Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mommy Queerest?

A smart friend of mine posted this on FB yesterday. I *LOVE* it so much. Yeah, okay, so it's one of the worst mothers in the history of motherhood. It's just... so awesome.  I may need to play it over and over and over again. And thought you might need to as well :)  Enjoy the bad-ass-y-ness.

oh, spring...

I am done.  Except that I'm not done at all.  I have two papers and a seminar still to do before done-ness occurs.  And then of course, the done-ness is only very, very temporary.  I've done fairly okay this term, given the fact that I like neither of my courses not one whit. ZERO excitement about the work, unfortunately.  It's not even remotely stimulating or happy-making in other ways.  One class, for which I am reading some so-so Can Lit, isn't horrendous.  And the other class, the prof is rather lovely, but the subject matter makes me want to jump off of a cliff out of boredom and just generally not-caring-ness.

So, instead of getting going on the things I *should* do but care not a whit about, I'm really much more focussed on the things I *want* to do.  And it's spring. Finally.  And the sun keeps shining.  And the snow keeps melting. And I have this terrible/wonderful urge to adopt a dog. And take it for long sunshine-y walks, both of us soaking up spring-y goodness and much needed seratonin after a long, long, lonnnnnnggggg winter.

And I want to get on my pole and dance myself breathless.  And I want to write.  And cook fabulous food.  And have long existential talks with my life-loves.  And see films.  And get my paints out again.  And do all of those wonderful things that feed me as a person (which last term, blessedly, school work was also doing).

I wonder what it's going to take to get this shit done...

Last minute panic, where are you?!?!? I need you!

Friday, March 29, 2013

steady or not...

Today, I woke-up thinking a lot about people.  Some of them who aren't in my life anymore.  Some of them who are.

I thought a lot about how funny (not funny ha-ha, funny odd), that you don't un-love people just because they have un-loved, or in some cases, un-liked (literally and/or metaphorically) you. And while having one of those slightly-outside-of-yourself-moments, realizing that I think I'm okay with that.  The one-way loving, I mean.  You think about them and you wish them happiness.  And expect nothing in return. Which is a bloody good thing, on account of if you expected otherwise, it would super-suck. (Um, yes, super-suck is a word.)

Realizing that somehow made me feel a lot calmer and steadier in the world.

I also woke up missing my babies holy-fucking-fiercely (Um, yes, that is also word.  Look it up if you don't believe me).  I haven't seen them in seven days and there are still five to go.  This kind of missing feels like  I'm walking around just a wee bit off-kilter, like I'm missing some random important parts of me that I need to function properly.  The pads of my fingers, maybe, or the soles of my feet.  Little tiny pieces of my heart - out there somewhere - but not available to me.

This, naturally, makes me feel slightly less calm and steady in the world.

So there's me, today.  Staring at the pile of homework.  Willing it to do itself.  Steady and unsteady as she goes...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Oh, oh, oh - those good intentions...

Sometimes, it's hard to know what to say.  Ok - often, it's hard to know what to say.

Tonight I went to a lecture in a human rights series, given by Lesléa Newman at the University of Alberta. I wanted leave feeling inspired and moved. Lesléa is someone who has written books that my children and I have read together many times over, so in this way has been a part of our household language and rituals. And the talk itself was pretty good, though probably a bit rudimentary for those of us already steeped in queer history and goings on in the United States. But I greatly enjoyed hearing Newman's take on these things. I liked, in particular, hearing Lesléa read from many of her works. She is an expressive reader and her poetry is quite powerful. I loved, in particular, her reading from A Letter to Harvey Milk. I cried a tiny bit, listening to the poems from October Mourning (of which I now have a signed copy). And I was most certainly choked up listening to her read Donovan's Big Day.

After the talk ended and the standing ovation subsided, someone from the University got up to say a few words of thanks. And I found myself listening and watching, with no small amount of horror, as this white guy in a suit (sigh - always the white guy in the suit...) began to talk about the importance of Aboriginal and Inuit culture in Canada, and then proceeded to present Ms. Newman with a carving of an Inukjuak as a token of our collective appreciation. And I found myself laughing, almost uncontrollably, in sheer disbelief.  There may also have been some snorting. And guffawing.  It wasn't pretty. Or particularly quiet. (I can't control myself when I'm that surprised, people. I just can't).

This gesture was surely intended with good will. I hope (hope, hope, hope). But you know what they say about good intentions (pretty sure it has something to do with the road to hell). Given the history in Canada of cultural and physical genocide, given our current state of state sanctioned oppression and suppression of First Nations people, and given that this is, in fact a lecture series in human rights - surely - people cannot have thought this appropriation of art and culture, and absolute misrepresentation of the treatment of First Nations people in Canada was in any way, you know, appropriate?


