist society) in the fairest ways we could think of, and supporting people in taking on any level of responsibility that they wanted to. The moments when things worked out the best were when people were doing their role because it was exactly what worked for them, not something they felt needed to be done or was expected of them. Their power was then coming from inside, and they could use it wisely.

Now I’m going to make the awkward transition of trying to tie this back into a discourse on relationships.

In my life, just like at the Thistle, people take on different roles. Some take up much more of my time, support my ability to thrive in more tangible or consistent ways, or take up the little spaces which are super special. None of these people have the power to make or break me, or to push someone else out of the picture. I can respect these roles as different; I admit that for some people I would drop everything if they needed me (and not just those that I am sleeping with), some have been and will be in my life ‘forever’ but take up relatively little of my every day, and others may be in my life for just a brief sweet moment.

Right now, I deeply love one person with whom I have a romantic and sexual relationship, and I put more energy on a daily basis into the act of loving them than I put into most of my other relationships. Our relationship has value based on what we both get out of it, put into it, and love about it, not from a sense of being “primary” and definitely not of being sexually exclusive. By looking at it this way, even though some might consider this simply as an insignificant shift in terminology, I ensure that my position is something that I have control over. Ladders are unstable! I have no interest in standing on the top rung of a ladder, especially not one that other people (and countless uncontrollable factors... lets say wind) are climbing too, shaking it as they go. Here on the ground, it is up to me (in communication with others, obviously) what I put into my relationship, what I get out of it, what commitments I can agree to, what I want and I give meaning to.

This morning, this partner and I brainstormed a list of commitments; in other words, we are defining our roles in each other’s lives so that we are best able to continue to bring each other joy. It was a collaborative process, and allowed us to deconstruct what commitment means to US, not what it means in heteronormative monogamy or to anyone else. Just like at they do at the Thistle, we are creating roles to suit us, not fitting into what we think “partner” or “committed relationship” (or at the Thistle “mentor,” “director,” “youth” etc.) means to other people. We create our own meaning, and in that we have our own power, power which no one can take away from us.

Non-hierarchical or horizontal doesn’t mean “no defined roles,” but yes, it might mean “anarchy.”
It doesn’t mean we pretend that everyone has the same skills, knowledge, or impact. It means that we value difference, delve into honest complexity, and challenge our assumptions. We take on roles in which we will thrive, and challenge ourselves and each other to learn more and try new roles. We confront things like patriarchy, racism, classism and colonialism that challenge true horizontality in ways that we can’t always even see.

I feel that there is so much more to say about this, but it isn’t in me yet or maybe won’t be. I would love to hear other’s thoughts on this huge topic.

And in the interest of breaking down hierarchy, I want to remind y’all that I’m no fucking expert.
I think about relationship a lot, I write as a way to process information and ideas and because I like to share ideas with people, but I am no more knowledgeable or experienced on this than most of you. We all have relationships (did you hear the news? Relationship doesn’t mean sexual partnership!) and we all experience hierarchies every day. I like to write, so I’ve taken this on as a part of my role in the world. That role is no more or less valuable than any other.

For more information on the rad youth centre that I wrote about, check out

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Relationships as Microcosms of Culture: Hierarchy

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of relationships as microcosms of culture. I think there are endless possibilities of directions to go on that, and I hope to get to some more of them, but I'm also interested in compiling a zine on the topic, from many voices. If you're interested in writing (or talking to me) about how relationships reflect capitalism, class, racism, patriarchy, "democracy," nation states, or any other cultural institution/phenomenon, I'd love to hear from you!

The following doesn't really get into hierarchy on a broader level than relationships, and therefore doesn't really show how this is a microcosm effect, but I think you probably all can look around you and see how the issues of hierarchy apply to your daily life. Anyway, blogging is an infinite resource so it's okay that I don't cover it all in this one post.
So here goes-

Hierarchy vs Horizontality, not Monogamy vs Polyamory

I’ve been thinking a lot about monogamy and polyamory lately, about what does and does not work for me, and a common thread keeps coming up - that of hierarchy.
I don’t think that either monogamy or polyamory are superior to the other. What I know, is that any relationship model based on the idea that certain relationships (usually the ones involving sex or “romance”) are more important or of greater inherent value, really fucks with my head.

