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Information about Greg "Ritallin" Frankson, spoken word artist, activist and social innovator

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44 Gratitudes: #3 - Wealth and Prosperity

Greg Frankson

The third of my gratitudes is for wealth and prosperity. Even when I've been at my lowest points in terms of income and financial solvency, I have still been richer than the vast majority of humans on Earth. We have to maintain our perspective, lest we become ungrateful and take our first-world status for granted.

This poem was written and then later updated, most recently in 2011, as a reminder to me that we have a responsibility to remain aware of our privilege at all times. Though we are all richer than most, within Canada we also suffer from income inequality, homelessness, exploitation and health insecurity. Most Canadians stand only a paycheque or two from homelessness themselves — the razor’s edge is sharp. This is a reflection that I believe still holds relevance today:

Musical Paradise

the white wand lightly taps the music stand
and a hush falls over the well-appointed crowd
murmurs melt to sated silence as the musicians brace
to feed them the richness of melodic sound 

singers smooth flowing robes and some adjust music sheets|
small movements, gentle throat clearing noises|
all eyes focus on the conductor of the performance
and then at the moment of truth, a unified inhalation ... 

i'm conducting thangs ... ohh ehhh owww ...

let’s think this through for a moment –
we wantonly waste energy and resources in fancy hotels
where towels are routinely washed after a single use
while those struggling on social assistance at $585 a month
in our largest city choose between housing and eating on a daily basis
Canada has the ninth-largest Gross Domestic Product in the world
but it is gross indeed to see the product of domestic housing policies
we have it all backwards – housing is a badge of citizenship
since much of our social safety net is predicated on street address
but we’ve failed to address the street so our social safety net
has someone to catch

oh, think twice, it's just another day for you and me in paradise ...

we can't weave that tangled web with strands of fantasy
life simply isn't that simple
when the ability to uplift through education is cancelled out
in favour of the “earning your keep” approach of working for benefits
who really benefits from that?
and if we force young people to live in spaces that stifle their creativity
their abilities and their very breathing so life becomes completely unbearable
how do we determine where the decision first caused an eruption
on the blemish-free face of our wealthy, compassionate society?
i don't want to be the bearer of negative tidings
but we have much more to do to eradicate the scourge of homelessness
and then we must add the dimension of mental health to the symphony
in order to hear the full complexity of the concerto as it plays 

i'm conducting thangs ... ohh ehhh owww ...

if all the world's a stage are the homeless the extras?
because in Hollywood even the extras get paid and fed for what they do
and if the extras in this film are being treated less than ordinary
is there little wonder when policy doesn't even begin to account for the state
of most of the minds inhabiting bodies living on the streets?
some people are running from supports to help deal
with the double negative of lack of housing and proper treatment
despite all the statistics on the issues
two negatives can never, ever be added together to make a positive
but it's clear that putting housing first instead of expecting miracles
to materialize that give the homeless instant keys to a new place
before they have full access to necessary services they require
has to be turned on its head, so housing comes first
and provides people in need with the solid foundation from which to soar 

have you seen her? tell me have you seen her? ...

housing should never be a precondition for treatment, but rather
a home must become the prerequisite to shift what we consider treatment
how we treat the homeless is the treatment we should be focused on
so they receive the medical and psychological treatment they require
and our systems of care treat them like full citizens of this country and
value their physical autonomy and safety equally so homes can be found for all
i'd like to treat our policymakers to a few hours with those who need fairer treatment
and i'd like to see us as a society treat housing as a fundamental right
because it's clear that living on the street with mental health concerns
has to be the furthest thing from a treat you can imagine
and i know from what i was taught as a child that it’s how we treat those
with the greatest need that determines the true strength of our compassion 

Mr. Wendal has tried to warn us about our ways
but we don't hear him talk
is it his fault when we've gone too far
and we got too far 'cause on him we walk ...
 

