Act III: Post-prod

achouan:

This project has kept me busy these past months. There’s still a long way to go before it’s done, but with less pressing deadlines in the immediate, I may return to “Imagination by Reality” with new original content.

Originally posted on INDIA 25:

Working on INDIA 25 this summer was a blast. The project also took a significant amount of time and energy from each member. By mid-May, INDIA 25 became my full time summer job right up to the departure date and beyond. I had many days of working from waking until bedtime (usually on writing or graphics). Motivation to do the project justice got the better part of my weekends. All my energy went into the crowdfunding campaign, and gathering all the shooting equipment for the trip. Then, before I knew it, I was taking off for Delhi. Once in India, we were immersed in the project at every moment.

Like any project, INDIA 25 had its set of realities that did not meet expectations. I expected Internet connections would be more readily available. I also expected updating our various platforms would be less time consuming. And of course, I expected…

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The Adventure Starts

The Adventure Starts.

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INDIA 25 Trailer

Originally posted on INDIA 25:

We are proud to present the trailer for our documentary. To support our campaign, please head over to: bit.ly/11FKyXg

Nous sommes fiers de vous présenter une avant-vue de notre documentaire. Pour soutenir notre campagne, rendez vous sur : bit.ly/10pmCx2

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33% of our Goal Raised—25 Days Remaining

33% of our Goal Raised—25 Days Remaining.

Photo credit: Yann, edited by King of Hearts

Keep up the fundraising: kisskissbankbank.com/india-25

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INDIA 25: A Documentary on Social Entrepreneurship

Though away from this platform, I’m actually still around focussing my efforts on a different project. Next month, I’m filming a documentary in India with 3 long time friends. We will go around 9 cities in India and meet 25 social entrepreneurs who are making a difference on issues that matter. The outcome of this project will be twofold: (a) a documentary on 25 creative ideas in India that can help us rethink how we’re building the future, and (b) a series of shorter inspirational travel videos.

I’m very excited to be a part of this project and to go on the ground to meet men and women who are making a difference, whether it is on environmental issues, food distribution, empowering women, fighting social inequity, etc. Here are some of the people we might meet:

EntrepreneursEN

We’re gathering funds to make this journey happen. If you have any donation to spare, consider contributing to make a difference on our fundraiser: kisskissbankbank.com/en/projects/india25

And if you want to follow our journey, please see our WordPress blog: http://wp.me/3BufK

 

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Beyond Blue and Pink: Polygender Parenting

Original graphic I created to promote the Gender Debate at Bishop's University.

Original graphic I created to promote the Gender Debate at Bishop’s University.

Bishop’s University just held a debate on the proposition:

By allowing children the freedom to explore self identity beyond sex-based stereotypes, Genderless Parenting promotes self esteem and confidence.

The House (in favour of the proposition) argued that Genderless Parenting was not the denial of gender, but a model that granted flexibility in a child’s gender identification by teaching children the multiplicity of genders. The Opposition held that Traditional Parenting was about modelling gender behaviour for children, allowing them to identify within their socio-cultural fabric as man, woman or otherwise. By wording their discourses as counterarguments to each other, the teams dissimulated the fact that they were essentially arguing the same thing, leaving a divided audience on the matter.

In the 21st century, especially at a liberal university like Bishop’s, arguing that children should be taught the norm of man, woman and heterosexuality is sure to be an unpopular stance. This may explain the Opposition’s view of a traditional parenting that will accept a cross-dressing son. An appropriate parenting model should educate children on how gender is perceived and performed in society, while accepting however they eventually place themselves on that spectrum. I challenge anyone attending the debate to attribute the previous sentence to any one team that argued.

My takeaway from this debate is entirely different from whether I side with Genderless Parenting or Traditional Parenting. Instead, what appears as the most important issue for me is the language we use to define gender for the next generation. While the terms of Genderless and Traditional were surely catchy, they each failed to capture the essence of the debate. The word “genderless” suggests that we should entirely remove gender from the social equation: a strange egalitarian theory that seems idealistic applied to a myth of childhood innocence, but loses all practicality when, as members of the audience pointed out, these genderless individual—unable to tell if they are a “he,” a “she,” or an “it”—reach a very confusing puberty. In fact, the House was not arguing for a genderless, but a polygender model of parenting that recognizes genders beyond the male/female binary (identities known as genderqueer).

