Tuesday, July 31, 2007

To Make Ya Feel Proud

As you all know, June has come and gone and is now a distant memory. What some of you may not know, is that during the month of June, the city of Toronto celebrated Gay Pride. This year's theme was Unstoppable! and for our first Pride in Toronto, it really exceded our wildest expectations.

First some fun facts courtesy of the Toronto Star:
$0-the cost of attending Pride
$99.1 million- the economic benefit to Toronto.
5,000- the number of people marching the parade
144- the number of parade floats
1 million- estimated attendance of the weeklong Pride festival
27- the number of years Pride has been happening in the city
12- the number of city blocks involved in the festival

The week after the festival I kept hearing one opinion that was repeated so often that it might have well been a fun fact. That was that the Pride festival is known to be the most welcoming and friendly of all the celebrations in Toronto. It actually made me a little proud to hear that! I can believe it too because the crowds, while mostly gay, held a surprising number of clearly heterosexual men, women and children who were looking for a good time. People wore rainbows in support of their gay friends or just gay people in general, instead of showing their sexual orientation. The mayor, city council and MPs marched in the parade and were cheered more wildly than any of the go-go boys in skimpy speedos.

One of the songs played throughout the festival was "What Have You Done Today (To Make Ya Feel Proud)?" Instead of focusing on the many faults I have, the lyrics challenged me to think about daily actions I take that make me proud.

I find that I make a special effort everyday to represent myself well from the time I walk out of my apartment door until I return again at night. I hold the elevator door for people following behind me. I always give up my seat for an older person (or a tired-looking woman, especially if she is wearing heels!). I slow down enough that I don't accidentally push someone or cut in their way. I say sweetly "Excuse me" when I have to get by. When ordering my meal, I answer "yes, please" or "no, thank you" for clarifying questions. I (usually) refrain from using swear words in my daily interactions with people.

Most importantly I find that am proud for self-identifying. This is so important because I could easily blend in with the majority culture and benefit from the advantages that come with being part of a majority. However when I self-identify as being gay, I leave myself vulnerable to pre-conceptions people may or may not have of people like me. When I self-identify as American, that brings on a whole new bag of misconceptions. And finally when I self-identify as a Christian, sometimes whatever else I say will be held with some contempt or suspicion.

I receive this daily email devotional from PurposeDrivenLife.com. Sometimes it speaks to me, sometimes it doesn't. But recently one phrase did stand out to me and I wanted to share it with you. 'Notice Jesus didn’t say, “Love me,” as proof of our discipleship. He said, “Love one another, and that will show the world you belong to me.” ' It reminds me of this old hippie song that went "And they'll know we are Christians by our love." Isn’t it alarming, then, to think that Christians often known for what we are against, rather than what we’re for – and we are for the Good News of a love so “wide and long and high and deep” that it encompasses more than any of us could ever imagine. (Ephesians 3:18 NIV)

I like the idea of the next verse of this song being "And they'll know we are gay by our love." Not by the diseases we might have, the flags we might wave or the way we may have sex but by the compassion and love that we show each other and the communities around us. I think that would be amazing!

Furthermore the third verse could be "And they'll know we are American by our love." Not by the countries we invade, the power we wield or the movies we make but by the compassion and love we have for those inside as well as outside of our borders. It tears me up a little when I think of the amazing potential the United States has to affect positive change in the world.

So in closing, allow me to turn the question over to you- What have you done today to make you feel PROUD?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ring My Bell

People ask me all the time how I like living in Toronto. I always say I love it but am never able to put into words exactly why. I've mentioned different aspects of the city before but recently something happened to me that really encaptulated why I am in love with T-dot.

It was a drop-dead gorgeous Friday. The sun was in the sky, a cool breeze was blowing and the weekend was ahead of me. Instead of coming home to an empty apartment to fritter away the afternoon on the computer or in a book, I decided to walk back through the parks and stop off to admire the stained glass in the three big churches that have given Church Street its name.

My first stop was St. James Cathedral. This Anglican church has amazing stained glass and is the oldest congregation in the city. It has turned over part of their land to the city of Toronto for a beautiful 19th century garden and park.

Just up the street I found the Metropolitan United Church. I was happy that they hadn't closed yet and I could see inside of it as well. While I was looking around I was approached by an older gentleman who shyly introduced himself to me as the carillonneur of the church. Not sure what that meant, I did what I usually do - smiled, nodded and said, "oh, yes?" (Usually this opening gives people further opportunity to talk about themselves and meanwhile I can get the gist of what it is that they exactly do.) Following the script, he went on to say that he was going up the tower and would I care for a tour and demonstration? I hesitated for perhaps two seconds, not wanting to seem overeager you see, and then agreed. Two other men joined me up the very narrow twisting staircase. I was thankful that I did not suffer from vertigo.