we don't worry on a daily basis about access to mental health services
and i know i can get a meal anytime and have the means to travel about easily
so to even speak credibly about homelessness i must first acknowledge my privilege
and know it’s possible i can lose it one day and be on the streets myself
for in my own life, only once, and only briefly, it did happen to me
so i ask all aspiring change agents out there
to consider what life would be like without your privilege
think about what it would be like to have your supports ripped rudely away
would you know what to do while in the depths of emotional torment
and could you keep your mind together long enough to figure it out? 

oh, think twice, it's just another day for you and me in paradise … 

the music comes to an end, the musicians lower their instruments
choir members complete the final note with mouths shaped in elegant O's
the crowd roars its approval as the rafters shake from applause
and the people on the stage break into huge, spontaneous grins of joy 

the tuxedos and ball gowns rise from their lushly upholstered seats
and stream towards the exits, their vehicles and their home addresses
they pass a woman at the entrance suffering in her mind and body
do they allow their hearts and spirits to pay her any heed? 

you can tell by the lines on her face
you can see that she's been there
probably been moved on from every place
'cause she didn't fit in there 

oh, think twice, it's just another day for you and me in paradise
oh, think, twice, it's just another day for you
you and me in paradise.


© A. Gregory Frankson, 2011. All rights reserved.

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I will post regarding each of my 44 Gratitudes once a week on Mondays. It’s important to give thanks, and to start your week off right! Please feel free to like, share and comment on the posts as they appear.

44 Gratitudes: #2 - Good Health

Greg Frankson

The second of my gratitudes is for good health — the combination of good genes, the fortune of growing up in Canada, access to clean/nutritious food and water, a relatively peaceful geopolitical situation where I live and national universal health care.

One of the most important ways that has manifested in my life is in how I can receive treatment for mental health concerns. I’ve been a mental health advocate since 2007, yet I was unaware of my own major depressive disorder until I was diagnosed in 2011. Since then, I’ve had a lot of time to come to terms with my diagnosis and work my way through it. However, there is a long way still to go in the community to overcome stigma and to ensure mental health services are adequately funded.

The first time I truly spoke about my depression was in a poem I wrote for the Ontario Working Group for Early Psychosis Intervention (OWGPEI, now known as EPION - the Early Psychosis Intervention Ontario Network) in 2011. The poem was published in the anthology “That Not Forgotten” in 2012. I reproduce it here for you as a small sampling of gratitude, whose message also coincides with Black History Month.

The Voice Within by A. Gregory Frankson

i am Black
my stigma is in my skin
it's visible to everyone 
no matter how i look within
i live with it every day
and concealment is not a choice
i have available to help me
when i choose to raise my voice

Black is beautiful
that's how i feel about my skin
a beauty seen by everyone
no matter how i feel within
i think about it every day
and it appears i have no choice
but to have others react to it 
when with pride i raise my voice

Black is dangerous
that's how others feel about my skin
a menacing threat to everyone
because of my rage within
i fret about it every day
for it appears i have no choice 
but to generate a fear response
when i loudly raise my voice

i was born Black 
my identity in my skin
unchangeable to everyone
from without and from within
defines my treatment every day
and leaves me with no choice
except defend my rights with vigour
and that's why i raise my voice

i have depression
the stigma breaks my heart
invisible to all but me – 
the stress this truth imparts
i live with it every day
conceal this truth by choice
this poem the first i have confessed it
when i've chosen to raise my voice

i am beautiful
that's how i feel about my heart
even if it's not the first thing you see
when my inner anxieties start
i think about it every day
but only sometimes have a choice
of when or how my truth reveals itself
when i choose to raise my voice

the mentally ill are dangerous
so others say about mind and heart
a menacing threat to everyone
just wait for the rage to start
we fret about this every day
others believe there is no choice
but to focus on their own fear response
when i loudly raise my voice

we are born as we are
our identities in our hearts
unchangeable to everyone
the strength this truth imparts
defines my treatment every day
and leaves me little choice
except defend all rights with vigour
and that's why i raise my voice

both stigmas are real
in the skin, mind, soul and heart
we dispel dangerous assumptions
when understanding compassion starts
they live among us every day
i am one – so i have no choice
but to ask you to speak our truths out loud
with a single, deafening voice.