I don't want to fault the organizers, or make it sound like the event wasn't important, well organized and put together. It was. But my appreciation of this fact has indeed, and rather unfortunately, been overshadowed.

A friend and I voiced our concerns before we left. Though this was uncomfortable-making, and not something I'm particularly good at, I'm glad we did. (Oh man - I'm just pissing folks off left, right and centre today. Who knew I had it in me? It may become a new hobby, who knows where this kind of willy-nilly self-expression will lead?!)

I wanted to leave feeling inspired and moved.

And instead I left feeling angry. Slightly ill. And profoundly weary.

A Few Thoughts on Marriage Equality

I have been married. I got married before marriage was legal in Canada, and then again after it became legal. I have also been separated and am soon to be divorced. I will not marry again, for many reasons, not the least of which I'm not sure marriage, as an institution or as a practice, is something that I believe in at this point in my life.

But I have many, many friends in same-sex partnerships - both those who identify with a queer politic and those who do not - who have married, or who are about to marry. And I have many friends who reside in the United States who desperately want to win this right.

Marriage is a slippery topic in the queer community. There are arguments both for and against the usefulness of fighting for marriage rights - and here's the tricky bit - I agree with both sides.

I don't like the rhetoric that accompanies the fight for marriage rights.  I don't like the appeal to normalcy, or the 'we're just like you-ness.'  I don't like the emphasis on the traditionalism of the nuclear family model. I don't like the assertion that same-sex marriage rights is akin to real equality, because I don't believe, not for one single second, that this is the case.  I am also concerned about the reality that if and when we do win marriage rights across North America, the queers who decide to marry will receive more benefits and social capital and acceptability than those who choose, for many, many personal and political reasons, not to do so.  Marriage, in any of its forms (Gay, Straight, Queer, whathaveyou), is not without problem.

However, I also balk at the anti-marriage protests coming out of the queer community.  I understand (and even agree, as aforementioned) with many of their arguments.  But I also find them short-sighted.  Marriage *is* in fact important to some of our community. For many and varied reasons.  While I am clear that this is not the last, or even the most important struggle the LGBT community has in its way - it is important for many people, many of whom I love deeply.  The short-sightedness I find in the anti-marriage rhetoric is, quite simply, that it lacks a conceptualization of the heart.

This is a rhetoric that cannot speak to the overflowing and immense joy I felt at my ninety-six year old grandfather's witnessing of our love, then still not legal (though it mattered not one whit to me as I marched through my friends and family in my hussy red dress). It cannot speak to the joy I felt at the coming together of all of my family and friends, in celebration of love. (Moreover, it should be noted that we threw one hell of a party!).  It cannot speak to the joy felt by my moms, both of whom came out at a time when they could have lost custody of their children for being lesbians, when they married at the Unitarian church in Winnipeg.  It cannot speak to the tears in their eyes as their four grown children read a co-written speech about the trials and tribulations of how we all became a family. It cannot speak to their delight at watching their wee granddaughters (who flew all the way from Australia!) walk down an aisle carrying flowers for them.  It cannot describe the feeling of comfort felt by my siblings and I, as we sat on the porch drinking wine and reminiscing all night about the incredible and beautiful journey of our family, an opportunity we may not have had were there not a wedding to bring us all together. There is delight and joy and comfort in the coming together of community to celebrate love, however we might choose to do so.

We should not be so willing to dismiss the importance of these things, however intangible they may be.  Neither should we be complacent or mistaken about the fact that fighting for marriage rights is only one fight, amoung many, that faces our queer communities.  So as I join my voice to argue for marriage rights of my American friends, I also fight for the rights of those queer people who will build their families other ways.  I resist the notion of normalcy that those marriage debates are framed within. I raise my voice to speak for queers who are poly, or single by choice, or who resist the nuclear model in other ways.  I will raise my voice against transphobia, racism and sexism and ableism and poor bashing that is still so disgustingly prevalent in our communities and I will encourage others to do the same.

But I will also resist the either/or-ness of the marriage debates.  And maintain that the heart is such an important part of politics.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Another early Wednesday poem...

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

- W. S. Merwin

From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin

Monday, March 25, 2013

mindless fashion post (aka a wee bit of much needed tongue-in-cheeky levity)

This morning, it occurred to me that I am a freaking high maintenance dresser.  Okay, yes, I'm a femme.  I've never really thought of myself as 'high-femme.' But lately I'm beginning to wonder.  I plan outfits in advance of an event or outing.  Like, pretty much any outing that isn't going to a friend's place to watch a movie. Which is to say, I plan three potential outfits (always, always three) just in case the first two aren't quite right the day of. Generally, this will include at least one casual outfit (some rockin' tight jeans and sweet girly shoes, for instance), a middle-ground, semi-'conservative' choice (the-I'm-trying-not-to-look-like-I'm-trying-too-hard-but-who-are-we-kidding option) and one of the saucy-fancy-girl-high-ish-femme variety (there are generally outfits that scream 'Yes. Yes I do try hard. And aren't you glad???'). But there are so so many other issues that come into play when trying to figure out what to wear.

