Boundary II

My bipolar cycles returned. It took a lot of effort to be conscious of my current state, and to manage it appropriately. I decided to work towards a full length vocal recital at the end of the year to direct my energies productively. In my manic phase I would go all out on coloratura arias, whilst depressed I indulged in languid lieder and my-man-done-me-wrong torch songs.

Because I had a unique tone unlike most countertenors or male mezzos, my voice teacher suggested I look into singing Five Songs for Dark Voice by Harry Somers for the recital, she thought it would sound good with my voice. She loaned me her copy of the score and I was electrified by the first line “Now every grief is personal, how can I walk in this city?”

I resonated with the text of someone seeking suicide and I spent many hours learning it so I could convey my own experience though it. However it felt jarring and out of place in the program, I needed a counterweight in my recital program to balance it out, to tie it together. I spent weeks researching other contemporary song cycles but none came close. Then I remembered a poetry fragment from an essay from one of my course readings and eventually traced it back to a collection of poetry by poets in exile. I would compose and premiere a song cycle, Five Songs of Exile based on fragments of that poetry; in doing so, I found a new outlet to express and release my states.

Five Songs of Exile (Stephen Chen)

Faced with my Canadian residency application still in limbo and the impending end of my Masters program, I applied for a temporary worker permit, as well as applied to two PhD programs to try to continue to stay in Canada after my Masters. They were all were rejected. I tried to stay afloat despite my worsening bipolar depression. Loneliness exacerbated my depression. I had no friends and Erik was increasingly distant. I took to connecting with other gay men via online chat. At first it was chat only, I was only interested in making friends. Later on, I agreed to coffee dates. When I got manic again I agreed to sex, I was so desperate for intimacy even if just the fleeting post-coital moments. I got dumped many times, most memorably by a lawyer who told me “You say what you think” as if that were a crime. Still there were some men I formed longer-term bonds with where the boundaries were blurred; not quite dating, not quite fooling around. Not quite friends, not quite lovers.

We cuddled afterwards
his strong arms around me.
Just the sound of his breathing
and my heart breaking

One Night (Psychedelic Dreams)

Darcy

Darcy was the stuff of dreams, or he would have been if he did not constantly remind me he was quite the catch. But he was quite the catch – handsome, gentle, thoughtful, endowed, we would share long baths and murmured conversations. He was patient with me and respected that I did not want to have sex (plus I felt uncomfortable with the Virgin Mary looking at us from his bedside table). He was like a prince from a romance novel. Darcy mapped out the life he wanted us to have together, his white house picket fence dreams. When I performed at Sinclair Center during Christmas season, he even brought his friends along to cheer me on. I honestly did not know what he saw in me, or what he wanted from me. I did not know what to do with his kindness, I was used to abuse.

My heart was indebted to Erik, I dared not reciprocate. I felt I had to atone to Erik. I did not want to lead Darcy on. I did not want him to ruin his life by conforming it to the shambles of mine. I began to find excuses as to why we could not meet up when he called. I need to work on my thesis. I need to finish grading papers. All of which was true. One day he stopped calling, and I was glad he had dumped me. He deserved someone better, less broken. Getting together would have just led to hurt and resentment.

We bumped into each other months later, I asked Darcy what made him stop calling. He told me he felt it wasn’t meant to be, it shouldn’t take so much work. I smiled sadly at my prophecy fulfilled, and wished him all the happiness.

Pavel

I met Pavel at the low point of my depression cycle as I was constantly tired. He had immigrated from Russia and had a purebred long-haired Persian cat he was proud of. I would nap on the bed or on the couch while he worked on the computer. Sometimes the cat joined me, sometimes he would join me. We would nap fully clothed side by side, it was a chaste lazy afternoon kind of existence that eased in and out of my depression-induced stupor.

We did not talk much, we did not touch much, we just wanted to be around someone instead of being alone in the dreary Vancouver rain. Pavel would cook a simple meal of beef and rice and we would eat while staring at the gloomy skyline. One day he asked me to pick him up from the hospital after his outpatient surgery, “Why me?” I asked . “Because you are the only person in my life” he replied. That. Freaked. Me. Out. I was so used to being discarded I could not deal with this revelation. Why me. What have I to offer.

