Saturday, March 26, 2011

Montreal Council to Aid War Resisters. My Involvement.

When we returned to Montreal after the European trip we didn't return to the charity house in the Point, but moved into an apartment in the McGill student ghetto. Our second son, Julian, was born not long after our return. The fact that we didn't return to the Point and that we named our son "Julian" is an indication that we had been gradually drifting away from the practice of Catholicism. As far as I know, the name "Julian" has no particular resonance with the Church and was chosen because I was reading Julian by Gore Vidal; not a particularly religious association; we simply liked the name. Pope John XXIII had died a few years previously and the movement in the Church to retrench was slowly, but surely, establishing itself. Our disengagement from the Church followed the metaphor suggested by Wittgenstein of the assault on an impregnable fortress; there was never a definitive moment when it was captured, rather, individual by individual, the fortress fell by being deserted. The drift away from Catholicism went almost unnoticed by us and took several years more before I definitively acknowledged it, though my wife subsequently re-engaged in a very committed way.

We were increasingly implicated in the secular political movements of the Sixties: my wife with feminism and myself with the peace movement. Because our baby sitters for the boys were mainly students, our apartment became a hang-out for dope-smoking students drawn from the counter-cultural movement of the time. I remember the first time I got stoned with Phillipe; a short, cute,very long haired, guitar playing, song writer and student. He wrote several of the most popular songs of Kate and Anna McGarrigle. I had smoked before to no particular effect and he was determined to get me really stoned. He suggested I go into the small closet (how appropriate!) in his bedroom, sit on the floor with the door closed and smoke. When I came out I was hallucinating stained glass windows and totally enjoying it, though there was also a strong and disconcerting attraction to Phillipe. There were long, enjoyable, wine-drinking, dope-smoking evenings, sitting on pillows on the living room floor, the boys running or crawling around and listening to Bob Dylan, Janice Joplin and the Beatlles. Several of those students subsequently became well know cultural figures, as artists and musicians. There was a relative absence of boundaries between the students and my wife and I, which never provoked any feelings of conflict, even when they might have been in my classes.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Two Most Stupid Acts of My Life. So Far.

My experiences with racism in Virginia contributed to my interest in socially and politically progressive expressions of Catholicism. Catholic schools were, generally, the only ones in the south that were not segregated and Catholic priests and members of religious orders were very active in the civil rights movement. On the other hand, the great majority of white, Protestant churches in the south either supported or quietly tolerated segregation; just as they had done with slavery. There is an interesting history of Church opposition to slavery, beginning with papal bulls condemning the practice in the Fifteenth Century, which were almost totally ignored, and including impressive figures, such as Bartolome de Las Chapas, a Dominican monk, who in the Sixteenth Century became a fervent advocate for the abolition of slavery in the New World.

When we returned to Montreal in the Fall of 1966 we were still very committed to progressive, Catholic social and political activism. A former Italian worker priest, who was our friend since arriving in Montreal, arranged for us to live in a house in Point St. Charles, at that time a poor, working-class, mainly English speaking area of Montreal, dedicated to providing services to the poor. It was established and run by a woman named Margo, who was inspired by Dorothy Day of the Catholic Workers Movement in New York City. The house had a food and clothes bank, as well as a very busy medical clinic, and my wife and I helped with its operations. Happily, Margo wasn't as conservative when it came to Catholic morality as Dorothy Day and birth control services were amongst the most important given through the clinic. Dorothy Day visited the house at least once and was shocked at the poverty of the area, which she claimed was worse than any she had seen in New York City. I spoke often to adults in the Point who had never been to downtown Montreal, which was in easy walking distance, fearing that they didn't have proper clothes and would be humiliated. Our first son, Raphael, named after the Prior of St. Andrew's Priory, was born while we were living and working there. My wife having completed her PhD, took a teaching post in a small, girl's college and, later, at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) and I returned to teaching at McGill.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Racism: My Experience.

As a child I lived until the age of twelve in Germantown, a district of Philadelphia, which was founded in the late Seventeenth Century by Francis Daniel Pastorius, originally a Lutheran, later a Quaker. It was the first German settlement in the New World and Pastorius was my great, great (add as many "greats" as necessary) grandfather on my mother's side. Germantown is known as the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in the Americas because of a petition against black slavery he initiated in 1688.

The part of Germantown where my family lived was divided into blocks that had larger homes on one side of the block, where the white folks lived, and smaller, though neatly kept homes on the adjoining side, where the black folk lived; forming all white streets alternating with all black streets. In between were largely open spaces, some the remnants of former farms. Many of the blacks worked in the white folks homes on the other side of their blocks. I loved to ride my tricycle at what I imagined was train-like speed around our block passing first the white side of the block, then the black, so there was a comfort with the proximity of the two races.  As with most northern, American cities in the forties and fifties, there was de facto segregation. The elementary school I attended had only one black student, Billy was his name, and the fact that I remember his name is a reflection of the fact that Billy was important, both because he was a popular kid and because his presence meant our school wasn't officially segregated. It never occurred to me to question where all the black kids I passed on my bike rides went to school and I still have no idea, but no doubt there was a local, nearly all black, elementary school somewhere in the neighbourhood.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Going to Mickey's Jailhouse. An Interlude.

We got married that Autumn of 1965 in Upper New York State on our way to take up my teaching position in the philosophy department at McGill University.  My honeymoon performance was less than spectacular; just as my fears had anticipated.  Sex got somewhat better, at least for me, over the next six years of marriage and was occasionally actually exciting. I suspect for my partner my sexual dexterity never measured up to what she had experienced with men more toward the heterosexual end of the Kinsey Scale, but it did indicate that my self-definition as a bisexual had some basis in fact, however unlikely it may seem to those who know me today. The first year of marriage required some adjustments in my expectations of roles between husband and wife.  Being a child of the fifties, I had envisioned a traditional relationship with myself being, principally' the bread-winner and my wife, principally, the homemaker.  As a couple we liked to occasionally rough-house together and I wasn't above using that play as an opportunity to demonstrate primordial male dominance.

When I first met my wife she was reading The Female Eunuch and continued reading feminist writings as they emerged in the sixties, so she, happily, had different ideas of what a marriage ought to be. She provided my first intellectual exposure to the early writings of the sexual liberation movement. I want to write further about the impact of those writings on the radical change that would occur to my sexual understanding of myself, but for now, a California interlude. There was another intellectual current that was moving me leftward at the time, which was the pacifism that was part of the progressive expression of Catholicism I had espoused. Its major intellectual spokespersons were Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. The Vietnam War was just beginning to escalate for the United States in the Summer of '66, as was opposition to the war that was, initially, mainly identified with the hippies.  The peace movement in it's more significant manifestation was, like most things, only available at a later date in Canada. My wife and I weren't prepared for the polarization that was beginning to form in the United States in relation to the War.