Venue.  Inside?  Outside?  If it's at somebody's house, is it a shoes on or off house? (Femmes *LOVE* shoes on houses, friends, just so you know). If it's a no-shoes house, this puts the kibosh on many outfits that may need some good heel height and or extra bit of something-something.  And on that note - will it be a standing or sitting sort of time? Is there dancing involved? I can rock heels, even really tall ones, for quite a long stretch of time.  Because a little pain is definitely worth it for good shoe-dom. But some of them are more painful than others....

Event. What's it for? Is my general penchant for tight and/or boobilicious inappropriate? Is it work related? School related? Or just my buddies at the bar (who get the benefit of my penchant of tight and boobilicious, well, often.  Lucky, lucky friends :).  Ought I to opt for slightly naughty librarian instead? Am I going to be WAY overdressed? (I'm rarely underdressed, so I tend not to worry about this, at least). Can I dress in my usual possibly too-young-to-be-appropriate way?  Or am I required to act my 'age'?

Queer or Straight? Am I going to be in a room full of queers who mistake me (again) for straight? (Oddly, this happens less with my lip pierced.  I have NO idea why this is). How can I gay-it-up without sacrificing my inner girly-girl? Am I going to be in a room full of straight folks who assume that I am too, therefore having to come out zillions of times over? When I go to super straight events, I'm often force myself to go much less girly than my natural inclination leads me, in the hopes of avoiding this process.

Hot? Cold? Sweater? No sweater? Dancing? No Dancing? House? Bar? School/Work?  It's all so complicated.

And then there's shoes.

And don't even get me started on the underneath-the-outfit outfit which may or may not be of consequence.

Sigh.  It's a lotta work. ;)

Saturday, March 23, 2013


My boy is the sweetest souled child I've ever known. I'm not just saying that because he's mine. He may move through the world at lightening speed, but oh man, his heart is so tender.  And so easily breakable.

It's interesting, and also frustrating, that most often when I speak about my Boy-o's special needs, people try to dismiss my concerns and observations. Disabilities that are generally less visible are also, unfortunately, less believable. My Boy-o lives with sensory issues and anxiety (the latter of which I will quite likely never forgive myself for sharing). Coping with change, transition, noise, crowds, bright lights, scratchy clothes, hangnails, etc. etc. etc. etc. is difficult, to varying levels of intensity (funnily, or not so funnily, depending on where the tiredness and anxiety levels are at). Sometimes these things are far less of an issue in his life and sometimes more.  But this world is can be a place of real struggle for him. And watching him struggle is, in a word, excruciating.  Maybe never more so than this week.

I knew he was having a harder time than usual lately. The signs were all there. Escalating (read unstoppable) high energy, hair-trigger emotions, increased sensitivity to external stuff.  But I didn't know how overwhelmed he was feeling until there was a pretty serious incident at school. Followed by a discussion in which he confided to feeling really, really distraught.  I won't and/or can't share what that conversation entailed beyond that because that wouldn't be fair to him. What I can talk about is the impact this conversation had on me. I heard words coming out of my child's mouth that I would grieve a grown person saying. I dealt with them well, I think, in the moment. But afterwards, after he was safely tucked in bed, reassured again and again of his importance in the world and all of the incredible gifts he has to offer, I could not stop crying. It lasted far into the next day - though like a the fantastic mama-trooper I can be - I made use of my best and most concerted acting efforts to ensure none of this was apparent during a pre-school breakfast out followed by school drop-off.  But that's as long as I made it.

I can't stop questioning myself. How long has this been going on?  How long has he been feeling this way? How have I missed this?  Am I so preoccupied with the frenzy of school and life that I could have seen this coming? Where have *I* been for him?  Now of course, I know these questions are useless.  They do neither of us any good. What I need to focus on now is where to go next. What supports need to be put in place to make some change and better support him? What do I need to change to better support him and nurture him and help him understand all of the wonderful things that he brings to this world, to me, to his friends and classmates? (His brightness, enthusiasm, fearlessness, determination, ability to articulate ideas far beyond his years, creativity, joie de vivre, and unending depths of empathy immediately come to mind, though there are many, many more).  How do I work with all of the teachers he comes into contact with to create new ways of discouraging the challenging behaviours without the attendant messaging about being a 'bad kid.' How do I role-model my own anxieties (many of which stem from acute feelings of always doing or saying the wrong thing)? Because rightly or wrongly, those are the messages he's getting from the world around him.  Because he is experiencing feelings that no child, no six year old, should ever have to experience.