At the top of the first flight of stairs it began to get warm. We got to see the practice keyboard which wasn't hooked up to the bells upstairs. Continuing up the second flight of stairs (thankful that I am a slim person) the heat increased to monumental proportions. We reached another landing finally (about 100 steps) and then went up a small set of stairs into a wonderfully airconditioned room. This room held the actual keyboard for playing the 54 carillon bells. I can only describe it as a lot of sticks that one has to vigorously hit with a fist or stomp with a foot to play. The energy it took for the carillonneur to play a short piece was amazing. He graciously let each of us try it out- imagine the whole city hearing your mistakes!

He took us further up a small ladder to see the actual bells themselves. They were amazing. The largest weighed 8 tons and was inscribed "May the spirit fo the Lord reach the heart of every one where the sound of these bells is heard." This set is one of the largest in Canada.

He then took us down the stairs again and out through the sanctuary (the church had since been closed to visitors). The organist (who looked to be 13 years old) was playing this piece on a magnificent 7,840 pipe Casavant, the largest pipe organ in Canada (pics). I got to see all the woodwork and stained glass upclose. It was breathtaking.

I thanked our guide profusely and continued my walk back, stopping briefly to tour St. Michael's Cathedral (home to Canada's largest English Catholic diocese) and Allen Gardens (The park is home to three varieties of squirrel, the gray, the black, and, unique to this park, the red tailed black squirrel.) I returned home tired but thankful that I took the road less traveled!

And that is (part of) why I love Toronto!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Me and My Umbrella

July has really been a crazy month for Danifesto. The song of the summer seems to be Rihanna's "Umbrella." It's one of those that my friend Dustin would refer to as an "earworm." We like the faster version that's being played on the radio 4-5 times a day but the link above will give you an idea.

You can imagine my surprise when it entered my head again this afternoon during Mass. The readings were about persistent prayer. Abraham asks God repeatedly to save Sodom and Gomorah. An annoying man knocking in the middle of the night eventually is given food. Jesus advises, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

In the homily, the priest said that these scriptures didn't mean that God wants us to nag Him into submission. He just wants to see how deeply we want the things we ask for in prayer. If it's really necessary, He will give it to us, for "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

The priest brought up futher point with this story (the original story I found here- amused how it changed in the retelling) : There once was a town that was stricken with drought. As a last resort all the churches in the area decided to join forces in one giant prayer ceremony. They brought their crosses, rosaries, Bibles, statues and all the religious items that they normallly used for worship. They prayed and prayed and then the rain miraculously came! All the objects were raised up in the sky in joyful thanksgiving. As the rain continued to pour down, they all noticed one small boy hold up what all the others had all forgotten to bring- an umbrella! He was the only one who believed in the outcome of their efforts!

Upon hearing again of the umbrella, I had to ponder about all my searches this year (both personal and professional) in this new country. What (or who) would be my umbrella?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Welcome to Canada!

As has been demonstrated before, I love lists. I also love Toronto. In honour of Canada Day and merge these two loves, I present to you, without further ado...
Canucks I Canut Help Lovin!

Lovely Lady Lyricists
Joni Mitchell - I first was exposed to her when I heard Tori Amos cover "A Case of You" on a radio interview saying that this was the person that really influenced her. Later, my cousin bought me the album Blue. I was really happy when she was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Alanis Morrisette- Before you start scoffing , just check out this hilariously brilliant ballad-style cover of the Black Eye Peas "My Humps." I also have good memories of discovering her hit single "You Outta Know" while working in the university library one summer. Also kudos to this Ottawan for her cameo in Sex in the City. Fun Fact: She played God in Dogma.
Loreena McKennitt- I got turned on to this singer from Manitoba when I was dating a girl in university. The relationship faded but I still dig McKennitt for turning Lord Tennyson's poem "Lady of Shalott" into an equally haunting song.
Sarah McLachlan- I fell in love with Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and even years later, it calms my soul when it's troubled. Her songs have been frequently remixed and played at clubs I frequent. She founded Lilith Fair which made a space for women in music to be heard and showcased. She has worked to fight poverty in Africa and joined other Canadian musicians for a concert benefitting the BC Cancer Foundation.
Tegan and Sarah- the identical twins rocked my world when I visited Ottawa (and Ottawa Pride) for the first time a few summers back. Since then I think I've recommended and/or burned copies of their music for about a half dozen of my friends! Fun Fact: Tegan and Sara had a guest appearance on the hit Showtime series, The L Word. The episode was entitled "Last Dance" which aired on March, 19, 2006.
Anne Murray - I love Danny's Song and You Needed Me. Fun Fact: Murray was the first Canadian female solo singer to reach #1 on the US charts.
Jann Arden- In addition to Insensitive, she's just come out with a whole album of covers, one that has Janis_Ian's At Seventeen and Dusty Springfield's Son of a Preacher Man.
Feist-She's just fun! Check out this video made all in one take. I also really enjoyed this BeeGee cover. Fun Fact: Former tour mate Bright Eyes has covered her work.
Deborah Cox- a native Torontarian, this diva rocked my club nights with "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here", "Absolutely Not", Fun Fact: She got her start as a backup vocalist for Céline Dion.
Melodic Males
Michael Buble' - I picked up his album at a convenience store on a road trip my partner and I were on from Sydney to Canberra. Love his voice. Fun Fact: Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees sang back up vocals on Bublé's version of the group's "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?".
Leonard Cohen- During university, I was housesitting for a boss of mine and I went through their vinyl collection. I was surprised when I came upon Jennifer Warnes' collection of Cohen songs in 1987, Famous Blue Raincoat. Previously, I had only heard the Tori Amos version. That got me interested in Leonard Cohen. Later, hearing a cover of his Halleujah, I was further intrigued. The original recording from 1984 is noted for containing explicit biblical references in the lyrics, alluding to David's harp-playing used to soothe King Saul (I Sam. 16:23), and his later affair with Bathsheba after watching her bathe from his roof. The line "she broke your throne and she cut your hair" is likely a reference to the source of Samson's strength from the Book of Judges.
Paul Anka - singer, songwriter and actor, I love him for writing "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," a song my mom seranaded me with in my childhood. Fun Facts: On the CW show Gilmore Girls, Lorelai named her new dog Paul Anka. Actor Jason Bateman is his son-in-law.
Rufus Wainright - not only is he a brilliant singer-songwriter, playing both the piano and guitar, but he is one of the few artists that have been openly gay from the very beginning. Fun Facts: He's also the same age as me and my coworker once made out with him at a party (having no idea who he was).
Brian Adams - There are so many songs but Summer of '69 will always be my favourite for private (yes I do have those) reasons. I also remember hearing "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" in the movie theatre for the first time. I thought it was really cool that it had rain sound affects. A minute later I realized there were no rain sound effects but there was a leaky roof! "When You're Gone" (with Melanie C) reminds me of an early crush that I had on an unattainable guy.
Gordon Lightfoot -This Ontarian folk singer, composer, lyricist and poet became one of the first Canadian singers to achieve real stardom in his own country without moving to the United States. I always liked If You Could Read My Mind when I was younger and remember the exact moment I heard the remix at the Metro in Wichita.

