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Just checking in.

What is this? People miss me? I don't even miss myself, LOL.

Seriously it's great to see all you familiar faces. The chances of me returning here are, I regret to say, slim to zero, but I do still lurk from time to time, to see how folks are. And you don't look a bit older!

My life has been virtually consumed by something called (Canada's Online HIV Magazine, which has become a bit of a runaway success and which I'm now Editor. I also maintain a blog there; for those needing a ruralrob fix, you can read my not so rural ramblings here . It's likely a bit HIV-y for some though, although not entirely poz pickings, as it were.

Otherwise things here in Nanookville, on the verge of the dreaded Canadian winter, are pretty fine, thanks.
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Showing face again


Is it quiet around here, or what? Still I see some of the cool cats are still here. Good for you! It makes a visit so worthwhile.

I think occasional visits like this are going to be it for me. But boy, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since I last wrote here. I’ve been busy.

I’m firmly established now on, where I’m the Contributing Editor. This basically is what it sounds like; I contribute original material while I also edit and manage the efforts of the dozen or so other regular contributors. You can read all my recent stuff here if you’re so inclined.

In the course of that work, I’ve interviewed some amazing people. Look through my recent out-put there for some of them. Look for instance, for my interview with Paul, a poz guy, an ex-inmate, ex-user from Palm Springs who stands out on intersections in the hot desert sun with a hand-drawn placard advertizing HIV testing. Or the poz guy Kengi, formerly homeless himself, who does HIV outreach and runs support groups for homeless HIVers on skid row in Los Angeles.

I have turned in to a HUGE fan of twitter, where I’m @ruraltweeter. Who’d have thunk?

In any event, the site has done incredibly well. I don’t want to reveal numbers but let’s just say growth has been phenomenal. More importantly, it feels like the best and most rewarding work I’ve ever done. Perhaps I’ve found my niche.

My niche has also involved myself and my colleague Brian becoming a knowledge resource for anyone wanting to know about the use of social media in HIV work. I spoke on that subject at two national organizations last month, one in Toronto, the other in Ottawa.

I have the opportunity, scholarship gods willing, to go to the North American Housing Summit in September, held this year in New Orleans, and cover it for PositiveLite. I’ll know by July 15 whether that’s a go.

Along with all this has come some perks. I now have accredited media status with many Toronto theatres, which means free tickets to opening nights which I take full advantage of. The catch is I have to write a review for the next day. So I’ve been in Toronto a lot, acting as theatre critic for the site, and burning a bit of midnight oil in the process.

Other good stuff? I was accredited media for Pride Toronto this past weekend, which means having a press pass giving access to the parade route inside the barriers, which is something I’ve always coveted. You can see my two Pride posts, with photos, on the site.

In other news, the dogs are all fine, as is Meirion. One sour note is my feet. The peripheral neuropathy, a side effect of the drugs I take, has worsened. My doctor has reacted by dropping Truvada from my five-drug combo and adding Gabapentin. But it remains the case that walking a lot hurts, so I don’t.

Still, I’m pretty blessed, no? I always have been. How about you?
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Up against the wall


These were taken last week while I was in Toronto. Things have changed since I was there last year, which makes me feel less guilty about featuring Toronto’s Graffiti Alley aka Rush Lane once again. In fact the art changes often – it’s refreshed once a year in the form of a giant graffiti jam, which attract some of the best graffiti artists around. The taggers subsequently add their own touches, of course, so this is a continually evolving body of work.

There have already been extended discussions here on the worth of this stuff, so I won’t elaborate. Whether you consider it an urban blight or an exciting free art exhibit is up to you.

But I will put a plug in for watching the terrific Banksy film Exit though the Gift Shop. This Oscar-nominated documentary is both a great primer on the graffiti–as-art world and a riddle that will have you talking about it for days. Highly recommended.

In any event, more – much more – behind the cut.Collapse )
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I’ve been busy but it looks like LiveJournal not so much. It doesn’t take nearly so long to go through my friends posts now, so many having become inactive, and some former bright lights no longer here. And then there are the games cropping up on the site? And why is my text in blue today? Oh dear.

For my part I’ve become very active on two other social media platforms - twitter and – which fact is reflected in my lack of recent posts here. I think from now on, I’ll post weekly here, and see how that goes. But it does look like LJ is dying on the vine.

Meanwhile I’ve been away from home a lot with meetings. By the weekend I will have been in Toronto six days out of the last seven in fact. As well, I’m one of the producers of a show that opens next week here in Nanookville, that for rather complicated reasons, I can’t talk about too much here. But next week will be crazy busy too.

In any event, today’s photo is of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, where I stayed with Meirion for three days earlier this week. He was attending a roads convention for municipal employees and councillors, which struck me as just about the most boring thing on earth, and which was confirmed when I attended one of their luncheons.

