Toronto was, it turned out, the perfect place to visit after the horror and shame of what America did last week. Toronto people being polite, organized, patient and just civilized generally - a bit like Seattle actually, though far more multicultural (Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities on the planet actually with 50% of its population foreign-born)....Toronto also survived it's own harrowing experience with an off-the-rails political personality in late conservative populist Mayor Rob Ford (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Ford), giving me a flicker of hope that we can get through this nightmare. Of course, a mayor is not a president, and Rob Ford actually had political experience, and while undisciplined in his remarks and a wreck in his personal life, was never considered a xenophobe, in fact representing a district that was 50% immigrant. Having said that, his scandal-ridden tenure led to accusations of domestic violence, prostitution, alcoholism and crack-smoking, to name just a few
But civilization has prevailed in Toronto and I traveled here for the Naked Heart Book Festival, which was the most diverse book fair I've ever been to, compounding the shame I felt for my own country which doesn't seem capable of pulling this off. It was really glorious to see something that I've heard talked about for the last 20 years actually happening before my eyes. Literally dozens of trans people and men and women who were East Indian, African, Chinese and Filipino, Mexican and indigenous, etc. - and young! And not just one or two representatives of each group but dozens of people. It was like being in the world that I want to be in, that I'm usually in back at LAANE where I work. One of the main reasons I surmise, besides a more positive, inclusive attitude, is the availability of money for cultural events and the arts that (yeah say it - my crappy country) never provides. Funds allow young people and immigrants and people of color and all manner of broke writers (often the best) to attend and take part. Such people can rarely afford America's privatized, overpriced everything that yes, not only prevents, but actively excludes, damages and dumbs down what (increasingly for-profit) culture exists. You have to be part of academia to get any money to get you to book fairs in the US, and that's a whole nother can of worms involving privilege and politics, and a whole bunch of things that don't equate with the best writing.
The Latinx Panel featuring a super interesting and diverse array of Latin voices, representing Puerto Rico, Mexico, Argentina and Chile
Michael Erickson (who organized the festival, with a big crew of volunteers and the generous support of the Canada and Toronto Councils for the Arts. Michael is a true visionary and a high energy, generous person who bolstered my belief that the better angels of our nature can overcome all adversities, even a disastrous election). Michael is pictured here with Samuel Delaney, an amazingly accomplished elder writer of science fiction, unabashedly queer, wise, with that magic in his eyes. His standing-room only event was really something - everything he said was worth writing down, from funny comments on the misery of writing to things like "you have to be happy at least once in awhile so you know how to write about it," and answering a question about how to write good erotica, he quipped "pay attention while you're having sex!"
My friend and mentor Felice Picano, one of the pioneers of gay lit with his small presses and dozens of books spanning 5 decades, was interviewed by Jeffrey Round, a fine writer who I stayed with in the East End
A lesser known fellow, reading from his new book....
Jeffrey's house is one of these duplexes...I slept in the basement. I love dungeons. I had 4 happy, painless days here, which is a rarity for me these days...
I also enjoyed his roommate, Christian Baines, an Australian writer who took part in the book fair.
Jeffrey made us all Chicken Mole and invited over the legendary Ian Young, author of numerous important books and someone I feel very connected to on many levels and who I saw here with his partner Wulf the last time I came through Toronto 3 years ago.
l to r: Felice Picano, Ian Young, Wulf, moi, Jeffrey....Christian was on photo duty
Architecture, non-chain coffeeshops and public trans!! My tastes are simple really.
Jeffrey took me out to the Guild Inn Park, which is on the grounds of a former hotel and now the final resting place of many of the beautiful ornate facades, etc. of Toronto's early 20th c. buildings that got torn down....ghostly, peaceful, serene, sitting on a bluff over Lake Ontario
They do Shakespeare here in the summer :)
I had a little time Friday to look around the center city, and while loving the building, I skipped the Natural History Museum ....
....and headed for the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) as Jeffrey had raved to me about some Canadian artists called the "Group of Seven who aimed to develop the first distinctly Canadian style of painting."