I have my work cut out for me. The world around us, and our schools in particular, are ill-equipt to deal with the needs of so many children. I think too here, of the cuts to public education recently announced by the Redford government. The slashing of jobs. The freezing of wages. The reality of impending increases in class sizes and educator burn-out and attendant decrease of already limited resources. These things will make finding resources for many, many children next to impossible.   I rage at the short-sightedness of this approach. (I find this rage at least slightly more productive than the sorrow at my child's feelings).

I don't know the way forward. But what I do know is that I am determined to do anything I possibly can do to make some changes for him.  Whatever it takes. To help him makes changes, and to work with his educators to try and ensure a safe and comfortable environment for him to do that.  To make sure he is always aware of the gifts he brings to the world.

Because that is no more than every child deserves.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

AWESOMESAUCE! (Yes. I was shouting).

Go here. For real.  You will not be sorry.

Their mama's a pole-dancer...

Yup. It's true. I'm heading proudly into level three in a few short weeks. My kids love to inform random people that I pole dance.  And Boy-o asked me last night when *he* could take pole-dance lessons.  (Both of which I heartily enjoy.)

One of the most wonderful things about my dance progression is the way my self-image has grown exponentially during my pole-dancing. I am amazed at the ways I'm learning to move, at the new muscles on my stomach (at least I think they're somewhere in there), biceps and my shoulders. Seriously. My shoulders are getting kinda ripped. It's bleeping wild. I, who have never been able to do even the tiniest hint of a chin-up, can now pull my body off the ground on that pole. I can do spins.  More than one. (And no - the pole doesn't move.) And sometimes, I catch a glimpse of myself in the multitude of mirrors in the studio and think, well, I look a little less like I'm wildly flailing and a bit more like I'm actually, you know, dancing.

But one of my absolute favourite parts of dance class happens before my body even starts to move. It's the ten minutes after I arrive of watching the class before me perform. The end of every class has something called "community pole". It's the anxiety provoking part where we have to strut our stuff in front of everyone. Terrifying, friends. And also totally fucking exhilarating (I have, it seems, an inner exhibitionist). The class before me happens to be the level 6 or 7 class - and these women are amazing, flabbergasting, sinuous, strong, stunning, and sexy as all hell (and how's that for some alliterative glory?). Their community pole dance is always set to "Stay" by Rihanna. Last week, I was literally moved to tears watching them, and caught myself letting out involuntary gasps of sheer adulation. My very favourite dancer is a 50 year old woman, she told me this, almost apologetically (as if this was supposed to be old and as if she thought she didn't measure up). I wanted to blurt out how amazing her body moved but also didn't want to sound, you know, creepy. But her poise and strength as she navigates that pole is just fucking breathtaking. I'm quite certain she rocks that pole in a way that I never will.  I wish everyone on the planet could see it. Maybe someday, when I've gotten much, much better and created the rad queer +, body +, gender and age non-specific pole troupe that currently only lives in my imagination, I'll convince her to join....

In the meantime, everytime I hear this beautiful song (which has always made me teary), I will think of her.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

In Praise of Messiness (or alternatively, deconstructing zen-ness)

It has been a difficult year.  I knew, going in, that it would be. Because as I've said before, only a starry-eyed idiot embarks on separating a marriage of 13 years, changing gears from stay-at-home motherhood to a Phd, and undertaking the utter insanity that is single (and joint) parenthood without the recognition that some shit's gonna get real messy.

Add to these a couple of extra and intense personal losses, including the permanent loss of some close friends and some mild strains of social ostracism.  (Oh Facebook, you are remarkably like high school). So, in addition to being swamped at school, feeling old and ill-equipt and on the outside of things (because I'm old and can't come out to play), I have also been navigating grief over my failure to make marriage work, two children who are grieving the same, (one child with real and pressing special needs that require a lot of energy and the other who needs extra attention because her sibling takes up so much space and time), and some other pretty real losses.  And some loneliness. And some exhaustion.  I don't think I've yet mentioned the exhaustion. There's that too.  Aplenty.

So what?? What does all of this mean, and why am I telling you?  You will probably be thinking here, 'dear gawd, why the hell is she whining.... again...?'

Forgive that.  I don't mean to whine and woe is me.  That isn't my point at all.  What I am trying to say is this:  sometimes - being a mess makes good sense.

Good fucking sense, I tell you.

Sometimes - though we are trained well to deny this - allowing ourselves to be messy, to feel messy, to admit messy is a sign of strength, not of failure.

