Yes, and: Why I Play in a Female-Fronted Rock Band

(Photo: the black umbrella)

LXRY is a successful experiment in gender justice. It is about two people coming from backgrounds where full self-expression was hindered, by the army, by communism, or by society itself. It is about the luxury that we have in the West to be able to say what we want, when we want, how we want. And so we do this.

As many musicians in the city, I have gone through what I call the “craigslist” phase. This is a period of any musician’s life when scouring the classifieds in search of a musical connection seems like the appropriate thing to do. Sure, I had gone to open jams, and connected with folks here and there, but there was something that clicked when I met Bandana, on craigslist.

At no point in the time it took to correspond together did I ask myself whether working with a woman, working towards a collective goal with a woman, or working towards collective artistic fulfillment with a woman was ever worth it. It just seemed normal. We connected through our love for early 90’s grunge, community- and youth-oriented initiatives, and being loud.

We met, and we played. It was that simple. We used the improv principle of yes, and to facilitate our sessions. The yes, and principle is simple: whatever the idea, you treat it with the same approach, no matter what. You work with it until it either doesn’t make sense, makes perfect sense, or is just a moment in time. In this way, we’ve naturally established a safe working space for our collective creative process to thrive, be stifled, and exist.

There is nothing special about me. I simply believe that we should all be treated as equals. This is what LXRY is to me.

(PS: Bandana has this to say about her experience, in music, in uprooting and moving – lots – and in creating safe spaces for self-expression. You’ll be happy that you read it.)

recent article by Derek Clifton suggests that there are 11 rules to consider in being a male feminist – which I wouldn’t go so far as to label myself. It is a timeless article. Yet, while each rule is important – and each on its own merits a discussion – in one regard or the other it’s just too complex to approach this conversation this way. If we truly want to work towards gender justice and a happy-feel-good place where everyone is accepted for who they are, compensated equally for equal work, treated fairly from one situation to the next, etc., we need less rules. The rules, norms, and stereotypes of such a rubric – specifically one that is attempting to war with the pervasive power dynamics of gender – hinder this kind of thing from happening.

We need to rethink what it means to be human, and to coexist with each other without preconceived notions of what that entails.

To do this, it’s much more simple:

1) Open Your Ears, Expand Your Perception – listen to what people are saying while they are saying it. Stop thinking about what you want to say while that is happening. No dialogue happens this way. Use the yes, and principle. Learn to discover, be surprised, and be open to all that is around you.

2) Humility Wins Every Time – Consider (and this may be hard for most of us) that the way you do things could be tweaked. That’s hard, even for me, but 7 billion people makes for a whole lot of perspectives.

That’s it.

Oh, yeah, and the shameless plug for our band, in case you were wondering:

Anyone out there have a similar story? Have you worked successfully or unsuccessfully with a member of the opposite sex? What lessons did you learn? Would you add any points on coexisting?


Tony Porter – ‘A Call to Men’

(Photo: TED Talks)

I want you to imagine yourself being hooked up to a direct line to wisdom. Imagine that every word you hear fills your brain, and travels through your whole body down to your feet. After the long drive to twinkle-toe town, it returns to your intelligence, where it remains.

Now you know what hearing Tony Porter feels like. Read on:

“This is the love of my life, my daughter Jade.

The world I envision for her:

How do I want men to be acting and behaving?

I need you on board. I need you with me. I need you working with me and me working with you, on how we raise our sons, and teach them to be men.

That it’s OK to not be dominating.

That it’s OK to have feelings and emotions.

That it’s OK to promote equality.

That it’s OK to have women that are just friends and that’s it.

That it’s OK to be whole.

That my liberation as a man, is tied to your liberation as a woman.”

Tony is splendid in his candor, his realness, and his message.

Take 20 minutes to watch this. You’ll see what I mean.