The Royal York is one of THE grand turn-of-the-century hotels, and reminded me a lot of the one featured in The Shining, minus Jack Nicholson, although I half expected to see a tsunami of blood come out of the elevators each time I summoned them.
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Part-time Reviewer


I’ve being reviewing stuff for lately. Here’s what I wrote about Nixon in China.

Last week, Meirion and I went to see The Canadian Opera Company’s Nixon in China at the Four Seasons Centre for the Arts, Toronto’s (relatively) new opera house. Hadn’t been there before. I loved the building. The lobby’s a symphony of blonde woods, glass staircases and stainless steel finishes. It seems designed to make patrons feel elegant. It works too. The auditorium itself is more traditional – five tiers of seats arranged in a horseshoe make for good sightlines for all; the acoustics are first-rate too.

Nixon in China is by John Adams a contemporary American composer of the minimalist persuasion. I’ve always liked Adams’ music. It has chugging repetitive rhythms, much like Philip Glass on steroids. Meirion says it’s monotonous and unchanging, which misses the point entirely. Like the music of Philip Glass, Adams' music is in fact always changing, albeit slowly and subtlety at times - and that's the point.

Nixon in China is sung in English but there are surtitles projected above the stage. They really help.

The opera tells the story of the historic visit of Richard Nixon to China in 1972. It’s an unlikely subject for an opera, and frankly not always an engaging one. There are indeed moments of grandeur here, such as the plane landing at the outset, and a performance piece in Act Two at a state dinner attended by the President which gets dangerously out of hand, to the point that Mrs Nixon attempts to halt the proceedings. But much of this work, all of Act Three in fact, is taken up with the reflections of the principal characters - the Nixons, Chou En-lai, Henry Kissinger, Mao Tse Tung and his wife, the volatile Chian Ch’in. That it mostly engages is a tribute to Adams impressive score, the fine orchestra and cast and the absolutely first-rate staging.


The floor of the stage is blood red. Dozens of terra cotta warriors decorate it before the opera begins and are employed symbolically throughout the opera. It’s a spare but clever set, with the large chorus often arranged as an architectural element in themselves. In a nod to technology, TV sets, many of them, showing images of the actual event, appear throughout the work. It adds a sense of both immediacy and history to what is an extremely powerful stage design.

The leads are excellent. Robert Orth, who has apparently made a career for himself playing Nixon, strikes me as entirely definitive. The mannerisms are not overplayed, but he looks like Nixon, acts like Nixon and captures that mix of awkwardness and authority that was this doomed president’s other legacy.

Did I like it? Yes, I did. Meirion did too. But once again, this is a challenging work. If you're unfamiliar with operatic conventions or minimalism, or both, this might be bit too much. Fans of modern opera though will almost certainly walk away from this production singing.

You get a sense of the music in the clip below. This btw is not the same production as the one currently being performed by the COC in Toronto – in other words, the visual elements are different, but the tensions it portrays, and of course the striking musical score, are the same. Both productions feature the same lead baritone, however.

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Donut Touch


A story caught my eye in Tuesday’s Toronto Star that said that cupcakes, which have enjoyed the limelight for the last year or two, are yesterday. I would say they were toast but that would be too much of a mixed metaphor. Anyway, for a while the macaron was apparently a contender for the cake crown; I don’t think I’ve ever had one so can’t comment. Now, gourmet donuts are predicted to be the next big thing. The article was accompanied by a photo of some luscious-looking ginger donuts with lemon-lime filling. Sounds Yum. I’d gladly go there.

In the meantime, I’m happy with whatever Tim Horton’s serves up. They are an iconic coffee shop chain in this country, less well represented in the States. Their donuts aren’t stellar, just good. I think Boston Cream is my favourite.

Here’s another donut story. We have a friend who lives in the village, Jason Walker is his name. He paints donuts – meticulously and in great detail. Above is a sample of his work. You can see more here: You’ll note that he’s also a very fine portrait photographer, but donuts are his bread and butter. (Ooops,there go the mixed metaphors again.)

Jason is learning to drive. A week or two ago I was going to Toronto; he needed a ride, so we travelled together. He had a lot of errands to do around town, but part of his mission was to find unusual donuts to paint.

There is a Tim Horton’s at a service centre on the way in, where we stopped. Now Tim Horton’s sometimes has limited edition donuts and Jason happily scored two – one a simple donut with a hole, with pink icing and red and white sprinkles, the other a no-hole donut, garishly decorated with multi-coloured sprinkles. Gruesome - but perfect. Jason asked for them in a box – the server seemed puzzled but Jason explained he photographs donuts, which made the server even more puzzled. Anyway, it was a good start to the day. Part of his mission was to scour the donut shops around Chinatown for more varieties. I’m not sure how he did.