As for “traditional,” it appears the term was defined to mean a model of parenting that teaches culture to their children and is not detached from social values. However, the Opposition failed to acknowledge traditional values as a part of that definition. When the Opposition asserts that traditional model families would accept the identity of children outside of a heteronormative conception of gender, I feel the urge to remind them that Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1968 in Canada. In the US, the process began in 1962 with Illinois and completed in only 2003 with Texas. And that’s just for criminality. LGBT behaviour stopped being considered as a mental illness in the 70s in the US. As for Canada? Alberta is the last province to have removed LGBT behaviour from their list of mental disorders, as of June 2012. That was seven months ago. So when the Opposition defined tradition as acceptant of queer identities I want to point them to these dates. I want to point them to the countless stories of people losing their belonging to homes, families and communities, because their sense of self did not fit with tradition. Those stories are not mine to tell, but are readily told in queer media and groups, for those who care to learn them.

My issue is hardly with what the Opposition argued, because this team was not arguing from a position of tradition at all. The forty years that LGBT acts have been decriminalized in North America are not enough to form a tradition yet. Where I did end up siding with the House, by the end of the debate, was in their position that acceptance within a household is not sufficient; their polygender model of queer identity instruction is one that must enter social norms. The Opposition may feel that it is possible to remove the pejorative connotation of the word “abnormal” and to have people of abnormal genders and sexualities be considered in the same way as someone of abnormal intelligence, but to the 4 to 10% of LGBT youths in North America, the abstraction is irrelevant. Having to identify as a gender or sexuality that is deemed other by society is the hardest part of coming out. That pain and confusion could be avoided by teaching children about a society that includes these non-heteronormative identities. And social values begin in the family, hence the importance of a Polygender Parenting model that does not limit its instruction of sexual identity to the male/female gender binary.

The Opposition was right to argue that the role of parents is to model social values for their children. However, social values are not an external reality we are subject to and must teach our children to arm them against the world at large. Social values are determined by us and by including LGBT identities in the language of how we teach children, we are redefining that myth of the norm and turning an issue that still needs to be debated about today into a non-issue.

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The 50 Book Challenge

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. They are ways people have of reinventing themselves overnight with alternate ideas of their identity. They are impulsive and notorious for mostly failing. When I thought of how I wanted to challenge myself for 2013, I realized I would have to train myself well in advance to reach the goal I would set for myself. Thankfully that was in June, and I have been preparing ever since so that I can confidently set myself to following challenge for the upcoming year:

Before December 31, 2013, I will read 50 books.

For all the writing I love doing, I am a shamefully poor reader. I managed to miss a large chunk of the classics everyone supposedly knows, having grown up in between French and Anglophone culture. I was long overwhelmed by the amount of books I needed to catch up on and gave up on the task altogether. But I’ve presently decided to tackle the problem and will read whatever I can. It will probably take a long time for me to feel like I have read a substantial amount of books. I can’t say I’ve read enough to be able to pick out my favorite books or genres, without feeling like I’m merely resorting to those books I have read. But I’m putting all of those anxieties aside and simply focusing on one book at a time.

Over the past six months, I’ve been training myself to simply acquire the habit of reading every day. When I do it right I can average a book per week without feeling too burdened by the task. It will be a challenge to keep those good habits for a whole year, but I do not feel it is hard to the point that I’ll give up on the challenge after a few weeks.

Ideally my 50 books will be works of fiction. Depending on how busy I am with studying, I may throw a few non-fiction books in the count, but the main goal of this challenge is to read more fiction narratives. This is something I’ve long wanted to do.

It has bothered me to enjoy writing fiction without being able to cite much fiction I enjoy. While writers often start as fanatic readers, I guess it took writing to get me curious about reading again, after a ten-year disconnect from the habit, triggered by high school literature courses. My schooling made reading become a chore instead of a pleasure. I stopped reading altogether because of school and that says a lot about how we teach. But I’m letting that be history and I’m reclaiming this space.