© A. Gregory Frankson, 2011. All rights reserved.

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I will post regarding each of my 44 Gratitudes once a week on Mondays. It’s important to give thanks, and to start your week off right! Please feel free to like, share and comment on the posts as they appear.

44 Gratitudes: #1 - The Gift of Life

Greg Frankson

For the first of my gratitudes I give thanks for life. It wasn’t straightforward for me to get here, as the text below explains. I had to fight for my first breath, and I’ll fight for what I believe in and to actualize my personal mission, until my last breath. Hope you enjoy this poem!


A Deep Breath Story by A. Gregory Frankson

let me tell you my story
the birth of this poet
not as analogy but rather 
the literal birth of this poet 

the way i entered the world
i view as personal metaphor

i came into being when two twentysomethings 
tried a second time to bring life to the world
first attempt failed when my brother 
two years before my delivery didn’t survive
in a rush he broke waters that carried him 
prematurely to brief breath, short life and quick death
to this day i wonder how my life would have been 
different or even non-existent if my brother Lea 
had made it through infancy

when i picture my mother laying her child to rest 
her inner strength moves me to silence
at that time she was already parent to my sister from 
previous incubation of a belly full of dreams 
so i marvel at her will at such a young age to try 
a third time after experience of such tragic emotional trauma

conversely, my father was a 70s cool cat Soul brother
too immature to know where his road was going
hand in hand he led her down that garden path 
ended with me on mom’s hip 
slipped grip on Soul and false platitudes on his lips
i do not know specifics of decisions that led 
to my conception but i fear my mother 
came to view that plan later as ill-conceived
when he perceived the second coming 
of her swelled abdomen he chose then to abdicate
relationship disintegrated as surely as the womb that encased 
me foetal by the time my expectant mother went into 
labour with me three and a half weeks past her due date 

i wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth
but a cord wrapped around my neck
nearly took my life before i took my first breath
so i learned early every inhalation
is precious and not to be taken for granted

external umbilical pressure on my throat
nearly crushed my larynx
and permanently rendered me unable to speak
i was born able to uncoil chords 
strike venomous true with words 
pressed to diamond sharpness 
long before i first spat fury into microphones

every time my mother had a contraction 
my heartbeat ceased to register on the monitor
perhaps this is why i’ve learned to ensure 
passions of my heart register unceasingly

the doctors were forced to save my life
surgically in sterile operation theatre
where they yanked me unceremoniously 
into the glare of the real world through Caesar’s eye 
so my vision from the first has always had to 
take in surroundings under harsh light of trauma
with knowledge surgeons in theatres where i work 
lack precision to sterilize my dreams
so long as i always operate incisively

and now that you know my story
the literal birth of this poet 
you know exactly why 
every time i’m about to use my voice 
i always 

take 
a deep 
breath.


© A. Gregory Frankson, 2014. All rights reserved.

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I will post regarding each of my 44 Gratitudes once a week on Mondays. It’s important to give thanks, and to start your week off right! Please feel free to like, share and comment on the posts as they appear.

My Forty-Four Gratitudes

Greg Frankson

Yesterday I completed my forty-fourth revolution of the sun. On this important day of my life, I took time to reflect and to give thanks for things that have helped me get to where I am today and/or that I value in my day to day life. I wrote them down, and now I’m sharing them here with you. 

This is a long post, because hell, I've been around a while! 44 years ain't nothing to sneeze at.

Here they are:

1. The gift of life. Given freely to me by my parents. Without it I couldn't do a single thing. Thank you both, and I love you both.