There is a good market for his paintings. As you’ll see from his website, Jason is represented by a prestigious gallery. His donut paintings sell for thousands of dollars.
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Buzz Words


The hotel room view, as usual, this one at the Delta Chelsea in Toronto, where I was ensconced for most of last week.

I had a pretty good time at The Gay Men’s Sexual Health Summit.

The buzz words of the day in the world of HIV prevention are as follows:

Asset based – in other words, focussing not on weaknesses and what people are doing wrong, but on their strengths and how to build on those.

Resiliency – one of the assets we hear a lot about now, in particular the resiliency of negative gay men who have stayed negative all this time, despite the odds.

Syndemics – the ability of several pandemics to react with each other and affect each other to form a larger more complex entity – for example risk behaviour, mental health issues, drug dependency and homelessness can together produce results hugely difficult to deal with

My take is that HIV prevention is getting much more sophisticated now, rooted in research, theorizing and the accumulated wisdom of what works and what doesn’t. Whether it is any more successful, particularly in the gay male population, is debatable. Certainly new infections continue unabated, but what would the situation be if there were no interventions at all, one asks? And what is the impact of the perception of a disease which is generally no longer life-threatening, but instead a chronic manageable condition?

Of course I lap up this kind of discussion, always have done. Prevention is, in the end, like one giant jigsaw puzzle where someone has gone and stolen some of the pieces, but a search around the house reveals the odd one here and there.

Meanwhile, I had my PositveLite hat on much of the time, and did two interviews with Brian filming, me doing the actual interviews. Brian presented a session on the site and we both did a lot of politicking with those present. It almost felt like work, but in a good way.

One thing that came across loud and clear at the conference is that Twitter, of which I’m a recent convert, has arrived big time in our community. I love it. It was great to meet a few fellow tweeters, almost like those LJ meet-ups we used to hear about. And btw, on that note I met up with muddster one evening, and we had a rather nice dinner and convo at Just Thai on Church Street. He’s a super nice guy.

And over on PositiveLite, I have an extremely interesting post up today, or at least I think so. It’s the story of an injection drug user, HIV-positive for twenty years, currently serving a sentence at Warkworth Institution, a medium-security gaol just a few miles from our place. He consented to an interview with one of my agency’s support workers. If you’re curious about the conditions for HIV-positive inmates in our prison system read the piece here.
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Leaving home again


It’s looking VERY snowy here lately. We have not had any major snowfalls, just frequent smaller ones. The result is a permanent winter wonderland look, like the above. It’s our house, btw, for those not familiar with my story.

Off to Toronto tomorrow, returning Friday evening, for a conference; it's The Gay Men’s Sexual Health Summit. I’m on the provincial organizing committee but in truth I haven’t had to do a lot.

There’ll be about 200 plus people there - HIV prevention and support workers from across Ontario. My colleague Brian is presenting for in a Friday afternoon session; in between I have a few interviews to videotape, including one with Jim Pickett, an American who is well known in our movement. So far, I’m mostly the on-camera guy and Brian is behind the camera. I’m not sure it shouldn’t be the other way around, as he’s way more photogenic than me, LOL. However, I can stumble through an interview with the best of them, as those familiar with my previous efforts know.

Anyway, I’ll be at the Delta Chelsea Hotel which is right downtown but otherwise about my least favourite Toronto hotel.

Oh and I’m hoping to have dinner with new Torontonian, the muddster Thursday.

Be good everybody.
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View from our front door, February 2, 7am

Yesterday was fierce. Wind, snow the works.

I emailed our friend Kim first thing to see if she was up for adventure and felt like driving in and meeting us at Jeannine’s. She was game, but got stuck in her driveway and never made it. We barrelled through the snow, however, in Meirion’s 4-wheel drive, and had no difficulty. It was so windy there were actually bare spots on the roads, four foot drifts elsewhere.

You’ve seen this drive before – the ride from our driveway in to the village, but never quite in these conditions. Note that Meirion is driving faster than some would expect – I’m guessing it’s about 60kph. But Canadians tend to be familiar with driving on snow covered roads, and thus are sometimes pretty confident winter drivers.

Today, I’m off to Peterborough, to do a rare volunteer stint at the local AIDS Organization I used to be chair of. They are building a new volunteer training program and want my input. That’s good. I still have strong ties with that organization, including actively fundraising for them, but little else as I’m busy elsewhere now.

Oh Mike, good news. Looks like I will be coming to Ottawa after all for that 4-day conference in June. Indian?
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Anita Mann

I thought this would amuse some of you, and cause fits of laughter in others, like it did in the ruralrob household. I really think this is the funniest drag I’ve ever seen.

The performer is Mark S. King, a well known activist/blogger/poz guy living in Florida who is now on PositiveLite. He’s quite an amazing character. You can read his column on PositiveLite here, or go to his own website here.