I know our cultural trend is toward finding the zen spot, our inner calm, that place of enlightenment, having our shit together.  And from this perspective being messy is, most certainly, a failure of self-actualization. But I have often felt, and now want to publicly state, that I think there is some *privilege* inherent in this way of looking at things. In North American culture, anyways, it seems to me that the project of self-actualization requires some stability, some time and often, some money. None of which folks like me have at our disposal.  I don't fault anyone for trying to find their own unique way in the world, whatever that may be and to the best of their abilities.  I don't. Do whatcha gotta do, friends. I'm just trying to point out that we don't all have the same abilities in this regard, and I resent the hell out of the implication that we do.

I recently spoke with another queer single-mama friend (who single parents full time with less support than I) who is, in her own words, "losing it".  On stress leave.  Breaking dishes in the kitchen and crying all the time kinda losing it.  And my response was - "Yeah.  That makes sense."

Because in addition to being broke, being tired, having no time, little to no resources, trying to navigate dating in a scene that is resoundingly not child-friendly (other than a distantly theoretical way),  we mama's are also dealing with our own painful shit and daily needs, that we constantly have to put aside to deal with our kid's painful shit and daily needs.  Try and find some zen in there - really - I dare you. (Here I want to point out that mine is not a life of abject misery. There is joy and snuggles and bliss and satisfaction and even the very very odd moment of togetherness... Oh - I got some joy, people. But there is no zen.  It's entirely possible that this lack of zen is just a personal failing or lack of will.  But I really don't think so.)

Women in general, mamas more specifically, and single mamas even more intensely, are programmed to put their own needs aside. Because there is so much else to take care of. Because there isn't time. And because those littles need us. They need us whole and together and ready to handle anything that comes our way.

I'll find some zen when my kids get older and I can get some sleep.  I'll find some zen when the world comes out with better resources for kids with special needs.  I'll find some zen when I finish school into a miraculous imaginary world which promises some hope of ever finding a job in my field.  I'll find some zen when I can stop straddling the poverty line and can lose the ever-present fear of not being able to pay my rent.

So to the single-mama warriors out there, I have this to say.  When we can, when those babes aren't looking, we need to let ourselves get messy.  We need to lose our shit.  Let it go. Break every dish in our house. Yell at our empty apartments. Cry until our waterproof mascara runs.

And more than that - we need to start forgiving ourselves.  For failing. For failing to hold it all together. For losing our keys and our bank cards ten times a day because our brain is doing sixteen things at a time. For those times when we yell too much because we are so exhausted and overwhelmed that we could weep. For feeling like we need more than we have.  For drinking a glass of wine too many during the week.  For coping the best we can, and sometimes, often, failing.

All you single-mama readers: tonight, after my babies are settled in snuggly and sleeping deeply - I'm going to raise my glass of red at all of your hot-messiness (and mine).

And then I'm going to hurl a plate at the wall in all of our messy honours.

And then, I'll return to my piles of homework.

Cause you gotta keep on keepin' on... even in the mess.

*with enormous love and mad props to my strong friend, who knows who she is.  You can do it, Mamacita - never doubt that.  But you don't have to have it  'all-together'.  I promise.  Your mess is beautiful.  And it makes sense.  xo

Wednesday Poem: The Fence (that night)

In 1998, Matthew Shepard was the victim of a hate-crime. He was tortured and beaten after being lured from a bar by two men in Laramie, Wyoming. His murderers left him tied to a fencepost. He was discovered 18 hours later by a cyclist, who at first glance, thought Matthew was a scarecrow.  Four days later, Matthew died from his injuries in hospital. He was just 22 years old.

This poem is one of many from Lesléa Newman's beautiful and heart-breaking October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard.

The Fence (that night)

I held him all night long
He was heavy as a broken heart
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing

He was heavy as a broken heart
His own heart wouldn’t stop beating
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood

His own heart wouldn’t stop beating
The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood
I tightened my grip and held on

The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
We were out on the prairie alone
I tightened my grip and held on
I saw what was done to this child

We were out on the prairie alone
Their truck was the last thing he saw
I saw what was done to this child
I cradled him just like a mother

Their truck was the last thing he saw
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
I cradled him just like a mother
I held him all night long

OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD. Copyright © 2012 by Lesléa Newman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Talking Creativity, Activism, and October Mourning with Lesléa Newman

As I mentioned a few days ago, (with no small amount of excitement), I've had the opportunity to catch up with the fabulous Lesléa Newman for a Q & A prior to her Visiting Lecture in Human Rights here in Edmonton next Wednesday. Which, naturally, you have all *clearly* marked in your calendars.  

Lesléa has penned over 60 books for children, youth and adults including Heather Has Two Mommies, The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, and I Remember: Hachiko Speaks.  Her most recently published book is October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (2012, Candlewick Press). 