While the word monogamy generally gets used to mean the condition of having only one sexual and romantic partner at a time, polyamory or non-monogamy means the condition of having multiple sexual and romantic partners at one time, or at least the freedom to do so.
Neither, fundamentally, implies a necessary hierarchy. That said, our culture has ascribed a whole host of additional meaning onto the term monogamy (often used as if synonymous with “committed relationship”) which I personally find so difficult to shut out, that I must avoid the term so as to avoid the myths and biases that go along with it.

What are some of those myths? That in a “committed relationship” it is wrong to desire sex or “romance” from people other than your one partner. And not just sex, but also certain kinds of support and care, certain kinds of hang outs, a high level of excitement, or pretty much any other super awesome thing
(at least if it is perceived that the other person in these roles could possibly be attractive/attracted to you - from here we get a whole bunch of subtle homophobia and so on...).
That true love means that one person can pretty much satisfy all your social, intellectual, emotional, and physical needs, and that if you are wanting it is because you do not love as much as you should, OR because your partner is just not perfect enough. Again, getting bits of these needs met from people who are perceived as out of the question for you to be attracted/attractive to (read: not a threat to this ridiculous hierarchy) may be acceptable.
Add that commitment is synonymous with sexual exclusivity, and that love is a finite resource which we must hoard.

Now, this last one, about love as a finite resource, is complicated. I actually don’t ascribe to the "love is an infinite resource" idea, and I’ll explain why.

First of all, how can we talk about any of these issues without figuring out what we mean when we talk about love? My definition is ever evolving, but is currently heavily influenced by the words of bell hooks in All About Love.
She suggests that love is an action, not a feeling. To love is to nurture someone’s spiritual growth.
Spiritual is a word that I don’t always connect to, so I think of loving as the act of nurturing someones personal growth; challenging them with kindness, compassion, and deep self-reflection so that we ensure we are not simply trying to make them grow like a bonsai bush into our favourite shape.
Many people think of love as a feeling, and I think there’s room for that within the discourse as well. But it’s not a feeling independent of the action. You could think of it like “runner’s high.”
There is no limit to the potential for the feeling of runners high for any individual or for the world, but you can’t experience runner’s high without running. Can you run infinitely? I certainly can’t. So to feel love, I must be doing the act of loving. To do the act of loving, I must have the time and energy to honestly nurture someone’s personal growth. This is a fairly energy intensive activity in my experience, and just like I run out of breath when I’m running, I use up all my loving energy sometimes and need to recharge alone, or in less love intensive social interaction.

Okay, time to return to the original topic of this post: hierarchy.
The main reason that monogamy and it’s cultural meanings (read: myths) fuck with my head, is that it reduces the value of the relationship to the maintenance of the hierarchy associated (through those aforementioned myths). I know folks who identify as monogamous and do not ascribe to those hierarchical ideas, and I’m super impressed and think that’s fucking great. The way my brain functions, I ascribe huge meaning to words and have a really hard time disassociating from the meanings that are culturally ingrained, so I can’t use the word monogamous without internalizing the cultural values that go along with it. I quickly associate so strongly with the relationship and with my partner, that I lose my sense of self, and my sense of self-worth other than that implied by the hierarchy. And because (in my experience) that hierarchy is VERY unstable (because we can’t actually be everything to our partner, or their absolute priority in every way, or the only person they find attractive, and so on) I start to feel very unstable myself. And that fucking sucks.
So, although I’ve been learning about non-monogamy and practicing it in different ways since I was a teenager, I still tend to forget it all when I really like someone, and start believing the myths again. I think, “oh yeah, i know i’ve identified as non-monogamous for 4 years, but that’s just ‘cause i didn’t like those people as much as i like this person (read: when love is true, hierarchical monogamy is magically realistic)” but also “well i don’t want to throw all that cool poly stuff out (or, my partner likes someone else so i better be okay with it) so we’ll be primary partner model non-monogamous (read: hierarchically non-monogamous).”
and then I face all the same issues around unstable hierarchy, only with the twist of putting my self (semi-) consensually in the position of constantly facing the threat of my partner meeting someone who will climb the ladder of hierarchy and replace me.
And then I fall apart and beg my partner to be monogamous so I don’t have to face that fear all the time, but that only makes me feel even needier, less stable as an individual, stronger in my identity as a partner not a person, AND like I am indebted to my partner for sacrificing their other desires to calm my nerves, which isn’t working anyway. Read: the past 1.5 months of my life.