It is a worthy reminder that we need to constantly be on point with this conversation. Local Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi – his now-public saga, and the lives of numerous women – is just a high profile example of what goes on every day. You may even know someone right now that is going through it. Just because the media chooses to focus attention on any given means nothing. It’s called an availability heuristic – look it up. It means that the problem of violence against women is still rampant, and that the work of men like Tony is that much more important to maintain moving forward.

Thank you, Tony Porter, for serving as a beacon of light so that our ships may safely pass.

Check out more on A Call to Men: Working to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.

Diversity, the New Canada, and Jian Ghomeshi

(Photo: Canadian Design Resource)

“My honest feeling is that the audience is always right. The audience will always know, sense a situation, and decide whether they agree with what’s happening or not.” – Jian Ghomeshi, in interview with George Stromboulopoulos, 2012

They certainly do, Jian, they certainly do.

Full disclosure: I love the CBC.

For years, I have spent any given period of a 24-hour day listening in to its various programming, and getting to spend time with their on-air personalities. Some of the theme songs bring me back to being a little boy and sitting down for dinner. I have my immigrant mother to thank for sharing it with me, and making me feel that much more connected to this country. It is arguably the one institution in the country that holds it together.

“I would love to be in the media somehow, but it’ll never happen because my name is too funny. And I look a little weird, and my parents are from a strange place that everyone calls evil. So that’s not an option to me.” – Ghomeshi, same interview with Strombo.

As I write this, the current media focus is on Jian Ghomeshi, recently-fired host of the CBC show Q. It goes without saying that violence against anyone is deplorable.

There is no one personality that can be bigger than the CBC, and indeed, this scandal is not about that. I would think of Barbara Bud, Peter Gzowki, Paul Kennedy, or Anna-Maria Tremonti, before thinking of Jian. There is a calm lack of awkwardness, and ease of the role that they all share. That, and they’re all white.

So, the question begs to be asked, why was Jian sent on a rocket-like ascent through the echelons of CBC radio-hostdom? Was it simply hard work that got him there? Was it because he was the token minority at the party? Here’s where political correctness escapes me – or maybe it did already.

The conversation is not about him being bigger than the CBC, or about domestic violence – I’ll qualify that by saying that the latter is a conversation that should always be at the forefront of society, not just to say hi by way of celebrity. The sensational nature of those conversations will end with the media cycle as quickly as they began. If we wanted to address violence against women properly, we would. We have the means.

This is a conversation about the New Canada.

In a world where our recent municipal election garnered less than 25% of the seats for women representatives, while more than half of the population is female, it should come as no surprise that this is the case. In most elections, this holds similarly. In hiring practices, the statement ‘we are an equal opportunity employer’ indicates the very existence of an equality problem itself.

As Canada continues down the unpaved road of multiculturalism, Jian Ghomeshi is CBC’s experiment gone wrong. Is this the face of New Canada? The self-described “First Persian-Canadian New Wave Author?” We have some thinking, and talking to do. And of course, more construction (it is Canada after all).

If nothing else, he represents CBC’s necessary attempt to capture the youth audience and reframe themselves as intercultural and inclusive. With him come various notions, values, and ideas representing his worldview. We all have them. Maybe it’s what role a man has, and what child-rearing looks like. Maybe it’s about self-expression. Given the public reaction, the problem is clear: true cultural integration takes more than one generation to occur. You can’t force it.

If true equality of opportunity existed, then hundreds would have qualified for the job of host of Q. Was the pool of applicants or potential hosts so small that Jian needed to be baptized by fire? Obviously, there are countless barriers to newcomers to this country, so let’s stop pretending we are where we want to be 50 years from now. We need to focus on the pulse on what it means to be Canadian. These are the issues and values that matter. Jian is just a drop in a bucket filled with millions of other Canadians, who have their own places of origin, issues, outlets, and problems.

Let’s take a stroll through the halls of the CBC, or government houses or councils, or even the halls of the Royal York Hotel. Tell me who you see. This is the true marker of the dominant discourse and power structure, and while the CBC is progressive in its programming, it may take some time for it’s public personalities (on radio) to feel totally comfortable in the role, and the audience comfortable with them. Until the faces of Bill Reid, Adrienne Clarkson, George Elliott Clarke, or Laura Secord are on our money, this is where we will be.