2. Good health -- the combination of good genes, the fortune of growing up in Canada, access to clean/nutritious food and water, a relatively peaceful geopolitical situation where I live and national universal health care.

3. Wealth and prosperity. Even when I've been at my lowest points in terms of income and financial solvency, I have still been richer than the vast majority of humans on Earth. We have to maintain our perspective, lest we become ungrateful and take our first-world status for granted.

4. My intellect and education. My mom stressed that I needed to nurture and develop my mind and insisted that attending postsecondary education was mandatory. Thank you again, mom. 

5. Freedom to hold and express my political views. We live in a free country, and I have opinions that I feel strongly about - especially as a literary artist. In other places, poets are persecuted, abused and sometimes killed for what they say and do. In Canada, my words are protected by constitutional laws and my right to express them covered by the Charter. What a blessing, especially when others are dying to do it.

6. Chocolate. It's tasty. ‘Nuff said.

7. The gift of music and word. I am very lucky I've been able to create and share my thoughts poetically, musically, in published trade books and journals, and in my op-ed articles and radio broadcasts over the last three decades. My words and music have touched literally hundreds of thousands of lives. My gratitude for this moves me close to tears.

8. Eyesight. The window to my soul and the lens on my surroundings. Blessed to have had the ability to see the beauty of creation every day of my life to date.

9. Sunshine. It illuminates, spurs growth, darkens the skin and warms the soul. 

10. Pens. Ink was my first artistic support. It remains my preferred method of creation. We hold our future in our hands, if we're willing to write it down. Our power lies primarily in the word. 

11. Time. It's an elusive concept but the reality is we live each day in seconds, minutes and hours. The sands of time fall slowly, but waste quickly if you watch them collect.

12. The loves of my life. Every woman I've ever held hands with, kissed, smiled at, dated, made love with, engaged, married or otherwise shared amorous moments. You drew me down, raised me up, challenged me, liked me, despised me, forgave me, ignored me, condescended to me, adored me, hurt me, felt hurt by me, supported me, embraced me, loved me ... so many reactions in so many ways in so many places in so many situations. Without all of it, I could not have become a man and grown to be better than I was the day before to become the man I am today. You were all blessings, whether for a moment, a season or if you're still part of my life years later. All of it -- good, bad and ugly -- was worth it. Without you I could not be me -- the imperfect work in progress that I will remain until my last breath.

13. Humour. If you can't laugh at yourself, then who won't?

14. Wine. The nectar of the gods created to be savoured. It has loosened lips over the years. I have learned much at your feet and look forward to more lessons in the future. 

15. My dearest friends. You've been with me for years in most cases, and for some reason you're still around (whether on a regular basis, from time to time or relatively rarely -- your value to me is not any different). I don't have many of you, but you all mean the world to me. 

16. Caribbean food. If yuh nuh kno' 'bout dat, mi feel sorry fi yuh!

17. Good audio speakers. If you're going to pump up the jam, make sure the bass rumbles and the volume raises the roof.

18. Books. They were my first trusted companions on my life's journey, and I love them still. Thank you for wisdom, entertainment, instruction, inspiration and imagination. My world is infinitely better because you exist.

19. Pharmaceutical drugs. Whether it was antibiotics, pain meds, topical ointments/creams, drops, capsules or pills for surgery recovery to depression and lots of stuff in between, you've saved my life countless times. In a previous era, I wouldn't have made it to 44 without your timely interventions. This dope fiend thanks you.

20. The power of inspiration. You leave a legacy wherever you go. What will that legacy be?

21. Warm clothing. It's super important this time of year, and I don't enjoy being cold. 

22. Cool clothing. When it's hot, you have to be able to let the steam rise from your skin unimpeded. Especially if you're in the tropics!

23. The tropics. I loved being in Australia, Jamaica and Trinidad over the last few years when the temperature was high, and my stress level was low. Perhaps one day I'll be able to live more of my life like that! How cool would that be?