Lesléa has received a multitude of literary awards.  Many of her books have been Lambda Literary Awards finalists, and she has received Poetry Fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Highlights for Children Fiction Writing Award, the James Baldwin Award for Cultural Achievement, and three Pushcart Prize Nominations.  Lesléa was the Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA from 2008-2010 and currently serves as a faculty mentor at Spalding University's Brief Residency MFA in Writing program.

The Q & A:

1. You've written more than 60 books, ranging in genre from kid's literature to young adult and adult fiction, as well as short fiction and poetry.  Are there kinds of writing you prefer to do, or feel more compelled to do?  And what factors into your decision-making process about how certain creative ideas fit best with a particular genre or form of writing?

Buy this BookLN: I'm happy whenever I'm writing, whatever the genre. I don't plan what I'm going to write: the content dictates the form. There are various advantages to the different forms. For example, when writing a novel, I know what I'm going to go back to day after day after day, which staves off the terror of the blank page that looms large when starting a new project. When writing a poem, if I'm very lucky, I can finish a first draft in a short period of time (sometimes even one day!) which is very satisfying. That said, my first love is definitely poetry, which I started writing when I was about 10 years old. I was lucky enough to apprentice with Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman when I was in my early twenties, so poetry is definitely what I'm most comfortable with, and what I turn to first. I've also become somewhat of a formalist. I find when I am writing about very emotional subjects, formal poetry is the best way to contain all those intense feelings.

2. What fuels you to write? Conversely, what gets in the way of writing?

LN: I am inspired to write by just about everything! Things I experience, things I hear about, things I dream about, current events, etc. And since I make my living as a writer, I find a dwindling bank account very inspiring. What gets in the way is lack of time. It's one of the ironies of being a writer: the more successful one is, the more in demand one is. And that demand can be very time-consuming and distracting. However, it's a very nice problem to have.

Cover art for OCTOBER MOURNING3. How did your most recent book, October Mourning, a young adult novel about the hate-infused murder of Matthew Shepard, come into being, particularly so many years after the fact?

LN: On October 12, 2009, I attended a production of The Laramie Project, Part II--The Epilogue, which was performed that night in about 150 cities in the USA and the world. I had seen the first part many years ago and remembered how powerful it was. The second part was even more powerful and after seeing it, I couldn't sleep. I got out of bed and wrote one of the poems in the book, called "Wounded." At this time, I was the poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts and I was spearheading a project called "30 Poems in 30 Days." I signed up about 75 poets to write a poem a day during the month of November and ask their friends and colleagues to pledge a monetary amount per poem (kind of like a walkathon, only a "poem-a-thon"). We raised about $13,000 and donated it to a local literacy group. My 30 Poems in 30 Days project became October Mourning. Once I started writing the poems, I couldn't stop. They literally poured out of me, one after another.
4.You spoke in a past interview, quite poignantly, about how we are defined by our experiences and our ability to remember and tell stories about them.  How did/does the experience of being so connected to the Matthew Shepard story, and the writing of October Mourning come to impact or define you? 

LN: Bringing that book into the world comes with a responsibility to speak out against hate crimes and to do what I can to make the world a better place. The book has brought me to dozens of schools where I get to talk to young people about the kind of world we want to live in. I remain hopeful that our youth will change the world for the better. Telling the story of Matthew Shepard's murder over and over again reminds me on a daily basis how broken our world is and how important it is to work for social justice.

Matzo Ball Moon
5.Can you tell me more about your writer-mentoring work, what it means to you, and how this project came into being?

LN: About 10 years ago, people began to approach me and ask if I would mentor them. It seems a natural progression in my career. So many people have been so kind to me, and I feel like it is important to give back. I have worked with many fine writers who have gone on to publication, and this is very gratifying.

6. What projects do you have on the go currently?

LN: Currently I am finishing up a picture book called Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays which will be out in the next year or so. I've also completed a picture book called Ketzel The Cat Who Composed which is based on the true story of a cat who won an honorable mention in a piano composition contest. The illustrator is working on the art work as we speak. And Heather Has Two Mommies, which unfortunately has been out of print for a while, will be back with new illustrations. I'm very excited about that. And I am always working on poems in hopes of putting together another collection.

7. I recently saw your book Heather Has Two Mommies (the groundbreaking 1989 children's book) referred to as "a banned book legend." Were you surprised by the incredibly heated response to this picture book? What has been the experience of authoring a book that was simultaneously so celebrated by the queer community and so resisted by some other communities? 