Pavel took me on a camping trip afterwards as thanks for picking him up from the hospital. I behaved badly, really badly. I did everything I could to make him dump me. I sulked, I yelled, I smacked things around, I kicked him, I tipped over the food he was making and he just sat there looking at me. Leave me alone, I cried, you don’t want me, I’m broken. We drove back in silence. I got out of the car and never went back to his place again.

A few years after I’d moved away, Pavel reached out to me via email. He asked how I was doing and offered to send some money to help even though he was out of work. I really did not deserve you Pavel.

John

John and I had antisocial tendencies but somehow we clicked. He told me he did not want a relationship, he wanted to share intellectual and physical intimacies with someone like me on an ongoing basis without expecting exclusivity or a huge amount of time from our busy lives (his exact words). Once in a while we would meet for dinner and long conversations. Sometimes we went to the opera. Sometimes we cuddled.

When I told John about my exile from Singapore, he asked why I did not apply for refugee status. I told him that while it would allow me to stay for 1-2 years while it was being processed, chances are it will be rejected as Singapore is on good terms with Canada. One cannot apply for multiple visas while the refugee status was being processed, so if one’s refugee status was rejected one was screwed. Besides, I told John, I am determined to make it on my own, on my own terms.

Occasionally spending time with John was the bright spark in my beaten down existence, a respite from tedium. He listened as I shared my struggles with immigration and the university, that no one else cared to listen to. And he helped me set up and take down my first vocal recital. Sometimes I would find an envelope when I got home that he had stashed in my bag. There would be some bills and a note enclosed “I have some extra money this month, I don’t need this. Please use it for your studies. Don’t worry about returning it.” I still don’t know what I did in my past life to warrant John’s friendship and support.

Although I started graduate school specializing in developing new research methodologies, my interest gradually shifted to epistemology (the study of the nature and limits of knowledge). Perhaps it was because I was an intellectual in exile from a fascist regime that I was so interested in seeking truth, or perhaps I saw elements of fascist discourse in N. American academia that I felt compelled to unpack. I was granted an exception by the Graduate chair and designed my own syllabus and coursework to pursue it further. I saw parallels and a resonance between my work and Frankfurt school philosophers (Jewish intellectuals exiled in N. America after fleeing Nazi Germany), and diagnosed the thesis form as a performance of objectivity and progress (but does not necessarily deliver on either), not unlike fascist aesthetics. Like my BA Thesis, I had synthesized an original critical methodological and philosophical perspective that had no precedent. To get that point across, I had to write a thesis project that was not a thesis in form.

My original supervisor was forced to leave the university due to internal politics. After I sent in my thesis project in August, I had a meeting with my new supervisor who absolutely loathed my work, she called it “indefensible” and “sophistry” amongst other things. It was not that she was blindsided and unaware what I was doing, I had told her many times I was innovating on form when I was working on the project and she had not raised any objections. It devolved into a 2 hour shouting match – every time I tried to explain myself, she shot it down. The bitch hated me. She insinuated that I was going through loopholes through my “casual” interpretation of the regulations, and made threats of dropping out as a supervisor leaving me committee-less (“It’s all give and take, if not me then someone else” – her words), and failing me outright if I did not play ball. I refused to back down to make some self-righteous white woman feel good about her supposed superiority. In the end, we decided to deal with the impasse by having me solicit feedback from external sources “so that you can see it’s not just me” (to quote her words).

It was Eric this time who offered support, we exchanged emails as I apprised him of my struggles and plans. Erik did not want to hear about it and I scolded him “I listened to you vent all this time – about your family, about your friends, about the church, I have never burdened you with anything. The very least you can do is listen to me for once.” He laughed and said “Yes, I suppose I should listen this once”

I had to stay back another semester to schlep my work around the department (and elsewhere) to beg people to look through my work. But the more feedback I got (both in and out of academia), the more obvious it was the supervisor’s assessment was both biased and uncalled for. When I finally found a faculty member who ‘got it’ after months of searching, I asked him to be my new supervisor only to have my request shot down by the head of the school and the graduate chair leaving me stranded again. A supervisor change is a mere administrative formality when both parties are willing, there was no reason why it should be rejected. I knew she had gone behind my back to ensure I had no alternative.

