I could've listened to Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson read all morning and the questions from the Stratford Festival audience proved almost as interesting. Someone wanted to know how we can save Canadian public broadcasting. Another woman complained about the Conservative's attack ads on Liberal leader Stephane Dion, questioning why the Tories can't run on their own record and policies.

These may seem odd comments/questions to aim at a couple of writers but they demonstrate the deep frustration of Canadians who care about the arts and transparent, forward-thinking government. The Conservative party doesn't pretend to care about the arts (and only recently half-woke up to the fact that Canadians are concerned about the environment) - and the people who do are desperate for both action and a voice. To these people - the people in attendance at the Stratford reading - Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood's involvement in the arts and various environmental causes make them cultural leaders.

As for the answers to those questions, Graeme Gibson replied that the Tory ads are a substitute for policy, content and principle, which garnered heavy applause. Margaret Atwood noted that someone in power didn't “like the sound of a voice speaking unless it was his.” Gibson also spoke of national broadcaster CBC dumbing itself down, bowing to the power of the marketplace. Margaret Atwood urged people to pen handwritten, strongly worded letters to the CBC criticizing recent programming decisions.

The final question of the morning came from a young man who declared that he felt like a puppet on a string when reading - at the mercy of the author. Atwood suggested the reader always has the power to close the book or throw it across the room. She compared books to sheet music: the reader is the musician and the book doesn't really come to life unless it's being read.

The rest of the day looked like this:
Margaret Atwood & Graeme Gibson Book Signing in Stratford

Swans on The Avon

Book Stage, Stratford

River Avon, Stratford, Ontario

Stratford Plaque
Stratford City Hall

Lonely Canoe
S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide...My copy of Heather Corinna's book arrived shortly after our return from Vancouver but I've been plowing through a novel backlog and only got around to reading it over the past few days. There are so many things to recommend this book aimed at youth 16 - 22 (but containing info valuable to a much wider age range) that it's difficult to know where to begin. S.E.X. contains a lot of the information you find in guides aimed at a young readership - anatomy lessons, safer sex guidelines, a breakdown of birth control options, definitions of various sexual activities and infections. The difference here is Heather Corinna's (who as the founder of the world's most awesome sex ed site, Scarleteen, has seen and heard it all) dedication to tugging the rest of society closer to her dream of a world where everyone is “healthy, happy and whole in themselves and their sexuality: in body, heart, and mind.”

To that end the book is truly inclusive. In a section on sexual identity Corinna points out that “this isn't the gay chapter” and indeed the book doesn't assume a heterosexual default the way many do - or root itself in traditional gender roles. Nor does it assume that sex is better when connected with love or marriage. The emphasis is unfailingly on communication, being as safe as possible, respecting your own and others' boundaries and fitting sex into the rest of your life in a healthy and enjoyable way.

The slant seems so balanced and logical that it's a wonder society at large is in such a mess when it comes to sex and sexuality. But popular culture with its constant projection of a hyper-sexuality which is unvarying and prescriptive (dictating what sort of bodies we should have, the kinds of activities we should be engaging in and who should be performing them - and how) would seem to be the enemy of this logic. To counter these negative messages and arrive at a healthy body image, Heather suggests reducing TV watching and binning your fashion magazines, noticing the diversity around you in your everyday life, focusing on things other than appearance and concentrating on physical activities you enjoy (whether that be team sports, canoeing, whatever).

Of course there's a lot of sex in this book and sexual activities are catalogued along with their pregnancy and STI risk. You'll learn that the idea that female virgins are supposed to be “tight” is pure myth. “A woman having first intercourse very well might be tight, but that is likely due more to nervousness, fear, and anxiety than it is to whether or not she has had partnered sex before.” If a woman's relaxed, aroused and lubricated enough with a patient partner first-time sex doesn't need to be painful. The idea of premature ejaculation is “a bit bogus” too. There's no “minimum time that is acceptable for erection” and sexual activity can continue in other ways afterwards. There's no reason that all (or any) of the fun has to spring from penetration.

Unfortunately, not at all sex is consensual and S.E.X. also discusses healing from abuse and rape. “One-half of all rape victims are raped between the ages of fourteen and seventeen.” Roughly a third of “high-school and college students has experienced sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional violence in dating relationships.”

As adults, we don't do near enough honest talking about these issues. How can we expect young people to deal with the rampant sexual assumptions and expectations, misinformation and pressure created by living in a society that on the one hand tells them sex is something serious and special to save for later while simultaneously drowning them in images that promote the very opposite? Confusing? Yeah, enough to make your head explode.

If everyone read, digested and lived by the philosophies espoused in this book our sexual problems would be a thing of the past. So let's get started, do your mind and body a favour and read S.E.X., then recommend it to someone else.

If you want to get a better idea of the kind of information and approach you'll find in the guide check out Scarleteen (a completely independent site with no federal, state or local funding...so if you have some $ to spare they would very much appreciate your donations).
This is where we hung out on the other half of the weekend. We used to call it "The Beaches" but after a vote last year this trendy area of Toronto is officially known as "The Beach." Shops and restaurants abound on Queen Street but the water and boardwalk are just a stone's throw away. Obviously many people aren't bothered by the lack of a lifeguard - it's time to pick up some Cancer cutting Vitamin D, the old fashioned way.
No Lifeguard on Duty

Watching the Water

Lake Crowds

Plant a Flag

Cooling Off At The Snack Bar
Earlier this week I read a Toronto Star article about how we tend to regard fast talkers as more intelligent. Apparently the "average adult talks at about 170 to 190 words per minute. But the average central nervous system can only process information at about 120 to 124 words per minute." It seems after the age of 36 our nervous systems slow, making it harder for us to understand swift deliveries and by 70 "we have the listening capabilities of a 3-year-old."

Keeping this in mind, I'm glad I caught The Philanderer at The Shaw Festival today. Ben Carlson's witty performance, delivered at a speed that often falls short of breakneck by only a whisker or two, is delightful. I'd hate to have missed 30% of the dialogue due to a processing lag. And yes, I'm convinced Ben Carlson is as exceedingly clever as he is talented.

Last time we caught Carlson at The Shaw we missed out on the extended version of Man and Superman but this time around we were lucky enough to score a performance of The Philanderer's 'missing act', set a few years after the first three. I hope to see more Shaw plays and more Carlson in the future, all the better if the two go together. Ironically, as time goes by and the less I'm able to keep up with them, the smarter I'll believe them both to be.

Shaw Festival 07
I was hoping that I could find a clip of Bono and Bob Geldof knocking Stephen Harper's lack of commitment to G8 anti-poverty efforts on YouTube but no such luck.

Anti-poverty activists were disappointed that the G8 merely reconfirmed their 2005 pledge to double aid to Africa by 2010 but did not promise more aid, nor clearly define how they would reach that goal.

Accusing Harper of blocking progress, Bono commented that, “I said some years ago that the world needs more Canadas, and I meant it. I can't believe that this Canada has become a laggard. I think he's out of sync with the people.”

Bob Geldof added, “I think a man called Stephen Harper came to Heiligendamm but Canada stayed home.”

This is the lack of vision Canadians elected when they voted for Harper. Downplaying and reducing commitments to citizens and countries who are least equipped to complain about it, while simultaneously attempting to camouflage inaction, is Harper's specialty.

Harper (unlike George Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel) refused to meet with Bono at the G8, declaring that, “Meeting celebrities isn't my shtick. That was the shtick of the previous guy.”

Right. Well, it sounds like Bono is none too impressed with the current Prime Minister's shtick. More importantly, are Canadians?

You can read the story on the CBC website and see the video here.
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