Canada is said to be multicultural and it is, in Toronto. And even then, pockets of culture exist. In no place will you get a truly multicultural experience, except maybe shopping at IKEA.

(On a side note, is it just me, or is there something inherently wrong in suing a publicly-funded institution like the CBC for $55 million? That’s like trying to milk $1000 from each of your listeners directly.)

What do you think? Is Canada truly multicultural? What does the word even mean? Is there a difference between tolerance and acceptance?

Diesel and the Idiocy of the ‘Global Warming Ready’ Campaign

(Photos: Found at, after a google search for stupid ideas)

(Author’s disclosure: I have not been paid by the company featured in this post or anyone else for that matter.)

I’ve long wanted to write something about advertising and the impact it has on us as a society, and on our gender roles. I heard a quote somewhere (I forget where) saying that advertising is the greatest form of education that isn’t actually called education. How true those words are. This is a rant that I’ve been holding onto for years, forgetting and remembering from time to time. I’d like to get this out into the world – how advertising as education makes equality and all justice (social, environmental, gender) that much harder for us all to achieve.

I remember waiting for the subway on day back in 2007. By this point, advertisers had innovated to create the all consuming, cover-it-all physical ads that are now seemingly normal. No longer did ads only belong in defined physical frames. Depending on the flexibility of a landlord, adverts could now cover anything (stairs, walls, ceilings, or entire buildings – legally or illegally). And so, while waiting for the subway, I spent 3 minutes wondering “what the hell are you thinking?”

Diesel’s Global Warming Ready campaign was built on the notion of style being the most important element of society – clearly. Some, and certainly the creative directors, would suggest that they were drawing attention to an important issue. Others, like me, would suggest that their business model doesn’t really give a shit about global warming. It can’t.

Without question, Diesel also caters to a specific market. My guess is that their audience doesn’t give a shit about the environment, either. And why would they?

Exhibit A

Tropical Midwest

Tropical South Dakota

Hey now, if I was in South Dakota, and found myself at eye level with Mount Rushmore, my first thought would definitely be “how’s my hair?” or “maybe she needs some lotion” not “holy shit, where’s my next meal coming from?” Or maybe these two are making the best of the inevitable, and should really dress well for it – if indeed, that is what well-dressed looks like. How progressive. It is this severe disconnect that is reinforced by advertising on a day-to-day basis that we all have to combat.

Exhibit B

Parrots in Moscow

Parrots in Moscow

I’m sure locals would love to see Parrots in Moscow, really. These two are surely enjoying the tropical climate, and not having to wear fur in the oppressive Russian winter. Amazingly, parrots are some of the most polite creatures in the world – pigeons could learn a thing or to about considerate defecation practices. How realistic.

Exhibit C

N why?

N why?

Diesel’s reference to romance, and love. Do those satellite dishes in the background even work any more?

It’s clear that 7 years later, nothing has changed with respect to gender stereotypes, roles, and objectification – but that’s to blame on global warming, naturally.

So, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that they were drawing attention to an important cause, which would be the minimum acceptable rationale for this campaign. But wait, you might ask, how can I maintain my glamorous lifestyle without making any changes? Try denial. Or try reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. You’ll find an answer there, and it will cost you less than a pair of jeans.

In this Torontoist post, Christopher Bird says it all: “…the Diesel campaign isn’t going to convince anybody that global warming is a problem, and more likely will convince a few stupid – but crucial – people that it isn’t.”

So what’s the key takeaway? The seemingly fundamental disconnect between reality and consumerism that is necessary for advertising to work. It wreaks havoc on our own points of reference, and rears its uninvited head at the dinner party where one has to contemplate notions and images of self. It normalizes the unnatural and the fantasy. It happens every damn day.