24. Scarborough. The city that raised me and was my first experience of the world. Endlessly indebted to the good people, the resilient mentality, the great food and the natural beauty of the eastern part of the City of Toronto. If you're not from there, you don't understand. #Scarbz4Ever

25. Coffee. The nectar of the gods created to keep my black ass awake. I'm addicted to you, and most of the time I don't care. Where would I be without you?

26. Oats and cornmeal porridge. These are breakfast dishes from my childhood, which fill me with warmth both when thinking about them and when consuming them. There are so many childhood stories associated with these things. The power of nostalgia to carry you through difficult times cannot be overstated. Thank you, family, for the warm memories.

27. Canada. My home and native land. Everything in my life is possible because I was born here, and my family immigrated here for a better life. Forever indebted and eternally grateful. 

28. Racism. It taught me that I'm black and how important and nonsensical that is, all at the same time. It gave me identity and instant kinship with others, a cause to rally for, a social issue upon which to advocate, and an adversary to dedicate my life to vanquishing. We're not finished dancing yet, and I'll never tear my eyes away. There's so much more work to do.

29. The aging process. I've learned to appreciate what I have and not to lament too much for what I don't have. It's also taught me that what other people think of me is none of my business. I will keep struggling to keep up and to internalize your lessons and wisdom. Father Time is my friend.

30. The Canadian spoken word scene. You forced me to methodically analyze and rediscover who I am, to sharpen my perceptions and to reinvent my mindset. For this, I'm eternally grateful. The rest of my life could not be as amazing as I envision it to be without the pain of being pushed down into the gutter by your deeds and indignities, then being able to dig deep to find the strength to get back up. I'm developing your negatives into positive pictures for my legacy. The best revenge is living well.

31. The present moment. Without it, there is nothing. The past has already happened and the future is yet to be – it’s an overused cliché but also factual reality. Failing to be grateful for the now is a failure to be grateful for everything. Nothing has ever happened that didn’t take place RIGHT NOW. 

32. Remaining courageous in the face of fear. “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

33. Queen’s University and the City of Kingston. Since 1993, these places have been part of my life. I return frequently, I care deeply about the university’s development, and I wish fervently for the city’s ability to learn how to accept the diversity and gifts of the students who move there to live and study. It’s complex and complicated, loving a place with so many warts and foibles on prominent display. But it is where I came of age and first made history. For these reasons I cannot abandon it to ignorance, intolerance and/or discord. It’s come a long way. Let’s keep going.

34. Gravity. The most insistent force in my world, it makes sure I stick to my life’s path instead of spending all my time floating in the clouds.

35. Reggae. Jamaicans are a very fortunate people who created a language that can carry universal messages across the globe and bring people together. The greatest practitioners of the craft are some of the most influential and revered musicians in modern history. This music tells the stories of my people and brings joy and love, as well as the strident voice of struggle and resistance. It guides my words and my pen and helps to define my art. I feel blessed to channel my ancestors and carry on their mission through poetry and music I create.

36. Beer. The nectar of the gods that quenches the thirst of the savage beast (or at least, the average Canadian male). Acquiring a taste for you was a rite of passage. Virtually eliminating you from my diet was the right thing to do, health-wise. I lament that liquid bread must flee from my lips.

37. My car. It has nearly bankrupted me at times, and I recognize my privilege in owning it. I could not live the life I have today without it, particularly the way it makes it possible for me to see my children on a regular basis. I’m fortunate that my Honda Civic will drive forever, sips gas and has so far needed minimal maintenance. Globalization has blessed me.

38. My community of contacts. Particularly in the last five years, the network of people I’ve been able to connect with have vastly expanded my world, my scope of experience, and the way in which I see myself. I’m forever grateful to them for accepting me and helping me to grow after a very dark chapter of my life. The sunshine ahead of me is bright, and I’m excited to keep moving further and further into it as I take new steps along my personal journey.