Tom Thompson, who spent a lot of his life canoeing through the northwoods...finally vanishing mysteriously...painted the below works
Some other works I enjoyed ...
Man becoming a thunderbird
This artist wanted to depict what Crazy Horse wore. I burst into tears - always a weird experience...the last time was when I saw the below photo of a 12-yr-old Mexican boy with a gay uncle who halted 11,000 rightwing anti-gay marriage religious types in Guanajuato earlier this year
Such things always surprise me as I don't cry easy...but some things speak directly to your soul. Queer allies are something that always does it, and I've read a lot about Crazy Horse and the Oglala, and feel connected through my sweatlodge practice as well as my cross-country bike trip that involved him in a story too long to tell... so I wrote it instead in A Horse Named Sorrow
What Black Elk said: "..he was a queer man and would go about the village without noticing people or saying anything. In his own teepee he would joke, and when he was on the warpath with a small party, he would joke to make his warriors feel good. But around the village he hardly ever noticed anybody, except little children. All the Lakotas like to dance and sing; but he never joined a dance, and they say nobody ever heard him sing. But everybody liked him, and they would do anything he wanted or go anywhere he said"
It's the freedom that makes Crazy Horse a great American hero...things he said when they tried to get him to settle on a reservation, like "Work? What is this work? I live." Thank you, Crazy Horse, my thoughts exactly. So much of America is posited on what it destroyed. It's all about wanting something and having no concept of being it. Consumerism explained. And yes, I'm talking about freedom. Sad what we've come to.
But I had to places to go, and it was a short walk to meet with John Gray at the Canadian Music Center (I love real cities after being in LA for so long where you basically can't have an urban experience of any real quality, urbanity being about accessibility to culture and people).
John Gray, who is the center's archivist and an accomplished composer, showed me around (he loves microphones, raving about a Latvian pair and some other German ones). We closed up and went off to Mullins Pub where he read to me from his autobiography. ...fascinating life: growing up on a boat with his painter father, meeting JFK as a boy at the White House when the Kennedys bought one of his father's paintings (John was about 9 and said JFK mussed his hair and it annoyed him as men were always doing that)
Looking back across that giant lake to what feels right now like a land of shame and meanness...talking to a nice Canadian man...he sat down next to me and I moved my computer cover from the seat ...he was actually sitting two seats away and said politely 'that's ok, you dont have to move it.' I told him: 'Well, I appreciate the politeness here, it's kind of how I am'. And we started a conversation about it, and he agreed with me as he travels to the states a lot. We talked about Canada and the book fair and the arts budget, which he thinks is too generous. We agreed that balance is good. He asked me what to expect from Salt Lake City, where we're both headed. I've been a few times. I said they're likely more polite than California, but it's an American city and religious, so it's boring. The Rafters basketball team has been walking by as we speak - I'm not a fan, so it's just tall people. There are young folks scurrying about and asking for autographs and I'm just thinking, how weird to be that tall and does it cause them pain eventually to live in bodies that big?
I'm sad to go home, I feel disappointed and angry at humanity, I worry about the little kids - especially the Mexican, Central American and Middle Eastern ones.
It was sort of sweet to be here when Leonard Cohen passed away. It sounds like he went peacefully. I met him once at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center. I'd gone there to see my friend who was a journalist who'd become a monk so he could write about the experience. He fell in love with a nun and they kicked him out for breaking his vows. I didn't know this when I visited, so I knocked on the door. And who answered it? Leonard Cohen. He said Larry wasn't there anymore.
This is sort of typical for me. I meet my creative heroes in the strangest ways. I once followed Allen Ginsberg around North Beach as he stopped to peer in windows on a foggy night. I passed Gary Snyder on a trail over Bishop Pass in the High Sierra. I just said "Hi", thinking 'If you meet the Buddha on the road, short of killing him, you can at least not make a big deal out of him'. I never acknowledged I was a fan to any of them, thinking they must get that all the time and I want to be one of the ones who doesn't treat them that way
I'll leave you with another song which always cuts right to what's it really all about...it's the truest song ever written about love and friendship and loneliness