To make things worse, the bitch excuse for a professor sent me an email to gloat and cc:ed the entire faculty, effectively prejudicing everyone against me. All my subsequent requests for external reviews were rejected. I was in limbo again, with a visa that was to expire in February and no committee nor defense in sight.

Margie invited me to spend Christmas with her and I accepted her offer, it was good to get away and think things over. She was the most genuine and caring person I knew, and had in my life and I was able to calm the jumble of fear, uncertainty, depression and mania that had overtaken me. I had the same feeling as when I kayaked whitewater rapids on the Colorado, blindly paddling was futile, I needed to regroup and figure out my line of attack through the waves. Thankfully my application to extend my student visa was approved. I researched the university’s constitution and regulations and prepared a submission to the University ombudsman detailing their infractions. In particular, denying my right to have a fair defence, suppression of academic freedom and speech, and egregious prejudicial conduct against me. Eric begged me not to send it off as I would be blacklisted everywhere in academia. I could not care less, I no longer had any respect for academia nor desired to be part of its incestuous sycophantic cesspool.

Academics, Bureaucrats, Capitalists!
Doesn’t Everyone Find Galling How Insipid Jackasses Kevetch?
Lauding Mediocrity, No Originality, Pretentiously Quoting “Radical” Sophomorisms …
Thou Utmost Vile! Wunderkind Xenophobe; Ya Zayin!

Rant (Psychedelic Dreams)

Things predictably went to shit after I sent it to the ombudsman but I continued fighting and refused to be gaslit by the administration. I knew my rights I knew they were wrong and stuck to it. After fighting back for 3 months (at a great mental toll), the university finally agreed to let me change supervisors in March. I found and met up with a prospective supervisor who was not involved in any of this and he agreed to come on as a senior supervisor – most memorable line from that meeting: “Stephen, they are expecting a cabinet but instead you gave them a chaise lounge!” So, I had to write an expository piece to show why it is a “chaise lounge” so to speak.

I thought that was the end of that. An email arrived a few days later informing me I was dismissed from all teaching jobs at the university due to student complaints. My students would come up to me at the end of each semester and thank me for helping them see things from a new perspective. It was the first time I head there were complaints. No student had ever complained to me about whatever they accused me of, nor would they allow me to verify those complaints. Essentially they cut off my funding, they knew I had no recourse and was dependent on those university jobs as per terms of my student visa. I had to be punished for showing them up. Fuck you, Fuck all of you, You Fucking Self-Righteous White Assholes.

You will die and live a horrible death.
All joy devoured by screaming strife
which cuts like nine and ninety knives.

As Sun and Earth spans East to West,
your Soul, like Moon, will find no rest.
Yes, you will beg for endless mercy
for all the wrongs you did to me.

Gypsy Curse (Psychedelic Dreams)

I had to support myself for the next 6 months until my thesis defence. I returned to courtesaning to cover my daily expenses, and dipped into the money set aside to fulfill immigration income requirements to make rent and tuition. I had no idea how I was going to top it up, I would not be able to submit additional immigration applications without it, but I needed to make it through another day. I was determined and unfazed by the random hooded white men I passed on the streets late at night yelling at me to go back where I came, or the gay white men I met who wanted to project their desires onto me. I had no feeling, no fear. You can get the willowy boyish Asian man with dead eyes and a hollow smile to stand in for that student you wanted to punish, or perhaps dress in a suit and make him beg at your feet for the boss’s mercy. Maybe you wanted a counselor with benefits to soothe your unhappy ego and relationship, or perhaps trade him with back and forth with your husband as you ingest poppers and cocaine to recapture something that went amiss. I don’t remember many details, nor their faces, I was dissociated and severely depressed. I felt no pleasure, I never came, it was merely mechanical effluent. Clinically it could be attributed to my mental condition, but in my heart it was my act of resistance to hang onto my last vestige of loyalty and dignity. I refused to be conquered. It was the last stand for someone with nothing left to lose. I had to prevail somehow.

Oh yes I know the price of love
your cost is but my gain.
For fifty I am cooing dove,
or bitch, or whore, or dame.

Seduction is but art of war
the moaning of your name.
I come on cue and beg for more
so you can catch your train.

Ballad (Psychedelic Dreams)

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