Buy this bookLN: Because it was so difficult to get the book published (a friend and I wound up publishing the book ourselves and it was funded by a large number of small donations) I didn't think anyone would really care that much about it. But of course, I was wrong. The book was both celebrated and protested all across the country. I was very surprised by the strong reaction; I was very naive. I am proud that my book sparked a nation-wide dialogue about families with same-sex parents. Most of all, I am happy that the book meant so much to so many children. Since the book was first published 24 years ago, many of the children who read it when they were growing up are now young adults. I often speak on college campuses and I have had many college students come up to me and say, "I read Heather Has Two Mommies when I was little and it was my favorite book." That thrills me. With all the strong reactions to Heather, it's easy to forget that the book's primary audience is children, not adults. The book was written so that children with two moms could see themselves reflected in a piece of literature and find comfort in that. I am happy that the book seems to have done its job.

8. Your upcoming Visiting Lecture in Human Rights at the University of Alberta is titled "It Takes a Village to Raise an Activist."  Without asking you to give too much away, is there anything that you'd like to tell folks about this lecture?

LN: Writing the lecture was a good opportunity for me to look back and see how far we've come and look ahead to see how far we have to go. I'll be presenting the lecture via power point with about 100 images. I hope my words teach and inspire others to social action.

BookcoverPlease check out Lesléa's website for more information and a complete bibliography of amazing books to check out, as well as interviews, more information on mentoring, and other fun stuff.   

The upcoming Visiting Lecture in Human Rights will be taking place Wednesday, March 27 at 7:30 pm at the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, U of A, Room 1- 430  For more details:

See you all there!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

You know how some days, your kitchen ceiling starts raining at 7 a.m., and you end up having to call the fire department who come and break in your neighbours doors to find out why there's a growing sea in your apartment, and your kids are freaking out, and you are freaking out because, tough femme though you are, you have no earthly idea what to do when water starts pouring out of your light fixtures, and at that moment, you realize that you are completely alone in this, and you spend the morning using every towel, blanket and sheet you own trying in vain to mop up the mess while simultaneously watching your kids, and then have to drag them around replacing rugs that got ruined so you bribe them with ice cream at Ikea but they act out anyways, and then when it comes time to trade-off with your ex, your Boy-o freaks out completely and even though he's been asking when he gets to see Mommy all week, begs you to let him stay with you and he's crying and screaming and you can't reason with him and end up having to close the door on him while your ex takes him to the car because you don't know what else to do and then you go inside and close your apartment door and cry because you just got your ass kicked by Saturday and shut the door in the face of your hysterical child who was reaching for you?

I fucking hate those days.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Say Whaaat?

So last week, I was doing my thing (which is to say, I was stumbling along through the week like I normally do), when I got this email in my inbox.

<<Dear Mama T;

I am writing to you after finding your blog "A queer family grows in redneckville." As one of Edmonton's finest writers on the topic of LGBT-families, I wanted to invite you to speak with award-winning writer and LGBT activist Lesléa Newman. She will be the guest of honour at the University of Alberta later this month, where she will present a free lecture on human rights. We would love to give you the chance to speak to her earlier, to give you and your readers an advance preview of her lecture.

Lesléa’s work is more important now than ever before. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but sexual minorities are still fighting to have their rights acknowledged. As equal marriage is enshrined across North America, the struggle will shift from fighting unjust laws, to building an inclusive, LGBT-friendly culture. This work begins with our children, in our nation’s great libraries and classrooms.

For several decades, Lesléa has been building the foundations of this inclusive culture. In 1989 she broke new ground with Heather Has Two Mommies, the first published children's book to portray a loving family with two lesbian parents. Initially self-financed, it quickly became an underground bestseller, overcoming frequent censorship challenges. She has continued to publish many charming books with LGBT families, including Mommy, Mama, and Me and Donovan’s Big Day.

Lesléa’s poetry and short stories are loved by older audiences too. Her latest, the Stonewall Honour Book October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, is a poem cycle commemorating Matthew Shepard's impact in the years since his tragic murder. Last year, A Letter To Harvey Milk was adapted for the stage at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. A student of Allen Ginsberg, she is now a professor at Spalding University's brief-residency MFA where she teaches writing for children and young adults.

Event Details

Lesléa Newman: Award-winning author, poet and lesbian & gay rights activist
Wednesday, March 27 at 7:30 pm
Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science 1-430

If you have any questions, or would like to set up an interview, please don't hesitate to get in touch. I look forward to hearing back from you! >>


MKay. First reaction - this is the nicest email ever.  

Second reaction - Oh, do I EVER know who Lesléa Newman is! My babies have been raised on her kids books. We have all of 'em. In so many ways, Lesléa's work has been ground-breaking, and on a personal level, so important to me and to my littles.