I don’t know if I’ll exactly review the books I read, but I will report back on my progress in some measure. I made sure to wait until 2013 to start the first book, Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End. I expect some commentary to emerge out of it in the near future.

So here’s to good habits and a happy new year full of books!

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The Apocalypse We Wanted

It was with great tragedy that the world woke up on December 21st to find that everything was the way it had been left the night before. Cynics nudged each other, watching a dull rain fall and proclaiming the end of the world. In appearance, the general opinion was unanimous: thank goodness the bad joke is finally put to rest. But between the catty comments and faked relief, there was an underlying disappointment. What could we now depend on to end the world? Who would come to save us?

Despite the fact that the end of the world was always presented in horrific undertones, the fixation that we, as a culture, have entertained regarding the apocalypse suggests that it was something we desired. Notice how it was never really clear what the end of the world meant. Some said zombies, some said meteors, some said aliens. There were talks of tectonic plates and solar flares and magnetism. The scenario always involved a wee bit more science than the average person really cared to keep up with. In the end, it didn’t really matter how the world would go, only that it would be changed in some irreversible way.

By now, most people know that the Mayan Long Count calendar, the origin for the apocalyptic date of 21.12.2012, never actually predicted the end of the world. The references to the end of anything at all were vague at best, and subject to assumptions and liberal interpretations that were uncalled for. Mayan descendants and Mayanist scholars alike denied that the calendar pointed to an apocalypse. The West read what it wanted to read in a culture that was ancient and distant enough to imagine as incarnating our cultural anxieties in their mystical secrets. Therefore, I have always found our fascination with the apocalypse much more telling and worth of study, than the actual possibility of the world ending.

Where does this cultural death wish come from? Firstly, we are a culture that seeks spectacle. All of the narratives we produce concentrate, augment and accelerate the real. Normal life is so dull when you look at the stories of what it could be. With an apocalypse, you are getting a spectacular life worth your while. Stories about the apocalypse are never really about the world ending. They are about surviving. We like apocalyptic stories because they face us with dangers to overcome. All of those boring in-between moments of life fade, when there is the constant immediate need to survive. This brings me to the second reason we want an apocalypse: the end of the world removes all of that superficiality of daily life. Apocalyptic narratives inspire a return to an authentic real. Survivors face nature, violence, sickness—their problems are not virtual and abstract, but at the base of Maslow’s pyramid.

However, I think the most important reason so many people are attached to that idea of the world ending is because they feel powerless in it. It’s easier to imagine creating a new world than to try fitting into the current one. The big problem in our culture is that we are all taught to be highly individualistic, in a society that is not ready to be entirely populated by individuals. From kindergarten all the way through college, we are told to expect a world that exists for us to thrive in. Too many young adults are reaching the proverbial “real world” to find out things aren’t so. This old world is not the one we’ve been promised. And so it is with disappointment that we watched as the world did not end today. It’s not that we wanted the zombies, or the death and disaster and destruction, or the seismic activity. It’s that we wanted anything but this.

Turns out, we have work ahead of us. It’s time to take responsibility and realize change does not come from any power other than ours. The world does not exist in the binary of “us against them.” That is a myth invented by the submissive group in a hierarchy, when its members realize their status but refuse to do the necessary to change their relation to that power. My generation grew up believing in magic. I am not here to say it does not exist. But if stories with magic taught us anything, it’s that magic is not about wands, flashes of light, or Jedi mind tricks. Magic is not about spectacle. Magic is about self-transformation. If we want to end our world, it’s up to us to set that in motion. Instead of marking your calendar with the next prophesied date of apocalypse, please consider this your permission slip to act as you would have if the world as you know it had ended today. Waiting for the end of the world may otherwise turn out to be a fatal form of procrastination. In my personal rendition of Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see in the world,” I invite you to not wait for an external force to validate the choices you already want to make. Start living in the world you expected to find, on the other side of the spectacle.