39. The beautiful struggle. One of the four guiding mantras of my life is “you are at your greatest moment of danger when you are at your greatest moment of comfort.” Nothing in life that is worth having has been attained or obtained without effort and the expenditure of energy. When we forget how to be in motion, we are at risk of stagnation, which is the first step towards disintegration. Stay active, stay ready, and your challenges will never gain the upper hand.

40. Death. The ever-present imminence of its arrival, and the utter futility of trying to break its grip on you, means that every moment of life should be treated like the gold Providence meant it to be. Like Alexander Hamilton, why not live life like we’re running out of time? But we also should savour the sweetness of each breath so we can live each day as if it were our first, in the immortal words of the late Ottawa comedic poet Steve Sauvé. I do not fear death. There’s too much to love about life to live in a state of constant fear.

41. My business. The circumstances of my life in 2018 required me to seriously re-evaluate where I was going in my life, and what I wanted to do next with the experiences I’d gained to this point.  I figured out that I wanted to build the next chapter around effective communications and the idea that everyone can own their voice and share it with others from a place of empathy, passion and purpose in full alignment. This is the Voice Share credo, and it’s also the focus of my own life moving forward. I’ve never been more excited about my future.

42. Higher power. Belief in something bigger than myself allows me to appreciate my own metaphysical smallness and showed me how faith fuels desire to do better for someone other than yourself. Call it God, the Creator, the Universe and any of the multiplicity of other words we humans have for it – I feel its power, believe in its mysteries, and appreciate that it has guided and touched me at every step along the way.

43. My immediate and extended family. You taught me how to live, how to respect and maintain our culture and traditions, what love is supposed to look like, and how to remain supportive and connected despite the slings and arrows of life’s difficult challenges. I owe you everything I am. I love you all eternally and with endless gratitude, respect and honour.

44. My children. You are my most lasting legacy and my biggest challenge. I love you fiercely, will do everything I can to secure your future, and dedicate the rest of my life to be the man you need me to be.

POEM: Invisible Master

Greg Frankson

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. I am not one who advocates for war, but I do appreciate and respect the sacrifices made historically by members of Canada's armed forces. Today is the day we pay respect to their memories, and so I am posting my poem "Invisible Master" from my first collection of poetry, Cerebral Stimulation, as my way of commemorating them.


as darkness turns to light
yawning day steps forth from night
stretching out across the earth
brightening beams give land new birth
i can hear distant clicking
of shoes striking concrete
the noise it makes
is neither brash nor discreet

here they come

on the horizon i can see
the brave, marching infantry
buttons gleaming in the glow
of Sol’s resplendent lumen show
the light sweetly caresses
like a gently crooned tune
as the lines pass me by
young ladies faint and swoon

faster, faster

they march solemnly and straight
never stopping to berate
young boys chasing at their heels
soon they’ll know just how it feels
when the time has come
to replace our fallen youth
only then will they see
the sad, inevitable truth

there they go

as they march quickly past
into adulthood gained too fast
parents sit and contemplate
upon their children’s present fate
and the soldiers in the line
marching left, right, left
also consider their own futures
of which some may soon be bereft

spirited on

down to the battle lines they go
momentum shifting to and fro
bullets whizzing by their heads
as they advance and mourn the dead
under gentle blue skies
where birds soar amongst the clouds
an entire generation
harvested by lethal ploughs

there they go
faster, faster
spirited on to
the supreme master

how will mankind ever learn
if we just kill, destroy and burn
let others duplicate the past
and make sure true peace never lasts
when the bugle sounds its melody
above the bombed terrain
i close my eyes and pray to God
it never happens again

here they come
faster, faster
spared at last from
sure disaster.


from Cerebral Stimulation, published by BeWrite Books
© A. Gregory Frankson, 2005. All rights reserved.