Easy on the Eyes
Jay Manuel- an openly gay native of Toronto, his cuteness and fabulous fashion sense caught my attention on America's Next Top Model and I'm thrilled he is hosting the Canadian version. Fun Fact: At 19, Manuel was diagnosed with sacroilitis, an inflamation of the sacroliliac joints, which connect the spine and pelvis. He was confined to a wheelchair and had to relearn how to walk.
Nathan Fillion- Edmonton, Alberta, I first noticed him in the show Two Guys and a Girl. Fun Fact: For fans of Lost, he appeared as Kevin, Kate's ex-husband.
Fabrizio Filippo- This Torontarian was Ethan, the sultry violinist who played his way into Justin's heart on Queer As Folk.
Chris Potter- Also from Toronto, he played David, Michael's hunky boyfriend on the first season of Queer as Folk.
Eric McCormack-another Toronto native, I will always remember him for being Will in Will and Grace. Fun Fact: Appeared in the Barenaked Ladies music video Pinch Me.
Adam Beach- a native Canadian from Manitoba, I loved/lusted him in Smoke Signals. He also was in Windtalkers and Flags of our Fathers. Pictures of him here.

The Cliks- Hailing from Toronto, this rock group with a transgendered lead made an awesome cover of Cry Me A River. You owe it to yourself to give them a listen. Fun Fact: I saw them open for the Indigo Girls for Toronto Pride.
Dan and Dean Caten- these Ontario identical twins are behind Dsquared2 designs. Fun Fact:In 2002, the brothers designed over 150 pieces for Madonna’s Drowned World Tour and "Don't Tell Me" music video.
William Shatner- From Montreal, he's been acting since 1950 and still going strong! Captain Kirk was a hero of mine from childhood. Fun Fact: He was cast as "Ranger Bill" on the Canadian version of the Howdy Doody Show.
Alan Thicke- actor, songwriter, game show host and talk-show emcee, this Ontarian will always be Kirk Cameron's dad to me (Jason Seaver, the patriarch on the ABC television series Growing Pains). Fun Fact: He has co-written over 40 TV theme songs, including The Facts of Life and Diff'rent Strokes.
Sarah Polley- Although I first noticed her in the fun flick Go, this native of Toronto has many credits to her name, most recently the film "Away From Her" that she adapted from a novel and directed. Fun Fact: Polley played the part of Ramona Quimby, in a series that Disney produced from the beloved Beverly Cleary series.
Yvonne DeCarlo- two words: Lily Munster Fun Fact: De Carlo's last-released big-screen appearance was as Aunt Rosa in the 1991 Sylvester Stallone comedy Oscar.
Alex Trebek- He is an icon due to his long running hosting of Jeopardy! Fun Fact: He holds a degree in Philosophy from University of Ottawa.
Michael J. Fox -Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties. Forever and always. Fun Fact: His middle name is actually Andrew. He wanted to avoid the Canadian joke "Michael eh? Fox" so picked the letter J.
Catherine O'Hara- I have loved her in every movie I've seen her in, most notably the Christopher Guest mockumentaries. Fun Fact: She wrote and performed songs in the 2003 film A Mighty Wind.

Of course the Canadians I love best are my friends! Happy Canada Day to all! I love you!