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RUN BKK

Waiting for a train going south to take me away from a life I’ve known for months, I go for one last run in Bangkok and bid the city farewell. The sun is setting on the Chao Phraya, the bloodline river of the metropolis carrying boats full of tourists, trade goods and trash. The streets are filled with staple food stands, selling mystery meat, fried somethings and sticky others. The motorbike-taxi drivers linger in packs, wearing their colored number vests over their bare chests, waiting for the next fare, but mostly chatting amongst themselves. As I run by, they noncommittally ask me where I’m going. “I take you—very cheap,” they say.

It’s evening; Bangkok is waking up. I’m reminded of how much of Thai life happens on the street. When we travel, we tend to go places. We go to the hotel. We go to the bus station. We go to the restaurant. The street is a transition space for us to get to places. We seek the A/C and a chair to comfort our white backs, sweating from the tropical heat. We visit old rocks without discerning between temples and cities. We do not bother to ask who put these sites there and why. Instead we worry about how we can get the best shot of ourselves to Facebook to our friends with a sentiment of: no big deal, I’m in Asia. Then we lock ourselves in our hotel rooms and say: “We’ve seen Thailand.”

But the Thai street is not a transition space. The lack of sidewalks is not meant to be hostile to pedestrians. They want to say: “pedestrians don’t need to step aside; the street belongs to them!” In the mix of people crossing the street nonchalantly, stray dogs claiming their space, cars zooming past and taxi drivers signaling for you to hop on, no wonder so many foreigners find Bangkok an overwhelming city. The barriers we put up in our countries are irrelevant here. As I run down the pavement, I see the groups of Thai men huddling in the cooling air, the ladies pushing their carts of food, a child poking the sewers with a stick and I wonder: “How much did I ever really know Thailand?” I walk.

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The Weight of 6 Months

As it periodically happens in my life, I’m living out of a bag again. And given that I’m carrying with me the worth of 6 months of living in Thailand, I’m the turtle with the fat shell on the streets these days. Several people have apparently had to dodge my bag as I make my way through crowded Thai streets. Oops. Backpacking around Southeast Asia in these conditions may not have been my most brilliant idea. In fact it’s not so much backpacking as me just hauling my bag from transports to hotels. My sense of travelling light is really trying not to cringe. Sweating profusely under the weight of it, I wonder how much possessions I really need to be dragging all the way home.

Being the huge nerd that I am, a significant amount of my luggage consists of books. In fact, they are an integral part of my packing technique. I take one book, surround it by two shirts and put the whole in a ziplock bag (to protect them from rain). I end up with a number of plastic bricks to stack in my rucksack. As I’m packing again for the millionth time, I start considering the association of books and clothes. The dress shirts? They’re packed with Anne Michael’s The Winter Vault, a complex and elegant story written like a reverie through the human condition. Michaels is a poet and her novel is like lyric prose. The characters and plot only support deep philosophic thoughts full of metaphors, symbolism and allegory. Only my dress shirts can provide good company to this ensemble. As for the dirty underwear? It better go with the Rawi Hage book, Cockroach, which centers around the life of a romantically insane lowlife immigrant in Montreal and his corrupt morals. To each article of clothing its appropriate narrative counterpart. I’ve been travelling with this pack for two weeks, but it’s only now that I realize how my combinations of books and clothes can be read symbolically.

I suppose I could discard some books and clothes and make this bag a little lighter. I’m sure I could participate to the travelling libraries I see everywhere I go, leaving my read books behind. Unfortunately, I suffer from the same attachment many fellow English students face with books. Part of it is that a number of the books I brought to Thailand came out of events I attended last year where I met the authors and had the books signed. Those are definitely not worth leaving behind. But even the unsigned average books that I could probably buy again if I wanted to reread them are hard to let go. I form a relationship with a book as I read it, get a sense of familiarity out of it and anchor the narrative into the physical object. Maybe that’s why I’ve been resistant to get an e-reader, despite all the pronounced advantages it would have more my fairly nomad life. It seems I must continue to carry around my bulky bag until I get home and can finally rest my books on the shelves from which they decorate my life.

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