And to think, if all of the energy that went into selling to the masses went into something more useful, like, I don’t know, actual sustainability or education.

I’m thinking that instead of jeans, or lotion, or money, or crap that is really overpriced, people might need this instead in their times of catastrophe.



(Photo: William Colgin)

Phil Jackson – Coach, Mentor, Teacher, ‘Zen Master’

(Photo: Mark Ralston; AFP; Getty Images)

“If you meet the Buddha in the lane, make sure you feed him the ball.” – Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson is the man. He is without question the best coach in NBA history, leading Kobe and Mike (and Shaq) to multiple championships. Some would say he couldn’t have done it without them. I would argue the reverse: championship teams always have great players on them. He has replicated the pinnacle of success more times than any NBA coach ever, and has now embarked upon on the laborious task of rebuilding the New York Knicks (a storied franchise that has flirted with mediocrity over the past 10+ years).

Why is he the TPM Progressive of the Month?

In the big business of professional sports, coaches are the balance-makers between revenue generation and player development. They are given a small army of players, and expected to make it work. Focus too heavily on one aspect, and the other suffers (which might mean your job). In the case of markets where winning isn’t required (see Toronto for more), this pressure isn’t as high.

So, what distinguishes Jackson from his other coaches?

1. Coaches are supposed to win – not only did he win, he fundamentally applied a new selfless system (the Triangle offense) to that end. It forces players to work together, and to read each other, for the best shot possible. We can never extricate his successes from the players he worked with, but that is really a moot point, isn’t it? Eleven championship rings speak loudly.

2. Good coaches are supposed to inspire and motivate – this he did. Through his work, he activates the Situational Leadership model which is the antithesis to the ‘one size fits all’ mentoring and coaching approach. This required him to establish authentic connections to his players, for example making recommendations on what books to read at specific points in time, that were relevant to each player. This is really a tactic that can only be effective by truly knowing what makes someone tick. It is in blending elements of indigenous and Buddhist spirituality together that Jackson has essentially created a new model of leadership development, and in doing so, garnered the title of ‘Zen Master’. This ultimately leads to…

3. ESPN’s Chris Broussard stating that, “[b]eing a great NBA coach is about managing egos, earning your players’ respect, developing team chemistry, making (in-game and off-day) adjustments, and emphasizing the right things. And no one’s ever done all that better than Jackson.”

4. Jackson brought together a group of men who operate in a testosterone-driven environment – complete with traditional gender roles, competitive fangs, and stereotypes of manliness – to open up, hold hands, meditate, and transcend the individual for the group.

While mindfulness has been thrown around as a buzz word, here’s the thing – it works. Applying it to your personal life, daily practice, business, or management strategy helps you achieve great things. It quiets out the noise and lets you and your team focus on the goal at hand: whether greater productivity or inner peace.

The ‘Jackson School of Management’ translates off the court as well – see this Forbes article on Jackson.

I encourage you to read up on Phil Jackson, TPM’s Progressive of the Month. Search for the book at a local public library, or better yet, grab it from your local bookstore.

Selected bibliography:

Sacred Hoops

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success

Elections, Values, and Stone Walls

(Photo: City of Toronto Archives, SC 268, Item 410)

Today is election day in Toronto.

It is a day when, in spite of the archaic electoral system we use, citizens are able to engage most directly with their government. A day that quite literally counts our respective values, ideas, and visions for what this city should be. 4 years ago, we were wondering how the hell someone like Rob Ford ascended to power, and then spent the next 4 years trying to ensure it would`t happen again. At least, those of us who didn’t vote for him.

The split in that election – those who voted for and against #rofo – was polarizing. Some would say that Mike Harris’ forceful 1998 amalgamation – in which Toronto became ‘the Megacity’ – is in large part why something like this could happen. This graphic shows the split, and above all, is a really strong argument to reverse amalgamation, or at least to change our electoral system.