I need to change the framework, create a new world, not try to change or fit into the flawed one I’ve been born into. Why would this be true for all my other beliefs, but not relationship? I don’t believe that by making capitalism “green”  we will solve the problems of infinite growth on a finite planet, so why would I believe that making hierarchical relationships “open” could solve the problems of placing hierarchy on something as complex as human relationship?

I am not advocating for relationships without conditions, or commitments, and if one of those commitments is that you and your partner save much of your loving energy or all of your sexual energy for each other because you don’t have enough of it to spread out too thin, then that’s just fine. I do think that most of us do have it in us to love more than one person, and that not all loving relationships need take up tons of time and energy (and none will ever look just like another). Regardless, a relationship that includes sex, or “romance,” or a lot of love, isn’t necessarily any more fundamental to a person’s thriving than their relationship with themselves, with friends whom they have a major intellectual connection to, someone who is very easy to be around when they are low energy... etc! All of these kinds of relationships are important.

Why have our conversations about relationship models so often been reduced to a comparison/contrast of monogamy and non-monogamy/polyamoury? I see this as a huge simplification. It's the underlying values that change the issues and our experience, more than the shape our relationships actually take. As with most things, I think we all benefit from a willingness to recognize the complexities of ourselves and the world. Relationship is too fundamental to human experience to allow it to fall into the pit of things we'd rather not deeply examine.

Everything I've written above has been greatly influenced by reading and conversation.
If you're one of the (many!) people I've spoken to about relationship recently, thank you.

Here's some of the writing that influenced my ideas, and that I think is super valuable as further exploration:

on hierarchy:

on love:
All About Love by bell hooks

on commitment:

a song i've been listening to on repeat (not that is is what Feist had in mind...):

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Open Letter to Sensitivity Friendly Restaurants

I wrote this letter after going out for my squeeze's mother's birthday brunch, to the only restaurant in Vancouver that I know to be able to accommodate my food needs. Regardless of their goal to be food sensitivity friendly and be "a place where the whole family can eat," I still feel othered and upset by the way I must go about getting my needs met. I will send this letter to them in the hopes that they may change some of their practices.

Dear Aphrodite's,

I am someone who values your restaurant as the only one in Vancouver (that I have found) that accommodates my food sensitivities. I recently had brunch in the shop and, while the food I got was great and worked well for my health, a few things still upset me. I hope that you might be able to take into consideration some ideas for how to honour not only peoples' food sensitivities, but also to be sensitive enough for people to feel "normal" or no less valid in their needs than other customers.

Here are some things that would make eating out, for a person like me with serious digestive problems and a longer list of things I can't eat than things I can, a much more enjoyable experience:

1. Make a full list of ingredients available to any person who asks for specific information. This could mean having a menu with full ingredients listed available and giving one to each table, or asking if anyone at the table would like such a list, or having your servers memorize full lists (as someone who has often had a crucial allergens forgotten from friends' and servers' memory, this idea makes me nervous but I understand that for the sake of your chef's privacy, it may feel more secure).

2. When a customer asks to know exactly what is in something, tell them (or give them above suggested list/menu) a full ingredients list, rather than asking what someone can't eat. For many people, being asked this question brings up a lot of guilt and shame at being "hard to feed" and contributes to a sense of otherness. In my case, I know that the list of things I can't eat is so long that the server does not have the time to hear it, and I don't have the desire or energy to say it.

3. All dressings should be mentioned on the menu, or the server should confirm with the customer whether they would like their salad dressed or the dressing on the side. In my case, a simple dressing of lemon and olive oil is often the best option, as vinegars, soy based sauces, and many oils aggravate my condition.

These suggestions are designed to make me feel safer to come to your restaurant to eat. As I mentioned, there are no other restaurants I have found in the city to accommodate my needs, and as you can imagine, because eating out is often central to social activity and celebration, it is very important to me to have positive experiences at your establishment.

Thank you for working food sensitivities into your business plan and I look forward to another delicious meal at the shop soon.