Third reaction - ummmmm. 'One of Edmonton's finest writers on the topic of LGBT families'? Ummmmm. Thank you? Ummmmmm. Are we talking about the same blog? 'Cause this sort of feels like the time when popular 'Brad' asked me out thinking I was somebody else in the 7th grade (I don't know why I put his name in scare quotes. His name was actually Brad, and he was an enormous asshole, at least the junior high variety. ONe can hope he grew into a decent human being later on).  Also - I feel like I might be one of the only writers about LGBT families in Edmonton. Also, also - I'm not sure I have enough readership to really help get the word out about Lesléa's amazing work and her upcoming lecture of awesomeness. Also, also, also, my blog is only just sometimes about queer families and often about gazing at my navel and it's really not actually that good - I don't even have time to edit! and, and, and, and..... but, but, but, but......

Fourth reaction - Tash. Shut up. Just shut-up. Just stop. Just say thank you. And yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, you would love to interview Lesléa Newman. Moreover, you will endeavour to make said interview at least slightly less neurotic than your regular blog.

Fifth reaction - Holy cow! I'm gonna interview Lesléa Newman for my blog next week. Stay tuned, people.... 

And for the love of all things wonderful - MARK MARCH 27th ON YOUR CALENDARS! Buy her books (above) and get them signed. Do it. You know you want to.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

update in spring school madness

Nothing profound to note, and too busy for much good posting at the moment.  Update in the briefest: Surviving - but rather by the skin of my teeth. Overwhelmed, but still digging out. Sad, but persisting.  Not exactly working it. But definitely working. And constantly trying to remind myself that balance and time with the kids is more important than an A.  Balance, Tash. Balance. (**Ha! High wire balancing act, maybe...)

Anyhow - onward mama marchin'.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Tuesday That Feels Like a Wednesday Poem - Final Notations by Adrienne RIch

Adrienne Rich



it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple

it will touch through your ribs, it will take all your heart
it will not be long, it will occupy your thought
as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied
it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple

You are coming into us who cannot withstand you
you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you
you are taking parts of us into places never planned
you are going far away with pieces of our lives

it will be short, it will take all your breath
it will not be simple, it will become your will


Monday, March 11, 2013

Ft Edmonton Freaks (Repost from 2011)

Fort Edmonton Park Freak Show...

I went to visit Fort Edmonton Park (heretofore referred to as FEP for brevity!) with some friends and our kiddos yesterday, I will shamefacedly admit, for the very first time.  It`s a great place for kidlets, and as it turns out, a kinda fun hang-out for me too.  In addition to having a ridiculous amount of fun riding the carousel with the tots (what is it about carousels that transports you immediately back to childhood, I wonder?), I also greatly enjoyed checking out banners up representing an old-fashioned circus-act freak show.  As soon as I saw the freak show signs, I felt this nerdy little rush - they sort of transported back in time to thesis-land, in which I spent an inordinate amount of time studying public representations of otherness (in my case, the fat female body, but the hairy female body, and the gender 'deviant' body also fit well into similar frames of analysis).   I think the transportation back in time, if that's what I'm going to call it, stems from the fact that I was quite influenced by an  essay about 'freak show fat lady' Katie Dierlan, called: "'She's so fat': Facing the Fat Lady at Coney Island's Sideshows by the Sea" in which  Sharon Mazur talks about the ways in which Dierlan, through the use of using her fatness as performance, and through monologue, both reifies and strains vigourously against stereotypes about femininity and fatness.  Mazur argues that this is ultimately achieved by making her audience feel uncomfortable, and in so doing, forcing them to think about, and potentially reassess what it is they think they know about fatness.  I won't get into to the nitty-gritty of all the theories of why that is, because the only person that would excite is me.

Suffice it to say, the freak show posters got me thinking.  And I wondered if the posters at FEP could be transgressive like Dierlan's freak show act - after all, they just sit there as static depictions of 'abnormality', while Dierlan's act is a living, breathing being, interacting with and purposefully challenging an audience.  Do these banners have the potential to challenge people's preconceived ideas about fatness and gender norms, or do they just make folks breathe a sigh of relief that they aren't that bearded lady, that fat woman, that questionably gendered person?  I'm not really sure.  What I do know, at the risk of sounding even more of a geek-buster than usual, is that I made my friend take a picture of me underneath the Lotta Lady poster, which I adore (because 1. really, folks, who doesn't want more lady?!, and 2. in many, many ways, I'm a whole lotta girl too).  And I'm also aware that I got a funny look or two while doing it.  (As in, why is that crazy chick holding her arms up in the air, pointing and grinning like a fool underneath that poster of that fat lady?).  I wonder if other folks even stop to take notice of the freak show acts at all.  What I do know is that they made me feel immediately comfortable.  At home.   

Whether other folks recognize themselves in the sideshow acts or not, those freaks, those are my people..