Essentially, the city hall environment is one where multiple values and visions of the citizenry are represented and all grapple for oxygen while being engulfed by the smoke cloud of amalgamation (or Robbie and Dougie’s Friday night). Below is a video of Councillors Denzil-Minnan Wong, Josh Matlow, Kristyn Wong-Tam, and Norm Kelly fighting the ugly side of amalgamation, on any given day between 2010-2014:

It’s easy to say that #rofo has provided for a lot of easy, sensationalist media content. Indeed, that was my first thought upon hearing that he won the 2010 mayorship. We have had nothing if not countless opportunities to be the butt of international jokes (on a side note, I am glad he is now receiving the help that he has so clearly needed, both physically and mentally. The first step is always the hardest):

Jon Stewart – forward to 3:10 for #rofo

and Jon Oliver –

and Jimmy Kimmel –

Maybe it’s time we let another city take the comedy stage?

I digress. This is a conversation about values.

I`m reminded of Thanksgiving Weekend in 2011 which I spent up at Hart House Farm – about 45 minutes from Toronto. It is one of the most beautiful spots I`ve been to, and a place near and dear to me. Complete with a Finnish Sauna and caves to wander and get lost in, it sits on 150-acres of tranquility and thought-provoking silence. I was lucky enough to be part of the team that rebuilt the century-old dry stone wall that lines the entrance to the Farm. I was also amazed by the sheer speed in which stone amphitheater, 100-foot wall, and several other dry stone structures seemingly appeared from thin air. They were built by values of hard work, teamwork, and commitment. 3 years later, I met a new friend through Thanksgiving and Hart House, but in a completely different context. We have spent the past year pontificating and gesticulating wildly about notions of place and purpose, and also about Hart House Farm. Subsequently, certain values have come out of those conversations: innovation, creativity, and community. The key takeaway from these discussions is that culture and purpose require a physical space to exist and to grow.

We’ve got that space in city hall.

And so, on the eve of our 2014 election, I’m reminded of the many conversations and values that we’ve shared over the past 4 years, as a city. I’m hopeful that the new stone walls we create together will not act as impediments to our dialogue and progress, but as symbols of what we can achieve together, through creative and committed teamwork.

To all of you out there: what are your stone walls and values? What kind of city do you see?

The 3 Most Destructive Words a Boy Hears

Be. A. Man.Joe Ehrmann, Coach and Former NFL Player, The Mask I Live In

In 2011, director Jennifer Siebel Newsom produced the feature-length documentary Miss Representation, and in so doing begun (or simply contributed – depending on who you ask) a “movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness towards change.”

I chose to screen Miss Representation later that year with a host of colleagues (mostly female) that wanted to explore the issues raised by the film: gender injustices that limit girls in modern Western culture; media and advertising and its effects on girls, for examples. It provided for much post-film dialogue where we facilitated some very intense discussion groups. The thinking was that more of these kinds of conversations were needed.

Yet, that is only one side of this issue’s coin. The other acknowledges that much work needs to be done in order to address and challenge the same destructive narrative for Western society’s boys and men: the bravado, the code, the veiling of true emotions we’ve been told aren’t “manly”. They are absolutely on point for highlighting that the intersectionality of this conversation needs to be in focus. Not doing so would make Miss Representation an effort in vain.

Enter The Mask You Live In

I am very much looking forward to this film, its potential impact in the English-speaking world, and for the conversations it will spark. When we (all) feel encouraged and supported in being vulnerable enough to share our true thoughts, emotions, and ideas in a safe and positive space – that which is so close to our hearts – true understanding can really occur. I know, this sounds all soft and easy, but trust me, it’s not. If the cultural norms and fronts that have stayed the course of time are still with us, it’s clearly not.

While much of the themes can hold true across cultures, we need to be mindful that this documentary should not serve as a blanket for masculinity world-wide. Let’s understand that this conversation talks largely about American masculinity. In fact, the protective, dominant, and detached male archetype has endured this long for a reason. It’s just time we revisit it’s purpose in our modern society.

What do you think are the most destructive words or phrases a boy or man hears?